Back To Top

[News Focus] US stresses diplomacy; Seoul cautious on NK missiles

South Korea and the US appear determined to stay the course on North Korea in the face of an increasingly belligerent Pyongyang.

In the latest hint that Washington will, at least for the time being, continue on its current course, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the goal of the Trump administration’s North Korea diplomacy remains clear.

“Past efforts, agreements that we entered into with North Korea, only produced more North Korean nukes and American diplomatic failure,” Pompeo said, speaking at an event marking the 40th anniversary of the think tank Claremont Institute on Saturday. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Yonhap
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Yonhap

“Our diplomacy with the DPRK is laser-focused on making sure that we never again have to reopen the North Korean nuclear file,” he said, referring to North Korea by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Pompeo also lauded the Trump administration’s North Korea policy in an apparent move to dispel criticism that engaging Pyongyang has failed.

“Our diplomatic efforts to get the entire world to engage, to see the risk for what it is, and to help us get North Korea to a brighter future, is something that our administration is profoundly proud of,” he said.

Since denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington hit a wall following US President Donald Trump’s second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, North Korea has shown signs of deviating from the agreements with South Korea and the US.

On May 4, the North fired a number of projectiles, including what is thought to be a newly developed guided weapon, into the East Sea from its east coast. On Thursday, the North fired two missiles from the country’s northwest.

The US has since identified the missiles as short-range missiles. Seoul’s military, however, has so far refrained from describing the projectiles as ballistic missiles, saying further analysis is needed.

Seoul has also declined to confirm whether Thursday’s missiles are the same type as the guided weapons fired May 4, despite the similarities seen in the photographs released by the North.

Trump, who has touted his relationship with Kim Jong-un on numerous occasions, appears to be downplaying the launches.

“No. No. I’m not at all. They’re short-range. They’re short-range and I don’t consider that a breach of trust at all,” Trump said when asked if he was frustrated by the launches and if he considered it a breach of trust, in an interview with the US publication Politico on Friday.

“And you know, at some point I may. But at this at this point, no. These were short-range missiles and very standard stuff. Very standard.”

When asked whether the launches presented a setback for the negotiations, Trump further downplayed Pyongyang’s recent moves, saying some of the projectiles were not missiles.

“Well, this is -- actually, some of them weren’t even missiles. Some of the things that they fired, they weren’t even missiles. But this is short-range, and I don’t consider it a breach of trust,” Trump was quoted as saying by Politico.

While downplaying the implications of the launches, Trump has voiced doubt about the negotiations.

Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Trump said North Korea may not be “ready to negotiate” and that the US is “looking at it very seriously right now.”

Since the Hanoi summit ended without an agreement, the North Korean leader has publicly set the deadline for negotiations with the US at the end of the year, saying he would give the US until then to negotiate “with the right attitude.”

In the wake of the summit, Pyongyang has also taken steps to strengthen its ties with China and Russia, with some results. Following his meeting with Kim, Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the possibility of reviving the six-party talks, and backed the North’s position that security guarantees must be provided in exchange for denuclearization.

As for the South Korean government, it is approaching the issue with characteristic caution.

In line with the military’s apparent reluctance to conclude that some of the projectiles were missiles, President Moon Jae-in stated that the North appears to be taking care not to close the door on talks with the US, despite raising the possibility that Thursday’s launch may have violated UN resolutions.

During a televised interview on Thursday, Moon said the recent actions appeared to have been carefully calculated and should be understood not as provocation but as protests against Seoul and Washington and a call for the resumption of talks.

The North, however, has stepped up its criticism of the South.

A North Korean online publication on Monday accused the South of being a “warmonger” for conducting military exercises with the US, while justifying the North’s projectile launches as routine training.

North Korean media have also criticized the South over its plans to provide humanitarian aid, calling them “empty words,” and called on Seoul to stop relying on foreign powers.

South Korea’s conservatives, meanwhile, have homed in on the recent developments and lambasted the government’s response.

Hwang Kyo-ahn, chairman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, continued his attacks against Moon on Saturday, accusing the president of defending the North.

“They (North Korea) fired a missile in our faces. President Moon is defending North Korea rather than giving a stern warning,” Hwang said Saturday at a rally.

At earlier rallies, Hwang and his party had accused Moon and the military of lying to the public by painting a picture of a “false peace.”

By Choi He-suk (
Korea Herald daum