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US military says no plans to suspend more major exercises on Korean peninsula

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The U.S. military has no plans yet to suspend any more major military exercises with South Korea, the defense secretary said on Tuesday, in the middle of a breakdown in diplomacy with North Korea over its nuclear weapons.

Defense Secretary James Mattis told a Pentagon news conference that no decisions had been made about major exercises for next year but noted that the suspension of drills this summer as a good-faith gesture to North Korea was not open-ended.

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s June decision to unilaterally suspend the drills caught many American military planners off guard and was broadly criticized as a premature concession to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who Trump wants to give up his nuclear weapons.

“We took the step to suspend several of the largest exercises as a good-faith measure coming out of the Singapore summit,” Mattis told reporters, referring to the June 12 meeting between Trump and Kim.

“We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises,” he said, adding that no decisions had yet been made on major exercises for next year.

Mattis also said smaller exercises deemed to be exempt from the suspension were ongoing.

Mattis’ comments on the drills come at a delicate time for negotiations between the United States and North Korea after Trump scrapped plans for a meeting between top officials from both countries.

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At the June summit, the first meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader, Kim agreed in broad terms to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But North Korea has given no indication it is willing to give up its weapons unilaterally as the Trump administration has demanded.

Since then, diplomats have failed to advance the process.

North Korean officials even warned in a letter to U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week that denuclearization talks risked falling apart, U.S. officials told Reuters.

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In particular, the North wants steps toward a peace treaty. The 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving U.S.-led U.N. forces technically still at war with North Korea.

U.S. officials fear North Korea might turn its attention to cutting a separate deal with South Korea and driving a wedge between the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

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STALEMATE
A South Korea presidential spokesman acknowledged that talks between Washington and Pyongyang were at a stalemate.

“With North Korea and the U.S. remaining stalemated, there is an even bigger need for an inter-Korea summit,” Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for the presidential Blue House, told a briefing.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said this month his planned third summit with North Korea’s Kim next month would be another step toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and an end to the Korean War.

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“Secretary Mattis’ comment appears to be an extension of the previous U.S.-South Korea agreement concerning the postponement of joint drills, and there has been no other agreement,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Trump abruptly canceled his top diplomat’s planned trip to North Korea on Friday, publicly acknowledging for the first time that his effort to get Pyongyang to denuclearize had stalled since his summit with the North’s leader.

Trump partly blamed China for the lack of progress with North Korea and suggested that talks with Pyongyang, led so far by Pompeo, could be on hold until after Washington resolved its bitter trade dispute with Beijing.

North Korea’s state media accused the United States of “double-dealing” and “hatching a criminal plot” on Sunday but did not mention Pompeo’s canceled visit.

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U.S. intelligence and defense officials have repeatedly expressed doubts about North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons and they had not expected Pompeo’s trip to yield positive results.

Mattis declined to comment on the broader diplomatic efforts, deferring to Pompeo’s State Department.

“We will work very closely, as I said, with the secretary of state and what he needs done we will certainly do to reinforce his effort. But at this time, there is no discussion about further suspensions,” Mattis said.

The traditional U.S. calendar for other major drills does not pick up again until next spring, officials say, which could give diplomats and military planners time.

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The U.S.-South Korean exercise calendar hits a high point every spring with the Foal Eagle and Max Thunder drills, which take months to plan.

One U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said preliminary planning for next year’s drills was already taking place. Still, the official acknowledged that would not be indicative of whether the drills will go forward.

Max Thunder’s air combat exercises so unnerved North Korea this year that it issued threatening statements that nearly scuttled the June summit between Trump and Kim.

Foal Eagle is designed to simulate war scenarios and involves ground, air, naval and special operations forces.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru, John Walcott, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Cynthia Kim and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Editing by Mary Milliken, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney

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#PresidentPelosi Trends After Sondland Testimony Implicates Pence in Trump Ukraine Scheme

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The hashtag #PresidentPelosi was trending Wednesday as Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified to the House Intelligence Committee in the impeachment hearings on President Donald Trump's Ukrainian schemes for assistance in the 2020 election and implicated Vice President Mike Pence in the effort.

If Trump and Pence are both removed from office over their involvement in the plot, the next in line for the presidency is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"I'm fine with Pelosi serving as interim president until we hold an election," tweeted activist Bree Newsom. "Both Trump and Pence are implicated in this conspiracy to extort Ukraine."

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Trump claims not to ‘know’ Gordon Sondland very well — but the evidence suggests otherwise

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President Donald Trump attempted to distance himself Wednesday from his hand-selected European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland. At the same time, Trump claimed that Sondland’s stunning testimony, which alleged that the president had ordered a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine, in fact, vindicated him.

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Seth Meyers can’t stop laughing at Devin Nunes: ‘It’s like murdering someone and calling their ghost to testify’

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"Late Night" comedian Seth Meyers summed up the day of hearings by saying it was devastating to President Donald Trump. If you don't believe him, he showed the humiliating clip of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) who looked dejected.

"Wow, look at his face!" Meyers said. "He looks like he just walked in on his parents having sex -- with someone else's parents. There's only two explanations for that face, either he just heard lengthy testimony detailing a criminal scheme so shocking to bring down the presidency of Donald Trump. Or he sharted, and he's trying to remember how far away his back-up pants are."

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