US, S Korea post­pone joint drills

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Bangkok, Thai­land - The US and South Korea will post­pone joint air drills in an ‘act of good­will’ to­wards the nu­clear-armed North, US De­fence Sec­re­tary Mark Esper said on Sun­day, af­ter months of dead­locked diplo­macy with Py­ongyang.

North Korea has long protested joint mil­i­tary drills, which it condemns as prepa­ra­tions for in­va­sion, and has set Wash­ing­ton an end-of-year dead­line to come up with a new of­fer in dead­locked ne­go­ti­a­tions on its weapons pro­grammes.

The US and South Korea last year can­celled sev­eral joint drills in the wake of the Sin­ga­pore summit be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong-un, but were due to carry out a com­bined air ex­er­cise later this month.

The joint air drills will now be post­poned, Esper said, days af­ter hint­ing that the op­tion was on the ta­ble.

“We have made this de­ci­sion as an act of good­will to con­trib­ute to an en­vi­ron­ment con­ducive to diplo­macy and the ad­vance­ment of peace,” he said on the side­lines of a meet­ing of de­fence min­is­ters in Thai­land’s cap­i­tal.

He urged Py­ongyang to re­turn to ne­go­ti­a­tions and ‘demon­strate the same good­will as it con­sid­ers de­ci­sions on con­duct­ing train­ing, ex­er­cises and test­ing’.

Esper said the de­ci­sion to de­lay the drills was not a con­ces­sion but an ef­fort to cre­ate ‘some more space’ for diplo­mats to strike an agree­ment.

His South Korean coun­ter­part Jeong Kyeong-doo said there was no timetable for re­sum­ing the ex­er­cises.

“It will be a part of our on­go­ing con­sul­ta­tion and we will de­cide through that close co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the two sides,” Jeong said.

Py­ongyang has car­ried out a se­ries of mis­sile tests in re­cent months, in­clud­ing one launched at sea which it said was fired from a sub­ma­rine - a po­ten­tial strate­gic game-changer.

It has re­peat­edly de­manded that the com­bined ex­er­cise is scrapped, and re­cently said hold­ing the drills would be an ‘undis­guised breach’ of the Sin­ga­pore summit dec­la­ra­tion.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions have stalled since the fol­low-up Hanoi summit be­tween Kim and Trump broke up in Fe­bru­ary, with dis­agree­ment over sanc­tions re­lief and what the North would be will­ing to give up in re­turn.

(AFP)

This file photo shows South Korean and US soldiers dur­ing a joint mil­i­tary drill in April 2017

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