Allies discuss timing of joint drills amid PyeongChang concern
SEOUL, The U.S. military confirmed Tuesday that it is in consultations with South Korea over the concern that their annual exercise may antagonize North Korea before or during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.
"The ROK-U.S. alliance continues to discuss the way ahead on the exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, to include the appropriate timing," Cdr. Dave Benham, spokesman for the Pacific Command (PACOM), said in response to Yonhap News Agency's query. ROK stands for the Republic of Korea.
The allies usually start the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills in late February or early March, which North Korea regards as a rehearsal for invasion and uses as a pretext for provocations.
Media speculation has been rampant that the South's Moon Jae-in administration is seeking to adjust the schedule, with the PyeongChang Games scheduled to open Feb. 9 for a two-week run in the eastern mountainous resort town, 80 kilometers south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas. The Paralympics are slated for March 9-19 at the same venue.
"The alliance will issue a statement at the appropriate time (on the timing of the military training)," added the PACOM official.
South Korean defense officials have been guarded about the sensitive matter.
"For now, we believe it's not appropriate to talk about the issue," Choi Hyun-soo, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, told reporters earlier in the day.
She said there has been no formal "discussion" on the issue between the allies.
However, an informed source said the Moon government has already delivered its intention to postpone the combined practice.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior ministry official indicated that the government will not rush to make a related announcement.
He described it as a sort of "card" to play in dealing with the North in the coming weeks and months.
"As you know, we don't have many cards left," he said. "We don't want to pull out the card too early of a possible adjustment to the exercise. I think the U.S. side also understands that."
Source: Yonhap News Agency