North Korea Warns U.S. to Quit Military Drills With South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — Only 16 days after President Trump set foot in North Korea to try to restart nuclear talks with its leader, North Korea on Tuesday escalated its pressure on the United States to cancel a planned joint military drill with South Korea, warning that it could scuttle efforts to resume dialogue with Washington and even prompt the North to resume nuclear and long-range missile tests.

The vaguely worded threats were contained in two separate statements from the North Korean Foreign Ministry on Tuesday that complained about the military drill, called 19-2 Dong Maeng.

The North said the planned exercise undermined a mood for dialogue created when its leader, Kim Jong-un, met with Mr. Trump at Panmunjom, a village on the inter-Korean border, on June 30. In the hurriedly arranged meeting, the two leaders agreed to restart working-level talks on the terms of denuclearizing North Korea.

On Tuesday, North Korea warned that if the joint military drill takes place next month, it “will affect” efforts to resume dialogue. At Panmunjom, Mr. Trump said dialogue could resume in two or three weeks. But the North on Tuesday appeared to link the resumption of such talks to the cancellation of the military drill.

“We will make a decision regarding working-level talks with the United States while watching U.S. moves going forward,” a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman told the North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday.

For decades, North Korea has campaigned to stop joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, calling them rehearsals for invasion.

In April of last year, Mr. Kim announced a halt to his country’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, paving the way for his first meeting with Mr. Trump, held in Singapore in June last year.

After the meeting, Mr. Trump vowed to halt major joint military drills with South Korea. But the South Korean and American militaries have agreed to hold smaller and reconfigured joint drills, and 19-2 Dong Maeng is one of them.

On Tuesday, North Korea said the new drill would “violate the spirit” of the Singapore agreement. It even indicated that its decision to suspend nuclear and ICBM tests was contingent on the absence of joint military drills between the United States and the South.

“As the U.S. is unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our rationale to stay in the commitments we made with the U.S.,” the North said. It noted that neither Washington’s vow to cancel major exercises nor its moratorium on nuclear and missile tests was a legally binding commitment “inscribed in paper.”

The Singapore meeting ended with a vague agreement in which Mr. Trump committed to build “new” relations and provide security guarantees for North Korea in return for Mr. Kim’s agreement to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

But when Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump met again in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, they failed to agree on how to implement their earlier deal.

The Hanoi talks collapsed when Mr. Kim demanded that Washington lift all major sanctions against his country in return for the dismantling of its nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, the capital. Mr. Trump insisted on a more comprehensive breaking up of the North’s nuclear programs, including its nuclear weapons and missiles.

Despite the failure in Hanoi, both Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump have often boasted of their mutual “friendship” and willingness to engage in diplomacy. In their meeting on the inter-Korean border last month, they agreed to resume working-level dialogue to help narrow the wide differences between their governments.

But such talks have yet to take place. By issuing a vague threat to resume nuclear and missile tests, North Korea appeared to put pressure on Washington even before bilateral talks resumed.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry’s statements came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged North Korea to change its demands while reconfirming Washington’s goal of achieving the “final fully verifiable denuclearization” of North Korea.

“I hope the North Koreans will come to the table with ideas that they didn’t have the first time,” Mr. Pompeo said in an interview on Monday on “The Sean Hannity Show” on Fox News.

“We hope we can be a little more creative, too,” Mr. Pompeo said. “The president’s mission hasn’t changed: to fully and finally denuclearize North Korea in a way that we can verify.”

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