In this Oct 30, 2017, file photo, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (MANUEL BALCE CENETA / AP)
WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday a joint military exercise with the Republic of Korea (ROK) called "Foal Eagle" would be reduced in scope next year so it does not harm diplomatic efforts with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DRPK).
Foal Eagle is being reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy
Defense Secretary, United States
"Foal Eagle is being reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy," Mattis told reporters.
The Foal Eagle field exercise, which usually involves thousands of combined ground, air, naval and special operations troops, takes place every spring.
Mattis did not provide details on what a scaled-back version of the exercise would entail.
ROK's defense ministry said on Thursday the allies were still in talks over next year's drill and they would formally announce their decision early next month.
"Both sides' militaries are discussing ways to prop up the two governments' diplomatic efforts to bring progress on North Korea's denuclearization," spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told a news briefing in Seoul.
The DPRK is also referred to as North Korea.
US President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un agreed at an unprecedented summit in June to work toward denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula and establish new relations.
The United States and ROK have suspended a number of military exercises since then to encourage talks with DPRK.
In this March 25, 2015, file photo, US Army soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team and the Republic of Korea's soldiers take their position during a demonstration of the combined arms live-fire exercise as a part of the annual joint military exercise Foal Eagle between the ROK and the US at the Rodriquez Multi-Purpose Range Complex in Pocheon, north of Seoul, ROK. (LEE JIN-MAN / AP)
However, negotiations have since made little headway, with Pyongyang upset by Washington's insistence that international sanctions must remain until DPRK gives up its nuclear weapons.
Trump caught many US officials off guard when he announced after his summit with Kim that the United States was suspending the summer's joint military drills with ROK, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian.
The new commander of US forces in ROK, General Robert Abrams, said in September the decision to suspend some joint exercises was a "prudent risk" but had caused a "slight degradation" in military readiness.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday the United States had told its ally ROK it should not improve ties with DPRK faster than Pyongyang takes steps to give up its nuclear weapons.
In a rare sign of discord between Seoul and Washington last month, ROK Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Pompeo had expressed "discontent" at an inter-Korean military pact reached during a summit in September.
HONG KONG NEWS