The Pentagon is ready to resume military exercises on the Korean Peninsula and has no plans to cancel further drills, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday.
Earlier this summer, the Trump administration suspended large-scale exercises with South Korea amid negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.
“We took the step to suspend several of the largest military exercise as a good faith measure,” Mattis told reporters at his first press briefing at the Pentagon since April. “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more.”
“We will work very closely … with the secretary of state and what he needs done, we will certainly do to reinforce his effort,” Mattis added. “But at this time there is no discussion about further suspensions.”
Joint exercises with South Korea were suspended following President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June. After the meeting, Trump reportedly surprised his national security team by announcing the Pentagon would stop “war games” on the Korean Peninsula in order to promote further denuclearization talks with Pyongyang.
The Pentagon followed up by suspending planning for Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a massive annual exercise involving thousands of American troops. Trump presented the move as a bargain rather than a concession, highlighting the cost of the annual drill. (RELATED: US, South Korea Suspend Summer War Games Amid North Korea Talks)
Since then, high-level meetings between U.S. and North Korean officials have borne little progress toward a path to denuclearization. The Kim regime has rebuffed requests for more transparency into its nuclear arsenal and accused the Trump administration of economic aggression for maintaining sanctions on North Korea.
On Friday, Trump unexpectedly cancelled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s scheduled trip to Pyongyang for a fourth round of nuclear talks. Trump made the decision after reading an apparently hostile letter sent to Pompeo by Kim Yong Chol, the vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, the Washington Post reported.
With denuclearization talks stalled, the Pentagon intends to resume normal planning for joint military exercises in Korea, Mattis said. He declined to provide a specific date for a future exercise, saying any decision on the resumption of drills would be made in conjunction with U.S. diplomats working on the North Korea issue.
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