• Associated Press

North Korea Scraps Agencies Managing Relations with South as Kim Jong Un Cites Hostility with Rival

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
A TV screen shows an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has abolished key government organizations tasked with managing relations with South Korea, state media said Tuesday, as authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un said he would no longer pursue reconciliation with his rival.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the decision to abolish the agencies handling dialogue and cooperation with the South was made during a meeting of the country’s rubber-stamp parliament on Monday.

The Supreme People’s Assembly said in a statement that the two Koreas were now locked in an “acute confrontation” and that it would be a serious mistake for the North to regard the South as a partner in diplomacy.

“The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, the National Economic Cooperation Bureau and the (Mount Kumgang) International Tourism Administration, tools which existed for (North-South) dialogue, negotiations and cooperation, are abolished,” the assembly said, adding that the North’s government will take “practical measures” to implement the decision.

During a speech at the assembly, Kim blamed South Korea and the United States for raising tensions in the region. He said it has become impossible for the North to pursue reconciliation and a peaceful reunification with the South.

He called for the assembly to rewrite the North’s Constitution in its next meeting to define South Korea as the North’s “No. 1 hostile country,” KCNA said.

The National Committee for the Peaceful Reunification has been North Korea’s main agency handling inter-Korean affairs since its establishment in 1961.

The National Economic Cooperation Bureau and the Mount Kumgang International Tourism Administration had been set to handle joint economic and tourism projects between the Koreas during a brief period of reconciliation in the 2000s. Such projects have been halted for years as relations between the rivals worsened over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and are banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions against the North that have tightened since 2016.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years after Kim in recent months ramped up his weapons demonstrations. The United States and its allies Seoul and Tokyo responded by strengthening their combined military exercises, which Kim has condemned as invasion rehearsals, and sharpening their nuclear deterrence strategies.

Some experts say the North could try to further dial up pressure in an election year in South Korea and the United States.

North Korea earlier this month fired a barrage of artillery shells near the disputed western sea boundary with South Korea, prompting the South to conduct similar firing exercises in the area. Kim has also released verbal threats, using a political conference last week to define South Korea as the North’s “principal enemy” and threatened to annihilate it if provoked.