(Update 1: adds military exercises, changes headline, minor edits)
Seoul/New York City, Mar 8 (efe-epa).- South Korea and the United States on Monday began their joint spring military exercises, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reported, amid concerns about how North Korea would react.
The command post exercises (CPX) will conclude on Mar. 18, a spokesman for the South Korean defense ministry confirmed to Efe.
The same spokesman has said that the CPX, which are mainly computer simulated, do not include outdoor drills, while the number of troops and equipment have been scaled back this year due to the pandemic.
Since 2019, the traditional spring exercises have not included outdoor exercises, in order to favor dialog with North Korea, and Seoul and Washington have dispersed these types of deployments throughout the year to send a more conciliatory message to Pyongyang.
The pandemic forced the cancellation of the spring 2020 war games, while the summer maneuvers were also carried out on a reduced scale.
South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Jong-joo highlighted at a press conference Monday the flexible and lean nature of the exercises, saying that Seoul expects Pyongyang to respond to them in a sensible way.
The denuclearization dialog with Pyongyang has remained stalled since the Hanoi summit in February 2019, in which Washington refused to lift sanctions because it considered the regime’s disarmament offer insufficient.
Following the failure of the Trump administration to resolve the conflict, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un urged Joe Biden’s new US government in January to propose new alternatives to resume the dialog, warning that Pyongyang is preparing new weapons tests.
The start of the spring exercises coincides with the beginning of the agreement announced Monday between South Korea and the US on the distribution of costs associated with the presence of US troops in the Asian country, closing a dispute that had been going on for more than a year in the face of Donald Trump’s insistence that Seoul multiply its contribution by five.
The new pact includes an increase in South Korea’s contribution to covering the cost of US troops and reaffirms the military alliance between the two countries “as the linchpin of peace, security, and prosperity for Northeast Asia, a free and open Indo-Pacific, and across the world,” the US State Department’s Political-Military Affairs office said on Twitter.
“Negotiating teams will now pursue the final steps needed to conclude the Special Measures Agreement for signature and entry into force that will strengthen our Alliance and our shared defense,” it added.
The new agreement will be valid through 2025 and includes a “meaningful increase” in Seoul’s contributions, although the figures are unknown, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The US has a permanent force of around 28,500 troops in South Korea to defend its ally against North Korean aggression in an arrangement dating back to the end of the Korean War (1950-53), which ended with an armistice but no definitive peace treaty. EFE-EPA