While North Korea Tests Missiles, South Korea Feeling the Heat

13 August, 2019

Talks between the United States and North Korea are on hold once again.

North Korea has been launching ballistic missiles. And officials are warning the U.S. government to "change" its way of negotiating by the end of the year.

In the United States, President Donald Trump continues to praise his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But a leading candidate seeking to replace Trump as president is threatening to take action against Kim if elected.

The government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in helped bring about the U.S.-North Korea nuclear talks in 2018. But Moon now finds he can do little to move the negotiations forward.

"The problem should be dealt with by the end of the year," said South Korean lawmaker Song Young-gil.

"Mr. Trump may say timing doesn't matter, but there isn't enough time," he told VOA. Song is a member of South Korea's Democratic Party.

Talks between North Korea and the U.S. have been on hold since Trump and Kim met six months ago in Vietnam. At that summit, the two men were unable to agree on how to combine an easing of U.S. sanctions with steps to suspend North Korea's nuclear activities.

Trump now says Kim has agreed to restart talks after U.S.-South Korea military exercises end later this month. But many people wonder if another Trump-Kim meeting would be effective since there have been no lower-level negotiations to settle differences.

"(Trump and Kim) have already had three summits. It's not like they can call on the Pope or God to help them now," says Song. The South Korean lawmaker is also a member of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.

Resetting the U.S.-North Korea talks is important for Moon, who is in power until 2022. But with a U.S. presidential election just over a year away, he may soon find himself with a president in Washington who does not want to talk with North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides the test firing of a new weapon, in this undated photo released on August 11, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides the test firing of a new weapon, in this undated photo released on August 11, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Stronger US policies coming?

Former Vice-President Joe Biden is hoping to win the presidential nomination of the U.S. Democratic Party. Opinion studies show him as the leading candidate among likely Democratic voters.

Biden has promised that the U.S. government will be less friendly to Kim's government if he is elected.

As vice president, Biden helped oversee former President Barack Obama's policy of "strategic patience" with the North. It combined diplomatic actions, economic sanctions and military pressure in efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Biden now says he would continue that policy.

"I'd make it real clear: look, you want to talk, you want to deal with us, you want sanctions lifted, show me something ahead of time," Biden said last month.

The former vice president has called Kim a "dictator," and a "murderous tyrant." North Korean state media struck back, calling Biden an "imbecile."

However, some members of South Korea's government expect talks with North Korea to continue even if there is a new U.S. administration. That is because one fact has changed the negotiations: it is now undeniable that North Korea has nuclear weapons.

This is the opinion of one South Korean Blue House official who spoke to VOA, but did not want his named used in this report. He explained that Obama's policies no longer make sense.

"Strategic patience -- what would we be waiting for?" asked the South Korean official.

South Korea's difficult position

Some in South Korea's government say talks could be successful if both sides showed more of an ability to cooperate and work together to build trust.

But Trump has rejected calls for step-by-step negotiations. He says sanctions must remain on North Korea until it agrees to give up all of its nuclear weapons.

The South Korean president is under pressure from his country's citizens to do something about North Korea's missile tests. Since May, the North has launched seven missile tests, which could reach all of South Korea.

The South's government has said the tests are not helpful. Trump has said he has "no problem" with the launches, since the missiles cannot reach the United States.

And this puts Moon, the man who brought Trump and Kim together, in a difficult position.

I'm Susan Shand.

VOA's William Gallo reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

ballistic adj. relating to objects and their flight

matter – n. a physical substance; a substance or material

sanctions – n. an action taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country

strategic – adj. useful or important in carrying out a plan or program

patience - n. the ability to wait for a long time without becoming angry

tyrantn. a ruler who has complete power over a country and who is said to be cruel and unfair

imbecile – n. a very stupid person; a fool