North Korea warns US it could pull out of planned summit with Trump
North Korea on Tuesday said a planned summit next month between President Trump and Kim Jong Un is at risk because of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea.
North Korea said it was ending talks with South Korea, and a confusing statement from the country's state news agency strongly suggested that the drills threatened the fate of the historic summit.
"The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities," North Korea's Korean Central News Agency said in a statement first reported by the Yonhap News Agency in South Korea.
The North Korean news agency said the drills between the South Korean and U.S. air forces are an "intentional military provocation" to undermine recent diplomatic talks.
The White House released a statement in response on Tuesday afternoon saying it “will look at” North Korea’s comments as it moves forward.
“We are aware of the South Korean media report. The United States will look at what North Korea has said independently, and continue to coordinate closely with our allies,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Before the White House released its statement, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said there had been no talks between the United States and North Korea about the statement attributed to the North Korean news agency.
“I just saw that report as I was coming out here,” said Nauert at an on-camera press briefing.
She said the military exercises are planned well in advance, and that Kim said previously that he understands the need and the utility of continuing the joint exercises.
“We have not heard anything from [the North Korean government] or the government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month,” she said.
“What we have to go on is what Kim Jong Un had said before, that he understands and appreciates the importance to the United States of having these joint exercises.”
“We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.”
During press briefing, @statedeptspox Heather Nauert says Kim Jong-un threatening to cancel U.S. summit b/c of U.S. military exercises is news to her, insists Kim "understands and appreciates the importance to the U.S. of having these joint exercises." pic.twitter.com/NcLrpfAH7q
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 15, 2018
The Pentagon also issued a response to the reports, emphasizing that "the defensive nature" of the drills "has not changed."
"The purpose of the training is to enhance the ROK-U.S. Alliance's ability to defend the ROK and enhance interoperability and readiness," the Pentagon said, referring to South Korea, whose official name is the Republic of Korea. "While we will not discuss specifics, the defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed."
The drills have been a longtime aggravation for North Korea, which has previously condemned the exercises as acts of aggression.
But North Korea had indicated as part of the talks with South Korea and the United States that it would no longer oppose the joint military drills.
It is possible the statement is an attempt to use the planned summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim as leverage to get the United States and South Korea to end the drills, at least for the time being.
Both Trump and Kim appear to have much invested in the planned summit, which Trump has repeatedly touted in recent weeks.
North Korea last week released three American detainees following a visit from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a step hailed by Trump.
Foreign policy experts have been skeptical of North Korea’s sudden willingness to engage in discussions about abandoning its nuclear program, noting that the country has reneged on past promises.
Pompeo said Sunday that the U.S. was going into talks with “eyes wide open with respect to the fact that the North Koreans have not proved worthy of their promises.”
“But we’re hopeful that this will be different, that we don’t do the traditional model, where they do something, and we give them a bunch of money, and then both sides walk away,” he added.
Trump, who has praised Kim as "very honorable" during the lead-up to their summit, has said he'd be willing to walk out of the meeting if negotiations were not fruitful.
The U.S. has been pushing for Pyongyang to fully and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear program.
In return, the U.S. would aid the North Korean economy by lifting sanctions and allowing private capital to flow into the country. Pompeo has emphasized that economic aid for North Korea would not come at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.
Leaders from North and South Korea had been scheduled to meet Wednesday at the Peace House along the border between the two countries, but those talks were scrapped, according to Yonhap.
The meeting was intended as a follow-up to an April 27 discussion in which leaders pledged to put an official end to the Korean War and work toward “complete denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula.