The announcement came on Sunday, days after Pyongyang threatened to retaliate if the drills scheduled for later this month went ahead.
“I don’t see this as a concession. I see this as a good faith effort … to enable peace,” US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, as he announced the decision standing alongside his South Korean counterpart in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, where they were attending an Asia defence ministers’ conference.
As recently as Friday, when Esper was in Seoul to consult with South Korean officials, there was no word on postponing the military air exercise, which had been called “Vigilant Ace”.
Seoul and Washington had scaled back the exercise recently and changed the name, but North Korea strongly objected, calling it evidence of a lack of interest in improving relations.
Pyongyang regularly opposes such US-South Korean joint military exercises, viewing them as a rehearsal for invasion.
For his part, South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said the exercise had been put off pending further consultations between Seoul and Washington, which has about 28,000 troops in South Korea.
No new date has been set.
Earlier this week, North Korea’s nuclear negotiator Kim Myong Gil said Pyongyang had been offered a fresh meeting with the US but it was uninterested in more talks aimed at “appeasing us” before a year-end deadline set for Washington to show more flexibility in its negotiations.
North Korea has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, but the US has insisted Kim must dismantle his nuclear weapons programme first.