North Korea has criticised “misleading” US claims that President Donald Trump’s policy of maximum political pressure and sanctions are what drove the North to the negotiating table.
Mr Trump is due to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the coming weeks in a historical summit.
The North’s official news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman warning the claims are a “dangerous attempt” to ruin a budding detente on the Korean Peninsula after Mr Kim’s summit late last month with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
At the summit, Mr Kim agreed to a number of measures aimed at improving North-South ties and indicated he is willing to discuss the denuclearisation of the peninsula, though exactly what that would entail and what conditions the North might require have not yet been explained.
Mr Trump and senior US officials have suggested repeatedly that Washington’s tough policy towards North Korea, along with pressure on its main trading partner China, have played a decisive role in turning around what had been an extremely tense situation.
Just last year, as Mr Kim was launching long-range missiles at a record pace and trading vulgar insults with Mr Trump, it would have seemed unthinkable for the topic of denuclearisation to be on the table.
But the North’s statement on Sunday seemed to be aimed at strengthening Mr Kim’s position going into his meeting with Mr Trump. Pyongyang claims Mr Kim himself is the driver of the current situation.
“The US is deliberately provoking the DPRK at the time when the situation on the Korean Peninsula is moving toward peace and reconciliation,” the spokesman was quoted as saying. DPRK is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s formal name.
Mr Kim and Mr Trump are expected to meet later this month or in early June.
Mr Trump has indicated the date and place have been chosen and said he believes the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the Koreas might be a good venue. Singapore was also believed to be a potential site.
Numerous countries are being considered for the MEETING, but would Peace House/Freedom House, on the Border of North & South Korea, be a more Representative, Important and Lasting site than a third party country? Just asking!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
Experts are split over whether Mr Kim’s statement made with Mr Moon at the DMZ marks a unique opening for progress or a rehash of Pyongyang’s longstanding demand for security guarantees.
Sunday’s comments were among the very few the North has made since Mr Trump agreed in March to the meeting.
The spokesman warned the US not to interpret Pyongyang’s willingness to talk as a sign of weakness. He also criticised Washington for its ongoing “pressure and military threats” and its position that such pressure will not be eased until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons completely.
Before Mr Trump meets Mr Kim, Washington is hoping to gain the release of three Korean-Americans accused of anti-state activities. Mr Trump hinted the release of Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim was in the offing.
As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
There was no sign of an imminent release on Sunday, though the men had reportedly been moved to the capital.
The White House, meanwhile, has announced a separate meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Moon at the White House on May 22 to “continue their close coordination on developments regarding the Korean Peninsula”.