US resumes military drills with South Korea ahead of talks with North in New York
Washington : The United States and South Korea have resumed joint military exercises that were indefinitely suspended by President Donald Trump ahead of high-profile talks between top American and North Korean diplomats in New York later this week.
The two-week-long drills — dubbed the Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP) — kicked off on Monday around the southeastern port city of Pohang, according to a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defense.
Some 500 South Korean and American marines participate in the drills.
“The KMEP will start from November in accordance with the South Korea-US annual plan,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying. “It is an annual tactical combined forces training aimed at maintaining our joint defense posture.”
The KMEP, which was carried out 14 times in fiscal 2016 and 17 times in fiscal 2017, was suspended in June after Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a historic summit in Singapore in June, during which they agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Trump also promised to indefinitely suspend joint US-South Korea military exercises that were seen by Pyongyang as preparations to invade the North.
The US president said later that he saw no reason for “spending large amounts of money on joint US-South Korea war games.”
Pyongyang has so far taken several steps towards denuclearization, including shuttering its main nuclear test site with plans to dismantle several more. It has said it “expects reciprocal steps and not endless demands for full disarmament” from Washington, which has so far taken no moves in return.
The North says the least step Washington can take is to lift sanctions against the country, but the US insists that the restrictions would remain in place until North Korea is nuclear free.
The military maneuvers come as North Korea is scheduled to send Foreign Minister Kim Yong-chol to New York this week, where he is expected to hold talks with Secretary of State Pompeo over denuclearization and plans for a second summit between Trump and Kim.
It remains unclear if the drills will affect the planned talks.
Pompeo told CBS News on Sunday that he expected “some real progress including an effort to make sure that the summit between our two leaders can take place where we can make substantial steps towards denuclearization.”
But when asked if Pyongyang could expect sanctions relief, he said, “It is not only complete denuclearization, but our capacity to verify that that has taken place, is also a prerequisite to lifting economic sanctions.”
The North warned on Friday that it could restart development of its nuclear program if Washington does not drop its campaign of “maximum pressure” and sanctions.