U.S. defense chief to visit S. Korea over military exercises

June 20, 2018
This compilation image shows South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (L) and an EPA file photo of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. (Yonhap)

This compilation image shows South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (L) and an EPA file photo of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. (Yonhap)

WASHINGTON, June 20 (Yonhap) — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday he will visit South Korea next week to discuss the next steps following the suspension of joint military exercises.

Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon he will visit Beijing and then Seoul to “sort out the way ahead.”

U.S. President Donald Trump announced last week after a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that the allied drills will be suspended while negotiations are under way to dismantle the North’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korea views the exercises as an invasion rehearsal despite assurances from Seoul and Washington that they are defensive in nature.

The allies have announced the suspension of all planning for a major military exercise in August, called the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, with no decision yet on subsequent exercises.

Some regard the move as a major concession to Pyongyang, while others view it as a means to speed up North Korea’s denuclearization.

In Seoul, Mattis is expected to hold talks with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo.

The U.S. defense chief is also scheduled to discuss the details with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Friday.

“We’ll sort it all out,” Mattis said when asked if the suspension could affect the allies’ readiness against potential North Korean aggression. “We need to sort it out before I start talking about it.”

He said he is not aware that North Korea has taken any steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons program since the summit in Singapore.

“I mean, obviously, it’s the very front end of a process. The detailed negotiations have not begun,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

At the summit, Kim committed to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula while Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the regime.

North Korea also agreed to return the remains of American troops killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Mattis said those discussions are ongoing.

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