TOKYO — North Korea spat out insults at South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday, rejected the idea of dialogue with Seoul and launched two more missiles into the sea, in the latest display of rage at joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
The volley of saber-rattling was another slap in the face for Moon, who spoke optimistically in a Liberation Day speech a day earlier of his plans to “solidify denuclearization” of North Korea, initiate a “peace economy” and lay the foundations for the unification of the Korean Peninsula by 2045.
While North Korea has not closed the door to dialogue with the United States, its anger dampens expectations that Washington and Pyongyang can make meaningful progress in nuclear talks. Meanwhile, although Moon’s relentlessly rosy view of relations with the North has helped smooth the path to dialogue, experts say his approach looks increasingly unrealistic.
“We will advance dialogue and cooperation so that seeds sown together with North Korea in the spring of peace will grow into trees of prosperity,” Moon said Thursday, gliding over the continued sanctions on North Korea and the absence of steps by the regime to dismantle its nuclear program.
Pyongyang’s response: its sixth missile launch in a little over three weeks and a barrage of insults at Moon over the military exercises whose aim, it said, was to annihilate its army.
“His open talk about ‘dialogue’ between the north and the south under such situation raises a question as to whether he has proper thinking faculty,” Pyongyang said in a statement from an unnamed spokesperson for its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. “He is, indeed, an impudent guy rare to be found.”
The statement, released by the Korean Central News Agency, also complained about drones and fighters purchased from the United States, and about plans announced this week to upgrade South Korea’s missile capabilities.
“What is clear is that all of them are aimed at destroying the DPRK,” the statement said, referring to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Pyongyang says the exercises break promises made by Moon and President Trump.
But experts say its petulance has been encouraged by Trump, who has defended Pyongyang’s right to test missiles, denigrated Moon and indicated his own opposition to the military exercises because he believes they are costing the United States too much.
North Korea resumed testing short-range ballistic missiles after the breakdown of the Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un at the end of February. Security analysts say the Kim regime has used the tests to significantly improve its ability to attack South Korea and penetrate its missile defense shield. In particular, the North’s KN-23 missile is designed to fly fast and low, making it particularly tough to detect and intercept, the analysts say.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had observed two “projectiles” that flew about 140 miles up to an altitude of nearly 20 miles and appeared to be “short-range ballistic missiles,” although further analysis would be needed to confirm if they were the same as those launched previously.
Pyongyang’s message was clear: Moon has no right to talk about peace while conducting military exercises. It called him a “mouse,” a “funny man” who only reads what his junior staff have written for him, and someone who gets “shocked into fright even by the sound of a sporting gun” going off in the North.
In April, Kim warned that the United States needed to change its approach if it wanted to make progress in nuclear talks, and gave Washington until the end of the year to come up with new proposals.
“I think the missile tests are designed to pressure Trump to make a better offer,” said Robert Kelly, a professor of international relations at Pusan National University in South Korea. “And Trump pretty clearly wants to.”
Kelly said Trump wants a deal he can sell to Fox News and his voters as a foreign policy triumph, even if it damages U.S. alliances in Asia, but he is surrounded by people such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton who take harder-line positions.
In an interview with Voice of America this week, Bolton insisted that Washington would not be fooled. He said the United States wanted to see North Korea make a “clear strategic decision to give up its nuclear weapons and its delivery systems,” and then implement that decision.
“The pattern of North Korea leadership before Kim Jong Un is that they would make modest concessions on their nuclear program in exchange for tangible economic benefits,” Bolton said.
“And then once they had used those economic benefits — rescued their economy, stabilized leadership — they would fail to honor their own commitments on the nuclear side,” he told VOA. “If they think that they can do that again, I think they’re making a big mistake.”