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U.S.-South Korean Military Exercises Still On

Aug. 18, 2017 (EIRNS)—In a press release issued, today, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that the joint U.S.-South Korean exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2017 will begin as scheduled on Oct. 21. This is despite the growing pressure to postpone or even modify the exercise in order to help lower the tensions with North Korea, especially as part of the joint Chinese-Russian dual suspension proposal, where the U.S. suspends its military exercises and North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile testing at the same time. China Daily, in an editorial posted yesterday, said it was "regrettable" that the U.S. has so far rejected the dual suspension proposal. "If it could lead to a possible solution to such a critical issue, why not give it a try?" China Daily said, while noting that just because past negotiation efforts have failed, doesn’t necessarily mean that new efforts will end the same way.

Bloomberg News, in a story headlined "Military Drills Emerge as Key Obstacle to U.S.-North Korea Talks," reports that the U.S. rejects outright the Chinese double freeze proposal "and scaling down the drills now would make President Donald Trump look weak so soon after his warnings of ’fire and fury.’" It nonetheless quotes retired Army Col. William McKinney, who spent more than 40 years involved in U.S.-Korea military relations and planning and is the non-resident Korea Chair at Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., who says that the U.S. should consider suspending larger exercises—provided it gets something in return.

"If there is a point in time when a degree of trust exists between the two parties for a quid pro quo agreement, then one or both exercises [the spring Foal Eagle exercise as well] might be up for being suspended,"

said McKinney.

South Korea is officially expressing the same view as the U.S. that the exercises must go on. South Korean Air Force Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, President Moon Jae-in’s nominee to head the South Korean JCS told a parliamentary committee, on Aug. 17, that South Korea has no plans to reduce the scale of an annual joint military exercise with the United States. Earlier in the day, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise will be played out on a similar scale to that of last year, that is, with approximately 50,000 South Korean troops joining 20,000 U.S. troops and smaller contingents from seven other countries that are part of the U.N. command in South Korea.

The North Korea response to the U.S.-South Korean military exercises, issued yesterday, by KCNA, was to warn that they would "further drive the situation on the Korean Peninsula into catastrophe"