President reacts well
NK ICBM test tests Moon's policy consistency
President Moon Jae-in reacted with cool head on North Korea's alleged intercontinental ballistic missile test Tuesday. "We hope the North will not cross the bridge of no return," Moon warned during the emergency National Security Council meeting. "There is no knowing how Korea and the United States will respond if it violates the red line."
His message confirmed Moon is committed to his agreement with U.S. President Donald Trump during their Washington summit to deal sternly with the North's provocations. For that Moon gained the U.S. consent for Seoul to try and open dialogue with the isolated regime.
For the liberal leader who just resolved suspicions about his alleged pro-North Korean tendencies after the summit, it is important to continue trust-building with its key ally. Through it, the Moon government will be able to strengthen its persuasive power in coordinating with the U.S. a policy toward the North and take initiative if it comes to that to cut a deal with Pyongyang.
No less important, Moon has reassured the conservatives at home, who are skeptical of what they see a soft approach on the North, laying the groundwork for them come to his side. This diminishes the chance for ideological divisions on domestic front.
No doubt, Tuesday's ICBM test is a serious provocation. The projectile reached 2,808 km in altitude and flew about 933km before splashing down in the exclusive economic zone of Japan in the East Sea. Experts say that if the altitude were lowered to the trajectory of a missile for a maximum distance, it could fly 7,000 km to hit Alaska. Considering the missile the North fired May 15 was by estimate capable of flying 4,500km, it could be a matter of time before the North can possess a missile with a striking distance of 10,000km and hit the U.S. mainland.
What has been worrisome is a potential military U.S. response based on President Trump's vow not to allow the North to fire an ICBM. Technically, what the North fired Tuesday is a projectile that flew a long distance but is short of an ICBM, which also needs a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can withstand the heat and shock of reentry into atmosphere and explode as designated. It may take a couple more years before the North puts together such a working ICBM.
In other words, Moon still has a window of opportunity, although narrowing, to use his license to try dialogue, defuse the crisis and make peace on firmer ground. It will boil down to whether Moon proves perseverant enough to stick to his phased denuclearization formula.
His predecessor, Park Geun-hye's trustpolitik collapsed because she was emotionally swayed by the North's provocative acts, while her predecessor Lee Myung-bak lacked philosophical conviction or inter-Korean reconciliation. Moon should be different from them, if he wants to prevail against greater odds. What to come may make Tuesday's challenge look like a small bump along the road. When he feels unsure, Moon may recite a Yogi Berra quote: It ain't over till it's over.
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