North Korea threatened on Wednesday to drop the eagerly awaited summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump is Washington tried to compel Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear weapon.
“If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue,” first vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement carried by state media.
In that case, he added, Pyongyang would have to “reconsider” its participation at the summit, due in Singapore on June 12.
The North’s arsenal is expected to be at the top of the agenda of the historic talks, but Pyongyang has long insisted it needs the weapons to defend itself against invasion by the US.
Washington is pressing for its complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. But so far the North has not given any public indication of what concessions it is offering, beyond euphemistic commitments to denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula”.
Pyongyang had “made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States”, minister Kim said.
In the past, Pyongyang has demanded the withdrawal of the US troops stationed in the South to protect it from its neighbor, and an end to Washington’s nuclear umbrella over its security ally.
The minister also blasted US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s talk of a “Libyan model” for North Korean denuclearization.
It was a “sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq”, he said. “I cannot suppress indignation at such moves of the US, and harbor doubt about the US sincerity.”
The North has long said it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself against a US invasion.
North Korea also canceled high-level talks due Wednesday with Seoul over the Max Thunder joint military exercises being held between the United States and South Korea, denouncing the drills as a “rude and wicked provocation”.
Minister Kim also dismissed offers by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who has visited Pyongyang twice in recent weeks, coming back the second time with three released US detainees – for US economic aid if the North denuclearizes.
“We have never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future,” Kim said.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the military exercises between Washington and Seoul will go on despite Pyongyang’s opposition.
The ministry’s spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo said Wednesday the Max Thunder drills are chiefly about improving the skills of pilots and aren’t attack exercises.
The drills, which began Monday and reportedly include some 100 aircraft, will continue through May 25.
A senior Japanese official stated that Tokyo considers the US-South Korea exercise, along with those between the three allies, as key pillars of deterrence in the region.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said Japan is moving ahead with the preparation for the Kim-Trump summit in hopes they would provide a momentum toward comprehensively resolving North Korea’s problems.
Nishimura added Japan will continue to cooperate with the US and South Korea and they agree on the need to maintain sanctions until the North changes its current policy.
“We believe that steady implementation of US-South Korea joint military exercise is important to maintain the regional peace and safety.”
In recent weeks, as well as an eye-catching summit with the South’s leader last month in the Demilitarized Zone, Kim has twice met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pyongyang has announced it will destroy its nuclear testing site next week.
Analysts said Pyongyang was now trying to redefine the terms of the debate.
“It’s a diplomatic tactic,” Kim Hyun-wook, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, told AFP, calling it “brinkmanship to change the US position”.
“It looks like Kim Jong Un was pushed into accepting US demands for ‘denuclearization-first’ but is now trying to change its position after normalizing North Korea-China relations and securing economic assistance,” he added.