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S Korea, US Large-Scale Exercise Against Virus, N Korean Diplomacy

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s US military is withdrawing its annual military exercises due to the COVID-19 epidemic this month and is backing diplomacy focused on North Korea’s nuclear program, officials said Sunday.

A statement from the Seoul Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Allies decided to begin a nine-day military exercise on Monday following a review of diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the status quo on the Korean Peninsula.

It says that the exercises are defensive in nature – mainly table exercises – simulations, which do not involve field training.

Last year, the Allies canceled their spring drills after some of their troops became infected with the coronavirus. In recent years, countries have suspended or reduced many of their regular training courses to create more room for the US-led diplomatic push to persuade North Korea to denuclearize in exchange for economic and political incentives.

The US-South Korean military exercise has been a major source of hostility on the peninsula, with North Korea viewing it as an invasion attempt and responding with its own weapons tests. In January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged the United States to withdraw its hostile policies and South Korea to suspend military exercises with the United States, warning that the fate of their relationship with North Korea depended on how they behaved.

Some experts say Kim could resume high-powered missile tests to increase tensions if she feels she is being provoked by one of the two major exercises, Seoul and Washington, as well as summer exercises.

The nuclear talks came to a halt nearly two years after Kim Jong-un’s ousted President Donald Trump’s summit over a dispute over US sanctions against North Korea. The government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which facilitated the initial round of US-North Korea talks, has called for a resumption of diplomacy and expanded inter-Korean ties.

An official from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Seoul and Washington had decided to “minimize” the number of troops taking part in this month’s exercise because of the epidemic.

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that the Allies had been conducting field exercises throughout the year instead of maintaining their readiness, rather than focusing on spring and summer exercises.

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