North Korea said Sunday it won't even have contact with South Korea, let alone dialogue, unless Seoul gives a "plausible excuse" for its ongoing military exercise with the United States, calling it an "aggressive war exercise against" the North.
Kwon Jong-gun, North Korean foreign ministry's director-general of the department of American affairs, made the remarks in a statement released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), blasting South Korea over the allies' joint military drill that kicked off last week.
The statement came a day after Pyongyang fired two projectiles believed to be short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea, the fifth such launch since July 25, and as the allies were set to begin their exercise in full-scale later Sunday.
"Given that the military exercise clearly puts us as an enemy in its concept, they should think that an inter-Korean contact itself will be difficult to be made unless they put an end to such a military exercise or before they make a plausible excuse or an explanation in a sincere manner for conducting the military exercise," he said, according to the KCNA's English-language report.
Lashing out at the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae for holding emergency meetings over the North's recent series of missiles launch, he said the latest testings were "regular measures for conventional weapons modernization."
"With regard to our test for developing the conventional weapons, even the U.S. president made a remark which in effect recognizes the self-defensive rights of a sovereign state, saying that it is a small missile test which a lot of countries do," he said.
Kwon was apparently referring to U.S. President Donald Trump's earlier remark that described the North's missiles as "smaller ones" that many countries test.
He scoffed at Seoul having changed the name of the exercise from "19-2 Dong Maeng" to "South Korea-U.S. Combined Command Post Exercise," saying it would be "a miscalculation" to think the change "can alter its aggressive nature or that we would make it pass off quietly."
The computer-based "Combined Command Post Training" will be conducted for 10 days starting Sunday, which aims to better prepare the allies for the transfer of the wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington to Seoul and to enhance their strong military readiness, the JCS said.
The planned exercise was preceded by their four-day "crisis management staff training" that began Monday, which was a kind of lead-up, according to military sources. Neither South Korea nor the U.S. officially announced their implementation of the preliminary session.
The exercise is in replacement of the summertime Ulchi Freedom Guardian as part of a reorganization of major exercises aimed at supporting peace efforts with North Korea.
Different from previous cases, however, the allies did not name the planned training. It was widely supposed to be named "19-2 Dong Maeng," following a similar one launched in March under the name of the Dong Maeng exercise, which means alliance in English.
Also directly mentioning South Korea's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo by name, the official warned that continuing to keep Jeong at his post would be "a foolish act of putting out the fire by oil."
The North's sharp criticism of the South added to uncertainties over the prospect of improvements in inter-Korean relations that have made little progress in recent months, with Pyongyang seen trying to sideline Seoul in its nuclear diplomacy.
South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on Sunday spurned such worries.
"It's our shared understanding among the two Koreas and the United States that resuming the stalled denuclearization negotiations continues to be the top priority," a Cheong Wa Dae official told Yonhap News Agency.
"North Korea's recent moves appear to have been made in full consideration of the circumstances."
The official added that the latest letter from Kim to Trump should be seen as a positive sign.
"Inter-Korean economic cooperation cannot help but remain limited unless the issue of U.N. sanctions is resolved, and in that context, the Washington-Pyongyang talks cannot help but become a top agenda item," the official said.
In a separate report, the KCNA also said the same day that Saturday's launch was a test-firing of a "new weapon" under leader Kim Jong-un's guidance and that he expressed "great satisfaction" with the launch.
"Though we are to enter into a dialogue in future as the currents flow in favor of dialogue, they had better keep in mind that this dialogue would be held strictly between the DPRK and the U.S., not between the North and the South," Kwon said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Following the North's firing Saturday, Trump said Kim has expressed hope to resume the negotiations once the allies' military drill is over in a letter.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said Wednesday that he is hopeful Washington and Pyongyang will resume the talks "in the coming weeks." (Yonhap)