Moon throws cold water on joint drills resumption

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Moon throws cold water on joint drills resumption

President Moon Jae-in and leaders of five political parties pose before a luncheon at the Blue House on Wednesday. From left, Choe Kang-wook of the Open Minjoo Party; Yeo Yeong-gug of the Justice Party; Song Young-gil of the Democratic Party; President Moon; Kim Gi-hyeon of the People Power Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party.  [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in and leaders of five political parties pose before a luncheon at the Blue House on Wednesday. From left, Choe Kang-wook of the Open Minjoo Party; Yeo Yeong-gug of the Justice Party; Song Young-gil of the Democratic Party; President Moon; Kim Gi-hyeon of the People Power Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party. [YONHAP]

 
President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday expressed skepticism over the idea of a big joint military drill by Korea and the United States this year -- after Washington supplies Covid-19 vaccines to Korean troops.  
 
Moon had a luncheon with leaders of five political parties at the Blue House Wednesday to discuss last week's summit with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House, where the two leaders reached a series of agreements on economic cooperation and a vaccine partnership.  
 
Chairman Song Young-gil of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), Acting Chairman and Floor Leader Kim Gi-hyeon of the People Power Party (PPP), Justice Party Chairman Yeo Yeong-gug, People's Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo and Open Minjoo Party Chairman Choe Kang-wook attended the meeting, accompanied by their spokesmen.  
 
"Considering the Covid-19 situation, wouldn't it be hard to hold a large-scale military exercise?" Moon was quoted as saying by Justice Party spokesman Lee Dong-yeong. "The United States will also make a decision taking into account North Korea-U.S. relations."  
 
According to Lee, Moon made the remarks in response to Justice Party Chairman Yeo 's proposal that a Korea-U.S. joint military exercise scheduled for August be canceled or delayed to revive inter-Korean talks.  
 
Koh Yong-jin, spokesman for the DP, said each political party had a different opinion on the Korea-U.S. joint military exercise. The PPP's Kim said the joint exercise must be held as scheduled, while Open Minjoo Party's Choe agreed to scale the event down or delay it to stimulate dialogue with the North.  
 
"We will consult with the United States to decide the scale and the time of the joint military exercise," Moon was quoted as saying by Koh.  
 
Presidential spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee said Moon told the party leaders that it will be hard to continue the old way of holding big annual exercises with many soldiers participating. "We will make a careful decision on how and when to hold the joint exercises," Moon was quoted as saying.  
 
Korea and U.S. forces conducted two computer simulation exercises and one major outdoor field training exercises annually up to 2018. The exercises were downsized after a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018.  
 
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the exercises were either canceled or reduced to computer-simulated war games. No field exercise took place for the past three years.  
 
After Biden unveiled a plan to offer vaccines to 550,000 Korean troops after his summit with Moon, speculation grew that the field exercises would resume in August.
 
"We'll provide full vaccinations for all 550,000 of those Korean forces engaging with American forces on a regular basis — both for their sake, as well as the sake of the American forces," Biden said at a news conference after the summit.
 
As of now, 110,000 Korean troops who are 30 or older have  received AstraZeneca vaccines. Doses to be offered by the United States will be used on the 450,000 soldiers who are younger than 30.
 
Last week, a top U.S. military leader stressed the importance of the joint field exercises between Korean and U.S. troops and vowed that he will work for resumption of the drills.  
 
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 18, General Paul LaCamera, the nominee for commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said in-person training gives the combined forces an opportunity to maintain their readiness and build trust.  
 
BY SER MYO-JA   [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]  
 
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