SAN FRANCISCO, June 12, (THEWILL) – Pentagon officials were surprised after President Donald Trump vowed at his summit with the North’s leader Kim Jong Un to cancel “provocative” joint military drills with South Korea.
Following the unprecedented meeting on Tuesday in Singapore, Trump stunned observers when he said continuing the exercises routinely held between the US and South Korea would be “inappropriate” while Washington fleshes out a comprehensive deal with Pyongyang.
“We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should,” Trump said.
“Plus, I think it’s very provocative,” he noted, adding that “at some point” he wanted to withdraw US troops from the South.
Hours after Trump’s declaration, the Pentagon on Tuesday afternoon insisted that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had not been blindsided by Trump.
“He was not surprised, he was consulted,” Mattis’s spokeswoman Dana White told reporters.
“Conversations have been robust, there were no surprises.”
In a statement, White later said the Pentagon “welcomes the positive news coming out of the summit and fully supports the ongoing, diplomatically led efforts with” North Korea.
But US officials told AFP they were taken aback by the news, and Pentagon personnel spent the morning in meetings discussing what could amount to an epic shift in the US military’s posture in South Korea.
The drills, which date back decades, are an integral component of the Pentagon’s boast that its troops are always ready to “fight tonight” on the Korean peninsula.
The exercises allow US and South Korean forces to practice mobilizing soldiers in the event of conflict, and to run computer simulations to improve coordination between the two militaries.
US Forces Korea (USFK), which comprises about 28,500 troops permanently based in South Korea, received no fresh guidance on upcoming joint training exercises, including so-called Ulchi Freedom Guardian scheduled for later this year.
Colonel Rob Manning, another spokesman, said: “We are going to be aligned with the president,” while noting that the readiness of US forces would remain “paramount.”
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was “troubling” that Trump had agreed to suspend joint drills without making any reference to North Korea dialing back its conventional military threat.
“The Singapore summit statement is essentially aspirational: no definitions of denuclearization, no timelines, no details as to verification,” Haass said on Twitter.
“What is most troubling about all this is that the US gave up something tangible, namely, US-RoK military exercises, in exchange,” he added, using the abbreviation for South Korea’s official name.
Still, he credited the summit for starting a diplomatic process between North Korea and the United States.