South Korea says a joint military exercise with the US will go ahead as planned next month, despite North Korea’s warning that the drill could wreck denuclearization talks.
North Korea said on Tuesday US President Donald Trump had reaffirmed in a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last month that the joint drills would be halted.
Pyongyang said the planned exercise is “clearly a breach” of the two leaders’ agreement and that proceeding with it would jeopardize nuclear talks with the United States.
“The nature of the exercise is not offensive…and is for strengthening the alliance,” Choi Jong-kun, the secretary for peace planning to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said on Saturday.
Choi said Washington would have consulted with the government in Seoul if Trump had agreed to suspend the war games during his talks with Kim on the North Korean border last month.
“As far as I know, President Trump did not promise the cancellation of this upcoming military exercise,” Choi said. “If he had done that…we would have been consulted and organized it and used it very strategically.”
Speaking with Reuters, Choi later said the military drills planned for August would largely involve computer simulations and not troops in the field.
There are close to 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea, and their annual drills with thousands of South Korean soldiers have always infuriated the North.
North Korea has strongly denounced joint military exercises between South Korea and the US, saying they pose an “all-out challenge” to efforts towards peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The North put a halt on its missile launches and nuclear tests, shortly before a diplomatic thaw began between Pyongyang and Seoul and led to the first ever summit between the North Korean leader and the US president in Singapore in June last year.
The halt was among many other steps that Pyongyang has taken to move forward in its denuclearization negotiations with the US, but the talks have made little progress, mainly because Washington refuses to lift its harsh sanctions on North Korea.
In February, Trump and Kim met for a second time at a summit in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, but the meeting broke up without an agreement or even a joint statement as the two sides failed to reach a consensus.
Trump walked away from the summit, claiming that Kim had insisted on the removal of all sanctions on North Korea. Pyongyang rejected that account, stressing that it had only asked for a partial lifting of the bans.
Ahead of the Hanoi summit, Trump had said he was “not in a rush” and that “as long as there’s no testing, we’re happy.”
The North has repeatedly warned that it is considering ending the talks and resuming its nuclear and missile tests over what it describes as “the gangster-like stand” of the US.
A recent exchange of affable messages between Kim and Trump and their meeting at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas have also failed to lead to any specific direction.