South Korea says halt to US drills may be needed to help denuclearisation talks

A Republic of Korea Air Force F-15K Slam Eagles fighter plane taking off during Exercise Max Thunder 17 at Gunsan Air Base, South Korea.
A Republic of Korea Air Force F-15K Slam Eagles fighter plane taking off during Exercise Max Thunder 17 at Gunsan Air Base, South Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS) - A halt in joint military drills with the United States may be necessary to expedite talks on North Korea's denuclearisation, South Korea's presidential office said on Wednesday (June 13), according to the country's Yonhap news agency.

At a news conference after a historic meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said he would halt what he called "very provocative" and expensive military exercises the United States stages regularly with South Korea.

 

Asked about Trump’s comments regarding the halting of drills, South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui Kyeom told reporters there was a need to seek measures that would help improve engagement with North Korea but it was also necessary to confirm exactly what Trump had meant.

"We believe there is a need to consider various ways to further promote dialogue as long as serious discussions are being held between the United States and North Korea for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and establishment of peace," spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters.

"For now, there still is a need to find out the exact meaning and intention of President Trump's remarks," he was quoted as saying by Yonhap. 

The US-South Korean exercise calendar hits a high point every year with the Foal Eagle and Max Thunder drills, which both wrapped up last month. Another major drill is due in August.

The United States maintains around 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, which remains in a technical state of war with the North after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. 

Trump’s announcement was a surprise even to President Moon Jae In’s government in Seoul, which worked in recent months to help bring about the Trump-Kim summit. Moon will be chairing a national security meeting early on Thursday to discuss the outcome of Tuesday’s summit.

Trump’s administration had previously ruled out any concessions or lifting of sanctions without North Korea’s commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible steps to scrap a nuclear arsenal that is advanced enough to threaten the United States.