SEOUL – The South Korean Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday in a parliamentary report that it will carry out its annual military maneuvers with the United States once the PyeongChang Winter Olympics are over despite the thaw in bilateral relations with North Korea.
This is the first time that Seoul has spoken about the drills following the historic visit of a North Korean delegation headed by Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, representing the greatest rapprochement in years between the two Koreas – technically still at war – as part of the Winter Games.
The US and South Korea had postponed the joint drills Foal Eagle and Key Resolve – normally carried out between late February and the beginning of March and which North Korea views as a rehearsal for invading its territory – to avoid coinciding with the Olympic and Paralympic Games happening in PyeongChang county until March 18.
The “Olympic thaw,” which has prompted an invitation from North Korea to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to attend the first inter-Korean leaders’ summit in Pyongyang in more than 10 years, had raised the possibility of Washington and Seoul postponing these military exercises.
In its report on Tuesday, the Defense ministry ruled out that possibility but neither did it specify dates for the drill nor did it make any explicit reference to Foal Eagle, which unlike Key Resolve – a set of war games based on computer simulations – involves a massive deployment of military assets on the ground.
A ministry spokesperson told EFE that the dates will be made public in the coming days.
General Vincent Brooks, who heads the US contingent of 28,000 troops on South Korean soil, assured a US parliamentary committee last week that both countries will carry out once a year their on-the-ground training, regardless of the inter-Korean rapprochement.
Seoul is convinced that improving relations with Pyongyang can help the regime return to the negotiating table with Washington, which has shown more skepticism and insisted that North Korea must commit to denuclearization.