SEOUL, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye suggested regime change in North Korea is close at hand, the same day Pyongyang condemned the commencement of large-scale joint military exercises.
Speaking during a national security council meeting for the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises, Park said "serious cracks" are emerging in the Pyongyang government, and the possibility the system would be "shaken" is increasing, Yonhap reported.
The president's remarks come a week after she described unification as an opportunity for "all North Koreans and North Korean officials," during a speech marking the 71st anniversary of Korean independence from Japanese colonial rule.
Park did not include Kim Jong Un in her speech, a move that is aiming to isolate the top leadership, according to a South Korean analyst.
On Monday Park said, "Even the North Korean elite class is recently showing signs of collapse, and some of North Korea's key officials are defecting or seeking asylum abroad, signs that there is a possibility the system is shaking."
A South Korean official who spoke to Yonhap on the condition of anonymity said the president is looking at the bigger picture, which includes difficulties for the regime under international sanctions, increasing public opposition to Pyongyang's mass mobilization movements and the defection of elites.
North Korea, however, has shown no signs of giving up its universally condemned nuclear weapons program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed North Korea resumed plutonium production in 2016, a move Seoul condemned on Monday, according to News 1.
Pyongyang has also not stopped denouncing the joint military exercises that began on Monday.
A spokesman for the Korean People's Army said the North is ready to make "preemptive retaliatory strikes" against the United States and South Korea because of the drills.
North Korea has made similar statements in the past, but according to research from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the joint drills do not provoke North Korea. Rather it is the state of diplomatic relations between Washington and Pyongyang that play a role in the North Korean reaction, according to the study.