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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
A planned upcoming joint military drill by the U.S. and South Korea could impact North Korea’s willingness to hold planned working-level negotiations over its nuclear program, Pyongyang’s foreign ministry warned on Tuesday.
In two statements carried by the country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) slammed the upcoming 19-2 Dong Maeng exercise as a violation of last year’s DPRK-U.S. agreement in Singapore.
The aftermath of that agreement saw U.S. President Donald Trump promise an end to joint U.S.-ROK “war games” on the peninsula and came following the North’s pledge to stop missile and nuclear testing.
The U.S. and South Korea in June agreed to hold the scaled-down “19-2 Dong Maeng (alliance)” drill — a combined command post exercise intended to replace previous annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian — in August.
But the North on Tuesday warned that the drill stood to scupper plans for working-level negotiations between the two countries — agreed to at last month’s DPRK-U.S. summit at Panmunjom and expected to begin in mid-July.
“Various opinions over holding the DPRK-U.S. working-level negotiations have been internationally rife recently,” an unnamed spokesperson for the foreign ministry said in an answer to a question raised by a KCNA reporter.
“When working-level talks between the DPRK and the U.S. are on the calendar… the U.S is attempting to stage joint military drills ‘DongMaeng 19-2’ with South Korea, violating the commitment made at the top level,” the spokesperson added.
“If they become a reality, it will affect the DPRK-U.S. working-level negotiations.”
The North will decide on whether it will go ahead will those talks after “keeping an eye on the future moves of the U.S.,” they said.
A separate statement, issued by a spokesperson for the DPRK foreign ministry, condemned the drills in more detail, warning that Pyongyang’s commitments to the U.S. are “not a legalized document inscribed on a paper.”
“The U.S. tries to resume the joint military drills that were directly committed to being suspended at the top level, less than one month after the Panmunjom meeting between the DPRK and U.S. leaders took place,” it said.
“This clearly violated the basic spirit of the DPRK-U.S. joint statement and is flagrant pressure against us,” the statement continued. “We are facing it with caution.”
Also condemning a recent joint “Proliferation Security Initiative drill” between the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, as well as the recent deployment of “advanced war equipment” to the peninsula, the statement warned that Washington’s actions could result in Pyongyang withdrawing from negotiations.
“As the U.S. unilaterally does not fulfill its commitments, the reason for us to stick to our promise with the U.S. gradually fades away,” it warned.
Tuesday’s statement comes just a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly expressed optimism about prospects for working-level talks.
“I hope the North Koreans will come to the table with ideas that they didn’t have the first time,” he said. “We hope we can be a little more creative too.”
One analyst said the warning could, in part, be expected.
“On the one hand, it lends weight to the perspective that North Korea only wants the meetings with Trump but none of the negotiating, much less the denuclearization,” said Christopher Green of the International Crisis Group.
“According to this view, it feels a bit pre-ordained, as if North Korea never intended to participate faithfully in working-level talks.
“But on the other hand, Trump really did say in Singapore that he would end the military exercises, and even now, words have to have meaning,” Green said.
The “Alliance 19-2” drill is scheduled to take place from August 5 to 23, the Chosun Ilbo said in July, noting that Seoul is “is still nervous of upsetting North Korea and does not want to draw to much attention to the drill.”
The drill replaces the annual joint U.S.-ROK “Freedom Guardian” exercise and is intended to test South Korea’s operational and leadership capabilities of Combined Forces Command.
The Moon government has pursued the drill as part of its goal to take over full operational control of forces by May 2022.
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND)