North Korea has no interest in a summit with the United States if it is going to be a “one-sided” affair where it is pressured to give up its nuclear weapons, the country’s first vice foreign minister said.
Earlier North Korea cancelled a high-level meeting with South Korea and threatened to scrap the historic summit next month between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over military exercises between Seoul and Washington.
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 is 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 Mr Kim and Mr Trump.
The statement by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) 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 Mr 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 US aircraft mobilised for the drills include nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and stealth F-22 fighter jets, two of the US 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-US summit amid the provocative military ruckus that it’s causing with South Korean authorities,” the North said on 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 “one-sided” summit.
He criticised recent comments by Mr Trump’s top security adviser John Bolton and other US 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 US 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-US summit meeting with a truthful intent to improve relations,” he 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-US summit meeting.”
Some analysts say bringing up Libya, which dismantled its rudimentary nuclear program in the 2000s in exchange for sanctions relief, would risk derailing any progress in negotiations with the North.
Kim Jong Un took power weeks after former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s gruesome death at the hands of rebel forces amid a popular uprising in October 2011. The North has frequently used Gadhafi’s death to justify its own nuclear development in the face of perceived US threats.
Annual military drills between Washington and Seoul have long been a major source of contention between the Koreas, and analysts have wondered whether their continuation would hurt the detente that, since an outreach by Mr Kim in January, has replaced the insults and threats of war.
Earlier – and much larger – springtime drills, which Washington and Seoul toned down, went off without the North’s typically fiery condemnation or accompanying weapons tests.
South Korean 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 denuclearisation” on the Korean Peninsula and pledged permanent peace between the rivals.
In Washington, the US State Department emphasised that Mr Kim had previously indicated he understood the need and purpose of the US continuing its long-planned exercises with South Korea.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US 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,” Ms Nauert said.
Army Colonel Rob Manning said this current exercise is part of tS and South Korea’s “routine, annual training program to maintain a foundation of military readiness.”
Col Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said the purpose of Max Thunder and exercise Foal Eagle — another training event — is to enhance the two nations’ abilities to operate together to defend South Korea.
“The defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed,” said Col Manning.