Mattis: Military Exercises May Be Postponed During Olympics

A U.S. Marine from III-Marine Expeditionary Force, left, and a South Korean display a flag with the logo of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games during joint military exercises in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Dec. 19. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Military.com | By Richard Sisk

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that there were no current plans by the U.S. to postpone joint military exercises with South Korea during the Winter Olympics, but he left open the possibility.

"I don't anticipate that right now," Mattis said of calling off the long-planned military exercises during Olympics scheduled to begin Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, about 50 miles from the North Korean border.

However, Mattis noted that the Defense Department in the past has rescheduled military exercises for political or diplomatic reasons.

"We always address exercise dates," Mattis told Pentagon reporters. "We do this all the time," he said, but as for the Winter Olympics "I honestly don't have the answer to that question right now." The decision will be up to the U.S. and South Korean governments, he said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has suggested a postponement of the military exercises during the Winter Olympics a s a gesture to North Korea which could advance the possibility of negotiations to end the crisis on the peninsula over North Korea's advancing nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs.

Moon has also said he was hopeful that North Korea would relent and agree to send its ice skating pairs team to the Olympics.

The possibility of negotiations appeared to recede Friday as South Korea seized a Hong Kong-flagged vessel which allegedly had secretly transferred oil to a North Korean vessel in international waters in an action prohibited by the United Nations Security Council.

"This marks a typical case of North Korea shrewdly circumventing UNSC sanctions by using its illegal networks," South Korean authorities said in a statement.

President Donald Trump has charged that China has been letting oil flow to North Korea in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

In a tweet Thursday, Trump wrote: "Caught RED HANDED -- very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!"

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.