Halting war games with US a joint decision: S. Korea

SOUTH KOREA'S FOREIGN MINISTER KANG KYUNG WHA
SOUTH KOREA'S FOREIGN MINISTER KANG KYUNG WHA

Suspension of exercises a goodwill gesture but decision reversible, says top diplomat

South Korea's top diplomat has said the halting of military drills with the United States is a joint decision taken by the two allies, but warned that it can be reversed if things go awry.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha, in a briefing with foreign media yesterday, said both sides have made it clear that the suspension is a goodwill gesture aimed at strengthening dialogue momentum with North Korea and inducing its denuclearisation.

"But they are not irreversible, they could quickly come back, should we see the dialogue momentum losing speed or North Korea not living up to its denuclearisation commitment," she added.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has inked two agreements - the first with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April and the second with US President Donald Trump last week - to "work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".

Mr Trump first announced the suspension of "war games" at a press conference after holding summit talks with Mr Kim in Singapore.

He later tweeted: "Holding back the 'war games' during the negotiations was my request because they are VERY EXPENSIVE and set a bad light during a good faith negotiation. Also, quite provocative. Can start up immediately if talks break down, which I hope will not happen!"

Dr Kang declined to say if South Korea had been consulted before Mr Trump's announcement.

THINGS COULD CHANGE

They are not irreversible, they could quickly come back, should we see the dialogue momentum losing speed or North Korea not living up to its denuclearisation commitment.

SOUTH KOREA'S FOREIGN MINISTER KANG KYUNG WHA, on the halting of joint military drills with the United States.

But she stressed she was "immediately" notified of the outcome of the summit and Mr Trump's press statements by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call.

"Consultation between us and the US has never been so close and so frequent," she added.

Dr Kang said South Korea left it to Mr Trump to judge and conduct discussions with Mr Kim, whose official title is Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of North Korea.

"You cannot script these meetings, especially when it has been a top-down approach, as it has been so far with the North Koreans coming out in engaging us and engaging with the US."

Dr Kang did reveal that South Korea on its own was already contemplating a similar goodwill gesture to build trust, while at the same time "maintaining the integrity of the defensive exercises" that are viewed by the North as a rehearsal for an invasion.

Pyongyang appears to be putting aside nuclear power to focus on developing its stunted economy, choked by US-led pressure and tightened United Nations sanctions.

It is not clear yet what the next step towards denuclearisation will be. The regime blew up its main nuclear test site of Punggye-ri last month and has promised to destroy a major missile engine test site.

Dr Kang said Mr Pompeo has shared denuclearisation plans with her and that he is in discussions with the North Koreans to work out a detailed schedule.

She also gave the assurance that sanctions will remain until "we get concrete action on complete denuclearisation".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'Halting war games with US a joint decision: S. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe