(LEAD) (Yonhap Interview) Top U.S. nuclear envoy warns N. Korea will pay ‘consequences’ for escalating tensions

The top U.S. nuclear envoy has stressed the need to make North Korea realize its escalation of tensions will have “consequences,” while warning any nuclear attack against South Korea will be met with a “swift, overwhelming and decisive” response.In a …

The top U.S. nuclear envoy has stressed the need to make North Korea realize its escalation of tensions will have "consequences," while warning any nuclear attack against South Korea will be met with a "swift, overwhelming and decisive" response.

In a recent exclusive written interview with Yonhap News Agency, Ambassador Sung Kim made the remarks, as tensions have flared anew with Pyongyang's botched launch of a space rocket last week.

"It's important to make clear to the DPRK that its escalatory behavior has consequences," he said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "The DPRK must also understand that the only viable path forward is through diplomacy."

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have shown no signs of abating as the recalcitrant regime has hardened its rhetoric against the South and the United States, and conducted a series of weapons tests this year, including those on "underwater nuclear attack drones" and a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kim portrayed the situation as "very challenging."

"The DPRK has increasingly engaged in threatening and irresponsible rhetoric, including by characterizing some of its missile launches and other military activities as trial runs for the use of tactical nuclear weapons," he said.

"We continue to consult closely with the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, and other allies and partners about how to best engage the DPRK, deter aggression and coordinate international responses to the DPRK's violations of multiple UN Security Council resolutions," he added.

The North's drive to possess menacing weapons systems, including the recently unveiled Hwasan-31 tactical nuclear warhead, has further fanned security fears among South Koreans, despite the stepped-up efforts by the allies to strengthen extended deterrence, which refers to the U.S.' commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities to defend its ally.

Commenting on the public's concerns, the ambassador reiterated the U.S. commitment to South Korea remains "ironclad."

"Any nuclear attack by the DPRK against the ROK will be met with a swift, overwhelming and decisive response," he said.

Kim pointed out that a series of "prudent steps" to strengthen extended deterrence were elaborated in the Washington Declaration, which President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden adopted during their White House summit in April.

"The alliance commitment in the Washington Declaration to engage in deeper, cooperative decision-making via dialogue and information sharing on nuclear deterrence will directly address nuclear threats to the ROK and the region," he said.

"The Washington Declaration's outlining of additional activities, including exercises, simulations and visible strategic asset deployments to the Korean Peninsula, will serve to increase the alliance deterrence," he added.

Noting disunity over North Korean provocations at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), Kim said it has seen the regime escalating its ballistic missile launches, "each one of which violates multiple UNSC resolutions." North Korea is banned from any launch using ballistic missile technology under UNSC sanctions.

"It is unfortunate that in recent years the international community has not been able to speak with one voice in condemning the DPRK's reckless and destabilizing activity," Kim said.

He then called on China to exert its influence on the North to rein in the regime's provocative acts.

"We urge Beijing to use its influence to encourage the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing behavior and return to the negotiating table," he said. "We also urge Beijing to fully and completely fulfill its obligations under the resolutions that UN Security Council members unanimously adopted."

Despite the North's provocative streak, Kim said the U.S. is open to dialogue with Pyongyang.

"We remain committed to diplomacy," he said. "We have also been clear that we are prepared to discuss any issue without preconditions, and we will also continue to seek to cooperate on humanitarian issues, regardless of the status of WMD and missile-related discussions."

Tighter cooperation between Seoul and Washington on North Korean issues and other regional and global challenges has stoked worries that China could consider taking economic steps against Seoul in the context of an intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry.

Asked to comment on the matter, Kim said the U.S. regularly works with like-minded allies and partners, including South Korea, to exchange information and coordinate potential actions addressing possible future cases of Chinese "economic coercion."

"We are also assessing and mitigating vulnerabilities to economic coercion," he said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency