U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday issued an admonition to North Korea, saying that U.S. forces are ready to “fight tonight,” after the hermit dictatorship criticized military drills going on in South Korea.
The United States and South Korea paused military exercises last February over concerns about COVID-19, but they have since resumed, which prompted the sister of Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, to warn the U.S.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Austin spoke about the United States’ military’s pledge to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and “the importance of maintaining military readiness.”
“Our force remains ready to ‘fight tonight,’ and we continue to make progress toward the eventual transition of wartime Operational Control to a [Republic of Korea]-commanded, future Combined Forces Command. While meeting all the conditions for this transition will take more time, I’m confident that this process will strengthen our alliance.”
The sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, is herself a powerful figure in the regime.
The resumption of U.S.-South Korean war games prompted her to issue a no nonsense directive to the Biden administration: “We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off the [gun] powder smell in our land. If it wants to sleep in peace for [the] coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”
In addition to threatening to tear up military agreements with South Korea, and to dismantle shared border installations, Kim Yo Jong slammed the ongoing drills between the U.S. and South Korea as “ridiculous, impudent, and stupid.”
According to a report from USA Today, the Biden administration began attempting to reach out to the government of North Korea in February, but had not received any response.
The Biden administration is also currently reviewing U.S. policy toward North Korea, including evaluating “all available options to address the increasing threat posed by North Korea to its neighbors and the broader international community.”
Donald Trump held historic peace meetings with Kim Jong Un three times, including one at the Demilitarized Zone, making him the first sitting President to cross the border into North Korea.
None of those meetings produced solid binding agreements, but Trump’s efforts did lead to other unprecedented events.
Kim would become the first North Korean leader to enter South Korea since the Korean War, communications resumed and tensions de-escalated, and formal talks began to official declare peace in place of the existing armistice that ended the war in 1953.
It hasn’t been all flowers, however. Provocations like further missile tests and accusations have still flown since the historic 2019 meeting at the DMZ.
During the 2020 presidential election season, Joe Biden criticized Trump’s meetings with Kim, calling them “photo-ops” and claimed that they gave Kim “undeserved legitimacy.”
Harry Kazianis, Senior Director at the Center for the National Interest, said of the current state of affairs:
“As North Korea comes out of its self-imposed isolation due to the pandemic, Pyongyang will continually test the international community and Team Biden to gauge its responses. By the summer, I would not be shocked to see a new ICBM or even a nuclear test, if North Korea stuck to past historical trends. And that means another big showdown between a U.S. president and Kim Jong Un.”
It remains to be seen if Biden will hold to his relatively more-hawkish position on North Korea going forward.
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