U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday the United States and South Korea have indefinitely postponed a joint military exercise in an “act of goodwill” toward North Korea.
The move comes even as Japan’s defense minister, whose country feels threatened by repeated North Korean missile launches, told Esper “no one could be optimistic about” changing the North’s behavior.
The statement by Japan’s defense chief, Taro Kono, was a stark illustration of the difficulties facing the U.S. and its international allies and partners as they struggle to get North Korea back to negotiations to eliminate its nuclear weapons and missiles. Talks launched by President Donald Trump in 2018 have stalled with no resumption in sight.
Although the U.S. military for years as called its joint military exercises with South Korea an important means of keeping troops and commanders ready for combat on short notice, Trump has called them a waste of money and a provocation to the North.
Esper announced the postponement of the military exercise at a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo. They were in Bangkok to attend an Asia defense ministers’ conference.
Esper insisted the postponement was not a concession to North Korea but rather an attempt to “keep the door open” to diplomacy to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
“I see this as a good-faith effort by the United States and the Republic of Korea to enable peace, to shape … to facilitate a political agreement – a deal, if you will – that leads to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Esper told reporters.
North Korea hardly seemed ready to reciprocate. Shortly after Esper and Jeong spoke, the North Korean foreign ministry issued a written statement of defiance. It said it has no plans to negotiate over its nuclear programs, even if talks were to resume, unless the U.S. offers to first discuss the withdrawal of its “hostile” policies against Pyongyang.
North Korea’s statement also criticized Washington’s support of a recent United Nations resolution condemning the North’s widespread human rights violations, claiming that the resolution shows continued U.S. intent to isolate the North and destroy its political system.
The North also has harshly criticized U.S.-South Korean military drills as provocative and as preparations for an invasion. AP