(LEAD) (Yonhap Interview) N.K. statements on accelerating nuke program ‘deeply concerning’: French foreign minister

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has said North Korea’s recent statements on the advancements of its nuclear weapons program are “deeply concerning.”The comments came amid renewed tensions over Pyongyang’s recent weapons tests, including that…

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has said North Korea's recent statements on the advancements of its nuclear weapons program are "deeply concerning."

The comments came amid renewed tensions over Pyongyang's recent weapons tests, including that of what it claims to be a solid-fuel Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday.

Colonna said France has "continuously condemned in the strongest terms the ballistic missile launches carried out by North Korea," calling them "blatant and utterly unacceptable violations" of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.

North Korea is banned from launching ballistic missiles under U.N. Security Council resolutions.

"The recent statements by North Korean authorities regarding the development of a tactical nuclear arsenal and calls to accelerate nuclear weapons production are also deeply concerning," Colonna said in an exclusive written interview with Yonhap News Agency on the occasion of her recent trip to South Korea.

She added the proliferation of such launches and the regime's continued pursuit of an illicit nuclear program "constitute a serious threat to regional peace and stability, as well as international security."

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said the new ICBM will "radically promote the effectiveness of its nuclear counterattack posture and bring about a change in the practicality of its offensive military strategy," according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

The European Union issued a statement "strongly" condemning North Korea's latest ICBM launch, calling on the country to "cease all illegal and dangerous actions that violate UNSC resolutions and recklessly escalate military tensions in the region."

On Friday, Colonna and her South Korean counterpart, Park Jin, held the fourth South Korea-France security dialogue in Seoul, during which they condemned North Korea's ballistic missile provocations while emphasizing the need for the international community's firm and united response.

Colonna said South Korea can count on the "unwavering solidarity, firmness and determination of France, today as well as in the past, to uphold international law" in terms of dealing with the North Korean threats.

"We consistently convey this message at the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member, urging North Korea to promptly comply with its international obligations, including ceasing its destabilizing actions and finally engaging in dialogue that has been offered to it. We also concretely combat sanctions evasion."

When asked whether France could participate in joint military exercises with South Korea, the United States and Japan in the Pacific as part of Paris' Indo-Pacific policy, Colonna noted that France "regularly participates in military training activities with the armed forces of our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific."

"We are determined to strengthen our commitment to security in the region as part of our Indo-Pacific strategy, in cooperation with all our partners," she said without going into further detail.

On the question of whether French President Emmanuel Macron could visit South Korea in May on the occasion his trip to the upcoming G-7 summit in Hiroshima next month, the minister said Seoul and Paris are "looking for the best timing to realize this visit, which will undoubtedly be a milestone in our bilateral relationship."

In response to a question about the growing public support in South Korea for the country's own nuclear armament against threats from the North, the minister said France is "deeply committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons."

"This Treaty, which guarantees the limitation of the number of nuclear-weapon states, plays a crucial role in ensuring international stability and has proven its effectiveness for over 50 years." the minister said, adding it must "remain the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime and an essential pillar of the collective security architecture."

Source: Yonhap News Agency