By Agence France-Presse
The US and South Korea have agreed to indefinitely suspend two exchange program training exercises, to support diplomatic negotiations with North Korea, the Pentagon said Friday.
The move comes after the two countries announced the shelving of the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises slated for August, making good on a pledge by President Donald Trump during his summit with North Korea’s leader.
Friday’s decision followed a high-level meeting between Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford, and National Security Advisor John Bolton.
“To support implementing the outcomes of the Singapore Summit, and in coordination with our Republic of Korea ally, Secretary Mattis has indefinitely suspended select exercises,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.
Two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises scheduled to occur in the next three months have now been shelved.
“In support of upcoming diplomatic negotiations led by Secretary Pompeo, additional decisions will depend upon the DPRK continuing to have productive negotiations in good faith,” White continued, using the acronym for the official name of North Korea.
Some 17,500 US military personnel were due to take part in the Freedom Guardian drills.
Last week, after his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump made the surprise announcement that the US would halt “war games” with its South Korean security ally — without making clear when the freeze would begin.
The US leader raised eyebrows by describing the exercises as “provocative” — a term used by the North.
US and South Korean forces have been training together for years, and routinely rehearse everything from beach landings to an invasion from the North, or even “decapitation” strikes targeting the North Korean regime.
Pyongyang typically reacts furiously. Following drills last year, the North fired ballistic missiles over Japan, triggering global alarm.