Members from US and Republic of Korea militaries man the Hardened Theater Air Control Center, at Osan AB, South Korea, during the first day of Ulchi Freedom Guardian, Aug. 17, 2015. Air Force photo by A1C John Linzmeier.
President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the following announcement that joint US-South Korean military exercises would be suspended, represent a new way forward toward peace on the Korean Peninsula, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday.
The decision to halt the exercises has continued to bring confusion and skepticism among regional leaders as Mattis and defense ministers of both South Korea and Japan have discussed the way forward.
“President Trump’s historic summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un proves the past does not have to define the future,” Mattis told graduates of the Naval War College on Friday. “While a possible new avenue to peace now exists with North Korea, we remain vigilant regarding pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
Mattis met Thursday with both South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-mee and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, and in both meetings reaffirmed the alliances and expressed support for diplomacy, according to Pentagon statements on the meetings.
Onodera told reporters Friday the joint exercises with US and South Korea are “important pillars in maintaining regional peace and stability,” according to NBC News.
There are reportedly discussions to suspending the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises, usually held in August, with an expected decision coming within the next few days, a South Korean official told The Associated Press.
Former US Pacific Command boss, retired Adm. Harry Harris, told lawmakers on Thursday that while in his former job he supported the exercises, it was a different time.
“Today, following the president’s summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, we are in a dramatically different place,” Harris said during his confirmation hearing to be the next US ambassador to South Korea. “The landscape has shifted.”
Major exercises should be paused if “Kim Jong Un is serious on his part in the negotiations,” he said.