Last month, the world watched as North Korean President Kim Jong Un crossed the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into South Korea and shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the first time since 1953 a North Korean leader set foot on South Korean soil.
This week we learned Donald Trump’s historic meeting with Kim Jong Un is scheduled to take place in Singapore on June 12.
But the world may have to wait just a little longer for peace on the Korean peninsula as North Korea has threatened to cancel the summit with Trump over joint US/South Korean air force drills.
North Korea has always regarded military exercises with South Korea as provocation and preparation for invasion.
There was hardly a word of dissent from capital Pyongyang during computer simulation exercises that took place up to last month. It was during “Max Thunder” drills begun Friday, though, when the North argued the drills potentially emperiled the historic meeting.
KCNA, North Korea’s Central News Agency, stated:
“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.”
Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Robert Manning III, said the exercises are part of a “routine, annual training program to maintain a foundation of military readiness.”
“While we will not discuss specifics, the defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed.”
North Korea disagrees.
“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.”
According to South Korea’s news agency Yonhap, Max Thunder drills involve about 100 warplanes, including eight F-22 fighters, B-52 bombers, and F-15K jets.
The Panmunjom Declaration is the agreement Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in signed last month to change the 1953 armistice to a peace treaty that would officially end the war and bring “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. Both leaders agreed to “cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict.”
US State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said:
“We have had no formal or informal notification of anything. What we have to go on is what Kim Jong-un has said before, that he understands and appreciates the importance to the United States of having these joint exercises. We will continue to plan the meeting.”
Former State Department Korea expert, Mintaro Oba, tweeted:
“North Korea threatening to cancel things to put pressure on Seoul or Washington is about par for the course.”
“The question is whether they’re willing to go so far as to go through with it, or whether they’re mainly trying to gain some leverage [and] test how much we want the summit.”
Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said:
“The North Koreans know how to make an explicit threat. By their standards, this is pretty circumspect. It could very well be a play for additional leverage or to see how the Trump team reacts.”
Regardless of threats to cancel the summit, satellite images suggest North Korea is proceeding with dismantling the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
Image credit: Kenneth Fowler, CNN.com