Trump Administration Backs Down on Military Exercises, But North Korea Not Expected to Reciprocate 'Act of Goodwill'

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper this weekend confirmed the postponement of a joint military exercise with South Korea as an "act of goodwill" to end nuclear deadlock with North Korea, despite warnings from Japan that such a gesture will not likely be reciprocated by Kim Jong Un.

Esper made the announcement alongside his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo, during a Sunday press conference in Bangkok, where the two men were reportedly attending an Asia defense minister's conference, according to The Associated Press. Speaking to reporters, Esper and Jeong confirmed that the exercise will be delayed but did not disclose a new date or comment on whether one had been set.

"I see this as a good-faith effort by the United States and the Republic of Korea to enable peace, to shape... to facilitate a political agreement–a deal, if you will–that leads to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," Esper said, adding that he hopes the move would encourage Kim "to demonstrate the same goodwill."

Although the U.S. and South Korea have wound back the joint military exercises they conduct annually to deter North Korea from a nuclear offensive, Pyongyang has continued to criticize the drills as a barrier to further improving relations. The hermit kingdom has also previously called the exercises a demonstration that the two countries are preparing for war. President Donald Trump, who has attempted to negotiate with Kim over several historic meetings in recent years, called the exercises a waste of money.

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However, the move is not expected to yield any results. Esper's announcement comes after Japan's Defense Chief Taro Kono warned the U.S. official that such a gesture will not likely persuade North Korea to follow suit. "No one could be optimistic about" influencing Kim's behavior, he said.

Kono met with Esper and Jeong following their announcement and echoed his warning with reporters in the room. North Korea has violated U.N. Security Council resolutions by launching "more than 20 missiles this year including new types of missiles as well as a submarine-launched ballistic missile," he said, we must coordinate closely "under the current situation where no one could be optimistic about North Korea."

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After the press conference, the foreign ministry of North Korea reportedly issued a statement, where they asserted that unless America takes steps to address the "hostile" policies enforced against Pyongyang, they will not agree to negotiate over their nuclear ambitions.

Amid stalled denuclearization negotiations, Trump urged Kim to "act quickly" in getting the "deal done" in a Sunday tweet, where he also responded to attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden.

"Mr. Chairman, Joe Biden may be Sleepy and Very Slow, but he is not a 'rabid dog,'" the U.S. president wrote. "He is actually somewhat better than that, but I am the only one who can get you where you have to be. You should act quickly, get the deal done. See you soon!"

Trump and Kim
US President Donald Trump (R) walks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a break in talks at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. Saul Loeb/Getty
Trump Administration Backs Down on Military Exercises, But North Korea Not Expected to Reciprocate 'Act of Goodwill' | Politics