SEOUL/WASHINGTON • Ms Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, criticised ongoing military drills in South Korea and warned the new US administration that the smell of cordite wafting over the border would not help bring peace, state news reported.
Ms Kim's statement yesterday was the North's first public message to Washington since President Joe Biden took office in January.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin are due to arrive in Seoul today for their first talks with South Korean counterparts.
Mr Blinken and Mr Austin are travelling in Asia this week for foreign policy and security talks with allies in South Korea and Japan, among other stops.
"We take this opportunity to warn the new US administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land," Ms Kim said. "If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step."
For all the imagery of Ms Kim's words, the joint springtime military drill that started last week was limited to computer simulations because of the coronavirus risk as well as the ongoing efforts to engage with the North.
But her message was clear.
"War drills and hostility can never go with dialogue and cooperation," Ms Kim said.
When asked about Ms Kim's statement, Mr Blinken told a briefing in Tokyo that he was aware of her comments, but that he was more interested in hearing what America's allies and partners think about North Korea.
Dr Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea expert at King's College London, said the timing of Ms Kim's comments seems designed to ensure that North Korea will be at the top of Mr Blinken and Mr Austin's agenda when they land in Seoul.
"Until now, the discussion was focusing on the Quad, dealing with China and the North Korea policy review," he said. "Now Kim's statement will be central to discussions." The Quad is an informal security grouping involving Australia, India, Japan and the US.
North Korea has so far rebuffed entreaties from the US to engage in dialogue, the White House said on Monday, as a chill in relations that began under then President Donald Trump has extended into Mr Biden's presidency.
White House spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters that US officials have reached out to North Korea through a number of channels since Mr Biden took office nearly two months ago.
"Our goal is to reduce the risk of escalation. But to date we have not received any response," Ms Psaki said. She did not elaborate on what type of escalation the US was concerned about.
Ms Kim also mocked South Korea for "resorting to shrunken war games, now that they find themselves in the quagmire of political, economic and epidemic crisis".
Mr Boo Seung-chan, a spokesman for South Korea's Ministry of Defence, said the drills were routine and defensive in nature.