The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday called Seoul officials “ridiculous” about the South’s joint military exercises with the United States and called on Washington to withdraw its forces from the peninsula.
Kim Yoo-jong’s latest remarks come despite a surprising meltdown on the Korean Peninsula, following a series of personal correspondence between his brother and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The two sides last month restored cross-border communications that had been cut off more than a year ago, announcing that their leaders had agreed to work to improve relations.
But Kim Yu-jong, a key adviser to his brother, condemned South Korea’s conduct of “dangerous” joint military exercises with the United States this month, which the North has long considered a rehearsal for the attack.
In a statement issued by Pyongyang’s state-run KCNA news agency, he expressed deep regret over the abominable behavior of South Korean officials.
In an unusually clear remark by a North Korean official – Pyongyang usually confines itself to vague calls to abandon its “hostile policy” to the United States – it called on Washington to withdraw from the peninsula. Take out the forces.
Seoul and Washington are allies of the agreement, with about 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea to defend against its nuclear-armed neighbor.
“In order to bring peace to the peninsula, the United States must withdraw its offensive troops and combat hardware stationed in South Korea,” Kim said.
His comments came as US and South Korean militants began their initial training on Tuesday for next week’s annual summer exercise.
They have significantly reduced their annual joint military exercises to facilitate nuclear talks with Pyongyang.
Asked about Kim Jong-un’s remarks, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the exercises were part of an “Iron Cloud” alliance with South Korea.
“I reiterate that the joint military exercises are purely defensive in nature,” Price told reporters.
“As we have long maintained, the United States has no opposition to the DPRK,” he said, using the official name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s North.
“We support inter-Korean dialogue, we support inter-Korean engagement and we will continue to work with our ROK partners to that end,” he said, referring to South Korea.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry said North Korea did not respond to calls on its military hotline between the two Koreas on Tuesday afternoon, just two weeks after communications were restored.
The South Korean moon is credited with the first summit between North Korea and the current US president in Singapore in June 2018.
But after the second summit between Kim and the then US President Donald Trump in Hong Kong, Pyongyang largely lost contact with Seoul, halting nuclear talks.
Cheung Seung Chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, said the North had in the past escalated tensions during joint military exercises with the South.
“And when they were deemed necessary, when the exercises were over, they suddenly went for a policy of relief,” he said.
Kim Jong Un accused Washington of hypocrisy.
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