Shortly after the top military leaders in the U.S. and South Korea preached closer cooperation on multiple issues confronting Asia, U.S. President Donald Trump sided with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his opposition to U.S.-South Korean war games.
Speaking to reporters Friday outside the White House, Trump said he received a "very beautiful letter" from Kim that said the North Korean leader "wasn't happy with the war games."
Trump added, "You know, I've never liked it [them] either."
The U.S. president said Kim explained in the letter that the ongoing war games are the reason Pyongyang has been conducting missile tests, despite a June 30 meeting between Trump and Kim, during which the two agreed to revive denuclearization talks, which have yet to resume.
Trump said Friday, before embarking on his annual August vacation at his New Jersey golf club, that he could meet again with Kim in an attempt to resolve North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but did not say when a meeting would occur.
A few hours earlier, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the U.S. and South Korea share a "vision of a peaceful" Korean Peninsula and declared the two allies would keep collaborating on North Korea and other issues.
On his first international trip since being confirmed last month, Esper addressed the media in Seoul after meeting with South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo amid heightened regional tensions.
Esper said the Washington-Seoul alliance is "ironclad" and the "linchpin of peace and security" in Southeast Asia. He added the two allies would ensure the "readiness of our combined forces to defend ourselves while also creating space for diplomacy."
Washington and Seoul have not always enjoyed the warmest of relations and have not always agreed on how to address the nuclear-armed North. On Wednesday, Trump said the U.S. has been supporting Seoul militarily for 82 years, and "we get virtually nothing" in return. South Korea is, nevertheless, increasing efforts to connect with the U.S. on North Korea, trade and other issues.
South Korea comments
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong said his country was the "U.S.'s closest ally" and cited recent "urgent developments" in the region.
Jeong said North Korea launching new short-range ballistic missiles amid ongoing efforts to denuclearize the peninsula do not help relieve regional tensions. But with the 2020 U.S. presidential elections on the horizon, Trump has been quick to tout his North Korea policy as a success. Trump has attempted to downplay the missile launches, maintaining they do not violate Kim's promise to halt nuclear and long-range tests.
Jeong also said Japan's export trade restrictions against South Korea are "causing adverse effects on South Korean-Japan relations and security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan."
Jeong praised Trump's "amazing imagination that transcends conventions" for meeting with Kim at the inter-Korean border on June 30. He also expressed a desire to open "a new chapter" in the U.S.-South Korean alliance based on trust.
New ambassador to U.S.
During their meeting, Esper asked Jeong to commit troops to a U.S.-led maritime force off the coast of Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.
Jeong responded that Seoul was considering options to help protect South Korean people and vessels that use the strait.
While Esper was visiting Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed an experienced former diplomat as his new ambassador to the U.S. Moon tapped 70-year-old Lee Soo-hyuck, who was South Korea's chief negotiator at disarmament negotiations between 2003 and 2005. Lee is also a former deputy foreign minister and first deputy director of the National Intelligence Service.
Esper concluded his visit to South Korea on Friday. His overseas trip also took him to Australia, Mongolia and Japan.