Mark Esper. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/pool/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Sunday that the U.S. and South Korea have canceled an annual joint military exercise as an "act of goodwill" in order to “keep the door open” for talks to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons, according to the Associated Press.

The big picture: The U.S. and its regional allies have been trying to coax North Korea back to negotiations to eliminate its nuclear weapons and missiles since talks stalled earlier this year.

What they're saying: Esper said canceling the exercise was not a concession to North Korea but rather "a good-faith effort ... to facilitate a political agreement — a deal, if you will — that leads to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," according to AP.

  • After Esper's announcement, North Korea's Foreign Ministry said the country has no plans to negotiate its nuclear programs unless the U.S. offers to withdraw its “hostile” policies against Pyongyang.

Of note: In the buildup to the U.S.-South Korea military exercise, North Korea stationed military aircraft at Wonsan International Airport, leading experts to believe that it was preparing a countermilitary exercise, NPR reports.

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