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What’s behind North Korea’s latest act of aggression

On Tuesday, North Korea blew up the Inter-Korean Liaison Office, a symbol of a rare rapprochement in 2018 with South Korea. The move comes as North Korean rhetoric grows increasingly hostile. Nick Schifrin reports and talks to Jeongmin Kim of NK News, a website focused on the Korean Peninsula, about North Korea's recent aggression and what it means domestically, for South Korea and for the U.S.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tensions between the Koreas are on the rise today.

    North Korea blew up the Inter-Korean Liaison Office, a building near the border with South Korea. This comes as North Korean rhetoric has grown increasingly hostile.

    Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin has the story.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On South Korean TV, the music and image were threatening, the Liaison Office up in smoke, as captured by a South Korean surveillance camera, destroyed in a single explosion.

    The building opened in 2018, a symbol of North-South reconciliation. That year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in Moon had a rare rapprochement, and a sitting U.S. president met a North Korean leader for the first time.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We had a really fantastic meeting, a lot of progress, really very positive, I think better than anybody could have expected.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In the background that day, Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un's sister.

    But since the promises made in Singapore failed to turn into reconciliation, and the U.S. ignored a vague New Year's deadline imposed by the North, she's become more prominent, and North Korea has become more belligerent, cutting off communication with the South, and threatening to advance its nuclear program and deploy military to recently demilitarized areas along the border.

    And for more on this, I'm joined by Jeongmin Kim, the Seoul correspondent for N.K. News use, a Web site focused on the Korean Peninsula.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Let's talk about the motivations for what Pyongyang is doing this. Is North Korea's wrath targeted at Seoul? Is it targeted at Washington? Or is there also an aspect to this of domestic consumption?

  • Jeongmin Kim:

    I would say that it's all three.

    The deal didn't happen between North Korea and the United States. And the year-end deadline that North Korea set for itself in Washington, it just expired. And it seems that the anger right now, it's targeted toward South Korea, because, from North Korea's perspective, despite all the goodwill gestures and all the agreements in 2018, from North Koreans' point of view, South Korea didn't do that much and didn't help that much as a mediator between Washington and Pyongyang.

    There could be domestic concerns as well. The party founding anniversary, the 75th anniversary in October, is coming up. And the North Korean regime has vowed that they will come up with these dashing economic achievements by then.

    But, right now, they don't have much to boast about to the domestic public right now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, how significant are these moves by North Korea?

  • Jeongmin Kim:

    The statements from North Korea in recent days were made by very high-level officials such as Kim Yo-jong, who is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister.

    In March, she did start writing these statements under her byline. But the difference right now, since the first week of June, is that her statements started coming out in a party daily in North Korea which targets domestic audience, which means that her profile is going up in the domestic setting.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The obvious question then is, is she being groomed in some way to become more prominent, to maybe even take over one day from Kim Jong-un?

  • Jeongmin Kim:

    Although it seems that Kim Jong-un seems pretty healthy and very much alive, it seems — it does seem that Kim Yo-jong's prominence in recent days points to how North Korean leadership is maybe prepping her up to be a powerful voice as a — as one of the Paektu bloodline in North Korea, which is a very important myth, a cornerstone of statehood in North Korea.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At this point, is the overall effort between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, obviously facilitated by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, is that effort effectively dead?

  • Jeongmin Kim:

    I wouldn't say it's entirely dead, but I would say that not much time is left now, with the U.S. upcoming presidential election, and also South Korean Moon Jae-in's term not left that much, and with the U.S. side and North Korean side not being able to narrow down the gap between what they want from the denuclearization deal.

    It seems that, realistically, it's almost impossible for the three actors to come up with a solution.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Jeongmin Kim, Seoul, correspondent for N.K. News, thank you very much.

  • Jeongmin Kim:

    Thank you.

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