North Korean success in test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile puts the new South Korean government in the difficult position of having to appear tough while still looking for dialogue.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in laid the groundwork for deepening rapport with the United States in a summit with President Donald Trump that was surprisingly free of disagreement on North Korea. Far from pulling out their stilettos, jabbing one another with sly innuendos if not full-frontal attacks, Trump and Moon agreed in two days of talks in Washington that South Korea should take the lead in negotiations with North Korea.

At the same time, Moon seems convinced North Korea has to be persuaded to halt its nuclear program.

The North’s latest, and perhaps most fearsome, missile test should effectively end pressure for a peace treaty with North Korea as long as the north refuses to give up its program for producing nuclear warheads.

As for talk about a mutual “freeze,” that is, the notion of South Korea and the U.S. canceling military exercises while the north promises not to indulge in more missile and nuke tests, that idea also seems to have been glossed over in the Moon-Trump summit.

Not surprisingly, North Korea seems quite disappointed by Moon’s Washington meetings.

Far from welcoming the prospect of north-south dialogue, as endorsed at the summit, North Korea’s party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, accused the United States of treating South Korea “as a mere puppet and colonial servant.”

The North Korean propaganda machine is reviling Trump as a “Hitler” — surely not nice considering he’s praised Kim Jong-un as “a smart cookie” and famously said he’d like to sit down and have a hamburger with him.

Despite North Korea’s latest missile test, Trump may not be as hawkish, fearsome or threatening as believed. Yes, he’s said the United States might have to take matters into its own hands if China’s President Xi Jinping fails to rein in his North Korean protectorate. No, Trump obviously doesn’t want a second Korean War.

The real dividend of the Moon-Trump confab is that both of them really want to give peace a chance.

Calls for ever stronger sanctions and pressure from China are reverberating in Washington. But before that happens, we should be in for some interesting attempts at inter-Korean diplomacy.

Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspaper and magazines. He wrote this for The opinions are the writer's.



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