Just days after the Pentagon announced the US would be holding limited air drills with South Korea in the coming weeks in lieu of their annual Vigilant Ace exercises, North Korea’s Kwon Jong Gun, roving ambassador for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Foreign Ministry, asserted the US’ decision “amounts to a declaration of confrontation.”
“The US reckless military frenzy is an extremely provocative and dangerous act of throwing a wet blanket over the spark of the DPRK-US dialogue on the verge of extinction,” the diplomat said on Thursday, as reported by KCNA Watch. “No one will believe that the changed war exercises will also change their aggression nature.”
The Vigilant Ace exercises were canceled last year shortly after US President Donald Trump canceled two additional joint drills with South Korea and claimed “war games” were “very expensive” and hindered negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Then-US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis expressed similar sentiments when he announced the 2019 Foal Eagle Exercises would be scaled back “to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy.”
Washington and Seoul’s 2017 Vigilant Ace drills brought more than 230 aircraft to the region and, according to the Pentagon, were carried out to “maximize the realism” of a response to a potential Pacific threat. The DPRK, on the other hand, viewed the exercises as “dangerous provocation” that was pushing the region "to the brink of a nuclear war."
Kwon reminded Washington of this recent history concerning joint drills in the area and asserted Pyongyang had “emphasized more than once that the planned joint military exercise can block the bilateral relations from advancing and compel us to reconsider the crucial measures we have already taken.”
“Our patience is nearing the limitations,” he added, “and we will never overlook the US reckless military moves” - possibly signaling a response through the resumption of long-range missile tests and nuclear research.
In addition to the failed negotiations in Stockholm, Sweden, last month, Kwon’s statement also comes on the heels of the US State Department designating North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism in the Country Report on Terrorism 2018. Pyongyang condemned the report’s assertion and responded by saying the DPRK rejects manifestations of terrorism and does not support terroristic acts.
The Pentagon has since responded to Kwon’s statement, appearing unmoved by Pyongyang’s comments on the upcoming, limited exercises.
“We don’t scale or conduct our exercises based off North Korea’s anger,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn told The Japan Times on Thursday. “Our exercises … ensure readiness and enhance interoperability between the US and South Korea while allowing the diplomats the space they need to have open conversations with North Korea.”