The Associated PressSEOUL (AP) — North Korea on Wednesday canceled a high-level meeting with South Korea and threatened to scrap a historic summit next month between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over military exercises between Seoul and Washington that Pyongyang has long claimed are invasion rehearsals.
The surprise declaration, which came in a pre-dawn dispatch in North Korea’s state media, appears to cool what had been an unusual flurry of outreach from a country that last year conducted a provocative series of weapons tests that had many fearing the region was on the edge of war. It’s still unclear, however, whether the North intends to scuttle all diplomacy or merely wants to gain leverage ahead of the planned June 12 talks between Kim and Trump.
The statement by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency was released hours before the two Koreas were to meet at a border village to discuss how to implement their leaders’ recent agreements to reduce military tensions along their heavily fortified border and improve their overall ties.
It called the two-week Max Thunder drills, which began Monday and reportedly include about 100 aircraft, an “intended military provocation” and an “apparent challenge” to an April summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae In, when the leaders met on their border in their countries’ third summit talks since their formal division in 1948. KCNA said the U.S. aircraft mobilized for the drills include nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and stealth F-22 fighter jets, two of the U.S. military assets it has previously said are aimed at launching nuclear strikes on the North.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the drills will go on as planned.
“The United States must carefully contemplate the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit amid the provocative military ruckus that it’s causing with South Korean authorities,” the North said Wednesday. “We’ll keenly monitor how the United States and South Korean authorities will react.”
North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, later released a separate statement saying Pyongyang has no interest in a summit with Washington if it’s going to be a “one-sided” affair where it’s pressured to give up its nukes.
He criticized recent comments by Trump’s top security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. officials who have been talking about how the North should follow the “Libyan model” of nuclear disarmament and provide a “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement.” He also took issue with U.S. views that the North should also fully relinquish its biological and chemical weapons.
“We will appropriately respond to the Trump administration if it approaches the North Korea-U.S. summit meeting with a truthful intent to improve relations,” Kim said. “But we are no longer interested in a negotiation that will be all about driving us into a corner and making a one-sided demand for us to give up our nukes and this would force us to reconsider whether we would accept the North Korea-U.S. summit meeting.”
South Korea called North Korea’s move “regrettable” and demanded a quick return to talks.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry spokesman Baek Tae Hyun said the North’s decision goes against the spirit of last month’s inter-Korean summit, where the Koreas’ leaders issued a vague vow on the “complete denuclearization” on the Korean Peninsula and pledged permanent peace between the rivals. He didn’t provide a straightforward answer on whether Seoul sees the North’s talks cancellation as potentially affecting the meeting between Trump and Kim.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department emphasized that Kim had previously indicated he understood the need and purpose of the U.S. continuing its long-planned exercises with South Korea. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. had not heard anything directly from Pyongyang or Seoul that would change that.
“We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un,” Nauert said.