Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made it official Friday: the annual big military exercises with the South Koreans won't be happening as long as North Korea bargains in good faith on denuclearization.
President Donald Trump said after the Singapore summit last week with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that the exercises -- he called them "war games" -- would be suspended, although no mention of the exercises was included in the joint declaration after the summit.
In a late Friday statement, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said that Mattis "has indefinitely suspended select exercises" to include the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise that had been scheduled to begin in late August. Last year's Freedom Guardian exercise involved about 50,000 South Korean and 17,500 U.S. troops.
White said that Mattis formally suspended the exercises after meetings at the White House Friday involving himself, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House National Security Advisor John Bolton.
White said that Mattis acted "to support implementing the outcomes of the Singapore summit, and in coordination with our Republic of Korea ally."
She said the suspensions applied to Freedom Guardian and "two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises scheduled to occur in the next three months."
"In support of upcoming diplomatic negotiations led by Secretary Pompeo, additional decisions will depend upon the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] continuing to have productive negotiations in good faith," White said.
In his comments after the summit, Trump called the exercises "too expensive" and also "provocative" to the North Koreans, who for decades have also charged that the exercises were provocative and practice for an invasion.
Last week, Pompeo met in Seoul for an hour with Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of the 28,500 U.S. troops in U.S. Forces Korea, to discuss the suspension.
The U.S. had already been cutting back on the exercises in the months preceding the Singapore Summit as the opening to the North developed.
Mattis postponed the major Foal Eagle exercise earlier this year during the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in South Korea, and Foal Eagle was cut back from the usual two months to one month when it resumed.
In a tweet Sunday, Trump said that "holding back the 'war games' during the negotiations was my request because they are VERY EXPENSIVE and set a bad light during a good faith negotiation. Also, quite provocative. Can start up immediately if talks break down, which I hope will not happen!"
In North Korea on Friday, a South Korean delegation met with North Korean officials on reunions for families separated by the Korean War and other humanitarian issues, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
The meetings were held at a hotel on Mount Kumgang on North Korea's east coast, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.