SEOUL • South Korean President Moon Jae In said yesterday that there was a "high possibility" of conflict with North Korea, which is pressing ahead with nuclear and missile programmes it says it needs to counter United States aggression.
The comments came hours after the South, which hosts 28,500 US troops, said it wanted to reopen a channel of dialogue with North Korea as Mr Moon seeks a two-track policy, involving sanctions and dialogue, to try to rein in its neighbour.
North Korea has made no secret of the fact that it is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the US mainland, and has ignored calls to halt its nuclear and missile programmes, even from China, its lone major ally.
On Sunday, it held its latest ballistic missile launch, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, in what it said was a test of its capability to carry a "large-sized heavy nuclear warhead".
"The reality is that there is a high possibility of a military conflict at the NLL (Northern Limit Line) and military demarcation line," Mr Moon was quoted as saying by the presidential Blue House. He also said the North's nuclear and missile capabilities seem to have advanced rapidly recently, but that the South was ready and capable of striking back should the North attack.
Mr Moon won an election last week campaigning on a more moderate approach towards the North, and said after taking office that he wants to pursue dialogue and pressure. But he has said the North must change its attitude of insisting on pressing ahead with its arms development before dialogue is possible.
South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk Haeng said the government's most basic stance is that communication lines between the South and North should reopen.
Communications were severed by the North last year, in the wake of new sanctions following its fifth nuclear test and Pyongyang's decision to shut down a joint industrial zone in the North.