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(2nd LD) Moon says N.K. missile "almost close" to ICBM

All News 15:22 July 06, 2017

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADDS more info in para 11)

SEOUL, July 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea's new missile fired this week appears "almost close" to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), voicing concerns that its rocket development was "much faster than expected."

During a dinner meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday (Berlin time), Moon also said Pyongyang's escalatory provocations call for stronger sanctions, but pressure must be applied to bring it to the negotiating table, not to undermine peace.

"The current level of the North's nuclear and missile programs is a problem, but what is more troubling is their development is proceeding much faster than expected," Moon was quoted by his spokesman as saying during the Berlin talks before the Group of 20 summit.

Moon, however, pointed out that even though the missile's striking range might have been extended, questions still remain over its accuracy and capability to carry a nuclear warhead.

"But given the current pace of their (weapons) development, we are in a serious situation where we cannot relax, and I believe the United States may think so too," Moon added.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a joint press conference shortly before the start of their bilateral summit in Berlin on July 5, 2017. (Yonhap)

The North claimed Tuesday that it had succeeded in its first ICBM test, with the missile reaching a top altitude of 2,800 kilometers before splashing into the East Sea, some 930 km away from the launch site.

The latest provocation, which drew international condemnation and calls for tougher sanctions, posed a policy dilemma to Moon, angling for dialogue with the reclusive regime in a shift from the erstwhile sanctions-centric approach.

In the talks with Merkel, Moon noted the need for a tough response to the missile launch, but efforts to "manage the situation" to prevent any unwarranted escalation should also be made along the way.

"The international community's pressure (on the North) should have to be strengthened, but sanctions and pressure must be used as a means to bring the North to the dialogue table for its denuclearization," he said. "It itself should not work to break peace."

Moon also proposed to Merkel that Germany explore ways to have the G-20 summit present its joint resolve, possibly in a written statement, against the North's evolving nuclear and missile programs.

He, in addition, voiced hope for the two countries' energy policy cooperation, noting that both governments are pursuing clean, safe and renewable energy sources.

Moon is currently on a two-day visit to the German capital. He is set to leave Thursday for Hamburg, where he and the German head of state will join 18 other global leaders for the annual G-20 summit.

Earlier in the day, Moon and Merkel agreed to boost their countries' cooperation in ending the North's nuclear ambitions, vowing to use all available means, Seoul's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said. The agreement came at their bilateral summit in Berlin on Wednesday.

The South Korean and German leaders agreed to closely work together to "fundamentally" resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through all available means, including sanctions and dialogue, Cheong Wa Dae said.

In addition, Merkel expressed her support for Seoul's leadership in international efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear ambitions, it added.

Merkel also expressed hope the countries' cooperation will further develop into what she called a multi-dimensional partnership, calling South Korea an important partner in Asia that shares universal values with her country.

To this end, the two leaders agreed to launch strategic talks between their foreign ministers, according to Cheong Wa Dae.

They also agreed to expand the countries' trade relationship, noting the Korea-EU free trade agreement was becoming an exemplary deal that underscores the importance of free trade and market liberalization.


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