Pentagon dismisses N.K. anger at allies’ air exercise

WASHINGTON-- The Pentagon on Wednesday brushed off North Korea's anger at planned air exercises between South Korea and the United States, saying the allies do not conduct their exercises based on Pyongyang's reactions.

Earlier Wednesday, a North Korean foreign ministry official issued a statement denouncing the U.S. for planning combined air exercises with South Korea, saying it is no different from declaring a "showdown" in the wake of the breakdown of working-level denuclearization negotiations only a month ago.

"We don't scale or conduct our exercises based off North Korea's anger," Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

"Our exercises ... ensure readiness and enhance interoperability between the U.S. and South Korea while allowing the diplomats the space they need to have open conversations with North Korea," he added.

Seoul and Washington have scaled back their combined military exercises since the first summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018 produced an agreement to "work toward" the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea views the exercises as an invasion rehearsal despite assurances from Seoul and Washington that they are defensive in nature.

The North Korean official, Kwon Jong-gun, previously the director-general of the ministry's North American affairs bureau, warned that the North's patience is "reaching its limits" and threatened to reconsider the "major steps" it has taken, apparently referring to the suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests.

The statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency identified the official as a "rotational ambassador." Kwon was recently replaced by Jo Chol-su as director-general for North American affairs.

South Korean and U.S. officials said earlier that the allies plan to stage the Combined Flying Training Event in place of the massive Vigilant Ace drills that were suspended last year.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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