Update II: The Pentagon has denied reports that it had considered pulling B-52 bombers from military drills between the US and South Korea. According to the Pentagon, the bombers were never supposed to take part in the drills, the Washington Examiner reported.
The US and South Korea recently started their springtime “Max Thunder” drills which are meant to “enhance interoperability and readiness.”
“The scope of Max Thunder has not changed,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Logan said Wednesday.
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Update: The White House says it’s hopeful that its planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will move forward, though it’s prepared for tough negotiations, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News.
“He’ll be there, and he’ll be ready” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of Trump in a Fox News interview Wednesday, adding that North Korea’s threat to back out of a denuclearization summit isn’t out of the ordinary.
“We’re ready to meet, and if it happens that’s great, but if doesn’t well see what happens,” she said. “If it doesn’t we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been ongoing”
The summit is set to take place June 12 in Singapore.
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North Korea has threatened to pull out of next month’s peace summit with Washington if the US insists on the peninsula hurriedly giving up its nuclear weapons without offering immediate sanctions relief.
After blaming joint South Korean-US military exercises for the country’s decision yesterday to cancel a planned summit with the South and to suspend talks, the North revealed another source of anger: National Security Advisor John Bolton’s comments from his appearance Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, where he suggested that North Korea must “commit to denuclearization” to help it “become a normal nation.”
Kim Kye Gwan, a vice foreign minister and a top North Korea disarmament negotiator, said the regime was disappointed by the US’s articulation of its goals for the summit, according to a statement published Wednesday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency via Bloomberg. Kim expressed anger toward Bolton and other US officials, adding that the North rejects the “Libya model” where a state surrenders its weapons first then receives incentives like sanctions relief.
“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” Kim said. He added that Trump risked becoming a “more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors” if he didn’t accept North Korea as a nuclear power.
Kim Kye Gwan said the North had already declared its willingness to denuclearize the peninsula – but that it must not be counted on to act first.
“If the Trump administration corners us and tries to force us to give up nuclear [weapons] unfairly,” it says, “we will not be interested in such talks anymore and cannot help but reconsider having the upcoming DPRK-U.S. summit.”
North Korea added that it wouldn’t be satisfied with “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization as well as the dismantling of nuclear and chemical arms, per Nikkei.
One North Korea expert said observers shouldn’t panic: The sharp rhetoric is more likely a negotiating tactic than a legitimate threat to scrap the talks.
Jin Chang-soo, president at the Sejong Institute, said North Korea’s remarks are more like jockeying ahead of the summit with the U.S., and not a serious threat to pull out of the meeting.
“North Korea and the U.S. agreed on the big picture, but they still have different ideas on a detailed process. Pyongyang is trying to boost its negotiation power with such actions,” Jin said.
In a statement, the South Korean government said North Korea’s decision to suspend talks was “regrettable.”
“It is regrettable that the North has suspended inter-Korean high-level talks with no consultation with us,” said Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry. “The government has a firm will to carry out the Panmunjom Declaration faithfully, and urges the North side to come to the table quickly for the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula.”
China, meanwhile, called on both sides to “avoid further provocation.”
“The amelioration of the situation on the Korean Peninsula is hard won and should be cherished,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing.
For now Kim’s gambit appears to be working: on Tuesday night, the US said that it would consider withholding B-52 bombers from its joint military drills with South Korea in a bid to appease the North. Should Pyongyang say it demands more, will Trump – visions of a Nobel Peace Prize dancing in his head – appease Kim again, and if so, how?