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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea and the U.S. will kick off previously postponed annual joint military drills on April 1, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced on Tuesday.
The exercises will, however, not feature any U.S. strategic assets and will take place within a shorter time frame than in previous years, the South Korean military told NK News.
“The South Korean and the U.S. defense ministers have agreed on the resumption of the annual joint military drills, including Key Resolve of 2018, whose schedule was adjusted,” Choi Hyun-soo, spokesperson for the defense ministry, told assembled media at a regular news briefing.
The ROK-U.S. joint military exercises, which typically take place in February and March, were postponed in January to avoid an overlap with the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics and encourage inter-Korean rapprochement.
“The drills are scheduled to start from April 1 at a scale similar to that of the previous year,” Choi added.
Foal Eagle (FE), a field training exercise (FTX), and Key Resolve (KR), a computer-simulated command post exercise (CPX), typically take place in March and April, with the past two years having seen the U.S. dispatch a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the peninsula during the drills.
“Our combined exercises are defense-oriented and there is no reason for North Korea to view them as a provocation,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan said in a statement carried by Reuters.
Washington and Seoul have agreed to halve the usual time frame for Foal Eagle to one month, an official at the South Korean defense ministry who wished to remain anonymous confirmed to NK News on Tuesday.
An MND official on Tuesday confirmed that this year would not see the deployment of U.S. strategic assets during the drills, and that Washington and Seoul would focus on defensive training.
North Korea typically sees the exercises as provocative, having last year condemned them as an “open declaration of war against the DPRK.”
The military drills this year, however, come amid an atmosphere of improved relations between the two Koreas, and Foal Eagle will likely overlap with an inter-Korean summit – the third in history – scheduled to take place in late April.
The MND confirmed to NK News that the South Korean military had informed the North Korean side of the schedule of the joint military drills via the recently re-opened inter-Korean military communication channel on the western coast.
The United Nations Command (UNC) on Tuesday also notified the Korean People’s Army (KPA) “on the schedule as well as the defensive nature of the annual exercises,” the MND spokesperson and the UNC said.
North Korea’s state-run media in January urged Seoul to put a stop the ROK-U.S. joint military drills and said that inter-Korean dialogue “can never” take place while the exercises took place.
During a meeting in Pyongyang earlier in the month, however, DPRK leader Kim Jong Un reportedly told South Korean special envoys that he “understands” that the exercises “must continue.”
Since the postponement of the exercises, South Korea and the U.S. have refrained from commenting on when the drills would restart.
South Korean defense minister Song Young-moo in February said Seoul and Washington would make the announcement on the dates of FE and KR once the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics ended on March 18.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: U.S. Pacific Command