Squawking from PyongyangNorth Korea suddenly announced it would put off high-level talks just a few hours before they were to take place. Early Wednesday, Pyongyang notified Seoul of its intention to not attend the meeting after finding fault with a joint South Korea-U.S. Air Force drill. During the April 27 inter-Korean summit in Panmunjom between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang did not criticize the ongoing Key Resolve joint exercise between South Korea and the United States, which was a larger drill than the current Max Thunder air exercise.
Then North Korea’s First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kim Kye-gwan, denounced Washington for demanding its complete denuclearization. That is an obvious hint at Pyongyang’s resistance to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program. The minister went so far as to raise the possibility of North Korea reconsidering the June 12 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
The North’s actions seem to be aimed at putting pressure on Washington to gain the upper hand in Kim’s summit with Trump. That is typical psychological warfare. But Seoul and Washington coped with it calmly and firmly. Our Ministry of Unification issued a statement that the North’s act of postponing the high-level talks citing the annual Air Force drill does not match the principle of the third inter-Korean summit. Defense Minister Song Young-moo met Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, and agreed to continue their joint drill.
The Max Thunder exercise aims to reinforce the capabilities of the allies’ pilots. In the annual two-week drill, which kicked off last Friday, approximately 100 aircraft are participating — a similar level to last year’s. A fleet of U.S. stealth F-22s were already deployed here.
But if North Korea continues to pick a fight over our joint drills, it could shake the foundations of our alliance. As long as South Korea has a combined forces system with the United States, the allies must conduct military exercises together. North Korea’s act of criticizing the drill does not make sense as Kim Jong-un didn’t object to U.S. Armed Forces stationing in South Korea.
This is not the first time North Korea has flip-flopped. When it had an uphill battle, it withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, conducted a nuclear test and fired missiles. We expect Kim to put all his promises to denuclearize into action this time. He should not invite unnecessary suspicions.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 17, Page 30