Rapidly accelerating diplomacy between the U.S. and the Koreas hit a snag this week when North Korea canceled a set of talks scheduled with the South, then subsequently threatened to pull out of a summit set between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.
In a surprising move, North Korea canceled high-level talks because of what it called, “provocative military disturbances with South Korea.”
North Korea seemed to be referring to the annual “Max Thunder” joint air force drills which the U.S. and South Korea hold every year. North Korea has long called the drills destabilizing to the Peninsula.
Back in March the South Korean national security chief Chung Eui-yong relayed an invitation extended by Kim Jong Un to meet with President Trump. At that same time, Chung also reportedly told White House officials that Kim “understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue.”
North Korean state television says that while the Max Thunder drill happens every year, this year it violated a new agreement, signed in April between the Koreas, wherein both countries agreed to halt hostile acts against each other.
A statement by the South Korean government called the North’s decision to suspend the talks, “regrettable.”
That news came after North Korea hinted that it might cancel the summit between Kim and President Trump if the U.S. insisted on cornering the North on the issue of nuclear disarmament.
North Korea’s First Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kim Kye Gwan, said the U.S. said, “it would offer economic compensation and benefit in case we abandon (our nuclear weapons)…We have never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction and will not…make such a deal in future.”
If the U.S. is “genuinely committed” to improving relations with the north, it will receive a “deserving response,” he added. “But if they try to push us into a corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider … the upcoming summit.”
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the North’s statements and said that preparations for the summit would continue, “keeping in mind,” the North’s actions.
“Minister Kang and Secretary Pompeo agreed to continue close cooperation between South Korea and the United States to achieve a complete denuclearization and peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula,” a statement by the South Korean Foreign Ministry read.
The White House seemed unfazed by the comments. “The president is ready if the meeting takes place,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during an interview. “And if it doesn’t, we will continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been ongoing.”
The North Koreans also took issue with a characterization of the U.S.’ goals for that country as following the, “Libya model.”
“It is absolutely absurd to dare compare (North Korea), a nuclear weapon state, to Libya which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development,” North Korea said. “(The) world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate.”
Such comments, North Korea said, were indicative of “an awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.”
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, who is not a dove and has advocated for regime change in North Korea, among other places, said recently that Libya is a potential model for North Korean nuclearization.
In December of 2003, the international community convinced Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to halt his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. Eight years later, an international coalition of NATO forces, led by the U.S. and France, overthrew Gadhafi in what was the midst of the Arab Spring. Gadhafi was subsequently captured by rebel forces, who tortured and eventually, killed him.
President Trump tried to defend Bolton’s comments when asked about them by reporters at the White House later in the week, saying that Bolton only meant the U.S. would follow the Libya model in North Korea if a deal on disarmament isn’t made. It’s unclear whether that explanation has been convincing however.
North Korea had “shed light on the quality of (John) Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” Kim Kye Gwan added.
The summit between Kim Jong Un and President Trump has been set for June 12 in Singapore. Planning for the meeting, along with the related negotiations have continued unabated, according to the President.
Photo by Driver Photographer via Flickr