US, South Korea to announce end of ‘large-scale’ drills this week

Allies to reserve right to restart if North Korea fails to denuclearise, says report

The US and South Korea are expected to announce their decision to suspend large-scale joint military drills this week, although the allies will include a "snagback" clause to restart if North Korea fails to keep its promise to denuclearise.

The suspension was likely to affect only major joint exercises, not more routine military training, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed government sources.

"The South Korean and US military authorities have been having close consultations over the combined exercises that US president Donald Trump has said he will stop . . . this week, the South Korean and US defence ministries will jointly announce the results of their discussions," the source said.

The news comes after last week's US-North Korea summit between Mr Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore, where the US leader surprised Seoul officials and the US military when he promised to end "war games".


“Holding back the ‘war games; during the negotiations was my request because they are VERY EXPENSIVE and set a bad light during a good faith negotiation,” the US president wrote in a Twitter posting on Sunday. “Also, quite provocative. Can start up immediately if talks break down, which I hope will not happen!”

US forces in South Korea said after Mr Trump made the announcement that they had received no guidance while South Korean officials said they were trying to work out to which drills Mr Trump was referring.

There are about 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea.

Annual drills

The source said the “war games” most likely referred to the large-scale annual drills such as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle in the spring and Ulchi Freedom Guardian in the summer.

North Korea fiercely opposes the drills, saying they are a precursor for invasion, and said the manoeuvres were one of the chief reasons why it developed its nuclear programme.

Generals from North and South Korea have been holding their first talks in a decade in Panmunjom village on the southern side of the demilitarised zone dividing the countries and have agreed to reopen military communications lines but not yet agreed to a hotline between top military officials or on a defence ministers’ meeting.

Yonhap also reported that during the talks, South Korean officials asked their northern counterparts to relocate artillery 30-40km away from the DMZ. The South Korean military denied this claim.

For its part, North Korea proposed to Seoul to disarm, on a trial basis, the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, the only site in the DMZ where both countries’ soldiers directly face each other.

Separately on Monday, the two Koreas agreed to march together under a unified peninsula flag and form combined teams to compete in the next Asian Games, they said in a joint statement.

Both sides also agreed to hold a basketball match in Pyongyang on July 4th, marking the anniversary of an inter-Korean agreement on unification, they said. – Addtional reporting Reuters

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing