The United States and South Korea will go ahead with joint military drills after the Paralympics, both of them confirmed Tuesday, despite the exercises always infuriating Pyongyang and the Olympics having driven a rapprochement on the peninsula.
Washington previously agreed to a request from Seoul to delay the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises — which usually begin in late February or early March — until after the Pyeongchang Games in the South, to try to avoid stoking tensions.
The Olympics have since seen a charm offensive by Pyongyang, which dispatched athletes, cheerleaders and its leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong to attend the Games.
She passed on Kim Jong Un’s invitation to the South’s President Moon Jae-in to come to a summit in Pyongyang — which he did not immediately accept, saying the right conditions were needed first.
Analysts say the Games-driven bonhomie on the peninsula may not last long once the sporting festivals are over, particularly once Key Resolve, a command post drill, and the Foal Eagle theatre-level field exercise begin.
The start date will be announced by the two allies between the end of the Paralympics on March 18 and the beginning of April, Seoul’s defence minister Song Young-moo was quoted as telling the National Assembly by a ministry spokesman.
A US Forces Korea spokesman confirmed the position to AFP. “The date for the postponed exercises — Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — will be announced after the Paralympics,” he said. “The exercises have been postponed, not scrapped.”
General Vincent K. Brooks, who commands the 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea, last week told the US House Armed Services Committee that joint drills were “essential” to “deter North Korean aggression”.
Military tensions often run high during the exercises, with the North carrying out its own counter-drills against what it condemns as rehearsals for a war.
Pyongyang says it needs its nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion by the US.
The North’s KCNA news agency on Monday accused the US of seeking to torpedo the reconciliatory mood by resuming the exercises.
“Trump and his clique are racketeering to nip peace in the bud that started sprouting on the Korean peninsula,” KCNA said in a commentary.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has previously said the drills would go ahead after the end of the Paralympics.