Fri, Dec 21, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Korean Peninsula: Seoul seeks reduced US military drills

NUCLEAR DIPLOMACY:South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that there was a new chapter of peace with North Korea, but it was only a provisional situation

Reuters, SEOUL

Protesters hold banners at a rally denouncing US Special Representative to North Korea Stephen Biegun’s visit in front of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul yesterday.

Photo: AP

South Korea wants to hold smaller joint military drills with the US next year, the South Korean Ministry of National Defence said yesterday, scaling back larger exercises as part of an effort to boost nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.

The allies have suspended a number of combined military exercises this year as tensions on the Korean Peninsula eased and Washington began talks to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The North has denounced the annual drills, which in the past involved hundreds of thousands of troops, warships and aircraft, as a “rehearsal for war.”

With nuclear talks under way, Seoul and Washington are discussing scaling back their regular field exercises, including Foal Eagle early next year, and holding two computer-simulated command post drills next year, the ministry said.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis last month said that the Foal Eagle exercise would be “reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy” with North Korea.

The ministry delivered its plan to South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday as part of its annual policy briefing.

“Joint field exercises would take place all year round after adjusting the scale,” the ministry said in a statement.

The plan is also expected to affect a major summer exercise known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which the allies suspended last year for the first time in 28 years.

In his opening remarks at the briefing, Moon said South Korea’s strong defense had underpinned “a new chapter of history of peace on the Korean Peninsula, but it’s only provisional peace.”

“We have to establish unwavering, lasting peace next year,” Moon said.

Relations improved this year between the North and South, which are technically still at war because the 1950 to 1953 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

They have held three leaders’ summits and signed a pact to establish a no-fly zone, remove landmines and guard posts near their heavily guarded border.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also met US President Donald Trump in June at a summit in Singapore.

They vowed to work toward denuclearisation.

US Special Representative to North Korea Stephen Biegun on Wednesday said that humanitarian aid to North Korea could be expedited in a move seen aimed at reviving the stalled nuclear talks.

The larger military drills could be revisited if there is no progress in the talks, said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

“If no progress is made by the summer, the United States would face substantial pressure at home and could try to restart the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise,” Shin said.

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