N. Korea hints it may restart nuclear tests over US-S. Korea military exercises
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 16, 2019
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea warned on Tuesday that upcoming U.S.-South Korean military exercises would affect the resumption of nuclear negotiations and suggested it may restart nuclear or missile tests.
The saber rattling came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped both Washington and Pyongyang could “be a little more creative” in the next round of talks.
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to resume working-level talks during their impromptu meeting at the Korean border on June 30. The leaders didn’t set a date, but Pompeo said at the time it would probably be in mid-July.
The U.S. administration is eager to break the deadlock that followed the collapse of a second summit between Trump and Kim in February in Vietnam.
The two sides failed to reach agreement as the North demanded extensive relief from economic sanctions and the United States insisted the North completely denuclearize first.
On Monday, Pompeo said the goal remained “to fully and finally denuclearize North Korea in a way that we can verify,” but he also raised the possibility of compromise.
“I hope the North Koreans will come to the table with ideas that they didn’t have the first time. We hope we can be a little more creative too,” he said in an interview on “The Sean Hannity Show.”
North Korea also strongly objects to joint drills conducted each year by the United States and South Korea, which it considers rehearsals for an invasion.
The Trump administration announced earlier this year that it was canceling the two main drills that occurred each spring and fall, known as Key Resolve/Foal Eagle and Ulchi Freedom Guardian, respectively.
But the North was not mollified because the allied militaries replaced them with smaller-scale training exercises. The next one is expected to take place in August, although no official announcement has been made.
“If the military exercise really goes ahead, it would affect the (North Korean)-U.S. working-level talks,” an unnamed North Korean foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
“We will formulate our decision on the opening of the (North Korean)-U.S. working-level talks, while keeping watch over the U.S. move hereafter,” the spokesman said.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also accused the United States of violating the spirit of a June 12 agreement reached during the first summit between Kim and Trump.
Trump announced after that meeting that he was “stopping the war games,” a move that critics said was a major concession to the North in exchange for little return.
Kim also suspended nuclear and missile tests last year as diplomacy gained momentum.
“With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justification to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S.,” the ministry said in a separate statement carried on KCNA.
It noted that “our decision to suspend nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests” as well as the U.S. decision to suspend joint military drills were aimed at improving bilateral relations and weren’t legal documents.
U.S. Forces Korea, the main command for some 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea, said “readiness remains the number one priority.”
“As a matter of standard operating procedure, and in order to preserve space for diplomacy to work, we do not discuss any planned training or exercises publicly,” USFK said in a statement.
“We continue to train in a combined manner at echelon while harmonizing our training program with diplomatic efforts by adjusting four dials: size, scope, volume and timing,” it said.
Meanwhile, David Stilwell, the new top U.S. diplomat for East Asia and Pacific affairs, arrived in Seoul for meetings with senior officials on the alliance and regional issues.
The discussions were expected to include North Korea as well as a trade dispute between South Korea and Japan.