By David Tweed
North Korea ramped up its criticism of South Korea and warned of a “rupture” in ties, after earlier lashing out at comments by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton as the White House tried to tamp down concerns that a June summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un may be derailed.
South Korean officials “have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group,” according to an English-language statement on Thursday from KCNA, North Korea’s state-run media outlet. Authorities in Seoul have “let human scum hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and its social system,” according to the statement.
“Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the North-South high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of South Korea,” the statement continued.
North Korea’s comments follow Pyongyang’s decision earlier this week to suspend talks with Seoul, citing long-planned U.S.-South Korea military exercises. That decision came with a warning to the U.S. to “think twice” about the fate of the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore on June 12.
The verbal attacks echoed the type of exchanges typical of North Korea before a recent thaw in ties with South Korea and the U.S. A year ago, Trump and North Korean leader Kim were trading personal barbs and threats of war. Tensions were eased after North Korea agreed to send a team to the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, and Kim’s invitation to meet with Trump was quickly accepted.
In a sign that the White House wants to keep the summit on track, officials distanced themselves from comments made by Bolton — appointed in March as Trump’s third national security adviser — about U.S. goals for talks. North Korea had accused Bolton of trying “to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment.”
In response, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday that she was “not aware” of the administration advocating the so-called Libya model, which Bolton had cited, in which North Korea would quickly ship his nuclear weapons program to the U.S.
“I haven’t seen that as a specific thing,” Sanders said. “This is the President Trump model. He is going to run this the way he sees fit.”
While Kim has agreed to discuss “denuclearization,” he wants a phased approach and an end to Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of international sanctions and military threats.
“The fact that the Trump administration seems to be showing some flexibility is a welcome development, because its posture on denuclearization thus far has been too inflexible to lead to a meaningful deal with North Korea,” said Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who worked on North Korean issues. “The worst thing the White House could have done was to escalate the situation.”
Financial markets, though, have largely shrugged off concern that talks between the U.S. and North Korea may be derailed. South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index closed down 0.5 percent on Thursday.
Asked on Wednesday if the summit would go ahead, Trump said, “We’ll have to see.” He said the administration was still pursuing denuclearization and that U.S. officials hadn’t yet been notified of North Korea’s concerns, which were expressed in a statement by First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan.
“We haven’t been notified at all,” Trump said.
The “Libya approach;; described by Bolton is particularly controversial in North Korea because leader Muammar Qaddafi was killed by NATO-backed rebels two years after the last remnants of the country’s nuclear program were delivered. “World knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq, which have met miserable fate,” Kim Kye Gwan said.
Both Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said the U.S. wants North Korea’s “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.” Pompeo, who’s traveled to Pyongyang and met with Kim twice in the past few months, has also indicated the U.S. may initially accept a deal that puts the American homeland out of danger.
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