The South Korean government held an emergency meeting on Sunday, less than 24 hours after North Korea displayed a range of new strategic weapons, including a massive ICBM, in a military parade.
An emotionally charged speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the event marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Northern Workers’ Party was discussed, the South Korean presidential office said in a statement.
The new weapons, which included a submarine-fired ballistic missile (SLBM) and Seoul’s defensive capabilities against them, were also discussed. It added that inter-Korean agreements to prevent mutual military confrontation and war “must be respected”.
A spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Defense said Sunday it had “expressed concern” about arms disclosure in North Korea and was analyzing in detail the new weapons alongside Washington. A senior US official told NBC News that North Korea’s arms exhibition was “disappointing.”
The ICBM on display on Saturday is one of the largest in the world in terms of reach, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, lecturer in international relations at King’s College London.
But he said South Korea is unlikely to become unsettled from a military perspective as it is designed for more distant targets. North Korea already has an arsenal of other weapons that could threaten Seoul, he added.
From a “political point of view, it makes relations between Korea more difficult,” he said, because it “violates existing agreements and sanctions and makes diplomacy difficult”.
In next month’s US presidential election, the timing of the parade was “not unexpected,” said Edward Howell, a senior lecturer in politics and North Korea expert at Oxford University.
North Korea has often held similar parades, giving the North an opportunity to demonstrate its nuclear and military capabilities to its people, but also and most importantly, to the outside world, Howell said.
Kim promised to demonstrate a “new strategic weapon” in December 2019, and the ICBM and SLBM were likely the weapons he was talking about, Howell added.
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The parade took place weeks after the death of a South Korean fisheries official by troops from the north.
The incident shocked and enraged many in the south and became the latest point of tension between the two neighbors as relations hit a new low earlier this year when North Korea blew up a liaison office on the border between the two countries and cut off all communication with the South.
Technically, the countries have been at war since the end of the Korean War in 1950/53.
Pyongyang’s nuclear negotiations with President Donald Trump’s administration remain stalled after several summits that did not result in a solid plan to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
Although Kim vowed in Saturday’s speech to “mobilize fully” if his country were threatened, he hoped the North and South would once again hold hands.
The Seoul Unification Ministry, which deals with cross-border issues, said it had taken note of Kim’s comments.
“I think Kim Jong-un is signaling that he will re-establish Korean relations if possible,” said Pacheco Pardo.
This would depend on an agreement between the US and North Korea that would lead to sanctions easing and inter-Korean economic engagement, he added.
“But Kim is also signaling that unless there is a deal with the US, better relations between North Korea and the US, and better relations between Korea,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Abigail Williams contributed.