(ATTN: ADDS details from 6th para, photo, byline)
By Koh Byung-joon and Kim Boram
SEOUL, Aug. 1 (Yonhap) -- The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned Sunday that annual summertime military drills between South Korea and the United States will cloud the future of inter-Korean relations.
Kim Yo-jong issued the warning in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, just days after the North restored long-severed communication lines with the South and raised hope for a new round of detente between the two sides.
"I view this as an undesirable prelude which seriously undermines the will of the top leaders of the North and the South wishing to see a step taken toward restoring mutual trust and which further beclouds the way ahead of the North-South relations," Kim said.
"Our government and army will closely follow whether the South Korean side stages hostile war exercises in August or makes other bold decision," she added. "Hope or despair? Choice is not made by us."
On Tuesday, the North restored communication lines with South Korea more than a year after cutting them off in protest of anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent from the South. The surprise move raised hope for the resumption of long-stalled cross-border dialogue, including the possibility of summit talks.
Kim, however, cautioned against reading too much into the restoration, saying that it would be a "premature, hasty judgment" to talk about an inter-Korean summit just because the communication lines were restored.
"What I think is that the restoration of the communication liaison lines should not be taken as anything more than just the physical reconnection," she said. "Hasty speculation and groundless interpretation will only bring despair, instead."
South Korea and the U.S. are expected to hold the annual summertime joint military exercise in August, though Seoul's defense ministry earlier said that the allies are discussing when and how to stage the exercise.
North Korea has long denounced Seoul and Washington's military drills as a rehearsal for an invasion of the North. The allies say that the exercises are defensive in nature.
On Friday, a high-ranking unification ministry official in Seoul told reporters that it is "desirable" for South Korea and the U.S. to suspend their summertime military exercise, citing the global coronavirus pandemic and the need to engage North Korea.