NEW YORK – North Korea is ready to halt its nuclear tests if the United States (US) suspends its annual military exercises with South Korea, the North Korean foreign minister told The Associated Press in an interview in which he also warned that his country won’t be cowed by international sanctions.Just hours after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine in its latest show of defiance at the US-South Korea exercises, Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong defended the country’s right to increase its military readiness.
“The escalation of this military exercise level has reached its top level. And I think it’s not bad ? as the other side is going for the climax ? why not us, too, to that level as well?” he said in his first interview on Saturday with a Western news organisation, at the North Korean diplomatic mission to the United Nations (UN).
In response to the missile firing, the US State Department announced early Sunday it was restricting Ri’s travel to UN functions only.
“Due to the DPRK’s firing of a ballistic missile this morning, we have determined it necessary to limit the travel of the visiting foreign minister and his delegation to only those places necessary for them to conduct their UN functions,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
Ri held firm to Pyongyang’s longstanding position that the US drove his country to develop nuclear weapons as an act of self-defence. At the same time, he suggested that suspending the military exercises with Seoul could open the door to talks and reduced tensions.
“Stop the nuclear war exercises in the Korean Peninsula, then we should also cease our nuclear tests,” he said. “If the exercises are halted for some period, for some years, new opportunities may arise for the two countries and for the whole entire world as well.”
“If we continue on this path of confrontation, this will lead to very catastrophic results, not only for the two countries but for the whole entire world as well,” he said, speaking in Korean through an interpreter.
“It is really crucial for the US government to withdraw its hostile policy against the DPRK and as an expression of this, stop the military exercises, war exercises, in the Korean Peninsula. Then we will respond likewise.”
North Korea, which sees the US-South Korean exercises as a rehearsal for invasion, has floated similar proposals to Washington in the past but the US has insisted the North give up its nuclear weapons programme first before any negotiations. South Korea, too, is unlikely to agree to any such plan.