Kim Jong Un’ Sister Threatens Action on US-South Korea Drills

The warning comes as US and South Korea prepare to hold their Freedom Shield exercises from March 13-23.

Kim Yo Jong in 2019 Photographer: Jorge Silva/Reuters/Bloomberg
Kim Yo Jong in 2019 Photographer: Jorge Silva/Reuters/Bloomberg

The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a fresh warning to the US and South Korea, threatening them with severe consequences if they went ahead with joint military drills set to start next week.

Kim Yo Jong said North Korea is monitoring the “restless military moves by the US forces” and its South Korean “puppet military,” adding that Pyongyang is “on standby to take appropriate, quick and overwhelming action at any time according to our judgment,” the official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday.

The latest comments indicate North Korea could ramp up provocations in conjunction with the drills, with Kim last month threatening to turn the Pacific Ocean into a “firing range” if they went ahead.

The rhetoric may be a hint that Pyongyang could start testing whether its nuclear warhead designs can withstand the heat of reentering the atmosphere, as it looks to increase its capability to deliver a credible strike against the US and its allies.

The warning comes as US and South Korea prepare to hold their Freedom Shield exercises from March 13-23, drills designed to bolster their defenses against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The drills are expected to be some of the largest the two have held in years. 

South Korea’s spy agency later in the day briefed lawmakers in parliament on information that North Korea may test-launch its new solid-fueled ICBMs by next month.

Yun Kun-young, a lawmaker who was briefed by the National Intelligence Service, told reporters that North Korea may also launch a spy satellite in April and was preparing large-scale exercises involving unconventional weapons. He added that the NIS was “not ruling out the possibility of North Korea testing its ICBM in a normal trajectory” toward the Pacific Ocean. 

The last time North Korea launched a missile into the Pacific was October 2022, when it fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan, flying about of 4,600 kilometers (2,860 miles), and marking the longest distance traveled by a North Korean missile to date. 

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office in May, brought back joint military exercises with his country’s US ally. The drills had been scaled down or halted under former President Donald Trump, who was hoping the move would facilitate his nuclear negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump’s three meetings with Kim from 2018 led to no concrete steps to wind down Pyongyang’s nuclear program, which only grew in strength and size.

North Korea for decades has called the joint exercises a prelude to an invasion and nuclear war. Last month, it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the American mainland a day after its foreign ministry threatened the US with “unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions” for holding military exercises with South Korea. 

Kim Yo Jong also said in her comments that any attempt by the US or others to shoot down one of its ICBMs over international waters would be regarded as “a clear declaration of war.”

(Updates with South Korea NIS breifing)

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