U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday reiterated his good personal relations with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, in remarks that follow a statement by the country’s foreign ministry warning it may rethink its participation in planned working-level talks.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, the President stressed his administration had made “tremendous progress” on North Korea, praised his “very good relationship” with Kim, and emphasized he was in no rush to make a deal.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “At some point — I’m in absolutely no hurry — we can probably do something that will be very good for them and for everybody and the world.”
Pompeo on Monday reiterated his hopes that those talks would go ahead soon, saying the U.S. was willing to be “a little more creative” with their DPRK counterparts.
But Tuesday’s statement, delivered by a spokesperson of the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), appeared to pour cold water on those prospects, at least for the time-being.
The comments, carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), warned that a planned upcoming joint military drill by the U.S. and South Korea could impact the country’s willingness to take part in the talks.
“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 said.
“If they become a reality, it will affect the DPRK-U.S. working-level negotiations.”
The statement also, notably, hinted that Pyongyang may withdraw from a self-declared moratorium on missile and nuclear testing, stressing its commitments to the U.S. are “not a legalized document inscribed on a paper.”
“The North Korean statement echoes some of the language Kim had to offer in April, after Hanoi, and surely they conducted tests in late-April and in May,” Ankit Panda, an adjunct fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said.
“This time, Trump’s note that he’s in no rush may similarly prompt action, given that the North Koreans are indeed under more time pressure on sanctions relief,” he continued.
“A good indicator that we might not see testing is if the working-level talks do indeed convene and the 19-2 Dong Maeng exercises are called off publicly.”
The U.S. appears to have ruled out a suspension of the “Dong-maeng” exercise for the time being, with a spokesperson for U.S. Forces Korea telling Reuters yesterday that “readiness remains the number one priority.”
“[We will] continue to train in a combined manner at echelon while harmonizing our training program with diplomatic efforts by adjusting four dials: size, scope, volume and timing,” they added.
The DPRK often typically reacts strongly to joint U.S.-ROK drills, having as recently as April warned of a “corresponding response” to a then-ongoing “provocative combined aerial drill” between South Korea and the U.S.
“North Korea has traditionally been sensitive to these kinds of exercises, in some years more so, in some years less, depending on what’s going on at the time,” Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said.
“I think they really want to emphasize reciprocity — i.e. we will no longer give free candy away unless the U.S. is willing to do something for us in return.”
Given the circumstances, one expert told NK News, North Korea was “unlikely to do anything excessively provocative.”
“If the U.S. and ROK really thought these exercises could seriously jeopardize the U.S.-NK negotiations, I am guessing they would have been postponed or effectively cancelled through ‘postponement,'” NK Pro contributing analyst Peter Ward said.
Mintaro Oba, a former State Department East Asia Desk officer, agreed, stressing that both sides were more likely seeking to build leverage ahead of face-to-face negotiations.
“The North Koreans are putting pressure on the United States, probing for how far Trump is willing to bend, and continuing to lay the groundwork to blame Washington if things go poorly,” he told NK News.
“Trump, for his part, has a vested domestic interest in framing diplomacy as an ongoing success, and his attitude reflects that,” he added. “In short, no one should be freaking out yet.”
The U.S. State Department on Tuesday also sought to downplay the significance of the statement, while suggesting that both Trump and Kim faced opponents to diplomacy within their own inner circles.
“Our position – we talked about this actually pretty extensively last week – is going to remain the same, that the President feels very confident,” spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told media at a regular press briefing.
“From our perspective, we would hope that no one would try to block – in their government or in our government – the ability for President Trump and Chairman Kim to make progress on the commitments that they made to each other in Vietnam,” she added.
Featured image: White House