North Korea Blows Up Joint Liaison Office Building With South Korea After Announcing End of Interest in US Relations
South Korea's unification minister offers to resign
Andrei Lankov: “Pyongyang has long resented Seoul’s failure to live up to its grandiose promises. The North scoffs at mere symbolic exchange, but the South risks angering the U.S. by pursuing anything more substantial.”
North Korea blew up a liaison office building it operates with South Korea, officials in Seoul said Tuesday, as tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated amid stalled denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and the Trump administration.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said it was still trying to determine precisely what happened. But it confirmed that the joint liaison office, opened in 2018 to foster better relations between the rival Koreas, was destroyed by North Korea at the border town of Kaesong.
The targeting of the building by North Korea comes as Pyongyang has repeatedly warned Seoul that it needs to prevent defectors and activists from sending anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets across the border via balloons and drones.
North Korea previously cut all communications with South Korea. The four story glass-and-steel liaison building sits just inside North Korea’s side of the border. Over the weekend, Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, threatened to send troops into the demilitarized zone that separates North Korea from South Korea.
Tuesday’s action follows a statement from North Korea saying that it was formally abandoning attempts to pursue diplomatic relations with the White House because of “hypocritical” and “empty promises” made by President Donald Trump. The statement by Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon was made on the second anniversary of Trump’s historic handshake with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un at a summit in Singapore.
North Korea has demanded [some] immediate economic sanctions relief in return for starting the process of dismantling its nuclear weapons program. Trump has been unwilling to meet that demand, leading to the gridlocked denuclearization negotiations.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the nation destroyed the liaison office in a “terrific explosion” because its “enraged people” were determined to “force (the) human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes,” in an apparent reference to defectors and activists responsible for the leaflets.
The liaison office has been shut since late January over coronavirus concerns. The office was the first such office between the two Koreas since their 1945 division.
Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean Studies at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, is convinced that North Korea is planning a “much bigger” provocation in the near future, such as a “missile-borne hydrogen bomb test in outer space.”
He said now is a good time for Kim to put “max pressure on Trump” while he is still grappling with bringing the coronavirus under control and as Pyongyang looks to instill “psychological fear (political burden)” in whoever wins the U.S. election in November.
“Ramping up pressure through escalating provocations is how Kim makes the point that without sanctions relief, sooner or later he will also blow up Trump’s claim to have ‘ended the threat’ from North Korea,” said Daniel Russel, an expert on Asia diplomatic affairs at the Asia Society Policy Institute, a New York-based think tank.
Source: USA Today