Cancellation of war games alarms US allies

SEOUL: US President Donald Trump's surprise decision to suspend joint war games with South Korea, which appeared to take Seoul and the American military by surprise, continued to create confusion and alarm yesterday.

Trump made the announcement following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday, though the move was not included in the leaders' agreement.

The military exercises have long been regarded by the North as a provocation and their cancellation was widely regarded as a major concession by the US.

The US Defence Department afterwards reassured allies, with spokeswoman Dana White saying: "Our alliances remain ironclad."

Japan expressed concern over the move, with defence minister Itsunori Onodera saying the exercises played "an important role for the security of East Asia" and adding that Tokyo would continue to put pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear programme.

"We would like to ask North Korea to make policy changes in a visible way."

South Korean President Moon Jae In's spokesman said late on Tuesday that Seoul needed to clarify the "meaning and intent" of the comments by Trump, who also said he eventually wanted to bring US troops stationed in South Korea home.

United States Forces Korea said in a statement it had received "no updated guidance" on the regular military exercises in the region, including for exercises dubbed Ulchi Freedom Guardian, scheduled to take place in August.

Meanwhile, in its first reporting on the outcome of the talks, North Korean state-run newswire KCNA portrayed the Singapore summit as a win for Kim that would "remain long in history".

The agency also said that Trump and Kim had "gladly accepted" mutual invitations to visit each other's countries.

Following the summit on Tuesday, Trump told reporters he would like to visit the North Korean capital Pyongyang "at the appropriate time," and that Kim would "absolutely" would be invited to the White House.

He also said that economic sanctions would not immediately be lifted.

On his way back to Washington, he tweeted that the world had "taken a big step back from potential nuclear catastrophe". – dpa