South Korea, US to announce plans for joint drills

South Korea and the United States will announce plans before April for a postponed joint military drill. This comes after a temporary thaw in relations with North Korea over the Winter Olympics.

SEOUL • South Korea and the United States will announce plans before April for a postponed joint military drill, South Korea's Defence Minister said yesterday.

Seoul and Washington had agreed to postpone the regular joint military exercise until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympics being hosted in South Korea, which end on March 18.

After the decision to delay the joint exercise, North Korea agreed to hold its first official talks with the South in over two years and send athletes to the Winter Games, easing a stand-off over the North's nuclear and missile programmes.

On when the two countries will hold the drill, Defence Minister Song Young Moo told Parliament he and his US counterpart James Mattis will make an announcement between March 18 and the start of April. "The exercise was postponed according to the spirit of the Olympics," Mr Song said.

"We have agreed to uphold the basis until after the Paralympics... and not to confirm nor deny anything regarding what we would do after that, until we announce it."

He added that inter-Korean talks had not come about as a direct result of the postponed drill.

Pyongyang has warned it would not sit idle if the US and South Korea push ahead with the postponed military exercise. North Korea denounces the joint drills, which it views as preparations to invade the country, and it has at times conducted missile tests or taken other aggressive action in response.

The South Korean and US militaries usually hold military exercises called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle in March and April, which can involve as many as 17,000 American troops and more than 300,000 South Koreans.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myong Gyon said talks to stage the postponed military drill were moving forward. "I'm aware negotiations are moving towards a direction where the drills will be held," Mr Cho said in a separate parliamentary session yesterday, without elaborating.

A restart of the joint drill is an "act of ruthlessly trampling even a small sprout of peace that has been now seen on the Korean peninsula", North Korea's official KCNA news agency said in a commentary on Monday.

"It is a provocative act of chilling the active efforts of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and enthusiasm of the international community to defuse tension and create a peaceful environment," it said. "Trump and his clique are racketeering to nip peace in the bud that started sprouting on the Korean peninsula."

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have eased since last year, resulting in inter-Korean talks and the North sending a high-level delegation led by Ms Kim Yo Jong, the sister of leader Kim Jong Un, and athletes to the Winter Olympics.

But analysts say the Games-driven rapprochement on the peninsula may not last long once the sporting festivals are over.

General Vincent K. Brooks, who commands the 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea, told the US House Armed Services Committee last week that joint drills were "essential" to "deter North Korean aggression".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'S. Korea, US to announce plans for joint drills'. Print Edition | Subscribe