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In a statement carried by state news agency KCNA, North Korea's First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kye Gwan said his country will reconsider the historic June 12 meeting if the U.S. insists on Pyongyang relinquishing its nuclear weapons.
The development is the latest sign of possible backtracking by Kim following the ruler's months-long international charm offensive that was widely hoped to clear tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Earlier, the rogue state canceled talks with South Korea and threatened to ditch the June 12 summit in protest over Washington and Seoul's joint military drills.
Wednesday's news "is classic North Korean playbook," said Sean King, senior vice president at consulting firm Park Strategies.
Ongoing peace efforts, which include Kim's summit with South Korean leader Moon Jae-In last month, may "be moving faster than North Korea ever expected and this is sort of their passive-aggressive excuse to get out of it," he continued.
Recent "unbridled remarks" from Washington prior to the June 12 meeting constituted signs of "unjust" behavior, Kim Kye Gwan stated.
Specifically naming National Security Advisor John Bolton, the North Korean minister said U.S. officials are "letting loose the assertions of so-called Libya mode of nuclear abandonment" and discussing a formula of "abandoning nuclear weapons first [and] compensating afterwards."
That amounts to "awfully sinister" moves to impose on North Korea "the destiny of Libya or Iraq, which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers," the minister said, stressing that Pyongyang rejects Libya-style denuclearization.
Libya voluntarily gave up its nuclear ambitions in 2003 in order to get out from under economic sanctions. The country's dictator Moammar Gadhafi was eventually overthrown in a Western-supported coup and killed in 2011.
North Korea considers nuclear weapons equally important as economic growth so "without the nukes as cover, should it ever want to coerce or invade the South again, it really has nothing to bail themselves out," according to King.
Different definitions of the term denuclearization is seen as a major obstacle to negotiations.
For the U.S., the concept entails North Korea giving up its entire nuclear arsenal— but Pyongyang may agree to that only if certain conditions are fulfilled, experts warn. Those prerequisites include terminating America's military presence in South Korea as well as ending the U.S. regional nuclear umbrella.
If Kim does withdraw from the June 12 meeting, it wouldn't be the first instance of Pyongyang reversing on its commitments. The isolated state has duped multiple U.S. presidential administrations, each of which has passed the North Korea problem onto the next.
Under a 1994 deal with President Bill Clinton's administration, Pyongyang committed to freezing its illicit plutonium weapons program but in 2002, the North once again began operating nuclear facilities.
North Korea will never agree to economic trade with the U.S. in exchange for abandoning nuclear weapons, according to Kim Kye Gwan, who warned that Trump "will be recorded as more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors" if he follows in the steps of previous U.S. leaders.