Start with a nuclear freeze

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Start with a nuclear freeze

North Korea fired two Rodong missiles into the East Sea on Wednesday as the leaders of South Korea, the United States and Japan were holding a tripartite meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands. North Korea fired the mid-range missiles without any warning, knowing that the three allies would call for the scrapping of all nuclear programs in the North. The provocation also happen to take place on the fourth anniversary of the fatal Cheonan attack.

What attracts our attention is that the missiles were fired from a movable vehicle this time, not from a missile base. Seoul and Washington immediately denounced the launch as a clear violation of the four UN Security Council resolutions strictly banning any firing of ballistic missiles by the North. Washington’s statement that it will take appropriate action with its allies suggests the possibility of the issue being referred to the UN Security Council.

If that happens and North Korea resents it, which is certain to be the case, it could lead to yet another volatile situation. The deputy ambassador of the North’s mission to the UN said earlier that it would take continuous measures to demonstrate its nuclear deterrence if America continues to make nuclear threats against it. North Korea could also have been sending a message that it cannot give up its nuclear program despite the international community’s continuing pressure. Pyongyang must understand that pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development cannot succeed as nuclear ambitions only invite further isolation and sanctions.

The three allies’ agreement to push ahead with a trilateral meeting of each country’s representative to the six-party talks is also very timely. The three nations have not been able to come up with workable policies despite the North’s march toward more sophisticated nuclear weapons. The three leaders also stressed the importance of China’s “constructive role” before agreeing to hold six-party talks when the atmosphere gets ripe enough to ensure some progress in denuclearization.

South Korea needs to take the lead in resolving the nuclear conundrum. The North’s nuclear threats are our immediate security problem. Without progress in denuclearization, President Park Geun-hye’s effort to promote reunification as a jackpot won’t go anywhere. The government should seek a path to denuclearization starting with the freezing of the North’s nuclear activities and missile launches. North Korea has begun to reactivate a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and its uranium enrichment facilities. No security issue is more urgent.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 27, Page 30

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