Harsh N.K. statements up pressure on U.S. ahead of disclosure of new policy on Pyongyang

SEOUL-- A barrage of scathing statements that North Korea issued Sunday to slam the United States and South Korea appear to be aimed at upping the ante ahead of Washington's announcement of its new policy on Pyongyang and summit talks with between the South and the U.S., experts said.

The harsh words, however, will not likely be followed by major provocations such as long-range missile or nuclear tests as those acts would be considered a violation of a "red line" and invite more sanctions and challenges to its already anemic economy under heavy strains from the prolonged global pandemic, they added.

On Sunday morning, the North issued a statement, slamming U.S. President Joe Biden for making a "big blunder" of calling its nuclear program a serious threat, warning the U.S. will face a "worse and worse crisis beyond control."

In a separate statement, the North's foreign ministry accused the U.S. of criticizing its human rights record, saying it amounts to insulting the "dignity of our supreme leadership."

Simultaneously, Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, also issued a statement and strongly criticized South Korea for its failure to stop anti-Pyongyang leaflets flown by a defector group last week, calling it an "intolerable provocation" and warning of "corresponding action."

North Korea's ramped-up criticism is seen as intended to put more pressure on the U.S. and South Korea, while making clear that Pyongyang is the one who sets the tone for Korean Peninsula issues ahead of Washington's plan to unveils its North Korea policy review and the summit between President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden on May 21.

"It is almost unprecedented that the North has issued three statements at the same time targeting the U.S. and South Korea. North Korea appears to be signaling that it is none other than itself that has control over the direction of Korean Peninsula issues," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said.

"Sunday's series of statements could also be construed as part of the North's tactics to up the ante before Washington's announcement of the results of its policy review results on the North and the South Korea-U.S. summit talks," he added.

North Korea had maintained a wait-and-see approach on its stance toward the U.S. since the Biden administration took office in January, apparently until Washington's North Korea policy review is completed.

On Friday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the policy review has been completed and provided a broad contour of the results by saying that Washington's goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

"With a clear understanding that the efforts of the past four administrations have not achieved this objective, our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience," Psaki said. "Our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK."

Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University, said the North's strong words should be seen as aimed at conveying its stance on various issues, including denuclearization and human rights, before Washington unveils the full results of the highly anticipated policy review results.

"North Korea might think that it is necessary to convey its stance in a preemptive but limited manner so as to influence the results anyhow," he said. "The North is also seen trying to urge Washington to respect its stance and build a case to pass the buck to Washington if things do not go as it wants."

However, he expressed skepticism that the North would actually put Sunday's harsh words and warnings into action anytime soon given the negative impact on its already fragile economy beset by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank, however, differed from other experts, saying that the North's latest statements represent a rebuke of what has been shaping up to be Washington's policy on Pyongyang, raising concerns that it could resort to provocative action in the near future.

"North Korea might be trying to justify its upcoming provocative acts by taking issue with Biden calling it a nuclear threat," Cheong said. "As evidenced in its announcement at January's party congress, the North appears to want to be recognized as a nuclear weapons state."

"North Korea already unveiled plans to develop tactical nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles at its January party congress. It appears to be finding justifications to go ahead with the plans," he added.

The expert still noted that the North would not go as far as resuming long-range missile or nuclear tests, which it has suspended for years under a self-imposed moratorium, since a violation of what is seen as a "red line" could lead to more pressure not just from the U.S. but also from China, which could be under growing international pressure to stop providing highly necessary assistance, including oil, to Pyongyang.

With regard to the North's threat to take "corresponding" action against South Korea over the leafleting issue, experts see it as intended to put pressure on Seoul to take measures to prevent such activity but unlikely to lead military action or any reprisals in border areas as many have feared.

Some still did not rule out the possible that the North could use the issue as a way to heighten tensions on the Korean Peninsula in a way to draw attention from the U.S.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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