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North Korea derailed talks with a letter threatening missile launches

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Kim Jong UnReuters

  • President Donald Trump canceled Secretary of State Mike
    Pompeo’s trip to North Korea after the latter sent a
    “belligerent” letter to the administration warning that talks
    are in jeopardy and that the North may resume “nuclear and
    missile activities.”
  • The US is frustrated by North Korea’s failure to move
    forward on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and North
    Korea is irritated by Washington’s unwillingness to sign a
    peace treaty ending the Korean War.
  • Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis left the door open
    Tuesday for the possible resumption of joint war games with
    South Korea, stressing that there are currently no new plans to
    suspend additional drills beyond the large exercises canceled
    this year.

North Korea warned the US in a recent letter that talks are
“again at stake and may fall apart,” adding that it may resume
“nuclear and missile activities” if its demands are not met.

President Donald Trump unexpectedly canceled what was expected to
be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fourth trip to Pyongyang last
Friday due to insufficient progress on the denuclearization of
the Korean Peninsula. The decision was preceded by a
“belligerent” letter that criticized his administration for
failing “to meet (North Korean) expectations in terms of
taking a step forward to sign a peace treaty,” CNN
reported
Tuesday, citing people familiar with the
matter.

The receipt of the letter, which was sent by the former head of
North Korea’s spy agency, Kim Yong Chol, occurred just hours
after Pompeo’s trip was first announced last week, The Washington
Post reported Monday. “The exact contents of the message
are unclear, but it was sufficiently belligerent that Trump and
Pompeo decided to call off Pompeo’s journey,” The Post’s Josh
Rogin
reported
.

Pompeo’s last trip to North Korea ended with a message from
the foreign ministry characterizing meetings with the US as
“regrettable.” Those negotiations came amid troubling reports
from multiple outlets indicating that North Korea had yet to
suspend its weapons programs in keeping with its commitment to
denuclearize. 

In recent months, media reports have indicated that North
Korea is making infrastructure improvements at nuclear reactors,
research facilities, and missile development sites and increasing
the production of fuel for nuclear weapons. The North has also
reportedly halted the dismantlement of a key facility Kim
promised to destroy as a concession to Trump in Singapore.

Over the past few weeks, North Korean media has railed against US
attitudes and actions, especially the sanctions that continue to
hobble North Korea’s limited economy.

Speaking to the press at the Pentagon Tuesday, Defense Secretary
Jim Mattis refused to suggest that North Korea is acting in bad
faith, but he left the door open to the possibility of restarting
war games should North Korea’s behavior warrant such a step.

As you know, we took the step to suspend several of the
largest exercises as a good faith measure. We have no plans at
this time to suspend any more exercises,” he said at the
briefing. Emphasizing that his team will work closely with the
secretary of state, he explained that “at this time, there has
been no discussion of further suspensions.”

Mattis added that there are smaller exercises ongoing on
the peninsula at all times. “The reason you’ve not heard much
about them is [so] North Korea could not in any way misinterpret
those as somehow breaking faith with the negotiation,” he told
the media.

Pentagon officials told Business Insider that there are
numerous exercises happening all the time as South Koreans and US
personnel train together to enhance their
interoperability.

During the briefing, the secretary and Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said they would let
diplomacy lead, stressing that they did not want their comments
to influence negotiations. “We stay in a supporting role,” Mattis
noted.

Mattis said this would be a “long and challenging
effort.”

The recent moves and comments from both sides indicate that
there is growing frustration between Pyongyang and Washington.
For the time being, it appears that North Korea is resistant to
denuclearization and the US is hesitant to sign a peace treaty
ending the Korean War without those disarmament steps.

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