Defense chiefs confer at meeting in Honolulu

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Defense chiefs confer at meeting in Honolulu


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, shakes hands with Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo as they hold talks Friday in Honolulu, Hawaii. [YONHAP]

A top U.S. defense official warned Friday that talks between the two Koreas on the Olympic Games must not disrupt the international campaign to pressure the North to give up its nuclear arms.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made the remark during a meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters.

The meeting took place amid growing concerns that the South may abandon the global coalition to put pressure on the North as it focuses on inter-Korean dialogue over the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Mattis said the United States welcomed the talks between the two Koreas, while also “remaining steadfast that the international economic pressure campaign can denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.”

“Diplomacy should repose reason on Kim’s reckless rhetoric and dangerous provocations,” he said. “So we do not lose sight of the fact that the Olympics talks alone do not address over-arching problems.”

Song responded that the inter-Korean talks will not affect the economic sanctions campaign against the North. “And Secretary Mattis and I will also be exchanging our opinions on President Moon Jae-in’s statement that the inter-Korea dialogue is a dialogue ultimately to draw out North Korea to a dialogue with the United States,” he said.

He said he wants to address the Korea-U.S. alliance and efforts to reaffirm bilateral coordination to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and ensure the safe and peaceful opening of the Olympics, slated for next month.

The North’s advance team wrapped up a visit to the South and returned home on Saturday. The South’s advance team also made a visit to the North last week. Further discussions will take place this week to fine-tune the North’s participation in the games, such as who will head Pyongyang’s delegation.

The defense chiefs’ talks came amid growing speculation in the United States that the South may request another delay or downsizing of Korea-U.S. military drills. Earlier this month, Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to postpone annual exercises until after the Olympic Games.

The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military drills of the South and the United States, usually held over two months in the spring, are regularly denounced by the North as a rehearsal for an invasion and have been periods of heightened military tension on the Korean Peninsula.

According to sources, the meeting between Song and Mattis took place at the request of Song to resolve such concerns. It was their first meeting in three months.

The Ministry of National Defense and the Pentagon each issued a press release warning against any attempt to drive a wedge into the Korea-U.S. alliance.

“Secretary Mattis and Minister Song welcomed the resumed inter-Korean dialogue, which has resulted in North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics,” the Pentagon’s press release said. “Both sides agreed to closely cooperate to assure a safe and peaceful Winter Olympics. Both sides reaffirmed their mutual objective of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“Moreover, they emphasized that any efforts to drive a wedge in the U.S.-[South Korea] alliance would fail,” it said.

Conspicuously missing from the statements is when the two countries will resume the postponed military exercises. No announcement has been made so far on when the joint exercises will take place this year.

The Asahi Shimbun in Japan reported Sunday that Song and Mattis agreed to conduct the exercises immediately after the Paralympics end on March 18. The newspaper cited military officials on both sides.

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