North Korea rebuffs US offer of December talks

General Park Han-ki, chairman of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, with his United States counterpart, General Mark Milley, during a welcome ceremony in Seoul yesterday. Senior US defence officials are gathering in Seoul for annual meetings. PHOTO
General Park Han-ki, chairman of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, with his United States counterpart, General Mark Milley, during a welcome ceremony in Seoul yesterday. Senior US defence officials are gathering in Seoul for annual meetings. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Pyongyang says it is not interested in talks aimed at appeasement ahead of deadline

SEOUL • North Korea said yesterday it has been offered a fresh meeting next month with the United States, but is uninterested in more talks aimed at "appeasing us" ahead of a year-end deadline Pyongyang has set for Washington to show more flexibility in negotiations.

Mr Kim Myong Gil, the North's nuclear negotiator, said in a report carried by state media that Mr Stephen Biegun, his US counterpart who jointly led last month's failed denuclearisation talks in Stockholm, had offered through a third country to meet again.

Mr Kim and Mr Biegun met last month in the Swedish capital for the first time since US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to reopen negotiations that have been stalled since a failed summit in Vietnam in February.

Prior to that meeting, Mr Kim Jong Un and Mr Trump held a summit in Singapore.

Last month's meeting fell apart, with Mr Kim Myong Gil saying the US side failed to present a new approach.

"If the negotiated solution of issues is possible, we are ready to meet with the US at any place and any time," Mr Kim Myong Gil said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. But he called Mr Biegun's proposal a "sinister aim of appeasing us in a bid to pass with ease" Pyongyang's year-end deadline. "We have no willingness to have such negotiations."

North Korea has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, but the United States has insisted Mr Kim Jong Un must dismantle his nuclear weapons programme first.

A top United States military officer reaffirmed yesterday that the US is ready to use the full range of its capabilities to defend South Korea from any attack, a joint statement after a meeting with officials in Seoul said.

Senior US defence officials are gathering in Seoul for annual meetings as the two countries face intensifying threats from North Korea to stop joint military drills and for the US to change its approach in denuclearisation talks.

 
 
 
 

The US is also seeking greater financial contribution from South Korea for hosting American troops, while urging Seoul to revoke its decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, known as GSOMIA, which Washington fears would undermine trilateral cooperation.

General Mark Milley, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, met his South Korean counterpart, General Park Han-ki, for the annual Military Committee Meeting yesterday.

Both sides discussed ways to maintain a solid defence posture and a planned transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea, the joint statement said, even as they have scaled back joint exercises to expedite negotiations with North Korea.

Gen Milley reiterated the continued commitment to providing extended deterrence, the statement said. "He affirmed that the United States remains prepared to respond to any attack on the Korean peninsula, using the full range of US military capabilities."

Defence Secretary Mark Esper visited Seoul yesterday, ahead of a meeting with South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo for the annual Security Consultative Meeting today.

Mr Esper said on Wednesday that he was open to changes in US military activity in South Korea if it helped diplomats trying to jump-start stalled talks with North Korea.

Pyongyang has derided the US-South Korea exercises as hostile, even in the current reduced form.

On Wednesday, it threatened to retaliate if the allies went ahead with scheduled drills, in a rare statement from the State Affairs Commission, a top governing body chaired by leader Kim Jong Un.

Dr Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea's Sejong Institute think-tank, said the North's statement appeared to be aimed at justifying future North Korean military actions.

Gen Milley has hinted at raising the issues of troop cost-sharing and Japan issues, though the joint statement did not address them directly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2019, with the headline 'N. Korea rebuffs US offer of December talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe