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Korea-US joint drill resumption will be decided between late March and April: defense chief

Seoul and Washington’s decision on the South Korea-US military drills postponed due to the PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Games will be announced no later than April, South Korea‘s defense chief said Tuesday.

During a meeting with the members of the parliamentary defense committee, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said that he and his US counterpart James Mattis would announce the resumption date between March 18 -- when the Paralympic Games end -- and April 1.

Song added that he and Mattis had agreed to maintain silence on the issue until the announcement on the schedule of the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises. The two annual joint drills were postponed at least until the after the games by President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump in January.  

South Korea`s Defense Minister Song Young-moo. Yonhap
South Korea`s Defense Minister Song Young-moo. Yonhap

“South Korea and the US government delayed the exercise in the spirit of the Olympics. ... We agree to keep the stance of ‘neither confirm nor deny’ on the joint military drill until we make an announcement,” Song said.

Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense had refused to comment on the issue, reiterating the exercise would kick off at an “appropriate time.” Rumors had abound that the field training exercise Foal Eagle would kick off on April 1 and computerized command post exercise Key Resolve would begin three weeks later. 

The minister also denied speculation that North Korea had asked for the delay of the joint drills in return for their participation in the Olympics. North Korea sent a delegate of athletes, a cheering squad and a taekwondo demonstration team for the Olympics.

Song also gave assurance to opposition lawmakers that there is no crack between the US and South Korea following the decision to suspend the annual exercise, saying “there is not even 1 millimeter of uncertainty” between South Korea and the US.

The main opposition conservative party has voiced concerns that the Moon Jae-in administration’s decision to suspend the annual military drill would drive a wedge between the alliance because it would appear to be giving in to the demands of North Korea, which has labeled the drills as rehearsals for war.

Song’s remark came about a week after the top US commander in South Korea briefed the US House of Representatives of its plan to go ahead with the military drills, stressing the importance of the exercises in defending South Korea from North Korea’s aggression.

“We will execute the two major theater-level command post exercises and one theater-level field training exercise each year,” Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of the US-led Combined Forces Command, said in a written testimony submitted to a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 14.

Along with South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CFC holds two computer-simulated command-post exercises every year -- Key Resolve around March and Ulchi Freedom Guardian around August -- as well as field training exercise Foal Eagle.

By Yeo Jun-suk(