The US military is reportedly in talks with South Korea on the timing of large-scale annual military exercises that always infuriate nuclear-armed Pyongyang and could coincide with next year’s Winter Olympics.
The Foal Eagle and Key Resolve drills usually start in late February or early March and involve tens of thousands of troops from the two allies, which say they are purely defensive.
The North, though, sees them as rehearsals for invasion, and they always ratchet up the already high tensions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.
Next year’s Winter Olympics take place in Pyeongchang in the South from February 9-25, followed by the Paralympics.
According to reports Seoul has asked Washington to delay the drills until after the Games to lower the chances of provocations by Pyongyang.
“The ROK-US alliance continues to discuss the way ahead on the exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, to include the appropriate timing,” said US Pacific Command spokesman Commander Dave Benham, Yonhap news agency reported Tuesday.
A statement on the exercises’ timing will be issued at the “appropriate time”, Yonhap cited Benham as saying.
The comments come after the Financial Times reported that four people familiar with the situation said Seoul had requested the exercises be pushed back until after the Paralympics, which end on March 18.
South Korea’s defence ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-Soo declined to comment on the report, saying there had been no formal “discussion” between the allies on the issue.
South Korea is seeking the North’s participation in Pyeongchang, hoping that the Olympics could serve as a diplomatic opening to defuse tensions, but Pyongyang boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics and has not yet said whether it will take part this time.
The North last month launched an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US mainland, the latest in a series of missile tests this year.