SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea said Monday the U.S. allowing South Korea to build more powerful missiles was an example of the U.S.’s hostile policy against the North, warning that it could lead to an “acute and instable situation” on the Korean Peninsula.
It’s North Korea’s first response to the May 21 summit between the leaders of the United States and South Korea, during which the U.S. ended decades-long restrictions that capped South Korea’s missile development and allowed its ally to develop weapons with unlimited ranges.
The accusation of U.S. policy being hostile to North Korea matters because it said it won’t return to talks and would enlarge its nuclear arsenal as long as U.S. hostility persists. But the latest statement was still attributed to an individual commentator, not a government body, suggesting North Korea may still want to leave room for potential diplomacy with the Biden administration.
“The termination step is a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy toward (North Korea) and its shameful double-dealing,” Kim Myong Chol, an international affairs critic, said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. “It is engrossed in confrontation despite its lip-service to dialogue.”
“The U.S. is mistaken, however. It is a serious blunder for it to pressurize (North Korea) by creating asymmetric imbalance in and around the Korean Peninsula as this may lead to the acute and instable situation on the Korean Peninsula now technically at war,” he said.
The United States had previously barred South Korea from developing a missile with a range of longer than 800 kilometers (500 miles) out of concerns about a regional arms race. The range is enough for a South Korean weapon to strike all of North Korea but is short of hitting potential key targets in other neighbors like China and Japan.
Some South Korean observers hailed the end of the restrictions as restoring military sovereignty, but others suspected the U.S. intent was to boost its ally’s military capability amid a rivalry with China.
The commentator Kim accused Washington of trying to spark an arms race, thwart North Korean development and deploy intermediate-range missiles targeting countries near North Korea.
The South Korean government said it “prudently watches” North Korea's reaction, but Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo wouldn't comment otherwise, since the remarks were attributed to an individual, not an official statement from the North Korean government.
The North Korean statement comes as the Biden administration shapes a new approach on North Korea amid long-dormant talks over the North’s nuclear program. During their summit, Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in said a new U.S. policy review on North Korea “takes a calibrated and practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy” with the North.
U.S. officials have suggested Biden would adopt a middle ground policy between his predecessors — Donald Trump’s direct dealings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Barack Obama’s “strategic patience.” Some experts say Biden won’t likely provide North Korea with major sanctions relief unless it takes concrete denuclearization steps first.
The North Korean statement criticized the Biden administration’s review indirectly, saying the new policy was viewed by other countries “as just trickery.”