S. Korea Wants to Postpone Military Drills Until After Olympics

20 December, 2017

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday that next year's joint military exercises with the United States might be postponed until after the Olympics.

In an interview with NBC News, the South Korean leader said he had made the "suggestion to the U.S., and the U.S is currently reviewing (it)."

A presidential official in Seoul said the decision to delay the exercises would depend on North Korea avoiding any provocations during the Olympics. The 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in PyeongChang in February.

President Moon said a lack of provocations during the games would help create an opportunity for talks between the two Koreas and between the United States and North Korea.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, left, passes an Olympic torch to torch bearer, South Korean figure skater You Young, at Incheon Bridge in Incheon, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, left, passes an Olympic torch to torch bearer, South Korean figure skater You Young, at Incheon Bridge in Incheon, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

However, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Ottawa, Canada, on Tuesday he did not know of any plans to delay the regular military exercises.

Tillerson had earlier said the United States was prepared to hold unconditional peace talks with North Korea. But after being corrected by the White House, he explained that the North must first avoid additional provocations.

Is it wishful thinking?

In the last two years, North Korea has accelerated its missile and nuclear development program. Last month, the country's state media announced it had the ability to hit the U.S. mainland with an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The Moon administration calls the February games the "Olympics for Peace." Moon's government has been urging North Korea to take part, to both calm the region and encourage future talks.

Critics do not believe North Korea will change its actions in response to Moon's words.

David Straub is an analyst with the Sejong Institute in South Korea. He said, "all this focus on the Olympics as an opening for diplomacy and peace is very much wishful thinking."

The United States and South Korea regularly hold military exercises to prepare for possible conflict with the North. The exercises held in the spring involve about 17,000 U.S. troops and more than 300,000 South Koreans.

A delay in the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises could be seen as consideration toward China and Russia. The two powers proposed a suspension of the exercises in return for North Korea stopping further nuclear and missile tests.

Neither the U.S. nor South Korea have agreed to the Chinese and Russian proposal.

Delaying the joint drills could also help improve relations between South Korea and China. Relations between the countries have grown difficult over South Korea's deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system. China objects to the system's powerful radar that can potentially see far into its territory.

South trying to engage the North

Since taking office in May, Moon has tried to improve relations with the Kim Jong Un government while supporting strong economic sanctions against the North.

Straub said many in the Moon administration want to bring back the Sunshine Policy of the early 2000s. The policy provided unconditional aid to the North but failed to persuade the country to end its hostile behavior or nuclear program.

"The Sunshine Policy was supposed to be nice to the North Koreans in the hopes that eventually they would be nice to our side. And it is quite clear by what the North Koreans have done, especially in the past few years, that that is not their intention and not what they're going to do," he said.

North Korea has rejected past offers from the South for humanitarian aid and to host reunions for families separated by the division of the Korean Peninsula.

The North Korean Olympic Committee missed the Oct. 30 deadline to register for the winter games, but the International Olympic Committee has said it is still not too late. Two North Korean skaters are the country's only athletes to qualify for the winter games so far.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Brian Padden reported this story for VOA. Susan Shand adapted the report for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

review v. to carefully look at or examine the quality or condition of something or someone

provocationn. an action or occurrence that causes someone to become angry

opportunity n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done

regularadj. happening over and over again at the same time or in the same way

acceleratev. to cause (something) to happen sooner or more quickly

ballistic missilen. a weapon that is shot through the sky over a great distance and then falls to the ground and explodes

regionn. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way

encourage v. to make (something) more appealing or more likely to happen

response n. something that is done as a reaction to something else

analyst n a person who studies something; an expert in a field

focus v. to direct your attention or effort at something specific

drill n. an exercise done to practice military skills or procedures

potentially adv. capable of becoming real

nice adj. kind, polite, and friendly

eventually adv. at some later time : in the end

intention n. the thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose

athlete n. a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength