North Korea Appears to Demolish ‘Reunification Arch’ as Kim Jong Un Turns Against Ties with South

by Braxton Taylor

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea appears to have torn down a huge arch in its capital that symbolized reconciliation with South Korea, a week after leader Kim Jong Un dismissed decades of hopes for peaceful reunification with the war-divided peninsula’s south, according to satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

South Korea’s military also said Wednesday that North Korea fired several cruise missiles into waters off its western coast.

Kim last week described the Pyongyang monument as an “eyesore” and called for its removal while declaring that the North was abandoning long-standing goals of a peaceful unification with South Korea and ordered a rewriting of the North’s constitution to define the South as its most hostile foreign adversary.

Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC appeared to show the destruction of Pyongyang’s Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification, also called the Arch of Reunification. An image Tuesday clearly showed the arch missing along a roadway.

Clouds and snow cover made it difficult to ascertain when North Korea tore down the monument, but it appeared to be within the last few days. NKNews, a website focused on North Korea, first reported on the satellite images.

The arch was a 30-meter (about 100-foot) tall structure that looked over a highway leading to the city of Kaesong near the border with South Korea.

The cruise missile launches were North Korea’s second known launch event of the year, following a Jan. 14 test-firing of the country’s first solid-fuel intermediate range ballistic missile, which reflected its efforts to advance its lineup of weapons targeting U.S. military bases in Japan and Guam.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday that the U.S. and South Korean militaries were analyzing the latest launches. It did not immediately confirm the exact number of missiles fired or their specific flight details.

“Our military has increased surveillance and vigilance and is closely coordinating with the United States while monitoring for further signs and activity from North Korea,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have increased in recent months as Kim continues to accelerate his weapons development and issue provocative threats of nuclear conflict with the United States and its Asian allies.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have been expanding their combined military exercises in response to the North’s missiles tests. Kim characterizes these drills as rehearsals for an invasion.

In the latest tit-for-tat, North Korea said last week that it conducted a test of a purported nuclear-capable underwater attack drone in response to a combined naval exercise by the United States, South Korea and Japan, as it blamed its rivals for tensions in the region.

Cruise missiles are among a broad range of weapons North Korea has been testing in recent years as it attempts to build a viable nuclear threat against the United States and its Asian allies.

Since 2021, the North has conducted several flight tests of what it describes as long-range cruise missiles, which it claims can cover ranges of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) and are nuclear-capable.

While North Korean cruise missile activities aren’t directly banned under U.N. sanctions, experts say those weapons potentially pose a serious threat to South Korea and Japan, as they are designed to fly like small airplanes and travel along landscape that would make them harder to detect by radar.

There are concerns that North Korea could dial up tensions in a U.S. election year. Experts say the North would aim to increase its bargaining power as it plans for eventual negotiations with whoever wins the November presidential vote.

North Korea also has a long history of ramping up pressure on rival South Korea when it doesn’t get what it wants from Washington.

During the speech at Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament where Kim announced that his country would no longer pursue reconciliation with the South, he accused South Korea of acting as “top-class stooges” of the Americans and repeated a threat that he would use his nukes to annihilate the South if provoked.

Analysts say North Korea could be aiming to diminish South Korea’s voice in the regional nuclear standoff and eventually force direct dealings with Washington as it looks to cement its nuclear status.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Jerusalem contributed.

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