AP interview: Korean leader calls serious threat from North

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s surge in missile tests, growing nuclear ambitions and other provocative actions are creating …

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s surge in missile tests, growing nuclear ambitions and other provocative actions pose a “serious threat” that could lead to a dangerous miscalculation and spark a wider conflict, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said Tuesday. .

Speaking to The Associated Press at the president’s office in Seoul, the conservative leader reiterated his call for closer security cooperation with the United States and Japan to counter the “dangerous situation” posed by North Korea, as he played down the prospect of direct talks such as those , which was carried out by his liberal predecessor.

“Many times in history we have seen a mistake that led to major wars,” Yun said, adding that the North’s expanding nuclear arsenal poses a direct threat to the US mainland as well as South Korea and neighboring Japan.

Most of the almost hour-long interview was devoted to North Korea, which conducted a record number of missile tests last year and just a few weeks ago violated South Korean airspace by flying drones across the border for the first time in five years.

That invasion prompted the South to fire warning shots, raise jets and fly its own drones over the border.

After a few days, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un started the new year by ordering an “exponential” expansion of his nuclear arsenal and the development of a more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile.

Some experts believe the test spree is largely aimed at modernizing the arsenal, which North Korea will ultimately want to use as leverage in future relations with the United States to wring sanctions relief and other concessions.

“North Korea may have its internal reasons, but our country or any other country cannot know exactly why they are carrying out such provocations,” Yun said.

“These illegal North Korean provocations can only lead to a strengthening of (South Korea’s) security response capacity and further strengthening of security cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan,” he said.

Yoon, a former chief prosecutor, took office in May vowing to take a tougher stance on North Korea. During the presidential election campaign, he accused his liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, of “submissiveness” to North Korea.

Moon, who has met with Kim Jong Un three times, has been credited with orchestrating the dormant nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington and easing the fear of war. But he has drawn criticism that his policy of engagement ultimately helped Kim Jong-un buy time and improve weapons technology under UN sanctions.

In a recent newspaper interview, Yoon cited discussions with the US about joint planning that could potentially involve US nuclear assets.

Asked for more clarity on Tuesday, he said the proposed plans included “tabletop exercises, computer simulations and exercises … on the means of delivering nuclear weapons.”

“There are discussions about so-called joint planning and joint execution, and I think it is right for South Korea and the United States to cooperate because we are both under the North Korean nuclear threat,” Yoon said.

While Yoon did not provide further details, some observers said he likely wanted to emphasize efforts to increase the viability of the US security commitment to protect its Asian ally from North Korea.

In a policy report to Yunus on Wednesday, Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said the South Korean and US militaries plan to hold a table-top exercise next month to strengthen their response to scenarios where North Korea uses nuclear weapons. Lee said South Korea would insist that the U.S. deploy strategic assets near the Korean Peninsula more often, according to Lee’s office.

Despite the escalation of hostilities, Yun has maintained that he will not negotiate for the sake of negotiating with North Korea, saying that past inter-Korean talks have often been politically exploited by the leaders of both countries and have failed to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program.

Yun also accused North Korea of ​​cutting off all communication channels with South Korea. Pointing to a white telephone on the table, which he said was for a direct hotline with the North Korean leader, Yun said that “the North is obstructing this line and not engaging in dialogue.”

Yun also expressed his support for Ukraine in its fight to repel the Russian invasion, which he called “illegal and illegitimate.”

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky called on South Korea to provide weapons and other military equipment. The Asian country, a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped U.S.-backed military, has provided humanitarian aid and other support by joining U.S. sanctions against Moscow. But it stopped at the direct supply of weapons.

Yoon said Korean laws, as well as domestic public opinion, make it difficult for his government to arm Ukraine while it is at war.

In November, an American official said that The US agreed to purchase 100,000 artillery shells from South Korean manufacturers provide Ukraine. South Korea claims the ammunition it sold was intended to replenish depleted US stockpiles.

Yun expressed readiness for similar deals in the future, noting that the two allies regularly buy military equipment from each other.

“If the conflict (in Ukraine) is not resolved quickly, it may send a message to North Korea that the international community will not respond to an act of invasion with appropriate sanctions or punishment, and this message will further embolden North Korea. arranging provocations”.

On the domestic front, Yun still seemed shaken A crowd tragedy that killed nearly 160 Halloween-goers in late October in Seoul’s Itaewon district.

He said that shortly after he heard the first reports, he rushed to his office, not far from the district. He said that at first he did not know how many people died and only later realized the scale of the disaster.

“It is still difficult for me to fully understand how a country with such a (developed) system as ours can have such a big accident due to crowd control failure ” he said.

Authorities have ordered a wide-ranging investigation, but so far no senior officials have lost their jobs, despite calls for more accountability from victims’ families and members of the opposition.

Yoon said it is important to conduct a thorough investigation before assigning blame.

“For the victims and relatives, the results of the investigation can be the basis for establishing the government’s responsibility, so I instructed (officials) to thoroughly investigate the government’s responsibility, even if it means taking on a lot of responsibility,” Yun said.


Associated Press writer Kim Tong Hyun contributed to this report.

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