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(News Focus) Nuclear test to intensify hard-line position on North: experts

2017/09/03 18:42

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By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Sept. 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's sixth nuclear test on Sunday is a clear sign that Pyongyang will stick to its own way in its nuclear ambitions, dampening the ongoing global efforts to resolve the issue through diplomacy, experts said.

The latest test will add to pessimism about dialogue and intensify calls for much tougher sanctions on the North and pressure on China to "do more" in reining in the North, they added.

North Korea earlier said that it has carried out its sixth nuclear test, calling it a "perfect" success. The announcement came hours after an artificial earthquake with a 5.7 magnitude was detected near North Korea's nuclear site in the northeastern area.

"It seems that the North has made it clear once again that it wants to be recognized as a nuclear-armed state," said Park Jung-jin, a researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

"There will be more pressure and sanctions that will follow but the North is unlikely to care about it. It is more likely to double down on its push for advancing its nuclear weapons program," he said.

He also said that the international community has few options in dealing with the North other than seeking a freeze on its nuclear programs, but the North has demonstrated that it will never give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons with the latest test.

The North has accelerated its nuclear and missile programs in recent months. In July, it tested what it claimed to be intercontinental ballistic missiles twice.

After about a month-long hiatus, it resumed testing missiles including Tuesday's launch of an intermediate range missile over Japan.

It came despite the South Korean government's continued emphasis on talks and negotiations over any other forcible options including military action advocated by some hard-liners in Washington

During his visit to Germany in July, Moon announced the so-called Berlin Initiative under which Seoul will pursue Pyongyang's denuclearization with a security guarantee, and economic and diplomatic incentives, while seeking a peace treaty and dismissing the prospect of forced unification.

Under the initiative, the Seoul government later proposed to the North military talks on easing border tensions and Red Cross talks aimed at discussing reunions for families torn apart by the 1950-53 Korean War but there have been no official response to the offers.

Experts see that the North's sixth nuclear test has cost the option of talks and raised the chances for the international community to seek tougher sanctions and pressure going forward.

Chung Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the South Korean think tank Sejong Institute, echoed the view, saying that it has become "all but" impossible for the time being for the Moon Jae-in government to seek negotiations aimed at bringing the North back to negotiating table

He said that there are not many options to choose from for the Moon government other than to seek much stronger pressure against the North in close coordination with the international community.

"With the two ICBM tests followed by the sixth nuclear test, it would be hard for the Moon government to continue to pursue talks with the North," he said. "It has been inevitable but it will be more so to resort to much stronger sanctions to induce a change in its behavior."

   He underlined the importance of China in this regard, saying that the international community should push Beijing to do more in punishing the North for its continued provocations.

Earlier in August, the U.N. Security Council adopted a fresh sanctions resolution against the North's ICBM tests that included a complete ban on its exports of coal, deemed to be its main source of hard currency. It, however, stopped short of including suspending oil supplies to the North amid China's apparent opposition.

"The international community is expected to demand China stop exports of crude oil or oil products to the North but it is uncertain how much China will cooperate," he said.

"Without a move to stop crude oil supply to the North, the North is unlikely to stop its provocations and without China taking any critical decision to pressure the North, the tensions on the Korean Peninsula will remain unabated," he added.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk University also involved in the operation of a policy advisory group for President Moon on diplomatic affairs during his transition period, agreed that the North's sixth nuclear test has made things more complicated for the Seoul government but the stance that it will resolve the North's nuclear issue through talks should stay put in the long term.

"Under current circumstances, it seems to be hard to have any talks with the North. The North appears to try to up the ante by using the brinkmanship tactic and upgrading its nuclear capabilities," he said.

"South Korea, for its part, should be extremely careful (in its North Korea policy). While condemning the North in close coordination with the international community and seeking corresponding sanctions in the short term, it should try to figure out a solution through talks and negotiations in the longer term," he noted. "Its basic stance should be maintained."

   kokobj@yna.co.kr

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