SEOUL/HONG KONG • North Korea's chief negotiator called the South Korean government "ignorant and incompetent" yesterday, denounced US-South Korean air combat drills and threatened to halt all talks with the South unless its demands are met.
The comments by Mr Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the country, were the latest in a string of inflammatory statements marking a drastic change in tone after months of easing tension with plans for denuclearisation and a summit scheduled with the United States.
Mr Ri criticised the South for participating in the drills, as well as for allowing "human scum" to speak at its National Assembly, the North's KCNA news agency said in a 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 said. It did not elaborate.
North Korea on Wednesday said it might not attend the June 12 summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in Singapore if the US continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal, which it has developed in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, to counter perceived US hostility.
A South Korean presidential Blue House official said the South intends to more actively perform "the role of a mediator" between the US and North Korea, but that goal has been cast into doubt by Mr Ri's comments.
Said Mr Ri's statement: "On this opportunity, the present South Korean authorities have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group devoid of the elementary sense of the present situation."
The statement did not identify the "human scum" by name, but Mr Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat to Britain who defected to the South in 2016, held a press conference on Monday at the South Korean National Assembly for the publication of his memoir.
In his memoir, Password From The Third Floor, Mr Thae describes North Korean leader Kim as "impatient, impulsive and violent".
Meanwhile the White House has distanced itself from the hardline stance of Mr Trump's top security adviser John Bolton, indicating his administration is committed to keeping next month's summit with Mr Kim on track. Mr Bolton has said the precedent for the North Korea negotiations should be Libya, which agreed in 2003 to box up its entire nuclear programme and ship it out of the country without conditions.
He was castigated by the North for trying "to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment", and the country threatened to walk away from the summit in Singapore.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday she was "not aware" of the administration advocating a so-called Libya model. "I haven't seen that as a specific thing," Ms Sanders said. "This is the President Trump model. He is going to run this the way he sees fit."
While Mr Kim has agreed to discuss "denuclearisation", he wants a phased approach and an end to Mr 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 denuclearisation thus far has been too inflexible to lead to a meaningful deal with North Korea," said Mr Mintaro Oba, a former US State Department official.
Asked later on Wednesday if the summit would go ahead, Mr Trump said: "We'll have to see."