Moon Jae In says inter-Korea dialogue 'good starting point', warns North against further provocation

Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is "the path to peace and our goal", said South Korean President Moon Jae In in his opening speech at his New Year press conference.
Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is "the path to peace and our goal", said South Korean President Moon Jae In in his opening speech at his New Year press conference.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - South Korean President Moon Jae In said on Wednesday (Jan 10) the resumption of inter-Korea dialogue was a good starting point and issued a veiled warning to the North against another provocation.

A day after both sides held rare formal talks marking a thaw in inter-Korea ties, Mr Moon said the international community will continue to impose intense sanctions on the North if there is another provocation from Pyongyang.

Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is "the path to peace and our goal", he said in his opening speech at his  first New Year press conference. He took office in May last year.

"The denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula the two Koreas agreed upon jointly (in the past) is our basic stance that will never be given up," he told 200 local and foreign journalists. He said that his goal is to prevent another war on the Korean peninsula. 

He said he does not seek immediate reunification with the North and is open to a summit with North Korea - but only if "conditions are met".

“But it cannot be a meeting for meeting’s sake. To hold a summit, the right conditions must be created and certain outcomes must be guaranteed.”

The last leaders' summit between the two Koreas was in 2000 when Mr Kim Jong Il, father of current leader Kim Jong Un, met then South Korean president Kim Dae Jung.

North and South Korea agreed on Tuesday (Jan 9) to revive military talks in what is being seen as a step forward in easing tensions on the Korean peninsula triggered by a string of missile and nuclear tests by Pyongyang.

Both sides on Tuesday held their first high-level meeting in two years in the border village of Panmunjom, ostensibly to discuss North Korea's participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics hosted by the South.

 

Seoul said on Tuesday  it would consider lifting some sanctions temporarily to facilitate North Korea's attendance in the Games to be held from Feb 9 to 25 in the alpine county of Pyeongchang.

 But Mr Moon on Wednesday ruled out any lifting of sanctions on the North.

“Although talks with the North started, the North Korean nuclear crisis has not been resolved, so the South will keep pace with the international community on the issue of sanctions,” he said, adding that Seoul would not ease unilateral sanctions imposed on the North.

They include a ban on new economic exchanges or investments between the two Koreas, closure of  a joint industrial complex in Kaesong and the suspension of a tour programme to Mount Kumgang in the North.

“At the end of the day, improving ties with the North is inevitably linked to resolving the nuclear crisis. I believe a two-track effort will bring about a virtuous cycle,” Mr Moon said.

He stressed the need to continue to impose sanctions and explore ways to encourage North Korea to return to the negotiating table.

"North Korea has now come to the table but our mission is to bring them to dialogue for denuclearisation," Mr Moon said.

The South Korean leader said it was "very desirable" for North Korea to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics and voiced hopes for sustained dialogue with the North during the Games.

"Yesterday was a good starting point, but we should not be too hasty with assumptions. Hopefully dialogue can be maintained throughout the Olympics period."

Mr Moon on Wednesday gave "great credit" and expressed gratitude to US President Donald Trump for creating an environment conducive for inter-Korea talks to take place.

“It could be a resulting work of the US-led sanctions and pressure,” he said.

Pyongyang said on Tuesday it would not discuss its missile and nuclear programme during inter-Korean talks as the weapons are aimed only at the United States.

When asked about possible conflict between South Korea's engagement policy towards the North and America's approach of applying maximum pressure on the Kim Jong Un regime, Mr Moon acknowledged it was a "realistic problem", but stressed that Washington and Seoul have had no issues so far.

He said South Korea and the US maintain close coordination on the North Korea nuclear issue.

The South and North Korean militaries on Wednesday (Jan 10) conducted tests on a reconnected military hotline, the Ministry of National Defence said.

"(We) carried out the trial communication normally for about five minutes from 8am today to check the Yellow Sea military communication line," the ministry said, adding it will continue technical work on the hotline.

The two Koreas reopened a separate border hotline last week and agreed to reopen the military hotline during the 11-hour talks in Panmunjom on Tuesday.