Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday suggested the US could resume joint military exercises with South Korea amid Washington’s ongoing failure to show signs of progress in its effort to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapon and missile programs.
In a statement issued the very next day, Trump said there is “no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint US-South Korea war games.” The statement claimed Trump had a “warm” relationship with Kim Jong-un and criticized China for supplying Pyongyang with aid and supplies.
President Trump surprised military leaders in June when he announced that the US would be suspending planned military drills with South Korea. The decision came directly after his meeting with Kim in Singapore. And while there was much fanfare about the denuclearization agreement the two leaders signed on June 12th, Pyongyang has failed to take any real steps towards denuclearization.
“As you know, we took the step to suspend several of the largest exercises as a good faith measure coming out of the Singapore summit,” Mattis told reporters on Tuesday. “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises.”
Mattis clarified that any decisions regarding next year’s joint exercises with South Korea would be made in 2019, and only after consultation with the State Department.
“We suspended several of the largest exercises, but we did not suspend the rest, so there are ongoing exercises all the time on the peninsula,” said Mattis. “The reason you’ve not heard much about them is [so] North Korea could not in any way misinterpret those as somehow breaking faith with the negotiation. What it means in practical terms is that we’re making no changes to the exercise program at this time.”
Mattis confirmed the Pentagon would “work very closely” with Sec. of State Mike Pompeo as he strives to make progress in behind-the-scenes negotiations with North Korea. “It’s all riding on Secretary Pompeo’s shoulders,” said Mattis.
Pompeo, who had intended to visit North Korea this week, told lawmakers recently that North Korea is producing fissile material and has failed to provide an inventory of its nuclear program and facilities. The decision to cancel his trip came after the White House received a letter from North Korea complaining about the Administration’s reluctance to advance a peace deal.
State-run media in North Korea accused the US of “double-dealing” and described US military drills with Japan as a “criminal plot to unleash a war” against North Korea.
Meanwhile, American military officials and leaders from South Korea are urging the White House not to give up on its diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang.
“Close cooperation between the authorities of the two militaries is crucial to prop up diplomatic efforts for the denuclearization of the peninsula and the establishment of peace,” said the South Korean Defense Ministry.