WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is permanently canceling the large-scale military exercises in South Korea usually held in the spring, U.S. officials said Friday, handing Pyongyang a long-sought concession only days after a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un broke up without a deal.

The timing of the decision raised questions about whether Trump was giving away a major piece of leverage over North Korea, which has long denounced the exercises as provocative, and failing to get anything in return.

“Why negotiate with the United States when it makes concessions for free?” Abraham Denmark, a former top Pentagon official during the Obama administration, wrote in a tweet. He said the decision to halt the maneuvers would have “major implications for readiness” of U.S. and South Korean forces.

Thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops had conducted the exercises, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle – annually for more than a decade. But last year, Trump suspended them, citing the cost and the need to ease tensions with North Korea.

The spring maneuvers will be replaced by smaller-scale training that doesn’t call for large-scale field maneuvers but still ensures that U.S. and South Korean forces can repel a North Korean invasion, said the officials, who did not want speak on the record ahead of the formal announcement, expected Saturday.

Trump has repeatedly complained about the large-scale exercises, saying they’re too costly and that the U.S. bears too much of the financial burden. But defenders say the training is relatively cheap, noting estimates that spring exercises cost $14 million a year.


The president hinted at the decision to cancel them Thursday at a news conference in Hanoi.

“Those exercises are very expensive,” Trump said. “And I was telling the generals, I said: Look, you know, exercising is fun and it’s nice and they play the war games. And I’m not saying it’s not necessary, because, at some levels, it is, but at other levels, it’s not. But it’s a very, very expensive thing. And, you know, we do have to think about that too.”

U.S. officials are expected to inform South Korea of the decision shortly, the officials said. The decision was first reported by NBC News.

Pentagon officials and U.S. commanders in South Korea, where the U.S. keeps 28,500 troops, have been discussing changes to the exercises since they were suspended last year, officials said. It was initially expected that the cancellation announcement could be part of a summit agreement between Trump and Kim.

Plans to announce the cancellation proceeded, despite the lack of a summit deal.

Other annual U.S.-South Korea exercises that have been suspended since last year by the Trump administration are not affected, the officials said.

But some experts on North Korea questioned whether the new smaller-scale training will be adequate.

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