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[Editorial] Unambiguous demand

Western powers’ concerted stance heightens pressure on North Korea to denuclearize

In a joint communique issued after their summit in Brussels on Monday, the leaders of the US and 29 other member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization reiterated the alliance’s full support for the goal of the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.

They urged the North to eliminate its nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities and ballistic missiles, while calling on other nations to fully implement existing UN sanctions imposed on the recalcitrant regime as punishment for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles tests.

A day earlier, the leaders of the Group of Seven countries issued a joint statement at the conclusion of their meeting in Cornwall, England, which called for, among other things, the verifiable and irreversible abandonment of the North’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.

Both of the documents, particularly the joint communique by NATO leaders, were more specific and resolute in demanding the North’s denuclearization than last month’s joint declaration by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden. The Moon-Biden joint statement issued after their summit in Washington called for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. At the time, Biden appeared to have accepted Moon’s request for the vague reference to the North Korean nuclear issue and the allies’ diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang in return for Seoul’s agreement to address China-related matters in their joint declaration.

But the documents adopted by NATO and G-7 leaders were seen as reflecting the Biden administration’s firm position that it would pursue the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the North by increasing pressure on the impoverished regime.

Pyongyang has shown no official response to the results of the Moon-Biden summit and calls by NATO and G-7 leaders for the scrapping of its nuclear arsenal.

North Korea has stayed out of denuclearization talks with the US and inter-Korean dialogue since the summit between its dictator Kim Jong-un and Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, in Hanoi in February 2019 ended with no deal. Since Biden took office in January, it has refrained from making significant provocations but has remained unresponsive to Washington’s overtures to resume contact.

Concerns have recently been rising that Pyongyang might return to a provocative mode in a bid to push Washington closer to its terms in reaching a nuclear deal.

While presiding over a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party last week, Kim called for a “high alert posture” against the “fast-changing” situation on the peninsula. He was quoted by the North’s state news agency that the North Korean People’s Army had to staunchly carry out the party’s guidelines on military buildup and be on high alert to fulfill its noble mission of firmly defending the sovereignty and security of the communist country.

His remarks were seen by some observers here as signaling that Pyongyang would seek to intensify tensions on the peninsula by resorting to provocations beyond test-firing short-range ballistic missiles.

During the meeting, Kim reportedly discussed “important tasks” to make “a fresh turn in the overall work of national defense.” In military parades in Pyongyang in October and early this year, the North showed off an upgraded version of submarine-launched ballistic missiles and other strategic and tactical weapons.

South Korea and the US now need to strengthen preparations for a range of possible provocations by the North.

It is necessary for the allies to resume joint field training exercises to enhance their military preparedness. The Moon administration has insisted on conducting combined drills in the form of computer-simulated war games to help forge an atmosphere conducive to the resumption of dialogue with the North.

Seoul’s conciliatory approach has only emboldened Pyongyang’s attitude. Earlier this month, a North Korean propaganda outlet denounced Seoul’s decision to join a US-led air drill also involving Japan, which is underway in Alaska, saying the South Korean military is “going through fire and water” for the US.

It is also worrying that the Moon government’s preoccupation with inter-Korean reconciliation has resulted in the weakening of discipline in the South Korean armed forces.

The latest joint statements by NATO and G-7 leaders should remind Seoul that it would be impossible to establish a viable framework for lasting peace with Pyongyang by circumventing the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Kim regime.