The U.S. and South Korea announced late Saturday the two countries will end annual large-scale joint military exercises as part of diplomatic efforts to “achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
In a statement, the Pentagon said acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and South Korea Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo in a phone call Saturday decided to end the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle series of exercises.
Shanahan tweeted Saturday:
Today ROK MinDef Jeong Kyeong-doo @ROK_MND & I agreed to maintain strong military readiness through newly designed Command Post exercises & revised field training programs. Together we are ready to meet any security challenge. #UNC #USFK #CFC #KatchiKapshida #Alliance— Acting SecDef Pat Shanahan (@ActingSecDef) March 2, 2019
The Pentagon statement added, “Both the Minister and Secretary agreed that close coordination between the military activities of the United States and Republic of Korea will continue to support diplomatic efforts.”
The decision comes three days after a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam that ended without an agreement to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry released a similar statement, according to the Associated Press.
North Korea has denounced the U.S., South Korea joint exercises as aggressive provocations and rehearsals for war.
Ending the exercises could be seen as a good-faith gesture to keep nuclear talks with North Korea alive following the failed Hanoi summit, and to address Trump’s concerns about the high cost of these massive demonstrations of force.
The annual joint drills, which are usually conducted in the spring, were first postponed in 2018 to facilitate North Korea’s peaceful participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics that were held in South Korea.
Trump suspended the exercises indefinitely after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last June in Singapore, where the two leaders agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Trump critical of cost
The president had long been critical of the cost of these joint exercises that bring in thousands of troops, fighter jets, warships and other military assets from U.S. bases around the world.
He was asked about the future of the military drills at the recent Hanoi summit, where he and Kim failed to agree on specific measures to reduce the North’s nuclear capabilities, nor to ease crippling economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.
“You know, the military exercises, I gave that up quite a while ago because it costs us $100 million every time we do it. We fly these massive bombers in from Guam, and when I first started a certain general said, ‘Oh, yes, sir, we fly them in from Guam. It’s right next door.’ Right next door is seven hours and then they come and drop bombs and go back,” Trump said.
U.S. military leadership is planning to replace the large-scale drills with a series of smaller exercises and training, and implementing technology based virtual exercises instead of deploying thousands of actual troops for the war games.
Brian Padden, Connie Kim of VOA’s Korean service and White House bureau chief Steve Herman contributed to this report.