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North Korea’s Kim oversees military drills after US and South cancel joint air exercises

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (COURTESY OF KCNA)
November 19, 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has overseen air force drills “under the simulated conditions of real war,” state-run media reported Monday, a day after the U.S. and South Korea said they were postponing their joint air exercises in a bid to boost stalled nuclear talks with Pyongyang.

The defense chiefs of the U.S. and South Korea said Sunday they would postpone upcoming military drills in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea.

The U.S. denied that the planned drills, which had already been scaled back from previous years, would have amounted to another concession to North Korea. The U.S. has already canceled, postponed or scaled back a number of its joint military exercises with South Korea.

But the report by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency that Kim had supervised airborne landing training of sharpshooter sub-units of the North Korean military’s Air and Anti-Aircraft Force, stood in stark contrast with the canceled U.S.-South Korean drills.

Kim “said that it is necessary to wage a drill without notice under the simulated conditions of real war” for “improving the preparedness” of North Korean military units and developing them into an “invincible army,” KCNA reported.

It did not give a date for the exercises, but KCNA reported Saturday that Kim had watched a “combat flight contest” of flight commanding officers in the Air and Anti-Aircraft Force. A photo in the state newspaper Rodong Sinmun showed him smiling amid pilots gathered around him.

The North views U.S. joint exercises with South Korea as a rehearsal for invasion, though Washington and Seoul say they are defensive in nature.

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told Kim, “You should act quickly, get the deal done” with the United States, and signed off “See you soon!” on Twitter.

It was unclear if that sign-off signaled that another meeting with Kim was in the cards. But North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, said in a statement Thursday that Stephen Biegun, Washington’s special envoy to the country, had sent Pyongyang a message through an unnamed third nation “hoping that the DPRK and the U.S. would meet again within December for negotiations.”

DPRK is the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

However, in a sign of the obstacles to another summit, the North’s Foreign Ministry has said that denuclearization talks with the U.S. would not be held unless Washington first lifts what it said were its “hostile policies” toward the Kim regime.

Nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and the North have effectively been deadlocked since working-level talks early last month ended with Kim Myong Gil saying they had broken off “entirely due to the United States’ failure to abandon its outdated viewpoint and attitude.”

In recent weeks, top North Korean officials had repeatedly criticized the U.S. over its position in the talks and over the joint military exercises with the South.

Kim and Trump have met three times. Their first meeting was at an official summit in Singapore in June last year, then in February this year in Hanoi, and more recently, in late June, at the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

Though surrounded by much fanfare, all three meetings have yielded few, if any, tangible results, critics say.

Supporters of the president, however, contend Trump’s unorthodox approach — he was the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader — has upended Washington’s outdated way of dealing with Pyongyang.

Kim, however, has expressed his displeasure with the direction of the negotiations, analysts say, by conducting a flurry of short-range missile tests since May, including weapons likely designed to evade missile-defense systems in South Korea and Japan.

Under U.N. Security Council resolutions, Pyongyang is banned from ballistic missile launches.


© 2019 the Japan Times