South Korea military drills to resume despite thaw with nuclear-armed North Korea
21 March, 2018, 08:05 | Author: Kristen Ingram
The commentary in the North's official news agency KCNA late on Tuesday (March 20) did not directly mention the summits but noted the "dramatic atmosphere for reconciliation" with the South and "a sign of change" with the US.
"It looks like he is concentrating on preparations for summits with South Korea and the United States, weighing Washington's intentions, Seoul's position as well as the general atmosphere among other things", said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.
Despite the North's denunciation of past drills, Chung said Kim understood that the allies must continue their "routine" joint military exercises. But leader Kim Jong Un has expressed understanding of the drills this year to the South Koreans. Some have speculated that the manoeuvrs would be scaled back, but the Pentagon said they would be conducted at "the same scale, scope and duration" as in previous years. The North has often responded to the drills with its own military actions, and a year ago fired four ballistic missiles close to Japan.
North Korea's military had been notified of the "defensive nature" of the drills, the statement added.
South Korea also plans to reciprocate the visit of North Korea's taekwondo team as part of cultural exchanges between the two countries ahead of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
No further details have emerged - and there has been no direct comment from North Korea yet - but if the talks go ahead, it would be the first time a sitting United States president has met a North Korean leader.
The Pentagon said in a short statement that U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his South Korean counterpart, Song Young-moo, had agreed to go forward with the exercises, known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, "at a scale similar to that of previous years".
Kim also noted the North's relatively quiet posture so far ahead of the drills, unlike in the past, when its army and state media issued a storm of angry denunciations before and during the exercises.
"I think all sides will try to spend the next few weeks as smoothly and quietly as possible". Washington and Seoul are essentially scaling down their drills, South Korean experts agree.
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