South continues to reject North’s proposals to meet

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South continues to reject North’s proposals to meet

North Korea has made a series of proposals to meet with the South Korean government over the past two months following its party congress in May, suggesting any misunderstanding between the two could be resolved once they sit down together, but Seoul has rejected all these proposals, saying they lack sincerity since the North is still pursuing its nuclear weapons program.

Despite Seoul’s firm stance that it will not sit down with the North unless the latter ends its nuclear development, Pyongyang has continued making overtures. Its latest proposal is for a joint meeting of 100 politicians and social leaders from each side to mark the upcoming Aug. 15 Liberation Day.

North Korea’s two-month overture to the South might now come to an end as Seoul and Washington decided on the site of the deployment on the U.S.-made advanced missile defense system Wednesday.

With the final decision by the two allies to set up the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, eyes are on whether the North will move ahead the military action as it had threatened to do on Monday should the Thaad system be set up.

In a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency Monday, the North Korean military’s artillery bureau said it would turn Seoul into “a sea of flames” once a decision on the location was issued.

Koh Yoo-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, said the North would also not follow through on attacking the small county in North Gyeongsang as this would be tantamount to the beginning of a full-scale conflict.

“The North might have meant a direct retaliation on the Thaad deployment site when it mentioned the physical action,” said Koh. But he dismissed the possibility as it would mean the North would have to launch a missile to target the small county 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Seoul.

There is concern that Pyongyang may believe it now has more wiggle room to initiate its fifth underground nuclear test because of Seoul’s decision on the Thaad deployment.

Beijing has sternly opposed the presence of the anti-missile battery on the southern part of the peninsula, arguing that it could be used by the United States to monitor its air space. Some experts here say that Pyongyang called off its fifth nuclear test before its party congress in May because of anticipated backlash from China.

But with the Thaad decision, Koh said Pyongyang may feel “more liberated” to push the button at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

A satellite image taken on July 7 showed increased activity at the nuclear facility there in North Hamgyong Province, according to 38 North, a site run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, on Monday.

While 38 North could not determine whether the increased activity was for the execution of a nuclear test, it said it was a clear sign that North Korea was making sure the facility was “in a state of readiness” that would enable it to proceed should North Korean leader Kim Jong-un give the go-ahead.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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