South-U.S. exercise next month may be renamedSouth Korea and the United States may rename a joint military exercise for next month amid warnings from North Korea that the drill could affect its nuclear talks with Washington, sources said Sunday.
The summertime exercise, named 19-2 Dong Maeng, was meant to verify Seoul’s operational capabilities for its envisioned retaking of wartime operational control (Opcon) of its troops from Washington.
But the two countries are reviewing whether to rename it, according to the sources, in apparent consideration of North Korea.
Last week, the North’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that if South Korea and the United States go ahead with the 19-2 Dong Maeng exercise, this will affect its working-level nuclear talks with the United States.
It is not known how the upcoming drill will be renamed, but Dong Maeng, which means alliance in English, is likely to be dropped, sources said.
In June, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to resume working-level talks within a few weeks when they held a surprise meeting at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom.
Washington has reportedly proposed holding a working-level meeting to the North, but Pyongyang has yet to respond.
The planned command post exercise is expected to be carried out in early August for about three weeks.
Seoul and Washington have stressed that they abolished the Freedom Guardian drill last year in part to support peace efforts involving North Korea.
The allies have reorganized major exercises since last year. March was when the allies first launched the Dong Maeng exercise to replace their springtime Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises.
North Korea has long demanded that Seoul and Washington stop joint military exercises, calling them rehearsals for invasion. But the allies have said that the drills are defensive in nature.
The August exercise will test Seoul’s initial operational capability (IOC) by being carried out under the envisioned platform of the future joint command, where a South Korean general will command the Combined Forces Command (CFC) and an American general will take the role of vice commander, according to the sources.
Currently, U.S. Gen. Robert Abrams leads the CFC, the United States Forces Korea and United Nations Command.
The two sides have agreed on a “conditions-based” Opcon transition. The conditions are the ability of the South to lead the allies’ combined defense mechanism; the South’s capacity for initial responses to the North’s nuclear and missile threats; and a stable security environment on the peninsula and in the region.