Defence Notes

North Korea threatens to cancel US summit

16th May 2018 - 15:05 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Seoul


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North Korea threatened on 16 May to cancel the forthcoming summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump if Washington seeks to push Pyongyang into unilaterally giving up its nuclear arsenal.

It also cancelled high-level talks due on 16 May with Seoul over the Max Thunder joint military exercises being held between the US and South Korea, denouncing the drills as a ‘rude and wicked provocation’.

It is a sudden and dramatic return to the rhetoric of the past by Pyongyang, after months of rapid diplomatic rapprochement on the peninsula.

Kim Kye Gwan, first Vice Foreign Minister of North Korea, said in a statement carried by state media: ‘If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue.’

In that case, he added, Pyongyang would have to ‘reconsider’ its participation at the summit, due in Singapore on 12 June.

The North's arsenal is expected to be at the top of the agenda of the historic talks, but Pyongyang has long insisted it needs the weapons to defend itself against invasion by the US.

Washington is pressing for its complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation. But so far the North has not given any public indication of what concessions it is offering, beyond euphemistic commitments to denuclearisation of the ‘Korean peninsula’.

Gwan said Pyongyang had ‘made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearisation is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States.’

In the past, Pyongyang has demanded the withdrawal of the US troops stationed in the South to protect it from its neighbour and an end to Washington's nuclear umbrella over its security ally.

The minister also blasted US National Security Advisor John Bolton's talk of a ‘Libyan model’ for North Korean denuclearisation.

Gwan said: ‘It was a sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq. I cannot suppress indignation at such moves of the US and harbour doubt about the US sincerity.’

The North has long said it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself against a US invasion. After giving up his atomic programme, Libyan leader Moamer Khadafi was killed in an uprising backed by NATO bombing.

Minister Gwan also dismissed offers by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who has visited Pyongyang twice in recent weeks, coming back the second time with three released US detainees – for US economic aid if the North denuclearises.

Gwan said: ‘We have never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future.’

In recent weeks, as well as an eye-catching summit with the South's leader in April 2018 in the Demilitarized Zone, Gwan has twice met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pyongyang has announced it will destroy its nuclear testing site in the week of 21 May.

Analysts said Pyongyang was now trying to redefine the terms of the debate.

Calling it brinkmanship to change the US position, Kim Hyun-wook, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, told AFP: ‘It's a diplomatic tactic. It looks like Kim Jong Un was pushed into accepting US demands for "denuclearisation-first" but is now trying to change its position after normalising North Korea-China relations and securing economic assistance.’

Hyun-wook added: ‘The classic North Korean tightrope diplomacy between the US and China has begun.’

US officials have repeatedly claimed credit for Washington's ‘maximum pressure’ policy for bringing Pyongyang to the negotiating table.

Joshua Pollack of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies said Pyongyang had been irritated by the ‘triumphalist tone’.

Pollack said: ‘The North Koreans aren't happy with what they're seeing and hearing. There is still a yawning gulf between expectations for diplomacy in Pyongyang and Washington, DC.’

Earlier KCNA denounced the Max Thunder joint military exercises being held between the US and South Korea as a ‘rude and wicked provocation’, and Seoul said it had received a message cancelling planned high-level talks ‘indefinitely’.

The two-week drills started on 11 May and involve some 100 aircraft from the two allies, including F-22 stealth fighter jets.

South Korean unification ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said Pyongyang's move was ‘regrettable’, adding it ‘contradicts the fundamental spirit and purpose of the Panmunjom Declaration.’

Washington said it will continue to plan the meeting in Singapore on 12 June, with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert telling reporters it had received ‘no notification’ of a position change by North Korea.

The exercises were ‘not provocative’ and would continue, she added.

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