North Korea on Wednesday threatened to cancel the upcoming summit with the United States by denouncing Washington's call for its denuclearization, while suspending scheduled inter-Korean high-level talks over U.S.-South Korea military drills.
The North's abrupt shift in rhetoric, coming as U.S. President Donald Trump has urged Pyongyang to give up all its nuclear weapons, may suggest North Korea is trying to test Washington in the run-up to the historic summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, planned in Singapore on June 12.
"If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit," state-run media quoted Kim Kye Gwan, first vice minister of foreign affairs of North Korea, as saying.
DPRK is the acronym of the North's formal name in English, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Kim Kye Gwan is one of the key officials who have long been engaged in negotiations with the United States.
"It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers," the official was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency.
(A U.S. B-52 bomber flanked by fighter jets.)
"I cannot suppress indignation at such moves of the U.S., and harbor doubt about the U.S. sincerity for improved DPRK-U.S. relations through sound dialogue and negotiations," the official added.
On Wednesday, North Korea also cancelled the ministerial-level meeting with South Korea slated for the day, criticizing ongoing joint military drills carried out by Seoul and Washington for undermining a recent inter-Korean thaw.
"The DPRK-targeted drill across south Korea is an undisguised challenge to the Panmunjeom Declaration and a deliberate military provocation to the trend of the favorably developing situation on the Korean Peninsula," KCNA said.
At their summit last month, Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In issued the Panmunjeom Declaration calling for "complete" denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula as well as efforts to declare a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War.
As for the North Korea-U.S. summit, KCNA said Washington "will have to think twice about the fate of the DPRK-U.S. summit now on high agenda before a provocative military racket against the DPRK in league with the south Korean authorities."
Despite Pyongyang's threat to cancel the Trump-Kim meeting, the U.S. State Department said Washington continues to plan for what would be the first U.S.-North Korea summit.
"We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un," department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a press briefing in Washington.
In Seoul, the South Korean Unification Ministry issued a statement calling the North's decision to postpone the ministerial-level meeting scheduled for Wednesday "regrettable." It called on the North to agree to such a meeting promptly.
KCNA said earlier in the day, "We cannot but take a step of suspending the north-south high-level talks scheduled on May 16 under the prevailing seriously awful situation that a mad-cap north-targeted war and confrontation racket are being kicked up in south Korea."
(A F-22 stealth fighter.)
The ministerial-level meeting was to be held on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjeom to follow up on a series of agreements reached at the April 27 summit between Kim and Moon.
The South's Unification Ministry was informed of the meeting's "indefinite postponement" by the North at 0:30 a.m. local time, according to Yonhap News Agency.
The ministry had said the North Korean delegation would be led by Ri Son Gwon, head of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, while the South Korean side would be represented by Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon.
The United States and South Korea began a regular joint air exercise on Friday, reportedly involving about 100 aircraft such as the U.S. Air Force's F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 strategic bombers.
This year's "Max Thunder" training exercise, which runs through May 25, comes after large-scale annual military exercises between the two countries that were held from April into May.
Citing Kim's recent remark that he "understands" the importance to the United States of conducting joint exercises, Nauert said Washington and Seoul are running the exercise as scheduled.
The drills are "certainly not provocative" because they are legal and well-planned, she said.
Nauert added that the United States has been conducting similar exercises with allies and partners around the world for decades.
South Korean media said a record eight F-22s are taking part in the air exercise.
Yonhap, meanwhile, reported Wednesday that Seoul is considering cancelling the participation of B-52 bombers in the joint air force drills, citing a defense source, in an apparent move to take into account Pyongyang's latest announcement.