SEOUL, A senior North Korean official warned Wednesday that Pyongyang will reconsider the agreed-upon summit talks with the United States if it comes under continued pressure to "unilaterally" abandon its nuclear program.
Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan made clear that the communist regime is not interested in any nuclear talks in which it is coerced into giving up its nuclear arsenal, according to Pyongyang's state news agency KCNA.
"If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit," he said in English.
DPRK is the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
He urged Washington to join talks with sincerity, which would be met by a "deserved response" by the North.
Kim's remarks came hours after the North abruptly announced an indefinite suspension of inter-Korean talks planned for Wednesday, citing ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S.
Pyongyang also threatened to cancel the much anticipated summit talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump.
The U.S. earlier said that it continues to plan for the historic summit despite the regime's threat to withdraw. The two leaders are set to meet in Singapore on June 12.
Kim expressed displeasure with the U.S. bringing up previous denuclearization methods, including the one used for Libya.
He said that it is "absolutely absurd" to compare a country whose nuclear weapons program was in the initial stages with the North, which already possesses its own nuclear arsenal.
Saying that North Korea has already expressed an intent to make the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free, he reiterated Pyongyang's demand for security assurance, demanding the U.S. end its hostile policy and nuclear threats against its regime.
"We have already stated our intention for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States," he said.
He also made it clear that the North has no interest in a quid pro quo deal in which the U.S. provides economic benefits in exchange for the North giving up its nuclear weapons.
"The U.S. is trumpeting as if it would offer economic compensation and benefit in case we abandon nuke," Kim said. "But we have never had any expectation of U.S. support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future, too."
Experts dismissed the concerns that the North's changed tone might not be intended to roll back all the improvements in relations with South Korea and the U.S. that have been made in past few months. They see it as aimed at upping the ante and eventually strengthening its negotiating position ahead of its summit with the U.S.
"The North seems to be strongly clarifying its position with the cancellation of the inter-Korean talks followed by the harsh-worded statement that what it wants is nothing other than a security assurance from the U.S. for giving up its nuclear weapons," said Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University.
"It is not so much trying to withdraw from all talks as strengthening its leverage in the run-up to the historic summit," he added.
Woo Jung-yeop, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, a private think tank, said that the North's recent message might not be aimed at the U.S. or South Korea but at its own people, who might have complaints about the speed at which the North is moving toward rapprochement.
"Given all the seemingly positive mood that has been created in recent months and the flurry of preparatory talks obviously going on between the U.S. and North Korea, there seems to be no plausible explanation for the North abruptly turning to such harsh rhetoric," he said.
"It might be intended to soothe some people inside who might not want the fast-paced developments, possibly including its military, by citing the joint military drills as a reason for the suspension of inter-Korean talks or (it may be intended) to address grievances and concerns about risking too many compromises in talks with the U.S. by saying adamantly that it is not true," he added.
Source: Yonhap News Agency