President Trump’s decision this week to cancel large-scale joint military exercises with South Korea rattled Pentagon officials, who did not anticipate the news or have a strong role at the summit itself, according to defense experts.
The surprise declaration, which came after Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is an apparent concession to Pyongyang, which has claimed the drills are merely a pretext for a strike on the North.
After the announcement, news soon leaked of government officials scrambling aboard Air Force One to alert allied countries and partners of the change, with South Korea even left out of the loop.
Barry Pavel, a national security expert at the Atlantic Council think tank, highlighted the lack of defense officials on the trip, which he said was one indication the White House surprised the Pentagon.
If the decision had been planned, “you would have had defense officials there supporting the president,” said Pavel.
Instead, the Pentagon had only one representative at the summit, Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs and the Defense Department’s liaison with the State Department.
Pavel also noted that any mention of the military exercises was missing from the prepared document signed by Trump and Kim at the summit. The document only reaffirmed Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization in exchange for unspecified security guarantees by the U.S.
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