Getting all hyped up about the upcoming meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump? Well, it may not happen.
Is North Korea back to its old ways?
In a surprise statement on Wednesday, Pyongyang said it would reconsider holding the summit if Washington insists on North Korea abandoning its nuclear arsenal.
The statement came hours after North Korea said it had cancelled high-level talks with the South originally scheduled for Wednesday.
Pyongyang has “made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the US,” the country’s first vice-foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan said, according to the official KCNA news agency.
“If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-US summit.”
The angrily worded statement has cast a shadow over the ongoing peace talks that have seen North and South Korea pledge to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and end their decades-long war.
The announcement also highlights just how far Trump and Kim still are from reaching a consensus ahead of their highly anticipated meeting in Singapore next month.
The statement is believed to have been made in response to US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s comment suggesting that North Korea could be pressured into handing over nuclear weapons like Libya did in 2004.
“It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers,” Kim said.
The Trump administration is pushing for complete and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea, although Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also hinted that the bottom line is for Pyongyang to drop its intercontinental missiles capable of hitting the US.
North Korea, on the other hand, has said that it has stopped carrying out nuclear tests, but the regime has yet to agree to dismantle its existing nuclear weapons.
“North Korea is expecting US to view it as an equal partner,” says Anwita Basu of the Economist Intelligence Unit. “The statement has made it clear: if you want us to give up nukes, then you have to stop the military threats against us.”
The hawkish talk ahead of the Trump-Kim summit may also be an attempt by Pyongyang to increase its bargaining power.
“It is a very strong warning against the US,” says Lim Eul-chul of Kyungnam University in South Korea. “North Korea may have found it unacceptable that what US is offering does not guarantee the survival of the regime.”
Still the enemy
In another KCNA report on Wednesday, Pyongyang attacked the ongoing joint military exercises between South Korea and the US, calling the drills a “provocation” to the peace talks.
Kim told South Korean officials in March that he understood that the joint military exercises would continue, but Pyongyang never officially withdrew its long-standing demand for Seoul and Washington to end the annual drills.
Analysts say that although Pyongyang sent friendly signals during its talks with Seoul, the communist regime is unlikely to be as accommodating when it comes to Washington.
Basu says Pyongyang has for years told its people that the US was the enemy, and Kim would need to justify to a domestic audience why he is meeting the leader of its long-time antagonist.
“Part of the messaging is to balance that out, saying that the US is still the enemy,” she says. “That’s why the June 12 talks are going to be a lot more difficult than the inter-Korean peace talks.”
Trump supporters have hailed the peace talks with North Korea as a major foreign policy achievement of the administration. A group of Republican lawmakers and governors this month nominated Trump for the Nobel peace prize.
It seems Pyongyang may not be keen on helping Trump win that award.
Additional reporting by Lee Jeong-ho.