Pyongyang condemns plans for combined drills

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Pyongyang condemns plans for combined drills

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday condemned South Korea and the United States’ plans to conduct combined aerial exercises next month, calling the act tantamount to throwing a “wet blanket” over the dwindling embers of U.S.-North Korea dialogue.

Kwon Jong-gun, a roving ambassador of the North’s Foreign Ministry, in an English-language statement said the “extremely provocative and dangerous” exercises again proved Washington is the leading force in the world harassing global peace and security.

“We have already emphasized more than once that the planned joint military exercise can block the DPRK-U.S. relations from advancing and compel us to reconsider the crucial measures we have already taken,” Kwon said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Our patience is nearing the limitations and we will never remain an onlooker to the reckless military moves of the U.S.”

The statement is only the latest in a string of public releases from top North Korean officials on the country’s ongoing denuclearization negotiations with the United States, testifying to the regime’s growing insecurity about reaching a deal before its self-imposed deadline for talks by the end of this year.

Kim Kye-gwan, a Foreign Ministry adviser and former first vice foreign minister, and former United Front Department Director Kim Yong-chol - both diplomats with experience dealing with Washington - delivered similar warnings in statements on Oct. 24 and 27 respectively, reminding the United States that the clock was quickly ticking down to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement over the North’s nuclear program.

Yet Kwon’s statement - which tellingly was published at around 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, around the beginning of working hours in the eastern time zone of the United States - stood out more stridently than these earlier remarks, particularly in that he alluded to the possibility the North may reconsider “crucial measures” that it had already taken.

This is likely a reference to the regime’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests that have been in place since the first U.S.-North Korea summit in June 2018, something which U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly touted as the greatest achievement of his engagement policy with Pyongyang.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s spokesperson David Eastburn on Wednesday dismissed the threat contained in Kwon’s statement, saying “we don’t scale or conduct our exercises based on North Korea’s anger.” While the allies’ Combined Flying Training Event scheduled for December would proceed as planned, Eastburn added that the joint drills would still allow “diplomats the space they need to have to open conversations with North Korea.”

To back up its ominous messages, North Korea last week conducted a test of what it called a “super-large multiple rocket launcher,” launching two projectiles into the East Sea in its 12th provocation this year.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency also told Seoul’s parliament on Monday that it is closely watching a possible submarine-launched ballistic missile test by the North, which would follow up an earlier test of such a weapon, known as the Pukguksong-3, on Oct. 2. While that test was believed to have been conducted on a sea-based platform rather than an actual submarine, signs have been apparent for months now that the regime is set to launch a new large-scale submarine that it first made public through state media in July.

The Sinpo-C submarine is believed to be able to launch nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, thereby advancing Pyongyang’s ability to conduct nuclear strikes undetected.

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