- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2019

The U.S. and South Korea will end an annual series of key military drills, both nations said Saturday night in a major announcement aimed at boosting diplomatic outreach to North Korea and saving a potential denuclearization deal.

The Pentagon announced the end of the two exercises — known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve — Saturday evening following a phone call between Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and South Korean Minister of Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo. The decision comes just days after President Trump abruptly left a summit in Vietnam with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, a meeting that failed to produce a comprehensive deal.

Following that meeting, the future of negotiations with Pyongyang seemed unclear. But Saturday’s decision suggests the administration plans to continue on its current diplomatic path.

The cancellation of the drills could be viewed by Pyongyang as something of an olive branch from the U.S.

“Both the minister and secretary agreed that close coordination between the military activities of the United States and Republic of Korea will continue to support diplomatic efforts,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The secretary and minister reviewed and approved the alliance decisions recommended by the Commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff on the combined exercise and training program. Following close coordination, both sides decided to conclude the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle series of exercises.”

“The minister and secretary reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring the continued combined defense posture of [U.S. and South Korean] combined forces to meet any security challenge, and agreed to maintain firm military readiness through newly designed command post exercises and revised field training programs,” the statement continued.

The annual exercises are a major point of contention for North Korea. Last year, Mr. Trump even described the exercises — along with a separate series of drills every fall — as “provocative.” The Pentagon temporarily suspended major military drills last year as part the president’s initial outreach to Mr. Kim.

Saturday’s announced cancellation of Key Resolve and Foal Eagle appears to be permanent.

Foal Eagle involves more than 11,000 U.S. troops and nearly 300,000 South Korean forces, the Pentagon has said, and focuses on field training. Key Resolve involves about 12,000 troops and 10,000 South Koreans and is geared more toward computer-simulated efforts.

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