The Pentagon said Monday that it will launch military exercises alongside South Korean troops beginning April 1 at a scale similar to that of previous years, despite potentially sensitive talks involving President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that could begin the following month.
The exercises have typically outraged the North Korean regime and were pushed back this year at South Korea’s request until after the Winter Olympic Games and Winter Paralympics in an effort to keep the peace. The U.S. and South Korean governments describe the exercises as routine in nature, but North Korea has generally described it as preparation for war.
“Our combined exercises are defense-oriented and there is no reason for North Korea to view them as a provocation,” Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. “While we will not discuss specifics, the defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed.”
Logan added that specifics regarding the scenarios will not be discussed. The exercises, he said, are not conducted in response to any North Korean provocations “or the current political situation on the peninsula.”
The announcement comes after a South Korean national security official, Chung Eui-yong, met with Trump at the White House on March 8 and delivered an invitation from Kim for a meeting to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. Trump unexpectedly agreed, on the spot, to meet with Kim by May, and U.S. officials have grappled since then with how and where to hold the talks.
The annual springtime drills between the United States and South Korea include two specific exercises: Foal Eagle and Key Resolve. The latter is a command-and-control exercise that uses a significant amount of computer simulation and involves about 12,200 U.S. troops and 10,000 South Koreans, Logan said. Foal Eagle includes actual field maneuvers, with about 11,500 U.S. troops and 290,000 South Koreans participating.
Chung, in announcing the potential meeting between Kim and Trump, said that North Korea had promised to refrain from carrying out any more nuclear or missile tests in coming days and “understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue.” The Kim regime has said little since the announcement, and it is not clear whether it will adhere to such an agreement.
Last year’s exercises included a variety of high-end U.S. weaponry, including the new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and other Navy ships, and ground forces. North Korea launched four ballistic missiles toward Japan in what was widely perceived as a response to the exercises.