Joint drills likely to be scaled back after summit

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Joint drills likely to be scaled back after summit

The South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are now likely to be scaled down this spring, according to diplomatic sources, especially after the White House announced that the second U.S.-North Korea summit will take place in late February.

An official announcement has not been made by the South Korean or U.S. government on the exact scale and date of the joint military exercises.

But recent media reports have hinted at the prospect of scaling down or delaying the exercises to allow for smooth diplomatic communication between the two Koreas and the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will hold their second summit in late February, said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a statement Friday.

This is in contrast with what former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wanted, diplomatic sources told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises were key tasks that Mattis focused on to the end of his tenure,” a diplomatic source told the paper on Sunday. “In a meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo at the 50th United States-Republic of Korea Security Consultative Meeting in Washington on Oct. 31 last year, Mattis said, ‘We cannot delay the joint military exercises anymore, we need to set the date on Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.’”

Mattis announced in November last year that the Foal Eagle military exercises will be reorganized “to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy.”

According to the source, Mattis tried to have the South Korean and U.S. governments jointly announce in December last year the details of the two joint military exercises scheduled for this year.

“But it didn’t work out after he fell out with Trump regarding pulling out troops from Syria,” the source said.

Mattis resigned in December. He is to retire in February.

The Key Resolve exercise consists of computer-simulated war games that usually take place for two weeks in spring in Korea. It is likely to be shortened to 10 days this year, according to diplomatic sources.

The Foal Eagle exercise, the largest of its kind involving U.S. and South Korean ground, air, naval and special operations, is to be scaled-down to involve smaller units, with the minimum number of support troops sent from U.S. bases overseas.

“Mattis was actively engaged in reaching agreements on the joint military exercises because there was a general concern among military authorities of the United States regarding delaying the exercises,” another diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise and the Korean Marine Exchange Program were canceled last year following Trump’s announcement after the June 12 summit with Kim that he will stop the joint exercises, which he called “provocative.”

“U.S. military authorities were worried that such a one-way announcement by Trump without consultation with South Korea could hurt the alliance,” the source said.

“The South Korean government must not remain passive but request the U.S. government not deal with the joint exercises as a bargaining chip at the negotiation table,” said Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University.

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