North Korea Accuses US of Hostility, Continues Weapons Tests

South Korea Koreas Tensions
South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Monday accused the United States of hostility and demanded the Biden administration to permanently end joint military exercises with South Korea even as it continued its recent streak of weapons tests apparently aimed at pressuring Washington and Seoul over slow nuclear diplomacy.

North Korean Ambassador Kim Song’s comments on the last day of the U.N. General Assembly came shortly after South Korea’s military said the North fired an unidentified projectile into its eastern waters.

The North’s latest test, which followed two previous rounds of missile tests this month, indicated that the country is returning to its tried-and-true technique of mixing weapons demonstrations and peace offers to wrest concessions amid long-stalled negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff didn’t immediately say what the North launched in its latest test or how far the weapon flew.

Addressing the General Assembly, Kim justified North Korea’s development of a “war deterrent” as a necessity to defend against U.S. threats, and also accused of South Korea of betraying inter-Korean peace agreements by prioritizing its Western ally over “national harmony.”

He demanded that the United States “permanently” stop its military exercises with South Korea, which the North has traditionally described as invasion rehearsals, and end the deployment of U.S. strategic weapons to the Korean Peninsula.

“The possible outbreak of a new war on the Korean Peninsula is contained not because of the U.S.’s mercy on the DPRK. It is because our state is a growing reliable deterrent that can control the hostile forces in the attempts of a military invasion,” Kim said, referring to North Korea by the abbreviation of its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In face of broader and newer global challenges like COVID-19 and rising U.S.-China tensions, it seemed the North Korean nuclear issue had receded from the center of attention at this year’s assembly, which ended without meaningful new proposals to break the diplomatic stalemate with Pyongyang.

But North Korea usually hates being ignored. The country has resumed its missile testing activity in recent weeks after months of relative quiet and subsequently offered to improve relations with South Korea if certain conditions are met.

Kim called for the United States to contribute to the peace and stability of the peninsula and the world by withdrawing an anachronistic, hostile policy towards the DPRK in a bold and complete manner."

“Hostile policy” is a term North Korea mainly uses the term to refer to U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons program and the joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.

North Korea has also been increasingly criticizing the United States’ broader security role in the Asia-Pacific amid an intensifying competition with China, Pyongyang’s major ally and economic lifeline.

Analysts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is using the South’s desire for inter-Korean engagement to pressure Seoul to extract concessions from the Biden administration on his behalf as he renews an attempt to leverage his nuclear weapons for badly needed economic benefits.

In their speeches at the General Assembly last week, both President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed hopes to diplomatically resolve the standoff with North Korea while sidestepping the fresh tensions created by the North’s latest tests.

Biden, whose pullout from Afghanistan underscored a broader shift in U.S. focus from counterterrorism and so-called rogue states like North Korea and Iran to confronting a rising authoritarian superpower in China, said his administration would seek “serious and sustained diplomacy” to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Moon, who wants North Korea to remain a priority in Washington, made a more ambitious push to break the diplomatic deadlock, calling for the leaders of the Koreas, the United States and China to declare an end to the Korean War. The 1950-53 conflict, in which North Korea and ally China faced off against South Korea and U.S.-led U.N. forces, ended with an armistice, but there was never a peace treaty.

North Korea rebuffed Moon’s offer days later, saying that such a declaration would end up being a “smokescreen” to cover up U.S. hostility, making it clear it has no interest in political statements unless they bring sanctions relief.

But Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of the North Korean leader, said her country will take steps to repair ties with the South, and may even discuss another summit between their leaders — if Seoul drops its hostility and public criticism about North Korean military developments.

Nuclear negotiations have stalled since the collapse of a meeting between Kim and former President Donald Trump in February 2019, when the Americans rejected the North’s demands for a major removal of U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons program in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility. That would have amounted to only a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim in recent political speeches has vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of U.S. pressure. His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s offer to resume talks without preconditions, saying that Washington must abandon its hostile policy first.

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