South Korean President Moon Jae-in credited U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday for helping to spark the first inter-Korean talks in more than two years, and warned that Pyongyang would face stronger sanctions if provocations continued.
The talks were held on Tuesday on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone, which has divided the two Koreas since 1953, after a prolonged period of tension on the Korean peninsula over the North’s missile and nuclear programs.
North Korea ramped up its missile launches last year and also conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, resulting in stronger international sanctions. Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, were held to resolve problems, revive military consultations, and avert accidental conflict.
“I think President Trump deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks,” Moon told reporters at his New Year’s news conference. “It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.”
Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged threats and insults over the past year, raising fears of a new war on the peninsula.
Washington had raised concerns that the overtures by North Korea could drive a wedge between it and Seoul, but Moon said his government did not differ with the United States on how to respond to the threats posed by Pyongyang.
“The denuclearization of the Korean peninsula the two Koreas agreed upon jointly (in the past) is our basic stance that will never be given up,” he said.
“I’m open to any form of meeting, including a summit (with North Korea), under right conditions,” he said. “Having said that, the purpose of it shouldn’t be talks for the sake of talks.”
However, Pyongyang said it would not discuss its nuclear weapons with Seoul because they were only aimed at the United States, not its “brethren” in South Korea, nor Russia or China, showing that a diplomatic breakthrough remained far off.
Washington still welcomed Tuesday’s talks as a first step to solving the North Korean nuclear crisis. The U.S. State Department said it would be interested in joining future talks, with the aim of denuclearizing the North.
The two Koreas agreed to hold multiple talks on a number of issues, including between military officials from both sides, and Pyongyang said it would send a large delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Moon also said his government would continue working toward recovering the honor and dignity of former “comfort women”, a euphemism for girls and women forced to work in Japan’s wartime brothels.
However, he also said historical issues should be separated from bilateral efforts with Japan to safeguard peace on the Korean peninsula.
“It’s very important we keep a good relationship with Japan,” Moon said.
On Tuesday, South Korea said it would not seek to renegotiate a 2015 deal with Japan despite determining that the agreement was not enough to fundamentally resolve the divisive issue, and called for Japan to take more steps to help the women.