(ATTN: UPDATES with more remarks in last 12 paras)
SEOUL, June 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States have launched discussions about whether to suspend joint military exercises and will announce a decision in the near future, a senior presidential official said Friday.
The possible suspension of joint military drills between the South and the U.S. has emerged as a key topic after U.S. President Donald Trump suggested the idea after historic summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un earlier this week, saying such maneuvers are costly and provocative.
President Moon Jae-in also expressed his willingness to suspend such drills, saying Thursday that it's necessary to flexibly change military pressure on the North if Pyongyang implements denuclearization measures and sincere dialogue continues between South Korea and the North.
"President Moon Jae-in has already stated his position with regard to Korea-U.S. joint exercises and the National Security Council said it's going to consult closely with the U.S. based on that," the senior official told reporters.
"In accordance with the guidelines, Korea-U.S. discussions have already begun," he said. "Though nothing has been decided yet, we're going to announce a decision soon in the near future through close consultations between the South and the U.S."
The official echoed Moon's remarks that it's necessary to carefully reconsider military pressure measures against the North at a time when good dialogue is under way between the South and the North and between the North and the U.S.
"The U.S. concurs considerably with our position and feels the same way with us," the official said.
On Thursday, the defense ministry said that Minister Song Young-moo discussed the issue when he had a phone call with U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
Widespread views are that the two allies are expected to suspend such drills temporarily. North Korea has long denounced such drills as rehearsal for invading the communist nation. The South and the U.S. have defended that the drills are purely defensive.
The presidential official said that the South is still considering the possibility of the two Koreas and the U.S. jointly declaring an end to the Korean War, even though the idea didn't materialize during this week's summit between Trump and Kim.
The 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula still technically at war. Declaring an end to the war would be a highly symbolic gesture reaffirming commitment of all sides to bring peace to the peninsula.
"We're going to continue to discuss the issue between the South and the U.S. and between the South and the North if necessary," the official said.
The official also said that he expects the U.S. and the North to resume negotiations at an early date after the U.S. reviews the results of the summit with the North and how to carry out the agreement, which will be done as soon as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returns home.
"Depending on the progress in those negotiations, we anticipate that talks about declaring an end to the war or replacing the armistice with a peace treaty will kick off at an appropriate time," the official said.
The official also said that Trump wants the South to play a greater role in the course of denuclearization, adding that the South will work to help denuclearization negotiations between the two Koreas and between the U.S. and the North take place at an early date.
The official also said that the Singapore summit between Trump and Kim served as a chance for the North to become a responsible member of the international community.
"There is a great deal of difference between the North Korea before the Singapore summit and the North Korea after the summit," the official said. "We believe its international status will become completely different."
The summit is also meaningful in that the U.S. recognized the North as an equal dialogue partner, he said.
"This will help the North push ahead with denuclearization with confidence and take steps to open up North Korean society to the outside world," the official said.
The North's leader also made an unwavering commitment to denuclearization, he said.
With regard to the possibility of the U.S. withdrawing troops from the South, the official said that it is an issue between the South and the North and should not be a topic for negotiations between the U.S. and the North.
"There has been no discussion between the South and the U.S. on this and there is no change in position," the official said.
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