Trump says end to joint military exercises his idea

Margaret Talev and Terrence Dopp
Bloomberg News

President Donald Trump said halting the joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korea troops was his idea, not a response to a request from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I said I’d like to halt it,” Trump told reporters during an impromptu question-and-answer session on the White House lawn Friday morning, repeating his observation that suspending the twice-yearly war games would save money.

The joint military exercises are a pillar of the seven-decade-old defense relationship between the U.S. and South Korea, a means of ensuring the forces are able to work together if attacked. The annual drills, separate from regular training programs, have long angered North Korea’s leadership, which views them as a rehearsal for an invasion.

Many of the roughly 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea rotate through on one-year assignments, and the continuous training prepares them for responding to an attack.

Trump said that he had always considered the military exercises too expensive, costing “millions” of dollars.” By suspending the joint exercises, he said, “I saved a lot of money.” He also repeated his description of the maneuvers as provocative, echoing North Korea’s frequent complaint about them.

“I hated them” from the day he took office, Trump said.

Trump also defended himself against criticism that his summit with Kim provided international legitimacy to a pariah state and that his effusive praise of the North Korean leader glossed over a brutal record of human rights abuses.

The president said the rapport he developed with Kim during the meeting will be critical to resolving the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. “We had great chemistry,” Trump said, adding that’s more important than the agreement the two leaders reached.

Pressed by a reporter on why he set aside the atrocities Kim has committed, Trump responded, “Because I don’t want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family.”

“I gave him a very direct number,” Trump added.“ He can now call me if he has any difficulty. I can call him. We have communication. It’s a very good thing.”