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S. Korea, Washington mull canceling joint military drills: sources

Marines from South Korea and the US take part in amphibious landing drills in April 2020. (Ministry of National Defense)
Marines from South Korea and the US take part in amphibious landing drills in April 2020. (Ministry of National Defense)
South Korea and the United States are considering calling off their joint military exercises in August, held twice annually in March and August, due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, a local report said Friday citing Seoul officials.

The two sides were reportedly mulling three options: canceling the drills, scaling them back or forging ahead.

The officials said the government at the moment was taking preparations on the assumption that the Combined Forces Command between Seoul and Washington expect to see the regular drills take place. The drills slated for March were put off due to COVID-19.

Holding joint drills this year is crucial for the two allies, which have been in talks over transferring wartime operational control back to the South from the US, which has performed the role since the onset of the 1950-53 Korean War.

In 2019, the two allies underwent stage one of a three-phase handover plan and were expecting to reach stage two during this year’s August drills.

But Seoul and Washington were at odds over whether to test stage two at the drills next month, with US commander Gen. Robert Abrams highlighting the need to test joint defense readiness rather than the handover plan.

Moon Chung-in, President Moon’s special adviser for foreign and security affairs, said Thursday that Seoul should ask Pyongyang for its understanding on the drills if South Korea decides to press ahead with them, at an undisclosed parliament forum on inter-Korean ties.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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