U.S. Vows to Defend South Korea With Full Military Force Following Pyongyang Threats

America's general has warned North Korea that the U.S. will not hesitate to bring its full military force to bear in defense of its allies in the south, following Pyongyang's threat of escalation over stalled denuclearization talks.

North Korea released an official statement Wednesday saying it felt "betrayed" by a planned U.S. and South Korea joint military exercise, which is set to go ahead despite Pyongyang's repeated complaints.

The statement—from the State Affairs Commission, which is headed by Kim Jong Un—said the drill was an "undisguised breach" of the agreement signed by President Donald Trump and Kim at their summit in Singapore last year.

Relations between Pyongyang and Washington have cooled due to a lack of progress on denuclearization and sanctions relief negotiations. The North has set the U.S. an end-of-year ultimatum to propose a new way forward, and has repeatedly warned that time is running out.

The U.S.-South Korean exercise is a scaled-back version of the annual Vigilant Ace air maneuvers. The State Affairs Commission said Wednesday that North Korea was entitled to "self-defense rights" in the face of any perceived aggression, and said that though the regime desired dialogue, it would "recourse to force in kind."

On Thursday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley gave Pyongyang's threats short shrift. Milley said the U.S. was prepared to use "the full range of U.S. military capabilities" to defend South Korea from any aggression, according to Reuters.

The conversation was recorded in a statement detailing the general's meeting with South Korea counterpart General Park Han-ki.

Milley also stressed America's "continued commitment to providing extended deterrence," the statement said.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is also in South Korea Thursday, due to attend the annual Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Friday.

Esper said Wednesday that he would consider changing U.S. military activity in South Korea if it could help officials revive talks with their North Korean counterparts. There are currently around 25,000 American soldiers stationed on the Korean Peninsula.

Any steps would be taken "in close collaboration with our Korean partners, not as a concession to North Korea or anything, but again, as a means to keep the door open to diplomacy," Esper told reporters.

The North has long condemned joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, considering them preparation for a future invasion of the isolated dictatorship.

Trump handed Kim a surprise victory in Singapore when he agreed to freeze all joint exercises in the hope of a denuclearization deal. The Pentagon and South Korea were shocked by the announcement, with neither consulted on the commitment.

The 2018 Vigilant Ace was among those canceled. In previous years, the drill has involved hundreds of American and South Korean aircraft. It is not clear how many will be deployed in the coming exercise.

North Korea, South Korea, US, military, exercise
This file photo shows U.S. soldiers atop M1A2 tanks during a U.S.-South Korea joint exercise in the border city of Yeoncheon, northeast of Seoul, on May 30, 2013. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty