North Korean state media has stepped up its calls in recent days for the U.S. and South Korea to end all joint military drills, following reports that the allies will go ahead with the Key Resolve computerized simulation drills in March.
The public demands also come as a delegation of top North Korean officials led by Kim Yong Chol arrived in Washington Thursday to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and possibly President Donald Trump.
An article published Friday in DPRK state outlet Uriminzokkiri mentioned the Key Resolve exercised by name, saying such “joint military exercises with foreign forces are a harmful act which impede dialogue and cooperation as well as peace and stability.”
It called out the U.S. for “bringing out in large scale to the waters surrounding South Korea their cutting-edge military equipment like nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and nuclear strategic bombers in for exercises such as ‘Team Spirit,’ ‘Key Resolve,’ ‘Foal Eagle,’ ‘Ulchi Freedom Guardian,’ and others.”
The article is centered around a line Kim Jong Un gave in his New Year’s Address, that “the joint military exercises with foreign forces, which constitute the source of aggravating the situation on the Korean peninsula, should no longer be permitted.”
“The introduction of war equipment, including strategic assets from outside, should completely be suspended,” he added.
A different Uriminzokkiri article also published Friday characterized South Korea’s continued participation in joint drills with the U.S. and “failure to prevent the deployment of war equipment” as an “anti-Korean people, anti-unification act which corrupts the non-aggression-based inter-Korean agreements and military agreement.”
That September inter-Korean military agreement did not specifically include language preventing joint military drills with outside forces, but did say the two sides should cease “hostile actions.”
An editorial published Thursday in North Korean ruling party organ Rodong Sinmun went a step further in the threat aimed at South Korea, saying “there may be severe consequences” if they “ignore the current trend and wish of the people and continue joint military exercises with outside forces targeting those very same people and push ahead with continuing to allow the deployment of war equipment.”
The stepped-up criticism of the drills comes as South Korean media reported this week the next major joint drill is still set to go ahead.
Citing an ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokesperson, Newsis reported Wednesday that the joint U.S.-ROK Key Resolve drills will run in two sessions from March 4-12 and March 14-15.
The two sides are reportedly still discussing plans to officially change the name of Key Resolve to the “19-1 Exercise.”
The exercises were postponed in 2018 to prevent overlap with the Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea, but went ahead in April – scaled back to exclude deployment of U.S. strategic assets.
Further scaling back or postponement of the upcoming Key Resolve drills is also possible, however, as the MND spokesperson told Newsis a change of plans “is always possible depending on the circumstances.”
Following the summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore last June, Trump surprised reporters by announcing the U.S. would be “stopping the war games,” which he called “very provocative, it’s a very provocative situation.”
But a number of other smaller-scale exercises – both joint between the U.S. and ROK as well as independent South Korean drills – have continued, drawing consistent protests in North Korean state media.
A more permanent end to the exercises could now come out of the next Trump-Kim summit, but the U.S. could also issue a postponement or cancellation of Key Resolve as a good-faith gesture given the summit is likely to occur after the planned March 4 start date.
Featured image: U.S. Navy / Edward Baxter
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