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Now is the time to focus on pressuring N.K. with sanctions: unification minister

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's point man on unification said Wednesday that now is the time to focus on punishing North Korea with sanctions for its nuclear and missile provocations amid the possibility of the North's fifth nuclear test.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo told a forum that seeking dialogue with Pyongyang is needed down the road, but it is also not a panacea.

“Dialogue is necessary, but it is not a cure-all,” Hong said.

“There is the need to prod North Korea into changing its behavior through sanctions. If the North changes, then, we can elicit further changes from the North via dialogue.”

His remarks came amid speculation that North Korea can carry out another nuclear test and launch a ballistic missile following the recently-concluded party congress.

North Korea concluded the four-day run of its congress by the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) last Monday, a venue used for helping North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reaffirm his heavy-handed rule.

At the party event, the first to be held in 36 years, the North's leader made it clear that he will “permanently” defend the pursuit of his signature policy of developing nuclear weapons in tandem with boosting the country's moribund economy, commonly known as the “byeongjin” policy.

“The North's leader talked about the dual-track policy, but he failed to fully lay out his vision for economic growth,” Hong said.

“As there are few accomplishments in the economic sector, it seems that Kim sought to reaffirm his authority by trumpeting the nuclear program.”

Hong also said he does not see the North's latest offer for dialogue as a proposal with sincerity, calling on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal.

At the congress, the North's leader proposed holding inter-Korean military talks, saying that they would help ease tension along the two Koreas' tense border.

“We think North Korea's offer for inter-Korean talks has no sincerity,” Hong said. “The North should first show its commitment toward denuclearization.” (Yonhap)