N.Korea Threatens to Pull out of Summit with U.S. Over Air Drills

  • By Jun Hyun-suk

    May 17, 2018 10:03

    North Korea on Wednesday threatened to cancel a planned summit with the U.S. in June amid a massive aerial drill by South Korean and American forces.

    Kim Kye-gwan, a veteran nuclear negotiator and North Korea's vice foreign minister, in a statement warned Pyongyang "could reconsider a summit with the U.S. if the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment."

    The North is also furious that the U.S. is ratcheting up demands for denuclearization before the summit has even taken place.

    "Senior U.S. officials at the White House and the State Department, including John Bolton," the national security adviser, "are spewing out words that a Libyan model is the best way for the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization or that nuclear and biochemical weapons and missiles should be dismantled completely, while talking about abandonment of nuclear weapons first, compensation later," the statement said.

    The North also canceled high-level cross-border talks scheduled for Wednesday, citing the joint South Korea-U.S. air exercise dubbed "Max Thunder" and a widely publicized book launch by Thae Yong-ho, the former No. 2 man in the North Korean Embassy in London who defected to the South in 2016. This suggests that the regime wants to test the waters to see how eager South Korea and the U.S. are for continuing talks.

    Thae at a press conference on Monday said North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons as its ultimate goal is to become a nuclear-armed state. 

    An F-22 Raptor flies over an air base in Gwangju on Wednesday.

    The North's official Korean Central News Agency called the drills a "flagrant challenge" to the declaration issued at the end of the summit between the two Koreas, which promised to "cease all hostile acts" and denounced Thae as "human scum."

    The regime canceled the high-level talks in a fax sent by Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, at dead of night. Only a day earlier did it had sent a list of delegates and proposed that the talks be held at the Peace House in the truce village of Panmunjom.

    The two-week Max Thunder exercise has been underway since last Friday with some 100 South Korean and U.S. fighter jets taking part. The schedule and scale have been known since March.

    On May 1, news reports said eight F-22 stealth fighter jets, and B-52 strategic nuclear bombers would participate. But the North Korean regime did not take issue with it until Wednesday, when it denounced the drill as a "deliberate military provocation that runs counter to the trend on the Korean Peninsula."

    Defense Minister Song Young-moo and Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, sat down for an urgent meeting on Wednesday morning. The ministry later announced that the exercise will go ahead "as planned," though there have been reports that the B-52 bombers will not take part after all.

    Presidential special security adviser Moon Chung-in said at the National Assembly, "Song told Gen. Brooks not to send B-52s to the Korean Peninsula on Thursday." But a ministry spokesman said Song's remarks over lunch with Moon had been "misinterpreted" and he merely said the B-52 would "not yet" enter South Korea's air defense identification zone.

    "The U.S. decided not to send the B-52s here in consideration of a summit with the North. It has nothing to do with the suspension of the high-level cross-border talks," a military source said.

    "I already anticipated such a response from the North," Thae told the Chosun Ilbo. "It's just nitpicking in a bid to gain the upper hand in relations with South Korea and the U.S."

    Ryu Dong-ryeol of the Korea Institute of Liberal Democracy said, "This means that the North openly demanded that the South Korean government prevent defectors from expressing their views."

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