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US, South Korea to decide on canceling 2019 military exercises by December

US, South Korea to decide on canceling 2019 military exercises by December
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The United States and South Korea will review their joint military exercises and decide whether to suspend next year’s drills by the beginning of December, South Korea’s defense minister said Wednesday.

In a visit to the Pentagon, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said the results of the review will be due by Nov. 15 with a final decision on 2019’s joint military exercises due by Dec. 1.

Speaking alongside Jeong, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs MORE defended the decision to cancel those exercises that have already been scrapped, saying that “we are not right now concerned with a loss of combat capability.”

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“Clearly the threat from North Korea at least as expressed by Chairman Kim [Jong Un] has been significantly reduced,” Mattis added. “However the capability still exists and that is why the minister and I talked on every detail about our collaboration.”

The United States and South Korea have suspended several joint military exercises amid President TrumpDonald TrumpHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Man arrested for allegedly threatening to stab undercover Asian officer in NYC Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech MORE’s efforts to negotiate a North Korea denuclearization agreement.

Most recently, the Pentagon announced earlier this month that it was canceling Vigilant Ace, one of the U.S. military’s largest annual aviation exercises.

That followed the cancellation of the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian summer exercises, as well as two Korean Marine Exchange Program exercises.

Immediately after a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, Trump announced that he would suspend joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises while nuclear negotiations are ongoing.

Ending the exercises has long been a top demand of North Korea, which sees the drills as rehearsals for invasion.

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Trump has dismissed the exercises as overly costly “war games,” echoing North Korea’s rhetoric.

But whether next year’s exercises, including the large spring Foal Eagle and Key Resolve drills, will go forward next year has been an open question.

At an August press briefing, Mattis said the Pentagon had “no plans at this time” to suspend any future military exercises with South Korea. A day later, Mattis walked that back, saying there has been “no decision” on future exercises.

In his September confirmation hearing to become the new commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Gen. Robert Abrams said canceling exercises has resulted in a “slight degradation” in readiness. He also said planning was proceeding on the spring exercises but that whether they actually happen is a decision for Trump and South Korea’s president.

On Wednesday, Mattis said the military would likely have to “make adaptations” in the future to ensure combat capability is not lost.

“But right now, again, this is not a total suspension of all collaboration and military exercises,” he continued. “Certain large ones were put on hold, suspended temporarily in order to give the diplomats the best possible effort because we were making a good faith effort on the military side. We would give them the opportunity to get the good faith effort on that on the negotiation side.”