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US, South Korea to set Olympic-delayed drills date in March

SEOUL (AFP) – A date for the start of delayed U.S. and South Korean military drills will be announced soon after the Paralympics end next month, Seoul’s defence minister said Tuesday.

Washington previously agreed to a request from Seoul to delay the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises – which always infuriate Pyongyang – until after the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics in the South, to try to avoid tensions on the divided peninsula.

The Olympics have since seen a charm offensive by Pyongyang, which dispatched athletes, cheerleaders and its leader’s sister Kim Yo-jong to attend the Games.

But analysts say the Games-driven rapprochement on the peninsula may not last long once the sporting festivals are over.

Key Resolve, a command post drill, and the Foal Eagle theatre-level field exercise usually begin in late February or early March.

The date for the start will be announced by the two allies “some time between March 18 and the beginning of April,” Seoul’s defence minister Song Young-moo was quoted as telling the National Assembly by a ministry spokesman.

March 18 is the date of the closing ceremony for the Paralympics.

General Vincent K. Brooks, who commands the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, last week told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee that joint drills were “essential” to “deter North Korean aggression.”

Military tensions run high during the exercises, with the North carrying out its own counter-drills against what it condemns as rehearsals for a war.

The North’s KCNA news agency on Monday accused the U.S. of seeking to torpedo the reconciliatory mood by resuming the exercises.

“Trump and his clique are racketeering to nip peace in the bud that started sprouting on the Korean peninsula,” KCNA said in a commentary.

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