Korean crisis near 'nuclear tipping point', says US prof

The Korean peninsula is reaching a "nuclear tipping point" as the North continues to boost its nuclear arsenal and even crossed a new threshold when it tested what is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), said a North Korea expert attending a regional security forum in Singapore.

Professor Stephan Haggard from the University of California San Diego, who specialises in Korea-Pacific studies, said the United States is particularly concerned that North Korea has developed nuclear warheads that can be mounted on various missiles and tested a missile with an ICBM range last week.

"Those two developments in tandem have changed the discussion in the United States, because now you have a missile which is capable of, in principle, delivering a nuclear weapon to the American homeland. Politically, it is a tipping point," he said at a press conference on Wednesday (July 12) after the two-day North-east Asia Cooperation Dialogue ended.

North Korea's nuclear issue dominated the closed-door talks, attended by government officials and academics from the US, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. The five countries are involved in the now-stalled six-party talks with North Korea aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

US nuclear envoy Joseph Yun, who met his South Korean counterpart Kim Hong Kyun and Japan's Kenji Kanasugi on the sidelines, vowed stern action in response to the ICBM test but maintained the door for dialogue remains open under the right circumstances. The envoys also reaffirmed the importance of working with Russia and China to effectively exert pressure on the North, according to South Korea's Foreign Ministry.

The North-east Asia Cooperation Dialogue, into its 27th instalment since 1993, is the only ongoing regular channel of informal communication among the six-party nations.

North Korea attended some sessions previously but declined to take part this year.

Dr Georgy Toloraya from the Russian Academy of Sciences, a long-time participant, noted that the talks in the past two days were "very frank" without Pyongyang, and that it was "easier to discuss in their absence" as the regime often did not agree with the rest.

Professor Choi Jong Kun from South Korea's Yonsei University said there was a common understanding among participants that a good mix of pressure, sanctions and engagement is necessary to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table - which is in line with what new South Korean President Moon Jae In is pushing for.

"South Korea should be able to take a leading role to re-initiate rapprochement between the two Koreas and also facilitate six-party talks to begin," added Prof Choi.