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North Korea furious over US cancellation of nuclear talks

Back to the bad, old days so soon?

New US special representative to North Korea Steve Biegun speaks after being named by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, DC, on August 23, 2018.  CREDIT: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.
New US special representative to North Korea Steve Biegun speaks after being named by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, DC, on August 23, 2018. CREDIT: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.

Following Friday’s announcement that President Donald Trump had canceled the next round of talks over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Pyongyang on Sunday issued a blistering statement accusing the U.S. “double-dealing” and “hatching a criminal plot.”

According to Reuters, the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper ran a piece accusing U.S. special units stationed in Japan of staging air drills with the aim of infiltrating their capital.

“Such acts prove that the U.S. is hatching a criminal plot to unleash a war against the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and commit a crime which deserves merciless divine punishment in case the U.S. fails in the scenario of the DPRK’s unjust and brigandish denuclearization first,” read the piece.

It continued: “We cannot but take a serious note of the double-dealing attitudes of the U.S. as it is busy staging secret drills involving man-killing special units while having a dialogue with a smile on its face.”

The tone of the piece sounded like the far more acrimonious language used by the North Koreans, as well as President Trump,  prior to the June summit in Singapore, where Trump held a closed-door meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and heaped praise upon him for weeks after.

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On Friday, the president tweeted out that one of the main reasons behind the lack fo progress was his trade war with China, complicating things:

While it hasn’t been six months since Trump did a victory lap following his mysterious meeting with Kim in Singapore, it’s worth noting that he gave himself an off-ramp to failure in the press conference that immediately followed.

“I may be wrong. I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong,” said the president. “I don’t know I’ll ever admit that. I’ll find some excuse.”

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Trump’s decision to cancel the meeting was met with dismay in the nonproliferation  community. In a long thread of tweets, Darryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, accused the president of “zig-zagging” on his North Korea policy “in unhelpful ways.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July that progress was being made with Pyongyang was about to take off to North Korea in the coming week. If the trip were at all in question, then it seems the State Department, or at least its chief spokesperson Heather Nauert, were none the wiser.

Less than 24 hours before President Trump announced, via Twitter, that he was pulling the plug on the meeting owing to insufficient progress, Nauert stood jubilantly before the press at a Thursday briefing that followed the announcement of a new North Korean special representative, Steve Biegun.

She touted the unprecedented progress (which, up until Friday, was also the president’s talking point on North Korea), saying, “We have made significant movements over the past six months.

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In fact, we’ve had more conversations and consultations with the North Koreans in six months than we have in virtually the past 10 years. So we think we’re on fairly strong footing here.”

But, reporters pushed back, asking if there were there any steps North Korea had to take before this meeting could take place. After all, there had been reports of a continued development of the nuclear programs there, accounts the president brushed aside.

The Aug. 20 report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency clearly states that it has been “unable to carry out verification activities in the DPRK, its knowledge of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is limited and, as further nuclear activities take place in the country, this knowledge is declining” and that some of North Korea’s activities “are clear violations of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

Apparently, none of this was an issue, as Nauert cheerfully told the press that while she wasn’t sure if Pompeo would be taking a copy of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (a nod to one of President Trump’s many insulting nicknames for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) that she would be taking a Flat Stanley cut-out doll with her for sure.

“Do you think this is the first Flat Stanley to head to North Korea?” she asked the press.