US to consult Seoul before acting against North Korea

SEOUL • The US has agreed not to take any military action against North Korea without first getting South Korea's approval, President Moon Jae In said yesterday as he marked 100 days in office.

Backing up the President's assertion, General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Beijing that there was "no question" that South Korea would be consulted before any possible military action was taken on the Korean peninsula.

"South Korea is an ally and everything we do in the region is in the context of our alliance," Gen Dunford told reporters travelling with him on a trip that has taken him to Seoul and Beijing. He plans to be in Tokyo today.

The risk to South Korea has restrained successive American administrations striking North Korea to take out its nuclear and missile facilities, even as its capability has improved to the point where it now poses a threat to the US mainland.

But a strike on North Korea would likely cause Pyongyang to unleash conventional artillery at Seoul, just over the border. Ten million people live in the South Korean capital but as many as 25 million people - half the population - live in the greater Seoul region and within North Korean artillery range.

Although the US and South Korean militaries would respond quickly, the initial volleys could cause significant damage and panic.

Mr Moon ruled out the prospect of another war on the Korean Peninsula, even as he warned Pyongyang that it was rapidly approaching a "red line" with its missile programme.

"I would define the red line as completing the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile and being able to weaponise it with a nuclear warhead," he said. "In that respect, North Korea is nearing the red line."

North Korea last month, for the first time, launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles with the theoretical capability to reach deep into the US mainland, at least as far as Denver and possibly New York.

But even as Mr Kim Jong Un's regime makes technical progress and delivers shrill threats, the North Korean problem must be solved through peaceful means.

"I say this with confidence: There will be no war on the Korean peninsula ever again," Mr Moon told reporters on his 100th day in office, adding that US President Donald Trump had agreed to discuss any action with his administration.

The US embassy in Seoul had no immediate response.

In Beijing, Gen Dunford agreed yesterday that a military solution to the North Korean problem is "absolutely horrific".

General Fan Changlong, a vice-chairman of China's powerful Central Military Commission, told his US counterpart that military means should not be an option in solving the issues. "China insists that consultation through dialogue is the only effective way to solve the problems on the peninsula," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'US to consult Seoul before acting against North Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe