N. Korea refuses to hold talks with South until ties improve

A U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane prepares to land as South Korea and the United States conduct the Max Thunder joint military exercise at the Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Yonhap, AP)
Updated 17 May 2018
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N. Korea refuses to hold talks with South until ties improve

  • A high-level meeting between the two neighbors had been scheduled for Wednesday, but the North pulled out early that morning over joint military exercises between the US and the South
  • Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face-to-face again with the present regime of South Korea: negotiator Ri Son Gwon

SEOUL:  North Korea said Thursday it will not hold talks with Seoul under the current diplomatic situation, calling South Korean officials “ignorant and incompetent” a day after the hermit state abruptly canceled planned inter-Korean discussions.
A high-level meeting between the two neighbors had been scheduled for Wednesday, but the North pulled out early that morning over joint military exercises between the US and the South.
The two-week “Max Thunder” drills started on May 11 and involve some 100 aircraft from the two allies, including F-22 stealth fighter jets.
“Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face-to-face again with the present regime of South Korea,” the official KCNA news agency cited top negotiator Ri Son Gwon as saying on Thursday.
Pyongyang has also threatened to cancel a historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore next month, following weeks of tentative rapprochement.
Ri, head of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, described the South’s reaction to the meeting’s cancelation as a “confrontation racket,” according to KCNA.
“On this opportunity the present South Korean authorities have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group devoid of the elementary sense of the present situation,” he added.
In Wednesday’s angrily worded statement, KCNA denounced the Max Thunder exercises as a “rude and wicked provocation,” and Seoul said it had received a message canceling planned high-level talks “indefinitely.”
The language used in the two outbursts is a sudden and dramatic return to the rhetoric of the past from Pyongyang, which has long argued that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the US.
Hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War stopped with a cease-fire, leaving the two halves of the peninsula divided by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and still technically at war.
At a dramatic summit last month in Panmunjom, the truce village in the DMZ, Kim and the South’s President Moon Jae-in pledged to pursue a peace treaty to formally end the conflict, and reaffirmed their commitment to denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
But the phrase is open to interpretation on both sides and the North has spent decades developing its atomic arsenal, culminating last year in its sixth nuclear test — by far its biggest to date — and the launch of missiles capable of reaching the US.
 


North Korea preps nuclear site demolition despite US summit doubts

Updated 19 min 48 sec ago
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North Korea preps nuclear site demolition despite US summit doubts

SEOUL: Invited foreign journalists gathered in North Korea Wednesday to witness the slated destruction of the reclusive regime’s nuclear test site, a high profile gesture on the road to a summit with the US that Donald Trump now says might not happen.
In a surprise announcement Pyongyang said earlier this month that it planned to “completely” destroy the Punggye-ri facility in the country’s northeast, a move welcomed by Washington and Seoul.
Punggye-ri has been the site of all six of the North’s nuclear tests, the latest and by far the most powerful in September last year, which Pyongyang said was an H-bomb.
The demolition is due to take place sometime between Wednesday and Friday, depending on the weather.
The North has portrayed the destruction on the test site as a goodwill gesture ahead of planned June 12 summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore.
But doubts have since been cast by both sides on whether that potentially historic meeting will take place.
Last week Pyongyang threatened to pull out if Washington pressed for its unilateral nuclear disarmament. Trump also said the meeting could be delayed as he met with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in Washington on Tuesday.
“There are certain conditions we want to happen. I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we won’t have the meeting,” he told reporters, without elaborating on what those conditions might be.

Politically, Trump has invested heavily in the success of his meeting with Kim, and so privately most US officials, as well as outside observers, believe it will go ahead.
But as the date draws near, Trump’s divergence from his top aides, the differences between the two sides and the high stakes are coming into sharp relief.
Washington has made it clear it wants to see the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the North.
Pyongyang has vowed it will never give up its nuclear deterrence until it feels safe from what is sees as US aggression.
“Everything is on thin ice,” Koo Kab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.
“Trump wants a swift denuclearization, something that will be done within his first term in office. In that case, he has to provide North Korea with a corresponding, swift security guarantee.”
Observers will be watching the nuclear test site destruction ceremony closely for any clues to the North’s mood.
Experts are divided over whether the demolition will render the site useless. Sceptics say the site has already outlived its usefulness with six successful nuclear tests in the bag and can quickly be rebuilt if needed.
Previous similar gestures by the North have been rapidly reversed when the international mood soured.
But others say the fact that North Korea agreed to destroy the site without preconditions or asking for something in return from Washington is significant.

Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said both sides were playing “a game of chicken” in the run up to the summit “to gain an upper hand in negotiations.”
He said the destruction of the Punggye-ri test site would win Pyongyang international sympathy even if the summit collapses.
“North Korea can say to the international community that it did its best to achieve denuclearization through negotiations but was pressured by the United States and couldn’t do it,” he said.
A handful of foreign journalists, including from South Korea, were invited to attend the demolition ceremony.
Reporters from China, the US and Russia departed on a charter flight from Beijing on Tuesday for the North Korean city of Wonsan.
From there they are expected to travel for some 20 hours up the east coast by train and bus to the remote test site — a vivid illustration of the impoverished country’s notoriously decrepit transport infrastructure.
South Korean journalists were initially left off the flight because they were not granted permission by Pyongyang.
But on Wednesday Seoul’s Unification Ministry said they had been allowed to attend at the last minute.
The ministry said it planned to arrange a rare direct flight on Wednesday between the two countries, who remain technically at war, to ferry the journalists to Wonsan.
Agence France-Presse is one of a number of major media organizations not invited to cover the demolition.