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North Korea

South Korea’s leader to prevent war at all costs as Kim Jong-un holds off on Guam missile attack plan

Some analysts suggested Kim Jong-un’s comments opened a possible path to de-escalating a growing crisis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 12:30pm

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday there will be no military action upon the Korean peninsula without Seoul’s consent and that the government would prevent war by all means.

“Military action on the Korean peninsula can only be decided by South Korea and no one else can decide to take military action without the consent of South Korea,” said Moon in televised comments.

The president was making an annual speech to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the nation’s liberation from Japanese military rule that began in 1910 and ended in 1945.

“The government, putting everything on the line, will block war by all means,” Moon said.

Previous presidents before Moon, who took office in May, have traditionally made North Korea the core of their speeches, mainly focusing on policy to engage Pyongyang.

Moon also urged the North to come to the dialogue table, saying sanctions against Pyongyang aim only draw it out to talks.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has increased in recent months over concern that North Korea is close to achieving its goal of putting the mainland United States within range of a nuclear weapon.

North Korea and the United States exchanged threats of military action last week, with Pyongyang saying it will develop a plan to fire four missiles to land in waters near the US Pacific territory of Guam, which hosts a number of strategic US military bases.

Earlier on Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he would hold off on a planned missile strike near Guam, but warned the highly provocative move would go ahead in the event of further “reckless actions” by Washington.

Watch: Trump and the North Korea threat to US

Some analysts suggested Kim’s comments opened a possible path to de-escalating a growing crisis fuelled by a bellicose war of words between US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leadership.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said Kim was briefed on the “plan for an enveloping fire at Guam” during an inspection on Monday of the Strategic Force command in charge of the nuclear-armed state’s missile units.

Before executing any order Kim said he would “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees.”

If they “persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula,” then North Korea would take action “as already declared,” he was quoted as saying.

“In order to defuse the tensions and prevent the dangerous military conflict on the Korean peninsula, it is necessary for the US to make a proper option first,” he added.

Kim’s remarks would appear to bring into play the large-scale military exercises held every year by South Korea and the United States that are expected to kick off later this month.

The North has always denounced the drills as provocative rehearsals for invasion and has in the past offered a moratorium on further nuclear and missile testing in exchange for their cancellation -- a trade off promoted by Pyongyang’s main ally China, but repeatedly rejected by Washington and Seoul.

Some analysts said Kim was seeking a similar quid-pro-quo this time around, using the Guam missile threat as leverage.

“This is a direct invitation to talk reciprocal constraints on exercises and missile launches,” said Adam Mount, senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress.

John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul said Kim was “de-escalating, putting Guam plan on ice” - at least for now.

“We are not out of the woods. Both sides need to keep taking steps to de-escalate in words and deed. Diplomacy needs to go in high gear,” he added.

The United States and South Korea insist their annual joint exercises are purely defensive in nature and cannot be linked to the North’s missile programme, which violates a host of UN resolutions.

Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said Pyongyang was using the Guam threat as “straight-up blackmail.”

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis warned Monday that an attack against the United States could quickly escalate into war.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters