President Joe Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that U.S. forces are ready to fight after North Korean officials threatened the Biden administration to stop military drills with South Korean forces.
During a joint press conference with South Korean officials, Austin said, “We discussed the way forward on a host of critical strategic and operational issues, and at the top of my agenda was ensuring a shared understanding of the importance of maintaining military readiness.”
“Our force remains ready to fight tonight and we continue to make progress toward the eventual transition of wartime operational control to a [Republic of Korea]-commanded future combined forces command,” Austin said.
Austin’s comments come after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong alleged on Tuesday that the Biden administration was trying to give off the smell of burnt gunpowder throughout the Korean Peninsula to intimidate the North.
“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement originally carried by state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and reported by Reuters. “If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”
While Kim’s statements about the military drills directly referenced the smell of gunpowder, Reuters reported the U.S.-South Korean drills have only included computer simulations this year, amid coronavirus restrictions.
South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong also referenced Kim’s comments during the press briefing.
“Recently, Kim Yo Jong made a statement and Choe Son-hui made another statement today, and I am closely monitoring the situation,” Chung said. “It seems North Korea is reviewing its policy toward the U.S., and it seems that North Korea is closely monitoring the dialogue between ROK and U.S. regarding North Korea policy. I believe it’s their own way of sending messages to us and the U.S.”
The back and forth comments by North Korea and Austin come as efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula have stalled in the last year and a half, despite North Korea momentarily welcoming negotiations during President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump and Kim Jong Un met multiple times to discuss denuclearization, but no agreement was made during Trump’s presidency. During their second meeting, the two leaders disagreed over when U.S. sanctions against North Korea would end. As denuclearization talks faltered, Kim Jong Un went on to impose a 2019 year-end deadline to reach a denuclearization deal or cease negotiations. After that deadline passed, North Korea began to increase its tests of ballistic missiles.
Relations between the two Koreas have also faltered in the last year. In June, after South Korean activists tried to spread anti-regime leaflets over the border, North Korea threatened to pull out of a 2018 agreement with the South to limit military drills.
Just weeks later in June, North Korea demolished a liaison office built between the two sides in 2018, to help facilitate inter-Korean dialogue.
In July, North Korea rejected a South Korean invitation to resume denuclearization talks with the U.S. and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in turn, said then-President Trump would only join the talks if there was a real possibility talks would yield progress.