Trump in surprise summit move says he will halt Korea war games
Trump and Kim promised in a joint statement to work toward the “denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula, and the United States promised its Cold War foe security guarantees.
SINGAPORE – US President Donald Trump made a stunning concession to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday about halting military exercises, pulling a surprise at a summit that baffled allies, military officials and lawmakers from his own Republican Party.
At a news conference after the historic meeting with Kim in Singapore, Trump announced he would halt what he called “very provocative” and expensive regular military exercises that the United States stages with South Korea.
That was sure to rattle close allies South Korea and Japan.
North Korea has long sought an end to the war games.
Trump and Kim promised in a joint statement to work toward the “denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula, and the United States promised its Cold War foe security guarantees. But they offered few specifics.
The summit, the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, was in stark contrast to a flurry of North Korean nuclear and missile tests and angry exchanges of insults between Trump and Kim last year that fuelled worries about war.
Highlighting the change in tone, North Korea’s state-run news agency reported early on Wednesday that Kim and Trump had accepted invitations to visit each other’s countries. No dates were disclosed.
Noting past North Korean promises to denuclearise, many analysts cast doubt on how effective Trump had been at obtaining Washington’s pre-summit goal of getting North Korea to undertake complete, verifiable and irreversible steps to scrap a nuclear arsenal that is advanced enough to threaten the United States.
Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Trump offered to lift economic sanctions on North Korea.
Trump “expressed his intention to halt the US-South Korea joint military exercises, which the DPRK side regards as provocation, over a period of good-will dialogue between the DPRK and the US, offer security guarantees to the DPRK and lift sanctions against it along with advance in improving the mutual relationship through dialogue and negotiation,” it said.
North Korea’s formal name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
While suggesting Pyongyang would take mutual goodwill measures, KCNA made no mention of abandoning the country’s nuclear program.
Critics in the United States said Trump had given away too much at a meeting that provided international standing to Kim. The North Korean leader had been isolated, his country accused by rights groups of widespread human rights abuses and under UN sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
If implemented, the halting of the joint military exercises would be one of the most controversial moves to come from the summit. The drills help keep US forces at a state of readiness in one of the world’s most tense flashpoints.
“We will be stopping the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money, plus I think it’s very provocative,” Trump said.
His 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.
The presidential Blue House said it needed “to find out the precise meaning or intentions” of Trump’s statement, while adding it was willing to “explore various measures to help the talks move forward more smoothly.”
There was some confusion over precisely what military cooperation with South Korea that Trump had promised to halt.
US Senator Cory Gardner told reporters that Vice President Mike Pence promised in a briefing for Republican senators that the Trump administration would “clarify what the president talked about” regarding joint military exercises.
“VP was very clear: regular readiness training and training exchanges will continue ... war games will not,” Gardner later wrote on Twitter.
Pentagon officials were not immediately able to provide any details about Trump’s remarks about suspending drills, a step the US military has long resisted.
One South Korean official said he initially thought Trump had misspoken.
“I was shocked when he called the exercises ‘provocative,’ a very unlikely word to be used by a US president,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Current and former US defense officials expressed concern at the possibility the United States would unilaterally halt military exercises without an explicit concession from North Korea that lowers the threat from Pyongyang.
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.
US military drills have been dialled back previously to encourage Pyongyang to cooperate. US President George HW Bush agreed to cancel the huge “Team Spirit” joint military drills in 1992 in hopes the North would implement inspections agreements. The drills were eventually phased out.