North Korea cancelled a high-level meeting Wednesday with South Korea and has thrown into question the fate of a historic summit planned later this month with the United States due to ongoing military exercises between Seoul and the US.
North Korea said it may reconsider holding a summit with the United States if Washington continues to unilaterally insist on North Korea giving up its nuclear programme, the North's state media said on Wednesday.
Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea's central news agency also said the fate of the US-North Korea summit as well as bilateral relations "would be clear" if Washington speaks of a Libya-style denuclearisation for the North.
The statement added US President Donald Trump would remain as a "failed president" if he follows in the steps of his predecessors.
The United States said it was moving ahead with preparations for the summit.
"We will continue to plan the meeting," Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. Nauert said Washington had received "no notification" of a position change by North Korea.
"We have not heard anything from that government or the government of South Korea to indicate we would not continue conducting these exercises or would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month."
Nauert denied that the exercises were provocative, saying: "Kim Jong-un has said he understands the importance to the United States that we conduct these joint exercises. They continue to go on."
The drills between the two allies' air forces were a rehearsal for invasion and a provocation at a time when inter-Korean relations were warming, Yonhap cited KCNA as adding.
Trump's Koreas diplomacy
Any cancellation of the June 12 summit in Singapore, the first meeting between a serving US president and a North Korean leader, would deal a major blow to Trump’s efforts to score the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency.
Trump has raised expectations for a successful meeting even as many analysts have been sceptical of the chances of bridging the gap due to questions about North Korea’s willingness to give up a nuclear arsenal that now threatens the United States.
The most recent language used by North Korea is a sudden and dramatic return to the rhetoric of the past from Pyongyang, which has long argued that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the US.
Hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War stopped with a ceasefire, leaving the two halves of the peninsula divided by the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) and still technically at war.
At a dramatic summit last month in Panmunjom, the truce village in the DMZ, Kim and the South's President Moon Jae-in pledged to pursue a peace treaty to formally end the conflict and reaffirmed their commitment to denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
But the phrase is open to interpretation on both sides and the North has spent decades developing its atomic arsenal, culminating last year in its sixth nuclear test – by far its biggest to date – and the launch of missiles capable of reaching the US.
The drive has seen it subjected to multiple rounds of UN Security Council resolutions, while Trump threatened it with "fire and fury" as he and Kim traded personal insults and threats of war last year.
Then relations underwent a sudden and dramatic turnaround as Moon seized the opportunity presented by February's Winter Olympics in the South to broker talks between Washington and Seoul.
In a dizzying array of diplomatic steps, the biggest so far was his meeting with Kim in the DMZ last month.
Suspended North-South meeting
High-level talks were meant to take place in the DMZ on Wednesday to discuss follow-up measures to the Panmunjom summit.
But in a statement, Seoul's unification ministry, which handles relations with the North, said it had received a message "in the name of chief delegate Ri Son-gwon that they were postponing the high-level talks indefinitely, citing the Max Thunder drill."
"Accordingly, today's high-level talks won't take place, and the government will react following consultations among relevant agencies," it added.
The United States said it was aware of South Korean media reports that North Korea has cancelled planned high-level talks with South Korea.
"The United States will look at what North Korea has said independently, and continue to coordinate closely with our allies," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.