The peace process in the Korean peninsula seems to have got back on track despite a series of statements by US President Donald Trump that put it at risk. The breakthrough happened with both Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un renewing their commitments to the proposed bilateral summit on June 12. While Trump noted that it was the beginning of a process, Jong-un said he was of a “fixed will” about the summit taking place.
The US President made these comments after meeting the North Korean envoy, Kim Yong Chol, who had come to deliver a letter from Jong-un. Trump said the meeting was a ’get to know you’ kind of a situation. He added that he was dropping the use of the phrase “maximum pressure” because the two regimes were “getting along”. Earlier, Trump had vowed to use “maximum pressure” on North Korea to force it to give up its nuclear weapons.
Following Trump’s announcement, the regular military exercises between the two countries are likely to be scaled down. The defense secretaries of the two countries, James Mattis and Song Young-moo, came to this agreement at a bilateral meeting at the Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
It will create “positive conditions” for the upcoming summit between the US and North Korea, they said in a joint press statement.
"Both ministers shared the stance that the Washington-Pyongyang summit will provide a historic opportunity in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and establishing permanent peace," the joint statement reads.
"For this, they promised to help create conditions favorable for the summit and tighten bilateral communication and mutual assistance."
This downscaling might include a reduction in the deployment of US nuclear submarines and strategic bombers in the Korean peninsula, as well as a reduction in the number of joint exercises. Besides bilateral drills which are ongoing, the two countries will also participate in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), as well as the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG).
RIMPAC, which involves 26 countries, will take place from June 27 to August 2, while UFG is scheduled to begin at the end of August.
A South Korean military official said that the military exercises would take place as scheduled, but be held in a “low key” manner. He also said that little or no media coverage of the drills would be allowed, and no active publicity or promotions of the drills would be made.
However, North Korea expressed its unhappiness over the continuation of the drills saying that they were in contradiction to the bilateral agreement that was reached during the historic meet between the leaders of the two Koreas in April.
North Korea has called these drills a “rehearsal of war”, saying the South Korean military’s moves are clearly against the Panmunjeom Declaration."
While the US did commit to the scaling down of military exercises, the US defence secretary, also did take a hard stance ahead of the meeting. “We can anticipate, at best, a bumpy road to the (negotiations),” Mattis said. “We will continue to implement all UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea. North Korea will receive relief only when it demonstrates verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearisation,” Mattis added.
In a related development, North Korea replaced three of its top military officials, according to a report by South Korean Yonhap News Agency. While the exact motive of the move is unclear, it is likely that it will help strengthen the control of the Workers Party of Korea over the Korean People’s Army (KPA).