SEOUL, South Korea — President Trump said Saturday that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had offered a “small apology” for launching short-range missiles recently and wanted to begin a dialogue with Washington as soon as this month’s American military exercise with South Korea ends.
”He stated, very nicely, that he would like to meet and start negotiations as soon as the joint U.S./South Korea joint exercise are over,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Mr. Kim. “It was also a small apology for testing the short-range missiles, and that this testing would stop when the exercises end.”
“I look forward to seeing Kim Jong-un in the not too distant future!” he said. “A nuclear free North Korea will lead to one of the most successful countries in the world!”
Mr. Kim spent much of the letter “complaining about the ridiculous and expensive exercises” between the United States and South Korea, Mr. Trump wrote.
North Korea has conducted five tests of short-range ballistic missiles or multiple rocket launchers since late July, including a test on Saturday of two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast.
North Korea has been carrying out those tests to express anger over a two-week military drill the United States and South Korea are scheduled to begin on Sunday, analysts said. The tests are also intended to build North Korea’s leverage in bilateral talks that Washington hopes to start soon with the North, analysts said.
North Korea has always protested any joint military drills between Washington and Seoul, condemning them as rehearsals for invasion, and has often countered them with its own missile and other weapons tests.
But what makes the North’s complaints unusual this year is that Mr. Trump has also openly criticized and even ridiculed the exercises, which have been a linchpin of the seven-decade-old South Korean-United States alliance. Mr. Trump has said they cost too much and South Korea does not pay enough for them.
In the past week, Mr. Trump has dismissed the North’s recent short-range missile tests with a shrug, saying they involved neither a nuclear weapon nor intercontinental ballistic missile. Instead, he accused South Korea of not paying enough for American help in defending itself from North Korea.
“We get virtually nothing,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “And South Korea and I have made a deal where they’re paying a lot more money, and they’re going to pay a lot more money. And the relationship is a very good one.”
On Friday, Mr. Trump again said he had never supported the exercises with South Korea.
“I’ve never liked it. I’ve never been a fan,” he said. “You know why? I don’t like paying for it. We should be reimbursed for it, and I’ve told that to South Korea.”
Over the years, South Korea has gradually increased its share of the cost of maintaining an American military presence on its soil. South Korea paid about $925 million this year, but Washington wants it to pay more. The allies are about to begin a new round of talks on how to divide the cost for next year. Currently, 28,500 American troops are based in South Korea.
Analysts suggested that North Korea was using Mr. Trump’s preoccupation with cost-sharing to sow discord. Last month, North Korea warned that if the United States and the South did not cancel the joint drills, it might scuttle efforts to resume negotiations with Washington and even restart nuclear and long-range missile tests.
”Breaking the alliance is exactly what Pyongyang wants, which is why it makes all this noise and tries to blame U.S.-South Korea drills for its lack of cooperation,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “Kim appeals to Trump directly about the exercises, trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.”
Since last year, Mr. Trump has held three summit meetings with Mr. Kim, including a brief meeting on the South Korea-North Korea border on June 30. But he is nowhere near close to depriving the North of its nuclear weapons.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he is hopeful that staff-level talks with North Korea will resume in a couple of weeks, apparently after the joint military exercise is over.
As efforts to restart negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang remained stalled, North Korea has been directing much of the blame toward South Korea, while refraining from attacking Mr. Trump. In a commentary on Saturday, its official Korean Central News Agency accused South Korea of driving up tensions by staging the drills with the Americans and buying new weapons from them, including F-35A stealth jets.
“All the facts prove that the South Korean authorities hellbent on arms buildup against the dialogue partner are the arch-criminal escalating tension in the Korean Peninsula and wrecker of its peace and stability,” it said.