The U.S. and South Korea have canceled a major joint military exercise planned for December “to give the diplomatic process [with North Korea] every opportunity to continue,” the Pentagon said Friday.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis and South Korean minister of defense Jeong Kyeong-doo decided to suspend the Vigilant Ace exercise after meeting this week.
The two counterparts “are committed to modifying training exercises to ensure the readiness of our forces,” and “pledged to maintain close coordination and evaluate future exercises,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement.
The Trump administration canceled two other joint exercises with South Korea over the summer, after Trump’s highly anticipated summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“The President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint US-South Korea war games. Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses,” the White House said in an August statement.
“As you know, we took this step to suspend several of the larger exercises as a good-faith measure coming out of the Singapore summit,” Mattis said at the time. “Remember that what we did when we suspend the exercise, ladies and gentlemen, we suspended several of the largest exercises but we did not suspend the rest,” Mattis said. “So there are ongoing exercises all the time on the peninsula.”
Negotiations with North Korea over dismantling the dictatorship’s nuclear program have hit several rough patches since the June summit in Singapore, including Trump’s cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s August trip to North Korea, after the president determined the country had not made “sufficient progress” toward denuclearization. Since then, however, Pompeo has continued working with North Korean officials to plan a second summit between Trump and Kim.