Anchor: Washington's defense chief raised the possibility of dialing down the allies' joint military exercises amid diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea. The remarks from the U.S. official, who arrives in Seoul on Thursday, follow Pyongyang's angry protest regarding the allies' upcoming air drill this month.
Choi You Sun reports.
Report: U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Washington is open to adjusting military activity in South Korea, such as reducing joint exercises, to support diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea.
En route to Seoul on Wednesday for an annual meeting with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper said he was open to all things that "empower and enable" diplomatic dialogue with the North to resolve the nuclear issue.
Stating that Washington currently isn't considering downscaling either U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula or its joint military drills with Seoul, Esper said any adjustment would be a means to keep the door open to diplomacy, not a concession to the North.
The Pentagon chief added that any changes to military exercises would ensure troop readiness on the peninsula.
Esper's comments come as the allies plan to conduct a scaled-down joint air exercise later this month, in lieu of the larger Vigilant Ace annual exercise in support of diplomacy surrounding the peninsula.
Pyongyang, which strongly objects to the allies' joint drills as it considers them a rehearsal for invasion, earlier on Wednesday accused Washington of betrayal, warning that it would face a "greater threat" should the exercise go ahead as planned.
In an apparent attempt to break the deadlock in U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks, Esper said he takes seriously the North's end-of-year deadline for the U.S. to come up with an acceptable proposal in negotiations.
The scaling down of Seoul and Washington's joint drills was likely at the top of the agenda at Thursday's meeting of the two sides' Joint Chiefs of Staff chairs and will presumably be given similar priority at Friday's annual defense ministers' meeting in Seoul.
The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, took a cautious stance, with spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo on Thursday saying Esper's comments are believed to be in line with Washington's "flexible approach" to negotiations.
Choi You Sun, KBS World Radio News.