SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea said on Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un has suspended a planned military retaliation against South Korea in an apparent slowdown in the pressure campaign it has waged against its rival amidst nuclear negotiations stalled with the Trump administration.
Last week, the North declared relations with the South as completely cut off, destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office in its territory, and threatened unspecified military action to censor Seoul for lack of progress in bilateral cooperation and for activists who drive anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.
Analysts say North Korea, after weeks of deliberate mounting tensions, may be moving away just enough to make way for South Korean concessions.
If Kim eventually opts for military action, he can resume artillery and other front-line exercises or intentionally allow ships to cross the disputed Western Maritime Border between the Korea, which has been the scene of bloody skirmishes in recent years. However, it is likely that all measures will be measured to prevent full-scale retaliation by South Korean and U.S. armies.
Pyongyang’s official Korean central news agency said that during a video conference on Tuesday, Kim hosted a meeting of the central military committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, which decided to implement plans for military action against the south, drawn up by the military leaders of the north. set.
KCNA has not specified why the decision was made. It said other discussions included strengthening the country’s “war deterrence”.
Yoh Sang-key, a spokesman for the Ministry of Unification of South Korea, said that Seoul was “closely reviewing” the report from the North, but did not elaborate further.
Yoh also said that this was the first state media report that Kim held a video conference, but he did not give a specific answer when asked if that would have anything to do with the corona virus.
The North says there has not been a single COVID-19 case on its territory, but the claim has been questioned by outside experts.
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at the Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the North is likely to wait for further action from the South to save ties from what it sees as a strong position, rather than its position to soften against his rival.
“What is clear is that the North said (the military action) has been postponed, not canceled,” said Kim, a former South Korean military official who took part in inter-Korean military negotiations.
Other experts say the north would seek something important from the south, possibly a commitment to resume operations at a joint shuttered factory park in Kaesong, where the liaison office was located, or to take South Korean trips to the Diamond Mountain resort in resume north. Those steps have been banned by international sanctions against the North for its nuclear weapons program.
“Now is not the time for someone in Seoul or Washington to congratulate themselves on scaring North Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“There may be a pause in provocations or Pyongyang can temporarily de-escalate in search of external concessions. But North Korea will almost certainly continue to strengthen its so-called “deterrent”. As long as the Kim regime refuses to denuclearize, it will likely use Seoul as a scapegoat for its military modernization and domestic politics of economic struggle after it has not won relief sanctions. ”
The public face of the recent bashing of the South in the North has been Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, who has been confirmed as his top inter-Korean affairs officer. She had made firm statements through state media, saying that the North’s demolition of the liaison agency would be only the first in a series of retaliatory actions against the “enemy” South and would leave it to the North’s army to deal with the following to come out.
The North Army’s General Staff has said it will send troops to the moth-infested inter-Korean cooperation sites in Kaesong and Diamond Mountain and restart military exercises on the front lines. Such steps would nullify a series of deals that the Korea reached during a wave of diplomacy in 2018, preventing them from acting hostile to one another.
The North also condemned the South over North Korean refugees driving anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border, saying on Monday it printed 12 million of its own propaganda leaflets to be distributed across the South in what is its largest anti-Seoul folder campaign would ever be.
It was not immediately clear whether Kim’s decision to stop military action would affect the country’s plans for leaflets. The army of the north had said it would open up land and sea border areas and provide protection to the civilians involved in the leaflet campaigns.
The North has a history of increasing pressure against the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the United States. The North’s recent moves came after months of frustration at Seoul’s reluctance to face US-led sanctions and restart inter-Korean economic projects that would revive the broken economy.
Nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington largely stalled following Kim’s second summit with President Donald Trump in Vietnam last year, where Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanction rejection in exchange for partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities .
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