The US Department of Defense has labelled North Korea as a "persistent threat" in an updated key security document, warning that its military capability advancements would give the recalcitrant regime options to use nuclear arms "at any stage of conflict".
In an escalation of relations, North Korea did not answer South Korea’s liaison office phone call on Tuesday after vowing to cut off all inter-Korean communication lines over Seoul’s failure to stop defectors from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets.
“The liaison office attempted to call North Korea this morning, but the North did not answer,” the South’s Unification Ministry said.
North Korea also did not answer calls via military hotlines, according to the Defence Ministry.
Earlier in the day, the North said it will sever all communication lines with the South at noon Tuesday, accusing Seoul of turning a blind eye to North Korean defectors sending propaganda leaflets criticizing Pyongyang’s leadership, reports Yonhap News Agency.
The North also said it will treat the South as an “enemy”.
“The disgusting riff-raff have committed hostile acts against North Korea by taking advantage of the south Korean authorities’ irresponsible stance and with their connivance. They dared to hurt the dignity of our supreme leadership,” Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report.
“As far as the issue of the dignity of our supreme leadership is concerned, there can neither be a pardon nor an opportunity. They should be forced to pay dearly for this,” it said.
The KCNA also said that the North “reached a conclusion that there is no need to sit face to face with the South Korean authorities and there is no issue to discuss with them, as they have only aroused our dismay”.
“Accordingly, the relevant field of our side will completely cut off and shut down” all communications lines with the South at noon on Tuesday, including the hotline between the North’s ruling Workers’ Party and the South’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, as well as a liaison line and military communication lines, the KCNA said.
The decisions were made at a meeting attended by Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party Korea (WPK), Yonhap News Agency quoted KCNA as saying.
The KCNA noted that cutting off all communication lines will be “the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things”.
The North has been vehemently protesting propaganda leaflets since last week.
The communication lines that the North vowed to completely cut off were established amid a peaceful atmosphere after South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un held three summits in 2018.
Inter-Korean relations have remained chilly since their no-deal summit in February last year.
Last week, North Korea had vowed to abolish an inter-Korean liaison office as a responsive measure against anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent from South Korea, even after Seoul promised to ban such leaflet campaigns.
The move comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong has taken charge of relations with South Korea. Her official title is first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party.
Shortly after her warning on Thursday, South Korea called for an immediate halt to such leaflet-sending and pledged to legislate a ban on such activity.
The office of President Moon Jae-in also said that leaflet-sending does “no good but harm” and should be dealt sternly with.
North Korean defectors and anti-Pyongyang activists have occasionally sent a large number of leaflets via giant balloons sharply criticizing the communist regime and its leader.
These are often flown with $1 bills and USB memory sticks to get more North Koreans to pick up the leaflets.
Pyongyang has balked at all of South Korea’s offers for talks and cooperation amid a stalemate in denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington since the no-deal summit in February last year between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, North Korea on Thursday warned the US not to meddle in inter-Korean relations if it wants to avoid experiencing an unspecified “hair-raiser” and hold November’s presidential election smoothly.
Kwon Jong-gun, Director General of the North Korean foreign ministry’s American affairs department, made the remark after Washington voiced disappointment over Pyongyang’s recent decision to cut off all communication lines with South Korea.
“If the US pokes its nose into others’ affairs with careless remarks, far from minding its internal affairs, at a time when its political situation is in the worst-ever confusion, it may encounter an unpleasant thing hard to deal with,” Kwon said in an interview with North’s state-run, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The US better hold its tongue and mind its internal affairs first if it doesn’t want to experience a hair-raiser. It would be good not only for the US interests but also for the easy holding of its upcoming presidential election,” he added.
(With agency inputs)