Seoul, Washington discuss future of joint military maneuvers

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Seoul, June 15 (IANS) Top US and South Korean defence officials on Friday discussed for the first time the possible cancellation of their countries’ joint military maneuvers in an effort to to facilitate the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization.

South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo held a 30-minute “in-depth” telephonic conversation with his US counterpart James Mattis on Friday, reports Efe news.

The statement said the talks revolved around the Ulchi Freedom Guardian annual large-scale joint military exercise, but no concrete decision was made as to when they will officially cancel the drills, which are considered by the Pyongyang regime an attempt to invade its territory.

Song stressed the need for a “flexible change” in regards to military pressure on the North and reiterated South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s call on Thursday to handle the issue with “prudence”.

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The statement further added that both defence chiefs agreed to discuss the matter face-to-face “as soon as possible”.

In a statement, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said Mattis and Song discussed how the two nations are working together to “fulfil the President’s guidance on US-South Korean combined military exercises”.

Mattis also called Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and said the US is determined to maintain the readiness of its forces in the region, according to the Pentagon.

The conversations came after US President Donald Trump proposed cancelling the joint maneuvers after Tuesday’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump and Kim signed a joint declaration in Singapore on Jun. 12 in which they pledged to establish a new era of diplomatic relations, build “a lasting and stable peace” and work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

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Trump’s words have been interpreted by some as a concession to the North Korean regime in exchange for the promise of denuclearization.

Amid a regional rapprochement on the peninsula, North and South on Thursday agreed on the complete restoration of a cross-border military communication line, interpreted as a sign to build mutual trust between the two states.

–IANS

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