U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday on a flight en-route to Seoul that joint military exercises in South Korea could be altered if it helps to advance a diplomatic deal with North Korea to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
"I think we have to be open to all those things that empower and enable our diplomats to sit down with the North Koreans, alongside with our South Korean partners, and move the ball forward to a negotiated settlement of the issues that we put on the table."
He didn't elaborate on the adjustments that might be contemplated, but he said it would be done in consultation with the South Korean government.
This comes after North Korea threatened to retaliate if the U.S. went ahead with its scheduled military drills with Seoul.
The pro-North Korea newspaper Chosun Sinbo on Wednesday said the opportunity for dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. will disappear if a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump doesn't take place before the end of the year.
South Korea and the U.S. previously reduced the scale of their 2018 and 2019 military exercises hoping it would help convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
But the tactic has yet to bear fruit.
While refraining to respond to North Korea's opposition, the U.S. reaffirmed the principle that the two sides can hold simultaneous and parallel discussions on the issue of establishing a peace regime and improving relations related to denuclearization and the security of the regime, which the North has demanded.
Esper added that the Trump administration takes seriously North Korea's year-end deadline for progress on North Korea-U.S. diplomacy and another Kim-Trump summit.
Hong Yoo, Arirang News.