SEOUL — North Korea on Tuesday accused South Korean President Park Geun-Hye of provocative war-mongering a day after Seoul launched an annual military drill with the United States.
Rather than criticizing the joint exercise itself — as it has often done in the past — the North focused its anger on comments Park made at a meeting of her National Security Council that coincided with the start of the drill Monday.
At the meeting, held in an underground bunker, Park made it clear that South Korea should not allow its guard to drop despite a recent easing of tensions with the North.
“No matter how peaceful things are, a crisis would come if we forget about war,” Park said. “It is very important to ensure firm security preparedness in any circumstances.”
The 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise is a largely computer-simulated drill that plays out the scenario of a North Korean invasion.
Pyongyang has bitterly condemned the exercise in the past but has been muted in its criticism this year following a recent series of breakthroughs in North-South talks on cross-border projects.
Tuesday’s denunciation by the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said Park’s comments amounted to an “agitation for extreme confrontation” and poured “cold water” on the recent efforts at reconciliation.
“(Seoul) should clearly know that if they continue to pursue confrontation...(inter-Korea) ties will go back to the worst point, entailing uncontrollably catastrophic consequences,” the committee said in a statement.
The statement contained no direct criticism of the military exercise and did not address Park by name, referring only to the South’s “chief executive.”
The South described the North’s vitriol as “regrettable.”
“The North should stop slamming and slandering our government and show responsibility in the development of inter-Korea relations, based on trust,” Seoul’s unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said in a statement.
The launch of Monday’s drill came amid tentative signs of a thaw in inter-Korean relations after months of sky-high military tensions triggered by the North’s nuclear test in April.
Pyongyang and Seoul agreed last week to work together to reopen the shuttered Kaesong joint industrial complex, and the North also agreed to discuss Park’s proposal for resuming family reunions for those separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.