S. Korea may seek indefinite suspension of U.S. military drills: expert

January 24, 2018

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) — South Korea could push to indefinitely postpone joint military exercises with the United States in exchange for North Korea taking steps to denuclearize, a U.S. expert said Tuesday.

The allies earlier agreed to suspend the annual drills for the duration of the PyeongChang Winter Games. North Korea views the exercises as an invasion rehearsal and has protested with various provocations in the past.

Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the liberal administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in could seek to extend the suspension and bring the U.S. and North Korea together for denuclearization negotiations.

“(The South Korean government wants) to make sure that this opening with North Korea over the Olympics leads to something and leads to perhaps U.S.-North Korea dialogue,” she told a press briefing, referring to Pyongyang’s recent agreement to participate in the Games.

“So they’re going to try very hard,” she added, “and if they cannot give concessions on the sanctions front, they have to give something, because North Korea will demand it. So I’m a little bit concerned that the Moon government might actually push for the postponement of joint military exercises.”

The drills are meant to deter and defend against North Korean aggression as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.

China and Russia have urged the allies to suspend their exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its nuclear and ballistic missile testing. Seoul and Washington have rejected that call.

“I think that’s a real possibility,” Terry said of South Korea’s potential request for an indefinite postponement. “But assuming that we resume … I’m not sure how President Moon can not make concessions to North Korea and still bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.”

Tensions are sure to rise again if the exercises restart.

“And how big of a crisis that it will get to — I think that really depends on North Korea’s actions,” Terry said. “Obviously provocations range from short-range, medium-range, intercontinental ballistic missile tests to some at the end of the provocative spectrum, which is, you know, the atmospheric nuclear tests, which I don’t rule out.”