The US continues to wind down the scope of its military activity on North Korea’s doorstep, with the Pentagon announcing on Friday it was “indefinitely” suspending two joint training programs with Seoul.
The exercises, which were scheduled to take place within the next three months, have been put on hold with an open-ended date, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White announced on Friday. The drills in question are a part of the marine exchange training program between the US and South Korea.
“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,” White said.
The Pentagon also confirmed that the suspension of Ulchi-Freedom Guardian war games that were set for August would last for an “indefinite” period as well.
“This includes suspending FREEDOM GUARDIAN along with two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises scheduled to occur in the next three months,” the spokesperson said.
On Tuesday, the South Korean Defense Ministry announced the allies agreed to suspend preparations for the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise, which saw some 17,500 American troops and 50,0000 South Korean troops participate last year.
The South Korean ministry hinted that the allies were ready to cut back their military operations in the region further, addressing the long-held concerns of Pyongyang “should North Korea follow suit with productive cooperation.”
Earlier, the White House said that Washington would pause the drills for as long as North Korea continues acting in good faith
Washington and Seoul used to flex their military muscles with an array of joint military exercises every year, each time sparking anger in Pyongyang, which views large-scale hostile military activity off its borders as a potential disguise for an invasion. Following the summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, where US President Donald Trump first promised to halt “very expensive” and “provocative” drills with South Korea, he has doubled down on his pledge, saying last week that it was his “request” to stall the preparations. Trump noted that if the US proceeded with the drills while the negotiations were underway, it would have cast a “bad light” on the country.
In the months before the Trump-Kim meeting, the US and South Korea staged a number of joint exercises, including the annual Foal Eagle drill in April that involved some 11,500 US troops and tens of thousands South Korean troops.
The Max Thunder drills in May, featuring US strategic bombers and stealth jets, left the future of the summit hanging in the balance, as Pyongyang called off talks with South Korea and threatened to do the same with regards to the planned Trump-Kim meeting.
Despite what is seen as a budding thaw in relations between the parties, Washington is not in a hurry to ease its unilateral economic sanctions against North Korea. On Friday, Trump renewed them for another year citing “its pursuit of nuclear and missile,” while branding it “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the United States.” Pyongyang is also under several rounds of international sanctions, which were adopted by the UN Security Council, targeting its nuclear and missile programs.
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