US defence chief Jim Mattis questions Koreas’ warming ties at Pyeongchang Olympics after Kim’s military parade

Observers have said Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge between the United States and the South’s military alliance

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 11:29pm

The US government dismissed warming relations between North and South Korea at the Winter Olympics, citing Pyongyang’s recent military parade as an indication that tensions would likely resume after the Games.

“It’s too early for me to tell what [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] will do, because in the midst of all of this, he ran a military parade – that highlighted his ballistic missiles,” Secretary of Defence James Mattis said after being asked about dialogue between North Korean officials and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Pyeongchang event.

North Korea reportedly staged a military parade in Pyongyang a day before the start of the South’s Winter Olympics. Kim then sent his sister and special envoy Kim Yo-jong to attend the opening ceremony and meet Moon.

Pyongyang last month announced it would commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military on February 8, switching it from the original date of April 25, according to Agence France-Presse. Kim Yo-jong was the first member of the North’s ruling dynasty to visit the South since the Korean war that ended in an armistice in 1953.

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The North Korean leader’s sister invited Moon to a summit in the North, a move that has drawn attention away from the Games and has been called an attempt to drive a wedge between the US-South Korea military alliance.

Moon did not immediately accept the invitation and has said he hopes the “right conditions” will be created so it can go ahead.

“That is a very strange time, if in fact he is trying to show a warming to the country that he has attacked repeatedly as an American puppet, a country that impeached their last president,” Mattis said.

South Korea is “clearly a democracy. It runs its own affairs”.

Mattis said South Korea’s defence minister Admiral Song Young-moo gave assurance that Seoul’s alliance with the US was unaffected by Pyongyang’s overtures to Moon.

“I know that people are watching for a wedge between South Korea, Republic of Korea, in other words, and the United States,” Mattis said. “There’s no wedge there. If you move up to the political level, Admiral Song, Minister of Defence Song, flew into Hawaii when I was out in the Pacific, just so he and I could sit down face to face and consult.”

“He broached it to me. He said, as a matter of fact, in his opening remarks he said to the press that there is no wedge; there’s no gap at all.”