In a statement, South Korea said Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan had discussed the summit and expected more “active dialogue between the US and North Korea based on the outcome of the talks.”
“Through close consultation between the authorities of South Korea and US Defense, the two concluded to end Key Resolve and Foal Eagle,” the statement said, referring to the two major annual drills that typically involve tens of thousands of US and South Korean troops and mock events including rehearsals for invading North Korea.
The drills are regularly denounced by Pyongyang where they are regarded as preparations for a potential invasion. The drills have previously been used by North Korea to justify the country’s advanced weapons programs. China too has called on the US to cancel the exercises in return for North Korea pursuing denuclearization.
“That was my position long before I became President,” he added. “Also, reducing tensions with North Korea at this time is a good thing!”
The willingness of US and South Korean officials to cancel the long-running drills is a sign both of a continued push on both sides towards a diplomatic outcome, and the radically reduced tensions on the Peninsula since talks began.
South Korea’s statement said the decision “is a reflection of both countries’ expectations in support of diplomatic efforts to mitigate tensions and achieve a complete denuclearization in a final and fully verifiable way.”
Joint US-South Korean war games have been held since fighting ended on the Peninsula in 1953. The drills themselves often mimic real-life combat situations — amphibious landings, intense live-fire exercises, counter-terrorism drills and simulated or tabletop battle plans.
“If that deterrence fails then we are in a position to defend the Republic of Korea. And if we defend, we are going to defeat the enemy and win,” he said in a statement.
“There are a lot of scenarios of tasks you might have to do during a very wide range of scenarios,” he said. “Very complex things that have to be coordinated and executed.”
Not holding the exercises, Pinkston added, risks weakening “the capacity of the South Korean military and the USFK to respond to a variety of military contingencies” and could invite aggression.
In the statement this week, South Korean and US officials said that “communication between the US and South Korea is ongoing more smoothly than ever in the changing security environment on the Korean Peninsula.”