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U.S. working closely with S. Korea to maintain joint defense readiness: Pentagon official

Defense 06:06 February 23, 2021

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. and South Korea have maintained an adequate level of defense readiness and will continue to do so, an official from the U.S. Department of Defense said Monday.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also said the South Korea-U.S. alliance will continue to remain strong as ever.

"As Gen. Abrams has said many times, we do have to maintain a significant level of readiness on the peninsula," Kirby said, referring to Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea.

"And the secretary is confident that he -- Gen. Abrams -- is doing all the right things to work with our South Korean allies to make sure that that readiness is preserved to the maximum degree possible," the spokesman told a press briefing.

Kirby made the remarks when asked to comment on South Korean President Moon Jae-in's recent remarks that Seoul may consult with Pyongyang on joint military drills if necessary.

The Pentagon spokesman refused to comment on Moon's remarks, only saying the U.S.-South Korea alliance is a "linchpin" for the region.

South Korea and the U.S. regularly hold joint military exercises -- at least twice a year -- and are slated to hold combined drills next month.

North Korea, however, has long accused the military drills as being aimed at invading the North, and recently said the fate of its dialogue with South Korea and the U.S. will depend on the future course of such military exercises.

The joint military drills had frequently been subject to reductions or postponements under the former U.S. administration of Donald Trump, which sought to foster direct dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump and Kim met three times, starting with the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit, held in Singapore in June 2018.

However, U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks have stalled since the second Trump-Kim summit, held in Hanoi in February 2019, ended without a deal.

Kirby noted joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. had been subject to changes, partly due to COVID-19, but insisted the combined forces continue to remain trained and ready.

"There had to be adjustments made, of course, because of the pandemic," he said.

"But again, we're confident that Gen. Abrams understands those responsibilities and is working in lockstep with his counterparts in South Korea to make sure that readiness is preserved and training is conducted and that the alliance is as strong as ever," he added.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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