SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea cut off the last remaining military hotlines with South Korea on Wednesday, accusing President Park Geun-hye of South Korea of pursuing the same hard-line policy of her predecessor that the North blamed for a prolonged chill in inter-Korean relations.
Amid tensions over the North’s third nuclear test last month and ensuing UN sanctions, North Korea had already shut down Red Cross hotlines with South Korea and a communication line with the US military command in South Korea. But its decision to cut off military hotlines with South Korea on Wednesday was taken more seriously in Seoul because the two Koreas have used those four telephone lines to control daily cross-border traffic of workers and cargo travelling to the North Korean border town of Kaesong.
The two countries run a joint industrial park at Kaesong, the last standing symbol of inter-Korean cooperation that has survived the political tensions of recent years. Seoul officials said 887 South Korean workers were in Kaesong on Wednesday. The traffic was running normal Wednesday, South Korean officials said, indicating that the North Korean military did not go so far as to stop cross-border economic exchanges.
‘‘There do not exist any dialogue channel and communications means between the DPRK and the US and between the North and the South,’’ said a North Korean statement sent to the South Korean military by telephone and later carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. ‘‘Not words but only arms will work on the US and the South Korean puppet forces.’’
DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
The North’s action came a day after its top military command ordered all its missile and artillery units to be on ‘‘the highest alert’’ and ready to strike the United States and South Korea. It also vowed to take ‘‘substantial military actions’’ to retaliate against joint US-South Korean military drills, which involved US B-52 bomber sorties over South Korea.
North Korea had previously cut off communications lines with South Korea that are intended to prevent military clashes.
‘’Under the situation where a war may break out any moment, there is no need to keep North-South military communications,’’ Pyongyang said on Wednesday.
The North Korean action came shortly after Park of South Korea stressed both firmness and reciprocity in North Korea policy.
‘‘If North Korea provokes or does things that harms peace, we must make sure that it gets nothing but will pay the price, while if it keeps its promises, the South should do the same,’’ she said during a briefing from her government’s top diplomats and North Korea policymakers. ‘‘Without rushing and in the same way we would lay one brick after another, we must develop South-North relations step by step, based on trust, and create sustainable peace.’’
Her new unification minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, South Korea’s point person on North Korea, later told reporters that his government was willing to consider lifting trade embargoes imposed on the North following the deadly sinking of a South Korean navy ship in 2010 — but not before North Korea takes responsibility for the incident that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
Seoul blamed the incident on a North Korean torpedo attack, but Pyongyang insists that it had nothing to do with it.
‘’We keep our door open for dialogue,’’ Ryoo said.
But on Wednesday, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, the North Korean counterpart of Ryoo’s ministry, berated Park for warning a day earlier that the Pyongyang regime can ensure its survival only when it stops building nuclear weapons while its people go hungry. ‘‘This time her remarks have gone beyond the line,’’ it said.
It said that Park’s recent comments were ‘‘utterly shocking’’ compared with her earlier indications that she would not maintain the hard-line policy of her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, whom she replaced on Feb. 25. ‘‘If she keeps to the road of confrontation like traitor Lee, defying the warnings of the DPRK, she will meet a miserable ruin,’’ it said.
Also Wednesday, the North’s main ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said that its planned ‘‘substantial military actions’’ will include ‘‘pre-emptive nuclear strikes’’ against the United States and South Korea.
Despite its successful launching of a three-stage rocket in December, however, ‘‘North Korea doesn’t have the capability to carry out this latest threat to attack US bases’’ in Hawaii, the US mainland and Guam using long range missiles, said James Hardy, Asia Pacific Editor, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.Continued...