North Korea on Tuesday threw into question an unprecedented summit between its leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump scheduled for next month, denouncing military exercises between South Korea and the United States as a provocation and calling off high-level talks with Seoul.
A report on North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency angrily attacked the "Max Thunder" air combat drills, which it said involved U.S. stealth fighters and B-52 bombers, and appeared to mark a break in months of warming ties between North and South Korea and between Pyongyang and Washington.
The KCNA report called the air drills a "provocation" that goes against the trend of warming ties.
"This exercise, targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula," the South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted KCNA as saying. "The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities."
Heather Nauert, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said it had no information from North Korea about threat to cancel the summit and that it continued to plan for that meeting.
"Kim Jong Un had said previously that he understands the need and the utility of the United States and the Republic of Korea continuing in its joint exercises," Nauert told a briefing. "We have not heard anything from that government or the government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month."
The Pentagon said the May 14-25 “Max Thunder” exercises were routine and defensive in nature. A Pentagon spokesman said the exercises would take place at Gwangju air base and would be "at a scale similar to that of the previous years."
There was no immediate comment from the White House.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States would agree to lift sanctions on North Korea if it agreed to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program, a move that would create economic prosperity that "will rival" that of South Korea.
Last month, Pompeo became the first serving U.S. official to meet North Korean leader Kim, when he visited Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for the meeting with Trump. He returned again to North Korea this month for a second meeting, after which Kim agreed to the release of three American prisoners.
A South Korean presidential adviser warned on Tuesday that an incremental North Korean approach to denuclearization at the June 12 summit would not be acceptable to Trump or the South Korean public.
South Korea's National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong said in early March, after meeting Kim, that the North Korean leader understood that "routine" joint military exercises between SouthKorea and the United States would continue in spite of a warming of ties. This was widely considered to be a major North Korea concession, though Pyongyang never publicly withdrew its long-standing demand for an end to the drills.
North Korea also suspended Wednesday's ministerial level North-South meeting which had been due to focus on plans to implement a declaration that emerged from an April 27 inter-Koreasummit in the border village of Panmunjom. The summit included promises to formally end the Korean War and pursue "complete denuclearization," the South's unification ministry, which handles ties with the North, said on Tuesday.
North Korea said on Saturday it would dismantle its nuclear bomb test site some time between May 23 and May 25 to uphold its pledge to cease tests.