SEOUL — North Korea warned Tuesday that planned military exercises involving U.S. and South Korean forces would jeopardize proposed disarmament talks with Washington, and hinted it might respond by resuming nuclear and missile tests.
In a statement, the North’s Foreign Ministry accused the United States of violating the spirit of negotiations between President Trump and dictator Kim Jong Un by proceeding with military maneuvers scheduled for next month. At their first meeting, in Singapore last year, Trump said he was “stopping” major exercises with South Korea to avoid provoking Pyongyang.
The North said its moratorium on nuclear and missile tests was a commitment it made to improve bilateral relations, “not a legal document inscribed on paper.”
“With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justification to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S.,” it said.
Pyongyang last launched a long-range missile in November 2017, although it has tested shorter-range weapons since then. Its last nuclear test was in September 2017.
North Korea has long criticized U.S.-South Korean military exercises, viewing them as rehearsals for an invasion.
The allies have planned to conduct combined maneuvers, known as Dong Maeng, in coming weeks. North Korea said going ahead with the drills would affect plans for working-level talks with the United States.
The North’s statement appeared aimed at pressuring the United States, which has sought to revive diplomacy with Pyongyang since the second Trump-Kim summit, in Hanoi in February, ended without a deal.
The two leaders met again at the inter-Korean demilitarized zone last month and moved to get diplomacy back on track.
“What is going to happen is over the next two or three weeks, the teams are going to start working to see whether or not they can do something,” Trump said after the June 30 meeting, in which he became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea.
Since that summit, there hasn’t been any official meeting between working-level negotiators of the two countries, prompting worries about the sustainability of their diplomacy and the prospects of a deal.
“The U.S.-South Korean military exercises have already been toned down in scale and substance in order not to provoke North Korea,” said Shin Beom-chul, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “North Korea is trying to pick a hole in order to raise its leverage in working-level negotiations with the United States.”
The U.S. military command in South Korea said Tuesday that American forces would continue to train in a combined manner while adjusting the scale and timing of military exercises in concert with diplomatic efforts.
“As a matter of standard operating procedure, and in order to preserve space for diplomacy to work, we do not discuss any planned training or exercises publicly,” it said.
The United States wants North Korea to take concrete steps toward denuclearization before it is willing to ease sanctions that limit Pyongyang’s trade. Kim has said he wants to develop his economy — a goal that remains largely out of reach while his nation is shackled by sanctions.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped the North Koreans would come to the table for fresh negotiations, and he voiced hope that both sides might bring new ideas to help break the impasse.
“The president’s mission hasn’t changed: to fully and finally denuclearize North Korea in a way that we can verify,” he said.