New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has no plans to suspend additional joint military exercises on the Korean Peninsula, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday, in another indication that the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Pyongyang may be in trouble.
“We took the step to suspend several of the largest exercises as a good-faith measure coming out of the Singapore summit,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon, referring to President Donald Trump’s decision to shelve large-scale drills with South Korea after meeting with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, in June.
“We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises,” Mattis said. He also said “the exercises continue.”
Trump’s decision in June to suspend the huge annual military exercises that had long been planned with South Korea took even senior U.S. military officials by surprise.
The defense secretary’s comments, at a news conference at the Pentagon, add to rising tensions between the United States and North Korea that escalated over the weekend.
State media in North Korea criticized the United States for what it called “extremely provocative and dangerous military moves” in Pacific waters. Late last week, Trump announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would cancel his most recent plan to travel to Pyongyang.
It was unclear whether Mattis’ comments reflect a concerted shift in the Trump administration’s effort to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Trump’s policy toward Pyongyang has swung back and forth, from a name-calling Twitter spat with Kim to an unprecedented rapprochement at the face-to-face meeting in Singapore.
More recently, the Trump administration is increasingly expressing frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic negotiations and fears that North Korea is not making substantive moves toward dismantling and ending its nuclear weapons program.
In announcing the cancellation of the military exercises back in June, Trump called them “provocative” and costly. Mattis said Tuesday that the cancellation was done as a “good-faith effort” to help the diplomatic negotiations.
He declined to comment on whether restarting large-scale military exercises could be viewed as provocative.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “Even answering a question in that manner could influence the diplomatic effort.”
He later said there had been no decision if next year’s large-scale exercises would continue on the Korean Peninsula.