SEOUL, South Korea's defense ministry said Saturday that Seoul and Washington have decided to suspend a combined air exercise in a bid to lend support to the ongoing diplomatic efforts for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The Ministry of National Defense said the decision to suspend the annual exercise, Vigilant Ace, was made to support the diplomatic moves to bring complete denuclearization and permanent peace to the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will also discuss maintaining their defense readiness at the Military Committee Meeting (MCM) and the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) slated for later this month in Washington, it added.

Vigilant Ace, which was scheduled to be held in December, is the latest combined exercise to be suspended to encourage North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. The event has been held annually since 2015.

Last year, F-22 and F-35A stealth jets were mobilized during the joint air exercise, eliciting condemnation from North Korea.

A spokesperson from U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said it will continue to work closely with the Combined Forces Command (CFC) and South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to "maintain a foundation of military proficiency."

"At the first word of a potential Vigilant Ace suspension, USFK, CFC, and ROK JCS immediately began consultations to evaluate alternative methods to maintain readiness," the spokesperson said. ROK is the abbreviation of South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.

"So we will continue to take guidance from our national leadership in Seoul and Washington DC on particular implementation of all future combined training," the spokesperson added.

Source: Yonhap News Agency