North Korea says US must 'completely eliminate' its nuclear arsenal first as peace talks reach new low

Statement from Pyongyang says denuclearisation must include any US weapons that threaten wider region, and suggests Washington should ‘study geography’

Adam Withnall
Thursday 20 December 2018 09:18 GMT
Talks have stalled since Donald Trump met Kim Jong-un in June
Talks have stalled since Donald Trump met Kim Jong-un in June (AFP/Getty)

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North Korea has said it will not give up its nuclear weapons until the US first “completely eliminates” its own arsenal in the region, a bombshell demand that threatens to derail peace talks.

In a statement issued by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea set out clearly for the first time what it sees as the definition of “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, the vague goal agreed to by Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un at a summit in Singapore in June.

The US withdrew its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in the 1990s, but maintains an umbrella of weapons capable of defending South Korea and Japan.

Washington has already ruled out reducing this military presence as part of any deal. It suggested after Singapore that Mr Trump and Mr Kim had agreed that North Korea could give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for “security assurances” from the US.

But on Thursday North Korea accused the US of misleading the world over the outcomes of the June talks. It claims Pyongyang has always stuck to its old stance – that it needs nuclear weapons unless and until it no longer faces any American military threat.

“The United States must now recognise the accurate meaning of the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, and especially, must study geography,” the statement said.

“When we talk about the Korean Peninsula, it includes the territory of our republic and also the entire region of (South Korea) where the United States has placed its invasive force, including nuclear weapons. When we talk about the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighbouring the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said.

Statista (Statista)

Analysts said the statement could be an attempt by North Korea to show it will not re-engage in stalled peace talks until a concession is offered by the other side.

“The blunt statement could be an indicator that the North has no intentions to return to the negotiation table anytime soon,” Shin Beomchul, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told the Associated Press. “It’s clear that the North intends to keep its nukes and turn the diplomatic process into a bilateral arms reduction negotiation with the United States, rather than a process where it unilaterally surrenders its programme.”

Though some steps have been taken this year to improve relations between neighbours North and South Korea, there has been little progress on wider peace talks incorporating the US since Mr Trump and Mr Kim met.

The US president has talked about setting up a second summit with Mr Kim as soon as early next year, but will want to secure more concrete achievements in the meantime to avoid simply repeating the platitudes issued in Singapore.

The impasse has come as the US demands to first see clear evidence that Pyongyang is working towards giving up its nuclear weapons, while North Korea wants sanctions to be lifted beforehand.

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At a press briefing in Washington earlier this week, a US State Department spokesperson said he would not “split words” when asked about the key distinction of whether the promise of “denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” means only North Korea or the broader region.

“We are focused on the denuclearisation of North Korea,” Robert Palladino said. “We remain confident and we look forward to the commitments that Chairman Kim and that President Trump have made.”

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