Injecting greater uncertainty into the future of a planned June 12 meeting between Washington and Pyongyang, a senior minister from the rogue state has slammed Vice President Mike Pence for comparing North Korea to Libya.
Speaking in May 21 interview on Fox News, Pence said the reclusive regime could end up like the North African country "if Kim Jong Un doesn't make a deal." He also warned Kim that it would be a "great mistake" to play Washington ahead of an anticipated meeting with President Donald Trump on June 12.
In response, North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui said in a Thursday statement carried by state-run news agency KCNA that "as a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice-president."
Pence's comments are seen as especially stinging to the North as they come just a few days after National Security Advisor John Bolton got in trouble with Pyongyang for proposing a Libya-style model of denuclearization.
In an angry statement last week, Kim's administration made clear that it rejects all comparisons to Libya, which voluntarily gave up its nuclear ambitions in 2003 in exchange for the removal of sanctions. The country's dictator Moammar Gadhafi was eventually overthrown in a Western-supported coup and killed in 2011.
"It will be proper for [Pence] to know even a little bit about the current state of global affairs and to sense to a certain degree the trends in dialogue and the climate of détente," Choe said on Thursday, implying that the U.S. politician should have refrained from Libya comparisons following Bolton's episode.
Calling Pence a "political dummy," Choe went on to say that Trump's second-in-command "should have seriously considered the terrible consequences of his words."
The development doesn't bode well for the historic meeting, especially following potential signs of backtracking from both Kim and Trump. The U.S. president, on Wednesday, warned there was a "substantial" chance that the summit "may not work out" for June 12.
If Washington continues to offends North Korea's goodwill, Choe said on Thursday that she "will put forward a suggestion to our supreme leadership for reconsidering the DPRK-U.S. summit."
It's significant that U.S. officials continue to press the isolated state instead of taking a more diplomatic approach ahead of June's tough negotiations, according to experts.
While Trump is known for off-the-cuff remarks, "the fact that other senior figures in the White House have made comments that risk overshadowing the summit indicates a more far-reaching hard-line position toward the DPRK," said Anthony Rinna, an analyst at research group SinoNK.
With both parties so close to the negotiating table, Bolton and Pence's comments indicate "a lack of appreciation for how delicate the situation is and what's at stake," he continued: "The White House may see an opportunity to push as hard and fast for a favorable outcome as it can, yet the manner in which they are doing it risks having the opposite effect."