US-South Korea military exercise won't breach Trump-Kim deal, says Seoul

US National Security Adviser John Bolton is en route to Japan and South Korea for talks in a bid to ease tensions between the US’ two biggest allies in Asia over a political and economic dispute.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton is en route to Japan and South Korea for talks in a bid to ease tensions between the US’ two biggest allies in Asia over a political and economic dispute.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ASPEN (Colorado) • A United States-South Korea military exercise would go ahead as planned next month, a top Seoul official said, denying Pyongyang's charges that holding it would breach a deal made between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"The nature of the exercise is not offensive... and is for strengthening the alliance," Mr Choi Jong-kun, the secretary for peace planning to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told the Aspen Institute's annual strategic forum last Saturday.

He said next month's exercise would largely involve computer simulations and not troops in the field.

A spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry last Tuesday said Mr Trump had reaffirmed in a meeting with Mr Kim last month that joint exercises would be halted, adding that the US move 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 jeopardising North Korea's resumption of nuclear talks with the US. The ministry said Washington's pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" was leading Pyongyang to break away from its commitment to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had earlier rejected the North Korean charges.

Mr Choi told the Aspen conference that the United States would have consulted with his government had Mr Trump agreed to suspend the war games with South Korea during his talks last month with Mr Kim.

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

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, meanwhile, is en route to Japan and South Korea for talks as the two countries are in the middle of a trade dispute.

 
 
 
 

A White House National Security Council spokesman said on Twitter that Mr Bolton planned to "continue conversations with critical allies and friends".

Mr Trump on Friday offered his help to ease tensions in the political and economic dispute between the US' two biggest allies in Asia, which threatens global supplies of memory chips and smartphones, and could hurt major tech firms.

Lingering tensions, particularly over the issue of compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese occupiers during World War II, worsened this month when Japan restricted exports of high-tech materials to South Korea.

Japan has denied that the dispute over compensation is behind the export curbs, even though one of its ministers cited broken trust with Seoul over the labour dispute in announcing the restrictions.

During his trip, Mr Bolton is also likely to seek support for a US initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East shipping lanes, which has been greeted warily by allies reluctant to raise tensions with Iran, which Washington blames for attacks on tankers in the strategic waterway.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2019, with the headline 'US-S. Korea military exercise won't breach Trump-Kim deal, says Seoul'. Print Edition | Subscribe