US reportedly cancels B-52 bomber exercise with South Korea amid threats from North Korea

Key Points
  • The U.S. reportedly canceled a B-52 bomber exercise with South Korea amid threats from North Korea, according to a WSJ report citing U.S. officials.
  • The news comes a day after the Pentagon said there were no plans to scale back the exercises.
  • The Pentagon and White House defended the ongoing joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises amid threats from North Korea to withdraw from upcoming talks with President Trump.
A B-52H Stratofortress flies over Minot Air Force Base during a training exercise Nov. 3, 2013.
U.S. Air Force photo

A training exercise involving U.S. B-52 bombers flying alongside South Korean warplanes was canceled following threats that Pyongyang would withdraw from a highly anticipated summit with President Donald Trump next month, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing U.S. officials.

According to Friday's report, the officials said South Korea had asked to not participate in an air drill that also involved Japan and the U.S.

The White House referred CNBC's request for comment about the Journal report to the Pentagon, which said plans for a separate exercise is continuing as planned.

The news came a day after the Defense Department said the U.S. had no plans to scale back the exercises.

When asked if the U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress, a long-range bomber capable of deploying nuclear weapons, was leaving the exercises, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday that the scope of the exercises has not changed.

"These are alliance decisions, this is something that we do to ensure the readiness of both our forces as well as the South Korean forces," White said, noting that the training is "longstanding and defensive in nature."

White also said the Defense Department has not held any talks to scale back its future training operations on the Korean Peninsula.

"There has been no talk of reducing anything, there has been no talk of changing our scope. These are annual exercises and we are very transparent about them," White said.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that the administration was continuing to prepare for the June 12 summit in Singapore. Soon thereafter, Trump told reporters that if the meeting doesn't happen, the administration will move on.

South Korean Marines move into position on a beach during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in the southeastern port of Pohang, Korea.
Jung Yeon-Je | AFP | Getty Images

The North's state-run news agency described a bilateral military drill dubbed "Max Thunder," as a "provocation" and a test run for an invasion. The exercise that was supposed to involve the B-52s was a separate endeavor.

"There was never any plan for B-52s to participate in exercise Max Thunder, and the exercise continues as scheduled without change," a Pentagon spokesman told CNBC.

Lisa Collins, a fellow with the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described Pyongyang's reaction to the planned military exercises as a "cover to express their dissatisfaction with a bunch of different issues."

"North Korea does normally take issue with military exercises, but these were announced several weeks ago, and even the South Koreans said that Kim Jong Un was willing to overlook the U.S. and South Korean exercises happening in the region," Collins said in a previous interview with CNBC.

Collins also said she expects the reclusive leader from the North to attend the meeting with Trump.