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North Korea Issues Fiery Threat Amid Frustrations With the Biden Administration

North Korea Issues Fiery Threat Amid Frustrations With the Biden Administration

NORTH KOREA BROKE ITS conspicuous silence in recent months with a fiery message to leaders within the Biden administration during their tour through the region and to their local allies.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off the [gun]powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of the country’s autocratic leader, Kim Jong Un, said in a statement. “If it wants to sleep in peace for [the] coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

Kim threatened to tear up fragile military agreements with South Korea and to dismantle installations at their heavily armed shared border that are among the few sources of physical contact between the countries. And she blasted the continuation of military drills between the U.S. and South Korea – albeit pared down – as “ridiculous, impudent and stupid.”

The bellicose rhetoric comes amid a stalemate in U.S. attempts to reach out to North Korea, following high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful overtures by President Donald Trump that led to a blackout in communications for the last year of his tenure. President Joe Biden’s administration is currently undergoing a review of its approach to Pyongyang in an attempt to jump-start talks or, at the very least, prevent North Korea from restarting tests of its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic weapons.

And it follows the arrival in the region of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for a trip dedicated to rebuilding relationships with allies for the stated purpose of containing China and determining a new path forward to denuclearizing North Korea.

The latest language comes amid new frustrations from the North Korean regime that the U.S. has not done enough to reciprocate its acts of goodwill – namely the release of American captives, the apparent destruction of one of its nuclear test sites and its prior willingness to engage in new talks, says Kee Park, director of the North Korea Program at the Korean American Medical Association, who visited Pyongyang at the end of 2019 to meet with local officials.

North Korea believes the U.S. has done little, if anything, of substance in return: American forces based in the region have pared down the war games they conduct with South Korea but not ended them. Both countries consider the drills as essential to deterring North Korea even as Pyongyang sees them only as a provocation. The exercises, which had previously taken on a broad scale, now exist largely through table-top exercises or computer simulations. However, Kim singled them out in her statement on Tuesday, which ran on the official Korean Central News Agency, saying, “War drill and hostility can never go with dialogue and cooperation.”

Pyongyang has reportedly objected to a subtle shift in U.S. rhetoric away from denuclearizing the entire Korean peninsula to, as Blinken said this week, denuclearizing North Korea. The U.S. previously maintained nuclear weapons on the peninsula and has considered redeploying them in recent years. North Korea has repeatedly demanded the U.S. remove all nuclear capabilities from the region.

And just last week, North Korea lost its final appeal to block the extradition of one of its businessmen from Malaysia to the U.S. to face money laundering charges – an unprecedented legal action seen as a deep source of embarrassment and anger for Pyongyang.

The rising tensions are magnified by decreased understanding about what is happening inside the notoriously closed-off autocracy amid the coronavirus pandemic and the harsh crackdowns Pyongyang has exacted, including even stricter border measures. Foreign observers previously based in the country, including those overseeing aid shipments, have largely evacuated amid the pandemic with – as of Tuesday, at least – none having returned. That could change amid an approval under the U.N.’s COVAX program for international shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine to be sent to North Korea.

“The latest statement out of North Korea, while tame for the Kim regime, conveys a pretty simple message: Don’t forget about us or push us around – or else,” says Harry Kazianis, senior director at the Center for the National Interest.

Pyongyang will likely engage in greater activity to engage with the Biden administration in the coming weeks, or at least step up its propaganda messages directed at the U.S., Kazianis says. The White House will likely respond with a tougher approach than the appeals Trump made.

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