North Korea Threatens to Walk Out on Talks over U.S. Military Drills

Trump, South Korean president to speak Photo
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

The Foreign Ministry of North Korea threatened to cut communication with the United States on Tuesday in response to a scheduled joint military drill with South Korea, which Pyongyang claimed President Donald Trump promised to cancel in pursuit of peace negotiations with the rogue regime.

Washington has already ceased some of its largest routine preparedness drills with the South Korean military, replacing them with “Alliance 19-2” drills where the U.S. supports a primary kinetic role by South Korean soldiers. The drill is scheduled to take place in late August and the American military agreed to allow a Korean general to lead the exercises for the first time. South Korea hopes the drill will prove that the country can execute a full-scale military operation without American help.

Ongoing drills are necessary because North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war. The Korean War, which began in 1950, has not been active since the signing of an armistice agreement in 1953, but neither side – North Korea and China versus South Korea and the United States – signed a peace deal. Pyongyang has attempted to convince the United States to sign a peace agreement in recent talks between Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un.

North Korea does not acknowledge South Korea’s sovereignty, considering it a rogue province of the greater Korean state governed through Pyongyang.

“The United States is going to conduct a joint military exercise ‘Alliance 19-2’ with south [sic, North Korea does not capitalize “south” as a means of dismissing the country’s sovereignty] Korea in contravention of the commitments made at the highest level at a time when the working-level talks between the DPRK [North Korea] and the U.S. are on the agenda, which has been made possible by the DPRK-US summit meeting in Panmunjom,” a spokesperson for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday. “If the military exercise really goes ahead, it would affect the DPRK-US working-level talks.”

The statement left open the possibility for further talks regardless of the U.S. military’s decision, concluding, “we will formulate our decision on the opening of the DPRK-U.S. working-level talks, while keeping watch over the U.S. move hereafter.”

A separate, longer statement published by the government news service, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), admitted that the “Alliance 19-2” exercises are intended to allow the South Korean military greater independence from the United States, a goal that North Korea has repeatedly advocated for.

“Outwardly, the U.S. is trumpeting that this exercise is a simulation to verify whether the south Korean army is capable of taking over wartime operational control,” the statement read. “But, it is crystal clear that it is an actual drill and a rehearsal of war aimed at militarily occupying our Republic by surprise attack and rapid dispatch of large-scale reinforcements.”

The exercises, the statement claims, are “clearly a breach of the main spirit” of agreements between Trump and Kim.

North Korea claimed Trump “personally committed” to an end to military exercises during his first in-person summit with Kim in Singapore last year. The foreign ministry insisted that, following that summit, it took proactive measures to “discontinue” its nuclear program and is disappointed that the United States has not responded with its own friendly moves.

“With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S. as well,” the foreign ministry concluded.

North Korea claimed to shut down its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site last year following the Singapore summit, inviting international journalists to the site with much fanfare, but banning anyone with known education and experience with nuclear science. Observers suggested at the time that Punggye-ri may still be functional and, if it is not, it had already been destroyed by the nation’s latest nuclear weapons test in September 2017, so the regime lost nothing by claiming to shut down an unusable site.

North Korea followed up its foreign ministry statement in government media – the only legal media in the country – with an homage to “Great Illustrious Commander” Kim Jong-un, a sign that the nation’s communist leadership is united behind Kim’s friendly diplomacy towards Trump. Pyongyang’s typical diplomatic gestures towards the United States have been, and often continue to be, belligerent, with the exception of personal contact between Kim and Trump – leading some experts to speculate that older North Korean leaders disagree with Kim’s tactics.

Kim allowed Trump to become the first American president to touch North Korean soil last month at an impromptu meeting in Panmunjom, a border town in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that Trump arranged over Twitter.

KCNA credited Kim with bringing North Korea into “a new heyday” through his “matchless courage and patriotic devotion based on the do-or-die spirit.”

The American State Department responded to the Foreign Ministry’s warnings by insisting that high-level talks between the two nations are ongoing and Washington has no reason to believe currently that Pyongyang will shut down talks.

“[T]he President feels very confident. The Secretary was there; Steve Biegun was there. They feel confident in the discussions and the meetings that they had with Chairman Kim at the DMZ, and we hope Steve Biegun and his team will quietly continue to make progress behind the scenes,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on Tuesday. Ortagus refused to provide details on the talks that Special Envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun is engaging with “to

give this team space to do the work.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Wednesday that they expected talks between Washington and Pyongyang to continue despite the threats from North Korea.

“The government expects that the North and the U.S. will hold their working-level talks at an earlier date and produce practical progress in their denuclearization negotiation,” ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min said, according to South Korean news service Yonhap. “We will closely monitor developments in the North going forward.”

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