A U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt attacker at U.S. Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, on Saturday. The U.S. and South Korea began an air exercise called Max Thunder on Monday.
A senior North Korean official said Pyongyang isn’t interested in a summit with the U.S. focused solely on denuclearization and accused Washington of trying to “impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq.”
In a Wednesday statement attributed to Kim Kye Gwan, a senior foreign ministry official, North Korea said it doesn’t want to deal away its nuclear weapons for economic compensation or benefits. That cast doubt on the North’s willingness to proceed with a planned June 12 summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore.
“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,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying, using the acronym for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kim Kye Gwan, a longtime North Korean diplomat who has met frequently with U.S. negotiators and high-level officials over the years, singled out national security adviser John Bolton and his demands, which include a Libya-style denuclearization process and the disposal of biological and chemical weapons.
Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was killed in 2011 after agreeing to give up his country’s nuclear program. In contrast, the North said, “our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met [a] miserable fate.”
Top diplomats and government officials discuss risks, hopes and the future of North Korean relations at the WSJ CEO Council in Tokyo ahead of the planned Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore.
“It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development,” Mr. Kim, who is the first vice minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quoted as saying.
Pre-summit momentum appeared to be building after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang last week to meet with leader Kim Jong Un. He returned with three U.S. citizens who had been detained in North Korea for more than a year.
After the U.S. citizens returned home, Mr. Trump said he believed Mr. Kim “wants to do something and bring that country into the real world.”
On Sunday, Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. would offer private capital to the North to “create conditions for real economic prosperity for the North Korean people.”
The North’s statement on denuclearization came not long after it suspended high-level talks with South Korea, citing its objections to military exercises being conducted with the U.S.
In a report published earlier Wednesday in Pyongyang, the Korean Central News Agency said the drills are a rehearsal for invasion.
The air exercises are “a deliberate military provocation to the trend of the favorably developing situation on the Korean Peninsula,” North Korea said.
A South Korean F-16 Fighting Falcon taking off during last year’s Max Thunder exercise at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.
Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said Tuesday that North Korea hasn’t complained about the current exercises or told American officials, formally or informally, that it might cancel next month’s summit.
“We are operating under the idea and notion that the president’s meeting is going forward with Chairman [Kim Jong Un] next month,” she said. She noted that Mr. Kim had previously told South Korea it understood the need for the exercises and that they were planned well in advance.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: “The United States will look at what North Korea has said independently, and continue to coordinate closely with our allies.”
A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said the North’s decision to unilaterally postpone Wednesday’s inter-Korean talks was “inconsistent with the fundamental spirit and purpose” of an agreement signed last month between the leaders of the two Koreas during a summit meeting at the demilitarized zone.
The South Korean government, the statement said, “urges the North to immediately respond to the inter-Korean talks for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.”
The joint exercise, named Max Thunder, began Monday and will run until May 25. There are no imminent plans to cancel it, U.S. and South Korean defense officials said.
Comprising about 1,000 U.S. military personnel and a force of about 500 South Koreans, the exercise is designed to test the interoperability of air assets between the two countries. It involves some of the most modern U.S. aircraft like the F-22 and in past years, has included about 100 planes from the U.S. and South Korea.
Max Thunder is one of the smaller annual exercises between the two countries. It falls under the umbrella of a broader exercise called Foal Eagle, which involves as many as 300,000 South Korean troops and 30,000 U.S. troops. Major elements of Foal Eagle concluded earlier this month.
North Korea’s complaints come weeks after a summit meeting between Mr. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the inter-Korean demilitarized zone, a high point in a monthslong thaw in tensions that began at the beginning of the year.
“Even before the ink of the historic April 27 Declaration got dry, the south Korean authorities and the U.S. started such a drill against the DPRK, reacting to all the peace-loving efforts and good intentions which the DPRK has shown with rude and wicked provocation,” it said.
The suspended high-level talks between North and South were proposed by Pyongyang to take place just hours later on Wednesday on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom. The two sides were supposed to discuss measures to follow up on the Kim-Moon summit.
North Korea has abruptly scuttled plans in the past, most recently in late January, when it pulled the plug on a joint musical performance that the two Koreas had agreed to hold at a mountain resort in North Korea in the run-up to the Winter Olympics. The North cited South Korean press reports questioning Pyongyang’s motives in agreeing to hold the joint performance, the South’s Ministry of Unification said.
After that hiccup, however, North Korea continued to push forward with rapprochement efforts, sending Mr. Kim’s younger sister to South Korea for the Olympic opening ceremony.
North Korea has also issued ominous warnings to the U.S. about human rights and Mr. Trump’s so-called maximum pressure campaign. Just a week ago, the North said U.S. assertions that Pyongyang’s willingness to engage in dialogue was the result of its maximum pressure campaign were “senseless remarks.” Instead, it said the detente was “created by the proactive efforts of the DPRK.”
On Wednesday, North Korea also lashed out indirectly at criticism of its rapprochement campaign by North Korean defectors, saying it had allowed “human scum to brazenly hurl mud at the supreme dignity of the supreme leadership” of North Korea.
Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London before he defected to South Korea two years ago, said Monday at the South Korean National Assembly that North Korea would never accept full denuclearization or China-style economic reforms.
Corrections & Amplifications
A photo of a U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt attacker accompanies this article. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified a photo of military ships as a Thunderbolt attacker. (May 15, 2018)