Trump says U.S. shouldn’t be spending money on ‘war games’ with South Korea

Trump says U.S. shouldn’t be spending money on ‘war games’ with South Korea
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President Trump said the United States shouldn’t be spending large amounts of money on joint military exercises with South Korea and suggested he had suspended such war games indefinitely, contradicting earlier statements from his own defense secretary that indicated the regular program of exercises with Seoul remained on track.

The mixed messages came some 10 weeks after the U.S. military announced the suspension of certain war games with South Korea as a concession that Trump brokered during his June meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul have long been a sore point for North Korea’s leadership, which regularly calls them provocative and threatening and at times mounts a response. The Trump administration agreed to suspend some of the exercises after the Singapore summit as American diplomats advanced nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea.

In his tweets on Wednesday night, Trump said “there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games.”

Trump, referring to himself, added: “Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”  

His suggestion that all military exercises with South Korea and Japan had been suspended indefinitely directly contradicted what Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the day before.  

Speaking at Pentagon press conference, Mattis said the U.S. military “suspended several of the largest exercises but we did not suspend the rest.” He said “there are ongoing exercises all the time on the peninsula.”

Mattis added: “So the exercises continue. What it means in practical terms is that we’re making no changes to the exercise program at this time.”

On Wednesday, Mattis issued a follow-up statement, saying only three individual military exercises had been suspended after the Singapore summit to “provide space” for U.S. diplomats to negotiate.

“Our military posture has not changed since the conclusion of the Singapore summit and no decisions have been made about suspending any future exercises,” Mattis said. 

He added that the alliance between the United States and South Korea remained “ironclad.”

“Our forces maintain a high state of military readiness and vigilance in full support of a diplomatically-led effort to bring peace, prosperity and stability to the Korean peninsula,” Mattis said.

The U.S. military often plans for joint exercises with allies such as South Korea as long as a year in advance. For example, the American and South Korean armed forces would normally hold the annual “Vigilant Ace” air combat exercise in December. Mattis’s comments suggested those exercises were proceeding as planned, but Trump’s statements raised questions about the future of such drills.

Though Trump tweeted that he could “instantly start joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan,” if he so chose, there was no indication that any of the U.S. military’s exercises with Japan had ever been suspended. On a trip to Japan earlier this summer, Mattis agreed to continue joint military exercises with the nation and underscored that the talks with Pyongyang wouldn’t undermine relations with Toyko.

North Korea has suspended its missile and nuclear tests, and repatriated some remains of missing American service members from the Korean War. But so far follow-on negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang regarding the details of a nuclear disarmament deal have stalled.

Last week, the Trump administration canceled what would have been Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fourth trip to Pyongyang for talks.

Trump said at the time that he had instructed Pompeo not to go because there hadn’t been “sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea has demanded that the United States declare a formal end to the Korean War, something Washington is open to doing, but American diplomats want Kim’s government to offer some concessions on denuclearization before taking that step.

When he canceled Pompeo’s trip, Trump said the secretary of state was looking forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after the United States and China resolved trade issues.

The president returned to that explanation for the stalled talks in his tweets Wednesday night. He appeared to suggest that China was pressuring North Korea not to do disarmament deal with the United States because of the trade dispute with Washington. He also said China was continuing to provide North Korea with considerable aid, money, fuel, fertilizer and other commodities. The president described those actions as “not helpful!” 

“Nonetheless, the President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one,” Trump wrote, referring to himself. He predicted that he would resolve the trade disputes with China and and other difference in time with “China’s great President Xi Jingping.” 

Meanwhile, there are indications that Pyongyang is continuing to advance toward a capability that would allow Kim to strike the continental United States with a nuclear weapon. U.S. officials have said North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are still progressing clandestinely, even though the nation announced it was dismantling certain facilities.

Military exercises between the United States and South Korea have long been a point of contention for North Korea. In response to a military exercise in late 2010, North Korea shelled a South Korean island resulting in one of the most tense incidents on the peninsula since the 1953 armistice.

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