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South, U.S. suspend more exercises

June 25,2018
The South Korean and U.S. militaries have agreed to suspend two marine exercises that were scheduled to occur in the coming months, the Pentagon said on Friday, in another major concession to North Korea after the two allies called off the Freedom Guardian exercise last week.

The U.S. Defense Department’s spokeswoman, Dana White, said in a statement on Friday that the two countries agreed to “indefinitely” suspend “select exercises” in an effort for detente after the U.S. and North Korean leaders held their first-ever summit on June 12.

Those exercises included Freedom Guardian, a two-week computer-simulated drill designed to enhance the allies’ readiness to protect the South from North Korean aggression. Its cancellation was announced last week.

Now, two Korean Marine Exchange Program exercises will join them. These drills focus on integrating ground and aviation assets in a combined arms exercise using live fire.

To support upcoming negotiations between the United States and North Korea, White said, “additional decisions will depend upon the DPRK continuing to have productive negotiations in good faith,” referring to the North by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense relayed a similar statement Saturday morning, saying the decision was a follow-up to the U.S.-North and South-North summits.

Last Tuesday, the ministry’s spokesman, Choi Hyun-soo, said the Freedom Guardian exercise would not be held this summer, but planning could resume if North Korea fails to carry out measures to denuclearize or wavers on talks with the United States. Choi said Seoul expected Pyongyang to show a “reciprocal measure” to suspending the exercise.

Last week, White said no decisions on subsequent joint exercises had been made, but multiple South Korean government sources who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo said Washington unilaterally informed Seoul earlier this month that all combined military exercises would be suspended during the period of detente.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly relayed the news to officials in Seoul during his visit to South Korea on June 13 and 14, when he met with Moon to discuss the outcome of the U.S.-North summit.

Neither Seoul nor Washington has confirmed a total suspension yet, instead announcing halts to individual exercises.

The Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises have occurred annually, usually 10 times a year, since 1976. Since 2015, there have been 19 each year, after the North started to test more missiles and nuclear weapons.

Nineteen such exercises were initially planned for this year, according to South Korea’s military, and 11 have already been held. Two out of the eight exercises will be called off for now. The remaining six will hinge on the progress of talks between the United States and North Korea.

Military officials from both Koreas are scheduled to meet near the border today in Paju, Gyeonggi, to discuss the restoration of military communication channels.

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