By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, July 5 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test is posing a dilemma for global efforts to rid the North of its weapons programs, dimming prospects for the new South Korean president's push to resolve the stalemate through both talks and pressure, experts said Wednesday.
Some experts, however, cautiously expect that the North's ICBM test could catalyze negotiations as major stakeholders possibly conclude that Pyongyang has finally secured what it wanted and that there might be no turning back in its capabilities.
Early on Tuesday, the North fired a ballistic missile into the East Sea. It was seen as an intermediate missile at first but Pyongyang later said in a televised announcement that it successfully test-fired an ICBM, named Hwasong-14.
The North's latest provocation drew immediate strong condemnation from the world calling for tougher sanctions for heightening tensions and violating multiple U.N. resolutions that ban its use of ballistic missile technology.
The U.S., in particular, was quick to condemn the North with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowing to take tougher measures to hold Pyongyang accountable.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to convene an emergency meeting in New York on Wednesday (local time) to discuss additional measures against the North's latest provocation.
"It is a clear indication that the North doesn't care about South Korea-led talks," said Kim Keun-sik, a professor at Kyungnam University. "The North's top priority appears to be placed on completing its missile and nuclear capabilities. No matter how strong the sanctions and pressure might go, the North will likely go its own way, which was evident in the ICBM test."
"It is a dilemma for us. The provocation should be met with additional tough sanctions but the problem is that we cannot focus only on sanctions and give up hopes for talks. How can we expect that the North will come out to the negotiating table when sanctions are getting tough," he added.
President Moon, who took office in May, has said that he is going to pursue sanctions and pressure while at the same time seeking talks and engagement to resolve the North's nuclear stalemate. He cited a freeze on its nuclear program as a possible starting point for any negotiations with the ultimate goal placed on its denuclearization.
The so-called dual-track policy got a boost when he met with U.S. President Donald Trump last week when the two shared the view that the door should remain open to dialogue under the right circumstances.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, cautioned against being swayed too much by the North's provocative act, expressing his confidence about the Moon government's dual-track policy in dealing with the recalcitrant state.
"The Moon government surely expected that there might be strategic provocations by the North when they drew up its policy focusing both on talks and pressure," he said. "Rather than being swayed by such events, it should work hard to prevent any further provocations of ICBM level or additional nuclear tests down the road."
The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae earlier said that its approach to the North through talks and pressure will not change despite the latest provocation.
The ICBM test, however, obviously caused many to doubt that it will be possible to pursue talks with the North conditioned on its ultimate denuclearization at a time when the North has been closer to perfecting its nuclear capability, experts said.
"A freeze of its nuclear program might be a precondition in recognition of the sentiment in the international community," said Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University. "In reality, chances are slim for the North to voluntarily abandon its nuclear program so it would be hard to resume talks saying that you must freeze your program first."
Lim noted that the fact that the threat from the North is fast growing and that the chances are low for the North to give up its nuclear program underlines the need for talks rather than such ramped-up pressure, including a possible military action.
"The current situation cannot be resolved through military action and other pressure and sanction-oriented measures," he said. "The North has gone all the way down the road in its nuclear program, demonstrating its missile and nuclear programs as much as possible. Now is time for talks.
"We cannot focus only on sanctions against the imminent threat," he said. "In this sense, the ICBM test could serve as a catalyst for talks with the North. There is also a possibility that the North could propose talks first since having nuclear weapons does not mean any practical profits."
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