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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 6)

All Headlines 07:13 November 06, 2017

Defector's advice
Thae correct on how to deal with NK

Thae Yong-ho, the North Korean deputy ambassador in London who defected to South Korea in August last year, has been visiting the United States, testifying in the U.S. Congress, giving media interviews and lecturing.

It is a rare outing for the highest-level known defector after the 1997 defection by Hwang Jang-yop, the architect of the North's founding "Juche" or self-reliance philosophy. Thae has reduced his activities _ letting the world know about the North's realities _ as the progressive Moon Jae-in government is trying to resume inter-Korean dialogue.

Now, it may be true that Thae's accounts are biased in places and fall short of being holistic, but it cannot be denied that he is a treasure trove of information on the North. For that reason, his U.S. visit is meaningful for sharing information. Of course, some of his claims need critical scrutiny.

The points Thae has made in the U.S. are worthy of note and should be reflected in the ongoing effort to denuclearize the North.

First, he said a pre-emptive strike, floated as a possibility by the U.S. , would trigger all-out war. The U.S. has repeatedly threatened Pyongyang by saying force remains an option and implying a surgical strike is one way to implement it.

Experts' consensus is that millions of South Koreans would be killed in what could lead to a nuclear World War III on the Korean Peninsula. But persisting on the sidelines is a wishful-thinking scenario that a well-executed strike nullifies the North's counterattack capabilities together with its nuclear arsenal. Thae's message is "stop daydreaming."

Second, the defector, now attached to a state-run research institute, claims Pyongyang is trying a "divide-and-conquer" tactic to rupture the ROK-U.S. alliance. He said it was pivotal for the international community to maintain the high-pressure sanctions, making the North understand it will not be recognized as a nuclear-armed state.

On the surface, the Moon government is on the same page as the Trump administration in maximizing pressure on the North. But inside moon is doubtful about the effectiveness of this, and is trying to open a line of communication with Pyongyang even at the cost of ties with the U.S. , through such concessions as scaling down joint military exercises. Seoul is also suffering a sense of ambivalence, suspecting Washington may cut a deal behind its back with the North or China. Thae's advice is for Seoul and Washington to keep up the pressure until the North realizes there cannot be a split in the alliance.

Finally, Thae pushed a Trump-Kim meeting as an ultimate way of resolving the impasse. One big flaw is that President Moon is missing from this scenario. As the main stakeholder, Seoul must be involved in any effort to defuse the North Korean crisis.

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