Ju Yong-chol, a North Korean diplomat in the Swiss city of Geneva, made the remarks during an address to the United Nations (UN)-sponsored Conference on Disarmament, saying North Korea would have to “reconsider the major steps we have taken [as goodwill gestures] so far.” Pyongyang is angered by the joint military exercises by the US and its ally South Korea, which began in the region on Monday, saying that such drills violate agreements reached with US President Donald Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in.
While the main drills will begin on August 11, low-key preparations have already started. The US has deployed advanced F-35 strike fighters to South Korea.
The North Korean official also said that such provocative military activities compelled North Korea to “develop, test and deploy the powerful physical means essential for our national defense.” In the early hours of Tuesday, Pyongyang reportedly fired two “unidentified projectiles” seawards, while warning that it could take a “new road” if Seoul and Washington kept militarizing the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang has undertaken several such measures since June 30, when Trump briefly met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the border separating the two Koreas and became the first American president to take several steps beyond the Demilitarization Zone into the North.
The American president has played down Pyongyang’s earlier tests by saying they do not break any of the agreements he had with Kim. The North, currently under several rounds of crippling sanctions by the UN and the US over its nuclear and missile programs, put a unilateral halt to its missile and nuclear tests shortly before a diplomatic thaw began between Pyongyang and Seoul in early 2018.
That thaw later led to two summits between Trump and Kim to discuss the demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula, the first of which was held in Singapore in June last year and the second in Vietnam in February this year.
The Singapore summit made little progress, mainly because Washington refuses to remove its harsh sanctions on the North. The second one ended in failure as Trump abruptly walked away from the summit. Following the failure of the Vietnam summit, Pyongyang warned that it was considering ending talks on denuclearization and resuming its nuclear and missile tests over what it described as “the gangster-like stand” of Washington.
The US has so far refused to offer any sanctions relief in return for several unilateral steps already taken by North Korea. But Pyongyang has demolished at least one nuclear test site and agreed to allow international inspectors into a missile engine test facility.