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(LEAD) New S. Korean gov't needs 'forward-looking' policy on N. Korea to prevent nuke testing: minister

All News 16:22 April 06, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES with ministry's press release in paras 8-10)
By Yi Won-ju

SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's outgoing point man on North Korea urged the country's incoming administration Wednesday to adopt a "forward-looking" approach toward North Korea, especially in order to prevent nuclear weapons testing amid heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Unification Minister Lee In-young made the remarks during his last regular press conference in his capacity as the liberal Moon Jae-in government's top official on Pyongyang.

Earlier this week, Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, issued a statement warning that her country could use nuclear forces against South Korea to "take initiative at the outset of war."

"The North has broken its moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and there are many signs regarding nuclear tests as well. We must put an end to this right here," Lee said.

Unification Minister Lee In-young speaks during a press conference in Seoul on April 6, 2022. (Yonhap)

Unification Minister Lee In-young speaks during a press conference in Seoul on April 6, 2022. (Yonhap)

A silver lining is that the North has not crossed the "red line" yet in terms of the moratorium on nuclear testing, which is regarded as a far more serious strategic provocation than the test-firing of a long-range missile on a lofted angle. Even China and Russia did not conceal their uneasiness or anger over the North's previous underground nuclear experiments.

Concerns have grown about the future of already soured inter-Korean ties, with Moon, who has endeavored to advance the Korea peace process, set to be succeeded by Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party in May.

The minister said the Yoon administration needs to seek a "very forward-looking and active policy for peace" to stop the North from testing its nuclear weapons and create momentum for the resumption of dialogue. He raised the need for Yoon to take a "contrarian" approach amid the widespread view that conservative South Korean administrations tend to be more hawkish toward Pyongyang than liberal ones.

Meanwhile, Lee's ministry said it has reached out to the North to confirm the fate of the South Korean-built facilities at the Mount Kumgang resort, after detecting signs of the North dismantling some facilities.

"Last week, we asked the North via the inter-Korean joint liaison office to provide a full explanation on the dismantlement of facilities on Mount Kumgang, as it requires an agreement between the Koreas," the ministry said in a press release. "As of now, the North has not made any official announcement."

A senior ministry official said on condition of anonymity that there has been "progress in the North's dismantlement work compared to before," referring to a floating hotel in the resort known as Haegumgang.

Pyongyang earlier announced that it would remove the facilities at Mount Kumgang, once regarded as a key symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation and economic cooperation, since leader Kim called for tearing down all "unpleasant-looking" facilities in 2019.

Tensions have escalated recently on the Korean Peninsula after the North fired its first ICBM since November 2017, formally ending its self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile testing, last month.

Observers here voice worries that the North could engage in additional provocative acts, like a nuclear test, on the occasion of the 110th birth anniversary of its founding leader Kim Il-sung on April 15 and the founding anniversary of the North Korean People's Revolutionary Army on April 25.

They say Pyongyang may try to use additional provocations to put more pressure on the new South Korean government to be launched on May 10 and the Joe Biden administration ahead of the mid-term elections in November.


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