SEOUL, March 14 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Wednesday slammed the ongoing negotiations between South Korea and the United States to renew their deal on defense cost sharing, claiming that South Koreans want the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the peninsula.
The North's claim comes ahead of a planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and its leader Kim Jong-un that would be held by May. It fuels speculation that the North may seek to strengthen its bargaining power ahead of the talks, experts say.
The North has long insisted that the some 28,500 American forces stationed in South Korea should be pulled out for peace. Analysts said that Pyongyang might seek inter-Korean unification by force if U.S. troops are withdrawn.
The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North's ruling party, condemned Seoul and Washington's latest talks on defense cost sharing, claiming South Koreans are the ones who hope for the troops' withdrawal.
"What South Koreans want is an unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South, an unwelcome guest that poses a threat to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula," the newspaper said.
South Korea and the U.S. kicked off their first round of the talks last week to renew their five-year deal over Seoul's share of the upkeep of the 28,500 American forces stationed in South Korea for defense against the North.
Trump has agreed to an invitation by Kim to meet after a year of heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The summit would be the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
After briefing Trump on a recent trip to the North, a South Korean official told reporters in the U.S. last week that Kim Jong-un is committed to denuclearization and hopes to meet with Trump.
North Korea's state media has kept mum about Kim's summit with Trump, and a separate meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in slated for late April.
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