President Donald Trump on Tuesday rocked a region and suggested the upending of decades of US defense posture on the Korean Peninsula when he announced that he was stopping annual US-South Korean military drills and wants to remove the 28,500 US troops stationed in the South as a deterrent against North Korean attack.
The stunning, almost offhand comments, made during a news conference, hours after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, contradicted countless previous declarations by US political and military officials over the years that the drills are routine, defensive and absolutely crucial.
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 in South Korea, where the presence of US troops has long been described as necessary to maintaining peace on the peninsula, and possibly even the US military in Seoul, completely off guard.
Seoul's presidential office told The Associated Press that it was trying to parse Trump's comments. The South Korean military seemed similarly surprised.