U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday while en route to Seoul that joint military exercises in South Korea could be altered if it helps to advance a deal with North Korea on denuclearization.
"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 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 what adjustments might be made, saying those will be reviewed in consultation with South Korea.
This comes after North Korea threatened to retaliate if the joint drills go ahead.
North Korea's State Affairs Commission the regime's top decision making body headed by Kim Jong-un issued a statement on Wednesday that the U.S. is breaking the agreement reached at the first Kim-Trump summit last year.
The North stressed that its patience is nearing an end and the U.S. will have to think of the year-end deadline.
On that note, Secretary Esper said the Trump administration takes North Korea's deadline seriously.
His remarks are seen as a move to revive the talks between Pyeongyang and Washington stalled since their unsuccessful working-level meeting in Stockholm in early October.
Meanwhile, Esper is visiting Seoul for the South Korea-U.S. annual Security Consultative Meeting to be held on Friday.
The main talking points are expected to be Seoul's decision to terminate its intel-sharing pact with Japan, known as GSOMIA, South Korea-U.S. defense cost-sharing, and the transfer of wartime operational control.
The Pentagon chief is also to be meeting with President Moon Jae-in.
President Moon is expected to reiterate why Seoul decided to end its military-intel sharing pact with Tokyo over Japan's export curbs, while explaining its stance on the cost-sharing for American troops stationed on the Peninsula.
Oh Jung-hee, Arirang News.