Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, slammed joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States in a statement released Tuesday. File Photo by Jorge Silva/EPA-EFE
SEOUL, Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, called joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States a "war rehearsal" and warned that they would inflame tensions on the peninsula in a statement released in state-run media on Tuesday.
U.S. and South Korean forces began a four-day crisis-management training session Tuesday and will hold a combined command post training exercise from Monday to Aug. 26.
Kim Yo Jong called the joint drills "the most vivid expression of the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK" and said they were an "unwelcoming act of self-destruction for which a dear price should be paid."
The Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
"The dangerous war exercises pushed ahead by the U.S. and the [S]outh Korean side disregardful of our repeated warnings will surely make them face more serious security threat," Kim Yo Jong warned in the statement, which was carried by the Korean Central News Agency.
Pyongyang has long characterized the training exercises, traditionally held in March and August, as preparation for an invasion.
Inter-Korean relations have thawed recently with the restoration of communications hotlines last month, and there had been debate within South Korea's ruling Democratic Party over whether to postpone the exercises.
Kim Yo Jong said Tuesday the drills would endanger the fragile detente between the two Koreas.
"Now the U.S. doggedly pushes forward with the aggression war drills at such a sensitive time as now when the international eyes are focused on the development of the situation on the peninsula," she said. "[The United States] is indeed a chief architect destroying peace and stability in the region."
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi also weighed in last week, saying at a regional forum that the bilateral exercises were "not constructive" for dialogue with North Korea.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby addressed the issue during a press briefing on Monday, saying the exercises were necessary for keeping troops prepared.
"Nothing's changed about our need for readiness on the Korean Peninsula and our desire to work in lockstep with our ROK allies," Kirby said. "We make these decisions in lockstep with our ROK allies and that's not going to change."
The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.
Washington's nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang have been at a standstill since a February 2019 summit between Kim Jong Un and then-U.S. President Donald Trump failed to produce an agreement.
The Biden administration has signaled its willingness to engage diplomatically with North Korea, taking what it characterizes as a "calibrated and practical approach."
During a visit to Seoul, U.S. special envoy to North Korea Sung Kim said Biden administration officials would meet with Pyongyang's negotiators "anywhere, anytime without preconditions."
However, Kim Yo Jong called Washington's diplomatic outreach "hypocrisy to cover up its aggressive nature."
South Korean officials have stressed that the drills are defensive in nature, with this month's exercises significantly scaled down due to pandemic restrictions.
Kim Yo Jong expressed "deep regret at the perfidious behavior of the [S]outh Korean authorities" and claimed that the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula would remain a barrier to lasting peace.
"For peace to settle on the peninsula, it is imperative for the U.S. to withdraw its aggression troops and war hardware deployed in [S]outh Korea," she said. "As long as the U.S. forces stay in [S]outh Korea, the root cause for the periodic aggravation of the situation on the Korean Peninsula will never vanish."
She added that North Korea would continue to develop its weapons programs and military capacity in order to counter the perceived danger.
"[I]t is a vital requirement for us to build up the force powerful enough to fully contain the external threats to us," she said.