Washington, DC – Joint South Korean-US military exercises have been “deconflicted” with the Winter Olympics, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said here today (Jan. 4).
The secretary also discussed the demonstrations in Iran during an impromptu news conference with Pentagon reporters.
The military exercises in South Korea are needed to ensure US and South Korean troops can work together in the event North Korea comes across the 39th parallel again. Still, the Olympics in Pyeongchang are the biggest event that South Korea will host this year. The games are Feb. 9-25, and are followed by the Paralympic Games, March 8-18.
“Exercises are not just done on military bases in defense of [South Korea],” Mattis told reporters. “So we worked with [the South Koreans] on it and [the exercises] will start sometime … after the Paralympics.”
Mattis said the proposed talks between North and South Korea, “are clearly the result of the amount of international pressure, and they are a way for North Korea to start talking while keeping it contained to a benign issue.”
The three unanimous UN Security Council votes that imposed sanctions on North Korea are having an effect, the secretary said. South Korea impounded two ships that were attempting to trade with North Korea, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is increasingly isolated. The secretary said he does not know if Kim’s offer to speak with South Korean leaders is a sincere olive branch or just a dodge.
“It shows the democracies and the nations that are trying to stop this from going to war, and stopping the provocations of nuclear weapons development and ballistic missile launches are united in trying to find a diplomatic solution,” Mattis said.
All of the cautions, all of the attempts at logic with the regime, all of the efforts to halt the regime from its dangerous course did not work until the Security Council imposed its sanctions, Mattis said. North Korea’s longtime allies — China and Russia — voted for the resolutions, which sends its own message.
The secretary also addressed the demonstrations and unrest in Iran. Tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets across the country protesting policies that led to a stagnating economy and price rises. These demonstrations morphed into anti-government protests in some areas, according to news reports.
The demonstrations are the largest public protests since the Green Movement arose out of the disputed 2009 presidential election. Those protests were crushed when the government deployed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
“We all remember what happened to the Greens when they came out and the merciless way they were treated by the regime there,” the secretary said. “We — the American people — do not have an issue with the Iranian people. We’ve got a big issue with the Iranian authoritarian regime and it appears there are an awful lot of Iranian people who have an issue with it as well. Because even after squashing the Green Revolution years ago, they obviously didn’t remove the irritants and dissatisfaction.”