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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called South Korea’s defense minister a “kind of scum” for talking about preemptive strikes on the North, warning Sunday that the South could face “a grave threat.”
Kim Yo Jong’s statement came amid heightened tensions between rival Koreas over the North’s series of weapons tests this year, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile launch in more than four years. Some experts say his statement could signal that North Korea will soon conduct more extensive weapons tests and take a tough stance on South Korea.
The March 24 ICBM test that broke North Korea’s four-year moratorium on heavy weapons testing was an embarrassment to liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who did everything possible to achieve to greater reconciliation between countries and to find a peaceful solution in the North. Korean nuclear crisis.
During a visit to the country’s Strategic Missile Command on Friday, South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook said South Korea had the ability and the will to launch precision strikes on North Korea. if it detected that the North intended to fire missiles at South Korea. Seoul has long maintained such a preemptive strike strategy to deal with growing missile and nuclear threats from North Korea, but it was highly unusual for a senior Seoul official under the Moon administration to discuss it publicly.
On Sunday, Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, delivered searing rhetoric against Suh and threats against Seoul.
“The foolish, scum-like guy dares to mention a ‘pre-emptive strike’ on a nuclear-weapon state,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement carried by state media. “South Korea could face a serious threat due to the reckless words of its defense minister.”
“South Korea should discipline itself if it wants to avoid disaster,” she said.
Kim Yo Jong, a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party in the north, is in charge of relations with Seoul and Washington. South Korean spy services say she is the second-highest North Korean official behind her brother.
Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the Workers’ Party central committee, separately warned that “any slight misjudgment and misstatement rattling the other side in the current situation” could trigger “a dangerous conflict and an all-out war”.
Pak said North Korea “will ruthlessly direct military force to destroy major targets in Seoul and the South Korean military” if South Korea preemptively attacks North Korea.
Relations between the Koreas briefly blossomed in 2018 after North Korea abruptly reached out to South Korea and the United States and expressed its willingness to put its nuclear program on the negotiating table. At the time, Kim Yo Jong traveled to South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics and conveyed her brother’s invitation to Moon to visit the North. Kim Jong Un and Moon finally met three times in 2018.
But North Korea turned a colder shoulder to the moon and severed ties with South Korea after its wider nuclear diplomacy with the United States collapsed in 2019 over disputes over directed economic sanctions. by the United States against the North.
“Kim Yo Jong’s remarks foreshadow another significant military test,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Similar to how Moscow and Beijing are trying to enlighten the world that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is somehow NATO’s fault, Pyongyang will blame its nuclear and missile progress on the American-Korean alliance.
Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang of the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said North Korea’s back-to-back statements indicate it will take drastic action toward South Korea. He said Pyongyang is sensitive to Seoul’s preemptive strike capability because it lacks military means and the ability to detect South Korean strikes in advance.
But Cheong feared that Seoul’s public comments on the pre-emptive strikes could lead to a strengthening of the voices of hardliners in Pyongyang and increased tensions between the Koreas.
Moon’s single five-year term ends in May, when he will be replaced by conservative Yoon Suk Yeol, who openly discussed the preemptive strike strategy against North Korea during his campaign. His liberal rivals criticized him for unnecessarily provoking North Korea, but Yoon said he would pursue a principled approach on Pyongyang.
The United States has urged North Korea to resume talks without preconditions, but the North has rejected such an overture, saying the United States must first drop its hostility towards it. Kim Jong Un has repeatedly promised to expand his nuclear arsenal as the diplomatic standoff with Washington continues.
Some experts say the North’s recent missile tests were aimed at perfecting its weapons technology, boosting its influence in future negotiations with the United States and securing stronger internal loyalty. They say North Korea could soon conduct another ICBM launch, a satellite-carrying rocket launch or a test of a nuclear device in the coming weeks.
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