Pyongyang cancels meeting with Seoul over US-South Korean military exercises

North Korea Draws Line Against “Denuclearization”

After weeks of conciliatory gestures, North Korea switches to pressure on Donald Trump, cancelling a meeting with South Korea and threatening to call off the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Early Wednesday Pyongyang sent a note to Seoul, saying their meeting would not take place later in the day because of US-South Korean air force exercises. The North Korean regime then said the Trump-Kim encounter, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, would not take place if the US insisted on “unilateral nuclear abandonment”.

The moves abruptly checked signs of rapprochement between North and South Korea. Talks over the winter, including around the Olympic Games in the south, culminated in a historic meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Demilitarized Zone on April 27.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang had twice received US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It confirmed the suspension of nuclear testing and long-range missile launches, the most recent of which was in November, released three American detainees, and invited foreign press to observe the closure of a nuclear site.

But on Wednesday, Vice Foreign Kim Kye-kwan rejected US demands for “denuclearization”, “If the United States 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.” He said Pyongyang will never follow the path of Libya and Iraq, which met a “miserable fate” at the hands of “big powers”.

He singled out hardline National Security Advisor John Bolton, who assumed his post in early April, for criticism: “We do not hide our feelings of repugnance towards him.” Analysts speculated that the focus on Bolton is an attempt to turn Trump against his advisor to save the summit.

Hours earlier, State TV conveyed the regime’s announcement:

The South Korean authorities and the United States launched a large-scale joint air force drill against our Republic even before the ink on the historic inter-Korean declaration has dried. There is a limit to our good will.

We will be closely watching the attitude of the United States and South Korean authorities.

It said the air force exercises, named Max Thunder, were a “deliberate military provocation” that had violated the declaration of Kim and Moon on April 27. It described a mobilization of 100 aircraft in a demonstration of how to “make a pre-emptive airstrike” and “win the air”.

The statements caught the White House off guard, as officials debated whether Kim was just posturing or setting a barrier for the summit.

State Department Heather Nauert said:

Kim Jong-un had said previously that he understands the need and the utility of the United States and the Republic of Korea continuing in its joint exercises. They are exercises that are legal. They’re planned well, well in advance….

We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

“The defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed,” said Defense Department spokesman Col. Rob Manning.

Donald Trump, who had eagerly tweeted every positive development towards a summit and pondered about being given the Nobel Peace Prize, said nothing about the latest developments.

White House Eliminates Role of Cyber-Security Coordinator

The White House eliminates the role of cyber-security coordinator, despite global concerns about cyber-security threats and issues such as Russia’s interference in the 2006 US election.

New National Security Advisor John Bolton decided to phase out the role after coordinator Rob Joyce said last month that he is leaving. Tom Bossert, the Homeland Security official overseeing cyber-security, has also departed. The NSC will now put cyber-policy in the hands of two senior directors who have other responsibilities.

J. Michael Daniel, cybersecurity coordinator under President Barack Obama, commented:

At a minimum, this decision and the way that it’s being communicated send the wrong signal. Certainly I think that our adversaries could interpret that as a signal that this administration doesn’t take the issue as seriously, regardless of if that’s actually their intent.