North Korea says it will 'postpone' plan for military action in apparent softening toward South Korea

It was not immediately clear why North Korea changed course a week after it theatrically demolished a liaison office.
Image: A South Korean army soldier passes by a TV showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea
A South Korean army soldier passes by a TV showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.Ahn Young-joon / AP

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By Adela Suliman

North Korea appears to be softening its approach towards its neighbor South Korea after weeks of rising tensions, including the dramatic demolition of a liaison office with dynamite.

The secretive communist country decided to “postpone plans for military actions against South Korea,” state media outlet Rodong Sinmun reported on its website on Wednesday. The announcement came after a virtual military committee meeting convened by leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday where they "assessed the current situation.”

"They reviewed and discussed key military policy topics at the meeting ... as well as policy alternatives to further strengthen means for deterrence against war," according to the state news outlet.

The report gave no explanation for the change of heart or further details on what the policy alternatives might be.

According to a spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, the virtual conference was “very unusual.”

“We believe that this is the first time that Chairman Kim Jong Un has convened a virtual meeting. Actually, the preliminary meeting of the Central Military Committee also is very unusual and such meeting was never reported in the past,” said Unification Ministry spokesperson Yeo Sang Ki in a briefing on Wednesday.

Tensions escalated earlier this month after North Korea lashed out at both the South and the North Koreans defectors living there for propaganda leaflets and balloons that have been sent into the North.

Earlier this month, Kim's sister and trusted aide, Kim Yo Jong — who appears to have gained prominence in recent months — threatened unspecified military action against the South. The two countries are still technically at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty.

On Saturday, an "enraged" North Korea said it was preparing to pour its own "leaflets of punishment" on the South. Many of the leaflets were being prepared by university students, state news outlet KCNA reported, and would feature the face of South Korean President Moon Jae-in smeared with cigarette butts, an insult comparing him to trash.

Members of an anti-North Korea civic group release balloons containing leaflets denouncing the North's leader Kim Jong-un, towards North Korea.Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

But since then, there have been further signs of a climb down by the North. South Korea’s Unification Ministry confirmed reports that a number of official North Korea propaganda websites had removed some articles critical of the South, though the spokesman said it was unclear why.

The apparent change in North Korea’s position comes after it cut off communication hotlines with the South and theatrically demolished an inter-Korean liaison office last week that was set-up in 2018 to foster better ties between the two countries.

Last week, South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees engagement with the North, resigned, taking responsibility for the worsening ties.

Earlier this month, the erratic communist nation also said it was pulling away from its relationship with the United States, claiming there had been no actual improvement in ties since the historic handshake between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore two years ago.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Stella Kim contributed.