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US hopes North Korea talks will go ahead despite Pyongyang threat

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The United States said Tuesday it hoped to hold denuclearization talks with North Korea, after Pyongyang warned that US-South Korean military exercises could affect their planned resumption.

The North had earlier Tuesday hinted it could even reconsider its moratorium on nuclear testing over next month’s drills, which have been held for years but were scaled down to ease tensions with Pyongyang.

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It was the North’s first statement on the talks since US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to a resumption of dialogue at an impromptu meeting in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas on June 30.

Responding to the North’s statement, the State Department said it remained upbeat over commitments made by Kim and Trump during their June encounter and at a February summit in Vietnam.

“From our perspective, we would hope that no one would try to block, in their government or our government, the ability for President Trump and Chairman Kim to make progress on the commitments they made to each other in Vietnam,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters.

“We look forward, of course, to resuming those negotiations and we hope to talk, always, so we can advance progress on these commitments.”

The South Korean government also said on Wednesday it expected the talks to go ahead and that it hoped they would result in “practical progress”.

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There are close to 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea.

Their annual drills with tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers have always infuriated the North — with Pyongyang condemning the manoeuvres as rehearsals for invasion.

Following Trump’s first historic summit with Kim in Singapore last year, the US president announced the suspension of what he called Washington’s “very provocative” joint military exercises with South Korea.

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But a smaller-scale version of the exercises were held in March, with more scheduled for August.

– ‘Not a legal document’ –

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On Tuesday, an unnamed North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson described the drills as “clearly a breach” of a joint statement signed by the leaders in Singapore and suggested Pyongyang may resume weapons tests in response.

“If the military exercise really goes ahead, it would affect the DPRK-US working-level talks,” the official said in comments carried by state news agency KCNA, using North Korea’s official initials.

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.

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“With the US unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the US as well.”

AFP / JUNG Yeon-Je The joint drills have been held for years but were scaled down to facilitate dialogue with the North after Trump’s historic first summit with Kim in Singapore last year

Washington has previously insisted on North Korea’s complete denuclearization as a condition for lifting punishing US sanctions.

At the Singapore summit, the two adopted a vaguely worded statement on “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” and agreed to “establish new US-DPRK relations”.

But the 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 in Hanoi.

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Tensions were raised in May, during the standstill in negotiations between Trump and Kim, when North Korea fired short-range missiles for the first time since November 2017.


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