Mattis: No Plans to Reschedule Exercises in South Korea as Olympics Approach

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expects the US and South Korea to continue with previously planned large-scale exercises such as Foal Eagle even as teh Winter Olympics approach. Here, ?a Republic of Korea 255th Special Operations Squadron flight engineer explains the radio capabilities available on a ROK Air Force C-130 to USAF members assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron during a communications exchange, March 29, 2017, at Daegu AB, ROK. Air Force photo by Capt. Jessica Tait.

The US and South Korean governments still plan to go ahead with large-scale exercises as the Winter Olympics approach, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a year-end meeting with reporters.

His statement came shortly before South Korean officials reportedly offered to discuss the possibility of North Korea participating in the games, which South Korean President Moon Jae-in said would be a “groundbreaking chance” to improve the relations between the two countries, according to the BBC.

Mattis said Dec. 29 he was not yet sure whether exercises, such as the yearly large-scale Foal Eagle, would go ahead as scheduled.

“We always adjust exercise dates,” Mattis said. “There’s reasons for it, because we have ships available at certain times, and there’s political considerations, or there’s local holidays, and this sort of thing. We do this all the time.”

Rescheduling is “subject to both countries,” but Mattis said he does not anticipate any changes.

Efforts to de-escalate tensions with North Korea are still led diplomatically, along with “a lot of economic buttressing,” Mattis said. The Pentagon provides “military options,” but the State Department is the lead, said Mattis.

A senior former Pentagon official, however, said recently the situation is getting worse. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday there weren’t many “opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point,” referring to escalating tensions in the region.

On Monday, North Korean president Kim Jong-Un said in a speech that North Korea is a “responsible nuclear nation that loves peace,” and bragged that “the US cannot wage a war against our country at all” because the US mainland is “within the range of our nuclear weapons,” according to CNN.