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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observes a short-range weapons test in this undated photo from the Korean Central News Agency.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observes a short-range weapons test in this undated photo from the Korean Central News Agency. (KCNA)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea stepped up pressure Tuesday on the United States to offer more concessions for nuclear talks, saying the U.S. decision to postpone a joint air drill with South Korea was not enough to bring it back to the table.

The comments posted on the state-run news agency were the latest to suggest the communist state is hardening its position ahead of a year-end deadline set by leader Kim Jong Un for Washington to soften its stance.

Former North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Yong Chol gave the first official response to Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s announcement this weekend that the United States and South Korea were postponing a military exercise planned for later this month as an “act of goodwill” to facilitate diplomacy with the North.

“The U.S. tries to make a good impression as if it contributes to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, describing the suspension as ‘consideration for and concession’ to someone. But we demand that the U.S. drop out of the drill or stop it once and for all,” he said, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

“The suspension of the drill does not mean ensuring peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and is not helpful to the diplomatic efforts for the settlement of issues,” he added.

Esper said Sunday he didn’t see the decision to postpone the drills, which had already been scaled back and renamed to replace an exercise known as Vigilant Ace, as a concession but rather as a goodwill gesture. He called on the North to reciprocate by returning “to the negotiating table without precondition or hesitation.”

U.S.-led efforts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons reached a high point last year when President Donald Trump met with Kim for the first time at a summit in Singapore. But the talks have stalled over details, with the North Koreans seeking security guarantees and relief from punishing economic sanctions.

Kim Yong Chol accused the U.S. of trying to buy time and garner political capital for Trump, who is facing impeachment hearings in Washington.

“The U.S. is well advised not to dream of the negotiations for denuclearization before scrapping its hostile policy towards the DPRK,” he said, using the initials for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

On Monday, another North Korean official rejected a suggestion by Trump in a tweet that he may be interested in another summit with Kim Jong Un.

The president called on Kim to “act quickly, get the deal done” and said, “see you soon!”

But North Korean Foreign Ministry official Kim Kye Gwan said Washington appeared to be trying to buy time and called on the Americans to discard its “hostile policies” first.

Trump and Kim agreed in Singapore to improve relations between their two countries and work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But talks stalled over the details of how to do that and the leaders failed to reach an agreement during their second meeting in February in Vietnam.

They agreed to restart working-level talks during an impromptu meeting in June on the Korean border. But negotiators failed to narrow the gap during a meeting last month in Stockholm, Sweden.

“We are no longer interested in such talks that bring nothing to us. As we have got nothing in return, we will no longer gift the U.S. president with something he can boast of but get compensation for the successes that President Trump is proud of as his administrative achievements,” Kim Kye Gwan said.

The North Koreans have previously avoided direct criticism of Trump as he insists that he maintains a good relationship with Kim Jong Un. Twitter: @kimgamel


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