South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday reaffirmed his desire for a fourth meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in comments that come just hours after Pyongyang was reported to have launched two missiles from near its west coast.
Speaking in an interview to mark the two-year anniversary of Moon’s inauguration on Friday, the South Korean President said that Seoul had previously refrained from pressing the DPRK on the need for another summit.
The past few months have seen the North “reorganize” its stance in the aftermath of February’s failed Kim-Trump meeting in Hanoi, he explained, as well as prepare for April’s summit with Russia.
“We had this schedule in our mind,” he said.
“Now we believe they are ready, so we will more proactively pursue a summit to bring them back to the dialogue table,” he continued, while stressing that it was “really difficult to say” when such a meeting would go ahead.
Moon and Kim last met for a summit in Pyongyang last September, in a meeting which also saw the two Koreas sign a military agreement committing to refrain from “hostile acts” against the other, among other things.
South Korea this week warned the North that a weapons test held over the previous weekend had violated the “spirit” of that agreement – claims the DPRK has rejected – while urging Pyongyang not to escalate tensions on the peninsula.
The South Korean President on Thursday denied that today’s North Korean missile launch had broken the agreement.
“It’s not a violation of the inter-Korean military agreement,” he said, accepting that such actions “make dialogue much harder” but stressing his view that Pyongyang was moderating its language compared to previous tests.
“In the past, they were boasting their power, they were trying to display their missile or military power, and they used threatening expressions to the international community,” he said.
“I believe this was them expressing their discontent but being very careful not to disrupt the atmosphere for talks.”
But the President also said that North Korea’s testing of ballistic missiles could represent a violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, which prohibit the DPRK from conducting further launches.
Moon also admitted that his government “did not see this coming” and that “it is difficult to say if this will be the last one.”
Asked by the KBS reporter what he believed Pyongyang’s motivations for conducting Thursday’s test might be, Moon said the North was seeking to put pressure on the U.S. and South Korea.
“It is difficult to know the exact purpose of their actions,” he said. “But they are in some ways… staging a demonstration towards the U.S.”
“They see this as a pressure action for future talks to be in line with their purposes,” he continued. “Whatever the goal is… the resolution to this issue is that the North and the U.S. sit down together for dialogue.”
“If that doesn’t happen, misunderstandings can accumulate.”
U.S. President Donald Trump remains keen to continue dialogue with the North Koreans, Moon added, explaining that it was in this context that Trump had expressed support for South Korean plans to deliver food aid to the North in a recent call.
“Trump also asked me what can be done to expedite dialogue, and in this context the food aid was brought up,” he said.
Asked how the South Korean government would proceed with food aid delivery to the North, the President said he would consider asking the country’s National Assembly to release funds from the country’s Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund.
Ongoing domestic political deadlock may make this difficult, he accepted, suggesting “dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties” would be needed before it could go ahead.
Commenting on the timing of food aid to the North while the country conducted further missile tests, Moon asked the public for “understanding” and pointed to a recent report by the UN highlighting the DPRK’s continued acute food shortages.
Officials from the U.S. and South Korea are expected to discuss the issue of humanitarian aid in meetings in Seoul on Friday, with U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun set to meet with unification minister Kim Yeon-chul as well as his local counterpart Lee Do-hoon.
Edited by Chad O’Carroll
Featured image: Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps