Py­ongyang to halt all talks un­less de­mands met

North calls South ‘in­com­pe­tent,’ blasts joint US drills


SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s chief ne­go­tia­tor called the South Korean gov­ern­ment “ig­no­rant and in­com­pe­tent” on Thurs­day, de­nounced US-South Korean air com­bat drills and threat­ened to halt all talks with the South un­less its de­mands are met.

The com­ments by Ri Son Gwon, chair­man of North Korea’s Com­mit­tee for the Peace­ful Re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion of the Coun­try, were the lat­est in a string of in­flam­ma­tory state­ments mark­ing a dras­tic change in tone af­ter months of eas­ing ten­sion with plans for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion and a sum­mit sched­uled with the United States.

Ri crit­i­cized the South for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the drills, as well as for al­low­ing “hu­man scum” to speak at its Na­tional Assem­bly, the North’s KCNA news agency said in a state­ment.

“Un­less the se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion which led to the sus­pen­sion of the north-south high-level talks is set­tled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of south Korea,” the state­ment said. It did not elab­o­rate. KCNA, in its English-lan­guage ser­vice, de­lib­er­ately uses lower-case “north” and “south” to show that it only rec­og­nizes one un­di­vided Korea.

North Korea on Wed­nes­day said it might not at­tend the June 12 sum­mit be­tween leader Kim Jong Un and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Sin­ga­pore if the United States con­tin­ued to de­mand it uni­lat­er­ally aban­don its nu­clear arse­nal, which it has de­vel­oped in de­fi­ance of UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions to counter per­ceived US hos­til­ity.

A South Korean pres­i­den­tial Blue House of­fi­cial said the South in­tends to more ac­tively per­form “the role of a me­di­a­tor” be­tween the US and North Korea, but that goal has been cast into doubt by Ri’s com­ments.

“On this op­por­tu­nity, the present south Korean au­thor­i­ties have been clearly proven to be an ig­no­rant and in­com­pe­tent group de­void of the ele­men­tary sense of the present sit­u­a­tion,” Ri’s state­ment said.

The state­ment did not iden­tify the “hu­man scum” by name, but Thae Yong Ho, a for­mer North Korean diplo­mat to Bri­tain who de­fected to the South in 2016, held a press con­fer­ence on Mon­day at the South Korean Na­tional Assem­bly for his pub­li­ca­tion of his me­moir.

In his me­moir, “Pass­word from the Third Floor,” Thae de­scribes North Korean leader Kim as “im­pa­tient, im­pul­sive and vi­o­lent.”

South Korean Foreign Min­is­ter Kang Kyung-wha told par­lia­ment that North Korea and the US had dif­fer­ences of views over how to achieve de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. Trump ac­knowl­edged on Wed­nes­day it was un­clear if the sum­mit would go ahead.

“It is true that there are dif­fer­ences of opin­ion be­tween the North and the United States on meth­ods to ac­com­plish de­nu­cle­ariza­tion,” Kang told law­mak­ers, ac­cord­ing to Yon­hap News Agency.

Trump will host South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in at the White House on May 22.

The Blue House in­tends to “suf­fi­ciently con­vey [to the US] what we’ve dis­cerned about North Korea’s po­si­tion and at­ti­tude... and suf­fi­ciently con­vey the United States’s po­si­tion to North Korea,” thereby help­ing to bridge the gap, the of­fi­cial said.

Asked if she trusted Kim Jong Un, Kang said: “Yes.”

Ja­pan’s Asahi news­pa­per re­ported that the US had de­manded North Korea ship some nu­clear war­heads, an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile and other nu­clear ma­te­rial over­seas within six months.

The news­pa­per, cit­ing sev­eral sources fa­mil­iar with North Korea, said US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo ap­peared to have told the North Korean leader when they met this month that Py­ongyang might be re­moved from a list of state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism if it com­plied.

Asahi also re­ported that if North Korea agreed to com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion at the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit, Wash­ing­ton was con­sid­er­ing giv­ing guar­an­tees for Kim’s regime.

China’s top diplo­mat, Wang Yi, said the mea­sures North Korea has taken to ease ten­sion should be ac­knowl­edged, and all other par­ties, es­pe­cially the US, should cher­ish the op­por­tu­nity for peace.

Can­cel­la­tion of the sum­mit, the first be­tween US and North Korean lead­ers, would deal a ma­jor blow to what could be the big­gest diplo­matic achieve­ment of Trump’s pres­i­dency.

This comes at a time when his with­drawal from the Iran nu­clear deal has drawn crit­i­cism in­ter­na­tion­ally and mov­ing the US em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem has fu­eled deadly vi­o­lence on the Is­rael-Gaza border.

North Korea de­fends its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams as a de­ter­rent against per­ceived ag­gres­sion by the US, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The North has long said it is open to even­tu­ally giv­ing up its nu­clear arse­nal if the US with­draws its troops from South Korea and ends its “nu­clear umbrella” al­liance with Seoul.

North Korea said it was pulling out of the talks with South Korea af­ter de­nounc­ing US-South Korean “Max Thun­der” air com­bat drills, which it said in­volved US stealth fighters, B-52 bombers and “nu­clear as­sets.”

Speak­ing to re­porters in Brus­sels on Wed­nes­day, UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res said: “I hope that in the end com­mon sense will pre­vail, and the sum­mit will take place and it will be suc­cess­ful.”


A REPUB­LIC OF KOREA Air Force F-15K fighter plane takes off.

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