South Korea’s Defence Secretary, Jeong Kyeong-doo, and his US counterpart Patrick Shanahan agreed to discontinue the war games known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.
The decision comes after President Donald Trump complained about the cost of joint drills which North Korea has always regarded as preparation for a military invasion.
The Pentagon said in a statement that the allies would maintain firm military readiness through newly designed command post exercises and revised field training programmes.
The defence secretaries “made clear that the alliance decision to adapt our training programme reflected our desire to reduce tension and support our diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in a final, fully verified manner”, the statement said.
Seoul’s defence minister released a statement as well, expressing regret at the lack of agreement at the recent Trump-Kim summit but hopes that Washington and Pyongyang would continue negotiations.
The scaled-down training exercises, dubbed “Dong Maeng”, which means “alliance” in English, starts on Monday through March 12.
The drills will focus on “strategic operational and tactical aspects of general military operations on the Korean Peninsula”, South Korea’s military and the US-South Korean combined forces command said in a joint statement.
Last November, a month before he resigned as defence secretary, Jim Mattis disclosed that the US and South Korea would scale back and tone down the spring exercises.
Mattis said the aim was to avoid setting back diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The former defence secretary described it as a reorganisation of the exercises, not an end to manoeuvres on the peninsula.
After Trump’s second summit with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, ended without any agreement in Vietnam on Thursday, Trump spoke again about the cost of the 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea.
“It’s a very, very expensive thing and we do have to think about that, too,” Trump told reporters.
Following his first summit with Kim in Singapore last June, Trump caught many in the US and South Korea by surprise by suspending the allies’ summertime military drills. He called joint drills “very provocative” and “massively expensive”.
The end of the springtime war games will benefit North Korea, which has responded with its own costly military exercises and weapons tests, including firing a new intermediate-range missile over Japan in 2017.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.