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Calls for delaying allied military drills gain traction inside ruling party

US military vehicles are on standby at Camp Casey in Dongducheon, north of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
US military vehicles are on standby at Camp Casey in Dongducheon, north of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Calls for postponing the regular joint summertime military drills between South Korea and the United States were gaining traction inside the ruling party Thursday amid growing hope for the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue.

"The atmosphere (here) is that postponing the military exercise might be inevitable despite some potential internal resistance," a high-profile source from the ruling party told Yonhap News Agency a day earlier.

Talk of a possible delay or scale-down of the annual joint military exercise set to take place later this month has surfaced after the two Koreas reopened direct cross-border liaison hotlines last week.

On Sunday, Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs as a senior Workers' Party official, warned that the joint drill will cloud the future of inter-Korean relations. Pyongyang regards the joint Seoul-Washington military drills as the allies' dress rehearsal for invading North Korea despite repeated assurance that they are only defensive in nature.

Joining the calls for delay, DP lawmakers launched a signature campaign a day earlier, petitioning for a postponement of the joint drills on the condition that the two Koreas resume dialogue. About 60 DP lawmakers have joined the petition.

Having signed the petition himself, two-term DP lawmaker Jin Sung-joon was also scheduled to hold a press conference later in the day to urge the government to put off the joint drills.

Amid a debate over whether to postpone the drills, President Moon Jae-in instructed South Korea's defense chief Wednesday to consult with the US "with prudence in consideration of various elements," a senior presidential official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Park Jie-won, director of the National Intelligence Service, also said during a parliamentary committee session Tuesday that the government needs to review ways to "flexibly" handle the joint exercise for the sake of the broader cause of denuclearizing the North.

DP Chairman Rep. Song Young-gil, however, reasserted his stance that the military exercise needs to take place as scheduled.

"(The implementation of) the exercise agreed upon between South Korea and the US is inevitable," Song said during his radio appearance Thursday. 

"The drills, designed to maintain the balance of power in Northeast Asia, would not be taken as a threat if there were trust between North Korea and the US," Song said, adding that time constraints will also make it hard to delay the drills already under preparation. (Yonhap)