The top U.S. military officer said on Monday that the United States would have to start making changes to its military posture on the Korean peninsula over time if talks with North Korea advance.
“The more successful we are in the diplomatic track, the more uncomfortable we will be in the military space,” Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a forum at Duke University.
“Because over time, this negotiation will take a form where we’re going to have to start making some changes to the military posture on the peninsula. And we’re prepared to do that in support of Secretary Pompeo,” Dunford said. He did not elaborate on what changes might be expected.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol in New York on Thursday to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization.
In Washington last week, South Korea’s defense minister said the two countries would decide by December on major joint military exercises for 2019. Vigilant Ace, suspended this month, is one of several such exercises halted to encourage dialogue with Pyongyang, which has criticized joint U.S.-South Korea exercises in the past.
Although larger exercises were suspended, the two countries have continued small-scale drills.
On Monday, U.S. and South Korean marines conducted military drills under the Korean Marine Exchange Program for the first time in months, according to the South Korean ministry of defense.
North Korea has not tested a ballistic missile or nuclear weapon for nearly a year, and has said it has shuttered 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.
In Seoul, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom declined to comment on Dunford’s remarks and referred to previous statements on the issue by the leaders of North and South Korea.
“I’d like you to remember that Chairman Kim Jong Un said there is no correlation between declaring the end of the (Korean) war and a pullout of U.S. troops from South Korea, or a weakening of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, and that (South Korean) President Moon Jae-in also said to that effect several times,” Kim said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
Pyongyang has been pushing for a formal declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War and replace the armistice that stopped the fighting but left the combatants still technically at war.
There are concerns that North Korea’s push for such a declaration could be a ploy to divide the U.S.-South Korea alliance and secure the withdrawal of the 28,500 U.S. troops based in the South.