North Korea warned planned military manoeuvres by US and South Korean forces would put disarmament talks in peril, hinting it may resume nuclear testing if the drills go ahead.
“With the US unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justification to follow through on the commitments we made with the US,” North Korea‘s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
It was the first statement from Pyongyang on the negotiations since Trump and Kim agreed to their resumption at an impromptu meeting in the Demilitarized Zone in June, following months of deadlock.
The joint drills were held for years but had been scaled down to facilitate dialogue with the North after Trump’s historic first summit with Kim in Singapore last year.
‘Clearly a breach’
“If the military exercise really goes ahead, it would affect the DPRK-US working-level talks,” an unnamed foreign ministry spokesperson said in comments carried by state news agency KCNA, using the official acronym for North Korea.
The official described next month’s drills as “clearly a breach” of a joint statement signed by the leaders in Singapore.
Pyongyang’s moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests was a commitment aimed at improving bilateral relations and “not a legal document inscribed on a paper”, the official said.
Trump and Kim’s latest meeting took place as negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington were at a standstill, following a rocky negotiation process brokered by Seoul after a thaw in tensions in early 2018.
During the encounter, Trump stepped into North Korean territory in the border village of Panmunjom, becoming the first US president to set foot on North Korean soil.
‘Very provocative’ drills
About 30,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea and their annual drills with tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers have always infuriated the North – with Pyongyang condemning the manoeuvres as provocative rehearsals for an invasion.
But, following the Singapore summit, Trump announced the suspension of what he called Washington’s “very provocative” joint military exercises with South Korea.
Washington previously insisted on North Korea’s complete denuclearisation as a condition for lifting punishing US sanctions.
But failure to reach an agreement over sanctions relief and what the North was willing to give in return led to the collapse of the leaders’ second summit, which was held in February in Hanoi.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped both North Korea and the United States could “be a little more creative” when the two sides restart talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
Speaking in a radio interview on The Sean Hannity Show, Pompeo did not say when the negotiations would resume. At the end of June he said it would likely happen “sometime in July … probably in the next two or three weeks”.
“I hope the North Koreans will come to the table with ideas that they didn’t have the first time,” Pompeo said on Monday. “We hope we can be a little more creative too.”