U.S.-South Korean military exercise to proceed: top South Korean official

By Jonathan Landay
South Korean army soldiers stand guard during a U.S.-South Korea joint river-crossing exercise near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Yeoncheon

By Jonathan Landay

ASPEN, Colo. (Reuters) - A top South Korean official on Saturday said a U.S.-South Korean military exercise would go ahead as planned next month, denying Pyongyang's charges that holding it would breach an agreement made between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"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, told the Aspen Institute's annual strategic forum.

Later, speaking with Reuters, Choi said next month's exercise would largely involve computer simulations and not troops in the field.

The spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Trump had reaffirmed in a meeting with Kim last month that joint exercises would be halted adding that the U.S. decision to proceed with them was "clearly a breach" of the leaders' agreements made at a summit in Singapore last year.

The spokesman said proceeding with war games was jeopardizing Pyongyang's resumption of nuclear talks with the United States. The ministry said Washington's pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" was leading Pyongyang to its commitment to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected the North Korean charges earlier this week.

Speaking to the Aspen conference, Choi said that the United States would have consulted with his government had Trump agreed to suspend U.S.-South Korean war games during his talks last month with Kim on the border last month.

"As far as I know, President Trump did not promise the cancellation of this upcoming military exercise," said Choi. "If he had done that ... we would have been consulted and organized it and used it very strategically."

He noted that the United States and South Korea had suspended a large-scale exercise and canceled a second following the Singapore summit in June 2018 at which Trump sought to persuade Kim to end the development of nuclear weapons and eliminate his arsenal.

A second Trump-Kim summit in February failed to make any headway. The following month, the U.S. and South Korean militaries announced they were scaling back major war games - which Pyongyang long has denounced as preparations for war - and would hold smaller-scale exercises.

Even so, Choi said, the preparedness of the U.S. and South Korean military to operate together had not been waned.

"For the record, military interoperability has never been compromised," he said.


(Reporting by Jonathan Landay, editing by G Crosse)