South Korean president: 'High possibility' of war with North

South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in, said that there was a "high possibility" of conflict with North Korea while also indicating that he wishes to begin direct talks with the regime of Kim Jong-un.


"The reality is that there is a high possibility of a military conflict at the NLL (Northern Limit Line) and military demarcation line," Moon was quoted as saying by the presidential Blue House.

He also said the North's nuclear and missile capabilities seem to have advanced rapidly recently but that the South was ready and capable of striking back should the North attack.

Moon won an election last week campaigning on a more moderate approach towards the North and said after taking office that he wants to pursue dialogue as well as pressure.

But he has said the North must change its attitude of insisting on pressing ahead with its arms development before dialogue is possible.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng told reporters the government's most basic stance is that communication lines between South and North Korea should reopen.

"The Unification Ministry has considered options on this internally but nothing has been decided yet," said Lee.

Pursuing a "dual track" policy of dialogue and sanctions sounds like a recipe for failure.  How is Kim to interpret such a policy?  A demonstration of weakness?  If so, Moon makes miscalculation and war more inevitable.

Moon is also demonstrating ambivalence about the U.S. anti-missile system, THAAD:

Communications were severed by the North last year, Lee said, in the wake of new sanctions following North Korea's fifth nuclear test and Pyongyang's decision to shut down a joint industrial zone operated inside the North.

North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North defends its weapons programs as necessary to counter U.S. hostility and regularly threatens to destroy the United States.

Moon's envoy to the United States, South Korean media mogul Hong Seok-hyun, left for Washington on Wednesday. Hong said South Korea had not yet received official word from the United States on whether Seoul should pay for an anti-missile U.S. radar system that has been deployed outside Seoul.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants South Korea to pay for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system which detected Sunday's test launch.

China has strongly opposed THAAD, saying it can spy into its territory, and South Korean companies have been hit in China by a nationalist backlash over the deployment.

Moon's dilemma is that he has to successfully work with the U.S. while satisfying China and keeping the North at bay.  It's a three-headed monster that, if he fails with any of them, could lead to conflict.  He was elected on a platform of edging away from his American ally, engaging the North, and playing nice with China.  In this context, his "dual track" policy may make some sense.

But if push comes to shove, you have to wonder if he's prepared to fully support American military action to take out the North's nuclear infrastructure and missile program.  No doubt Moon would advise against such an attack, but if President Trump feels it necessary to protect America and our other friends in Asia by striking the North's WMD programs, retaliation by the North might take the issue out of his hands entirely.

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