The rival Koreas are discussing the possible relocation of North Korea’s long-range artillery systems away from the tense Korean border, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon said yesterday as the countries forge ahead with steps to lower tensions and extend a recent detente.
North Korea has deployed an estimated 1,000 artillery pieces along the border, posing a significant threat to Seoul and the metropolitan area.
In a speech marking the 68th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1950-1953 Korean War, Lee said that “moving [North Korea’s] long-range artillery to the rear is under discussion,” as he explained what types of goodwill steps between the sides have been taken in the past few months.
Lee’s comments appear to be Seoul’s first official confirmation of media reports that South Korea demanded that the North reposition its forward-deployed artillery pieces during inter-Korean military talks this month.
The South Korean Ministry of Defense, which has denied the reports, said it had no immediate comment on Lee’s speech.
A 2016 South Korean defense white paper described the North’s long-range artillery as one of the country’s biggest threats, along with its nuclear and missile programs.
Seoul, a city of about 10 million people, is about 40km to 50km from the border.
South Korean media speculated that during the June 14 military talks, the North likely demanded that South Korea and the US withdraw their own artillery systems from the border as a reciprocal measure.
About 28,500 US soldiers are deployed in South Korea.
Also yesterday, military officers from the two Koreas met to discuss how to fully restore their military hotline communication channels, the ministry said.
The results of the talks were expected later yesterday.
The talks came a day after Seoul said it would “indefinitely suspend” two small-scale annual military drills with the US.
The drills involving marines from the allies were supposed to occur from next month to September, the ministry said in a statement.
South Korea is willing to take unspecified additional measures if North Korea is continuously engaged in “productive” negotiations, it said.
Last week, South Korea and the US announced the suspension of their larger, annual military exercises called the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, part of their efforts to increase the chances of successful nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.
Some experts have said the drills’ suspension could weaken the allies’ combined defense posture against North Korea.
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