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Postponed joint U.S.-Korea drills start April 1

Mar 21,2018
이미지뷰
U.S. F-16 fighter jets land in Osan Airbase in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
The United States and South Korea will resume their annual combined exercises on April 1 on a scale similar to those of previous years, the Ministry of National Defense announced Tuesday.

The ministry said the United Nations Command informed North Korea about the schedule Tuesday and the “defensive nature” of the exercises, code-named Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, at the truce village of Panmunjom, which straddles the border. The news was also relayed through a recently restored military hotline connecting the two countries along the west coast.

North Korean media, which has often castigated the drills as a rehearsal for invasion, has yet to mention the latest announcement.

The exercises, held every spring, were postponed until after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which led to a rare rapprochement between South and North Korea.

Five special envoys of President Moon Jae-in visited Pyongyang earlier this month and told North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that Seoul no longer had any “justification” to stop or further delay the joint exercises, to which Kim replied that he “could understand” why the drills had to resume in April and on the same scale as before.

Kim added that he expected the joint military exercises to be “readjusted when affairs on the Korean Peninsula stabilize.”

Neither the ministry nor the Pentagon, which simultaneously made the announcement on the drills, specified the exact number of troops participating in this year’s exercises or for how long they will last.

In previous years, the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises were participated in by some 300,000 troops from South Korea and 23,000 from the United States.

A South Korean military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Foal Eagle, a combined field training exercise, was likely to last for about four weeks starting April 1, down from last year’s eight-week program, which kicked off on March 1.

Key Resolve, computer-simulated war games, is expected to be held for two weeks from April 23, similar to that of last year, which ran from March 13 to 24.

The Ssangyong joint military exercise, participated in by U.S. and South Korean Marines, will be held separately around the time of Foal Eagle, said the local military official, while the bilateral Max Thunder air force exercise will kick off in mid-May.

Military sources said the ministry will probably keep the exercises low-key this year in order not to provoke North Korea, as opposed to the past when it deliberately publicized the U.S. strategic assets approaching the peninsula for the exercises.

Seoul is expected to hold a third inter-Korean summit late next month on the southern side of the Panmunjom, the first of its kind between President Moon Jae-in and Kim, in order to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization. Kim is also supposed to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump by May in a historic first-ever summit between the two countries.

The Defense Ministry’s announcement Tuesday came as a group of South Korean interlocutors visited the northern side of Panmunjom for working-level discussions on a South Korean concert in Pyongyang next month before the Moon-Kim summit.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, LEE CHUL-JAE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]