South Korea willing to reopen communications with North amid missile crisis

President Moon Jae-in says that he wants to pursue dialogue as well as pressure to stop the North's weapons programs.

South Korea willing to reopen communications with North amid missile crisis
South Korean President Moon Jae-in presides over National Security Council at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, May 14, 2017. Reuters

South Korea said on Wednesday that it is willing to reopen communications with North Korea as the new President Moon Jae-in seeks a two-track policy involving sanctions and dialogue with its reclusive neighbor to rein in its nuclear and missile programs.

"Our most basic stance is that communication lines between South and North Korea should open," Lee Duk-haeng, a spokesman for the South's Unification Ministry, told Reuters. "The Unification Ministry has considered options on this internally but nothing has been decided yet."

Lee added that the communications were severed by Pyongyang last year in the wake of new sanctions following North Korea's last nuclear test and its decision to shut down a joint industrial zone operated inside the North.

Meanwhile, North Korea has made no secret of the fact that it is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland. It has ignored calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally.

On Sunday, the North launched its latest ballistic missile in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. North Korea said it was a test of its capability to carry a "large-size heavy nuclear warhead", drawing Security Council condemnation.

North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North defends its weapons programs as necessary to counter U.S. hostility.

Last week, Moon Jae-in won the presidential election by campaigning on a more moderate approach to the North. After taking office, he said that he wants to pursue dialogue as well as pressure to stop the North's weapons programs.

Moon's envoy to the United States, South Korean media mogul Hong Seok-hyun, left for Washington early on Wednesday. Hong said he would discuss North Korea with high-ranking officials in Washington.

Hong added that South Korea had not yet received official word from the United States on whether Seoul should pay for an anti-missile U.S. radar system that has been deployed outside Seoul.

Earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump had said that he wants South Korea to pay for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system that detected Sunday's launch.

China has strongly opposed THAAD. It said that it can spy into its territory, and South Korean companies have been hit in China by a nationalist backlash over the deployment.

On Tuesday, the United States said it believed it could persuade China to impose new U.N. sanctions on North Korea. It also warned that Washington would also target and "call out" countries supporting Pyongyang.

Ahead of a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting, Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations made it very clear that Washington would only talk to North Korea once it halted its nuclear program.

Trump has called for an immediate halt to North Korea's missile and nuclear tests and U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood said on Tuesday that China's leverage was key and Beijing could do more.

Earlier this month, Trump warned that a "major, major conflict" with North Korea was possible, and in a show of force, sent the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group to Korean waters to conduct drills with South Korea and Japan.