Trump says Korea military drills could be restarted

The president believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good. (KCNA/Reuters)
Updated 30 August 2018

Trump says Korea military drills could be restarted

  • The president can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses, White House statement said
  • Trump caught military leaders by surprise in June when he announced the suspension with the South

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Wednesday that there’s no reason to spend a lot of money on military wargames with South Korea, but warned he could “instantly” relaunch the exercises again and they would be “far bigger than ever before.”
Trump made the comment in a series of tweets that primarily took aim at China, blaming it for lack of progress on getting North Korea to end its nuclear program, following the president’s landmark summit with Kim Jong Un in June.
But there was also a loaded message for Kim: mixing an expression of goodwill to the North Korean autocrat with an implicit military threat that will add to speculation over the direction of Trump’s attempted rapprochement with a long-time adversary.
“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 US-South Korea war games,” Trump said, citing what was presented as a White House statement. “Besides, the president can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”
Trump caught military leaders by surprise in June when he announced the suspension with the South, “unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.” He called the drills costly and provocative.
The cancelation was an olive branch to Pyongyang, which has long complained that the exercises were invasion preparations. Often the North has reacted to the exercises with its own demonstrations of military might, including firing a new intermediate-range missile over Japan last year as a countermeasure to the drills.
There was some hope that the gesture of shelving the fall exercises would foster goodwill and help nudge the North in the denuclearization talks. But beyond returning the potential remains of about 55 US troops missing from the Korean War, and its continuing suspension in its missile and nuclear tests, there has been little movement from the North.
As a result, the US last week shelved a planned trip to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, citing lack of progress on denuclearization, but remaining open to future talks.
As doubts grow in Washington and beyond over Kim’s willingness to relinquish his nukes, Trump has been heaping blame on China, which is North Korea’s traditional ally and main trading partner. On Wednesday the president accused Beijing of pressuring the North because of current tensions in US-China trade relations, and also of providing North Korea money, fuel, fertilizer and other commodities, which he said was not helpful.
China cooperated with the US last year in adopting tough international sanctions against North Korea and maintains it is still enforcing the restrictions adopted by the UN Security Council.
But in his tweets, Trump also signaled that the US has its own military means of exerting pressure on Pyongyang. His remarks compounded confusing messages from the Pentagon over the past two days that have revived speculation over the drills.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters the US might carry out drills with South Korea next spring after having canceled a major exercise this summer. He said no decision has been made on when to resume military exercises, but his statements suggested the recent cancelation might not be repeated.
Several US officials acknowledged Wednesday that planning is going forward for the spring exercises, which require months of preparation.
“Routine planning continues for major US-ROK exercises on the peninsula in accordance with the normal exercise program planning cycle,” said Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referring to the acronym for South’s official name, the Republic of Korea.
Other US officials also said preliminary work on the drills has begun, noting that it is much easier to cancel an exercise than it is to slap one together quickly. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.
David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the initial planning for the exercises can begin a year in advance, including the funding, scheduling and movement of forces and units that will participate. As time goes on, planners would nail down the war game scenario and other details.
“We continue to plan for exercises, but we can stop them on a dime,” said Maxwell, a retired Army colonel who served five tours in Korea. “We can’t restart them on a dime.”
He said the risk of a continued halt in the major drills would be a diminishing of skills and institutional memory between South Korean forces and the more than 28,000 US troops based there. “The longer we go without exercises, the more risk there is that we will suffer significant challenges if there is a war,” Maxwell said.
US officials said Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of US Forces in Korea, has taken steps to mitigate any loss of training by scheduling smaller exercises and staff drills.
A key challenge in Korea is that the bulk of the US forces deploy for just a year, so they rely on the summer exercise to get familiar with the South Korean military and the ways allied troops coordinate and operate with them. The spring Foal Eagle drill is more expansive and includes fighter jets, maritime maneuvers, amphibious assault tactics and computer-simulated scenarios.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”