Donald Trump’s historic meeting with Kim Jong-un has been thrown into uncertainty as North Korea warned it could be cancelled over US military exercises and if Washington presses ahead with its one-sided demand for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal.
Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s deputy foreign minister, warned on Wednesday that Pyongyang was not interested in talks that would pressure the rogue state to “unilaterally” give up its nuclear programme, taking aim at “unbridled remarks” by John Bolton, the US national security adviser, and other high-ranking White House officials.
In a statement issued by the North Korean Central News Agency [KCNA], Mr Kim took issue in particular with Mr Bolton’s references to the so-called Libya model of nuclear abandonment and his statements on “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.”
He added: “This is not an expression of intention to address the issue through dialogue. It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister moves to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had [sic] been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.”
North Korea analysts have cautioned that the undignified, brutal death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, may be foremost on Kim Jong-un’s mind ahead of talks on denuclearisation.
Several also pointed to Mr Bolton’s fractious history with North Korea when he was appointed by Mr Trump in March.
In 2003, North Korea refused to participate in multilateral talks if Mr Bolton was present after he labelled then leader Kim Jong-il a “tyrannical dictator”, a memory which the regime invoked on Wednesday.
“We do not hide our feelings of repugnance towards him,” said Mr Kim, warning the Trump administration to remember the lessons of the past.
His remarks followed an unexpected announcement by KCNA on Tuesday that planned talks with South Korea had been postponed just hours before they were due to start because of the joint military drills.
America was also warned that “careful deliberations” would need to take place over whether to go ahead with Mr Trump’s planned meeting with Kim.
The reaction was to the ‘Max Thunder’ joint military exercises from America and South Korea that reportedly involve 100 war planes including B-52 bombers and F-15K jets.
A spokesman said there was nothing “provocative” or illegal about the military drills and insisted US officials would continue to prepare for the Trump-Kim summit.
The meeting was the culmination of a diplomatic drive from North Korea that saw Kim meet South Korean president Moon Jae-in last month.
Further talks were planned between both countries on Wednesday but just hours before the meetings North Korea announced it was pulling out because of military exercises.
“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,” the KCNA reported, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
“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.
“We’ll keenly monitor how the United States and South Korean authorities will react.”
Pyongyang also used its official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, to lash out at the US for voicing concerns over the North’s human rights record earlier this month, calling the criticism “unacceptable” and “extremely rude” for a dialogue partner.
However, the focal point of North Korea’s current ire is the joint US-South Korea military drills, which have long been criticised by Pyongyang, which has framed the moves in the past as preparations for an invasion.
Heather Nauert, the US State Department spokesman, said the military exercises were “certainly not provocative” and said Kim had previously said he “understands” the need for them to take place.