North Korea says US actions threaten inter-Korean relations

North Korea’s foreign minister is warning the United States that its deployment of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and planned military exercises immediately after the Winter Olympics threaten improved relations between the two Koreas. Ri Yong Ho urged the United Nations not to remain silent about what he called “the US dangerous game of aggravating (the) situation in and around the Korean peninsula and driving the whole world into a possible disaster of nuclear war.”

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres circulated today, he urged the UN chief to exert efforts to halt the US deployment of equipment and the upcoming military maneuvers. Ri warned that the US military actions are aimed “to provoke a nuclear war, which will undermine the improvement of inter-Korean relations and the easing of tensions.”

The North Korean minister also accused US authorities of “misleading public opinion” to believe the new inter-Korean dialogue is the result of “their harshest sanctions and pressure imposed on our country.” Rather, Ri said, the “dramatic turning point” for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula “where a touch-and-go war danger was prevailing is entirely thanks to the noble love for the nation by the respected comrade Kim Jong Un,” North Korea’s leader.

Kim unexpectedly said in his New Year’s address that he was willing to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics being held February 9-25 in the South Korean county of Pyeongchang — and the South Korean government and International Olympic Committee responded positively. As part of the rapprochement with Seoul, hundreds of North Korean officials, athletes, artists, journalists and a 230-member cheering group will be attending the Olympics, and athletes from the two Koreas will march together under a single flag during the opening ceremony.

Ri asked the UN Security Council in the letter to take up “the issue of welcoming the process of improved inter-Korean relations and discouraging the neighboring countries from disturbing the process.” The efforts at reconciliation follow a year of heightened animosities over North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which Pyongyang says can now reach the US mainland. There has been escalating rhetoric between Kim and US President Donald Trump, including back-and-forth over their “nuclear button.”

Some experts say North Korea may want to use improved ties with the South as a way to weaken US-led international sanctions. Liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in sees the Olympics as an opportunity to resume meaningful contact with North Korea following the extended period of tension and a diplomatic stalemate over the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

Ri charged in the letter that the US military is “intentionally” aggravating the situation in and around the Korean peninsula by deploying military reinforcements, including aircraft carrier strike groups, designed to make a “pre-emptive strike” on North Korea at a time when the two Koreas “are charting a course of peace together.” “This is a primary factor which would block the inter-Korean reconciliation process and drive the situation of the Korean peninsula into an unpredictable dangerous phase,” Ri warned.

He said that whenever joint US-South Korean exercises take place — as the US has announced for immediately after the Olympics — peace and security on the peninsula are “gravely threatened and the inter-Korean mistrust and confrontation reached the top.”

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