SEOUL, South Korea >> While condemning North Korea over its latest nuclear test, the leaders of Russia and South Korea seemed far apart on the issue of stepping up sanctions against the country.
Speaking after the meeting Wednesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Russian port city of Vladivostok, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for talks with North Korea, saying sanctions are not a solution to the country’s nuclear and missile development.
Moon had urged Moscow to support stronger sanctions against North Korea, which conducted its sixth nuclear test on Sunday in what it claimed was a detonation of a thermonuclear weapon built for missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
“We should not give in to emotions and push Pyongyang into a corner,” Putin said in a news conference after the meeting, held on the sidelines of a conference on economic development of Russia’s Far East. “As never before everyone should show restraint and refrain from steps leading to escalation and tensions.”
Moon said the leaders agreed that reducing regional tension and “quickly solving” the security challenges posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile program were critical. Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Moon said the situation could get out of hand if North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests aren’t stopped.
Moon urged Russia to back stronger sanctions including the cutting off oil supplies, but Putin expressed concern that such moves would hurt regular North Koreans, said Yoon Young-chan, Moon’s chief press secretary.
“Myself and President Putin share a view that North Korea has gone the wrong way with its nuclear and missile program and that easing tension on the Korean Peninsula is an urgent issue,” Moon said during the news conference. He complimented Putin and the Russian government over what he said were a variety of efforts to find diplomatic solutions to the North Korean problem.
In a telephone conversation with Putin on Monday before his trip to Russia, Moon also called for a ban on overseas North Korean workers, who are seen as a key foreign currency source for the North. Putin told Moon that the North Korean problem should be solved diplomatically, according to Seoul’s presidential office.
Moon, a liberal who took office in May, had initially showed a preference for a diplomatic approach on North Korea, but his government has since taken a harder stance as the North continued its torrid pace in weapons tests. In an interview with the Russian news agency TASS on Tuesday, Moon said he believes now is not the time for talks and that it is important for the international community to strengthen pressure against North Korea.
The U.S. military on Thursday began the process of adding more launchers to a contentious U.S. missile defense system in South Korea to better cope with North Korean threats. The deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system has angered not only North Korea, but also China and Russia, which see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.
A THAAD battery normally consists of six launchers that can fire up to 48 interceptor missiles, but only two launchers have been operational so far at the site in rural Seongju.
Several U.S. military vehicles, including trucks carrying payloads covered in black sheets that appeared to be launchers, were seen heading toward a former golf course where the system has been installed.
Dozens were injured earlier as police sent thousands of officers to remove hundreds of protesters from a narrow road leading to the site.
Seonju residents and activists have raised worries over rumored health hazards linked to the system’s powerful radar and the possibility the town will become a target of North Korean attacks.
Putin, speaking in China on Tuesday, condemned North Korea’s nuclear test as provocative but said Russia views sanctions as “useless and ineffective.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will meet Putin in Vladivostok on Thursday, said before his departure from Japan that “we must make North Korea understand there is no bright future for the country if it pursues the current path.”
Moon and Abe are also expected to meet in Vladivostok on Thursday.