A joint U.S. and South Korean military exercise in December could derail North Koreans on a path to discuss the denuclearization of their country.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Wednesday, calling the air force exercises “extremely provocative and dangerous.” According to U.S. News and World Report, the Pentagon had already scaled back the military drills, but those drills do coincide closely with plans to renew nuclear talks with North Korea.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry statement said to continue with the military drills would amount to a “declaration of confrontation with the DPRK.” The statement described the Pentagon’s decision to move forward as a “reckless military frenzy.”
The Pentagon did not respond to requests for comment about the specific military drills in December, but did speak to defend the joint South Korean exercises as a whole.
“We have always, and will continue to conduct exercises, including combined air exercises, in order to maintain our readiness, enhance the U.S. and [South Korea’s] interoperability, while allowing the diplomats the space they need to have open dialogue with North Korea,” Army Lt. Col. David Eastburn told U.S. News and World Report.
State Department officials also did not speak to the concerns over the latest exercises and deferred comment to the Pentagon.
The combined U.S. and South Korean military drills have been a key part of maintaining readiness to defend South Korea against an open conflict on the Korean peninsula. The exercises have also become something of a bargaining chip in peace talks with North Korea and President Donald Trump agreed to stop several high profile drills during an initial round of peace talks with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un.
The Pentagon has still proceeded with some of the military drills and last year even suspended the same annual exercise now planned for December, called “Vigilant Ace.”
The planned 2019 “Vigilant Ace” drills have already been reduced from their traditionally high-profile nature, but said limited flight exercises would proceed.
“Our patience is nearing the limitations and we will never remain an onlooker to the reckless military moves of the U.S.,” the North Korean statement said of the scaled-back military drills.
The latest North Korean trepidation threatens the first round of talks since an October round of denuclearization talks in Stockholm “broke down.”
Further, the diplomatic channel between the U.S. and North Korea has been strained in the past months since a round of peace talks in February saw both Trump and Kim leave the peace talks earlier than planned. Trump said the February negotiations broke down over economic sanctions against North Korea.
In April, North Korea’s Kim reportedly issued a deadline to reach a denuclearization agreement with the U.S. before the end of the year.