A North Korean state-run media outlet demanded Friday the complete suspension of South Korea-US joint military exercises, casting a shadow over prospects of inter-Korean talks, while the allies stressed the dialogue would be limited to the North’s participation in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
North Korean propaganda website Uriminzokkiri said South Korea should “permanently halt” its annual military drills with the US, which South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his US counterpart Donald Trump agreed to temporarily postpone until after the Winter Olympics.
“Inter-Korean talks and war drill can never be compatible,” Pyongyang’s propaganda website Uriminzokkiri said in its commentary. “It’s nothing but an attempt to bring disaster and misfortune to our people.”
North Korea’s authorities and delegates for inter-Korean talks have yet to publicly raise the issue to their South Korean counterparts, but the remark raises concern that Pyongyang would not make meaningful concession on its nuclear program without the allies’ decision to permanently halt joint military exercises.
For now, South Korea and the US reiterated that any military talks and further high-level dialogue should focus on North Korea’s participation in the Olympics, to which Pyeongyang has agreed to send athletes, cheerleading squads, a Taekwondo demonstration team and observers.
Asked when the two Koreas would hold military dialogue, a senior official from South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Friday they would kick off negotiations when the scope of North Korea’s participation is determined.
“We have not determined the scope of North Korean participation and their requirements for traveling (to South Korea),” the official told reporters under the customary condition of anonymity. “We will take follow-up measures when things are prepared.”
The allies have yet to announce when they would kick off the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, which ran from March 1 to April 30 last year. Speculation is rampant that the drills would begin in early April, with the scale of the drills expected to be similar to that of last year.
When Trump and Moon announced their decision to postpone the exercises, the White House avoided saying that the exercises were delayed. Instead, it announced that the allies had agreed to “de-conflict” the Olympics and the military exercises so that they “can focus on ensuring the security of the Games.”
Echoing the criticism against the joint military drills, the North’s state-run Rodong Sinmun has demanded South Korea stop its efforts to have US strategic assets deployed on the peninsula, such as strategic bombers and nuclear aircraft carriers.
“If the South Korean authorities really want detente and peace, they should first stop all the efforts to bringing in US nuclear equipment and conducts exercise for nuclear warfare with foreign forces,” the newspaper said in a commentary Thursday.
The B-2 Spirit strategic bombers and 200 airmen were deployed to Andersen Air Force Base on the US island territory from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. The deployment was in support of US Pacific Command’s Bomber Assurance and Deterrence mission, according to the US Air Force on Wednesday.
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier is on its way toward the Western Pacific for “regularly scheduled” deployment. The nuclear-powered supercarrier is expected to reach waters near the Korean Peninsula in time for the PyeongChang Olympics, which kicks off on Feb. 9.