(ATTN: UPDATES with additional remarks from President Moon in last 5 paras; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, June 14 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in on Thursday said South Korea may consider suspending its joint military drills with the United States to help build trust and ease tensions with North Korea.
"President Moon said if North Korea implements denuclearization measures and sincere dialogue continues between South Korea and the North, the North and the United States, to ease their hostile relations, the country needs to flexibly change its military pressure against the North in the spirit of building mutual trust as agreed in the Panmunjom Declaration," the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said.
Moon's remarks were made in a plenary meeting of the National Security Council, which marked the first of its kind this year.
Moon said his country will carefully consider the possibility of suspending the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises, according to the press release.
He then instructed NSC members, which include the country's foreign and defense ministers, to closely coordinate with the U.S., it said.
U.S. President Donald Trump said his country will stop "war games" with South Korea after his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on Tuesday, calling them "expensive" and "provocative."
Cheong Wa Dae earlier insisted it was not clear what the U.S. leader meant by war games.
Moon's instruction came hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid him a courtesy call at the presidential office, offering a detailed account of the Trump-Kim summit and what Trump apparently meant.
Pyongyang has long demanded an end to what it claims to be war rehearsals aimed at a northward invasion.
Seoul and Washington have insisted the military drills are strictly defensive in nature.
President Moon said the successful outcome of the U.S.-North Korea summit, as well as his two bilateral meetings with the North Korean leader, warranted a change in how the allies deal with the communist state.
"Most of all, it is important to understand that removing military tensions and hostile relations between the two countries by establishing a new North Korea-U.S. relationship and opening new relations in the future is the only way to completely denuclearize North Korea and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula," he told the NSC meeting, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
In the joint Panmunjom Declaration produced at the end of their first-ever meeting in the border town of Panmunjom on April 27, Moon and Kim agreed to immediately halt their countries' hostile acts against each other.
The outcome of the Trump-Kim summit has now put all three countries on the same page as to how to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and establish peace here, Moon was quoted as saying.
The president, however, said it only marked the beginning of a long process.
"A clear direction is set, but specific ways to realize the goal still remain a question," he said.
"We must continuously and consistently urge ourselves so the decisions by the leaders of North Korea and the United States can be swiftly put into action."
The president also vowed the country's own efforts to rid the North of nuclear weapons and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.
"The most directly involved party in Korean Peninsula issues is us. We must continue our active and leading role with a determination to decide our own fate. The nuclear issue is directly related to the future of the Republic of Korea. We must do our utmost to make sure the peace process will continue to move forward without any disruption by playing a leading role," Moon said.
He also sought to ease concerns held by many who believe the joint military drills are a key, if not the only, deterrence against North Korean aggression. He said a move to suspend them will be aimed at promoting peace, not rewarding the communist state.
"Now the peace and development of the Korean Peninsula must be approached with a broader view. It is now time to move beyond the security issues of North Korea denuclearization and security guarantees and accept the spirit of peace and joint development of the South and the North," Moon was quoted as saying.
"I ask the people to also have faith in the government and provide their support," he added.
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