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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 16)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 06:54 December 16, 2019

Stop further provocations
North Korea should return to nuclear talks

North Korea conducted what it called "another crucial test" at its Tongchang-ri missile testing site Friday. The test was the second one following a "very important test" at the same site on Dec. 7. Pyongyang has not gone into details, but it is widely believed that the Kim Jong-un regime tested a rocket engine in a possible prelude to further provocations.

The two tests were certainly part of the North's efforts to put more pressure on the U.S. to accept its demands to meet the year-end deadline over the stalled nuclear talks. Pyongyang has already threatened to halt negotiations with Washington and take a "new way" unless the U.S. comes up with a new proposal. This threat is apparently aimed at prodding the U.S. to ease or lift international sanctions imposed on the North for conducting nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Given Pyongyang's harsh rhetoric and provocative action, no one can rule out the possibility of the North test-firing an ICBM in what it described as a "Christmas gift" for the U.S. Some experts even predict that the North may conduct another nuclear test. If that is the case, the U.S.-North Korea nuclear talks will end up in a catastrophic collapse. Washington has hinted at using military force against the North to destroy its nuclear arsenal.

U.S. President Donald Trump has already warned the recalcitrant North could lose "everything" if it tries to interfere with his re-election bid. In fact, Trump has boasted that the North's freeze on nuclear and ICBM tests are his major diplomatic achievements since his first historic summit with Kim in Singapore in April 2018. The two reached a vaguely worded agreement on the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." Their second summit ended with no deal in Hanoi in February this year. The two sides have yet to make a breakthrough in the stalled talks.

Now it is hard to break the impasse unless both sides narrow their differences over the methods of denuclearization. One of the most contentious issues is the easing of sanctions. The Kim regime has called for sanctions relief first before starting denuclearization. On the other hand, the U.S. has made it clear that it cannot soften or lift sanctions until the North makes substantive progress in nuclear disarmament.

We have repeatedly called on Pyongyang to make sincere and genuine efforts to prove its intention of giving up its nuclear program before asking for the crippling sanctions to be lifted. Putting sanctions relief first could be seen as a refusal to move toward denuclearization. Therefore skepticism is growing over the North's real intention. The Kim regime cannot deflect criticism for having tried to buy time to complete its nuclear program.

Against this backdrop, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul on Sunday to try to put the nuclear talks back on track. He may travel to the inter-Korean border truce village of Panmunjeom for possible contact with North Korean negotiators. He will meet President Moon Jae-in on Monday to step up cooperation between Seoul and Washington in getting Pyongyang to return to negotiations.

We urge the Kim regime to refrain from escalating tensions by making further provocations. The North should solve the problem through dialogue and compromise, instead of saber-rattling and nuclear blackmail. Otherwise, it will have more to lose than to gain, risking its own survival.

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