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South Korea urges US to curb annual war games during Pyeongchang Olympics

Olympic Rings (Chris Downer)

The United States is considering a proposal that would postpone its largest joint military exercises with South Korea until after the Winter Olympics, South Korean officials said this week.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in confirmed Tuesday during an interview with NBC News that he has asked U.S. officials to delay the massive springtime joint drills Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, which involve tens of thousands of troops and have been a point of contention with North Korea.

The 2018 Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place between Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, which is approximately 100 miles east of Seoul, with the 2018 Winter Paralympics to follow March 9-18. The start date for the upcoming drills has not yet been announced, though they generally begin in late February or early March.

Moon said any agreement would be contingent upon North Korea’s willingness to refrain from provocations. The communist state conducted its sixth and most powerful underground nuclear blast and test-fired more than 20 ballistic missiles so far this year.

“I have made such suggestion to the U.S., and the U.S is currently reviewing,” Moon told NBC referring to the proposal.

“If North Korea stops its provocations leading up to the Pyeongchang Olympics, it will greatly help in holding a safe Olympics. Also, it will help in creating a conducive atmosphere towards inter-Korean as well as U.S.-North Korean dialogue.”

U.S. Forces Korea officials did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Moon declined to comment further.

Key Resolve and Foal Eagle have long been a point of contention between North and South Korea and their American allies. Pyongyang views the exercises as a rehearsal for invasion and a threat to the Kim dynasty, while South Korea and the U.S. say they are defensive in nature and necessary to maintain readiness and provide deterrence.

South Korean officials have been joined by other world leaders in expressing concern over the Olympic Games potentially being interrupted by its nuclear-driven neighbor. There have also been reports of lagging ticket sales over safety concerns.

The U.N. General Assembly has adopted a resolution urging all countries to stop fighting and observe a truce during the games. South Korea has urged the North to participate in the events, though Pyongyang has not responded. A meeting is slated for Jan. 16 in Canada between the U.S., Canada and other invested nations to stand in “solidarity” against North Korea’s nuclear threat. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the meeting’s goals include advancing the pressure campaign on Pyongyang and sending a unified message that the global community will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state.

Tillerson opened the door to talks with Pyongyang last week by proposing that it sit down without preconditions; however, he quickly walked back those comments, saying: “North Korea must earn its way back to the table.”

A North Korean ambassador to the U.N. said the country’s possession of nuclear weapons was “an inevitable self-defensive measure.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

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© 2017 the Stars and Stripes

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