Thursday 18 April 2019

South Korea downplays Pyongyang’s threats to cancel talks

The two Koreas were to sit down at a border village on Wednesday, but the North cancelled the meeting.

North Korea cancelled a high-level meeting with South Korea on Wednesday (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP)
North Korea cancelled a high-level meeting with South Korea on Wednesday (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP)

By Kim Tong-Hyung, Associated Press

South Korea has said it believes North Korea remains committed to improving relations despite strongly criticising Seoul over ongoing US-South Korean military drills.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Baek Tae-hyun said Seoul expects Pyongyang to faithfully abide by the agreements between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in in their summit last month.

The Korean leaders had issued a vague vow on the “complete denuclearisation” of the peninsula and pledged permanent peace.

“We are just at the starting point and we will not stop or waver as we move forward for peace in the Korean Peninsula,” said Mr Baek.

North Korea has taken repeated proverbial shots at Washington and Seoul since cancelling a high-level meeting with South Korea on Wednesday and threatening to scrap next month’s historic summit between its leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, saying it will not be unilaterally pressured into relinquishing its nuclear weapons.

The North’s threat cooled what had been an unusual flurry of diplomatic moves from a country that last year conducted a provocative series of weapons tests that had many fearing the region was on the edge of war.

It also underscored South Korea’s delicate role as an intermediary between the US and North Korea and raised questions over Seoul’s claim that Mr Kim has a genuine interest in dealing away his nukes.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are due to meet on June 12 (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

Analysts said it is unlikely that North Korea intends to scuttle all diplomacy. More likely, they said, is that it wants to gain leverage ahead of the talks between Mr Kim and Mr Trump, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

Mr Baek spoke hours after Ri Son Gwon, chairman of a North Korean agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs, accused South Korea’s government of being “an ignorant and incompetent group devoid of the elementary sense of the present situation, of any concrete picture of their dialogue partner and of the ability to discern the present trend of the times”.

In comments published by the North’s Korean Central News Agency, Mr Ri said the “extremely adventurous” US-South Korean military drills were practising strikes on strategic targets in North Korea, and accused the South of allowing “human scum to hurt the dignity” of the North’s supreme leadership.

Mr Ri was apparently referring to a news conference held at South Korea’s National Assembly on Monday by Thae Yong Ho, a former senior North Korean diplomat who defected to the South in 2016.

Mr Thae said it is highly unlikely that Mr Kim would ever fully relinquish his nuclear weapons or agree to a robust verification regime.

Mr Ri said it will be difficult to resume talks with South Korea “unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the North-South high-level talks is settled”.

A South Korean Air Force fighter jet takes part in military exercises (Park Chul-hong/AP)

Senior officials from the two Koreas were to sit down at a border village on Wednesday to discuss how to implement their leaders’ agreements to reduce military tensions along their heavily fortified border and improve overall ties, but the North cancelled the meeting.

In Washington, Mr Trump said on Thursday that nothing has changed with respect to North Korea after the warning from Pyongyang.

He said North Korean officials are discussing logistical details about the meeting with the US “as if nothing happened”.

Trying to address the North Korean concerns, Mr Trump said if Mr Kim were to agree to denuclearise, “he’ll get protections that would be very strong.”

But Mr Trump warned that failure to make a deal could have grave consequences for Mr Kim. Mentioning what happened in Libya, Mr Trump said, “That model would take place if we don’t make a deal.”

“The Libyan model isn’t the model we have at all. In Libya we decimated that country.” Mr Trump added. “There was no deal to keep Gadhafi.”

Mr Trump said he is “willing to do a lot” to provide security guarantees to Mr Kim. “The best thing he could do is make a deal.”

Press Association

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