S. Korea-US joint military drills likely to be halted
South Korea and the United States may suspend their regular joint military exercises after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the suspension as a concession to North Korea in return for denuclearization, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in later also implied the possibility.
Discussions about the issue are underway between the defense authorities of the allies, as the first affected exercise may be Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG), which is scheduled to take place in August.
Some American media reported Thursday that the Trump administration would announce the formal suspension of the UFG soon.
After his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, Tuesday, Trump said he would stop the “provocative” and “expensive” military drills with South Korea, which he called “war games,” as long as denuclearization talks continue in good faith.
Moon also said the allies would consider suspending joint drills.
“If North Korea sincerely carries out the denuclearization process and inter-Korean and WashingtonPyongyang talks continue to dissolve hostile relations, we need a flexible stance about military pressure on the North, based on the spirit of building mutual trust as agreed in the Panmunjeom Declaration,” Moon said at a National Security Council (NSC) meeting Thursday, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
“So we’ll carefully consider suspending the joint military exercises with the U.S., but closely consult with the U.S. about it.” Moon also said Pyongyang would need to come up with detailed steps for denuclearization and Washington would need to prepare corresponding, comprehensive measures — an indication that the military drill suspension could be one such measure.
This was the first time in seven months that the President has convened an NSC meeting, with the last one being held in November when North Korea tested a long-range ballistic missile. Usually the meeting is convened by top security adviser Chung Eui-yong. Moon and NSC members evaluated the outcome of the Trump-Kim summit and discussed follow-up measures to facilitate implementation of agreements reached at the summit.
The Ministry of National Defense in Seoul also said the allies have begun discussing the UFG issue.
“We are closely discussing it with the U.S.,” ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said.
She did not answer when asked whether the defense ministries of the two countries had talked about the issue before Trump made the remarks.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Thursday that the joint exercises were an issue that the military authorities of the allies should decide.
“It is an alliance-level issue that should be decided through consultation between defense authorities,” Kang said in a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono at the government complex in Seoul.