(CNSNews.com) – North Korea accused the Trump administration Sunday of misleading public opinion by characterizing peace overtures as a result of U.S. pressure, and warned the U.S. was putting the initiative at risk.
Meanwhile a senior Republican lawmaker voiced skepticism that Kim Jong Un is really willing to abandon his nuclear weapons, suggesting he is pursuing a “PR offensive,” aimed at easing sanctions and stoking divisions in the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
In its complaints Sunday, the regime raised two longstanding irritants – stepped-up U.S. criticism of its human rights record and deployment of “strategic assets” on the Korean peninsula – an apparent reference to the arrival of F-22 Raptor stealth fighters for a previously-planned, two-week joint exercise with South Korea due to begin later this week.
“The U.S. is deliberately provoking [North Korea] at the time when the situation on the Korean peninsula is moving toward peace and reconciliation thanks to the historic north-south summit and the Panmunjom Declaration,” a foreign ministry spokesman told state media.
“This act cannot be construed otherwise than a dangerous attempt to ruin the hard-won atmosphere of dialogue and bring the situation back to square one,” he said.
“It would not be conducive to addressing the issue, if the U.S. miscalculates the peace-loving intention of [North Korea] as a sign of ‘weakness’ and continues to pursue its pressure and military threats against the latter.”
At their April 27 summit along the DMZ, Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in embraced the goal of peace on a denuclearized Korean peninsula. That meeting came ahead of a planned summit between Kim and President Trump, expected late this month or in early June.
Trump said Friday a date and location for the encounter have been set, without revealing either. The White House has also announced that Trump and Moon will meet in Washington on May 22 to coordinate and discuss the upcoming Trump-Kim meeting.
North Korea’s customarily belligerent state media outlets have been restrained in their approach towards the U.S. in recent months, although there have been signs of frustration over criticism of the regime’s human rights record, and over U.S. officials’ statements about keeping pressure on Pyongyang until it gives up its nuclear weapons capabilities completely.
The question of what Kim expects in exchange for putting aside his nuclear ambitions remains a matter of keen speculation. The regime has long cited the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea and its extended deterrence in East Asia as evidence of the “hostile policy” it wants ended.
Last week in Seoul, a special advisor to Moon caused a stir with comments saying it would be hard to justify the continuing presence of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) should the two Koreas sign a peace treaty.
Moon’s office tried to tamp down the ensuing controversy, reiterating that USFK deployment relates to the U.S.-South Korean alliance and has nothing to do with any North-South peace treaty.
(The 1953 mutual defense treaty refers to obligations in the event of “an armed attack in the Pacific area,” and says nothing about a threat from North Korea.)
‘Prepare for the worst’
On Friday, National Security Advisor John Bolton met in Washington with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, and a White House readout said the two “reaffirmed that there are no plans to change” the two countries’ bilateral defense posture in South Korea.
On the same day, Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews that the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea “are not on the table – absolutely.”
At the same time, he noted the size of the troop deployment, and said that, “at some point into the future, I would like to save the money.”
House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said on Fox News Sunday that if the North Koreans “voluntarily, permanently, verifiably give up their whole nuclear program,” then the U.S. could talk about troop reductions.
But he defined himself as a skeptic.
“I think the history of these negotiations through several administrations shows that they tried to manipulate world opinion for their benefit,” he said of the North Koreans.
Thornberry said the regime may have concluded that it doesn’t need to carry out more nuclear or missile tests right now – “that they’re pretty confident with their capabilities” – but also sees the need for a PR offensive, in the light of sanctions, Chinese pressure and Trump’s “rather unconventional rhetoric.”
“And I have no doubt their hope is to divide us from our allies in South Korea, to ease some of the sanctions, to ease the pressure coming from China, so that they are not so isolated in the world.”
Thornberry said the U.S. must hope for the best but “prepare for the worst.”
“That means beefing up our ability to defend against missile attacks, modernizing our own nuclear deterrent, increasing our defense for ships and other military capabilities in that region.”