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South Korea not ruling out halt of military drills with U.S.

South Korea suggested Wednesday it does not rule out the possibility of suspending its military exercises with the United States as a way to support ongoing efforts toward denuclearizing North Korea.

South Korea’s presidential office said it is necessary to consider various steps to promote discussions between the United States and North Korea for peace and stability in the region.

But a spokesman of the office, Kim Eui Kyeom, said there is still a need to figure out what U.S. President Donald Trump actually meant by his comments a day before in Singapore after concluding his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump told a press conference on Tuesday that he will be stopping “war games” with South Korea as long as North Korea continues denuclearization talks in good faith.

“Under the circumstances that we are negotiating a very comprehensive, complete deal, I think it’s inappropriate to be having war games,” Trump said.

Trump also said the biggest reason for his plan to halt the drills with South Korea is to save money as they are “tremendously expensive.”

North Korea has long demanded that the United States and South Korea stop conducting joint military exercises, which it has regarded as rehearsals for invasion.

Tensions have escalated every year when the massive drills are conducted, triggering an angry response from North Korea.

(A U.S.-South Korea joint regular exercise in Pohang, South Korea, on April 5, 2018.)

North Korea’s key backer China has advocated that it suspend its nuclear and missile programs in return for the United States discontinuing the annual military drills.

China on Wednesday welcomed Trump’s intention to stop the drills, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang telling reporters that it is what Beijing has consistently called for and “another proof that China’s proposal was reasonable and fair.”

But Trump’s remarks on the halting of the drills have already caused confusion in many other countries, including Japan and South Korea, major U.S. security partners in Asia, which believe they are essential part of their alliances.

South Korea and the United States have claimed that their regular military exercises, such as Max Thunder that ran for two weeks through late last month, are defensive in nature.

Currently, the United States has about 28,000 soldiers in South Korea.

In Tokyo, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera expressed concern on Wednesday over potential suspension of the U.S.-South Korean joint military drills.

“The U.S.-South Korean exercises and U.S. forces in South Korea play significant roles for the security of East Asia,” Onodera told reporters, adding that North Korea has yet to take enough concrete action to change its course.

At the unprecedented summit in Singapore, Kim committed to “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while Trump pledged to provide security guarantees to Pyongyang.

Still, a joint statement signed by Trump and Kim, which the U.S. president called “pretty comprehensive,” was short of specifics on how North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons.

The South Korean spokesman said Moon will host a meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday to assess the results of the summit and discuss Seoul’s role in implementing the agreement reached by the two leaders.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived Wednesday in Seoul to meet Moon, as well as his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, to brief the outcome of the summit.

All – Kyodo News+

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