The Trump administration said Thursday there are no plans to change or reduce the scope of current US-South Korean military exercises that triggered an angry reaction from North Korea and cast doubt on President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim Jong Un. The North abruptly canceled a planned meeting with South Korean officials over the drills and threatened to pull out of the summit, set for June 12 in Singapore, over the US insistence on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
But Trump said Thursday that nothing has changed with respect to North Korea after the warning from Pyongyang. He said North Korean officials are discussing logistical details about the meeting with the US “as if nothing happened.”
The North has argued that it needs its nuclear weapons to preserve its security, and has expressed concerns about giving up its nuclear program. The North cites the example of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who died at the hands of rebel forces amid a popular uprising in October 2011; he had given up his nuclear program in the 2000s.
Trying to address the North Korean concerns, the president said that if Kim were to agree to denuclearize, “he’ll get protections that would be very strong.” But Trump warned that failure to make a deal could have grave consequences for Kim. Mentioning what happened in Libya, Trump said: “That model would take place if we don’t make a deal.”
Speaking at an Oval Office meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump also said he will not discuss US troop levels in South Korea during his meeting with Kim.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said the schedule of military exercises hasn’t changed. She added the annual exercises are long-planned, defensive in nature and meant to ensure the readiness of US and South Korean forces.
Exercise Max Thunder began Monday and concludes May 25. It includes aircraft from across the US military services. Last year’s exercise included roughly 1,200 U.S. personnel and about 640 South Koreans. This year’s drill is similar. The North has said it won’t return to talks with Seoul due to the exercises.