Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Tuesday said he is “troubled” by President Trump's announcement that the Pentagon will halt military drills with South Korea during negotiations with North Korea.
“I was surprised, frankly, because the president had said earlier that that was not necessarily going to be part of the first meeting,” the Senate Armed Services Committee member told reporters at a briefing in Washington, D.C.
“The coordination with South Korean military is absolutely critical.”
Perdue, who has lived in Singapore and China as a businessman before his political career, said it would “be terrible to throw on there any concession except for economic development” in negotiating the denuclearization of North Korea.
“That’s why I’m troubled by the military cooperation comments that have been made today," he added.
Trump on Tuesday announced joint U.S.-South Korean "war games" will stop during negotiations with North Korea, to the surprise of South Korean officials.
Joint U.S.-South Korean exercises, pushed by the Pentagon as essential to alliance-building and military readiness, will stop “unless and until” negotiations go poorly, Trump said.
The commander in chief framed the decision as a cost-saving measure, and added that the exercises are “very provocative.”
Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE — who has stood firm on holding the exercises — was back in the United States as Trump made the announcement.
Perdue added that he would be surprised if the pulled-back military exercises are part of the final deal if the United States doesn’t get the right reaction from North Korea.
"The president has said this might be on the table. [It] doesn’t mean that it's signed part of any agreement. He’s totally capable of backing up and withdrawing that if there aren’t results on the other side, and we haven’t heard what the requirements for that would be."
Trump denied making any concessions to Pyongyang, but he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un finished their summit by signing an agreement committing the United States to unspecified “security guarantees” in exchange for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
A reduction in U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula was not on the table in discussions with Kim, but Trump said that “at some point” he wants “to get our soldiers out.”
Perdue said he believes “it’s very premature to talk about removal of troops from South Korea,” but added that he is hopeful from the results of the four-hour meeting and now wants to see a timetable of how North Korea will give up its nuclear capability.
He did not hide his view, however, that the negotiations would be difficult.
“This is going to be a long pull; it is very frustrating negotiating with that part of the world,” Perdue said.
“This is not going to happen in a fortnight and it will not be linear. There will be days that we think ‘yes, we’ll have peace,’ and then there will be days ‘oh my god, we’re going to have a nuclear holocaust,’ which is exactly we’re we’ve been for the past year.”
He added that it’s “totally premature” to discuss the United States withdrawing its nuclear umbrella from the Korea peninsula in exchange for the total denuclearization of North Korea.
“We need to be very clear this is not a negotiation. We told them that we were totally resolved, Democrats, Republicans, legislative body, administrative body, we were totally behind the president regarding total denuclearization,” he said.
Pentagon officials, meanwhile, have said that forces on the Korean peninsula have not received any updated guidance on ending training exercises with South Korea.
--Updated at 12:04 p.m.