The resumption of major joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea is not “necessary”, Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan has told reporters, despite stalled negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
The US regularly conducted large-scale military manoeuvres with the South Korean army until the first meeting of President Donald Trump with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last year.
They were suspended at Trump’s request to facilitate dialogue with Pyongyang and replaced by more limited exercises, but negotiations on the North Korean nuclear programme have hit a stalemate
Asked on Sunday whether the exercises would resume, Shanahan replied: “I don’t think it is necessary.”
The acting secretary of defence added that the US forces in South Korea were already “prepared if diplomacy fails” with the North.
“I am confident that we have the readiness that we are required to have, the operational forces and the posture,” Shanahan said while flying to Seoul for the third leg of his week-long tour of Asia.
On Saturday, in his first major speech on the international stage at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Shanahan mixed sharp criticism of China and warnings of North Korea’s “extraordinary” threat with vows that the US will remain strongly committed to the Indo-Pacific region and was ready to invest billions of dollars in securing its stability.
There are close to 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea, and their annual drills with tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers have always infuriated the North – with Pyongyang condemning the manoeuvres as provocative rehearsals for invasion.
However following the first summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore in June 2018, the US president said Washington would suspend the “very provocative” joint military exercises with South Korea.
The two leaders also signed a vaguely-worded pledge on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
A second meeting held in Vietnam’s Hanoi in February broke up early with no progress towards Washington’s goal of getting the isolated North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.