U.S., South Korea push forward with plans for war games, testing goodwill with North Korea
U.S. and South Korean soldiers take positions during joint military exercises north of Seoul in 2015. (Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

 

Military chiefs from the United States and South Korea announced plans Tuesday to resume the annual military exercises that were delayed by the Winter Olympics.

The resumption of the drills, known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, had been a subject of speculation in recent weeks amid the post-Olympics diplomacy between South Korea, a key United States ally, and North Korea.

The exercises could be a first test of the nascent goodwill expressed by the three nations.

They are now scheduled to begin on April 1, according to a Pentagon statement noting an agreement between Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and his South Korean counterpart, Song Young-moo.

U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets land at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on March 20.
U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets land at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on March 20. (Hong Gi-won / Associated Press)

 

The Pentagon said the exercises, which have angered the North in the past, would proceed at a “scale similar” to previous years.

The drills involve live-fire preparations for a possible war with the North, but American and South Korean leaders say they have always been defensive. The North sees them as practice for an invasion.

The North has been notified of the plans, according to the statement.

The announcement comes after a flurry of diplomatic activity between the North and the South, which have been divided since an armistice agreement in 1953 ended Korean War hostilities.

An inter-Korean summit between the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, and the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is tentatively scheduled for next month. Kim could also soon meet with President Trump in a summit, though the details are still unclear.

A key agenda item at both meetings, should they occur, will be the North’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. The nation’s repeated testing in 2017 prompted economic sanctions and condemnation from the international community.

But the Olympics, in which the North was invited to participate, offered an opportunity to cool tensions on the peninsula, resulting in the possibility of the planned summits.

Stiles is a special correspondent.

Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

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