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Donald Trump says Kim Jong Un is open to talks after Korea war games ends

Bloomberg Washington | Updated on August 11, 2019 Published on August 11, 2019

US President Donald Trump (file photo).   -  REUTERS

US President Donald Trump said that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was open to more talks with the US once US-South Korean military exercises end, hours after Seoul reported the fifth ballistic missile test from its northern neighbour in about two weeks.

“He stated, very nicely, that he would like to meet and start negotiations as soon as the joint US-South Korea joint exercise are over,” Trump tweeted on Saturday about the letter, which was delivered two days ago. However, no timeline was offered.

Trump said that Kim had sent a long letter, much of it complaining about the ridiculous and expensive exercises. It was unclear if that characterisation of the exercises was Kim’s or Trump’s view.

Also read: Donald Trump says talks with South Korea under way over defence costs

In 2018, after his first meeting with Kim, Trump called the annual war games very provocative and said that ending them would save the US a tremendous amount of money. The US and South Korea have conducted drills, largely computer-driven according to National Security Adviser John Bolton, with fewer troops on the ground.

‘Talks with the US only’

Kwon Jong Gun, Director-General of the Department of American affairs in North Korea, said in a statement released by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency on Sunday, that Seoul failed to give a plausible explanation for the joint military exercise. He added that South Korea criticises the North’s regular measures for conventional weapons modernisation.

“With regard to our test for developing the conventional weapons, even the US President made a remark which in effect recognises the self-defensive rights of a sovereign state, saying that it is a small missile test which a lot of countries do,” Kwon said, according to KCNA. “Seoul should keep in mind that future talks with the US will be held strictly between the DPRK and the US, not between the North and the South,” he said.

In the past two weeks, North Korea has tested an increasingly sophisticated, hard-to-track missile system that could wipe out South Korean and Japanese cities — not to mention US forces based in both countries.

There’s a high chance of more missile launches from North Korea following the fifth ballistic test in about two weeks, South Korea said on Saturday.

South Korea’s military will conduct further analysis with the US on what it said were likely short-range ballistic missiles fired at 5:34 AM and 5:50 AM local time on Saturday. The projectiles flew 400 kilometers into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Trump’s personal diplomacy

Trump tweeted that Kim’s letter, which he had earlier described Friday as very personal, tied the continued missile tests to the joint exercises. “It was also a small apology for testing the short range missiles, and that this testing would stop when the exercises end,” Trump said. “I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un in the not too distant future!”

Trump and his team contend that diplomacy with North Korea remains on track, thanks in part to his personal rapport with Kim. They say Kim has kept his word by holding off testing a nuclear weapon or launching longer-range missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

Also read: Trump meets North Korea's Kim on DMZ between the two Koreas

The recent missile launches show the limits of Trump’s personal diplomacy. When Trump met Kim six weeks ago at the demilitarised zone between North Korea and South Korea, he predicted working-level talks would begin in two to three weeks. They have not began so far.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has hinted that the US might be sending a sterner message to North Korea privately, while suggesting that North Korea’s missile launches were just part of the diplomatic back-and-forth. Asked at a news conference on Tuesday if the launches sour the environment for talks, Pompeo responded simply, “No.”

Published on August 11, 2019
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