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Drills in South Korea and the United States have been scaled back due to the outbreak, and North Korean diplomacy has been hampered.

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Drills in South Korea and the United States have been scaled back due to the outbreak, and North Korean diplomacy has been hampered.

 

Officials said Sunday that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to help diplomacy focused on North Korea’s nuclear program, the South Korean and US militaries are scaling back their annual exercises this month.

The allies agreed to launch the nine-day drills on Monday, according to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, after considering factors such as the status of the pandemic and diplomatic efforts to achieve denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The drills, according to the statement, are defensive in nature and will primarily consist of tabletop exercises and simulations with no field training.

After some of their soldiers were contaminated with the coronavirus last year, the allies cancelled their spring exercises. In recent years, the countries have also halted or reduced many of their normal training programs in order to make room for the now-stalled US-led diplomatic effort to persuade North Korea to denuclearize in exchange for economic and political benefits.

Drills between the United States and South Korea have stoked tensions on the peninsula, with North Korea seeing them as invasion rehearsals and responding with its own missile tests. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged the US to end its aggressive policy and South Korea to stop joint drills with the US in January, warning that how they act would determine the fate of their ties with North Korea.

According to some analysts, if Kim feels provoked by the upcoming drills, one of two major military exercises between Seoul and Washington along with their summertime training, he might resume high-profile missile tests and raise tensions.

Since a February 2019 summit between Kim and then-President Donald Trump collapsed due to wrangling over US-led sanctions on North Korea, the nuclear talks have been frozen for nearly two years. The government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which mediated the early stages of the US-North Korean talks, has called for a resumption of the talks as well as stronger inter-Korean relations.

Because of the pandemic, Seoul and Washington agreed to “minimize” the number of troops involved in this month’s exercises, according to a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer.

According to the officer, who requested anonymity due to a department regulation, the allies have been staging field exercises during the year to maintain their readiness rather than holding them intensively throughout those months, presumably referring to the spring and summer drills.

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