June 26, 2018 11:43
South Korea and the U.S. on Monday agreed to prevent annual joint military exercises from being scrapped altogether and continue vital bare-bones exercises.
The agreement came in talks between Defense Minister Song Young-moo and Adm. Philip Davidson, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, in Seoul.
It was Davidson's first visit to South Korea since he took the job last month. He also met with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
A government source said Song and Davidson "agreed to continue small-scale search and rescue training exercises."
But Seoul and Washington have agreed to halt the annual Freedom Guardian joint drills normally held in August and indefinitely postpone small-scale tactical marine drills.
All signs suggest that they will also halt the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills between February and April, so any larger exercises are essentially over while denuclearization talks with North Korea are in progress.
The South Korean and U.S. navies hold annual search and rescue drills with Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force each year, and South Korea and the U.S. also hold the biannual Pacific Thunder joint search and rescue drills.
These are less likely to seem provocative to North Korea.
A military source said, "Joint drills have been halted, but military officials on both sides have a strong desire to maintain their alliance."
The U.S. has recently renamed the Pacific Command to the Indo-Pacific Command with a clearer mission to keep China's naval aspirations in check. And it is here that it is interested in keeping South Korea on side and continue joint drills.
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