The ROK’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Wednesday expressed its regret over the DPRK’s unilateral cancellation of a planned high-level inter-Korean meeting and urged Pyongyang to resume meetings “immediately.”
North Korea on Wednesday notified the South Korean government of its decision to cancel the meeting at 0030 local time, citing the ongoing annual and bilateral training exercise Max Thunder between the U.S. and the ROK.
“It is regrettable that North Korea unilaterally postponed the South-North high-level meeting citing the annual joint ROK-U.S. air exercises as it does not correspond to the fundamental spirit and the purpose of the Panmunjom Declaration…,” MOU spokesperson Baik Tae-hyun said in a statement.
The two Koreas agreed to hold a high-level meeting on Tuesday afternoon and were set to discuss steps forward for implementing the Panmunjom Declaration, signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month.
“The government has a firm determination to faithfully implement the Panmunjom Declaration, and urges the North to come forward to the meeting immediately for peace and prosperity of the Korean peninsula,” he read the statement.
“To discuss the issues which the North raises, the dialogue between the South and the North should be held continuously.”
The unification ministry pledged to push for “necessary measures” to improve inter-Korean relations.
Baik said Seoul plans to send a notice to the North later in the day through the communications channel at Panmunjom, adding the channel is operating normally in spite of the cancellation.
The unification ministry earlier in the day said the North had informed them of the “indefinite postponement of the high-level meeting” at 0030 local time in a notice sent under the name of chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Ri Son Gwon, who was due to lead now-cancelled meeting.
Following that notice, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) issued a statement announcing that Pyongyang “cannot but take a step of suspending” the talks “under the prevailing seriously awful situation.”
During a news briefing on Monday, the MOU spokesperson said the North had not raised the issue of the Max Thunder military drills during inter-Korean talks.
The drills began on May 11 and will continue for two weeks.
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Wednesday confirmed the presence of the F-22 Raptors in the exercise, without sharing further details on the number of the fighter jets.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that eight F-22 Raptor stealth fighters have been mobilized during for Max Thunder and that F-22 Raptors were spotted near the Gwangju Air Base.
“F-22 [Raptors] were also sent last year (during the exercise Vigilant Ace), and models including them and participating countries have been changed every year,” the defense ministry said in a written statement.
Six F-22 stealth fighter jets were deployed on the Korean peninsula in December 2017 during the annual exercise Vigilant Ace: the first time that Washington had sent six F-22 Raptors to the South at the same time.
The South Korean military said the exercises would be conducted “as planned.”
“As the Max Thunder is the training to improve the skills of pilots, it is not the one to carry out the operational plan or offensive training,” the MND statement added.
One North Korea expert based in South Korea said Seoul “should read between the lines” of the DPRK statement, arguing that a news conference on Monday by the former high-ranking North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho at the National Assembly on Monday was the “essential reason” for the statement.
KCNA on Wednesday condemned Seoul for “allowing even human scum to brazenly hurl mud at the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and its system and play down the Panmunjom Declaration.”
“With regard to issues related to the leader’s dignity and the regime, it’s difficult for Pyongyang to stand for it,” Kim Dong-yub, a Professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES), Kyungnam University, told NK News.
Pyongyang was set to send a 29-member delegation including five representatives, entourage, supporting staff, and a press corp to the meeting, scheduled to be held at the Peace House in the truce village of Panmunjom.
North Korean vice minister of Railways Kim Yun Hyok, vice minister of Physical Culture and Sports Won Kil U, vice chairman of the CPRC Pak Yong Il, and vice chairman of the National Economic Cooperation Committee Pak Myong Chol were due to attend.
Seoul planned to dispatch the five-member delegation, with Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon as chief delegate.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: IMG_4857 by nknews_hq on 2016-07-02 23:35:30