North Korea said Thursday that it won’t give up nuclear weapons until the United States does, toughening its stance as the year draws to a close with no sign of progress in breaking an impasse in talks between the two sides.
The statement, carried on the state-run Korean Central News Agency, reinforced concerns that Pyongyang and Washington remained far apart on the definition of denuclearization despite agreeing to the general concept in their historic June 12 summit in Singapore.
“The United States must now recognize the accurate meaning of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and especially, must study geography,” KCNA reported.
References to the peninsula included South Korea, “where the United States has placed its invasive force, including nuclear weapons,” it said.
The United States removed tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in the 1990s, but it maintains about 28,500 servicemembers on the divided peninsula and more than 50,000 in neighboring Japan and Guam.
“When we talk about the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighboring the Korean Peninsula,” according to the statement.
Experts have warned the North may rekindle its demand that the U.S. withdraw troops from the South as the communist state considers them a threat.
Thursday’s statement didn’t mention the troops, but it was the latest in a string of rebukes that suggest the North is growing increasingly frustrated with the deadlock in diplomacy six months after President Donald Trump met with leader Kim Jong Un.
Last week, the North complained about new sanctions imposed by the United States against senior officials and warned continued pressure would “block the path to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula forever.”
The Trump administration insists it will maintain punishing measures against the North until it abandons its nuclear weapons program.
Meanwhile, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, visited the truce village of Panmunjom in the heavily fortified border area.
Biegun, who arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for talks, said Washington is reviewing the possibility of easing travel restrictions to facilitate humanitarian shipments to North Korea.
The impasse has been a setback for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has played middleman in an effort to maintain calm on the peninsula, which remains technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
Nuclear talks have reversed tensions that had spiked last year as the North conducted several missile and nuclear tests that demonstrated strong progress toward its goal of developing a weapon that could target the U.S. mainland.
Hopes peaked with the unprecedented U.S.-North Korean summit, but talks have since stalled as Pyongyang demands a reciprocal approach with rewards for steps already taken.
Earlier Thursday, Moon called on the South Korean military to increase its defense capabilities even as he sounded a note of optimism about improved relations with the North.
“This year, there have been many developments and changes. Until last year, the Korean Peninsula was on the brink of war amid tension and confrontation,” Moon said in a meeting, according to a transcript from his office.
“In just one year, the South and the North declared the end of confrontation on the Korean Peninsula and opened an era of peace through dialogue,” he said, while warning that “the peace is still temporary.”
“We must not let our guard down until the effort is finished,” he added. “Peace lasts when our military is strong.”
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