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U.S., South Korea drills could undermine nuclear talks, Pyongyang says

By Elizabeth Shim
U.S., South Korea drills could undermine nuclear talks, Pyongyang says
Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump agreed to suspend U.S.-South Korea military exercises, North Korea's foreign ministry claimed Tuesday. Photo by Shealah Craighead/White House | License Photo

July 16 (UPI) -- North Korea warned Tuesday that U.S.-South Korea military exercises could impede progress in nuclear talks, while claiming U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to suspend the drills during his meeting with Kim Jong Un at Panmunjom.

A Pyongyang foreign ministry representative said on KCNA, the state news agency, the joint drills known as Alliance 19-2, planned for August, could affect the course of U.S.-North Korea negotiations.

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"If [the exercises are] carried out, it will affect the working-level talks of North Korea and the United States," the North Korean representative said.

The Kim regime is stepping up its demands despite significant changes in joint drills since 2018. U.S.-South Korea exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian has been reduced in scale, and U.S. strategic assets have not been deployed to the Korean Peninsula since Trump first met with Kim.

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The statement targeting U.S.-South Korea drills comes at time when Washington and Pyongyang talks are at an impasse, and Pyongyang could be seeking greater concessions.

South Korean diplomatic sources said the United States had recently proposed working-level talks, but the North Koreans did not accept the offer, Yonhap reported Tuesday.

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Working-level talks between the two sides, which were expected to take place within two to three weeks after the June 30 Trump-Kim summit, have also been delayed, according to the report.

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On Tuesday the North Korean foreign ministry also claimed Trump agreed at Panmunjom in June to "stop joint military exercises" with the South.

"The suspension of joint military exercises is a matter President Trump at the North Korea-U.S. summit in Panmunjom committed to in the presence of [the North Korean] foreign minister and the U.S. secretary of state," Pyongyang said.

North Korea has also demanded the easing of sanctions -- penalties against the regime that have been violated by Japan, Seoul's spy agency said Tuesday.

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South Korea's national intelligence chief Suh Hoon said at a parliamentary session banned cargo ships, including the sanctions-violating Rich Glory, Shining Rich and the Jin Long were permitted to dock at the Japanese ports of Naha and Noshiro, the Korea Times reported.

Japan had previously accused Seoul of violating North Korea sanctions.

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