Washington is prepared to respond to any “late Christmas gift” from North Korea should one take place, a senior U.S. Department of Defense official said Thursday.
The comment refers to a North Korean warning last month that the U.S. would need to choose what kind of “Christmas gift” it wanted to receive — a warning that many interpreted as a threat to resume long-range missile testing.
Pyongyang is yet to follow through on that threat, however, with the end of December 2019 — the first month of the year — seeing the country refrain from provocative weapons testing.
“We’re postured to respond to a late Christmas gift, if that happens,” Heino Klinck, the Pentagon’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, said at an event on Thursday hosted by the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR).
“Hopefully, it won’t happen,” the official added, emphasizing that everyone in the U.S. government “wants a diplomatic solution.”
The official also highlighted the measure made from the U.S. side to keep the momentum for diplomacy in the previous year, notably mentioning the joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S.
The Pentagon, for example, had jointly announced with the South Korean Ministry of Defense in November 2019 that it will postpone its already scaled-down joint military drills with the later, which Klinck referred to on Thursday.
“Yes, there has been an adjustment in the scale, scope, and duration of some exercises,” the Pentagon official said.
The downscaling of the joint military exercises was in consideration of how “the President wants to give every opportunity for diplomacy to win,” Klinck argued.
The U.S. Department of Defense is in a supporting role to provide the U.S. State Department “maximum amount of maneuverability” negotiating with North Korea, he said.
North Korea last year, however, continuously condemned these joint drills — despite being scaled down — as a part of U.S. “hostile policy” towards Pyongyang.
Notably, the readout of the result of its December 2019 party plenum hinted at the possibility of North Korea reverting back to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and nuclear testing.
Kim Jong Un had stressed, in the plenum, that with the persisting U.S. hostile policy towards North Korea, “there is no ground” for the North “to get unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer.”
The North’s apparent regret on the “commitment,” appearing to refer to the self-declared moratorium on nuclear and ICBM testing in April 2018, raised concern among the expert community in the past month about potential high-profile military provocation from Pyongyang.
Heino Klinck on Thursday, responding to a question regarding such development, stated that North Korea’s known “one playbook” is military provocations.
“Frankly Department of Defense doesn’t base its policies on North Korean complaints,” he said.
“We’re ready to respond through a variety of means, if need be — if they revert to that playbook,” he underlined.
The official claimed that he is not aware of a detailed schedule for any future joint military drills when asked at the Thursday event, however.
“Our forces are training every day on the peninsula along with our South Korean allies,” he responded, reiterating the U.S. stance that it is ready to “fight tonight” if needed.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Monday condemned South Korea’s “militaristic movements” that increase “tension and the threat of war” on the Korean peninsula, including measures such as Seoul’s acquisition of its first Global Hawk, a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, and F-35A stealth fighters.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham