The Defense Ministry said Thursday the military authorities of Seoul and Washington support the diplomatic efforts for the denuclearization of North Korea, while the US defense chief hinted at the possibility of adjusting the scope of joint military drills.
On the plane to Seoul to attend Friday’s Security Consultative Meeting, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Wednesday he is open to adjusting the combined military exercises with South Korea if it can provide room for diplomacy with North Korea.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper talks to the media with Qatar Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Khalid Al Attiyah at the Pentagon in Washington, in this Nov. 6, 2019, file photo. (AP-Yonhap)
North Korea has slammed the US for the combined aerial exercise with South Korea that is expected to take place in December.
Explaining that it views Esper’s comments as being in line with the US’ “flexible approach” in denuclearization talks with North Korea, the Defense Ministry said the allies closely cooperate on the combined military exercises.
“The military authorities of South Korea and the United States adhere to the stance of supporting the ongoing diplomatic efforts of the two governments for complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said in a regular press briefing.
“I would like to say again that the combined military exercises of South Korea and the US have been conducted throughout the year, under the close cooperation of the two allies.”
Choi, however, did not elaborate on the scope of the joint military exercises.
In the interview on his way to Seoul, Esper said the “dialing up” or “dialing down” of joint military exercises will be done in close collaboration with South Korea and that it will not be a concession to North Korea. He added that any changes that might be made would not harm the troops’ combat preparedness.
While the US and South Korea have canceled and scaled back their joint military exercises since the denuclearization talks began last year, North Korea has continued to criticize the drills as “war exercises” against the communist regime.
On Wednesday, North Korea called for the US to suspend planned joint military exercises with South Korea, warning that otherwise it would face a “greater threat.”
The spokesman for the State Affairs Commission, chaired by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has said the US should stop the combined military drills “at a sensitive time when the situation on the Korean Peninsula could go back to the starting point due to the joint military drills between the US and South Korea,” according to the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The spokesman also warned that Pyongyang would seek a “new way” if Washington fails to change its stance and bring new solutions to their denuclearization negotiations by the end of this year.
Esper was due to arrive in Seoul on Thursday and is scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo at the 51st SCM on Friday.
By Jo He-rim (email@example.com