Seoul sus­tains push for Trump-Kim talks amid North’s threats

Imperial Valley Press - - SPORTS - By KIM TONG-HYUNG,

SEOUL, South Korea— North Korea strongly crit­i­cized South Korea over on­go­ing U.S.-South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises on Thurs­day and said it will not re­turn to talks with its ri­val until Seoul re­solves its grievances.

The com­ments came a day af­ter North Korea can­celed a high-level meet­ing with the South be­cause of the drills and threat­ened to scrap next month’s historic meet­ing be­tween its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, say­ing it has no in­ter­est in a “one-sided” af­fair meant to pres­sure it to aban­don 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 U.S. and North Korea and raised ques­tions over Seoul’s claim that Kim has a gen­uine in­ter­est in deal­ing away his nukes. An­a­lysts said it’s 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 Kim and Trump, sched­uled for June 12 in Sin­ga­pore.

In quotes pub­lished by the North’s of­fi­cial Korean Cen­tral News Agency, 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.”

Ri said the “ex­tremely ad­ven­tur­ous” U.S.-South Korean mil­i­tary drills were prac­tic­ing 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. 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. Thae said it’s highly un­likely that Kim would ever fully re­lin­quish his nu­clear weapons or agree to a ro­bust ver­i­fi­ca­tion regime. 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.”

Hours ear­lier, South Korea said it was push­ing to re­set the high-level talks with North Korea and plan­ning to com­mu­ni­cate closely with the U.S. and North Korea to in­crease the chances of a suc­cess­ful sum­mit be­tween Trump and Kim on re­solv­ing the nu­clear stand­off.

The South urged the North to faith­fully abide by the agree­ments reached be­tween Kim and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in in their sum­mit last month, where they is­sued a vague vow on the “com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion” of the penin­sula and pledged per­ma­nent peace.

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 can­celed the meet­ing. In Wash­ing­ton, Trump said the U.S. hasn’t been no­ti­fied about the North Korean threat to can­cel the sum­mit with Kim. An­nual mil­i­tary drills be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Seoul have long been a ma­jor source of con­tention be­tween the Koreas, and an­a­lysts have won­dered whether their con­tin­u­a­tion would hurt the de­tente that, since an out­reach by Kim in Jan­uary, has re­placed the in­sults and threats of war. Much larger spring­time drills took place last month with­out the North’s typ­i­cally fiery con­dem­na­tion or ac­com­pa­ny­ing weapons tests, though Wash­ing­ton and Seoul toned down those ex­er­cises.

The North’s news agency said the U. S. air­craft mo­bi­lized for the cur­rent drills in­clude nu­clear-ca­pa­ble B-52 bombers and stealth F-22 fighter jets, two of the U.S. mil­i­tary as­sets it has pre­vi­ously said are aimed at launch­ing nu­clear strikes on the North. The al­lies say the drills are de­fen­sive in na­ture.

Seoul’s De­fense Min­istry said F-22s are in­volved in the drills, but not B-52s. Min­istry spokesman Lee Jin- woo said B- 52s had never been part of plans for this year’s drills, fo­cused on pi­lot train­ing, deny­ing me­dia spec­u­la­tion that Wash­ing­ton and Seoul with­drew the bombers in re­ac­tion to North Korea’s al­le­ga­tion.

Kim told vis­it­ing South Korean of­fi­cials in March that he “un­der­stands” the drills would take place and ex­pressed hope that they’ll be mod­i­fied once the sit­u­a­tion on the penin­sula sta­bi­lizes, ac­cord­ing to the South Korean gov­ern­ment.

De­spite Kim’s out­reach, some ex­perts have been skep­ti­cal that he would com­pletely give up a nu­clear pro­gram that he has pushed so hard to build. The North pre­vi­ously vowed to con­tinue nu­clear de­vel­op­ment un­less the United States pulls its 28,500 troops out of South Korea and with­draws its so-called “nu­clear umbrella” se­cu­rity guar­an­tee for South Korea and Ja­pan.

South Korean ma­rine force mem­bers look to­ward North’s side through binoc­u­lars at the Imjin­gak Pav­il­ion in Paju near the border vil­lage of Pan­munjom. AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

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