North Korea suspends high level talks with South Korea over military drills with US

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North Korea has announced it is suspending scheduled talks with the South due to US-South Korean military drills, which it called a “provocation”. 

North Korea’s state-run Central News Agency (KCNA) said the so-called Max Thunder drills between the South Korean and US Air Force were simply a “rehearsal for [an] invasion of the North and a provocation amid warming inter-Korean ties”. 

“This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” KCNA said.

“The [US] will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-US summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.”

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said planning for Mr Trump’s June meeting with Mr Kim would continue as planned despite the warning from Pyongyang. 

The talks, scheduled for 16 May, were meant as a follow-up to the historic and opulent ceremony during which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in signed the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, and Unification of the Korean Peninsula during last month’s Inter-Korean Summit.

The signing took place in the neutral Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas and officially ended the war that began when the north and south split in a battle over communism and democracy that began on 25 June 1950.

Pictures of Mr Kim and Mr Moon holding hands and smiling made headlines as hopes grew for South Korea’s promise of a “sunshine policy”, or improved economic relations with the North. 

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The suspension comes just one month before the first scheduled meeting between Mr Kim and the US president, Donald Trump, on 12 June.The Singapore summit will allow both leaders to discuss North Korea halting development of its nuclear weapons programme.

Ms Nauert confirmed that North Korea had not said anything to the US about cancelling the Singapore summit as yet. 

Pyongyang had previously threatened to strike the US territory of Guam or Hawaii, and even the West Coast of the US with intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

In 2017, the two-week Max Thunder drills involved approximately 1,000 US military personnel and 500 South Korean personnel. Fresh drills were scheduled to take place during the 2018 Winter Olympics, which took place in Pyeongchang, South Korea from 9 to 25 February. 

Both sides agreed to delay the drills in an effort to encourage North Korea’s participation in the Games. 

This year’s drills will run from 14 to 25 May, the US military said in a statement, adding that the exercises are “routine” and “defensive in nature”. 

Athletes from both Koreas marched together during the opening and closing ceremonies and Mr Kim sent his sister, Kim Yo Jong, as a representative to meet with Mr Moon for the first time. 

Tensions between Mr Trump and Mr Kim appeared to ease during the Games, with the US vice president, Mike Pence, and White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, sent to South Korea as emissaries.

It was after the closing ceremony that a possible meeting between the leaders – who had for the previous year traded insults and branded each other “Rocket Man“ and “dotard” – was announced. 

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