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U.S., South Korea Agree to Halt Military Drills During Pyeongchang 2018

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Marines from the United States and South Korea pose in front of a sign touting the upcoming Winter Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Photo: MARCUS FICHTL / STARS AND STRIPES

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his United States counterpart Donald Trump have reportedly agreed to halt joint military exercises during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

The two leaders spoke in a telephone conversation today, according to Yonhap News, following the reopening of a line of communication between North Korea and South Korea yesterday.

The two countries have not held official high-level talks since December 2015 following escalating tensions in the region, leading to security fears regarding the Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

Relations appear to have eased in recent days following Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Day speech, where he revealed North Korea hoped to compete at Pyeongchang 2018.

Kim claimed that North Korea planned to open talks with its neighbors in Seoul shortly to negotiate its team’s participation at the Games.

While Kim suggested the country may take part in the Games during his New Year address, the North Korean leader also warned that 2017 was the year that his nation became a fully fledged nuclear power.

He called on South Korea to abandon plans to hold military exercises with the US next February and March.

Both South Korea and the United States appear to now have agreed to halt the exercises during the Games.

“I believe it would greatly help ensure the success of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games if you could express an intention to delay joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises during the Olympics in case the North does not make any more provocations,” Yonhap quoted Moon as telling Trump.

“We will closely consult with the United States in the process of South-North Korea dialogue and we are confident that South-North Korea dialogue helps create an atmosphere for dialogue between the US and North Korea on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.”

It was claimed the US President agreed to the request, as well as promising to send members of his family in a “high-level” delegation to next month’s Games.

Last week, United States Defense Secretary James Mattis stated there were no plans for the country to postpone military exercises scheduled to take place near the Korean Peninsula, but did not totally rule out such a postponement.

It came after Moon claimed the drills, conducted jointly between South Korea and the US every February and March, could be postponed to try to help encourage North Korea not to disrupt the Winter Olympics.

The joint exercises usually involve up to 300,000 troops from South Korea and 17,000 from America.

They have long been denounced by North Korea as a rehearsal for a potential invasion.

In this climate, it is possible that they could risk increasing tensions during the period of the Olympic Truce – due to last from before the start of the Olympic Games on February 9 until after the end of the Paralympics on March 18.

An agreement to halt the drills would continue an eventful week, following Kim’s suggestion his country could compete.

Following the statement, South Korea’s Unification Ministry proposed talks could take place on January 9 at Panmunjeom, which is located in the demilitarized zone between the two countries, which is also known as the Joint Security Area.

The location was where the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, which paused the Korean War.

Pairs skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik are the only North Korean athletes to have so far qualified for Pyeongchang 2018.

They missed a deadline last month to accept their spot, although they could still be allowed to participate.

It remains possible that other athletes from North Korea could also be given wildcards.

South Korea have been strongly supportive of North Korean involvement in the Games, which they hope could lead to a reduction in tensions and potential diplomatic talks.

The International Olympic Committee and Pyeongchang 2018 have also spoke in favor of North Korean participation.

By Michael Pavitt

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz

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