Barely a month after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he "couldn't rule out" US forces physically boarding ships caught violating US sanctions against North Korea, RT is reporting that, despite the recent thaw in relations between the US, South Korea and North Korea, the annual "Foal Eagle" and "Key Resolve" joint military exercises involving US and South Korea forces will begin April 1.
Signs of a breakthrough in North-South relations ahead of last month's Winter Olympics prompted the US to postpone the drills, which typically elicit a vehement condemnation from the North, as well as threats of retaliation.
But now that the Games are over, the Pentagon said the planned drills will resume as scheduled - despite North Korea's offer to freeze its missile and nuclear tests ahead of a meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, which Trump hastily agreed to earlier this month.
South Korea's Ministry of National Defense confirmed as much to Yonhap.
"The practice is slated to begin April 1, and it will be conducted on a similar size in previous years," the Ministry of National Defense said, according to Yonhap.
The exercises are expected to conclude toward the end of May, the Pentagon said.
"Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo have agreed to resume the annual combined exercises including Foal Eagle and Key Resolve which were de-conflicted with the schedule of the Olympic Games. The exercises are expected to resume April 1, 2018, at a scale similar to that of the previous years," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said in a statement.
The North Koreans have been notified about the drills by the United Nations Command. The Pentagon emphasized that the drills are not a response to a specific North Korean action.
"Our combined exercises are defense-oriented and there is no reason for North Korea to view them as a provocation," Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed that the drills would involve about 23,000 troops and 300,000 members of the South Korean military.
After a round of successful negotiations with South Korea, Kim sent a letter that was hand-delivered to Trump by a South Korean delegation inviting him to engage in direct talks.
Trump agreed to meet with Kim "sometime in May", ignoring pleas from diplomats and Pentagon officials that honoring the request would "legitimize" North Korea in the eyes of the world.
South Korea has assured the US that the North is "committed to denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula. Until this latest salvo, the North had insisted that it would never give up its nukes under any circumstances, while the US insisted that denuclearization would be a precondition for any lifting of sanctions.
Surprisingly, the North Korean leader suggested he'd be willing to countenance the latest round of military drills, even as the US offered no concessions in return.
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A North Korea expert at the University of Chicago warned Tuesday that the US shouldn't believe the North when it says it would consider giving up its nukes, according to Yonhap.
"North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons and China will not push North Koreans to do so. The reason is that in international politics, you could never trust anybody because you cannot be certain of what their intentions are," said John Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of Chicago, during a lecture in Seoul.
So, what do you think? Is North Korea trying to lure Trump into a diplomatic trap with the ultimate aim of embarrassing the US? Or have the many rounds of economic sanctions imposed against the regime finally started to work?