U.S. and South Korea consider halting military drills during Olympics
The U.S. and South Korea are considering delaying joint military drills until after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February in a bid to reduce tensions with North Korea, according to a person familiar with the discussions, Bloomberg reports.
While no final decision has been made, the annual Spring military exercises known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle could be deferred until mid-March, said the person, who asked not to be identified as the discussions are private. South Korea’s foreign ministry said it was not a matter that officials would comment on. The Financial Times earlier reported the drills may be postponed.
Pyongyang regularly describes the drills as a prelude to invasion and says they justify its nuclear and missile-testing program. In response to a five-day joint air exercise on the peninsula involving 230 aircraft and 12,000 American troops earlier this month, North Korea threatened to take the “highest-level hard-line countermeasure in history.”
The Winter Olympics will run Feb. 9-25, with the Paralympics taking place March 9-18. The last Foal Eagle exercise, which consisted of ground, air, naval and special operations field drills, started in early March and ran through April, overlapping with the Key Resolve exercises that focus on computer simulations.
Postponing the drills could help create conditions for talks between the U.S. and North Korea. China has called on the U.S. to halt exercises and start talks with Pyongyang, part of its “suspension-for-suspension” proposal that would also require Kim to freeze nuclear and missile tests. Still, the U.S. has repeatedly rejected the proposal, arguing that its drills are defensive in nature.
President Donald Trump has also frequently threatened military force against Pyongyang. Suspending the drills could be seen by North Korea as a concession to Kim Jong Un at a time Trump is seeking to project strength.
Still, "with no formal dialogue channels ongoing, it’s hard to get the other side to make a promise," said Choi Young Jin, a former South Korean ambassador to the U.S. A delay in the drills "could be quite a good diplomatic accomplishment as the two sides could tap each other’s intentions and wills" for future talks, he said.