North Korea says nuclear talks at risk if U.S.-South Korea exercises go ahead

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stand at the demarcation line in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – 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.

The United States’ pattern of “unilaterally reneging on its commitments” is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.

U.S. President Donald Trump revitalized efforts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons last month when he arranged a spur-of-the-moment meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the border between the two Koreas.

Trump said they had agreed to resume so-called working-level talks, stalled since their second summit in February collapsed. The negotiations are expected in coming weeks.

But a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman cast doubt on that, saying the United States and South Korea were pressing ahead with exercises called Dong Maeng this summer, which he called a “rehearsal of war”.

“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.

The exercises are expected in August.

North Korea has for years denounced military exercises between the United States and South Korea, but in recent months has increased its criticism as talks with Washington and Seoul stalled.

“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 in a separate statement, adding that Trump had reaffirmed at last month’s meeting with Kim that the exercises would be halted.

Trump, in his first meeting with Kim in Singapore in June last year, said he would stop exercises after the two leaders agreed to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to improve ties.

While the main annual South Korean-U.S. exercises have been stopped, they still hold smaller drills.

“Readiness remains the number one priority for USFK,” said Jacqueline Leeker, a spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). “As a matter of standard operating procedure, and in order to preserve space for diplomacy to work, we do not discuss any planned training or exercises publicly.”

She said U.S. and South Korean troops continued to train together but had adjusted the size, scope, number and timing of exercises in order to “harmonize” training programs with diplomatic efforts.

An official at South Korea’s ministry of defense said it did not have immediate comment, but Seoul 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.

The United States’ decision to forge ahead with drills less than a month after Trump and Kim last met is “clearly a breach” of the two leaders’ agreements made in Singapore last year, and is an “an undisguised pressure” on North Korea, the foreign ministry spokesman said.

“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.

A North Korean nuclear envoy who steered the talks ahead of the failed February summit is alive, a South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday, contradicting a South Korean news report that he had been executed.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Additional reporting by Josh Smith.; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

North Korean film on Kim’s Singapore trip reveals new focus on economy

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk after lunch at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has produced a film on leader Kim Jong Un’s summit meeting with President Donald Trump this week, feeding, as one would expect, a fervid cult of personality but also seemingly highlighting his dream of economic development.

The 42-minute film, titled “Epochal meeting that pioneered new history between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States”, aired on North Korean state television on Thursday.

It shows the highlights of Kim’s three-day trip to the city-state of Singapore, including exchanges during his historic summit with Trump on Tuesday, and visits he made to some of Singapore’s top sites that evening.

Rigidly controlled North Korean state media usually give ordinary people little exposure to the affluence of their Asian neighbors.

For years, media have relentlessly extolled the successes of their state, and its leaders from the Kim family, proudly defying the evil United States and its lackey allies, even as many ordinary North Koreans starved.

But this film lavished praise on prosperous, capitalist Singapore, lauding the “clean, beautiful and advanced” nation and suggesting it had lessons to offer.

“Our comrade supreme leader said he is eager to learn the excellent knowledge and experiences in various fields from your country,” the state media presenter cited Kim as telling Singapore officials.

Kim was briefed on urban planning and lauded the island nation’s “world-class” cargo-handling capacity, as well as its well-equipped ports and its economy.

One analyst said the film was underscoring Kim’s stated pledge to make the economy a priority, after he had announced the achievement of a long-held ambition to develop nuclear weapons.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives in Singapore, June 10, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information via REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives in Singapore, June 10, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information via REUTERS


Kim shifted his focus at a ruling party congress in April, abandoning the parallel pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic development he had expounded since taking power in 2011, to focus instead exclusively on development.

“It’s to give the message that ‘We could be as rich if we develop the market economy’,” Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector who now runs a Seoul-based think-tank, said of the film’s message.

“Ordinary North Koreans might feel some discontent for now, seeing Kim and his aides enjoying overseas travel when they’re struggling to feed themselves, but this film could give them hope at the same time.”

The film made much of Kim’s surprise evening outing to some of Singapore’s most famous waterfront sites, among them a rooftop bar and infinity swimming pool at one of its plushest hotels, where surprised guests filmed him with camera phones.

In one scene, Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was seen walking with him along a promenade, clearly impressed with the high-rise skyline.

Inevitably, Kim is portrayed in the film as a global peacemaker, sitting and smiling as an equal with the U.S. president derided just months earlier by state media as a “lunatic old man”.

Trump, accompanied by Kim, was shown returning the salute of Defence Minister No Kwang Chol, who was clad in his military uniform, raising questions among Trump’s critics back home.

The film also showed Trump offering Kim a peek inside the U.S. presidential limousine, known as “The Beast,” calling it a gesture of “special respect and goodwill”.

Such images reflected a new confidence in the North Korean leadership that the isolation was over and they had at last been accepted as legitimate members of the international community.

But the message could confound some ordinary North Koreans, said a South Korean official.

“It was recognition that North Korea has really craved, but it might also be a double-edged sword for Kim,” said the official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“Imagine how perplexed ordinary North Koreans could be by the image of the evil United States so deeply rooted in their minds, and then this sudden mood of a thaw.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Jeongmin Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)