By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) – South Korea expressed regret Friday over North Korea’s latest warning of “merciless” military action unless Seoul accepts Pyongyang’s offer of talks.
The North’s threat a day earlier came in the wake of its numerous requests for dialogue following a landmark Workers’ Party congress a month ago, after which the authoritarian state immediately toned down the hostile rhetoric that had characterized its policy toward the South since carrying out a fourth ever nuclear test in January.
Pyongyang’s congress also saw leader Kim Jong-un describe his country as a “responsible nuclear weapons state” despite being hit with strengthened United Nations sanctions.
In the absence of a North Korean willingness to denuclearize, Seoul has recently placed its faith in the UN’s punitive measures rather than going down the dialogue route.
The South’s unification ministry justified that decision Friday in comments carried by local news agency Yonhap, by pointing out the lack of sincerity in Pyongyang’s push for cooperation.
"North Korea again threatens to take merciless physical action against us. We express stronger regret over the North's move," said ministry spokesperson Jeong Joon-hee. "The government will firmly keep its stance that denuclearization is a top priority when it comes to resuming inter-Korean dialogue.”
In a separate statement Thursday, the North also threatened to force South Korea to “pay a high price” for welcoming three more North Korean escapees from China this week.
Pyongyang’s Central Committee of the Red Cross Society insisted that the women were abducted by Seoul’s intelligence agency -- the South already confirmed their arrival without offering further details.
North Korea previously accused the South of kidnapping 13 of its overseas workers from China in April.
Seoul sees the escape of North Koreans from such postings as evidence that global sanctions are starting to hurt Pyongyang, given the regime’s need for hard cash from citizens placed abroad -- the North supposedly only allows its most loyal subjects to work in foreign countries.
Since the 1990s, South Korea has officially offered refuge to around 30,000 North Korean defectors, many of who have risked their lives to flee through China.