World

S Korea's Moon says high possibility of conflict with North

North Korea forges ahead with missile programmes amid widespread opposition

SEOUL: South Korean President Moon Jae In yesterday said there was a "high possibility" of conflict with North Korea, which is pressing ahead with nuclear and missile programmes.

The comments came hours after the South, which hosts 28,500 US troops, said it wanted to reopen a channel of dialogue with North Korea as Mr Moon seeks a two-track policy, involving sanctions and dialogue, to try to rein in its neighbour.

North Korea has made no secret of the fact that it is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the US mainland and has ignored calls to halt its nuclear and missile programmes, even from China, its lone major ally.

It conducted its latest ballistic missile launch, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, on Sunday. It said this was a test of its capability to carry a "large-size heavy nuclear warhead", drawing Security Council condemnation.

"The reality is that there is a high possibility of a military conflict at the NLL (Northern Limit Line) and military demarcation line," Mr Moon was quoted as saying by the presidential Blue House.

He also said the North's nuclear and missile capabilities seem to have advanced rapidly recently but that the South was ready and capable of striking back should the North attack.

Mr Moon won an election last week campaigning on a more moderate approach towards the North and said after taking office that he wants to pursue dialogue as well as pressure.

But he has said the North must change its attitude of insisting on pressing ahead with its arms development before dialogue is possible.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng told reporters the government's most basic stance is that communication lines between South and North Korea should reopen. "The Unification Ministry has considered options on this internally but nothing has been decided yet," Mr Lee said.

Communications were severed by the North last year, in the wake of new sanctions following its fifth nuclear test and decision to shut down a joint industrial zone.

ONGOING CONFLICT

The North defends its weapons programmes as necessary to counter US hostility and regularly threatens to destroy the United States.

Mr Moon's envoy to the United States, South Korean media mogul Hong Seok Hyun, left for Washington yesterday.

Mr Hong said South Korea had not yet received official word from Washington on whether Seoul should pay for an anti-missile US radar system that has been deployed outside Seoul.

US President Donald Trump has said he wants South Korea to pay for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system which detected Sunday's test launch.

China has strongly opposed THAAD, saying it can spy into its territory, and South Korean companies in China have been hit by a nationalist backlash over the deployment.

The US said on Tuesday it believed it could persuade China to impose new UN sanctions on North Korea and warned that Washington would also target and "call out" countries supporting Pyongyang.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has made it clear that Washington would talk to North Korea only after it halts its nuclear programme.

Mr Trump has warned that a "major, major conflict" with North Korea was possible, and sent the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group to Korean waters for drills with South Korea and Japan. - REUTERS

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