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US, South Korea to resume joint military exercises

March 20, 2018

Washington says the joint drills are not designed to provoke Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly told a South Korean envoy in early March that he understands the need for US-South Korea war games.

Archive image. South Korea, US and Britain conduct joint drills over the Korean penninsula in 2016
Image: picture alliance/Yonhap

Joint military exercises involving the US and South Korea will resume April 1 on a "similar" scale to previous years, the US Department of Defense announced on Monday.

This year, the annual drills, known as "Foal Eagle" and "Key Resolve," had been delayed to avoid any clash with the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyongchang, South Korea, in February.

"Our combined exercises are defense-oriented, and there is no reason for North Korea to view them as a provocation," the Pentagon's statement read, adding that Pyongyang was informed of the drills' schedule and nature.

South Korean officials said this year's exercises would, unlike previous years, not involve US nuclear-powered aircraft carriers or bombers.

Read more: Which countries have diplomatic relations with North Korea?

Thawing tensions

The drills, which Pyongyang has in previous years condemned as rehearsals for an invasion of the North, are set to take place amid thawing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Informal talks between the North and South took place before the Olympic Games. Earlier this month a high-level delegation from South Korea visited Pyongyang, and both sides plan to meet at a joint summit in April.

US President Donald Trump has also agreed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before the end of May to discuss an end to the North's nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang has not yet confirmed Kim's intention to meet the US president.

Despite his criticisms of previous drills, Kim reportedly told a South Korean envoy in March that he "understands" the need for Seoul and Washington to conduct the exercises.

Read more: German BND spy agency: North Korean rockets can hit Europe

North Korea's Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump to meet

Hundreds of thousands of troops

The US and South Korea usually begin Foal Eagle and Key Resolve in March. The exercises have involved up to 17,000 US troops and more than 300,000 South Korean troops in previous years.

Overall, nearly 30,000 US troops are permanently stationed in South Korea to defend it in the event of a North Korean attack. Both Koreas are technically still at war because the agreement ending the 1950-53 Korean War was an armistice rather than a comprehensive peace treaty.

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amp/se (AFP, AP, Reuters)