SEOUL, PAA – North Korea has cancelled a high-level meeting with South Korea and threatened to scrap a historic summit next month between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over military exercises between Seoul and Washington that Pyongyang has long claimed are invasion rehearsals.
It is still unclear, however, whether the North intends to scuttle all diplomacy or merely wants to gain leverage ahead of the planned June 12 talks between Kim and Trump.
The statement was released hours before the two Koreas were to meet at a border village to discuss how to implement their leaders’ recent agreements to reduce military tensions along their heavily fortified border and improve their overall ties.
The North’s Korean Central News Agency called the two-week Max Thunder drills, which began Monday and reportedly include about 100 aircraft, an ‘intended military provocation’ and an ‘apparent challenge’ to an April summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, when the leaders met on their border in their countries’ third-ever summit talks since their 1948 division.
In Washington, the US State Department emphasised that Kim had previously indicated he understood the need and purpose of the US continuing its long-planned exercises with South Korea. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US had not heard anything directly from Pyongyang or Seoul that would change that.
‘We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un,’ Nauert said.
Washington and Seoul delayed an earlier round of drills because of the North-South diplomacy surrounding February’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South, which saw Kim send his sister to the opening ceremonies.
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 stabilises, according to the South Korean government.
South Korea didn’t immediately make any official response to the North’s announcement.
Wednesday’s threat could also be targeted at showing a domestic audience that Kim is willing to stand up to Washington.
Kim has repeatedly told his people that his nukes are a ‘powerful treasured sword’ that can smash US hostility.
North Korea also has a long history of launching provocations or scrapping deals with Seoul and Washington at the last minute.
In 2013, North Korea abruptly cancelled reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War just days before they were held to protest what it called rising animosities ahead of joint drills between Seoul and Washington.
A year earlier in 2012, the North conducted a prohibited long-range rocket launch weeks after it agreed to suspend weapons tests in return for food assistances.