The US has “indefinitely suspended” military exercises in South Korea to foster Washington’s fledgling relationship with Pyongyang in the wake of President Donald Trump’s meeting in Singapore earlier this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis suspended the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises as well as two other war game operations that were scheduled to take place over the next three months, the Defense Department said in a statement.
Mattis met earlier with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and National Security Adviser John Bolton to discuss ways to “implement the results of the summit,” according to the Pentagon.
“In support of upcoming diplomatic negotiations led by Secretary Pompeo, additional decisions will depend upon” North Korea “continuing to have productive negotiations in good faith,” the Pentagon said in the statement, adding that calling off the maneuvers had been decided “in coordination with South Korea.”
South Korea’s Defense Ministry confirmed the suspension of exercises in a text message on Saturday, saying “additional measures” may be taken if North Korea continues “productive” dialogue.
For years, Pyongyang has repeatedly and routinely condemned the exercises as a hostile act.
Retired Admiral Harry Harris, Trump’s nominee to be the ambassador to South Korea, told senators at his confirmation hearing that he believed the military exercises could be put off to give negotiations with the North time to succeed.
“I think we’re in a dramatically different place, I think the whole landscape has shifted,” said Harris, who until the end of May led the US Pacific Command. Trump had faced criticism of his pledge at the summit to suspend major military exercises with South Korea without securing verifiable commitments on North Korea’s plans to eliminate its nuclear weapons programme.