SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un suspended his military’s plans to take unspecified retaliatory action against South Korea, state media said Wednesday, possibly slowing a pressure campaign against its rival amid stalled nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
Declaring relations as fully ruptured, the North last week blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in its territory and threatened unspecified military action against the South, censuring Seoul for a lack of progress in bilateral cooperation and failing to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim on Tuesday presided over a preliminary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission, which decided to postpone plans for military action against the South brought up by the North’s military leaders.
The KCNA didn’t specify why the decision was made. The agency also said the meeting’s discussions included bolstering the country’s “war deterrent.”
After spending weeks deliberately raising tensions, it’s possible that the North is pulling away just enough to make room for South Korean concessions.
Some experts say the North would be seeking something major from the South, possibly a commitment to resume operations at a shuttered joint factory park in Kaesong, which was where the liaison office was located, or restart South Korean tours to the North’s Diamond Mountain resort. But it would be impossible for Seoul to take such steps without rattling international sanctions against the North over its nuclear weapons program.
South Korea’s government didn’t immediately respond to the North Korean report.
The public face of the North’s recent bashing of the South has been Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, who has been confirmed as his top official on inter-Korean affairs. Issuing harsh statements through state media, she had said the North’s demolishing of the liaison office would be just the first in a series of retaliatory action against the “enemy” South and that she would leave it to the North’s military to come up with the next steps.
The General Staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army, which is akin to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of other countries, said it would send troops to mothballed inter-Korean cooperation sites in Kaesong and Diamond Mountain and restart military drills in frontline areas. Such steps would nullify a set of deals the Koreas reached during a flurry of diplomacy in 2018 that prohibited them from taking hostile action against each other.
There have been concerns that the North could deliberately have vessels cross the disputed western maritime border between the Koreas, which has been the scene of bloody skirmishes in past years.
Also condemning the South over North Korean refugees floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border, the North said Monday it printed 12 million of its own propaganda leaflets to be dropped over the South in what would be its largest ever anti-Seoul leafleting campaign.
The North has a history of dialing up pressure against the South when it fails to get what it wants from the United States. The North’s recent steps came after months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy U.S.-led sanctions and restart the inter-Korean economic projects that would breathe life into its broken economy.
Nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington began to implode after Kim’s second summit with President Donald Trump last year in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.