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

US Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek (Yonhap)
US Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek (Yonhap)

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 all the more important this year for both countries, which have been in talks about 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 scheme and were expecting to reach stage two during this year’s August drills.

Seoul and Washington were however divided 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 scheme.

Moon Chung-in, President Moon’s special adviser for foreign and security affairs, was quoted Thursday as saying the South should seek an understanding from the North if it decides to press ahead with the drills, at an undisclosed parliament forum on the peninsula issues.

By Choi Si-young (