North Korea: South Korean Unification Minister offers to step down amid worsening row

North Korea: South Korean Unification Minister offers to step down amid worsening row

Minister Kim Yoon-chul offered to step down just one day after North Korea destroyed a building that Seoul and Pyongyang regularly use for dialogue. South Korean President Moon Jae did not accept that Kim’s resignation was official.

Kim told reporters that he bears “all responsibility for the deterioration of inter-Korean relations” and that he “regrets that he has been unable to meet the demands of the Koreans and their hope for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula.”

The Unification Ministry is the South Korean government agency that manages relations with North Korea. Kim joined the ministry last April and was charged with the task of starting the inter-Korean talks, which were suspended in the months following three inter-Korean summits in 2018.

Pyongyang expressed its displeasure several months ago that its diplomatic engagement with South Korea and the United States has not led to the easing of sanctions that cripple the North Korean economy.

However, North Korea has formulated threats and actions taken in the past two weeks as retaliation. Pyongyang accused Seoul of violating the deal concluded by Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In, on the pretext that it had not responded enough after a group of North Korean dissidents sent anti-North Korean leaflets across their common border.

During their first summit in April 2018, as part of their attempt to forge a “new era of peace”, Moon and Kim Jong Un agreed to stop “all hostilities and eliminate their means, including broadcasting over loudspeakers and distributing flyers” along their common border. It is illegal for ordinary North Koreans to consume information that is not approved by the country’s powerful propaganda machine, and this could have severe consequences.

The defectors said that Kim Yoo Jung, sister of Kim Jong Un and one of the country’s top political officials, said the leaflets insulted her brother, a crime in North Korea.

“They dared distort the dignity of our top leadership, our most sacred president as the central nucleus, and ridiculed all of our people at the same time,” she said in a statement released by North Korean state media on Wednesday. North Korea also posted footage on Wednesday on state-run television that appears to have shown that the liaison office was detonated to pieces. The fa├žade of a nearby building was also damaged by the explosion.

Experts say North Korea will likely use the prospectus issue to build a crisis in order to gain leverage in any future negotiations, a game it used previously in diplomatic talks.

Yoon Do-han, Moon’s spokesman, said on Wednesday that South Korea “will no longer tolerate” the North’s senseless comments and actions “and urged the Kim regime to return to the negotiating table.
“This is a fundamental breach of trust built between the leaders of the two Koreas, and we warn the North that such irrational words and actions will not be tolerated any longer,” he said.

“We particularly hope that the North maintains basic morals in the future.”

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