South Korea Urges Peace Talks As North Korea Shows New Weapon

South Korea is seeking U.S. help in renewed efforts to repair troubled ties with North Korea, after the reclusive authoritarian state debuted a powerful new weapon at a military parade less than a week before Joe Biden's inauguration.

South Korea's National Security Council met Thursday in the wake of the massive parade held across the border in Kim Il Sung Square, named after the grandfather of current ruler, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, who presided over the elaborate affair.

The event celebrated the conclusion of the 8th Party Congress, where the third-generation dynasty chartered important national security and foreign policy decisions that officials in Seoul were busy analyzing.

While many international observers focused on the harsh threats and bellicose grandstanding common to such meetings in the North, South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, focused instead on the perceived opportunity it presented.

"While evaluating the situation on the Korean Peninsula, including the results of North Korea's holding of the 8th Party Congress, it was decided to pursue related measures so that there would be no gaps in efforts to advance the ROK-US relations and advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula ahead of the launch of the new administration," the council said in a statement sent to Newsweek by the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

The hopeful remarks came in contrast to a more negative outlook presented by Kim Jong Un during his high-profile gathering.

The ruler addressed the sharp downturn in his country's burgeoning rapprochement with South Korea that began three years ago. He accused Seoul of "provocations" and threatened to "to treat the South differently" should they continue.

However, he also emphasized that Pyongyang was ready to return to the peace track "at any time" should there be a change of attitude in the southern peninsula.

north, korea, submarine, launched, ballistic, missile
The Korean Peoples' Army debuts the Pukguksong-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile, dubbed "the world's most powerful weapon" by state media, at a military parade held January 14 in Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang. Korean Central News Agency

Kim Jong Un lashed out at the U.S. in his remarks, branding it his country's "greatest enemy." Coming in the wake of the breakdown of the unprecedented peace process he began with President Trump, he announced plans to frustrate U.S. interests and to cooperate with its rivals around the world.

With Joe Biden set to take office Wednesday, observers are looking for signals from Pyongyang on what its attitude will be toward the incoming administration.

Kim Jong Un's remarks comments on prioritizing his country's revered military and its nuclear power drew particular international attention.

"By further enhancing nuclear technology, miniaturization of nuclear weapons and further development of tactical weapons," the report from the 8th Congress read, "the development of tactical nuclear weapons that can be applied as different means depending on the purpose of the operational mission and the target of attack in modern warfare and the production of super-large nuclear warheads are continuously pushed forward."

Kim said his aim was "to enhance the nuclear preemptive and retaliatory strike capabilities," improving accuracy so as to be able to hit targets up to 15,000 kilometers away. He also sought to build a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Washington D.C. is 11,000 kilometers from Pyongyang.

While such weapons were not seen during the recent parade, there were some new additions to the Korean People's Army that caught the eye of experts.

"As best as I'm able to tell, the two previously unseen weapon systems include a new submarine-launched ballistic missile and a new solid propellant-based short-range ballistic missile," Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program, told Newsweek. "Kim Jong Un recently spoke about a much wider range of capabilities, including several aspirational ones."

He said the parade did not match the scale of the last major military procession held months ago to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

"Overall, the scope of this parade is more limited than the October 2020 one," Panda added. "For instance, we don't see any intercontinental-range ballistic missiles."

The October parade unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the Pukguksong-4, about a year after North Korea's most recent SLBM test. The latest SLBM shown off Wednesday was labeled Pukguksong-5, and the official Korean Central News Agency designated it "the world's most powerful weapon."

North Korea has so far held off from testing ICBMs since announcing a self-imposed moratorium on longer-range and nuclear weapons in early 2018. But Kim Jong Un revoked this pledge a year ago, citing failures in the commitment of the U.S. and South Korea to denuclearization-for-peace negotiations that yielded historic meetings but no comprehensive agreements.

With Kim Jong Un unrestrained, South Korean officials were closely monitoring the hardware showcased at his recent parade.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry told Newsweek that "parade-related details are currently being analyzed by the relevant authorities," and the South Korean Defense Ministry said its personnel "had been keeping an eye on their situation and are analyzing the detailed contents."

north, korea, kim, jong, un, parade
North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un waves as he oversees a military parade marking the end of the Korean Workers' Party 8th Party Congress at Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang on January 14. "Cheers of 'Hurrah!' for Kim Jong Un and chanting shouts of 'Kim Jong Un' and 'Devoted Defense' rocked the heaven and earth and fireworks brightly decorated the nocturnal sky," according to the Korean Central News Agency. Korean Central News Agency

The language found in similar South Korean statements has drawn the ire of senior North Korean officials including Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, who serves as vice director of the Korean Workers' Party Central Committee, an apparent demotion since her last appearances in state media prior to the 8th Party Congress.

She recently referred to the South Korean government as "the idiot and top the world's list in misbehavior" over use of the terms "capturing" and "precision tracking" by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff in their comments on the parade.

"We are only holding a military parade in the capital city, not military exercises targeting anybody nor launch of anything," Kim Yo Jong was quoted by the Korean Central News Agency as saying Tuesday. "Why do they take trouble craning their neck to follow what's happening in the north? The southerners are a truly weird group, hard to understand."

South Korea's military has also stepped up its armament efforts, and local media has reported that the country planned to test an SLBM of its own.

The U.S. Department of State did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment regarding the parade. But Washington's special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, spoke with his counterpart in Seoul, chief nuclear negotiator Noh Kyu-duk by phone on Friday, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

"The two sides shared their assessments of the current situation on the Korean Peninsula including North Korea's 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea," the South Korean ministry said in a statement," and exchanged views on ways for Korea and the U.S. to work together to make progress in achieving complete denuclearization and establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula."

President-elect Biden has yet to discuss in detail how he plans to handle North Korea, but has pledged to work alongside both allies such as South Korea and competitors like China.

"In North Korea, President Biden will empower our negotiators and jump start a sustained, coordinated campaign with our allies and others, including China, to advance our shared objective of a denuclearized North Korea," an official foreign policy statement for the incoming Biden administration said.

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