North Korea denounces US two years after Singapore summit

by Sebastien BERGER
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US President Donald Trump meets North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un at the start of their historic June 2018 summit in Singapore

North Korea criticised Donald Trump in a stinging denunciation of the United States on Friday, the second anniversary of a landmark summit in Singapore where the US president shook hands with leader Kim Jong Un.

It was the latest in a series of vitriolic statements from Pyongyang aimed at both Washington and Seoul, and came a day after the North implicitly threatened to disrupt November's election if the US did not stay out of inter-Korean affairs.

In recent days, Pyongyang has excoriated the South over defectors launching leaflets criticising Kim into the North and announced it was cutting all official communication links with Seoul.

Friday's broadside contained some of the harshest criticism Pyongyang has sent Washington's way in recent months, and casts doubt over the future of the two sides' long-stalled nuclear talks process.

In the onslaught, the North's foreign minister Ri Son Gwon accused Washington of hypocrisy and seeking regime change, saying that the hopes of 2018 had "faded away into a dark nightmare".

Trump and Kim were all smiles in front of the world's cameras in Singapore as a North Korean leader met a sitting US president for the first time, and afterwards Trump proclaimed on Twitter that "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

But a second meeting in Hanoi last year to put meat on the bones of the North's vaguely worded Singapore pledge to "work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula" collapsed over what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.

- 'Hypocritical' -

US diplomats insist that they believe Kim promised in Singapore to give up its arsenal, something Pyongyang has taken no steps to do.

The North is under multiple international sanctions over its banned weapons programmes.

It believes it deserves to be rewarded for its moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and the disabling of its atomic test site, along with the return of jailed US citizens and remains of soldiers killed in the Korean War.

"Nothing is more hypocritical than an empty promise," Ri said in his statement, carried by the official KCNA news agency.

Trump has made much of his connection with Kim -- at one point declaring that they had fallen "in love" through their exchanges of letters.

But Ri said Pyongyang now believed there was no hope for an improvement "simply by maintaining personal relations between our Supreme Leadership and the US President".

He stopped just short of criticising Trump by name, but referred to comments that "the master of the White House" had "reeled off time and time again as a boast".

"Never again will we provide the US chief executive with another package to be used... without receiving any returns."

Pyongyang's latest comments were not an empty threat, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former North Korea analyst for the US government.

"North Koreans know they will not be getting what they want either from South Korea or the US," she told AFP. "Diplomacy no longer seems to be in the cards."

North Korea's chief diplomatic ally China urged Washington to acknowledge Pyongyang's "legitimate concerns", with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying insisting the North had taken denuclearisation measures that merited a commensurate US response.

- Deadline passed -

Trump and Kim met a third time in June 2019 in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean peninsula, when Trump stepped onto North Korean soil -- a first for any American president.

But the meeting produced little in terms of tangible progress.

Subsequently, the North repeatedly demanded that the US offer it fresh concessions by December 31, but the deadline came and went.

Kim declared the North no longer considered itself bound by its unilateral testing moratoriums.

It has not yet carried out any such actions, but analysts believe it has continued to develop its arsenal throughout the discussions.

Ri accused Washington of seeking regime change and said the North had decided to bolster its nuclear deterrent "to cope with the US unabated threats of nuclear war".

Pyongyang has carried out a series of tests of shorter-range weapons in recent months -- often describing them as multiple launch rocket systems, although Japan and the United States have called them ballistic missiles.

The process leading to the Singapore summit was brokered by the South's President Moon Jae-in, but his office said Friday it had no comment to make on the anniversary.

US President Donald Trump (R) meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) at the start of their summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018 -- two years on, Pyongyang says any hopes for better ties have turned to feelings of "despair"

Timeline of events in the US and North Korea relations since June 2018.