South Korea's President Moon Jae-in says preventing such a crisis through persistent dialogue and diplomacy will be the task that political leaders in the countries concerned must fulfil together.

Moon, in his final months in office, has expressed concern over North Korea's expanding weapons programme.
Moon, in his final months in office, has expressed concern over North Korea's expanding weapons programme. (Joint Press Photo/Pool Photo via AP)

South Korea's leader has warned the peninsula could slide back into a "state of crisis" if Pyongyang follows through on threats to resume testing long-range missiles.

President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday any move by North Korea to restart long-range missile tests would wipe out years of effort and peace talks.

"If North Korea's series of missile launches goes as far as scrapping a moratorium on long-range missile tests, the Korean Peninsula may instantly fall back into the state of crisis we faced five years ago," he said in a written interview with international press agencies.

"Preventing such a crisis through persistent dialogue and diplomacy will be the task that political leaders in the countries concerned must fulfil together." 

Despite the lack of progress in nuclear talks, "necessary communication" between Moon and North Korea's Kim Jong Un has continued, the South Korean president said.

Moon, who repeatedly pursued peace talks with the North during his five-year term, is set to leave office in May. South Korea only permits presidents to serve a single term in power.

The country will elect his successor on March 9.

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'Just a matter of time'

Pyongyang conducted an unprecedented seven weapons tests in January, including of its most powerful missile since 2017 when Kim baited then-US president Donald Trump with a spate of provocative launches.

High-profile negotiations between Trump and Kim followed, but collapsed in 2019 and have languished as Pyongyang has doubled down on military development.

Last month, it warned that it could abandon a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear weapons tests.

The demise of the Trump-Kim talks without a deal was "very regrettable", Moon added, saying that the two sides should have sought a more incremental approach to making a deal.

"It would have been best if a 'big deal' had been reached... If that was too hard, however, I think a 'small deal' should have been sought to take a phased approach."

Although Trump's successor US President Joe Biden has pursued a more muted approach to North Korean diplomacy, Moon said he expected that another summit between the US leader and Kim would take place "eventually".

"It is just a matter of time," he said.

READ MORE: North Korea continues to produce nuke material despite sanctions: UN

Source: TRTWorld and agencies