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North ‘cannot accept’ joint drills

Delegation warns of ‘backlash’ if two allies resume exercises
Mar 02,2018
When South Korean authorities told North Korea’s recent high-level delegation that Seoul and Washington intend to resume their postponed military drills after the Paralympics end on March 18, the officials from Pyongyang responded they “cannot accept” the exercises and forewarned heavy backlash, multiple sources from the ruling Democratic Party exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The sources, who were briefed about the series of closed-door meetings between local officials and the North Korean delegation by South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam on Wednesday, said Cho predicted that a meeting between Washington and Pyongyang at this point would be difficult.

“They [Cho and Lim] said it won’t be easy to find an entrance for talks between the two countries to resume because there’s such a large gap between their stances on the issue,” a Democratic Party source who attended the briefing told the paper.

“North Korea wants to engage in bilateral talks with the United States as a nuclear state, whereas the United States says it will not talk at all unless the subject is about North Korea’s denuclearization,” added the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

It was unsure whether the North Korean delegation elaborated what its “backlash” would be if South Korea and the United States resume their military drills, but Cho was quoted as saying during the briefing that none of the Pyongyang delegates said the North would suspend missile and nuclear tests as long as inter-Korean talks last.

The North Korean delegation, led by Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the North’s Central Committee within the Workers’ Party, visited South Korea last Sunday to attend the Olympics closing ceremony, staying until Tuesday to meet with President Moon Jae-in, Cho, Lim, National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon and head of the National Security Office of the Blue House Chung Eui-yong, among others.

As Seoul takes on the big challenge to broker a meeting between Pyongyang and Washington, it has found itself virtually fighting against time, analysts here say, because the “golden time” for any dialogue to be held is prone to last only until the end of this month, before the military drills resume in April.

After South Korea persuaded the Donald Trump administration to delay their annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises until after the Paralympics end on March 18, neither government has announced the new schedule, only saying that a joint announcement on the matter will be made someday after March 18 and before April 1, apparently to mollify the North for the time being.

But last Tuesday, Moon’s presidential special adviser on national security, diplomacy and inter-Korean reunification, Moon Chung-in, rang alarm bells when he said the allies agreed to hold their military exercises in the first week of April, indicating a month-long window for the South to find a breakthrough.

Analysts are looking towards the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Paralympics, which kick off next Friday in Gangwon. The North has yet to announce whether it will send another high-level delegation for the event, but both Koreas agreed in a working-level meeting last Tuesday that the North will send a delegation of 24 members, including athletes, members of its national Paralympic committee and support staff.

In an earlier working-level meeting, the two Koreas agreed for Pyongyang to send a cheerleading squad and arts troupe again, like it did for the Olympics last month, but the plan was recently dropped. The Unification Ministry said in a statement that the North had “taken into consideration various factors” for that decision, adding that the regime thought “they already contributed a certain degree” in improving inter-Korean relations.

But a North Korea expert with links in the regime said he heard the North decided not to send its cheerleaders due to their bad grade in public relations.

“South Korea has changed into a society that values creativity and pursues newness,” said Kang Dong-wan, an analyst on North Korean culture, “but the North Korean cheerleaders were all like puppets and moved in collective formation” which did not blend in with all the high-tech features South Korea rolled out for the Olympics.

BY HA JUN-HO, JEONG YONG-SOO AND CHUN SU-JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]