TOKYO — President Trump has scaled back U.S. military exercises with South Korea, but that apparently was not enough to satisfy North Korea.
Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Service (KCNA) issued a strongly worded condemnation of the more limited exercises on Thursday in what may be another example of hardening attitudes since a summit meeting in Hanoi between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed last week without an agreement.
The exercise, called Dong Maeng, or “Alliance,” began on Monday and is running until March 12. It is seen as a replacement for the canceled annual Foal Eagle exercises that involved thousands of troops and massive displays of force, and for Key Resolve, an exercise involving computer simulations. Trump canceled Foal Eagle last year at the time of his first summit with Kim in Singapore.
Justifying his latest decision to shrink exercises with South Korea, Trump focused on their cost, although officials have also acknowledged that maneuvers were suspended to allow room for diplomacy with North Korea.
North Korea routinely condemns any joint exercises conducted by the United States and South Korea and denounced South Korean independent air force exercises in December. But the latest statement is notable for its timing and forcefulness about the latest war games.
“It is a violent violation of the joint declarations and statements that North Korea reached with the U.S. and South Korea,” KCNA wrote.” This also represents a frontal challenge to the aim and desires of all [Korean] people and the international community for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
KCNA denounced the diminution of the exercises as merely a name change and said they were an attempt to ramp up war capabilities.
The Pentagon described this week’s exercises as “newly designed Command Post exercises and revised field training programs,” focused on maintaining joint readiness while forgoing elements that in the past had been intended as a show of force.
Meanwhile, satellite images released Thursday showed North Korea appeared to have completed rebuilding work at a satellite rocket launchpad and engine test site. The images, dated March 6, showed that the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, also known as Tongchang-ri, “appears to have returned to normal operational status,” according to 38 North, a website devoted to analysis of North Korea. Rebuilding work at the site was first revealed earlier this week, but it appears to have been completed quickly.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service also told lawmakers this week that it has spotted the movement of transport supply vehicles at the Sanumdong complex on the outskirts of Pyongyang, where intercontinental ballistic missiles and space rockets have been manufactured in the past, South Korea media reported.
And in another sign that positions may be hardening, White House national security adviser John Bolton warned that the United States may tighten sanctions if North Korea does not denuclearize.
“Our judgment at this point is that North Korea was surprised and disappointed that the president walked away from the inadequate offer they had put on the table,” Bolton told the Boston Herald, referring to the satellite images of rebuilding work.
Min Joo Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.