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(News Focus) S. Korea, U.S. seen on same page on conditions for talks with N.K.

2017/08/17 17:34

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SEOUL, Aug. 17 (Yonhap) -- Amid signs of the de-escalation of tensions with North Korea, Seoul and Washington appear to be trying to set the tone for dialogue, reaffirming their willingness to talk with the regime on the condition that it halts its destabilizing acts and threats.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said Thursday that North Korea's suspension of additional provocations would be a key condition for inter-Korean talks. His remarks came one day after the United States showed a similar stance on diplomatic engagement with the repressive regime.

"Conditions for dialogue can be created when North Korea stops additional provocations at the very least," Moon told a press conference marking his 100th day in office.

"When conditions are met, (the government) can consider sending a special envoy to the North if it judges that such a move will help improve inter-Korean ties and resolve North Korea's nuclear issue."

   Moon, who took office in May, has maintained a two-track approach of seeking dialogue and sanctions, as North Korea has been advancing its nuclear and missile programs with the goal of developing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

This photo, taken on Aug. 17, 2017, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaking to reporters at a press conference marking his 100th day in office. (Yonhap) This photo, taken on Aug. 17, 2017, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaking to reporters at a press conference marking his 100th day in office. (Yonhap)

Concerns heightened in recent weeks about a possible military conflict in the region amid exchanges of bellicose rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington with both sides floating talk of military options.

North Korea threatened last week to stage missile strikes near the U.S. territory of Guam after U.S. President Donald Trump warned of "fire and fury" should North Korea endanger the U.S.

But Pyongyang backed off its threat Tuesday after key U.S. officials dismissed the risk of an imminent war with the North.

On Wednesday, the U.S. said it is willing to hold talks with the wayward country if it shows good faith by stopping its nuclear and ballistic missile testing.

"But we are not anywhere near that point yet because North Korea has not stopped its destabilizing activities," Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman at the U.S. State Department, told reporters.

Washington seemed to unveil specific conditions for talks with the North for the first time following Pyongyang's tests of two ICBMs in July.

What the U.S. suggested appeared to be softer than conditions proposed by the government of former U.S. President Barack Obama. Washington previously said that North Korea should first show its sincerity about denuclearization for dialogue.

Earlier, Moon indicated that Seoul is willing to lower the bar for the resumption of dialogue, saying that South Korea is willing to hold unconditional talks if Pyongyang stops its nuclear and missile tests.

The ball is now in North Korea's court.

Moon strongly warned Thursday that if the North makes further provocations, it will face tougher sanctions and it eventually will not be able to endure them.

"We warn North Korea not to take a dangerous gamble," the president said.

On July 4, North Korea fired an ICBM, called the Hwasong-14, followed by another one in late July, which experts say may put much of the U.S. mainland within range, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

Moon said North Korea would cross a "red line" if it mounts a nuclear warhead on an ICBM and weaponizes it. It marked the first time that South Korea's president clarified what the red line means.

"North Korea is getting closer to the threshold of the red line," he said.

He also dismissed the possibility of another war on the divided Korean Peninsula. There are concerns here that any miscalculation may trigger an armed conflict like the 1950-53 Korean War, which left the two Koreas technically at war.

"I say this with confidence that there will be no war on the Korean Peninsula ever again," South Korea's liberal president said.

"The U.S. and President Trump too have agreed to discuss any options they may take (against North Korea) with South Korea regardless of what kind of option it is."

   Despite what appears to be signs of easing tensions, experts said that North Korea could make provocative acts as Seoul and Washington will next week start their annual two-week joint military exercises.

"South Korea and the U.S. appear to be on the same page as to conditions for talks. But it is still doubtful for North Korea to accept them as just having dialogue does not serve as an incentive for the North," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute.

Cheong said that South Korea needs to seek a summit with China at an early date to frankly discuss North Korea's nuclear and missile issues.

He stressed Beijing's role in reining in the errant neighbor before Pyongyang crosses the red line, beyond which Seoul cannot help taking strong actions against the North. China is North Korea's key ally and trading partner.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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