North Korea's top negotiator denounced the South Korean government as "ignorant and incompetent" Thursday, the latest in a series of recent inflammatory statements from Pyongyang after it suddenly canceled talks with its southern neighbor amid U.S.-South Korean combat drills.
South Korea is pushing to keep the planned summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump on track after Pyongyang warned it might call off the meeting over U.S. demands that it dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
But the latest comments from Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, cast doubt on Pyongyang's confidence in the South's ability to help navigate the summit preparation process.
"On this opportunity, the present South Korean authorities have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group devoid of the elementary sense of the present situation," Ri said, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
Ri blasted the South for participating in the military exercises and for allowing "human scum to hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] and its social system," the news agency reported.
"Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the North-South high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of South Korea," Ri said.
South Korea's National Security Council issued a statement Thursday pledging to "closely coordinate the countries' positions through various channels" among Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang to ensure the summit "be held successfully under the spirit of mutual respect."
The fate of the June 12 summit in Singapore was thrown into doubt Wednesday after North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said Pyongyang would have to "reconsider" whether to take part in the summit if the United States continued to demand that the regime unilaterally abandon its nuclear weapons arsenal.
Trump tried to reassure Kim on Thursday, telling reporters at the White House he would not apply the model used in Libya 15 years ago: disarmament in exchange for the promise of global economic integration.
"He'll get protections that will be very strong," the president said. He warned that the Libyan model "will take place if we don't make a deal, most likely, but I think Kim Jong Un is going to be very happy."
Trump's remarks about the Libyan model contradicted those of new national security adviser John Bolton, the architect of Libya's denuclearization, who said recently it should be the template for planned summit.
Trump also said the second recent meeting between Chinese President President Xi Jinping and Kim seemed to be behind North Korea's shifting positions on the summit.
"There has been a big difference since they had the second meeting," Trump said, adding, "President Xi could be influencing Kim Jong Un."
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at her daily White House media briefing Thursday, "We're certainly prepared to have the meeting, but if not, that's OK, too." She said in the absence of any agreements with North Korea should the summit take place, "we will continue the maximum pressure campaign" of economic sanctions against Pyongyang.
The North Korean statement was the third in the past few days that appeared to erode a period of improved relations between North Korea and South Korea and the United States. The high-level North-South talks, which the North canceled because of the U.S.-South Korean military exercises, had been scheduled for Wednesday.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters Thursday that there had been no discussions about curtailing drills, despite the fact that they jeopardize the planned summit.
"There has been no talk of reducing anything. There has been no talk of changing our scope," White said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert pointed out that Kim has said he understands and appreciates the importance of such exercises to the United States. She said that for now, the United States was proceeding with plans for the summit with Kim.
But others who have worked closely with the North over the years say there are hardliners who may want to sabotage diplomatic negotiations they believe could imperil the Kim dynasty.
Seoul said Wednesday's talks between the North and South were to have focused on demilitarization and plans to formally end the Korean War that occurred in the early 1950s.
Source: Voice of America