Thu, October 28, 2021

in-focus

North Korea complains about 'stink' of U.S.-South Korea military exercises


TOKYO - North Korea on Tuesday complained about ongoing U.S.-South Korea military exercises and warned the Biden administration that if it wanted peace for the next four years, it should refrain from "causing a stink."

The complaint, issued by Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, comes as the United States' top diplomat and its defense chief are in the region for talks with the Japanese and South Korean governments.

The annual joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea, which began March 8, are always a source of tension with Pyongyang. They have been scaled back for the past three years and mostly conducted by computer simulation, initially to allow space for dialogue with the North but now also because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The main target of Tuesday's statement was South Korea, and Kim Yo Jong made it clear that even a scaled-back exercise, designed to target "fellow countrymen," was unacceptable.

"War exercises and dialogue, hostility and cooperation can never exist together," she said in a statement carried by state media.

She also criticized the Biden administration for giving off a "powder smell" in Korea.

"If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step."

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said Kim Yo Jong's statement "reeks of hypocrisy" coming after North Korea had conducted its own winter military drills.

U.S. officials said Saturday that the Biden administration had tried to contact North Korea three times since mid-February but had not received a response.

The silence is hardly surprising: The Biden administration is undertaking an internal review of policy toward North Korea, and Pyongyang may want to see what comes out of that process before formulating its response, while the annual military exercises are always a tense moment.

Kim Yo Jong, who has become a vitriolic critic of the government in Seoul over the past year, said North Korea was considering pulling out of a military agreement with the South that was designed to lower tensions along their heavily fortified border.

She said the "spring days" of 2018 - when Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held their first meeting - "won't come easily again."

In Tokyo, Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not respond to a reporter's request for comment on North Korea's statement. He is accompanied by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and the two will be holding talks with their Japanese counterparts Tuesday before heading to Seoul.

Some experts worry North Korean regime may try to get the attention of the Biden administration by conducting a missile test, while others say it may want to gauge the president's approach first.

"The Kim regime's rhetoric leaves more room for diplomacy than if it had welcomed Blinken and Austin with a long-range missile test," said Easley. "But North Korea's latest threats mean the allies have precious little time to coordinate their approaches on deterrence, sanctions and engagement."

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The Washington Post's John Hudson contributed to this report.

Published : March 16, 2021

By : Simon Denyer The Washington Post