North Korea lashed out at South Korea and the US, upping the ante as the Biden administration announced the completion of its monthslong policy review on how to deal with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang.
The North released three heated statements directed at the allies on Sunday via its state-run Korea Central News Agency. It attacked US President Joe Biden for labeling North Korea a serious threat, calling the remark a “big blunder,” while condemning South Korea for failing to stop activists from launching anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.
Kwon Jong-gun, director general of the North’s Foreign Ministry’s Department of US Affairs, said Biden’s remark was “intolerable,” referring to the president’s speech to the US Congress last week in which he said nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran posed threats and pledged to use “diplomacy as well as stern deterrence.”
“The US-claimed ‘diplomacy’ is a spurious signboard for covering up its hostile acts, and ‘deterrence’ touted by it is just a means for posing nuclear threats to the DPRK,” said Kwon, abbreviating the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Now that what the keynote of the US new DPRK policy has become clear, we will be compelled to press for corresponding measures, and with time the US will find itself in a very grave situation,” he said, stressing that if the US continued to maintain its “outdated” stance on Pyongyang, it would face a “worse crisis beyond control in the near future.”
While Kwon did not elaborate on what those corresponding measures would be, his intention appears to be to put pressure on Washington. The Biden administration on Friday announced it had finally completed its policy review on the reclusive regime, and revealed a general overview of its approach to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal.
“Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, hinting a shift from Trump’s top-down “grand bargain” approach and Obama’s “strategic patience.”
Instead the US will pursue a “calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy” with North Korea, she said, while making “practical progress” that increases the security of the US, its allies and deployed forces.
While the details of the policy remain unclear, Psaki stressed that the administration’s goal remained the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, noting that the past four administrations had been unable to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal.
“The US goal of ‘complete denuclearization’ means not accepting North Korea as a nuclear weapons state and that sanctions relief will be conditioned on progress toward denuclearization,” said Leif Eric-Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University.
In another statement, the North’s Foreign Ministry condemned Washington’s criticism of its human rights situation, saying it insulted the “dignity of our supreme leadership” and was a sign that the US was “girding itself for an all-out showdown.”
In responding to Pyongyang’s remarks, the Foreign Ministry here stressed that the government, based on the close coordination with Washington, is continuing efforts for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a lasting peace through an early resumption of the US-North Korea talks, expressing hope for “positive response” from Pyongyang on such efforts by the allies.
Also on Sunday, Pyongyang pointed fingers at the South for failing to stop the recent anti-Pyongyang leaflet launches by North Korean defectors here.
Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful younger sister, called the defectors “human wastes” in her statement, saying the launches were a “serious provocation against our state and will look into corresponding action.”
On Friday Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector who heads the civic group Fighters for a Free North Korea, said the group had launched balloons carrying 500,000 anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and US dollar bills into the North, in defiance of a new law that criminalizes such actions.
If confirmed, the group’s action would be the first known violation of the Seoul government’s ban on leafleting that went to effect in late March. Under the law, violators can face a maximum penalty of three years in prison or a fine of 30 million won ($26,839).
The new ban came months after the North demolished the inter-Korean liaison office in its border town of Kaesong last June in anger over similar launches. Kim Yo-jong was at the center of the attacks against the South over the leaflet issue, and had warned of further action if Seoul failed to stop the balloon launches.
The Unification Ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, on Sunday said it was conducting an investigation with the relevant authorities to confirm the defector group’s claim, while reiterating that the anti-leaflet ban was there to protect the lives of residents in the border area.
Experts say North Korea’s verbal attacks also target the upcoming summit between President Moon Jae-in and Biden in Washington, with the North likely to be high on the agenda.
“The Kim regime doesn’t like the Biden administration’s focus on denuclearization, nor does it welcome ideological challenges from defector groups,” said Easley. “By vehemently expressing its displeasure, Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States before Moon’s May 21 summit with Biden in Washington.”
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org