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Moon’s special adviser calls for ‘maximum prudence’ on NK

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s special adviser has called for “maximum prudence” in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program, warning Washington’s maximum pressure campaign would only worsen the military standoff between the US and North Korea.

Presidential foreign affairs and unification adviser Moon Chung-in also urged the Trump administration to separate the North’s nuclear issue from its human rights issues, asserting that such an approach could help Pyongyang return to denuclearization talks.

“North Korea regards (the maximum pressure campaign) as an attempt to overthrow and disrupt the regime -- not achieve denuclearization,” Moon Chung-in said at a security seminar in Washington on Tuesday,

“The US must set priorities in dealing with North Korea. It has to put every focus on the nuclear issue. Democracy and human rights should be addressed later. … Such (a) pressure campaign would make North Korea think the US wants a regime change and we will never get the answer we want.”

The special adviser said President Moon has been walking a tightrope to strike a balance between the US and North Korea. Describing it as a “maximum prudence” approach, the adviser said the president has urged Pyongyang to make progress on denuclearization, while demanding Washington lower the threshold for talks.

Presidential special adviser Moon Chung-in. (Yonhap)
Presidential special adviser Moon Chung-in. (Yonhap)

The Trump administration has staged a “maximum pressure” campaign on North Korea through economic sanctions and talk of military options. Trump has warned Pyongyang of “phase two” if sanctions do not work. He has not elaborated on the next phase.

Regarding the resumption of South Korea-US joint military exercises, special adviser Moon said the delayed exercises would kick off in early April, adding the annual drills are unlikely to be abruptly canceled or postponed again.

“As far as I know, the South Korea-US combined exercises would resume in the first week of April,” he said. “I think it will be extremely difficult (for South Korea and the US) to postpone or delay the exercises.”

But the special adviser left open the possibility that there could be some “compromise” on the resumption of the joint exercises -- if North Korea engages in direct talks with the US before the exercises resume in early April.

During a meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, South Korea’s Defense Minister Song Young-moo declined to confirm the special adviser’s remark, saying Moon Chung-in is “not in a position” to determine the military drills resumption schedule.

Last week, the defense chief said that he and his US counterpart James Mattis would announce the resumption date between March 18 -- when the Paralympic Games end -- and April 1. Until then, Song said he and Mattis would remain silent on the issue.

By Yeo Jun-suk (