South Korea and US launch lower key army drills as tensions ease | News | DW | 01.04.2018
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South Korea and US launch lower key army drills as tensions ease

An annual joint military exercise involving US and South Korean troops has kicked off. But the drill is not as high-profile as usual, amid an easing of diplomatic tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The United States and South Korea began annual joint army drills on Sunday that this year will feature fewer large-scale weapons and be shortened in a reflection of recently easing tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the Foal Eagle training involved some 300,000 South Korean soldiers alongside more than 11,500 US troops.

But the drills, which were delayed to avoid a clash with the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, will be held for only a month instead of the usual almost two.

Yonhap said the US aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines that have previously raised North Korea's ire would also be missing this year, with both Seoul and Washington preparing for meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the coming weeks.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to meet Kim on April 27, and US President Donald Trump is expected to have his meeting before the end of May.

Reconciliatory gestures

The start of the Foal Eagle drills comes the same day as a historic concert by South Korean pop stars in Pyongyang, seen as a peace gesture ahead of the inter-Korea summit.

The thaw in diplomatic ties comes partly as a result of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, which saw North Korean athletes competing alongside their South Korean counterparts, while Kim's powerful sister also attended in a gesture of reconciliation.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after a 1950-1953 conflict ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty. North Korea has since sparked major global security concerns with its nuclear weapons program and often belligerent rhetoric.

However, Kim has pledged not to carry out any missile or nuclear tests ahead of the meetings with Moon and Trump, and has even spoken of North Korea's potential denuclearization during a trip to Beijing last week.

tj/rc (dpa, AFP)

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