Allies cringe at Moon’s overture for talks

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Allies cringe at Moon’s overture for talks

South Korea’s proposal for formal dialogue with Pyongyang was faced with mixed reactions from foreign governments, reflecting polarizing North Korea policies in the aftermath of the regime’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

China, North Korea’s biggest ally and trade partner, called President Moon Jae-in’s latest overture a “positive” message that aims at “properly solving the Korean Peninsula issue.”

The comment was relayed Monday by Lu Kang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, during a regular press briefing, who said that if the two Koreas “could improve their relations through dialogues and work for reconciliation and cooperation,” then “it not only serves their fundamental interests and the cooling-down of the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula, but also promotes regional peace, stability and security.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to explain President Donald Trump’s stance on South Korea’s proposal when asked by a reporter Monday during a briefing, but added that Seoul’s latest measure did not affect the Trump administration’s condition for talks with Pyongyang.

“I think the president has made clear in the past with respect that any type of conditions that would have to be met are clearly far away from where we are now,” said Spicer.

The Trump White House has said North Korea would have to fully denuclearize in order for them to engage in direct talks with the regime, setting a higher bar for Pyongyang than Moon’s previous stance that Seoul would not talk with the regime unless it refrains from carrying out any additional nuclear or missile tests.

Tokyo expressed dismay, saying now is not the time to engage in talks. “This is not a time for dialogue,” Japan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Norio Maruyama told reporters Monday in New York, where Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was attending a UN meeting on development, according to the AFP.

“This is a time to raise pressure in order to conduct a serious dialogue,” the spokesman reportedly said.

The European Council condemned North Korea’s nuclear and missile development program in a statement Monday, but said it “supports” Seoul’s call for dialogue, adding it is “ready to support such a process” in consultation with key partners.

“The council reaffirms the EU policy of critical engagement,” the statement read, “which combines pressure with sanctions and other measures while keeping communication and dialogue channels open.”

Engagement, the council added, should be a means to promote North Korea’s full compliance with UN Security Council resolutions in terms of abandoning its nuclear and missile programs in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”

The South Korean government formally asked the North on Monday to hold military talks on Friday and discuss a reunion on Aug. 1 for families who were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, saying they were follow-up measures on Moon’s vision for inter-Korean peace, described in a speech in Berlin on July 6 during his trip to Germany for the Group of 20 summit.

The proposals were separately announced to local media by the Ministry of National Defense and the Korean Red Cross, the latter of which organizes the family reunions. Pyongyang cut off direct communications with the South in February 2016, leaving Seoul no choice but to convey their message openly through the media, the government said.

Pyongyang has not given any response on either proposal, but slammed South Korea on Tuesday for conducting joint military drills with Washington, accusing both countries of trying to preemptively strike the regime.

“It is tragic that the puppet forces are not aware of the fact that their war-thirsty acts are as foolish as precipitating their own ruin,” read a commentary published in the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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