North Korea Accuses U.S. and South of ‘Inciting Military Tension’

GENEVA — A North Korean diplomat said on Tuesday that the United States and South Korea were “inciting military tension” by proceeding with joint military exercises this week, saying they would jeopardize the diplomatic efforts to reach a deal on the North’s nuclear weapons.

The statement from the diplomat, Ju Yong-chol, at the United Nations-backed Conference on Disarmament in Geneva came hours after North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles, the latest in a series of tests it has carried out since late July.

Mr. Ju said the deployment of F-35A stealth fighters and high-altitude reconnaissance drones for the military exercises, along with a port call by the American nuclear submarine Oklahoma City, were “hostile acts.” He said they showed that Washington and Seoul still regarded North Korea as an enemy, despite the commitment made last year by President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, to forge a new relationship between their countries.

As a result, “we are also compelled to develop, test and deploy the powerful physical means essential for our national defense,” Mr. Ju told the conference, a multilateral forum for negotiating arms control and nonproliferation agreements.

Mr. Ju’s statement made no reference to the missile launch carried out earlier Tuesday by North Korea, nor to three similar missile tests it has conducted in recent weeks. The tests appear to violate United Nations resolutions that bar the country from developing or testing ballistic missiles.

South Korean military officials said the North fired two missiles Tuesday morning that flew 280 miles before landing in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. From their trajectory and flight characteristics, they looked similar to two missiles fired by North Korea on July 25, the officials said.

North Korea has long objected to the joint exercises regularly carried out by South Korea and the United States, calling them rehearsals for invasion. The drills are expected to formally begin later this week, but some preparatory exercises have already been held, according South Korean officials.

Mr. Ju said on Tuesday that the joint exercises were “dramatically reducing our desire” for implementing agreements with the United States and would affect prospects for further talks. He said they were an “open denial and flagrant violation” of the agreements made by Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

He also said they would lead the North to “reconsider the major steps we have taken,” presumably a reference to its nuclear program. North Korea has not carried out nuclear or long-range missile tests since late 2017, around the same time it began a diplomatic outreach to South Korea and the United States.

Responding to Mr. Ju, the American ambassador to the Geneva conference, Robert Wood, said the United States was not seeking to exert military pressure on North Korea. He said Washington remained committed to the North’s denuclearization and looked forward to resuming talks.

President Trump ordered a scaling-down of last year’s joint exercises with South Korea after his first meeting with Mr. Kim, but the statement they signed makes no mention of the joint drills. A senior American defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that North Korea had not reciprocated with similar adjustments to its own military training, which the official said had raised the ire of officials in Washington.

The American defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, said on Tuesday that the Pentagon had no plans to scale back future exercises with South Korea.

“We need to maintain our readiness,” Mr. Esper told reporters on a flight to Japan.

Source: NYT

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