World Asia Pacific First Look

South Korea's president is ready for a meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un

South Korean President Moon Jae-in seeks common ground with North Korea's President Kim Jong Un. After decades of discord between the neighboring nations, Mr. Moon wants to alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks as he presides over a meeting of the National Security Council at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea on Tuesday, July 4, 2017.
Kim Ju-hyung/AP
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Caption
  • Hyung-Jin Kim
    Associated Press

South Korea's president reiterated he's willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un even as he condemned the North's first intercontinental ballistic missile test-launch this week as a "reckless" move that incurred punishment by the international community.

During a speech Thursday ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Germany, President Moon Jae-in also proposed the two Koreas resume reunions of families separated by war, stop hostile activities along their heavily fortified border, and cooperate on the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

But it's unclear that North Korea would accept any of Mr. Moon's overtures as South Korea is working with the United States and others to get the country punished for its ICBM launch Tuesday. It's not the first time Moon has talked about a summit with Mr. Kim, but repeating that idea two days after the North's most successful missile test to date clearly indicates he prefers dialogue to applying more pressure or sanctions on the North.

"The current situation where there is no contact between the relevant officials of the South and the North is highly dangerous," Moon said. "I am ready to meet with Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea at any time at any place, if the conditions are met and if it will provide an opportunity to transform the tension and confrontation on the Korean Peninsula."

President Trump said Thursday he's considering unspecified "pretty severe things" in response to the North's ICBM launch. While a pre-emptive military strike may be among Mr. Trump's potential options, analysts say it's one of the unlikeliest because the North Korean retaliation would cause massive casualties in South Korea, particularly in Seoul, which is within easy range of North Korea's artillery.

Moon said he and Kim could put all issues on the negotiating table including the North's nuclear program and the signing of a peace treaty to officially end the 1950-53 Korean War. An armistice that ended the war has yet to be completed with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war.

Since taking office in May, Moon has been trying to improve ties with North Korea, but his efforts have produced little, with the North testing a series of newly developed missiles.

"I hope that North Korea will not cross the bridge of no return," Moon said in Thursday's speech. "Whether it will come out to the forum for dialogue, or whether it will kick away this opportunity of dialogue that has been made with difficulty is only a decision that North Korea can make."

The North's ICBM launch has stoked security worries as it showed the country could eventually perfect a reliable nuclear missile capable of reaching anywhere in the US. Analysts say the reach of the missile tested Tuesday could extend to Alaska.

After the launch, Kim said he would never put his weapons programs up for negotiation unless the US abandons its hostile policy toward his country. Kim's statement suggested he will order more missile and nuclear tests until North Korea develops a functioning ICBM that can place the entire US within its striking distance.

In a show of force against North Korea, South Korea and the US staged "deep strike" precision missile firing drills on Wednesday. In North Korea's capital, thousands of people rallied Thursday in Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate the launch.