U.S., S. Korea remain ready to defend against N. Korea: Pentagon

May 1, 2020

The United States and South Korea remain prepared to defend against North Korea and have continued to train their troops amid unconfirmed reports about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s ill health, the Pentagon said Friday.

“We are always prepared to fight tonight,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said during a press briefing, referencing a slogan of the allied forces.

“We’ve continued with training, we’ve continued with exercising, we’ve continued with efforts up there to be prepared for whatever may happen in North Korea,” he said, adding he has nothing to add to the speculation about Kim’s health.

The North Korean leader has been absent from public view for 20 days since presiding over a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on April 11.

News reports have described him as being in “grave danger” after surgery or hiding out at a coastal resort to escape the coronavirus pandemic.

Amid the intense speculation, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that it is unusual, but not unheard of, that Kim has not been sighted for this period of time.

“We are continuing to monitor closely,” he said on “The Scott Sands Show” on radio. “We are working to make sure we’re prepared for whatever eventuality there is.”

On the South Korea-U.S. negotiations over a defense cost-sharing deal, Hoffman deferred all questions to the State Department, which is leading the talks.

“We are being supportive,” he said. “(U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper) has been clear in his conversations — we’ve had (South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo) here — that we believe that there is an opportunity here for South Korea to spend a little bit more on the U.S. defensive efforts. And that’s been a position the department, the administration has had for the last three and a half years.”

The two countries have been in drawn out negotiations to renew their Special Measures Agreement on sharing the cost of stationing 28,500 American troops in South Korea.

Washington has demanded Seoul pay significantly more than the US$870 million it agreed to under last year’s one-year SMA, which lapsed at the end of December.

Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump said he rejected Seoul’s offer, effectively confirming a news report that he had rejected South Korea’s proposal to increase its contribution by 13 percent.

Citing the absence of a new agreement, U.S. Forces Korea has placed some 4,000 South Korean employees on unpaid leave.

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