Tue. 12:32 p.m.: Trump’s vow to end military drills with Seoul stuns a region

SINGAPORE (AP) – President Donald Trump rocked the region with the stunning announcement today that he was halting annual U.S.-South Korean military drills ä and wants to remove the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the South as a deterrent against North Korea.

Trump’s surprise, almost offhand comments, made during a news conference after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, seemingly upended decades of the U.S. defense posture on the Korean Peninsula.

The remarks contradicted countless previous declarations by U.S. political and military officials over the years that the drills are routine, defensive and absolutely critical.

Trump has now essentially adopted the standard North Korean line, calling the military exercises a “provocative” drain of money and announcing they would stop while he continues talks with Kim, whom he repeatedly praised as a solid negotiating partner.

His statement was quickly portrayed by critics as a major, unreciprocated concession to a country that only last year was threatening Seoul and Washington with nuclear war.

It also seemed to leave officials completely off guard in South Korea, where the presence of U.S. troops has long been described as necessary to maintaining peace on the peninsula.

Seoul’s presidential office told The Associated Press that it was trying to parse Trump’s comments. The South Korean military seemed similarly surprised.

“At this current point, there is a need to discern the exact meaning and intent of President Trump’s comments,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry said, adding that there have been no discussions yet with Washington on modifying drills set for August.

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