North Korea slammed the United States for circulating “preposterous falsehoods” and conducting a vicious smear campaign on Friday, after Washington charged an alleged hacker for the North Korean government in connection with a series of major cyberattacks, including the 2014 assault on Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The angry rhetoric against Washington came in stark contrast to the latest sign of warming ties between North and South Korea as they opened a new liaison office near the border.
The North Korean statement, signed by a researcher at a Foreign Ministry institute, said the charges could undermine the implementation of agreements reached between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June.
“The U.S. is totally mistaken if it seeks to gain anything from us through preposterous falsehoods and highhandedness,” Han Yong Song at the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.
The Justice Department announced charges last week against Park Jin Hyok, accusing him of hacking on behalf of the North Korea military, and of being involved in an attempt to steal $1 billion from the Bangladesh Bank in 2016, as well as in the spread of the WannaCry 2.0 virus that affected more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries last year.
But the North Korean statement said Park was a “nonentity,” and called the charges “vicious slander and another smear campaign.”
“The U.S. should seriously ponder over the negative consequences of circulating falsehoods and inciting antagonism against the DPRK that may affect the implementation of the joint statement adopted at the DPRK-U.S. summit,” the statement said, referring to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Last week, Kim was reported as having told a team of South Korean envoys that he continued to trust Trump. The White House said Monday that Trump had received a letter from Kim requesting another summit meeting, and planning was already in motion to make it happen.
But the war of words over the hacking charges shows the huge gulf of distrust that continues to exist between the governments of both nations.
The Justice Department says North Korea-linked hackers wiped data from thousands of Sony computers in 2014 and stole confidential emails, while also targeting AMC theaters, which planned to show a satirical film depicting Kim’s assassination.
The North Korean statement said those incidents “had nothing to do with us.”
Nevertheless, the fact that the statement was signed by a researcher rather than a Foreign Ministry official does somewhat lessen its impact.
Meanwhile, relations between North and South Korea continue their dramatic improvement.
On Friday, the two Koreas opened a joint liaison office just north of their heavily militarized border, as part of efforts to facilitate better communication, officials said.
The office was launched in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and is the first of its kind since the division of the Korean Peninsula that followed World War II. It is a potential first step toward the eventual establishment of diplomatic relations between the two Koreas, whose 1950-53 war ended in an armistice but not a formal peace treaty.
It comes days ahead of the third summit meeting between the countries’ leaders this year.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in will travel to Pyongyang for a three-day summit Tuesday, and says he hopes to help serve as a mediator between the United States and North Korea.
The liaison office will be staffed by around 20 South Korean officials and a similar number from the North. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday but staffed around the clock, according to a joint agreement signed by both sides.
Over the years, the two Koreas have had various telephone lines and other channels to communicate with each other, but have occasionally even resorted to using bullhorns to shout at each other across their heavily mined and defended border. It was only in January that they reopened a hotline at their shared border village of Panmunjom that had been dormant for two years.
“It feels like a strong bridge connecting the South and the North has been set up over the rapids flowing over the Korean Peninsula, which has been somewhat calmed down but still a raging torrent,” presidential Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-keum said in a statement.
“Whether from the North or the South, those who work at the liaison office live as a family in one area. We look forward to a day when such harmonious image of life will spread beyond Kaesong across the entire Korean Peninsula.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Simon Denyer