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In measured tone, North slams joint military drills

May 30,2018
North Korea on Tuesday renewed its call for the United States and South Korea to halt their joint military exercises, but with less bellicose rhetoric in light of growing hope that a summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will happen after all.

In an editorial in the North’s official state newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea called on the United States to “act in accordance to the mood of negotiations” and cancel the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise, characterizing it as “the root of evil which heightens tension on the Korean Peninsula and provokes nuclear war.”

“The joint exercise issue is a touchstone that will determine whether the United States wants peace or seeks war,” the editorial read.

The United States and South Korea have held Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the world’s largest computerized command and control operation, every August. North Korea has routinely denounced the drills, calling them preparations for war, but last Thursday, Pyongyang went notably silent after Trump abruptly canceled his meeting with Kim, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, in response to bellicose statements by North Korean officials.

Apparently surprised by the unexpected cancellation, North Korea opted for a softer approach to bring the United States back to the negotiating table. Kim Kye-gwan, first vice minister in the North’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued a conciliatory statement the next day affirming the North’s “great regret” and willingness to talk.

Trump appeared to relent on Saturday, telling reporters in Washington that he was “still looking at June 12 in Singapore” for the summit. Working-level talks between U.S. and North Korean officials began on Monday.

With summit preparations back on track, North Korea has relapsed to criticism toward the United States, though its words are more measured and avoid the harsh language that usually decorates such condemnations.

“If the United States sincerely wants a summit,” the editorial read, “it should not play games by threatening and intimidating others.”

For the North, the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercises are particularly sensitive because they are scheduled to take place close to North Korea’s celebration of its founding on Sept. 9. Kim Jong-un may plan to use this occasion, the 70th anniversary, to tout his policy of rapprochement toward the United States and South Korea.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]