- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2018

President Trump said Wednesday that he has no intention of resuming U.S.-South Korean military drills he suspended as part of his diplomatic outreach to North Korea, a day after Defense Secretary James Mattis suggested the exercises that Pyongyang has long condemned could be resumed in the near future.

In a four-part tweet late Wednesday, Mr. Trump again accused China of trying to undermine the U.S.-North Korean detente, while providing fresh evidence that his own administration is struggling to come up with a single, coherent approach to jump-starting the stalled talks to end the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

While insisting his personal relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un remains strong, Mr. Trump and his aides have been frustrated by the lack of concrete moves by Pyongyang to fulfill Mr. Kim’s pledge at their Singapore summit in June to “work toward” a total denuclearization of the divided Korean Peninsula.

But the president’s late Wednesday tweet doubled down on his offer at Singapore to suspend what he called the “provocative” U.S.-South Korean military exercises, at least so long as the nuclear talks proceed.

“The President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” Mr. Trump tweeted in what was described as a “Statement from the White House.”

At the same time, the tweet said Mr. Trump “can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses,” and that “if he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”

The North for its part has complained the U.S. has not followed through on the pledges Mr. Trump made at the Singapore summit, notably a move to effectively declare an end to the Korean War of the 1950s.

The tweet came amid rising speculation in Washington over future of Mr. Trump’s North Korea policy. Mr. Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that the U.S. military plans to restart joint drills with Seoul that North Korea has long criticized as a rehearsal for an invasion.

Mr. Trump has sought to blame China for the slow pace of the North Korean talks, saying Beijing is refusing to use its leverage with North Korea or enforce international economic sanctions on Pyongyang because of its unhappiness with Mr. Trump’s trade policies.

Mr. Trump abruptly canceled a planned fourth trip by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang last week, asserting at the time that Beijing was vindictively using its influence over Pyongyang to gain leverage in the contentious U.S.-China trade negotiations. There have also been reports Mr. Trump was reacting to a critical letter from North Korea to Mr. Pompeo about the state of the negotiations.

The “Statement from the White House” returned to the same theme Wednesday.

North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese government,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful!”

Officials in South Korea, who are proceeding with their own rapprochement with the North, played down Mr. Mattis’s statement that the joint drills could be restarted. Mr. Trump reportedly offered to suspend the military exercises in June without consulting South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The South Korean president’s office said Wednesday that U.S. officials haven’t spoken to Seoul about future exercises, according to the Yonhap News Agency in Seoul.

Mr. Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that the U.S. military has “no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises.”

Mr. Mattis, who has had several policy battles with the White House, on Wednesday issued his own follow-up statement saying discussions were continuing on whether and when to resume the joint drills.

“No decisions have been made about suspending any future exercises,” the statement said.

Private analysts say this week’s back-and-forth is the latest sign of difficulty in Trump administration’s pursuit of a breakthrough nuclear deal with North Korea.

“Whether Mattis’ announcement was meant as a signal, negotiating tactic, or merely a statement of fact is unclear. But it will be seen as another indication that the denuclearization talks are not going as smoothly as President Trump originally depicted,” said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA Korea deputy division chief now with the Heritage Foundation.

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