Trump says his relationship with Kim Jong Un is so “warm” there’s no need for war games

A beautiful friendship.
A beautiful friendship.
Image: KRT via AP Video
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North Korea hates them. China and Russia wanted them gone. And now Donald Trump says he doesn’t see any reason to continue the US’s joint military exercises with South Korea.

Instead, he’ll rely on his soft power, citing his “very good and warm” relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to push the regime to denuclearize. That description comes less than a week after Trump asked secretary of state Mike Pompeo to cancel a planned trip to North Korea, citing insufficient progress toward denuclearization in the wake of the president’s historic Singapore summit with Kim in June.

North Korea said at the time it would work toward denuclearization, but critics of Trump’s approach note the US hasn’t received binding commitments on transparency or a timeline. Satellite evidence suggests Pyongyang is continuing to build new missiles, make fuel for nuclear bombs, and expand its test sites.

Trump’s new statement is at odds with defense secretary Jim Mattis’s remarks this week that seemed to indicate that drills could resume. The US decided in June to “indefinitely suspend” some of its biggest military exercises with South Korea—which Donald Trump had called “provocative” after meeting with Kim, echoing a word used by Beijing and Pyongyang. The move, which blindsided South Korea and US military command in Korea, was seen as a major concession to the North.

The first major drill affected was Operation Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, originally slated for this month.

“We took the step to suspend several of the largest exercises as a good-faith measure coming out of the Singapore summit,” Mattis said on Tuesday (Aug. 28). “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises.”

In his latest statement, Trump justified the move by saying there wasn’t a need to spend “large amounts of money” on the exercises. On the campaign trail, though, he often said he would increase the US’s military budget. Military spending for 2019, at $716 billion, will be the highest ever after accounting for inflation, except during the height of the Iraq war.

“Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again,” he said, referring to himself. “If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”