- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The numerous political fights the Trump White House has found itself engaged in, from the failed attempt to repeal Obamacare to its controversial response to racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has distracted the administration from the threat posed by North Korea, a senior South Korean diplomat said Tuesday.

Such domestic diversions may have given Pyongyang the political opening it needed to press forward with its nuclear weapon and long-range missile development programs, which are inching the peninsula and the region closer to war, said South Korean 2nd Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Hyun Cho.

Washington “seems at times to have been distracted by other issues” when attempting to address North Korea’s repeated provocations in the Pacific and tamp town tensions among U.S. allies in the region, he said.

“At this 11th hour, we must double our cooperative efforts” to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, Mr. Cho added during a keynote address Tuesday at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“We cannot afford such [distractions]” as tensions continue to escalate between the North, the U.S. and its Pacific allies, he added.

Mr. Cho’s comments come days after the White House announced it was weighing all options, including military action, in response to North Korea’s test of a powerful hydrogen bomb, which Pyongyang claimed was small enough to mount atop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The massive underground explosion, large enough to trigger several earthquakes in along the Chinese-North Korean border early Sunday, was yet another action determined to be “very hostile and dangerous to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House.

Taking to Twitter Sunday, Mr. Trump admonished South Korea for pursuing “appeasement” toward the North and lamented China’s failure to curb the North’s repeated nuclear saber rattling.

North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success,” the president tweeted, adding that, “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”

On Tuesday, Mr. Cho pushed back on the administration’s hard-line rhetoric, saying “the only solution for North Korea” is political and economic sanctions against the rogue nation. He also warned that the the increasingly volatile war of words between Washington and Pyongyang could potentially boil over into outright conflict.

“We cannot accept war as an option,” he said. “We should be careful this does not escalate.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who came into office earlier this year calling for expanded dialogue and a more conciliatory posture toward the North, called for the “strongest possible response” to Pyongyang’s latest provocation.

“President Moon Jae-in said the country will never allow North Korea to continue advancing its nuclear and missile technologies,” Mr. Moon’s key security adviser Chung Eui-yong said at a press briefing shortly after Sunday’s nuclear test, according to Yonhap. Seoul would push for fresh and the most powerful sanctions by the U.N. Security Council to completely isolate Pyongyang, Mr. Eui-yong added.

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