State Dept. reacts to Yoon's North Korea policy
The United States and South Korea remain committed to the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula and will continue to coordinate closely to achieve that goal, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said Tuesday after President Yoon Suk-yeol outlined a North Korea policy in his inaugural address Tuesday.
“We have been and we will continue to coordinate closely with the ROK to address the threat posed by the DPRK's unlawful WMD programs, its ballistic missile program as well, and to advance our shared objective on the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” U.S. State Department Press Secretary Ned Price said, referring to North and South Korea by the acronyms for their respective official names, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea.
Price made the remarks after being asked about South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s promise to deliver assistance to revive North Korea’s economy if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program.
Meanwhile, Seoul’s New Defense Minister Lee Jong-seop vowed Wednesday that South Korea would “respond firmly in the name of self-defense” if the North commits a “tactical provocation.”
Lee’s remarks, made at his appointment ceremony at the Defense Ministry, were interpreted as a reference to acts of armed hostility committed by the North against the South, such as the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, both of which took place in 2010 during the conservative administration of Lee Myung-bak.
Tensions between North and South Korea have historically worsened when the presidency in Seoul has switched hands from liberals to conservatives, although how much of this is due to conservatives’ harder line towards Pyongyang remains a matter a debate among experts.
While the North has played down Yoon’s election victory in tightly controlled domestic media reports, it has kept up a steady stream of missile launches that began in January in the days leading up to his inauguration.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff have reported two missile launches by the secretive North last week, with one ballistic missile launch detected on May 4 and a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launch on Saturday.
North Korean state media did not issue reports on either test, leaving observers to ponder the message — and technological significance — of the tests.
Following the May 4 launch and absence of a customary report the following day from state media, experts surmised the North was either maintaining silence because the test fell short of expectations or because they were preparing a bigger test.
However, the regime’s silence continued after the SLBM test on the weekend, which South Korean military experts have determined was a mini-SLBM.
Experts judged it to be an improved version of the KN-23 — a North Korean version of Iskander, a Russian mobile short-range ballistic missile system — due to its flight characteristics.
“The performance must have improved. It was not just a simple modification,” said former National Defense University professor Kwon Yong-soo. “That would make interception more difficult.”
Following the SLBM test, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry joined the United States and Japan in calling for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council this week.
Under successive Security Council resolutions, Pyongyang is banned from conducting tests of ballistic missile technology.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]