North Korea warned on Tuesday planned military manoeuvres by US and South Korean forces would put disarmament talks in peril, hinting it may resume nuclear testing if the drills go ahead.
Pyongyang said the United States was in violation of agreements between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un if it went ahead with the war games planned for next month.
“With the US unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justification to follow through on the commitments we made with the US,” the North’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
It was the first statement from Pyongyang on the negotiations since Trump and Kim agreed to their resumption at an impromptu meeting in the Demilitarized Zone in June, following months of deadlock.
The joint drills were held for years but scaled down to facilitate dialogue with the North after Trump’s historic first summit with Kim in Singapore last year.
“If the military exercise really goes ahead, it would affect the DPRK-US working-level talks,” an unnamed foreign ministry spokesperson said in comments carried by state news agency KCNA, using the official acronym for North Korea.
The official described next month’s drills as “clearly a breach” of a joint statement signed by the leaders in Singapore.
Pyongyang’s moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests was a commitment aimed at improving bilateral relations and “not a legal document inscribed on a paper”, the official said.
Trump and Kim’s latest meeting took place as negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington were at a standstill, following a rocky negotiation process brokered by Seoul after a thaw in tensions in early 2018.
During the encounter, Trump stepped into North Korean territory in the border village of Panmunjom, becoming the first US president to set foot on North Korean soil.
But following the Singapore summit, Trump announced the suspension of what he called Washington’s “very provocative” joint military exercises with South Korea.
Washington previously insisted on North Korea’s complete denuclearisation as a condition for lifting punishing US sanctions.
But failure to reach an agreement over sanctions relief and what the North was willing to give in return led to the collapse of the leaders’ second summit, which was held in February in Hanoi.