Seoul in denial that Pyongyang scrapped moratorium on weapons tests
Seoul does not yet believe that Pyongyang has effectively scrapped a self-imposed moratorium on sensitive weapons tests despite the North's most recent test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), according to a statement made by President Moon Jae-in during a recent National Security Council (NSC) meeting.
The moratorium, which Pyongyang put into place in late 2017 and was formally outlined in April 2018 by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, entailed a suspension of nuclear and longer range missile testing.
When Kim detailed his regime’s rationale for the moratorium at the time, he said the North “doesn’t need any nuclear tests or mid-to-long-range missile tests.”
The suspension of nuclear and longer range missile tests in 2017 preluded the resumption of inter-Korean diplomacy beginning with the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, an inter-Korean summit in April 2018, and eventually the first-ever summit between North Korea and the United States in Singapore that June.
However, relations between Washington and Pyongyang rapidly soured after the February 2019 summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump, collapsed without an accord.
While the North has now twice hinted that it would scrap the moratorium on nuclear and missile testing — once in late December 2019, when Kim Jong-un warned he may “no longer refrain” from testing if the United States continued selling weapons to, and conducting military drills with South Korea, and again last month, when the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported the ruling Workers’ Party Politburo was considering “restarting all previously suspended activities” — Seoul has not pronounced a view that the moratorium is dead.
Although Kim’s April 2018 declaration included a halt to mid-range missile tests, President Moon described the North’s launch of an IRBM on Jan. 30 merely as a step “close to scrapping the moratorium declaration” during an emergency NSC meeting that day.
Moon’s statement on Seoul’s position of the IRBM launch also omitted Kim’s own 2018 references to halting mid-range missile tests, with the president merely reiterating that the North “promised to suspend all nuclear and ICBM tests from April 21, 2018.”
With Seoul’s description of Pyongyang’s testing moratorium skirting over mid-range missiles, which Kim said he would also stop testing, analysts are wondering if South Korea is giving the North leeway to claim it has not yet scrapped its suspension on sensitive tests.
Examining the discrepancy between Seoul’s view of the moratorium and Kim’s own language to describe the suspension, Kim Young-soo, a professor of politics and international relations at Sogang University, said, “As a matter of security, the South Korean government should seek to clarify [the status of the moratorium] by sending a simple statement to the North, but the government appears to have fallen short in this area.”
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]