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NK’s warning against joint drills aimed at gaining time for nuke talks: think tank

North Korea’s recent warning that a joint US-South Korea military exercise will hamper denuclearization talks could be an attempt to buy time to prepare for negotiations with the US, a state-run think tank said Thursday.

During a press conference, the Institute for National Security Strategy said Pyongyang is likely to take an uncompromising approach in the upcoming negotiations. Talks between the two countries have hit a deadlock after the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended without an agreement in February. 


Trump said that he had agreed with Kim to hold working-level negotiations within two to three weeks, when the two met at the border village of Panmunjom on June 30.

Instead of coming to the negotiation table, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday that carrying out the planned joint military exercise between Seoul and Washington would be breaking a “promise” that Trump made.

In a statement, it said it would “reconsider” its own commitment to discontinuing nuclear and ballistic missile tests, and called the joint military exercise a “rehearsal for war.” The US and South Korea are expected to conduct 19-2 Dong Maeng, a computer-simulated command post exercise, in August.

It is not rare for Pyongyang to criticize military exercises, but linking it to denuclearization negotiations appears to show that it does not intend to repeat the failure of the Hanoi summit, the INSS said.

The new team negotiating the nuclear deal with the US, expected to be led by First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, would be risk averse, after they saw their colleagues punished for the breakdown of the Hanoi summit, the think tank added.

Researchers at the state think tank are of the view that Pyongyang would want to buy time to come up with a new strategy to deal with the concept of freezing nuclear production, which the US has hinted is needed as the first step to denuclearization.

The US State Department has said that a freeze in nuclear production would be something it hopes to see at the beginning of denuclearization negotiations.

Over the US’ nuclear freeze idea, Kim may be able to make it appear a fruition of his diplomatic efforts, Choi Yong-hwan, director of the security strategy research office at the INSS said.

“It is a complicated idea -- freezing what and how it will be verified. But still, for Kim, it can be seen as a slight change in the US’ stance and he would be able to say this is what he had demanded,” Choi said.

Pyongyang appears to have reorganized its diplomatic team with the Foreign Ministry now leading diplomacy with the US and the United Front Department providing support, INSS said.

By Jo He-rim (