South Korea, US to hold postponed military drills "as planned": USFK

Illustration by Tom Bachtell

South Korea is set to press ahead with joint military exercises with the U.S. in a move likely to aggravate North Korea amid a period of inter-Korean detente.

South Korea's Defense Minister Song Young-moo told the country's parliament Tuesday that he and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would announce their plans after the Paralympics end March 18 and before April.

Pyongyang had not asked Seoul to suspend the joint military drills in exchange for the country's participation in the PyeongChang Olympics, the defense minister said, insisting that the postponement would not affect the U.S. -ROK alliance.

"The exercise was postponed according to the spirit of the Olympics", Song said.

In a report submitted to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Vincent Brooks said the United States will execute two major theater-level command post exercises and one theater-level field training exercise each year.

South Korea has also been floating the idea of co-hosting the 2021 Asian Winter Games with North Korea, which the South's Yonhap news agency on February 20 reported a North Korean official as saying might be possible.

"Trump and his clique are racketeering to nip peace in the bud that started sprouting on the Korean peninsula", KCNA said in a commentary. South Korean media report that the United States is preparing to dispatch advanced attack drones capable of attacking North Korean leaders or missile sites during that period.

Both the South and North appear to be tip-toeing around these issues during the period of the Pyeongchang Olympics, he said.

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It remains unclear if Moon might ask the US for an even further delay to the military exercises, but Michiel Hoogeveen, an independent researcher focusing on North Korea, called Tuesday's announcement "a great test" that could reveal both sides true intentions.

"I am aware that discussion between the South Korean and the US military authorities are underway to resume the military drills", Cho Myoung-Gyon said, saying he saw no reason to oppose them.

Pyongyang says it needs its nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion by the US.

"It is a provocative act of chilling the active efforts of the DPRK and enthusiasm of the global community to defuse tension and create a peaceful environment".

North Korea has won positive press for their Olympic diplomatic maneuvers.

Pyongyang and leader Kim Jong-Un have long called the U.S. Six months from now, most people won't be thinking of the Olympics that much, and it will become more clear that the underlying interests and strategies have not changed much, if at all.

Song denied suggestions that Seoul was reluctant to confirm the date due to fears of provoking Pyongyang, telling lawmakers that "we are not studying the pleasure of North Korea".

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