July 31, 2019 / 9:28 PM / 4 months ago

No plan to change South Korea-U.S. military exercise, U.S. official says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States does not plan to make changes to a military drill with South Korea, a senior U.S. defense official said on Wednesday, despite a series of North Korean missile launches intended to pressure Seoul and Washington to stop joint exercises.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries are planning to stage a joint exercise in August, known as Dong Maeng, which is believed to be a slimmed down version of an annual drill once known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, which included thousands of U.S. troops.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday after two similar missile tests last week, raising the stakes for U.S. and South Korean diplomats hoping to restart talks on North Korean denuclearization.

“No adjustment or change in plans that we’re aware of or are planning,” the U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.

It is unclear how many U.S. troops will be involved this year, but the official noted that the exercise, as in the past, would have a large computer simulated portion.

“The main thing you want to test, exercise, practice is to make decisions in a combined decision making environment because we have an integrated command structure,” the official said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met on June 30, but Pyongyang has since accused Washington of breaking a promise by planning the military exercises and warned the drills could derail talks.

North Korean State news agency KCNA repeated calls for the United States and South Korea to end their “hostile” joint drills, but did not mention the missile launches.

South Korea has said previously that the joint military exercise would go ahead, denying Pyongyang’s charges that holding it would breach an agreement made between Trump and Kim.

“We have to do two things: we have to give the diplomats appropriate space for their diplomacy and help create an environment that is conducive to the talks when they resume ... and we have to maintain readiness,” the U.S. official said.

Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will be making his first official visit to Seoul, which the Pentagon said on Tuesday was scheduled as part of a tour through Asia in August.

Reporting by Idrees Ali; additional reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool

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