North Korea says US-South Korea military drills violate agreement to work towards peace

‘It is an anachronistic military move to openly hold war drills aimed at others’

Adam Withnall
Monday 12 November 2018 08:44 GMT
North and South Korean leaders Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in sign joint agreement on denuclearisation

North Korean state media have accused the US and South Korea of violating a recent agreement to work towards peace by carrying out small-scale military drills.

In the latest blow to progress in denuclearisation talks between Washington and Pyongyang, the Rodong Sinmun said the exercises were in breach of a joint statement, signed on 19 September by both North and South Korea, to halt all “hostile acts”.

Donald Trump had declared the suspension of all joint military drills with South Korea following his warm summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June. It was seen as a major coup for North Korea, which sees the exercises as a threat.

But relations have since cooled, and last week 500 US and South Korean marines began a set of drills that were among those suspended after the Singapore talks.

The two-week drills are “directly against the inter-Korean military agreement that promised to eliminate practical threats of war and fundamental hostile relations from the Korean peninsula,” an editorial in the official North Korean ruling party’s newspaper said.

Major war games also took place last week involving the American, Canadian and Japanese navies, the largest such exercises ever carried out in and around Japan.

These were also mentioned in the Rodong Sinmun criticism, which called it “an anachronistic military move to openly hold war drills aimed at others while the United States naval forces residing in Japan are also participating”.

A spokesman for South Korea’s defence ministry dismissed the editorial, saying they were defensive exercises involving small units under the size of a battalion.

But the row comes less than a week after North Korea called off a planned meeting between senior officials and the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in New York.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said North Korea cancelled the meeting “because they weren’t ready”. But a BBC report suggested the White House only found out the meeting wouldn’t be going ahead when the North Korean officials failed to make their flights out of Pyongyang.

The scrapped talks were mentioned for the first time in North Korean media on Saturday, when an editorial on the Choson Sinbo website repeated warnings that the country could reverse its paused nuclear weapons development if the US does not make more concessions.

If relations between Washington and Pyongyang continued to flounder, there was better news on Monday for diplomatic efforts to advance inter-Korean cooperation.

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South Korean officials said they had begun airlifting some 200 tonnes of tangerines from the southern island of Jeju to North Korea, with the transfer expected to be completed by the end of the afternoon.

The tangerines are being given to Pyongyang in return for the North’s gift of around 2 tonnes of pine mushrooms following the successful talks in September.

While Jeju is famed for its tangerine orchards, the pine mushroom is considered a delicacy across both Koreas and elsewhere in Asia, and are one of the North’s most prized regional products.

Separately, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Monday that it had approved a visit by seven North Koreans to attend an academic forum in South Korea later this week.

And Seoul announced on Saturday that the two Koreas had finished withdrawing troops and firearms from some of their front-line guard posts as part of their agreements to lower military tensions between the countries. The Koreas have halted military exercises along their border and have been clearing mines from a border area to conduct their first-ever joint search for the Korean War dead.

Additional reporting by agencies

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