SEOUL: South Korea’s dovish new President Moon Jae-In—who backs engagement with the nuclear-armed North—heads to Washington this week for talks with his hawkish US counterpart Donald Trump, as Pyongyang defies international sanctions to accelerate its missile program.
Center-left Moon suggested on the campaign trail that as president he would be willing to go to Pyongyang before Washington, but he is making the US his first foreign destination since he was sworn in last month after a landslide election win.
Washington is the South’s security guarantor and has more than 28,000 troops in the country to defend it from its neighbor, which has been intensifying missile tests—including five since Moon’s inauguration—as it seeks to develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that could reach the continental United States.
US Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has labeled North Korea as “the most urgent and dangerous threat” while Trump has made halting Pyongyang’s weapons program a top foreign policy priority.
There have been misgivings about the first tete-a-tete between Moon and Trump, who is pushing for tougher sanctions against Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions and whose administration has said military action was a possibility.
That would put Seoul on the front line of any retaliation from the North.