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S. Korea steps up pressure on North to take ‘concrete action’ toward denuclearization

Soldiers of the 498th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 501st Sustainment Brigade, bound forward from their firing position during training with South Korean infantry during Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2011.

DANIELLE FERRER/U.S. ARMY

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 20, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s foreign minister warned on Wednesday that the suspension of war games with the United States is “not irreversible” as she urged the North to take concrete action toward abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

The comments came a day after Washington and Seoul announced that they were canceling a major military exercise that had been scheduled for August, following through on a promise made by President Donald Trump during his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Critics expressed concern that the decision may undermine the defense of the South as the North has massive artillery and more than a million soldiers poised across the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula. Many also said Trump made a major concession to the North while getting little in return.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the suspension of joint drills was aimed at building trust and overcoming hostilities and could be lifted.

“I think we made it clear that this is a goodwill gesture to strengthen the dialogue momentum at this point, but they are not irreversible,” she told reporters at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

“They could quickly come back should we see the dialogue momentum losing speed or North Korea not living up to its denuclearization commitments,” she said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has met with Kim twice since April, also said the ball was in North Korea’s court.

“I think North Korea needs to present more concrete denuclearization actions, and the United States needs to swiftly propose corresponding measures … and they need to implement those together,” he said, according to a transcript from his office.

Moon was speaking to Russian reporters ahead of his state visit to Moscow later this week.

The annual drills — a cornerstone of the longstanding U.S.-South Korean alliance — have been a frequent source of tension with the North, which considers them rehearsals for an invasion and has long called for them to be canceled.

The August exercise, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, is a two-week computerized simulation of possible war scenarios.

The Pentagon said it had suspended all planning for the exercise but “no decisions on subsequent war games have been made.”

The defense secretary, the secretary of state and the national security adviser are to hold a meeting on the issue at the Pentagon later this week, spokeswoman Dana White said.

Trump surprised many officials and allies when he announced plans to end the exercises during a press conference after his summit with Kim.

Kang declined to say if her government was given advance notice but said she received a phone call from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo immediately after the first-ever U.S.-North Korean summit was held in Singapore.

“I can assure you that the level of consultation between us and the United States at all levels has never been so close and so frequent,” she said.

South Korea’s military, meanwhile, said it had postponed a unilateral simulation-based exercise that had been scheduled for next week, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

 

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