South, U.S. take differing stances on North's recent launches
Washington and Seoul are exhibiting different responses to North Korea’s recent business-as-usual provocations.
Officials of the two allied governments have had multiple phone calls together this month, especially following the series of ballistic missile tests from the North. The special envoys on the North, Sung Kim from the United States and Noh Kyu-duk from South Korea, spoke on Jan. 5 and again on Jan. 11, the same day the North conducted a missile test which it claimed was a final test of a new hypersonic glide vehicle.
The next day South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman talked over the phone, which was followed on Jan. 15 by a call between the South's Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Following another call between Choi and Sherman on Wednesday, the State Department said the two were working hard on “continued joint efforts to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but a closer look at the recent statements from Seoul and Washington on North Korea shows that their stance on the recent provocations differ.
“Deputy Secretary Sherman condemned the DPRK’s recent ballistic missile launches, which were in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions,” reads the statement from the State Department on Wednesday, using the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
In the Korean Foreign Ministry’s statement, however, there was no language condemning the tests. It emphasized instead that Sherman and Choi “reaffirmed that they are open to all measures for the stable management of the situation on the Korean Peninsula and prompt resumption of dialogue with North Korea.”
This stood in contrast with how the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield went on to call the North Korean provocations “attacks” in an interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday.
After the call between Chung and Blinken on Jan. 15, the State Department released once more a statement condemning the North’s ballistic missile launches through its spokesperson Ned Price.
The Korean Foreign Ministry’s statement following the call commented on the "importance of maintaining a firm combined defense posture based on the strong ROK [Republic of Korea]-U.S. alliance," but once more focused on dialogue with the North.
“The two discussed ways to restart the peace process on the Korean Peninsula and urged North Korea to respond as soon as possible to the ROK-U.S. efforts to resume dialogue,” it said.
There were no comments on dialogue with the North in the State Department’s statements on the recent Sherman-Choi and Blinken-Chung calls.
But when prompted, spokesperson Price affirmed the U.S. commitment to dialogue and diplomacy with the North.
“We have been very clear that we seek dialogue, we seek diplomacy to bring about lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said in a regular press briefing on Jan. 12. “We remain committed to that. We have made clear that we are willing, ready and able to engage in that diplomacy in close coordination and consultation with our allies and partners.”
Price added that the measures to put “constraints on these [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programs [of Pyongyang]” will continue nonetheless, keeping to the Biden administration’s middle-ground North Korea policy that seeks neither a grand bargain with the regime nor an all-or-nothing approach.
The Biden administration has maintained its stance on not granting the North incentives such as sanctions relief for the sake of dialogue. The administration placed fresh sanctions on the regime last week over its weapons programs.
BY PARK HYUN-JU, ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]