Mr Kim said that he has no interest in attending the meeting if it is a “one-sided” affair aimed at forcing the unilateral abandonment of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons – marking a return to an often used strategy of making sudden shifts in tactics when dealing with other nations.
“If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the… summit,” said Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs.
The historic first meeting between the leaders is set to take place on 12 June in Singapore, with the White House saying it is “hopeful” it will still take place. When asked if the move was a bluff after weeks of seemingly warm statements from North Korea, Mr Trump remained non-committal.
“We haven’t been notified at all, we’ll have to see. We haven’t seen anything, we haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens,” Mr Trump said from the White House.
In his remarks, Kim Kye Gwan specifically criticised the US national security adviser John Bolton, who has called for North Korea to quickly give up its nuclear arsenal. North Korea clashed with Mr Bolton when he worked under the Bush administration, calling him “human scum” and a “bloodsucker”.
“We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” Kim Kye Gwan said.
Hours before throwing doubt on the summit with the US, North Korea announced it was suspending high-level talks with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, scheduled for Wednesday. Pyongyang said that the annual US-South Korea military exercises that the two nations are currently engaged in – and which the North has long opposed – were a “provocation”, according to the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
In a pre-dawn dispatch, KCNA called the two-week Max Thunder drills, which began Monday and reportedly include about 100 aircraft, a “rehearsal for an invasion of the North and a provocation amid warming inter-Korean ties”.
They also linked it to last month’s summit between Mr Kim and Mr Moon, when the leaders met at the border in their countries’ third summit talks since their formal division in 1948.
“This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” KCNA said.
“The US will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-US summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.”
The US military said in a statement that this year’s drills are “routine” and “defensive in nature”.
Speaking on Wednesday morning, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the move from North Korea was not unexpected and that Mr Trump was prepared for “tough negotiations”.
“The president is ready if the meeting takes place. If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing,” Ms Sanders told Fox News in the wake of North Korea’s comments.
“We’re still hopeful that the meeting will take place and we’ll continue down that path but at the same time we’ve been prepared that these could be tough negotiations.”
She added that North Korea’s actions were “not something that is out of the ordinary in these types of operations”, adding that the president is “fully prepared and fully ready” for the meeting.
China has urged North Korea not to cancel the summit, with President Xi Jinping telling state broadcaster CCTV: “We support the improvement of North-South (Korean) relations, the promotion of dialogue between North Korea and the US, denuclearisation on the peninsula, and North Korea’s development of its economy.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China hopes the summit produces “substantial outcomes… Only in this way can we consolidate the alleviation of the situation and maintain peace and stability in the region”. Mr Trump plans to discuss North Korea halting its nuclear weapons programme.
Mr Xi, who was meeting with a delegation from North Korea’s ruling party at the time of his comments, has met with Mr Kim twice in the last month in what experts have said is a way of ensuring Chinese interests are on the agenda during the summit with Mr Trump. Recently, Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE was penalised by the US Commerce Department for violating sanctions by selling goods made with US components to North Korea.
However, Mr Trump stepped in and said he would work with Mr Xi to ensure jobs that were lost as a result of losing access to the American market are brought back to ZTE.
China has deep connections with North Korea – Pyongyang has long relied on it and Russia for basic economic needs along with a small number of other allies. However, China’s recent enforcement of strict United Nations sanctions on seafood, textiles, foreign exchange services and fuel are believed to have hurt Pyongyang.
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