Taking strong exception to the military exercises between Seoul and Washington, North Korea cancelled a high-level meeting with South Korea and threatened to scrap the historic meeting between its leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, even as the US maintained it was going ahead with the summit preparations.
Uncertainty looms larger over the June 12 summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore after North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released an statement in this regards hours before the two Koreas were to meet at a border village today. The two countries expected to discuss ways to implement their leaders’ recent agreements to reduce military tensions along their heavily fortified border and improve their overall ties.
The statement that comes after a brief hiatus in the war of words between Trump and Kim is likely to mar efforts towards building a denuclearised Korean Peninsula.
The White House said it would independently look at what Pyongyang has said. The State Department said it was going ahead with preparations for the summit as planned earlier.
In a statement attributable to KCNA, Pyongyang cited the ongoing military exercise between the US and South Korea as a reason behind the move.
“The joint exercise is a reflection of the invariable stand of the US and south Korea to persist in the ‘maximum pressure and sanctions’ against the DPRK,” it said.
DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is more commonly known as North Korea.
In a related development, North Korea also cancelled its May 16 talks with the South.
“We cannot but take a step of suspending the North-South high-level talks scheduled on May 16 under the prevailing seriously awful situation that a mad-cap North-targeted war and confrontation racket are being kicked up in South Korea,” KCNA said.
North Korea held the South Korean authorities “wholly accountable” for the scuttled North-South talks and unease in the North-South relations.
“The US will have to think twice about the fate of the DPRK-US summit now on high agenda before a provocative military racket against the DPRK in league with the south Korean authorities,” the statement said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the US is aware of the media reports in this regard.
“The United States will look at what North Korea has said independently, and continue to coordinate closely with our allies,” Sanders said.
The State Department said it is continuing with the preparations for the summit and there has been no word from North Korea on the ongoing exercises.
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said Kim had previously indicated he understood the need and purpose of the US continuing its long-planned joint exercises with South Korea.
“We have not heard anything from that government or the Government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month,” she told reporters at her daily news conference.
According to Col Rob Manning, the Pentagon Spokesperson, South Korea Republic and US military forces are currently engaged in the recurring, annual ROK-US drills, to include exercises Foal Eagle 2018 and Max Thunder 2018.
“These defencive exercises are part of the ROK-US Alliance’s routine, annual training program to maintain a foundation of military readiness,” he said.
“The purpose of the training is to enhance the ROK-US Alliance’s ability to defend the ROK and enhance interoperability and readiness. While we will not discuss specifics, the defencive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed,” Manning said.
The State Department refuted the allegations that these exercises are provocative in nature.
“They’re certainly not provocative. These are things that we do all around the world with many of our partners and allies. These are things that have occurred for decades and decades,” Nauert said.
At the same time, she ruled out the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaching out to the North Koreans in this regard.
“I don’t think he’s picking up the phone and begging anybody to do anything at this point. We are operating under the idea and the notion that the president’s meeting is going forward with Chairman Kim next month,” Nauert said in response to a question.