North Korea has threatened to impose the death penalty on the South's former president Park Geun-hye over an alleged plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un. The threat undermines Seoul's recent efforts to improve relations.
Efforts by the new South Korean administration of President Moon Jae-in to build bridges with the regime in Pyongyang have suffered another blow after North Korea announced that it intends to carry out the summary execution of Park Geun-hye, the South's former president, for allegedly plotting to assassinate Kim Jong-un.
A statement issued by North Korea's Ministry of State Security on Wednesday said that Park and Lee Byung-ho, the former head of South Korea's national intelligence agency, would "meet a miserable dog's death at any time, at any place and by whatever methods from this moment on."
The statement, reported by the state-run Korea Central News Agency, also demanded that the South Korean government immediately hand over Park and Lee to North Korea on the grounds that they had plotted to carry out "state-sponsored terrorism" against the leadership of the North.
Should the pair not be handed over, they would be the subject of "summary punishment without advance warning," while any others confirmed to have taken part in the plot would meet a similar end, it said.
The threat posed by N. Korea will be a major topic of conversation when Trump meets Moon in Washington
In May, Pyongyang claimed to have foiled a CIA plot for a North Korean who had been "ideologically corrupted and bribed" to assassinate Kim with a "biochemical substance" and accused the US of colluding with South Korea to conduct state-sponsored terrorism. North Korea paraded a man that it claimed was the agent sent to kill Kim, claiming he had confessed to having been convinced to take part in the assassination attempt while working abroad. There has been no further information on the fate of the man.
South Korea has dismissed the North's claims of a plan to eliminate Kim.
"It's ridiculous," Rah Jong-yil, a former head of South Korean intelligence, told DW. "This regime is accusing Park and Lee of planning to kill Kim with no evidence at all and completely overlooking the appalling things they have done through the years."
North Korea is accused of kidnapping many hundreds of foreign nationals, of bombing civilian airliners and murdering members of the South Korean cabinet in October 1983, Rah said. They imprison thousands of their own citizens for the slightest infraction and thought nothing of using a chemical weapon against Kim's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in a crowded airport in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, he added.
"And not once have they ever apologized for these things, or even admitted them," he said.
"To claim that the South tried to kill Kim is fantasy and, I would suggest, only reflects Kim's growing sense of insecurity," he added.
That suggestion is supported by a recent report by the South Korean intelligence agency that the North Korean dictator is "extremely nervous" about plots to assassinate him.
Fearful of an attack
As well as being fearful of an attack by gunmen on the vehicles that he uses to travel around the country, Kim is also constantly worried about an air strike, officials of the National Intelligence Service told a restricted session of the South Korean parliament in early June. Kim has taken to travelling in a well-protected convoy at dawn and switches between different subordinates' cars instead of always travelling in his own Mercedes-Benz.
Kim's concern for his own safety has soared since it was reported earlier this year that the US and South Korea are setting up a special forces unit that would be tasked with eliminating the North Korean leadership in the event of war breaking out on the peninsula.
Members of the US Navy's Seal Team Six - which conducted the raid in which Osama Bin Laden was killed – allegedly took part in exercises in March with South Korean special forces. The US reportedly made it clear that the units were training to carry out a "decapitation operation" designed to kill the North's leaders and destroy the regime's ability to continue fighting.
North Korea's proclamation coincides with Moon's visit to Washington, where he is holding two days of talks with President Donald Trump.
The US leader has also been the target of the North's vitriol in the run-up to the meeting, with state-run media likening Trump to Adolf Hitler and the US president's "America First" policies to Nazism.
An editorial published on Tuesday by KCNA claimed that Trump's "two-nation strategy" towards the Korean Peninsula is "based on Hitler's dictatorial policies that separate people from their peers, justifies oppression and creates an atmosphere of fear in American political, social, media and information circles."
Trump's policies on immigrations are "no different from the racist policies of fascism" and "denigrate the history of America," it added.
Continue to reach out
Yet Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University and an authority on inter-Korean politics, believes that the hugely popular Moon will continue to try to reach out to the North with offers of dialogue and assistance.
"Despite this threat to kill his predecessor, I expect Moon will again offer to hold talks with the North, will offer assistance and other ways of building bridges," he said. "This is the policy he outlined in the election campaign, it is a philosophy he has had throughout his political career and it would be hard for him to change now."
Polls suggest that the South Korean people support efforts to develop relations with the North, with a recent study suggesting that as many as 80 percent of South Koreans want the two sides to negotiate directly.
Shigemura says such attitudes are naive.
"I do not think these people realize the sort of regime they are talking about," he said. "I think they have forgotten all the provocative acts the North has carried out."
But he does not believe Moon's repeated olive branches will ever be grasped.
"The North has rejected all efforts from the Moon government so far, and that is because they want more concessions and money from the South and, secondly, they very much want to bring the Moon administration down and to sow turmoil in the South," he said.
Seoul may have radically changed its attitudes towards the North in recent months, but Pyongyang is still intent on destroying its neighbor, he added.