Asia Pacific / Politics

'Don't test our patience,' North Korea tells U.S. as one-year anniversary of Singapore summit looms

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

In the latest in a spate of increasingly threatening warnings by North Korea, the country’s Foreign Ministry has urged the U.S. to “change its current method of calculation” in nuclear negotiations or risk turning last year’s Singapore joint declaration into a “mere blank sheet of paper.”

The statement by an unnamed ministry official carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) late Tuesday said the fate of the declaration that emerged from last June’s historic Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “will not be promising” if the United States “fails to carry out its obligation” and continues its “hostile policy” toward the country.

“It is regrettable to see that the United States has become ever more undisguised during the past year in its scheme to annihilate us by force while deliberately turning its face away from the implementation of the DPRK-U.S. Joint Statement and only insisting on our unilateral surrender of nuclear weapons,” the statement said, using the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The North said its stance “remains unchanged” and that it will “cherish and implement in good faith the June 12 DPRK-U.S. Joint Statement personally signed by the supreme leaders of the DPRK and the U.S.”

But, it said, whether the statement “will remain effective or turn out to be a mere blank sheet of paper will now be determined by how the U.S. would respond to our fair and reasonable stand.”

“There is a limit to our patience,” it ominously concluded.

The warning was the fifth published by KCNA since April 20 to take a similar tack on stalled nuclear talks with the U.S. Those negotiations have been deadlocked since the second Kim-Trump summit, in Hanoi in February, collapsed without a deal due to major differences over the scope of North Korea’s denuclearization and potential sanctions relief by the U.S.

On May 24, the North warned that the nuclear talks “will never be resumed” unless Washington halts what Pyongyang said were “hostile acts” and demands of “unilateral disarmament,” warning of a “fiercer” response if those demands continued.

The North has sought to heap pressure on the U.S. with tests of what the Pentagon said were short-range ballistic missiles on May 4 and May 9. Those tests ended a more than 500-day pause in such launches that began in late 2017.

Despite such test-firings being in violation of U.N. sanctions, Pyongyang has referred to them as “regular” military drills, and said that halting them would be “tantamount to a demand that the DPRK should give up its self-defensive right.”

Trump, who has repeatedly touted the halt of the missile tests as one of his top foreign policy achievements, has played down the significance of those launches, calling them “very standard.”

In an interview Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brushed aside the North Korean demands that the Trump administration soften its nuclear negotiating posture.

“I hope we get another opportunity to sit down with them and have a serious conversation,” Pompeo told The Washington Times.

Speaking at the end of a weeklong visit to Europe, Pompeo claimed that Kim had agreed to give up his nuclear arsenal at the Singapore summit.

“They need to do what Chairman Kim said that they would do,” Pompeo said. “That’s been our posture since the beginning. We’re happy to talk about the best way to achieve that. We’re happy to talk about what the right tools and mechanisms are so we can facilitate that.”

That claim has been disputed by experts, who say the vaguely worded pledge that emerged from the Singapore talks, in which the North said it would “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” was not a unilateral commitment to relinquish its nuclear weapons.

Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who worked on North Korean issues, said the North is using its Foreign Ministry to craft a narrative that Washington, not Pyongyang, is the recalcitrant partner in the nuclear negotiations.

“They are sending a message at a sufficiently high level to mean something but not so high that the regime can’t walk away from it,” Oba said. “It is a way of putting pressure on the United States and publicly defining a narrative where North Korea is acting in good faith and the United States is the obstacle to progress.

“The North Koreans have long been proactive and effective at using public statements to heighten their leverage,” he added. “That Washington is not is a huge detriment to our negotiating strategy.”

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