The biggest concession Trump gave to North Korea wasn’t in the signed document

Handing it over.
Handing it over.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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Donald Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un today (June 12) ended with a signed document that laid out four basic commitments—establishing diplomatic ties between the US and North Korea, building a “lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean peninsula, working toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the repatriation of POW/MIA remains from the Korean War.

Yet the most important commitment—or concession, rather—that Trump made wasn’t in the signed document. At a press conference held after the meeting, Trump shocked listeners when he said that he planned to cease military drills with South Korea.

When first asked by a reporter if the US would reduce its military capabilities on the Korean peninsula, Trump said, “We have right now 32,000 soldiers in South Korea. And I’d like to be able to bring them back home. But that’s not part of the equation right now.” (There are in fact 28,500 US troops in Korea.) He then added:

“We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see that the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus I think it’s very provocative.”

Later, when asked by a reporter what Trump meant by “war games,” Trump replied:

“We’ve done exercises for a long period of time, working with South Korea. And we call them war games, and I call them war games, and they’re tremendously expensive. The amount of money that we spend on that is incredible. and South Korea contributes, but not 100% percent which is certainly a subject that we have to talk to them about also.”

The president repeatedly stressed that it was expensive to fly planes six-and-a-half hours from Guam, and added, “I know a lot about airplanes. It’s very expensive.”

The South Korean presidential Blue House and US military command in Korea both seemed to have been blindsided by Trump’s remarks.

The US Forces Korea said it had received ”no updated guidance” on its regular exercises with South Korea.

The two countries regularly stage joint military exercises, including the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises scheduled for the fall. North Korea has long called for these drills, which it says are a provocation, to end, and typically responds to them with military exercises of its own. The US and South Korea earlier this year postponed the annual Foal Eagle drills until after the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang were over amid a broader diplomatic that between the two Koreas.

Dropping the joint exercises assumes benevolence from the North Korean regime at a very early stage in its relationship with the US. Analysts have criticized the decision noting that Trump, beyond vague commitments to denuclearization and peace, has not received anything in return.

Robert E. Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University in Korea, likened Trump’s words as throwing a major ally “under the bus” and that it would be “depressing” if the US did not get anything “enormous” in return for it.