US President Donald Trump declared on Twitter Wednesday that there was "no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea", a day after his announcement of an end to joint military drills on the Korean peninsula sparked concern among Washington's allies in Seoul and Tokyo.
The US has dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Washington's top diplomat, to the South Korean capital to brief President Moon Jaei-in after Mr Trump announced his intention to suspend joint military exercises with the country that neighbours Kim Jong-un's rogue state. It was a statement that has left the longstanding US ally scrambling to clarify his meaning.
In characteristically bullish tweets, Mr Trump said everyone "can now feel much safer than the day I took office" and people could "sleep well tonight!"
The first-ever meeting between sitting leaders of the two Cold War foes meant "the World has taken a big step back from potential Nuclear catastrophe!" he said in an earlier message.
"No more rocket launches, nuclear testing or research! The hostages are back home with their families. Thank you to Chairman Kim, our day together was historic!"
Mr Trump made the announcement following his historic summit with the North Korean leader in Singapore on Tuesday. “We’re not going to play the war games” with South Korea, Mr Trump said. “I thought they were very provocative. I also think they’re very expensive.”
US military exercises with South Korea have been a key pillar of the defence relationship between the two countries that, despite a 1953 armistice, remain technically at war with North Korea.
Pyongyang has long viewed the military exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion of the North.
Mr Trump’s comments suggests he had accepted Mr Kim’s position that the drills were a hostile provocation. But the apparently major concession to Mr Kim immediately startled South Korea.
Seoul is still trying to understand the meaning of Mr Trump’s remarks and whether they indicate an actual shift in the US’s seven-decade defence relationship with Seoul, a spokesman for President Moon said.
Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters that Washington and Seoul needed to consider a "variety of ways to further facilitate dialogue" while they are engaged in nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang.
Both Seoul and US military commanders in the South indicated they had no idea the announcement was coming.
Japan's Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera pointedly said the drills played a "vital role in East Asia's security".
South Korea's presidential office said Mr Pompeo will meet President Moon on Thursday morning to discuss Mr Trump's denuclearisation talks with Mr Kim.
In return, Mr Kim agreed to the "complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula" in the summit's joint statement.