North Korea Threatens to Back Out of Reunion Deal It Reached Yesterday

On Wednesday, North and South Korea agreed to allow families in each country, separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War, to meet in the North for a brief but much-desired reunion. Today, to the surprise of nobody, North Korea threatened to renege on the deal.

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On Wednesday, North and South Korea agreed to allow families from each country, separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War, to meet in the North for a brief, but much-desired reunion. Today, to the surprise of almost nobody, North Korea threatened to renege on the deal.

A similar reunion plan was made back in August, and postponed indefinitely by North Korea. At the time, North Korea said relations with its southern neighbor were strained by that country’s government’s “reckless and vicious confrontational racket.”

Families reunite in 2010. REUTERS/Kim Chang-Gil/Pool

Specifically, Pyongyang was upset by their portrayal in South Korea (as weak for agreeing to the reunions and other concessions) and because the South Korean government had arrested an opposition leader planning a rebellion to help Pyongyang overthrow Seoul in the case of a war between the countries — an option that seemed more viable over the summer, when tensions between the nations was especially high.

Now, North Korea is angered by a U.S. B-52 bomber flight over South Korea, which it saw as a direct threat. Per Reuters:

A South Korean military source told the Yonhap news agency that the flight was a training sortie involving a single aircraft. The North's National Defence Commission, the country's top military body, said in a statement read on state television, that it was a rehearsal for a nuclear attack. "At the time when the agreement was made on reunions of separated families and relatives at Panmunjom, a formation of U.S. B-52 strategic bombers from Guam was carrying out nuclear strike practices all day over Korea's west sea, aiming at us," a spokesman for the Commission was quoted as saying.

North Korea’s reaction is hardly unexpected. Pyongyang has repeatedly spoken out against routine joint military exercises by U.S. and South Korean troops, calling them an unacceptable act of aggression. One official said, with the DPRK’s trademark hyperbole, that “the reckless act of war is a violent violation and infringement of humanitarianism,” adding “It does not make sense to carry out the reunion of families who were separated due to the War, during a dangerous nuclear war practice.”

Families bid farewell. REUTERS/Kim Ho-Young/Korea Pool

South Korea has refused to scrap the drills, a wise move considering the North has threatened to attack the South without notice, and is frustrated by the North’s consistent reversal of reunion plans. Intended as a goodwill effort to strengthen ties between the nations, the move has served mostly to raise — and dash — the hopes of families separated for more than six decades. According to CNN, tens of thousands of South Koreans are on the reunion list, many of them elderly, though only about 100 people from each country were supposed to meet between February 20 and 25. When the agreement was reached yesterday, the South Korean unification ministry attempted to make sure North Korea was truly committed, saying “our side expressed the position that what happened last year cannot be repeated. The North shared the view.” Apparently not.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.