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story.lead_photo.caption A protester calls Tuesday for peace on the Korean peninsula near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea.

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea indefinitely postponed high-level talks with South Korea scheduled for today, citing a joint South Korean-United States air-forces drill, and threatened plans for U.S. President Donald Trump to meet with the North's Kim Jong Un next month.

Senior officials from the two Koreas had been scheduled to meet in the "truce village" of Panmunjom on their border today to discuss putting in place an agreement to improve ties between the countries that their leaders signed in a meeting April 27.

But in a move that caught South Korea off guard, North Korea called the South shortly after midnight Tuesday unilaterally announcing that the talks will be "postponed indefinitely," the South's Unification Ministry said. The North cited as a reason the annual Max Thunder drill that South Korea and the United States started last week, it said.

"This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula," the North's Korean Central News Agency said in a report.

South Korean called North Korea's move "regrettable" and demanded a quick return to talks.

Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman Baek Tae-hyun said the North's decision goes against the spirit of last month's inter-Korean summit, where the Koreas' leaders issued a vague vow on the "complete denuclearization" on the Korean Peninsula and pledged permanent peace between the rivals.

Trump is expected to meet with Kim in Singapore on June 12. The meeting would be the first time a North Korean leader has met with a sitting U.S. president.

The Korean Central News Agency appeared to suggest that meeting could be in jeopardy should the U.S. and South Korea decide to carry on with the exercises.

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"The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities," the North's news agency reported Tuesday.

Then, today, North Korea's first vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan said the country has no interest in a summit with the U.S. if it's going to be a "one-sided" affair where it's pressured to give up its nukes.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department emphasized that Kim had previously indicated he understood the need and purpose of the U.S. continuing its long-planned exercises with South Korea. State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that the U.S. had not heard anything directly from Pyongyang or Seoul that would change that.

"We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un," Nauert said.

The Max Thunder exercise involves about 100 warplanes, including eight F-22 radar-evading fighters and an unspecified number of B-52 bombers and F-15K jets, according to the South's Yonhap News Agency. During last year's exercises, U.S. and South Korean fighter jets flew an average 60 sorties a day to showcase their firepower.

Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said the purpose of Max Thunder and exercise Foal Eagle -- another training event -- is to enhance the two nations' ability to operate together to defend South Korea.

"The defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed," Manning said.

North Korea had said it would send five senior officials to Panmunjom today for the meetings with South Korean officials, the first such talks since the April 27 inter-Korean summit.

The North was going to send Ri Son Kwon, who leads the North Korean agency in charge of inter-Korean exchanges and was present at the summit, while the South was going to send senior officials from the Transport Ministry and forest service.

Also Tuesday, South Korea's military said North Korea was moving ahead with plans to close its nuclear-test site next week, an assessment backed by U.S. researchers who say satellite images show the North has begun dismantling facilities at the site.

Information for this article was contributed by Choe Sang-Hun of The New York Times; by Anna Fifield and Dan Lamothe of The Washington Post; and by Hyung-Jin Kim and Foster Klug of The Associated Press.

A Section on 05/16/2018

Print Headline: N. Korea delays talks with South

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