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South Korea’s unification minister warns Pyongyang against nuclear test

South Korea’s unification minister Kwon Young-se warned on Monday that Seoul’s response to a fresh nuclear test by North Korea could be more severe compared to earlier governments, although insisting that the door to dialog and offering humanitarian aid to the neighboring country remained open.

Kwon, 63, who was appointed as the new head of the ministry that handles ties with the North in April, said in a press conference at Seoul’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club that Pyongyang was taking advantage of a “new cold war” – referring to the growing US-China rivalry and the Ukraine war – to improve its nuclear capabilities.

This “poses a very serious and fundamental challenge for us in our path toward achieving peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula through North Korea’s denuclearization and normalization of inter-Korean relations,” he said.

Discussing the satellite images that have captured Pyongyang’s preparations for a new nuclear test since February, Kwon insisted that everything was in place and only a political decision from North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un remained for the test to be launched.

North Korea, which has remained completely isolated from the world since 2020 due to the pandemic, has not maintained direct communication lines with the South since then, while carrying out a weapons modernization project.

Last week, the powerful Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea held a meeting, in which the regime suggested fresh deployment of tactical nuclear weapons along its border with South Korea, as both the Koreas have remained technically at war for more than 70 years.

“The regime appears to be hoping to have offensive capabilities against both the South and the United States. (…) Those who have said the North’s nuclear arms do not target the South are wrong,” Kwon said.

The minister warned that after five years of a liberal administration in Seoul that was very tolerant towards Pyongyang, the response of the new conservative government in Seoul to a fresh nuclear test could be more severe than ever seen before.

On the Covid situation in North Korea, where the regime has insisted that the worst was over, the minister said that the data released by Pyongyang – which shows a rapid infection rate but few deaths – have given rise to speculation.

Kwon added that Seoul had still not received any response to its offer of supplying health-related aid to the North to fight the coronavirus.

Source : La Prensa Latina