SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea on Wednesday urged a peaceful response to North Korea's barrage of missile tests, cautioning against pressuring Pyongyang and stirring tensions on the Korean peninsula.
In a statement from President Roh Moo-hyun's office, the government pledged to try to engage Pyongyang in a "patient dialogue" to calm tensions and resolve the standoff over the North's missile program.
South Korean officials publicly criticized the missile tests as a "provocative act" earlier in the day, but the latest statement suggested Seoul had not abandoned its policy to trying to engage the North.
Roh himself has not made a public statement on the tests.
"Pressuring North Korea and creating tensions are not helpful in the resolution of issue," the presidential office said.
"We should resolve the issue in a way that would not create tensions on the Korean Peninsula," the statement continued. "We need to make strong protest within the framework of dialogue but act prudently and flexibly."
The call for calm talk came a week before the two Koreas were to meet in the southern South Korean city of Busan for Cabinet-level talks, the highest-level regular contacts between the neighbors.
Officials earlier in the day indicated Seoul was reconsidering the talks in light of the missile tests, but the later statement suggested they would go ahead, though the issue was not squarely addressed. The meetings are scheduled for July 11-14, and the last round was in April.
The call for dialogue was more softly worded than the terse statements by South Korean officials earlier in the day, in line with Seoul's more muted reaction to the launch preparations compared to Japan or the United States.
Earlier in the day, Roh's national security chief, Suh Choo-suk, took a sterner line with the North.
"North Korea should take responsibility for consequences to be caused by the launch this time," he said.
Suh urged North Korea to return to the six-party talks on its nuclear disarmament. He also said the launches would strengthen the hand of enemies of North Korea, turn Southern sentiment against Pyongyang, and provide an excuse for a military buildup in Northeast Asia.
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said that he was consulting with his counterparts in the United States, China, Japan and Russia to form a common approach to the threat to regional security.
"Our government has serious concerns about the North Korean missile launch," he said, saying the missiles were a threat because they could be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
Seoul ordered its military to increase vigilance, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. But the official level of alertness remains the same as no unusual military moves were detected in North Korea, the chiefs said.
But Seoul's clear preference was for diplomacy. South Korea on Tuesday dispatched its national security adviser to Washington for consultations with U.S. officials. Song Min-soon was scheduled to stay in Washington through Thursday to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Hadley, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others.
The development of the Taepodeong-2 missile by North Korea would not have a significant impact on security in South Korea, which is already well within range of Pyongyang's arsenal of artillery and shorter-range missiles.