Just days after the rivals reopened their long-dormant communication channels, Kim Jong Un’s sister warned on Sunday that the annual military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. next month will undermine prospects for better relations between the Koreas. State media carried Kim Yo Jong’s statement directed at only South Korea, supporting the theory that North Korea’s decision to restore communication lines is meant to convince Seoul to press Washington for concessions while nuclear diplomacy stalls.
‘I have been hearing an unpleasant story that joint military exercises between the South Korean army and the U.S. forces are proceeding as planned,’ Kim Yo Jong said. ‘It plays on the very emotions of North and South Korean leaders who wish to restore mutual trust between them, and it further clouds the way forward for North-South relations. We will closely monitor whether South Korea conducts hostile war exercises in August or takes any other bold steps, she said.
North Korea has called regular drills between Seoul and Washington invasion rehearsals and responded with missile tests for years. The U.S. and South Korea have repeatedly claimed that their drills are defensive in nature. South Korea and the United States have canceled or scaled back some of their military exercises recently in support of diplomatic efforts to end the North Korean nuclear crisis or in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesman Boo Seung-Chan told a briefing Thursday that Seoul and Washington are assessing factors such as the pandemic’s current status, efforts to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, and their joint military readiness. U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear program hasn’t really made any progress since Kim Jong Un’s second summit with President Donald Trump broke down over disagreements over U.S.-led sanctions early in 2019.
The government of South Korea, which wants greater reconciliation between the Koreas, had earlier shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to arrange the first summit between Trump and Kim. South Korea was later told not to interfere in North Korea’s relations with South Korea, despite North Korea’s earlier harsh rhetoric. Seoul was frustrated that it couldn’t break away from Washington and revive stalled joint economic projects that had been held back by sanctions, some experts say Pyongyang attributed its failure to Kim’s second summit with Trump and took responsibility for it.