South Korea, US drills should be put off to draw North into talks, unification minister nominee says

A South Korean Army's K-55 self-propelled howitzer fires at a military training field in the border city of Paju, on June 22, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea should postpone military exercises with the United States in the hope of drawing North Korea back into talks, the South Korean politician set to take over responsibility for relations with the North said on Thursday (July 23).

South Korean President Moon Jae-in wants to get dialogue with North Korea back on track after negotiations between the United States and North Korea on its nuclear programme broke down.

Regular military exercises between South Korean and US forces have for years infuriated North Korea, which sees the drills as preparations for its invasion.

Mr Lee In-young, who has been nominated as South Korea's next unification minister, said postponing, or at least scaling back, the exercises, which are due to start next month, might convince North Korea to reconsider negotiations.

"If the exercises take place as planned, North Korea's backlash will be strong but if they are completely postponed, it might take it as a fresh message," Mr Lee told a parliamentary confirmation hearing.

"If we can show flexibility by scaling it back by around half or moving its location further south, North Korea would respond accordingly."

South Korea and the US are discussing the scale, scope and timing of the annual drills now that the novel coronavirus has disrupted the travel of American troops.

Questions over the exercises come after a period of rising tension with North Korea, which appears increasingly frustrated that talks with both South Korea and the US, including three meetings between leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump since 2018, have brought no easing of sanctions.

Last month, North Korea blew up a joint liaison office on its side of the border, severed hotlines with South Korea and threatened military action, angry about defector groups sending anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets.

Mr Trump has in the past questioned the value of the drills and in 2018 even suggested to Mr Kim that he would end them.

There are about 28,000 US troops in South Korea.

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