North Korea rebuffs U.S. offer of December talks, urges halt in military drills
By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said on Thursday it had turned down a U.S. offer for fresh talks, saying it was not interested in more talks merely aimed at “appeasing us” ahead of a year-end deadline Pyongyang has set for Washington to show more flexibility in the negotiations.
Kim Myong Gil, the North’s nuclear negotiator, said in a report carried by state media that Stephen Biegun, his U.S. counterpart who jointly led last month’s failed denuclearization talks in Stockholm, had offered through a third country to meet again.
Kim and Biegun met last month in the Swedish capital for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to re-open negotiations that have been stalled since a failed summit in Vietnam in February.
But the Stockholm meeting fell apart, with Kim Myong Gil saying the U.S. side had failed to present a new approach.
“If the negotiated solution of issues is possible, we are ready to meet with the U.S. at any place and any time,” Kim Myong Gil said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
But he called Biegun’s proposal a “sinister aim of appeasing us in a bid to pass with ease” Pyongyang’s year-end deadline. “We have no willingness to have such negotiations.”
North Korea has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, but the United States has insisted Kim Jong Un must dismantle his nuclear weapons program first.
The North Korean statement came after General Mark Milley, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, reaffirmed that the United States was ready to use the “full range” of its capabilities to defend South Korea from any attack.
Senior U.S. defense officials are gathering in Seoul for annual meetings as the two countries face intensifying threats from North Korea to stop joint military drills.
The United States is also seeking a greater financial contribution from South Korea for hosting American troops, while urging Seoul to revoke its decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan known as GSOMIA, which Washington worries would undermine trilateral cooperation.
Milley met his South Korean counterpart General Park Han-ki for the annual Military Committee Meeting (MCM) on Thursday.
Both sides discussed ways to maintain solid defense posture and a planned transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea, a joint statement said, even as they have scaled back joint exercises to expedite negotiations with North Korea.
Milley reiterated the “continued commitment to providing extended deterrence”, the statement said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was arriving in Seoul later on Thursday, ahead of a meeting with South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo for the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) on Friday.
Esper said on Wednesday he was open to changes in U.S. military activity in South Korea if it helped diplomats trying to jump-start stalled talks with North Korea.
Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official who led negotiations in the run-up to the Vietnam summit, said late on Thursday that he hoped Esper meant to completely halt the joint drills.
Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official who led negotiations in the run-up to the Vietnam summit, said late on Thursday that Esper meant to completely halt the joint drills.
“I assess his comment reflected Trump’s thinking and was part of the U.S. side’s positive efforts to revive the momentum for talks,” he said in a statement carried by KCNA.
“But if … the hostile provocation against us is carried out, we won’t help but responding with shocking punishment that the United States can’t afford.”
Pyongyang has decried the U.S.-South Korea exercises as hostile, even in the current reduced form. On Wednesday, it threatened to retaliate if the allies go ahead with scheduled drills in a rare statement from the State Affairs Commission, a top governing body chaired by leader Kim Jong Un.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea’s Sejong Institute think-tank, said the North’s statement appeared to be aimed at justifying future North Korean military actions.
Milley has hinted at raising the troop cost-sharing and Japan issues, though the joint statement did not address them directly.
Trump’s insistence Seoul take on a greater share of the cost of the 28,500-strong U.S. military presence as deterrence against North Korea has rattled South Korea. It could also set a precedent for upcoming U.S. negotiations on defense cost-sharing with other allies.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)