US scales down Korean drills as talks with Pyongyang near standstill
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US scales down Korean drills as talks with Pyongyang near standstill

IN a bid to facilitate talks with Pyongyang to denuclearise the Korean peninsula, the United States has pared back on the scale of a joint military exercise with South Korea scheduled for the spring of 2019.

US Secretary Jim Mattis made the announcement on Wednesday comes after negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang came to an almost complete halt in recent weeks following several postponements on high-level meetings and little progress made on the North’s pledge to discontinue its nuclear weapons programme.

The field exercise, called Foal Eagle, typically involves thousands of troops from the ground, air, and naval forces during spring season every year.

SEE ALSO: North Korea tests new ‘high-tech’ tactical weapon 

Without elaborating on the scaled-back version of the exercise, Mattis said this year’s exercise would be “reduced in scope.”

“Foal Eagle is being reorganised a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy,” Mattis said.

The US-South Korea military drills, which have been held for years, and involves rehearsals of beach landings, North Korean invasions, and strikes aimed at “decapitating” the North Korean regime.

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South Korean army soldiers march during a military exercise in Paju near the border with North Korea. Pic: AP.

In June, US President Donald Trump held a historic summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un to work toward’s the North’s denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and to warm the diplomatic ties.

The unprecedented talks came after Kim had looked towards bolstering the isolated North’s economy, and opening up trade opportunities with the rest of the world.

In return for denuclearisation, Trump had promised to look into lifting economic sanctions against the North which also demanded an end to the joint military drills.

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However, the talks have made little headway since the June summit in Singapore as US intelligence agencies found that the North was still pursuing its intercontinental ballistic missile programme which threatened the mainland US territory.

On Thursday, South Korea’s defence ministry said the allies were still in talks over next year’s drill and they would formally announce their decision early next month, according to Reuters.

“Both sides’ militaries are discussing ways to prop up the two governments’ diplomatic efforts to bring progress on North Korea’s denuclearisation,” spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo was quoted as saying.