By Patrick Goodenough | May 16, 2018 | 4:17 AM EDT
A photo carried by a regime propaganda site shows Kim Jong-un’s meeting in Pyongyang last week with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)
(CNSNews.com) – A day after North Korea hinted that next month’s summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump could be in jeopardy, a senior official in Pyongyang said the regime is “not interested” in nuclear talks where it comes under pressure to “unilaterally” abandon its nuclear weapons.
In comments released through the official KCNA news agency, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said the regime was not interested in talks that are an attempt “to push us unilaterally into a corner and force us to give up nukes.”
Kim Kye Gwan served as North Korea’s nuclear negotiator during the ultimately ill-fated “six-party talks” a decade ago.
In his comments Wednesday, he also criticized U.S. officials – National Security Advisor John Bolton in particular – who have suggested that a North Korea denuclearization push should follow the “Libya model.”
It was preposterous, he said, to compare a country whose nuclear weapons program was in the initial stages – Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya in 2003 – with North Korea, which already possesses a nuclear arsenal.
Kim Kye Gwan also alluded to the fate of Gaddafi, as well as that of Saddam Hussein, referring to “sinister moves to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding of their countries to big powers.”
And he said North Korea does not hide its “feeling of repugnance” towards Bolton.
The diatribe from Pyongyang comes a day after the regime abruptly canceled scheduled North-South talks, and suggested that the Kim-Trump meeting – scheduled for June 12 in Singapore – could be at risk too.
In that statement, KCNA lashed out at joint U.S.-South Korean air drills now underway, calling them a “deliberate military provocation” that went against the trend of an improving situation on the Korean peninsula.
It said the drills, known as “Max Thunder” were a rehearsal for invasion of North Korea, and that it was calling off Wednesday’s talks in the face of the “mad-cap North-targeted war and confrontation racket.”
The U.S. “have to think twice about the fate” of the Kim-Trump summit, KCNA said.
Kim ‘understands’ joint military exercises must continue
The wargames cited by the regime have been conducted, twice a year, for the past decade – beginning three years before Kim succeeded his late father.
Described by Pacific Air Forces as the largest flying exercise held on the Korean peninsula, its aim is to increase the interoperability of the different aircraft used by the U.S. and South Korean air forces, “enabling the two allies to be battle-ready.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert recalled that Kim Jong Un is himself reported to have expressed understanding for the ongoing U.S.-South Korea military maneuvers.
“What we have to go on is what Kim Jong-un had said before – that he understands and appreciates the importance to the United States of having these joint exercises,” she told a briefing.
On the day that the plan for a Kim-Trump summit was first made public, on March 8, South Korean national security advisor Chung Eui-yong briefed Trump at the White House about his mission to Pyongyang several days earlier.
Chung told reporters afterwards that he relayed to Trump that Kim “understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue.”
Chung presented that understanding as a concession by Kim. It was accompanied by a pledge to refrain from nuclear or missile tests while talks take place.
Chung’s mission to Pyongyang laid the groundwork for a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Panmunjom in the DMZ on April 27, when in a declaration the two embraced the goal of peace on a denuclearized Korean peninsula.
In recent months, North Korea’s often belligerent state media has largely refrained from attacking the U.S.
But after the release of the annual State Department report on human rights, and the arrival in South Korea of the F-22 Raptors ahead of the Max Thunder exercises, the regime did warn last week that the U.S. was putting the diplomatic initiative at risk.
Still, Kim’s decision just days later to release three imprisoned Americans and allow Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bring them home was generally seen as a gesture of goodwill.
“Kim Jong-un did a great service to himself, to his country, by doing this,” Trump told a rally hours after welcoming the three Americans home.
In an interview shortly before taking up his post, Bolton said that if talks with North Korea were going to proceed, the U.S. should insist that they “will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago: how to pack up their nuclear weapons program and take it to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”
Bolton has referred a number of times since to the “Libya model,” recalling for instance that the Libyans had allowed U.S. and British observers to visit all their nuclear-related sites. (At the time, Bolton was serving as undersecretary of state for arms control in the George W. Bush administration.)
Bolton also acknowledged there were significant differences between the Libyan and North Korean programs.
Gaddafi agreed to give up his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs in December 2003, and over the following months equipment, centrifuges, documents and missile parts were shipped from Libya to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tenn.
But when NATO seven years later launched an airstrike campaign in support of Libyans facing a bloody crackdown by Gaddafi, North Korea pointed to the development as reason to hold onto its own nuclear program.
“The latest events in Libya teach the international community a serious lesson,” a foreign ministry official in Pyongyang said three days after the airstrikes began.
“The fact has been revealed clearly to the whole world that the so-called ‘Libyan option of giving up of the nuclear program’ is in reality a way of military takeover after disarming of the opposite party through its deception by sweet promises about a ‘security guarantee.’”
Seven months later, the Libyan dictator was killed by rebel fighters.