Time to be tough

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Time to be tough

President Moon Jae-in had a 56-minute telephone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday after his five-day summer vacation. Moon also talked with Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe for 23 minutes and confirmed a joint stance on the North Korean nuclear issue. Moon’s telephone conservations came 11 days after North Korea fired its most advanced ICBM, which is capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. The confirmation of a united front among the three leaders is encouraging.

But Moon’s talk with Trump was a bit late. Immediately after the missile launch, on July 31, Trump showed off good chemistry with Abe in a 52-minute conversation. Moon’s talk with Trump took place long after the missile launch and after the UN Security Council passed its eighth resolution against the North. The Blue House cited the need for Moon to take a vacation. But he could have talked with the U.S. president whenever he wanted.

In the conversation with Trump, Moon agreed to reinforce a joint Korea-U.S. defense posture and put maximum pressure on the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang. It is also a positive sign that both leaders shared a consensus on changing North Korea through joint pressure. The three nations’ foreign ministers also took the right action to confirm a united stand in a tripartite meeting Monday on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila.

Moon reportedly underscored a need to settle the nuclear issue peacefully and diplomatically. That is right. But we face repeated test-firing of ballistic missiles by North Korea.

The United Nations just levied its toughest-ever sanctions, aimed at blocking one third of the North Korea’s exports. If South Korea adheres to dialogue under such grim circumstances, it could cause a serious rupture in the joint front, not to mention giving unexpected advantages to North Korea and China.

The ARF was a good venue to prove such worries are well-grounded. Asked if he would meet South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho repeatedly said no. Ri and Kang bumped into each other before a group event and Ri criticized Seoul for a “lack of sincerity” in a recent offer of talks.

It is not the time for dialogue, but for pressure. With Washington taking a hard-line stance toward the North, dialogue can only backfire. It is time for the government to keep pressuring Pyongyang to come to the negotiating table. Tough times call for toughness.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 8, Page 30
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