NEW YORK - The US and South Korea have confirmed they will no longer hold large-scale joint military exercises which have always infuriated North Korea.

The alliance’s defence chiefs said the decision supported “diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. A number of exercises were suspended last year after US President Donald Trump met North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

North Korea regards the games as preparation for a military invasion. The defence ministers from the US and South Korea agreed to end the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve series of exercises in a phone call on Saturday.

Critics have said cancelling the drills could undermine US and South Korean military defences against the North, but others say those concerns are unjustified.

President Trump has previously complained of the cost of such exercises, although he has ruled out withdrawing US troops from the peninsula - currently numbering about 30,000. Mr Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong-un in Vietnam this week ended abruptly without a deal.

President Trump said he had to “walk” because the North Koreans had demanded the full lifting of economic sanctions before denuclearisation.

But North Korea’s foreign minister said Kim Jong-un had asked only for partial sanctions relief in exchange for disabling the main nuclear complex at Yongbyon.

The US state department said: “The Minister and Secretary reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring the continued combined defence posture of US-[Republic of Korea] combined forces to meet any security challenge.

“[They] agreed to maintain firm military readiness through newly designed Command Post exercises and revised field training programs.”

The Key Resolve / Foal Eagle war games typically represent the largest joint military exercise between the US and South Korea, with thousands of troops taking part.

One anonymous US official told the Washington Post a “newer, scaled-back” operation will now be held in March, involving a “computer exercise”.

Donald Trump has previously criticised the cost of the annual war games. Speaking after meeting Kim Jong Un earlier this week, he claimed: “We spent hundreds of millions of dollars on those exercises, and I hated to see it.

“Look, you know, exercising is fun and it’s nice and they play the war games. And I’m not saying it’s not necessary, because at some levels it is, but at other levels it’s not. But it’s a very, very expensive thing. “

The US suspended the war games last year, later saying they’d be scaled down in the future. Tens of thousands of US troops remain stationed in South Korea.