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Pyongyang’s patience wears thin

North Korea’s highest decison-making body slams combined drills

Nov 15,2019
North Korea’s State Affairs Commission, the highest decision-making body in the country chaired by Kim Jong-un himself, slammed the United States on Wednesday for its combined military exercises with South Korea, warning that its patience was at a breaking point.

In the first official statement put out by the body in two years, a spokesperson of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) said Washington and Seoul’s plans to stage joint aerial drills in December incited heavy public anger in the North and present an existential threat to ongoing denuclearization negotiations.

“The United States is not accepting with due consideration the year-end time limit that we set out of great patience and magnanimity,” the statement read. “Such moves of the United States constitute an undisguised breach of the June 12 DPRK-U.S. joint statement adopted on the basis of mutual trust and an open denial of the Singapore agreement which evoked great sensation worldwide.”

The DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The statement claimed that while Pyongyang respected Washington as a dialogue partner and ceased various acts that may provoke it, the United States “has not yet taken any corresponding step” to these gestures, and instead returned them with only “betrayal.”

The various combined military exercises carried out with South Korea this year, like Dong Maeng 19-1 and the drills to test Seoul’s readiness to take up wartime operational control, in addition to the planned aerial drills next month, put North Korea-U.S. relations “on the verge of a breakdown,” and has prompted the regime to “no longer remain an onlooker” to the United States’ “reckless act.”

With “no sufficient time left,” North Korea does not have “any reason nor any excuse for the other party to keep itself bound to its commitments,” the statement continued, and has “the full-fledged self-defensive right of a sovereign state to take countermeasures to contain” threats to its security and independence.

Such a warning, which the statement justified as a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s provocations, suggests the regime could abandon its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and return to a confrontational stance toward the United States if no settlement on its denuclearization is reached by the year’s end.

“The United States has to ponder over what it can do during the short last hours left,” the statement read. It will also “have to meditate on what influence the ‘new way’ we can be compelled to take will have on the ‘future of the United States.’”

The belligerent tone of the statement testifies to Pyongyang’s frustration over a persistent stalemate in the negotiations over its nuclear program, which have yet to resume since the breakdown of working-level talks in Stockholm early last month.

The statement is also the latest in a series of derisive commentaries from North Korean officials toward the United States. Last week, Kwon Jong-gun, a roving ambassador of the North’s Foreign Ministry, issued a statement slamming the U.S.-South Korean joint air drills as an act tantamount to throwing a “wet blanket” over the dwindling embers of dialogue.

Given that the State Affairs Commission is constitutionally the most important leadership organ in the country, the statement can be interpreted as effectively coming from Kim himself.

If the United States “doesn’t do anything to change the trend of the present situation,” said the statement with an ominous closure, “it will face a greater threat and be forced to admit its failure, being put into trouble before long.”

Just hours after the statement was published, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, while on a flight to Seoul for talks with Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, told reporters that Washington “will adjust our exercise posture, either more or less, depending on what diplomacy may require,” suggesting the United States is aware of the gravity of the North’s threats to end dialogue.

“I think we have to be open to all those things that empower and enable our diplomats to sit down with the North Koreans, alongside our South Korean partners, and move the ball forward to a negotiated settlement of the issues that we put on the table,” Esper added.

For South Korea, which has stressed the upcoming “Combined Flying Training Event” drill has been scaled down from the original Vigilant Ace exercises in order to support diplomacy with Pyongyang, the North’s commentary further escalates pressure as it scrambles to salvage its inter-Korean tourism venture at Mount Kumgang.

With Kim Jong-un calling on Seoul to remove all South Korean-built facilities at the mountain resort, where tours ran for South Korean visitors from 1998 to 2008, the South’s Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul is set to visit the United States on Sunday to persuade Washington to grant some form of exceptions for the joint project.

The primary impediment to inter-Korean tours going forward has been U.S.-led international sanctions on the North’s economy, which Washington has repeatedly pressured Seoul to respect. South Korea’s acquiescence to the U.S.-led sanctions regime has in turn soured its relations with the North, which has volubly voiced its misgivings about Seoul’s self-styled role as a mediator in the negotiation process.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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