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09 Feb 2023, Edition - 2767, Thursday

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World News

North Korea threatens to cancel Trump summit



North Korea has said it may pull out of a summit with US President Donald Trump if the US unilaterally insists it gives up its nuclear weapons.

The highly anticipated meeting between Mr Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is due to take place on 12 June.

But in an angry statement, North Korea’s vice-foreign minister accused the US of making reckless statements and of harbouring sinister intentions.

He points the finger squarely at US National Security Adviser John Bolton.

“We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” said Kim Kye-gwan.

The groundbreaking agreement for Mr Kim and Mr Trump to meet came about as North Korea said it was committed to denuclearising the Korean peninsula.

Exactly what that would entail has remained unclear, but North Korea has invited foreign media to witness the dismantling of its main nuclear test site later this month.

But the BBC’s Laura Bicker in Seoul says the latest statement has thrown the basis for any denuclearisation deal – and indeed the summit itself – into doubt.

What does North Korea’s statement say?

Mr Kim’s statement on Wednesday, carried by state news agency KCNA, said that if the US “corners us and unilaterally demands we give up nuclear weapons we will no longer have an interest in talks” and “will have to reconsider” attending the 12 June summit.

He said North Korea “had high hopes” for the summit, but that it was “very unfortunate that the US is provoking us ahead of the summit by spitting out ludicrous statements”.

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Kim Kye-gwan is known to be highly respected in the North Korea leadership and has taken part in negotiations with the US before. There is very little chance his comments were not personally endorsed by Kim Jong-un.

Why the personal attack on John Bolton?

Mr Bolton’s appointment in March clearly angered North Korea.

The ultra-hawkish conservative is a firm defender of US power and a confrontational advocate for wielding that strength abroad. He’s said previously it would be “perfectly legitimate” to carry out a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.

In media interviews over the weekend, he suggested North Korea could follow a Libyan model of nuclear disarmament, a model many analysts say will have alarmed the North considering the fate of the Libyan leadership.

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Kim Kye-gwan said in his statement that this was “not an expression of intention to address the issue through dialogue”.

“It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister moves to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.

“We do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards [Bolton].”

Is it just Bolton?

No, there’s also a dig at Mr Trump.

Mr Kim warns that if he “follows in the footsteps of his predecessors” – refusing to engage with North Korea unless it gives up its nuclear weapons – “he will be recorded as more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors, far from his initial ambition to make unprecedented success”.

How do the military drills come into it?

Mr Kim surprised the world in January by indicating he wanted to end his country’s decades of isolation.

One of the things he agreed to was letting routine joint military drills between South Korea and the US go ahead.

The drills – which involve huge numbers of troops and war machinery – happen a few times every year and infuriate North Korea. It says they’re essentially a rehearsal for an invasion.

They were briefly postponed around the Winter Olympics in the South – which the North attended – but a fresh round began on Wednesday.

North Korea unexpectedly responded exactly as it has in the past – called them a “provocation”. They cancelled an important but procedural meeting with South Korea planned for later that day. The meeting was a follow-up from the historic South-North talks last month.

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Why has North Korea changed its tune?

Our correspondent in Seoul says they likely feel they have given up a lot without getting anything in return.

North Korea has suspended its controversial missile tests, promised no more nuclear tests and appears to have started dismantling Punggye-ri, its nuclear test site.

It has signed a denuclearisation pledge with South Korea – albeit a vague one – and It last week freed three Americans from prison.

But the US appears to be indicating that North Korea will get the economic support it wants only after it’s given up its weapons, something the North says is is unacceptable.

Wednesday’s angry announcement is North Korea setting out their terms for the talks, and holding the summit in the balance while they do so, our correspondent adds.

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