South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a phone conversation over the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s suspension of the planned high-level inter-Korean talks, Seoul's foreign ministry said Wednesday.
At the request of Pompeo, Kang had talks over phone to exchange opinion about issues of mutual concern including the DPRK's delay of the scheduled senior-level dialogue between the two Koreas.
The unscheduled phone conversation came as Pyongyang unilaterally suspended the high-level inter-Korean dialogue, which the two sides agreed Tuesday to hold Wednesday at the border village of Panmunjom to discuss ways to implement the Panmunjom Declaration.
The DPRK suspended the inter-Korean talks before dawn citing the ongoing South Korea-U.S. joint air maneuvers.
The two-week "Max Thunder" joint air combat exercise kicked off on May 11, mobilizing about 100 aircrafts including eight F-22 stealth fighter jets as well as F-15Ks and F-16s.
The DPRK's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that "F-22 Raptor" radar-evading warplanes and "B-52" strategic bombers, mobilized to the South Korea-U.S. joint annual air drills, are aimed at launching pre-emptive strikes against the DPRK as well as taking control of the airspace.
The Korean version of the KCNA report called the drill an act of "playing with fire," saying that it is a "blatant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula."
For the air drills, hosted by South Korea's Air Force Operations Command and the U.S. 7th Air Force, the U.S. F-22 stealth fighters have already participated while the B-52 had yet to join, according to an unnamed source cited by Yonhap news agency.
Seoul's unification ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs expressed regret over the suspended talks, saying it was against the spirit of the Panmunjom Declaration, which was announced after the third inter-Korean summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un on April 27.
Moon and Kim agreed to complete denuclearization and the turn of the current armistice agreement into a peace treaty by the end of this year. The Korean Peninsula remains technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with armistice.
During the phone conversation, the South Korean foreign minister explained to Pompeo about Seoul's position that it had a firm will to sincerely enforce the Panmunjom Declaration and planned to urge Pyongyang to rapidly come to the dialogue table for peace and prosperity on the peninsula.
Pompeo told Kang that the U.S. side will continue preparations for the upcoming DPRK-U.S. summit, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, while being cautious about Pyongyang's delay of the inter-Korean dialogue.
The two sides agreed to continue close cooperation to achieve the complete denuclearization and settle peace on the peninsula through a successful DPRK-U.S. summit based on outcomes from the April 27 inter-Korean summit.
The South Korean unification ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that inter-Korean talks should continue to be held to discuss issues that were raised by the DPRK.
To develop sustainable inter-Korean relations and build permanent peace via the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration, the South Korean government will take necessary measures through close consultations among relevant ministries, the statement said.
Seoul's defense ministry said in a separate statement that the joint South Korea-U.S. air drills will be conducted as scheduled as the exercises are just aimed at improving pilots' capability, not at exercising operation plans for attacks.
The ministry said the F-22 stealth fighters came to South Korea last year. But it was unusual for such a high number of F-22 Raptors to be mobilized amid thawing ties between the two Koreas.