About 500 American and South Korean marines began small-scale military drills on Monday, days before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to hold talks with North Korea on denuclearisation and a planned second summit of their leaders.
Large-scale military exercises between the two countries were suspended in June after US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
But small-scale drills have continued, the South’s Ministry of National Defense said on Monday.
This week’s exercises follow a warning by North Korea on Friday that it could resume development of its nuclear programme if the United States did not drop its campaign of “maximum pressure” and sanctions.
“The improvement of relations and sanctions are incompatible,” a foreign ministry official said in a statement released through state-run KCNA news agency.
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“The US thinks that its oft-repeated ‘sanctions and pressure’ lead to ‘denuclearisation.’ We cannot help laughing at such a foolish idea.”
Pompeo told CBS’s Face the Nation he expected “real progress” during talks with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, when they meet at the end of the week in New York.
South Korea hopes the North and the United States will make “big progress” during the talks set for this week, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said on Monday, but declined to comment on the North’s Friday statement.
North Korea has not tested a ballistic missile or nuclear weapon for nearly a year, and has said it closed its main nuclear test site and plans to dismantle several more facilities.
In recent weeks, North Korea has pressed harder for what it sees as reciprocal concessions by the United States and other countries.
American officials have remained sceptical of Kim’s commitment to give up his nuclear arsenal, however, and Washington says it will not support easing international sanctions until more verified progress is made.
Pompeo, interviewed on Fox News Sunday, said the Trump administration wants a full, verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, adding the president insisted on “no economic relief until we have achieved our ultimate objective”.