North Korea cancels talks with South putting US summit in doubt

Pyongyang takes action after calling military exercises between allies a provocation

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in at the military demarcation line that divides their countries last month.  Photograph: Korea Summit Press Pool/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in at the military demarcation line that divides their countries last month. Photograph: Korea Summit Press Pool/AFP/Getty Images

 

North Korea has abruptly cancelled high-level talks with South Korea scheduled for Wednesday and placed a doubt over next month’s planned summit in Singapore between its leader Kim Jong-un and US president Donald Trump.

Delegations from North and South had been due to meet on Wednesday in the village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two countries.

But North Korea’s Central News said Pyongyang had no choice but to suspend the talks, calling ongoing US-South Korean military exercises a “provocation”.

In an ominous sign for the upcoming meeting between Mr Trump and his one-time foe Mr Kim, South Korea’s main news agency reported that North Korea had also threatened to cancel the June 12th summit with the US.

The US “will 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,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted North Korea as saying.

Addressing reporters shortly after the announcement, the spokeswoman for the US State Department said it had received no information from North Korea about plans to cancel the summit.

“Kim Jong-un had said previously that he understands the need and the utility of the United States and the Republic of Korea continuing in its joint exercises,” Heather Nauert said, noting that the exercises were legal and planned well in advance. “We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between president Trump and Kim Jong-un.”

The surprise cancellation of Wednesday’s meeting came less than 24 hours after Pyongyang had convened the talks, which aimed to build on the progress of the historic April 27th summit between Mr Kim and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in. Delegations from North Korea and South Korea had been expected to travel to the demilitarised zone.

The development comes after a period of unprecedented engagement between the US and North Korea. Last week, three US detainees who had been imprisoned in North Korea were released and secretary of state Mike Pompeo made his second visit to the North Korean capital in six weeks in preparation for next month’s summit.

Satellite images appear to show that North Korea has begun closing its nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri. The foreign ministry said that it would invite journalists to witness the closing later this month.

The so-called “Max Thunder” military drills are an aircraft-only series of drills conducted annually by US and South Korean forces, involving about 1,500 military personnel. About 23,000 American troops are stationed in South Korea and regularly partake in military drills with South Korean troops.

Mr Trump has staked his foreign policy reputation on the forthcoming summit with North Korea, welcoming the apparent thaw in relations between the two countries. Mr Pompeo said over the weekend that the US would provide economic investment to North Korea if the country signed up to denuclearisation, though he stressed that this would involve “complete verifiable irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea”.