North Korea dismisses Seoul’s aid-for-disarmament offer

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says her country will never accept South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s “foolish” offer of economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization steps, accusing Seoul of recycling past proposals Pyongyang already rejected.

In a commentary published on Friday’s edition of North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, Kim Yo Jong said her country has no intentions to give away its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program for economic cooperation. She questioned the sincerity of South Korean calls for improved bilateral relations while criticizing the South’s military exercises with the United States and its inability to stop civilian activists from flying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other objects across their border.

She also ridiculed South Korea’s military capabilities, saying that the South misread the launch site of its latest missile tests on Wednesday, which came hours before Yoon used a news conference to urge Pyongyang to return to diplomacy.

Kim Yo Jong’s newspaper column came after she threatened “deadly” retaliation against the South over a recent COVID-19 outbreak in the North, which it dubiously claims was caused by leaflets and other “filth” dropped from balloons launched by southern activists.

Yoon during a nationally televised speech on Monday proposed an “audacious” economic assistance package to North Korea if it takes steps to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program. The offers of large-scale aid in food and health care and modernizing electricity generation systems and seaports and airports weren’t meaningfully different from previous South Korean proposals rejected by the North, which is speeding the development of an arsenal Kim Jong Un sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.

“Yoon Suk Yeol’s ‘audacious plan’ is a demonstration of ultimate foolishness and is as realistic as trying to dry up the deep blue ocean to make a mulberry field,” she said. “I am not sure he understands that ‘if the North takes denuclearization steps’ is a presumption that’s wrong in itself.”

Inter-Korean ties have worsened amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. that derailed in early 2019 because of disagreements over a relaxation of crippling U.S.-led sanctions on the North in exchange for disarmament steps.

There are concerns that Kim Yo Jong’s threats last week over the leafletting portends a provocation, which may include a nuclear or missile test or even border skirmishes. Tensions could further rise as the United States and South Korea kick off their biggest combined training in years next week to counter the North Korean threat. The North describes such drills as invasion rehearsals and has often responded to them with missile tests or other provocations.

North Korea has ramped up its missile testing to a record pace in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic weapons so far, including its first intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.

The heighted testing activity underscores North Korea’s dual intent to advance its arsenal and force the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power so it can negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.

Kim Jong Un could up the ante soon as there are indications that the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon to fit on its ICBMs.