South Korea’s military may ask the United States to suspend joint war games usually held in the spring to avoid an overlap with the 2018 Olympics and Paralympics, a news agency reported Thursday.
Yonhap quoted an unidentified government source as saying the issue could be raised by the end of the year. “The military is considering consulting with U.S. forces to make the Key Resolve training slated for March not overlap with the Olympics,” the source said.
South Korea’s presidential office said the question of suspending the drills has not been discussed or decided, while the defense ministry declined to comment on the issue.
The annual springtime exercises known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are a touchstone for tensions because they infuriate North Korea, which considers them a rehearsal for an invasion. U.S. and South Korean military officials insist the drills are strictly defensive in nature.
The start date for the exercises hasn’t been announced, but it’s usually in late February or early March, which would coincide with the end of the Winter Games or the start of the Paralympics.
South Korea has urged North Korea to participate in the Olympics, which will be held from Feb. 9-25 in the mountainous resort town of Pyeongchang, just 50 miles south of the heavily fortified border. The communist state has not responded, although it has a figure skating team that qualified for the games.
Organizers also worry that security concerns due to heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program may reduce the audience turnout. The Paralympics are scheduled for March 9-19 in Pyeongchang.
The U.N. General Assembly has adopted a resolution urging all countries to stop fighting and observe a truce during the Winter Games.
U.S. commanders insist the war games are necessary to maintain readiness on the peninsula, but some experts have suggested the timing and scale may be adjusted to avoid antagonizing the North.
In August, as another annual exercise known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian began, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea Gen. Vincent Brooks said the drills are vital to deterrence.
“And so in our view we have to continue to exercise until we have a reason not to, and that reason has not yet emerged,” he added. “That may cause some noise from North Korea, and that’s what we routinely expect, but it doesn’t stop us in our resolve to be as ready as possible and leave the greatest number of options.”
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