- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2019

North Korea’s latest threat to engage in “fiercer” provocations if Washington doesn’t soften its denuclearization demands is the latest example of Pyongyang using a summit of U.S. and Japanese leaders to amplify its demands.

The threat came as President Trump was flying to Tokyo for talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, talks that will include what the next steps should be in the U.S. talks with North Korea.

The North Koreans have already carried out multiple weapons tests this month. Past meetings between Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe having been overshadowed by carefully-timed North Korean military provocations, and analysts say Pyongyang may be preparing a fresh round of launches to coincide with Mr. Trump’s arrival in Tokyo for a three-day visit Saturday.

“We should not be shocked that as soon as this weekend more missiles will fly into the sky and tensions will climb with them even higher,” said Harry J. Kazianis, a Korea specialist with the Center for the National Interest in Washington.

North Korea’s state-controlled media warned Friday that nuclear negotiations will never resume unless the Trump administration moves away from what Pyongyang described as unilateral demands for disarmament.

This weekend’s Trump-Abe talks come as U.S.-North Korean direct talks have been largely on hold following the collapse of the second Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi in February. Mr. Trump has said he walked away because the North Koreans demanded sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for only a limited commitment to destroy part of their nuclear arsenal.

North Korean officials later challenged that characterization, and subsequently gave the U.S. a deadline of the end of 2019 to offer an acceptable deal.

National security sources say the administration is wary of being tricked by the North Koreans, who have a history of defying U.N. Security Council resolutions and delaying past negotiations while clandestinely building up its nuclear arsenal.

The latest statement from Pyongyang came through the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency. A Foreign Ministry official told the news service Washington deliberately undermined the Hanoi summit by making unilateral and impossible demands.

“We hereby make it clear once again that the United States would not be able to move us even an inch with the device it is now weighing in its mind, and the further its mistrust and hostile acts toward [North Korea] grow, the fiercer our reaction will be,” the statement said.

“Unless the United States puts aside the current method of calculation and comes forward with a new method of calculation, the [North Korea]-U.S. dialogue will never be resumed and by extension, the prospect for resolving the nuclear issue will be much gloomy,” the statement added.

There was no immediate reaction from the Trump administration, although U.S. officials have spent recent days downplaying the notion that talks have broken down since the Hanoi summit. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Thursday that “talks and discussions are ongoing” with the North Koreans.

Measured brinkmanship

Pyongyang’s launches of short-range missiles earlier this month ended a pause in North Korea’s ballistic missile launches that began in late 2017. Some analysts see the launches as measured brinkmanship aimed at increasing pressure on Washington without torpedoing the talks.

Mr. Kazianis said Friday that North Korea “is now showing the world a new post-Hanoi summit diplomatic strategy: its own style of ‘maximum pressure’” — Mr. Trump’s term for his own policy toward the North

Mr. Kazianis said there was a real potential for more missile launches in the coming days, in light of Mr. Trump’s trip to Japan. Japan, which hosts a large presence of U.S. military forces, has watched Mr. Trump’s personal diplomacy with some unease, as Japan is already vulnerable to conventional ballistic missiles that may not be addressed in the U.S.-North Korea talks.

Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Abe in February 2017 at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida is perhaps best remembered for how it was disrupted when North Korea test-launched an short-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan as the two leaders were dining.

Pyongyang sent several subsequent missiles into the Sea of Japan during the months that followed, before launching an intermediate-range ballistic missile in August of 2017 that traveled more than 1,600 miles and crossed over Japan in mid-flight.

That test took center stage when Mr. Trump made his first visit Japan as president in November 2017. At the time, Mr. Trump told reporters that North Korea’s missiles could be neutralized because Mr. Abe “will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States.”

While the year-and-a-half since saw a dramatic cooling of tensions — and an almost unprecedented period of diplomacy with two denuclearization summits between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim — concerns are high that a return to tensions is on the horizon.

North Korea has strongly protested the recent revelation by Washington that U.S. officials seized a North Korean cargo ship that had been involved in banned coal exports. Pyongyang has demanded the vessel to be returned.

North Korea has also recently slowed the pace of its engagement with South Korea, which has been eager to improve bilateral relations and help revive discussions between Washington and Pyongyang.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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