Pyongyang returning remains of US soldiers

South Korean and US soldiers watching from an observation post during a joint live-firing drill in Pocheon, north-east of Seoul, in April last year. Joint military exercises between South Korea and the US are a sore point with the North, which views
South Korean and US soldiers watching from an observation post during a joint live-firing drill in Pocheon, north-east of Seoul, in April last year. Joint military exercises between South Korea and the US are a sore point with the North, which views them as rehearsals for invasion. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

Trump says he will phone Kim; US and South Korea in talks to suspend war games

United States President Donald Trump said he will call North Korean leader Kim Jong Un tomorrow and that the North is starting to return the remains of US soldiers who went missing during the Korean War.

He said the return of the remains was already fulfilling a promise only days after it was made during their historic summit in Singapore.

Defending the deal "where we get everything", Mr Trump claimed that he has "largely solved" the North Korean nuclear problem.

Asked in a Fox News interview what he planned to do on Father's Day, Mr Trump said: "I'm going to be actually calling North Korea."

The President later told reporters in an impromptu news conference on the White House lawn that he had given Mr Kim a phone number allowing the North Korean leader to reach him directly.

"He can now call me if he has any difficulties, I can call him."

Barely a week after the two leaders met in Singapore, both sides are trying to hammer out the details of their agreement and expedite North Korea's denuclearisation.

The US and its key security ally South Korea have started discussing the hugely contentious issue of suspending joint military exercises, with a senior Seoul official saying yesterday that a decision will be announced "soon".

The news came as retired Admiral Harry Harris, who has been nominated as the new US ambassador to South Korea, voiced support for a pause in major war games to test the North's commitment to dialogue after the summit with the US.

"I believe we should give exercises, major exercises, a pause to see if Kim Jong Un is in fact serious about his part of the negotiations," Adm Harris said during his confirmation hearing on Thursday. Smaller-scale military training may continue in order to maintain readiness, he added.

Talks have swirled since Mr Trump unilaterally announced that the US would halt war games as long as it is negotiating "in good faith" with North Korea.

Joint military drills between South Korea and the US are a sore point with the North, which views them as rehearsals for invasion.

Some experts view the cancellation as a form of security guarantee for the regime, while others said Mr Trump may be using the drills as a bargaining chip to exert pressure on Pyongyang and nudge it towards denuclearisation.

Adm Harris voiced optimism in Washington, noting peace with North Korea is now possible, after a shift in landscape following the Trump-Kim summit. "Today... we are in a dramatically different place," he added, crediting Mr Trump's maximum pressure policy for forcing the North to return to negotiations.

In Seoul, a senior official reiterated President Moon Jae In's willingness to suspend drills in a move to "flexibly change" its military posture against Pyongyang so as to build trust in the denuclearisation process. He said bilateral discussions have already begun.

The official also addressed concerns that the US may withdraw its 28,500 troops from the South, noting that there has been "no change" in their position.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'Pyongyang returning remains of US soldiers'. Print Edition | Subscribe