South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said Monday that North Korea was ready for another nuclear test and warned of "much more stern" response from his administration. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
SEOUL, June 27 (UPI) -- South Korea's new unification minister said Monday that Seoul's response to a nuclear provocation by North Korea will be "much sterner" than under the previous administration.
In a meeting with foreign reporters in downtown Seoul, Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said South Korea is still looking to engage in dialogue with the North, but underlined the stronger position that President Yoon Suk-yeol has staked out against Pyongyang.
"Any response that we might have against a possible provocation will be much sterner than what [North Korea has] experienced in the recent past," Kwon said.
Yoon took office in May and has pursued a closer security alliance with Washington while taking a harder line against Pyongyang than his predecessor, the engagement-focused former President Moon Jae-in.
Kwon confirmed Monday that North Korea is poised to conduct its seventh nuclear test, echoing what officials in Seoul and Washington have said publicly for several weeks.
"[A test] will come as no surprise," he said. "Everything is ready. What is left is the political decision."
The minister added that the North has used the growing U.S.-China rivalry and the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a cover for further developing its nuclear capabilities.
Pyongyang is waiting for the right moment to "maximize the impact of any nuclear test," he said.
North Korea has conducted at least 18 rounds of weapons tests this year, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile launches since 2017, and has turned up the rhetoric against South Korea and the United States in recent days.
On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un concluded a three-day military planning session that appeared to raise the threat of deploying tactical nuclear weapons on front-line units near the border of South Korea.
The North also held an anti-American rally to commemorate the June 25 anniversary of the start of the 1950-53 Korean War and threatened to "mercilessly annihilate" the United States if provoked, according to state-run media. The demonstration was the first since 2018, when Pyongyang suspended the practice during a period of rapprochement with Washington.
Kwon said South Korea remains "firmly committed to addressing all inter-Korean issues through dialogue."
"Our government will engage in consistent efforts to achieve change in inter-Korean relations, which are in a stalemate, through the embracing of the path of dialogue," he said.
However, Kwon repeated his pointed remarks about the consequences of a nuclear provocation, suggesting that a response will go beyond additional sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.
"If North Korea does embark upon a nuclear test, then it will be faced not just with a resolution from the Security Council, but massive criticism from the international community," Kwon said. "And this criticism will be more than verbal."