President Donald Trump is putting a stop to the “war games” undertaken by the U.S. military and the South Korea defense forces – but Trump says it’s because they’re so expensive, not necessarily because of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“It will save us a tremendous amount of money. They’re tremendously expensive. The amount of money we spend is incredible. South Korea contributes, but not 100% and that’s a subject we’re going to have to talk to them about,” Trump told reporters in Singapore after his historic summit with Kim.
The regular U.S.-South Korean exercises often involve some of America’s most advanced weapons, including bombers flown in from Guam. They have long been a point of contention with the North Koreans.
Trump later told Greta Van Susteren for Voice of America, “We are going to get out of the war games that cost so much money, because number one I think it’s very provocative,” he told VOA. “I want to do it and I think they’re [North Korea] very happy about it because it is so provocative.”
Trump’s announcement may have caught South Korea, a longtime U.S. ally, and the U.S. military in Korea off guard.
President Moon Jae-in did not mention Trump’s plans in his congratulatory statement on the summit, instead offering “high compliments for the courage and determination of the two leaders” at the “historic event that helped break down the last Cold War legacy.” According to The New York Times, the South Korean Defense Ministry offered only a “curt” statement saying officials were investigating what Trump’s announcement meant.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Korea told Stars and Stripes: “In coordination with our [South Korean] partners, we will continue with our current military posture until we receive updated guidance from the Department of Defense … and/or Indo-Pacific Command.”
The Russia Foreign Ministry issued a statement praising Trump’s decision, saying it was needed to end provocative actions on the Korean peninsula, according to Reuters.
The next joint exercise was scheduled for August.
When asked about the removal of U.S. troops from South Korea, Trump told reporters at the press conference that it wasn’t “part of the equation right now.”
The U.S. has had a military presence in South Korea since 1953, as part of a treaty put in place after the Korean Armistice Agreement that brought an end to the fighting in the Korean War, but that did not technically end the war itself. The annual military exercises in the Korean peninsula had become some of the largest ever in 2016 and 2017, but in 2018, they were postponed briefly due to the thaw in relations around the time of the Olympics in South Korea.
— With additional reporting by Joseph Hincks in Seoul, South Korea