Mattis says US-South Korea military exercise will be scaled back

The next major joint US-South Korea military exercise will be “reduced in scope” to avoid hurting diplomatic efforts with North Korea, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Wednesday.

Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon that next spring’s version of the “Foal Eagle” exercise was being “reorganized a bit” to keep from “being harmful to diplomacy.”

The US had suspended several larger military exercises as part of an effort to ease tensions with North Korea following the June Singapore summit between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump has previously labeled the exercises “provocative” and “expensive.”

In late August, Trump said there was “no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games.”

The two countries have been conducting some smaller scale training exercises.

“The United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) conduct regular, routine training and exercises to enhance our ability to defend the ROK and maintain our combined military readiness,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Logan said in a statement.

Logan said that Mattis and his South Korean counterpart agreed during a meeting last month “that it was important for military activities, including exercises, to be conducted in a manner that complements diplomatic efforts to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization while sustaining readiness of US and ROK military forces.”

“We continue to look at multiple aspects of future exercises to include their size and scope,” he added.

This year’s Foal Eagle exercise was delayed to avoid taking place during the Winter Olympics which were being hosted by South Korea.

Pentagon officials said that delay was done to avoid the logistical burdens associated with having the exercise during the Olympics while South Korean officials said the delay was to help reduce tensions on the Peninsula.

The exercise eventually took place in April, involving some 11,500 US forces and some 290,000 South Korean troops.