The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that he believes only two major annual joint military drills with South Korea could be canceled during negotiations with the North.

The halt will depend on the U.S. and Pyongyang making progress on nuclear weapons talks. Meanwhile regular training by the roughly 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea would continue, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told reporters.

President Trump, after meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore this week, said he had agreed to halt “war games” with ally South Korea, criticizing them as too costly and provocative.

“My understanding is we have two big joint military exercises with South Korea each year, roughly March and August. Obviously, there is a lot more training that goes on consistently throughout the year,” Thornberry said. “I think the thing that would be suspended as long as the negotiations are making progress would be those big joint exercises, so the next one would be roughly August timeframe.”

The Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed that the next large exercise scheduled with South Korea is Ulchi Freedom Guardian. Last year, the computer-simulated exercise involved 17,500 U.S. troops and lasted 10 days. The major springtime exercise is Max Thunder.

The president’s announcement seemed to catch the Pentagon and South Korea by surprise and caused some confusion on Capitol Hill over what exactly the statement meant. The U.S. has held joint drills with the South Koreans for decades as a deterrent to the North, which has loudly protested the activity as it has pursued a nuclear arsenal.

Thornberry said he supports exercises with allies and he has spearheaded a U.S. military buildup in Congress, but does not oppose Trump’s move to curtail the operations in Korea.

“You’ve got to give these negotiations every opportunity to succeed so postponing as long as the negotiations are being productive these particular joint exercises that were planned for August, well, OK, this is an opportunity to hold their feet to the fire and see if North Korea is serious about this,” he said.



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