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US, S Korea postpone joint exercise criticized by N Korea

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The United States and South Korea are postponing a joint military air exercise that North Korea criticized as provocateur.

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ROBERT BURNS AP National Security Writer

November 17, 2019 at 8:59 AM

4 min reading

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday that the United States and South Korea had indefinitely postponed a joint military exercise in a "goodwill act" against North Korea.

The move comes even when Japan's defense minister, whose country feels threatened by repeated North Korean missile launches, told Esper that "no one could be optimistic about" changing northern behavior.

The statement by Japan's head of defense, Taro Kono, was a stark illustration of the difficulties the US and its allies and international partners face as they struggle to bring North Korea back into talks to eliminate its nuclear weapons and missiles. Negotiations launched by President Donald Trump in 2018 were halted without resumption in sight.

Although the US military has for years called its joint military exercises with South Korea an important means of keeping troops and commanders ready for combat in a short time, Trump has called them a waste of money and provocation in the north.

Esper announced the postponement of the military exercise at a news conference with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo. They were in Bangkok to attend a conference of Asian defense ministers.

Esper insisted that the postponement was not a concession to North Korea, but an attempt to "keep the door open" to diplomacy to eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons.

“I see this as a bona fide effort by the United States and the Republic of Korea to allow peace, to shape … facilitate a political settlement – an agreement if you will – that leads to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” I hope. Reporters.

North Korea hardly seemed ready to reciprocate. Following the conversation between Esper and Jeong, North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a written statement of defiance. He said he has no plans to negotiate his nuclear programs, even if negotiations resume, unless the US offers to first discuss the withdrawal of its "hostile" policies against Pyongyang.

The North Korean statement also criticized Washington's support for a recent United Nations resolution condemning widespread human rights violations in the North, claiming that the resolution shows the US continuing intention to isolate the North and destroy its political system.

The North has also sharply criticized US and South Korean military exercises for being provocative and preparing for an invasion.

Kono, the Japanese defense minister, met with Esper and Jeong after they made the announcement. Speaking to reporters and photographers present, Kono said it is important for the three nations to consult closely "under the current situation where no one can be optimistic about North Korea."

He added that the North Koreans launched "more than 20 missiles this year, including new missile types and a submarine-launched ballistic missile," in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Kono called North Korea "a serious threat to peace and stability" in Japan and throughout the region.

Esper told reporters he did not consider the postponement a concession to North Korea, despite following earlier reductions in the scale and prominence of US-South Korean exercises.

"We made this decision as an act of goodwill in contributing to an environment conducive to diplomacy and the advancement of peace," said Esper.

Even on Friday, when Esper was in Seoul to consult with South Korean authorities, there were no words to postpone the military air exercise called Vigilant Ace.

Seoul and Washington recently reduced the exercise and changed its name, but North Korea strongly opposed it, calling it evidence of a lack of interest in improving relations.

Jeong said the exercise was postponed, awaiting further consultations between Seoul and Washington. No new date has been set.

Esper said Seoul and Washington encourage North Korea "to show the same goodwill" when considering decisions about their own military training, exercises and tests.

He also urged the North to return to the negotiating table "without precondition or hesitation."

Esper said that even without the planned exercise of the South Korean and US air forces, the two military "will remain in a high state of readiness" for possible fighting.

The US has about 28,000 troops in South Korea.

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