South Korea asks US to ‘review possibility of postponing’ joint drills until after Olympics
South Korea will host the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics from February 9 to March18, which it hopes will conclude peacefully without any provocations from its northern neighbor. To further ensure safety, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is proposing “curtailing” the annual Foal Eagle and Key Resolve military drills with the US, which would likely coincide with the Olympics.
“It is possible for South Korea and the US to review the possibility of postponing the drill,” Moon told NBC on Tuesday. “I have made such suggestion to the US, and the US is currently reviewing [the proposal].”
However, the decision whether to postpone the drills “depends” on North Korea’s behavior leading up to the games, he added.
“If North Korea stops its provocations leading up to the Pyeongchang Olympics, it will greatly help in holding a safe Olympics,” the South Korean president said. “Also, it will help in creating conducive atmosphere towards inter-Korean as well as US-North Korean dialogue.”
Following the NBC interview, the South Korean presidential office again stressed that the joint drills will only be postponed if the North stops its military provocations. “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,” an anonymous official from the South Korean presidential office told Yonhap news.
The proposal “is limited to holding the Olympic Games peacefully. It cannot but affect a decision (by the allies) should there be an additional provocation,” the official added. “The delay would be limited to the duration of the Olympic Games, including the Paralympic Games.”
Tensions have been on the rise on the Korean Peninsula in recent months as Pyongyang continues to pursue its nuclear and missile programs, despite international sanctions and condemnation, while the US and its allies intensify drills near North Korea’s borders.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly warned of a possible military scenario for North Korea, and recently included the country on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, paving the way for more sanctions. However, both sides have shown some interest recently in resolving the crisis via diplomatic means.
Seoul’s proposal to postpone the annual military drills with its ally faintly echoes the ‘double freeze’ proposal of China and Russia, which calls on the US to suspend war games in exchange for Pyongyang halting its missile and nuclear tests.