US suspends more military exercises with South Korea

(CNN) — The United States will suspend a number of military exercises with South Korea that were due to take place over coming months, amid ongoing negotiations with North Korea, the US Department of Defense announced on Friday.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis made the decision to “indefinitely suspend select exercises,” the department said in a statement, with those exercises including the upcoming Freedom Guardian drills in August and two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises.

The Pentagon already announced on Tuesday it had suspended “all planning” for Freedom Guardian.

US President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced the decision to suspend US drills with South Korea at a press conference following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12.

Trump described the “war games” as “very provocative” and “tremendously expensive” during the press conference, and said he’d decided to put them on hold while negotiations with Pyongyang were ongoing.

“It really is something that I think they very much appreciate,” Trump said at the time.

But in the statement, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said any additional suspensions would “depend upon (North Korea) continuing to have productive negotiations in good faith” with the United States.

Trump’s announcement appeared to catch US allies in the region, including South Korea, by surprise, with Seoul issuing a statement saying officials there needed to “figure out President Trump’s accurate meaning and intention.”

The United States and South Korea have been close military allies since the armistice ending hostilities on the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s. They regularly hold a number of large-scale military exercises every year.

In 2017, the Freedom Guardian drills involved 17,500 US service members practicing their readiness for a scenario in which the Korean Peninsula was plunged into a crisis, and then open conflict, a defense official said.