- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2019

North Korea warned Tuesday that the much-anticipated resumption of stalled nuclear talks with the Trump administration could be thrown into jeopardy if the U.S. and South Korea go forward with annual joint military exercises next month.

President Trump touted the prospect of renewed talks after his surprise stroll with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un two weeks ago at the heavily armed border with South Korea. But no follow-up, lower-level meetings have been scheduled, and the North’s state-controlled media revealed Tuesday that the Kim regime is still weighing whether to participate in talks with an eye on the August military drills.

“If the military exercise really goes ahead, it would affect the DPRK-U.S. working-level talks,” a spokesman for the North’s foreign ministry said in a statement published by the regime’s official Korean Central News Agency, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The White House gave no immediate reaction, and it was unclear whether Mr. Trump had been briefed on the North Korean statement. The president made no mention of it during a Cabinet meeting and said only that “we’ll see what happens” and he is in “no hurry” with regard to talks with Pyongyang.

Others in the administration have expressed hopes that the precedent-shattering meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim on the border between North and South Korea would rejuvenate talks that broke down after a failed February summit in Vietnam.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the June 30 Trump-Kim meeting along the Demilitarized Zone, when Mr. Trump became — briefly — the first sitting U.S. president on North Korean territory, had opened a fresh “chance to sit down with [North Korean officials] and have another conversation.”

“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 “The Sean Hannity Show.” “We hope we can we be a little more creative, too,” the secretary of state said, although he stressed that Mr. Trump’s “mission hasn’t changed: to fully and finally denuclearize North Korea in a way that we can verify.”

U.S. officials reportedly sent a back-channel message to the Kim regime last week proposing a new round of working-level talks. A high-level diplomatic source told The Washington Times on Tuesday that the North Koreans had not responded.

There is speculation that Washington is proposing that Mr. Pompeo meet with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho on the sidelines of meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations early next month in Thailand.

The February summit between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim broke down when the two sides failed to agree to a far-reaching deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. Mr. Trump said at the time that he had to walk away because Mr. Kim was demanding sweeping sanctions relief for only a limited commitment to destroy part of his arsenal.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported last week that U.S. officials are considering offering a 12- to 18-month suspension of certain sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the dismantlement of its main nuclear facility and a freeze of the entire nuclear program. That would be a sharp shift from the U.S. rhetoric after the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore a year ago, when American officials were adamant that partial, phased deals were not on the table.

Citing a source close to White House deliberations on North Korea, the news agency said the potential offer would suspend U.N. Security Council sanctions restricting North Korea’s exports of coal and textiles — a major source of income for the Kim regime — and mark a compromise between the two countries, but it remains to be seen whether the talks will resume at all.

In a separate statement Tuesday, North Korea’s foreign ministry suggested that it might call off its 20-month suspension of nuclear and missile tests because of the impending summertime U.S.-South Korean military drills that the North says are preparations for an eventual invasion.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly cited the North’s suspension of major missile and nuclear tests as one of the biggest benefits of his unorthodox, personal diplomacy with the North’s Mr. Kim, which began with the Singapore summit.

The Trump administration has not commented on the status of the “Alliance 19-2” joint drills slated for next month.

The Pentagon has suspended larger annual military drills with South Korea over the past year while diplomacy has been playing out with North Korea.

Mr. Trump has also publicly lamented the cost of conducting the joint military drills. After his first summit with Mr. Kim in June of last year, the president announced that the U.S. would be “stopping the war games” it conducts with South Korea. He said the drills are “very expensive” and “very provocative.”

Analysts saw the announcement as a major concession to North Korea, which came as a surprise to many in Seoul and in the Pentagon.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry statement Tuesday cited Mr. Trump’s promises to suspend the military drills. It argued that the drills planned for next month, coupled with the deployment of weapons in the South, show that Washington is not fulfilling its promise.

“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,” said the statement, carried by KCNA.

The ministry also said North Korea is not bound by any legal documents to suspend its nuclear and missile tests.

Since it conducted the third of its three intercontinental ballistic missile tests in November 2017, North Korea hasn’t tested any long-range missiles potentially capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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