The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
In a statement carried by the state news agency KCNA, a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman accused the United States and South Korea of pressing ahead with the Dong Maeng drills this summer, which he called a “rehearsal of war.”
The ministry said Washington’s pattern of “unilaterally reneging on its commitments” was leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
“We will formulate our decision on the opening of the DPRK-U.S. working-level talks, while keeping watch over the U.S. move hereafter,” the spokesman said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
A spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department said South Korea and the United States were preparing to conduct a “routine” combined training program in the fall, but suggested the drills had been scaled back to facilitate diplomacy.
“Working with (South Korea), this training program has been adjusted to maintain readiness and support diplomatic efforts,” Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn said.
“This routine combined training demonstrates the United States’ commitment to the (South Korea)-U.S. alliance and defense of the Korean peninsula through activities that enhance combined readiness,” he said.
Trump said they had agreed to resume so-called working-level talks stalled since their second summit in February collapsed.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the end of June the talks would likely happen “sometime in July, … probably in the next two or three weeks.” But dates have yet to be announced, and the North Korean statement raises further doubts about when – and whether – they might go ahead.
“It is crystal clear that it is an actual drill and a rehearsal of war aimed at militarily occupying our Republic by surprise attack,” the North Korean spokesman said, noting that Trump had reaffirmed in his meeting with Kim that the exercises would be halted.
The North Korean spokesman said the U.S. decision to forge ahead with drills less than a month after Trump and Kim last met was “clearly a breach” of the two leaders’ agreements in Singapore last year, and was an “an undisguised pressure” on North Korea.
“With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S. as well,” he said.
Trump, in his first meeting with Kim in Singapore in June last year, said he would stop what he called what he called “very provocative” and expensive exercises with South Korea, after the two leaders agreed to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to improve ties.
While the main annual South Korean-U.S. exercises have been stopped, the countries still hold smaller drills.
Jacqueline Leeker, a spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Korea, said U.S. and South Korean troops continued to train together, but had adjusted the size, scope, number and timing of exercises to “harmonize” training programs with diplomatic efforts.
An official at South Korea’s ministry of defense declined to comment, but South Korea officials have previously said the drills are defensive in nature.
Since the Singapore summit, North Korea has not tested any nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles, though it tested new short-range missiles in May.
Speaking on a U.S. radio talk show on Monday, Pompeo did not say when talks with North Korea might resume, but he hoped both sides could “be a little more creative” in their approach to them when they did so.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul, and David Brunnstrom and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie and Richard Chang)