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US, South Korea officially call off annual military exercises amid nuclear talks with North Korea

U.S. Soldiers assigned to 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, conduct a convoy brief before moving to a range to conduct mortar operations in the Demilitarized Zone, Republic of Korea, March 16, 2015. The mortar operations were conducted during joint training exercise Foal Eagle 2015, between the U.S. and Republic of Korea(ROK) Armies. (Spc. Steven Hitchcock/U.S. Army)
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The United States and South Korea have scrapped annual war games to facilitate nuclear talks with North Korea, the defense department said Saturday, two days after a summit between Washington and Pyongyang collapsed.

The high-profile military exercises, which have traditionally been held in the spring, will be replaced by smaller scale training drills to avoid provoking the North, which considers them a rehearsal for an invasion.

The decision was announced in a readout of a call between acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan and his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyong-doo.

“Following close coordination, both sides decided to conclude the KEY RESOLVE and FOAL EAGLE series of exercises,” said the statement issued Saturday.

The defense chiefs reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring a combined defense posture that could meet any security challenge, it said, adding that they “agreed to maintain firm military readiness through newly designed Command Post exercises and revised field training programs.”

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The move had been widely expected after President Donald Trump reiterated his own antipathy for the drills, which have long been considered a lynchpin of the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

“Exercising is fun and it’s nice and they play the war games. I’m not saying it’s not necessary because on some levels it is and on other levels it’s not,” Trump said during press conference after the summit collapse in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“But it’s a very, very expensive thing,” he added.

The U.S. maintains some 28,500 servicemembers on the divided peninsula.

Trump initially suspended the military exercises, which he has called “very expensive” and “provocative,” after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore.

Trump and Kim met for a second time Wednesday and Thursday, but the summit ended early after they failed to reach an agreement over ending the North’s nuclear weapons program.

“The Minister and Secretary made clear that the Alliance decision to adapt our training program reflected our desire to reduce tension and support our diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a final, fully verified manner,” the readout said.

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They also agreed to meet “in the near future” to further deepen the alliance, which was forged in the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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