- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2018

Pentagon officials have seen no uptick in readiness or an increased threat posed by North Korean forces to U.S. and allied troops on the peninsula, ahead of the landmark summit between Washington and Pyongyang in Singapore this week.

“All is quiet” among military forces stationed in the North ahead of the June 12 summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, aside from routine movements by Pyongyang’s forces, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday.

There has also been no indication of major activity associated with the North’s ballistic missile development program ahead of the highly-anticipated talks, Mr. Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.

His comments come as American and North Korean negotiators have finalized the agenda for the Singapore summit, which will focus on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and reestablishing diplomatic ties between Pyongyang, the U.S. and the international community.

Korean Central News Agency said the summit would address “wide-ranging and profound views on the issue of establishing new DPRK-U.S. relations, the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean Peninsula, the issue of realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern, as required by the changed era, will be exchanged at the DPRK-U.S. summit talks.”

Pentagon leaders have largely stayed on the sidelines in the run-up to the Singapore talks, deferring to U.S. diplomats led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to take the initiative with the North, Mr. Mattis said.

The Defense Department team is monitoring the talks from Seoul, “to make sure the military factors are being considered [in the] … continuity of effort in Singapore,” the former four-star general said Monday.

“You have to allow the diplomats to frame the issues,” Mr. Mattis said. “You have to get that part right before” discussions veer into specific issues concerning the future of the U.S. presence on the peninsula. “My job is to find the space, find the solutions for the diplomats” to resolve military-centric issues tied to the Singapore talks, Mr. Mattis added.

He declined to comment on the specifics of the military issues being discussed as part of the Singapore talks but did note consideration of partially drawing down or completely pulling out the roughly 28,000 U.S. service members stationed on the Korean peninsula would likely not be an issue.

“I do not believe it is” on the agenda, Mr. Mattis said of the American military deployment in South Korea. “That would be a discussion between two democracies,” he said, referring to the U.S. and Seoul, noting the issue is “not something other countries would have initial domain over.”

Reports surfaced in May that the Trump administration requested options from the Pentagon on a possible drawdown or full withdrawal of American troops on the peninsula.

Mr. Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton at the time vehemently denied that a U.S. drawdown on the Korean peninsula was being considered. But Mr. Trump has expressed concern in the past over the operations and maintenance costs tied to the decades-long deployment of American forces in Korea.

But none of those concerns were evident during Mr. Mattis’ meetings with his Asian counterparts in Singapore this week. Washington and its military allies will continue to stand together on the peninsula, regardless of the outcome of this week’s bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

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