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US pushes for talks as North Korea hints it may lift nuclear test moratorium

Nicola Smith
North Korea said it may consider lifting a ban on nuclear and ICBM tests - KCNA via KNS

Washington has said it looks forward to resuming disarmament talks with North Korea despite a threat by Pyongyang on Tuesday that it might call off its suspension of its 20-month nuclear and missile tests.

The latest missive by the North Korean foreign ministry pre-empted a planned joint US-South Korea military exercise in August, which it called “a rehearsal of war, aimed at militarily occupying our Republic by surprise attack.”

The statement said that Donald Trump, the US president, had pledged to suspend the military drills at his first historic summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore last year, which he reiterated at another unprecedented meeting of the two leaders last month on the border between the North and South. 

It pointed out that its own earlier declaration of a moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests was made to improve ties and “not a legal document inscribed on paper.”

It added: “With the US unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made,” stressing the military drill would also affect talks if it went ahead. 

Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump agreed to resume talks when they met last month Credit: Susan Walsh/AP

The statement bodes badly for breaking the deadlock in nuclear disarmament talks, even after Kim and Mr Trump agreed to resume working level negotiations after the US leader took the extraordinary step last month of becoming the first sitting US president to enter North Korea. 

At the time, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, predicted negotiating teams would get back to the table by mid-July. 

On Tuesday, the state department remained upbeat about the prospect of progress.  

"We would hope that no one would try to block, in their government or our government, the ability for President Trump and Chairman Kim to make progress on the commitments they made to each other in Vietnam," spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told a briefing, referring to the leaders’ February summit in Hanoi.

"We look forward, of course, to resuming those negotiations, and we hope to talk, always, so we can advance progress on these commitments," Ms Ortagus said, reported Yonhap.