US-South Korea military exercises jeopardise nuke talks, says Pyongyang
North Korea threatens to reconsider its commitment to stop nuclear and missile tests
Seoul — North Kore's foreign ministry says the US looks set to break a promise not to conduct military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk.
The ministry said on Tuesday that Washington's habit of “unilaterally reneging on its commitments” is leading North Korea to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
US President Donald Trump revitalised efforts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons last month when he arranged a spur-of-the-moment meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the border between the two Koreas.
Trump said they had agreed to resume working-level talks, stalled since their second summit in February collapsed.
Talks were expected in coming weeks. But a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman cast doubt on that, saying the US and South Korea were pushing on with exercises called Dong Maeng this summer, and this was a “rehearsal of war”.
“We will formulate our decision on the opening of the DPRK-US working-level talks while keeping watch over the US move hereafter,” the spokesman said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).
The exercises are expected in August.
North Korea has for years denounced joint US-South Korean military exercises, but in recent months has stepped up criticism as talks with Washington and Seoul stalled.
“It is crystal clear that it is an actual drill and a rehearsal of war aimed at militarily occupying our Republic by surprise attack,” the North Korean spokesperson said. Trump had reaffirmed at last month’s meeting with Kim that the exercises would be halted, he said.
Trump, in his first meeting with Kim in Singapore in June last year, said he would stop exercises after the two leaders agreed to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and to improve ties.
While the main annual South Korean-US exercises have been stopped, they still hold smaller drills.
“Readiness remains the number one priority for USFK,” said Jacqueline Leeker, a spokeswoman for US Forces Korea (USFK).
“As a matter of standard operating procedure, and in order to preserve space for diplomacy to work, we do not discuss any planned training or exercises publicly.”
She said US and South Korean troops continued to train together but had adjusted the size, scope, number and timing of exercises to “harmonise” training programmes with diplomatic efforts.
An official at South Korea’s ministry of defence said it did not have immediate comment, but Seoul officials have previously said the drills are defensive in nature.
Since the Singapore summit, North Korea has not tested any nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles, though it tested new short-range missiles in May.
The US decision to forge ahead with drills less than a month after Trump and Kim last met is “clearly a breach” of the two leaders’ agreements made in Singapore last year, and is an “an undisguised pressure” on North Korea, the foreign ministry spokesman said.
“With the US unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the US as well,” he said.
A North Korean nuclear envoy who steered the talks ahead of the failed February summit is alive, a South Korean MP said on Tuesday, contradicting a South Korean news report that he had been executed.
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