The Korea Herald

지나쌤

More NK threats may come with UN General Assembly

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Sept. 18, 2017 - 16:02

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With another South Korea-US joint military exercise held Monday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho may deliver a harsh message of defiance against the drill and his homeland’s current nuclear drive at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting that will be attended by global leaders.  

On Monday, four US F-35B stealth jets and two B-1B strategic bombers flew over Korea in a joint bombing drill alongside four South Korean F-15K fighter jets.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho gives keynote speech at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2016. Yonhap North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho gives keynote speech at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2016. Yonhap

Ri had condemned the US in last year’s defiant speech before the UN General Assembly for a similar exercise conducted in 2016 with B-1B bombers. He blamed the US for turning the Korean Peninsula into a “hot spot which can even ignite the outbreak of a nuclear war” and vowed that the North would strengthen its nuclear capabilities in both “quantity and quality.”

Ri is scheduled to take center stage in New York on Friday to deliver a keynote speech, according to Yonhap News Agency, which cited unnamed sources from the world body. The speech, which comes after North Korea’s latest missile liftoff last week and its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3, was initially expected to take place Monday.

The UN speeches by North Korea’s chief delegates have so far focused on defending Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs and have been peppered with criticism against the United States.

Possible signs of interaction between Ri and other global leaders at the meeting are expected to be closely scrutinized. South Korean President Moon Jae-in will deliver his maiden address Thursday, after his US counterpart Donald Trump’s speech Tuesday.

Ri’s South Korean and US counterparts Kang Kyung-wha and Rex Tillerson will also attend several back-to-back meetings, but it is unclear whether the two will meet with the Pyongyang official.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday that Kang is expected to engage in bilateral meetings and multilateral commitments in line with her key task of aiding President Moon throughout the trip.

However, despite the physical proximity of the foreign ministers of the two Koreas and the US, a UN source said it is “realistically difficult” for Tillerson and Ri to engage in a proper discussion under the current circumstances.

“It’s realistic to say that any form of contact between the US and North Korea is difficult at the moment with the North’s ongoing nuclear and missile provocations and its latest experiments,” said the source.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry also said there is no plan for official talks between Kang and Ri.

Kang shared a brief encounter with Ri at the Asean Regional Forum meeting in Manila in early August, when she mentioned she was “looking forward to a swift response” regarding the North’s silence toward the South’s proposal of military and humanitarian talks. Ri, however, expressed a skeptical response, insisting that Seoul’s offer to revive dialogue “lacks sincerity.”

Tillerson, on the other hand , as noticeably absent at the banquet for foreign ministers and did not show any signs of contact with the North Korean minister throughout the forum.

The US Secretary of State said Sunday that Washington would continue to carry out a “peaceful pressure campaign” against the North, but warned that the “military option will be the only one left” if all diplomatic efforts fail.

Kang and Tillerson reaffirmed the South Korea-US bilateral alliance during a phone conversation last Friday, agreeing to take “powerful” and “stern” measures to bring North Korea to dialogue and make the country relinquish its provocations against the international community.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government has decided to refrain from questioning the eligibility of North Korea’s UN membership this year, reflecting Seoul’s current approach of dialogue and sanctions toward the North.

“The execution of new sanctions drawn by the United Nations Security Council is top priority,” a government official said Monday.

“Even the US is not discussing the issue of North Korea’s UN membership at the moment,” he said.

Under the previous administration, South Korea’s former Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se publically accused North Korea of “ridiculing” the authority of the United Nations and claimed it was time to reconsider its place in the “peace-loving UN,” during last year’s address to the UN General Assembly.

The accusation closely followed Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear experiment last September.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)