N. Korea casts doubt on Trump summit, cancels talks with Seoul

N. Korea casts doubt on Trump summit, cancels talks with Seoul
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
PHOTO: Reuters

North Korea on Wednesday called into question a much-anticipated and unprecedented summit between its leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump set for next month.

Pyongyang also cancelled high-level talks due Wednesday with Seoul over the Max Thunder joint military exercises being held between the United States and South Korea, denouncing the drills as a "rude and wicked provocation".

"There is a limit in showing goodwill and offering opportunity," the North's official news agency KCNA said.

The drills between the two allies' air forces were a rehearsal for invasion and "a deliberate military provocation" at a time when inter-Korean relations were warming, it added.

"The US will have to think twice about the fate of the DPRK-US summit," KCNA said, referring to the North by its official acronym.

Washington said it will continue to plan the meeting in Singapore on June 12, with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert telling reporters it had received "no notification" of a position change by North Korea.

The language used by KCNA is a sudden and dramatic return to the rhetoric of the past from Pyongyang, which has long argued that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the United States.

Hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War stopped with a ceasefire, leaving the two halves of the peninsula divided by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and still technically at war.

At a dramatic summit last month in Panmunjom, the truce village in the DMZ, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged to pursue a peace treaty to formally end the conflict and reaffirmed their commitment to denuclearising the peninsula.

But the phrase is open to interpretation on both sides and the North has spent decades developing its atomic arsenal, culminating last year in its sixth nuclear test -- by far its biggest to date -- and the launch of missiles capable of reaching the US.

The drive has seen it subjected to multiple rounds of UN Security Council resolutions, while Trump and Kim traded personal insults and threats of war last year.

Kim Jong-un first N Korean leader to cross border into South since war

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    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kim's wife Ri Sol Ju and Moon's wife Kim Jung-sook attend a farewell ceremony at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018.

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    North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (2nd L) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (L) toast with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in (2nd R) and his wife Kim Jung-sook (R) during the official dinner at the end of their historic summit at the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27, 2018.

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    The leaders of North and South Korea agreed Friday to pursue a permanent peace and the complete denuclearisation of the divided peninsula, as they embraced after a historic summit laden with symbolism.

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    The leaders of North and South Korea agreed Friday to pursue a permanent peace and the complete denuclearisation of the divided peninsula, as they embraced after a historic summit laden with symbolism.

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    Upon signing the document, the two leaders shared a warm embrace, the culmination of a summit filled with smiles and displays of friendship in front of the world’s media.

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    Upon signing the document, the two leaders shared a warm embrace, the culmination of a summit filled with smiles and displays of friendship in front of the world’s media.

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    Among the many spectacles Friday's inter-Korean summit offered was the two Korea's first ladies' first-ever meeting with one another, and the seemingly instant bond they formed.

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    The two were holding hands as they left the Peace House after the dinner, and did not let go of each other's hands until they reached an outdoor property where they watched a special performance celebrating the historic summit together.

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    And the two first ladies, in spite of seeing each other for the first time, seemed to have bonded well after the spring-themed banquet event.

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    And the two first ladies, in spite of seeing each other for the first time, seemed to have bonded well after the spring-themed banquet event.

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    Kim, who is some 30 years Ri's senior, extended a warm welcome and took her to the Peace House, where the summit had been taking place since earlier in the day.

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    In the afternoon, they planted a memorial tree and watered it with water from rivers in the South and North, before walking into a small glen along the border and across the blue footbridge for their private tete-a-tete as the sun set.

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    Moon would visit Pyongyang in “the fall”, the two leaders said, also agreeing to hold “regular meetings and direct telephone conversations”.

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    After the summit, he pledged that the two Koreas will ensure they did not “repeat the unfortunate history in which past inter-Korea agreements... fizzled out after beginning”.

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    The two previous Korean summits in 2000 and 2007, both of them in Pyongyang, also ended with displays of affection and similar pledges, but the agreements ultimately came to naught.

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    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un crossed the border into South Korea for the first time on Friday. The two leaders were handed flowers by a South Korean boy and girl, residents of a village situated in the demilitarised zone.

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    Kim was greeted by the South’s president, Moon Jae-in ahead of the two Koreas’ first summit in more than a decade.

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    Kim said he felt a “swirl of emotion” as he walked the short distance to the border, wondering “why it took so long”, he told Moon later, at the beginning of their meeting.

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    The two leaders smiled and shook hands after which Kim Jong Un gestured to Moon they cross over to North Korea briefly, which they did for a few steps, then returned to the South, holding hands.

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    The two leaders smiled and shook hands after which Kim Jong Un gestured to Moon they cross over to North Korea briefly, which they did for a few steps, then returned to the South, holding hands.

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    A new period in inter-Korean history was beginning, Kim Jong Un said Friday at the opening of a summit with the South.

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    “I came here determined to send a starting signal at the threshold of a new history,” he told his host Moon Jae-in in the Demilitarized Zone, promising a “frank, serious and honest mindset”.

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    Kim wore glasses and his trademark black Mao suit, while the rest of the North Korean delegation appeared in military uniforms or Western attire.

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    Kim stopped to sign a guest book in the South’s Peace House before the two leaders met for a private discussion.

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    His message read: ""A new history begins now. At the starting point of history and the era of peace."

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    Kim escorted by his bodyguards as he makes his way to the Military Demarcation Line.

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    The two men went back to their separate sides for lunch, Kim driven in a black limousine and escorted by a dozen bodyguards in dark suits and ties jogging alongside the vehicle.

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    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in sat down at an oval table to begin their inter-Korean summit Friday, television footage showed.

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    Both leaders viewing the painting of Bukhansan at the Peace House

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    Walking on a red carpet rolled out for the two heads of state, the pair were met by a South Korean honour guard in historical costumes and playing traditional music.

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    The two are expected to talk denuclearisation and exchanges between the Koreas and also will plant a memorial tree at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

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Olympic thaw

Relations underwent a sudden turnaround as Moon used February's Winter Olympics in the South to broker talks between Washington and Pyongyang, before meeting with Kim in the DMZ last month.

The Trump-Kim summit is due in Singapore on June 12, with Washington demanding the North give up its weapons in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.

High-level talks were meant to take place in the DMZ Wednesday to discuss follow-up measures to the Panmunjom summit between Kim and Moon.

But KCNA called the Max Thunder drills "an undisguised challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration" taking place before the "ink on the declaration had a chance to dry".

"We cannot but take a step of suspending the north-south high-level talks scheduled on May 16 under the prevailing seriously awful situation."

In a statement, Seoul's unification ministry, which handles relations with the North, said it had received a message "in the name of chief delegate Ri Son Gwon that they were postponing the high-level talks indefinitely".

"Accordingly, today's high level talks won't take place and the government will react following consultations among relevant agencies," it added.

Thunderstruck

South Korea and the US are security allies, with each pledged to come to the aid of the other if attacked, and Washington has nearly 30,000 troops stationed in the South to defend it against its neighbour, which invaded in 1950.

The two-week Max Thunder exercise started last Friday and involves some 100 aircraft from the two allies, including F-22 stealth fighter jets, B-52 bombers and other fighters.

A US Air Force F-22 Raptor lands at Gwangju Air Base
Photo: AFP

"We have not heard anything from (the North Korean) government ... to indicate we would not continue conducting these exercises or would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month," Nauert said Tuesday at the State Department.

The exercises are "not provocative", the spokeswoman said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders added: "The United States will look at what North Korea has said independently, and continue to coordinate closely with our allies."

Washington has often deployed its military hardware in shows of strength to put pressure on Pyongyang -- last year, it sent three of its aircraft carriers to the waters off the peninsula simultaneously.

But on Tuesday, the Pentagon called the drills "defensive" in nature.

The North has consistently condemned military drills as preparations for invasion, and in the past has often responded with actions and provocations of its own in a cycle of events.

The major Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, usually around March, have often sent tensions on the peninsula soaring.

But this year, the allies delayed those drills until after the Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang as Moon sought to secure the North's participation at the Games.

In turn, envoys from Seoul said Kim told them he would "understand" if the exercises went ahead, which they did without incident.

Pyongyang has dramatically toned down its condemnations of its enemies in recent months.

But it has a long history of switching from aggression to engagement, or vice versa.

The day after the Panmunjom summit, KCNA condemned a US exercise to train for the evacuation of its nationals from the South, calling it "an act aimed to make war a fait accompli and incite atmosphere for it".

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