Seoul, South Korea – North Korea said on Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un suspended a planned military retaliation against South Korea, in an apparent slowdown in the pressure campaign it has waged against its rival amid stalled nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
Last week, the North had declared that relations with the South were completely broken,in their territory and censure Seoul for lack of progress in bilateral cooperation and for activists floating anti-Pyongyang pamphlets across the border.
Analysts sayAfter weeks of deliberately escalating tensions, it may be drifting away enough to accommodate South Korea’s concessions.
If Kim finally opts for military action, he can resume artillery drills and other exercises in frontline areas, or have ships deliberately cross the disputed western maritime border between Koreas, which has been the scene of bloody skirmishes in recent years. . However, any measure is likely to be measured to avoid large-scale retaliation by the South Korean and US military.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim chaired by videoconference on Tuesday a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party, which decided to postpone military action plans against the South raised by North military leaders.
KCNA did not specify why the decision was made. She said other discussions included reinforcing the country’s “war deterrent”.
Yoh Sang-key, a spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry, said Seoul was “closely reviewing” the North’s report, but did not elaborate.
Yoh also said it was the first state media report that Kim was holding a video conference meeting, but did not provide a specific answer when asked if that had anything to do with. The North says that there has not been a single COVID-19 case in its territory, but the claim is questioned by external experts.
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul’s Far East Studies Institute, said the North is likely awaiting further action from the South to salvage ties from what it sees as a position of strength, rather than softening its stance on his rival.
“What is clear is that the North said (the military action) was postponed, not canceled,” said Kim, a former South Korean military officer who participated in inter-Korean military negotiations.
Other experts say the North would seek something important from the South, possibly a commitment to resume operations in a closed park of a joint factory in Kaesong, which was where the liaison office was located, or to restart tours of South Korea to the complex. Northern Diamond Mountain. Those steps are prohibited by international sanctions against the North for its nuclear weapons program.
“Now is not the time for anyone in Seoul or Washington to congratulate themselves for deterring North Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“There may be a pause in the provocations or Pyongyang could temporarily de-escalate in search of external concessions. But North Korea will surely continue to reinforce its ‘deterrence’ call. As long as the Kim regime refuses to denuclearize, it is likely to use Seoul as a goat. expiatory for its military modernization and internal policy of economic struggle after failing to obtain relief from sanctions. ”
The public face of the recent attacks by the North against the South has been Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, who has been confirmed as its top official in inter-Korean affairs.
Issuing harsh statements through the state media, he said that the demolition of the liaison office by the North would be only the first in a series of retaliatory actions against the “enemy” of the South and that it would allow the armed forces of the North decide the next steps.
The Northern Army General Staff said it would send troops to the inter-Korean cooperation sites at Kaesong and Diamond Mountain and. Such steps would nullify a set of deals that the Koreas reached during a surge in diplomacy in 2018 that prohibited them from taking hostile action against each other.
In addition to condemning the South for North Korean refugees floating anti-Pyongyang pamphlets across the border, the North said on Monday that it printed 12 million of its own propaganda pamphlets to launch over the South in what would be its largest pamphlet campaign. against Seoul.
It was not immediately clear whether Kim’s decision to stop the military action would affect the country’s plans for leaflet distribution. The Northern Army had said it would open border areas by land and sea and provide protection to civilians involved in the leaflet distribution campaigns.
The North has a history of increasing pressure against the South when it does not get what it wants from the United States. The recent steps in the North came after months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy US-led sanctions and restart inter-Korean economic projects that would bring its broken economy to life.
Nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington largely stalled after Kim’s second summit with President Donald Trump last year in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major relief from sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.