SEOUL — North Korea will not give up its nuclear arms unless the “U.S. nuclear threat to Korea” is eliminated, North Korean state media said Thursday.
The statement carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency was a particularly stark indication that the two countries are still far apart on what “denuclearization” means on the Korean Peninsula.
In a historic summit in June, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to work toward “complete denuclearization” on the peninsula but offered no detailed agreements on how that would be achieved.
Since then, Trump has claimed progress in negotiations with North Korea. But talks appear to have stalled as Pyongyang has demanded the removal of international sanctions as a precondition for denuclearization.
The North Korean statement said “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” includes elimination of not only the North’s nuclear arms but also “the United States’ nuclear weapons and other invading forces in South Korea.”
“If we lay down our nuclear weapons first, that is not denuclearization, but putting ourselves in a defenseless state,” the commentary continued. “This will apparently shatter the balance of strategy of nuclear forces, as well as bring about a nuclear war.”
A number of analysts warned after the Trump-Kim summit that North Korea had little intention of giving up its weapons without substantial U.S. concessions in return.
“The statement shows that North Korea is not necessarily on the same terms as the U.S. on the idea of denuclearization. Pyongyang has constantly taken issue with the U.S.’s ‘nuclear umbrella’ over South Korea,” said Woo Jung-yeop, a researcher at South Korea’s Sejong Institute.
The United States withdrew its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 but continues to operate nuclear-armed bombers and submarines that can reach the Korean Peninsula from elsewhere, constituting a “nuclear umbrella.”
Woo said the provocative statement on state media can be seen as a typical brinkmanship tactic from Pyongyang as it seeks to raise the stakes ahead of a potential second summit between Trump and Kim.
After a July visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, North Korean media abruptly slammed what it called the United States’ “gangster-like” demands.
Trump has said he plans to hold the second summit in January or February, though he tweeted last week that he is “in no hurry” as the talks are going “just fine.”
However, Pyongyang still has not responded to Washington’s call to resume working-level talks after abruptly canceling a planned meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart last month.
The commentary on state media came as Stephen Biegun, Washington’s top envoy to North Korea, is on a four-day visit to South Korea to coordinate policies with Seoul.
Biegun said Wednesday that the United States plans to review travel restrictions that block aid shipments to North Korea, possibly a friendly gesture to resolve the stalled talks.
The latest salvo from North Korea also puts South Korea in an awkward position. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been pushing hard to keep the momentum in talks going and has repeatedly said Pyongyang is committed to denuclearization.