Exactly one week after Kim Jong Un released three detained American citizens and set the date of the historic North Korea/United States summit for June 12 in Singapore, he’s cancelling peace talks with new bestie South Korea and threatening to back out of his Trump meeting. Anyone else suffering from diplomatic whiplash?
At the end of April, Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader in six decades to set foot on South Korean soil when he made a day trip to the country to hold peace meetings with SK President Moon Jae-in. There was much pomp and circumstance and at the end of the visit, the two nations announced that they would sit down to discuss signing a potential peace accord that would officially end the Korean War (which has technically only been under a cease-fire since 1953). Kim even wrote in the guestbook at the Demilitarized Zone, “A new history begins now – at the starting point of history and an era of peace.”
Now it looks like Kim could be throwing all that diplomacy right out the window. The North and South were scheduled to begin official peace talks on Wednesday, but early that morning local time, the North Korean government sent a written statement cancelling the meeting. The statement said that they would not participate in diplomacy while South Korea and the United States were engaged in joint military drills in the area.
The statement is referring to “Max Thunder” — a US-SK military exercise (although it sounds like a character from The Expendables) which happens annually in South Korea and that the North has interpreted as a pointed show of force in the past. In another statement released later Wednesday, the North called the drill “provocative military racket,” an “undisguised challenge” and “deliberate military provocation.” That’s certainly a different tune than the peaceful one Kim has been singing the last few months.
The North also threatened to pull out of the scheduled summit with American leaders should the drills continue. The statement touched on a subject critics suggested would become more significant as denuclearization talks drew nearer – North Korea and the U.S. probably have very different views on what “denuclearization” actually means.
“If [the Trump Administration] only pushes us into a corner and forces us to give up our nuclear weapons unilaterally, then we will no longer take interest in such a talk and have to reconsider,” government official Kim Kye Gwan told North Korean state media. The statement confirms fears that the North will not be on board with dismantling their nuclear program without receiving something in return – either the U.S. also denuking (ha!) or something else.
Donald Trump has been saying since Kim first showed interest in meeting with him that he would be willing to “walk away” at any point if talks didn’t seem to be going his way. It seems Kim may have beat him to the punch on that one though. The White House as of Wednesday said that they hadn’t heard official word from the North Korean government and they were “caught off guard” by the announcement. When questioned about what this means, it seems the administration’s official position is the equivalent of a forced nonchalant shrug.
“If they want to meet, we’ll be ready to meet and if they don’t, that’s okay too,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday morning. During a photo opportunity with the president of Uzbekistan that afternoon, Trump gave equally vague answers about his thoughts on the potential of North Korea backing out of talks.
Reporter: Is the North Korea summit still on?
President Trump: "We haven't been notified at all. We'll have to see. We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything. We will see what happens." pic.twitter.com/NZTvoipWzN
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 16, 2018
“We haven’t been notified at all, we’ll have to see,” he said, “We haven’t seen anything. We haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens.”