May 17, 2018 12:49
The U.S. government refrained from an immediate response after North Korea on Wednesday warned it could pull out of a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump next month.
Trump was asked several times on Wednesday whether the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is still on, but only said, "We haven't been notified at all. We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything. We'll see what happens."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Fox News, "We're ready to meet and if it happens, that's great. And if it doesn't, we'll see what happens."
Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea's first vice minister of Foreign Affairs, in a statement Wednesday said North Korea will have to "reconsider" the summit if Washington tries "to push us unilaterally into a corner and force us to give up nukes." He mentioned national security adviser John Bolton by name three times.
Bolton has upped demands that North Korea scrap it intercontinental ballistic missiles and bio-chemical weapons as part of denuclearization, and deliver nuclear weapons to the U.S. to be destroyed, as Libya did. Bolton said there can be no rewards until North Korea has completely and irreversibly dismantled its nuclear program.
The demands are characteristically much louder than the ones U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had announced. "The United States aspires to have North Korea as a close partner and not an enemy," Pompeo said. "If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends."
Pompeo added that Washington's goal is to prevent a North Korean nuclear attack against the U.S. mainland, suggesting that Trump could settle for the North scrapping of its ICBMs.
But Bolton, an abrasive figure who alienated much of the international community in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, seems to have decided to raise the bar. Kim Kye-gwan, a veteran nuclear negotiator, expressed anger at Bolton's demands, adding, "We do not hide our feeling of repugnance toward him."
Koh Yu-hwan at Dongguk University said, "Pompeo succeeded in setting a date for a meeting by taking a middle-of-the-road position, but Bolton mentioned the 'Libyan model' and North Korea's military may be protesting. The North may be telling the U.S. to get Bolton to quiet down."
Kim said it was "dimwitted" for Bolton to compare North Korea with Libya, which was only in the initial phase of nuclear development. That suggests the North still intends to engage in mutual disarmament talks instead of promising unilateral denuclearization.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the summit preparations will continue. But the tug-of-war could intensify in the coming days.
Shin Gak-soo, a former ambassador to Japan, said, "North Korea's threat to cancel the talks appears to be brinkmanship in order to gain the upper hand in talks."
North Korea's more assertive attitude comes after Kim Jong-un met Chinese President Xi Jinping for a second time in as many month in early May, which may have bolstered his confidence that he can to some extent stare the U.S. down.
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