Pope discourages 'fruitless' Korean conflict as North fires projectiles
SEOUL — Pope Francis called on Thursday for peace and unity on the war-divided Korean Peninsula and for both sides to avoid “fruitless” criticisms and shows of force, offering a message of reconciliation at the start of a five-day visit to South Korea that received a stark response from the North.
North Korea fired three short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast about an hour before Francis landed in Seoul, and two others a short while later. North Korea has conducted several such tests this year, and it has a long history of making sure it is not forgotten during high-profile events in the South.
Neither Francis nor South Korean President Park Geun-hyereferred to the firings in their speeches at Seoul's presidential palace, and the Vatican spokesman sought to downplay the incident altogether, saying he wasn't even sure the pope had been told.
In the first speech of his first trip to Asia, Francis told Park, government officials and regional diplomats that peace required justice — and that justice in turn requires forgiveness, cooperation and mutual respect. He said diplomacy must be encouraged so that listening and dialogue replace “mutual recriminations, fruitless criticisms and displays of force.”
“We cannot become discouraged in our pursuit of these goals, which are for the good not only of the Korean people but of the entire region and the whole world,” he said, in the first English-language speech of his pontificate. Usually, Francis speaks in Italian or his native Spanish, but the Vatican said he would deliver at least four speeches in English on the trip to accommodate his Asian audiences.
North Korea's apparent test firing was conducted from Wonsan on its east coast, according to a South Korean Defense Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules. It wasn't immediately clear what the projectiles were.
North Korea has expressed anger over annual military drills between the United States and South Korea, which it says are invasion preparations. A new round of drills, which Seoul and Washington call routine and defensive, is expected to start in coming days.