South Korea and the United States may delay their joint military exercises only for the duration of the Winter Olympic Games to be held here next year and if the North halts its military provocations, a ranking South Korean official said Wednesday.
The remarks came one day after South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in an interview with US broadcaster NBC he has proposed delaying the military drills, which North Korea accuses of a war rehearsal, as part of efforts to reduce tensions during the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.
Such a proposal, however, "is limited to holding the Olympic Games peacefully," an official from the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said, while speaking on condition of anonymity.
The remarks also came in response to an apparent misinterpretation by the US broadcaster, which quoted Moon as saying the allies may consider "curtailing" their joint military exercises.
The Cheong Wa Dae official stressed the proposal was only to "delay" the military drills and only for the duration of the Winter Olympic Games.
"The delay would be limited to the duration of the Olympic Games, including the Paralympic Games," the official said.
Also, the proposed delay requires a complete halt in North Korean provocations at least until the Winter Olympic Games, that will be held Feb. 9-25 with the Paralympic Games slated to be held March 9-18.
"It cannot but affect a decision (by the allies) should there be an additional provocation," he said.
In his interview with the US broadcaster, the South Korean president said the decision depended entirely on North Korea.
Some questions were raised about the possibility of delaying the annual military drills after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was not aware of any discussions between Seoul and Washington about plans to change the regular joint exercises.
The Cheong Wa Dae official reaffirmed there have been discussions between the allies and that such discussions have been going on "for some time."
"Secretary Tillerson deals with foreign relations while this is related to the military. I believe he may not directly be a part of such discussions," he said.
The official later added the discussions on a possible delay of the military drills have been held between the countries' military authorities.
The proposal to delay military drills also faced some criticism that it may weaken the South Korea-US alliance and possibly send a wrong message to the communist North, which staged its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, along with 11 long- and medium-range missile tests since the new South Korean leader took office in May.
The Cheong Wa Dae official insisted the proposal was inevitable to make the upcoming event safe, or even to turn it into a chance to permanently reduce tension between the divided Koreas.
"Because the Olympics is an international event and the North Korean nuclear issue is creating a global crisis, it is only natural that we make efforts to find a solution (to the North Korean nuclear issue) through the Olympic Games if we must," the official told reporters.
The official added his country still hoped to see North Korea take part in the quadrennial event but said its participation was not a prerequisite to the success or safety of the event.
"North Korea's participation in the Olympic Games is important for the success of the games, but it does not mean we cannot host the Olympic Games without it." (Yonhap)