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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Inter-Korean contact will be “difficult” unless South Korea cancels August’s joint military exercises with the United States or provides a plausible explanation regarding their purpose, a senior North Korean official said Sunday.
The comments, issued by Director-General of the foreign ministry’s Department of American Affairs Kwon Jong Gun, came shortly after DPRK state media published photos of a missile test on Saturday widely thought to be a reaction to the U.S.-ROK exercises.
“Given that the military exercise clearly puts us as an enemy in its concept, (South Korea) should think that an inter-Korean contact itself will be difficult to be made unless they put an end to such a military exercise or before they make a plausible excuse or an explanation in a sincere manner for conducting the military exercise,” Kwon’s statement read.
The suggestion that a credible explanation of the U.S.-ROK joint training exercise could be sufficient to reboot inter-Korean contact may indicate Pyongyang is well-aware that it is unlikely to be canceled at such an eleventh-hour.
Kwon’s statement also described August’s U.S.-ROK training effort as an “aggressive war exercise” and said that any future dialogue would “be held strictly between the DPRK and the U.S., not between the north and the south.”
That reiterated remarks made prior to the sudden U.S.-DPRK summit at Panmunjom in late June, when Kwon said Pyongyang would never ask Seoul to play a role in bridging the gap between North and the U.S.
Pyongyang later warned in mid-July that the pending U.S.-ROK exercises – which are said to involve simulations focused on stabilizing North Korea after it has been occupied – could impact promised working-level talks in the wake of Trump’s sudden meeting with Kim in late June.
Named “19-2 Dong Maeng,” the exercise began on August 11 and will continue until August 20, mostly comprising computer simulations designed to test South Korea’s capability to retake operational control over forces from the U.S. during wartime.
That appears to be the key course of Pyongyang’s consternation, combined with South Korea’s recent delivery of advanced F-35a stealth jets which could be used in a “killchain” attack on North Korea.
The exercise was also preceded by a four-day “crisis management staff training” that began last week on Monday, Yonhap News said quoting military sources.
There’s also been confusion about the name of the exercise, which authorities in South Korea appear to have changed in order to diminish negative responses from the North.
But North Korea’s Sunday statement said that “it is a miscalculation if they think that the very change of the name of the exercise can alter its aggressive nature or that we would make it pass off quietly.”
“Shit, though hard and dry, still stinks even if it is wrapped in a flowered cloth,” the official statement added.
Overall, one long-time North Korea watcher described the remarks as part of a “recent strategic campaign” to engage the U.S. while “excluding South Korea”.
“This campaign is initiated by the Foreign Ministry and their long-time belief is that … major issues like sanctions relief can be achieved only by (direct) negotiation with the U.S.,” said Wang Song-taek, a senior diplomatic correspondent at South Korea’s YTN network and a regular contributor to NK News.
“In this regards, what North Korea wants from the statement this morning is to push President Moon Jae-in into a small corner so that Mr. Moon has to cooperate on North Korean policy line.”
Wang also said the statement is another indicator that the DPRK foreign ministry has returned to “brinkmanship diplomacy.”
“(It) also shows that Chairman Kim concluded the Hanoi summit failed because the United Front Department relied too much on South Korea, which did not have any capability or willingness to persuade the U.S.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: U.S. Air Force