North Korea launch would be catastrophe for diplomacy

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea must not use a possible rocket launch as leverage in negotiations with the United States (US), a South Korean presidential adviser said yesterday, saying such a move could be “catastrophic” for global diplomacy on its nuclear programme.

US-based websites recently released satellite photographs indicating North Korea has restored structures at a long-range rocket launch facility that it dismantled last year at the start of diplomacy with the US. Other satellite images show increased activities by vehicles at a separate North Korean facility used to manufacture missiles, and rockets for satellite launches.

Some experts said these suggest North Korea may be assembling a long-range rocket to carry out a banned satellite launch following the breakdown of last month’s North Korea-US summit in Hanoi.

Moon Chung-in, a retired university professor who is now a special adviser to President Moon Jae-in, said North Korea’s use of a rocket launch or other nuclear activities as a bargaining chip would be a “bad move.”

Moon Chung-in said such a North Korean move could eventually cause a “catastrophic” consequence or a “big disaster” in US-North Korea diplomacy. “I wonder if North Korea should avoid” such an action, Moon said in a panel discussion.

Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, speaks during a forum hosted by the Kwanhun Club in Seoul, South Korea. – AP

He said both North Korea and the US must restrain themselves to keep diplomacy alive and start unofficial contacts to resume talks. He said the Hanoi summit showed how “difficult” and “painful” it will be to achieve denuclearisation and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry also said it is worried about the developments at North Korea’s rocket launch site, and that Seoul and Washington have been closely monitoring the area. “We hope the North side will make a wise decision … which would benefit all,” ministry spokesman Kim In-chul told reporters.

Speaking about the reported activities at the North Korean site, US President Donald Trump told reporters last week that “I would be very disappointed if that were happening.” He said it was “a very early report” and that “we’ll see what happens. We’ll take a look. It will ultimately get solved.”

The Hanoi summit fell apart due to disputes over how much sanctions relief North Korea should receive in return for limited nuclear disarmament steps. The US and North Korea accuse each other of causing the summit’s breakdown, but both sides have avoided harsh criticism of the other and have expressed hope for future negotiations. No official meeting between the countries has been publicly scheduled.

The February 27-28 summit was the second between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Trump since they met for the first time in Singapore last June.