Date: Wednesday, 16 May 2018
North Korea is calling off this week's high-level talks with South Korea because of the South's military exercises with the United States, the South Korean government confirmed Wednesday.
North Korea's Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, also cast doubt on whether the much-anticipated summit between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump could proceed as planned next month, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
Trump has said he hopes that the summit will lead to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But KCNA later said that North Korea would never engage in economic trade with the United States in exchange for its giving up its nuclear program and that it would need to reconsider the summit if Washington refused to back down, according to Reuters.
"The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities," Yonhap reported KCNA as saying.
Baek Tae-hyun, a spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, confirmed that North Korea had canceled talks between the two countries that had been scheduled for Wednesday because of its objection to the military exercises.
Baek said at a briefing for reporters that Seoul "is urging North Korea to come to the talks soon for the sake of peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula."
The regime believes that the Max Thunder drills between the South Korean and U.S. air forces are a rehearsal for an invasion of the North and a provocative move amid signs of improving ties between the two countries, Yonhap said. A South Korean military official told NBC News that the drills would go on as planned.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Trump administration was aware of the Yonhap report. "The United States will look at what North Korea has said independently, and continue to coordinate closely with our allies," she said in a statement.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that the United States would "continue to go ahead and plan the meeting" between Trump and Kim. She suggested that the United States had been caught off-guard by the Korean report.
The mercurial North Korean leader had said previously that he understood the "need and the utility of the U.S. and [South Korea] continuing in its joint exercises," Nauert said, stressing that the exercises are legal and "planned well, well in advance."
The Defense Department also defended the exercises in a statement, calling them "defensive" and part of the alliance's "routine, annual training program to maintain a foundation of military readiness."
The two-week exercise kicked off Friday. It involves 100 warplanes, including eight F-22 radar-evading fighters and an unspecified number of B-52 bombers and F-15K jets, Yonhap reported.
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