Trump supports halt to ‘war games,’ blames China: statement
WASHINGTON/SEOUL, The White House said Wednesday the U.S. decision to suspend major combined military exercises with South Korea holds true despite a stalemate in efforts to denuclearize North Korea.
President Donald Trump believes "there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games," his office said in a statement posted on his Twitter account.
It cited Trump's "good and warm" relationship with the North's leader Kim Jong-un stemming from their historic Singapore summit on June 12.
Trump thinks China is to blame, at least partially, for the recent gridlock highlighted by the cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's trip to Pyongyang this week.
He "feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese Government," the statement read.
Furthermore, it added, China is providing North Korea with "considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful!"
Trump's view runs counter to China's formal position.
Speaking to reporters in Singapore earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Minister dismissed concern that trade frictions between the two global powers will affect their cooperation on North Korea.
"China, as a responsible country, adheres to principles ... China will decide its position based on the rights and wrongs of each affair and each issue. China upholds international justice and the basic norms of international relations," he stressed while on a visit there for the ASEAN Regional Forum.
South Korea and the U.S. have halted key annual joint military drills in order to buttress denuclearization talks with the North that were resumed in earnest with the Singapore summit.
The practices affected include Key Resolve, Foal Eagle, Ulchi-Freedom Guardian and the marines' Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP).
The future of the maneuvers has drawn keen attention since Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Tuesday the Pentagon has no plans to suspend more exercises. He stressed the suspension of such drills was a good faith measure.
Mattis' remarks raised the possibility that the massive combined Vigilant Ace air drills, slated for December, could proceed as planned. Seoul's defense ministry said no decision has been made over whether to conduct the drills.
South Korea's presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, said the issue will be decided by the allies' consultations down the road, depending on progress in the nuclear negotiations.
The State Department maintained that the two sides remain closely coordinated.
Its spokesperson Heather Nauert said the notion of a reported rift between the allies is "simply overblown."
"There is no reality to that," although they may have "minor disagreements" on policy issues, she said at a press briefing.
Nauert said she has no information on a South Korean news report that Pompeo sent a letter to Foreign Minister Kang Kyun-wha explaining the decision to call off his trip to Pyongyang.
"He spoke with his South Korean counterpart ... but any supposedly letter, I'm not familiar with that in any way, shape or form," she said.
She said the department's new point man on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, will soon travel to Korea and other countries.
"I know he will be traveling in the region sometime probably within the next several weeks or so to meet some of his counterparts in other countries," she said.
She was guarded about the possibility of him making a trip to North Korea as well.
The Ford Motor Co. executive needs time to wrap up his work at the company before starting his full-time job at the department, according to a diplomatic source.
Asked about the North's call for declaring an end to the Korean War, Nauert reiterated that denuclearization is a precondition.
"I can tell you that we believe that denuclearization has to take place before we get to other parts, and that's been a part of our policy," she said.
She was responding to a question about the news that the North is apparently upset about Trump reneging on his summit deal on the matter.
According to Vox, a U.S.-based news website, multiple sources "familiar with the negotiations" said Trump made a promise during the Singapore meeting to sign the declaration to end the 1950-53 conflict.
"It makes sense why the North Koreans are angry," one source was quoted as saying. "Having Trump promise a peace declaration and then moving the goalposts and making it conditional would be seen as the U.S. reneging on its commitments."
Nauert said she's "not familiar with that being a part of the overall agreement."
One thing clear is that the proposed end-of-war declaration is a main sticking point in the talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
Source: Yonhap News Agency