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Foreign affairs
March 2, 2019

The U.S. military will no longer conduct large-scale drills with South Korea, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, each citing two unnamed defense officials.

Instead of major annual exercises, the officials said, U.S. and South Korean forces will cooperate on smaller, less costly training projects. "The U.S. has identified ways to mitigate potential readiness concerns by looking at required mission tasks versus having to conduct large-scale exercises," one official told NBC.

The large-scale exercises were suspended last year after President Trump promised to stop the "provocative" war games during his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. Another set of drills was canceled in October to further diplomatic progress with Pyongyang. Bonnie Kristian

February 26, 2019

If you want to convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to give up his nukes, ixnay on the regime change talk already. So warned Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a 2020 presidential candidate, on Twitter Tuesday morning:

The connection between North Korea and the fate of two nations half a world away may seem slim, but Pyongyang has pointed to past U.S.-orchestrated regime changes in similarly distant Iraq and Libya as reasons not to denuclearize.

Neither Iraq's Saddam Hussein or Libya's Moammar Gadhafi could "escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations of nuclear development and giving up undeclared programs of their own accord," North Korean state-run media has argued, concluding that "[h]istory proves that powerful nuclear deterrence serves as the strongest treasure sword for frustrating outsiders' aggression."

Kim meets with President Trump in Vietnam this week for their second summit to negotiate denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Bonnie Kristian

February 11, 2019

Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan made his first-ever trip to Afghanistan on Monday, meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid. The unannounced visit included discussions of the framework for a peace deal U.S. negotiators said they have reached with the Taliban late last month.

So far, the Taliban has refused to include the Afghan government in those talks. Yet ultimately, "Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like," Shanahan told reporters Monday. "It's not about the U.S.; it's about Afghanistan."

Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a core feature of the deal framework, but Shanahan said he has "not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan." On the contrary, he argued "the U.S. military has strong security interests in the region" and suggested — in apparent disagreement with recent comments from U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States' lead negotiatior in the talks with the Taliban — that U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will "evolve" rather than end. Bonnie Kristian

February 10, 2019

American and South Korean officials on Sunday signed a new deal on how much Seoul will pay Washington for the upkeep of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

The agreement was renegotiated after President Trump demanded Seoul pay more. The payment for 2019 will be about $924 million, up from $830 million in 2018. Sunday's deal will only last for one year, far shorter than the five-year arrangements between the two nations in the past.

There are about 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the Korean War in the 1950s. Bonnie Kristian

February 9, 2019

President Trump announced the specific location of his upcoming second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a tweet Friday evening:

At the State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump mentioned Vietnam as the location of the meeting but did not offer further details. The first summit between the two leaders took place in Singapore in June of last year.

In a second tweet Friday, Trump predicted Kim's leadership would bring North Korea into a new era of prosperity:

He was similarly optimistic at the SOTU address, describing his work with Kim as part of a "historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula."

"Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months," Trump said. "If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed. Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one." Bonnie Kristian

February 4, 2019

President Trump revealed on CBS Sunday he wants to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq to "watch Iran" — and apparently he didn't bother to mention this to Iraq first.

"The [U.S.] troops ... in Iraq are operating based on the agreement between the government of Iraq and the United States for the specific mission of combating terrorism," Iraqi President Barham Salih said Monday. "Iraq's constitution does not allow our territory of our country to be used against our neighbors."

"Don't overburden Iraq with your own issues," Salih added. "The U.S. is a major power ... but do not pursue your own policy priorities. We live here. ... Iran is our neighbor ... We don't want to be part of any axis."

Trump's Sunday comments offered a mixed message of discontent with the United States' "endless" wars and intent to maintain long-term, if scaled down, American military commitments in the Middle East. Bonnie Kristian

January 19, 2019

"We have made a lot of progress as far as denuclearization is concerned and we are talking about a lot of different things. Things are going very well with North Korea," President Trump told reporters Saturday of his Friday conversation with North Korean negotiator Kim Yong Chol.

"That was an incredible meeting," Trump said. "We've agreed to [another summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un], probably the end of February. We've picked a country, but we'll be announcing it in the future. Kim Jong Un is looking very forward to it and so am I."

Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore are thought to be under consideration for the summit's location. Read a "plausible roadmap to peace with North Korea" from The Week's Harry J. Kazianis here. Bonnie Kristian

January 15, 2019

A letter from President Trump was hand-delivered to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang this past weekend. The two leaders are reportedly due to meet in person for a second summit soon, and the letter may indicate the details of those talks are close to being finalized.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested as much in an address last week. "The second North Korea-United States summit — to take place soon — and a reciprocal visit to Seoul by Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea will be other turning points that will firmly solidify peace on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

Trump has spoken enthusiastically of his correspondence with Kim in the past. "I like him. He likes me. I guess that's okay. Am I allowed to say that?" he rhapsodized in September. "He wrote me beautiful letters. And they are great letters. We fell in love." Bonnie Kristian

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