North Korea’s senior envoy for U.S. affairs renewed a threat to call off a planned summit with President Donald Trump and warned that Pyongyang could “make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined.”
In its most direct language aimed at Washington following a recent rapprochement between the two countries, Choe Son Hui, the North’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said if the June 12 talks were called off, the U.S. could instead face off with North Korea in a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
Ms. Choe’s statement, issued through official state media, called out Vice President Mike Pence, to whom she referred as “a political dummy.”
Ms. Choe’s release followed strongly worded statements last week from other senior North Korean officials aimed at U.S. national security adviser John Bolton and at the South Korean government of Moon Jae-in, who has pushed for dialogue with Pyongyang to avoid a nuclear standoff.
It also comes after a meeting at the White House of Messrs. Trump and Moon, who have both staked their hopes—and their credibility—on a successful U.S.-North Korea summit, which has been planned for June 12 in Singapore.
As recently as two weeks ago, the planned summit in Singapore was shaping up to be the high point following a monthslong bout of diplomacy between North Korea and the U.S. and South Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made two trips to Pyongyang to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while Messrs. Kim and Moon met for a triumphant summit at the inter-Korean demilitarized zone, where they declared an end to war.
In a sign of raised expectations for the summit, the White House Communications Agency earlier this week unveiled a commemorative coin to mark the coming summit between Messrs. Trump and Kim.
But in the last two weeks, a series of ominously worded North Korean statements has changed the tone. Last week, Pyongyang warned the U.S. and South Korea against conducting joint air force drills, and called on Seoul to muzzle defectors who were questioning the North’s motives in seeking detente.
About a week ago, a senior North Korean official said that Pyongyang wasn’t interested in a summit with the U.S. focused solely on denuclearization and accused Washington of trying to “impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq.”
Mr. Trump said in his meeting with Mr. Moon on Tuesday that he would call off his summit with Mr. Kim if the conditions didn’t work out, and put the odds of it continuing as planned at about 50-50.
“I don’t want to waste a lot of time, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to waste a lot of time. So there’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out. And that’s OK,” Mr. Trump said.
In an interview Wednesday before Ms. Choe’s comments, Mr. Trump said the U.S. and North Korea remained in contact about the summit.
“Right now we’re looking at it, we’re talking about it, and they’re talking to us,” Mr. Trump told Fox News. “We have certain conditions. We’ll see what happens. But there’s a good chance.”
Meantime, Mr. Pompeo said Wednesday that the denuclearization of North Korea was the U.S.’s top national security priority. In remarks before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Pompeo said that, during his two recent meetings in Pyongyang with Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader expressed his desire for economic growth and aid from the U.S. He added that the U.S. so far has “made zero concessions” to the North.
Ms. Choe, in her statement Thursday, took issue with an interview that Mr. Pence gave to Fox News earlier this week in which he suggested that the North sought the summit meeting with Mr. Trump.
She also criticized the vice president for bringing up Libya in the context of denuclearization—a sensitive subject for North Korea, after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, eight years after giving up Libya’s nuclear weapons. Mr. Pence said the Libya model would only come about if North Korea failed to denuclearize.
In her Thursday statement, published by the Korean Central News Agency, Ms. Choe called Mr. Pence’s words “unbridled and impudent” and said that “Pence should have seriously considered the terrible consequences of his words.”
“As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president,” she said.
Ms. Choe added that, if the U.S. continues to offend the North’s “goodwill,” she would tell Mr. Kim to reconsider the Singapore summit with the U.S.
“It is the U.S. who has asked for dialogue, but now it is misleading the public opinion as if we have invited them to sit with us,” Ms. Choe said. “We will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us.”
Michael C. Bender and Jessica Donati contributed to this article.
Write to Jonathan Cheng at firstname.lastname@example.org
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