North Korea on Tuesday said that a planned summit next month between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is at risk because of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, The Hill reported.
North Korea said it was ending talks with South Korea, and a confusing statement from the country's state news agency strongly suggested that the drills threatened the fate of the historic summit.
"The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities," North Korea's Korean Central News Agency said.
It added the drills between the South Korean and U.S. air forces are an "intentional military provocation" to undermine recent diplomatic talks.
The White House released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying it “will look at” North Korea’s comments as it moves forward.
“We are aware of the South Korean media report. The United States will look at what North Korea has said independently, and continue to coordinate closely with our allies,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also addressed the reports, saying there had been no talks between the United States and North Korea about the statement attributed to the North Korean news agency.
“I just saw that report as I was coming out here,” Nauert told a press briefing, adding that the military exercises are planned well in advance, and that Kim said previously that he understands the need and the utility of continuing the joint exercises.
“We have not heard anything from [the North Korean government] or the government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month,” she said, according to The Hill.
“What we have to go on is what Kim Jong Un had said before, that he understands and appreciates the importance to the United States of having these joint exercises. We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un,” continued Nauert.
Trump announced just last week that his historic meeting with the North Korean leader would take place on June 12 in Singapore.
The details of the meeting were finalized during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s second visit to North Korea.
At the conclusion of Pompeo’s visit, North Korea released three American citizens held by the rogue regime – a key condition to moving forward with talks, which Pyongyang hopes will lead to the end of U.S. sanctions.
U.S. officials recently said that North Korea had directly confirmed that Kim was willing to negotiate about potential denuclearization. Kim later announced himself that his country would close its nuclear test site and suspend long-range missile tests.
Trump on the weekend welcomed the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear test site, saying the move is "a very smart and gracious gesture".
On Tuesday, the Pentagon stressed in response to the report from North Korea that "the defensive nature" of the drills "has not changed."
"The purpose of the training is to enhance the ROK-U.S. Alliance's ability to defend the ROK and enhance interoperability and readiness," the Pentagon said, referring to South Korea, whose official name is the Republic of Korea. "While we will not discuss specifics, the defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed."
The drills have been a longtime aggravation for North Korea, which has previously condemned the exercises as acts of aggression, but recently indicated as part of the talks with South Korea and the United States that it would no longer oppose the joint military drills.