South Korea and the United States canceled a war game planned for August, following through with President Donald Trump’s promise to do so during nuclear negotiations with the North.
Tuesday’s announcement had been widely anticipated after Trump announced “we will be stopping the war games” during a June 12 press conference after his landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In providing the first details about the extent of the suspension, the allies said that for now it was limited to a two-week computerized exercise known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which had been scheduled for August.
“Consistent with President Donald J. Trump’s commitment to North Korea and in concert with South Korea, the United States military has suspended all planning for Ulchi Freedom Guardian, this August’s defensive war game,” the Pentagon said.
“We are still coordinating additional actions,” spokeswoman Dana White added in the statement. “No decisions on subsequent war games have been made.”
The defense secretary, secretary of state and the national security adviser are to hold a meeting on the issue at the Pentagon later this week, she said.
“There is no impact on Pacific exercises outside of the Korean Peninsula,” she added, apparently referring to the Pacific Rim international maritime drills to be held this summer in Hawaii.
South Korea’s defense ministry issued a similar statement, although it didn’t use the term “war games.”
The North hates the joint exercises, which it considers rehearsals for an invasion, and has long called for them to be canceled.
Trump echoed language usually employed by Pyongyang, calling the annual drills “provocative,” “inappropriate” and “expensive.” But he didn’t provide details about the extent of his decision.
The administration has insisted the suspension is conditional on the North holding “good faith” negotiations over U.S. demands that it take verifiable steps to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
A senior South Korean official reportedly said Washington had asked to make the announcement on UFG ahead of schedule in an apparent effort to prod the North into action.
“There appears to be a sign of the North moving to take corresponding measures,” in response to the suspension, the official was quoted as saying by the Yonhap News Agency.
The U.S. and South Korea — which have been allies since they fought against the communist-backed North in the 1950-53 Korean War — train together throughout the year.
Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which began in 1976, is one of two major exercises. The other is a two-track exercise known as Foal Eagle/Key Resolve that takes place in the spring.
Last year, about 17,500 U.S. servicemembers took part in the exercise along with participants from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain and New Zealand, according to the Pentagon.
Tens of thousands of South Korean troops and officials also took part in the war games.
U.S. and South Korean troops also frequently conduct smaller-scale training.
Commanders have long insisted the drills are defensive in nature and vital for readiness as they faced a growing threat from the North.
The use of “war games” in the U.S. statement was a marked shift in terminology.
Trump’s decision has drawn mixed reviews, with critics saying it’s a huge concession to the North that was made while getting very little in return.
Supporters argued that it was an easy goodwill gesture to make to maintain the momentum toward peace and to encourage the North to agree to more specific measures toward abandoning its nuclear weapons.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, said Trump also had agreed to “alter” the 1953 armistice that ended the war after the sides failed to reach a peace treaty.
The statement suggested another promise from the first U.S.-North Korean summit that hadn’t been announced at the time.
Kim “has made very clear his commitment to fully denuclearize his country,” Pompeo said during a speech in Detroit.
“In return for that, the president has committed to making sure that we alter the armistice agreement, provide the security assurances that Chairman Kim needs,” he added.
The two Koreas agreed during their own April 27 summit to work toward the largely symbolic move of declaring a formal end to the war after decades of bitter stalemate.
But then-South Korean President Syngman Rhee wanted to continue fighting and refused to sign the armistice.
That would presumably leave it to signatories the U.S.-led United Nations Command, North Korea and China to reach a permanent peace deal.
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