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S. Korea, US ‘entirely’ align on incremental approach toward denuclearization

North Korea ratchets up saber-rattling using Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise as a pretext, however

US President Joe Biden attends a state dinner hosted by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Saturday, May 21, 2022, at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea. (File Photo - White House)
US President Joe Biden attends a state dinner hosted by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Saturday, May 21, 2022, at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea. (File Photo - White House)
South Korea and the United States “entirely” align on their plans to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization in stages, the US State Department said Monday, urging North Korea to affirmatively respond to South Korea’s “audacious initiative.”

The US State Department on Monday reiterated its endorsement of the Yoon Suk-yeol government’s “audacious initiative,” which seeks to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization through a phased, incremental approach.

South Korea essentially envisions providing economic compensation and security guarantees in stages in return for North Korea’s substantive process toward denuclearization in the road map announced on Aug. 15.

“We’ve been clear about our support for the bold or the ambitious plan that the South Korean administration has put forward,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing.

“It’s a plan that’s entirely consistent with our approach to the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program, to its ballistic missile program, in that it sees the potential for practical if incremental advancements towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s really at the heart of our approach to the DPRK.”

DPRK refers to the formal name for the North, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Biden administration pursues a step-by-step approach toward denuclearization, which is a midpoint between the Trump administration’s all-or-nothing, or “grand bargain,” approach and the Obama administration’s strategic patience.

Washington views that each party should take incremental steps toward the shared goal.

The US State Department underlined that the ball is in North Korea’s court.

“The DPRK has more recently heard that same message from the new administration in South Korea,” Price said. “We believe it is incumbent on the DPRK to respond, and to respond affirmatively to that, knowing that and believing that we can achieve progress towards what is a collective goal.”

But Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister and high-profile mouthpiece, openly dismissed Yoon’s audacious initiative as the “height of absurdity” in a pronouncement issued Friday. Kim underscored that Yoon’s road map is based on the false premise that North Korea would take denuclearization measures.

The State Department also underscored that the US continues to maintain readiness and deterrence to counter North Korean threats in coordination with South Korea and Japan while sending clear messages about what the US is prepared to do and seeks to achieve collectively with its allies.

“In the meantime, we’re going to continue to stand by our treaty allies -- the ROK, Japan, other allies in the Indo-Pacific -- and to ensure that we are postured appropriately through defense and deterrence against any threats or provocations we may collectively face from the DPRK,” Price told reporters.

The US stance is in line with South Korea’s plans to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization based on a three-pronged approach. The “3D principle” consists of deterrence, dissuasion and dialogue.

Clear blue water
But North Korea’s recent statements suggest there is little chance of the country accepting Yoon’s initiative.

North Korea’s propaganda outlets have used the coordinated move by the US, South Korea and Japan as an excuse to heighten tensions on the peninsula and accelerate weapons development.

Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korea newspaper produced by the Chongryon community in Tokyo, on Monday reaffirmed North Korea’s “principle of (matching) strength-for-strength” and its pursuit of military and nuclear buildups.

“In today’s new Cold War, the move to build a triangular structure of threats and provocations against nuclear-armed DPRK is a military adventure with no chance of winning,” read an article penned by Kim Ji-young, the Choson Sinbo managing editor and a high-profile mouthpiece for Pyongyang.

Choson Sinbo also said North Korea’s nuclear buildup comprised efforts to “fulfill its responsible duty to deter nuclear war in the key point of Asia-Pacific region where the interests of great powers are entangled and guarantee regional security.”

North Korea’s external-oriented propaganda outlets have also simultaneously launched a blistering criticism of the Yoon government’s bid to reinforce the alliance’s readiness and deterrence against North Korean threats.

The volley of statements by North Korea came on the occasion of the Ulchi Freedom Shield combined exercise between South Korea and the US, which is set to be conducted from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1 with revived field training exercises.

Uriminzokkiri, a propaganda website, claimed Tuesday that Yoon was seeking to “justify its confrontation with fellow countrymen and scheme to wage a war of invasion against North Korea by decrying North Korea as a ‘security threat.’”

The external-oriented media lambasted Yoon for “conspiring coordination” with the US against North Korea, citing the Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise as an example.

Uriminzokkiri also warned of the consequences of the regular combined military exercise in a separate article released Monday.

“The military exercises staged by the aggressor forces are inevitably followed by corresponding military responses,” it said. “It is common knowledge that even a minor accidental clash can escalate into an uncontrollable catastrophe and even lead to an all-out war in this situation where both sides are clashing sharply.”

Ryomyong, another propaganda website, said Monday that Yoon has bluntly revealed his plans for a “sudden invasion” of North Korea, labeling him a “servant” of foreign forces who is aggravating a nuclear war.

(dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)
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