North Korea on Tuesday issued new threats against South Korea vowing “sledge-hammer blows” of retaliation if South Korea did not apologize for Monday’s anti-North Korean protests when the North was celebrating the birth of its founding leader.
The North also rejected what it called “cunning” U.S. overtures for talks, saying it will not be humiliated into being dragged to sit at the negotiating table by Washington.
A senior U.S. military official in South Korea however said the North Korean leadership was looking for a way to cool down its rhetoric after weeks of warnings of war.
On Monday, the North dropped its shrill threats against the United States and South Korea as it celebrated the 101st anniversary of the birth of its first leader, Kim Il-Sung, raising hopes for an easing of tension in a region that has for weeks seemed on the verge of conflict.
But the North’s KCNA news agency said on Tuesday the North Korean army had issued an ultimatum to the South after rallies in the South on Monday at which portraits of North Korea’s leaders were burned.
“Our retaliatory action will start without any notice from now,” KCNA reported, citing military leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as North Korea is officially known.
South Korean media reported several small demonstrations in the capital, Seoul, on Monday. One television station showed pictures of a handful of protesters burning a portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Small counter-protests, by South Koreans calling for dialogue with the North, were also held, media reported.
The North has threatened nuclear attacks on the United States, South Korea and Japan after new U.N. sanctions were imposed in response to its latest nuclear arms test in February.
The North has also been angry about annual military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces, describing them as a “hostile” act. The United States dispatched B52 and B2 stealth bombers from their bases to take part in the joint military drill which will end in April.
Despite the new threat on Tuesday, the North’s KCNA raised the possibility of dialogue.
“If the puppet authorities truly want dialogue and negotiations, they should apologize for all anti-DPRK hostile acts, big and small, and show the compatriots their will to stop all these acts,” KCNA cited the North’s military as saying.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman later told a briefing the North Korean ultimatum was not worth a response and South Korea was waiting for the North to make a “wise decision”.
Last week, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye offered talks but the North rejected the overture as a “cunning” ploy.
North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests but it was not believed to be near weapons capability.
Missile launches and nuclear tests by North Korea are both banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions that were expanded after the North’s February test.
The aim of the North’s aggression, analysts say, is to bolster the leadership of Kim Jong Un, the 30-year-old grandson Kim Il-Sung, or to force the United States, which has 28,000 troops in South Korea, to open talks.