South Korea, US resume suspended joint marine drills

SEOUL: South Korea and the United States on Monday (Nov 5) resumed small-scale military training that was indefinitely suspended following a historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The combined marine drills were among “select” joint exercises that were indefinitely delayed in June, after Trump met with Kim in Singapore and pledged to halt “very provocative” and expensive joint military drills with Seoul.

READ: US, South Korea marines hold small-scale exercise ahead of North Korea talks

But the Korean Marine Exchange Programme (KMEP), involving some 500 marines from the US and South Korea, will resume for two weeks from Monday in the South’s southern city of Pohang, Seoul’s defence ministry said.

“We have previously said we will conduct US-South Korea battalion-level or small-scale drills as planned,” ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told reporters.

Washington is Seoul’s security ally and stations 28,500 troops in the South to protect it from its nuclear-armed neighbour.

The two countries have long carried out joint exercises which they insist are purely defensive in nature, but which Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal for invasion.

Along with the marine drills, Seoul and Washington suspended the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian training in August involving tens of thousands of troops.

They also agreed to halt the Vigilant Ace air force exercise slated for December.

READ: US, South Korea set for delayed military drills; North Korea urges end to pressure

The resumption in military drills comes just days before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to hold talks with his North Korean counterpart on denuclearisation and plans for a second summit between their leaders.

At their meeting in Singapore, Trump and Kim signed a vaguely worded statement on denuclearisation but little progress has been made since.

The two have sparred over the exact terms of the deal, with Washington pushing to maintain sanctions against the North until its “final, fully verified denuclearisation” and Pyongyang condemning US demands as “gangster-like”.

As the latest sign of increasing frustration, the North’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday threatening to resume building nuclear weapons unless the US ends sanctions against Pyongyang.

The North is under multiple UN Security Council sanctions for its weapons programmes.

In an interview with Fox News on Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that sanctions will remain until Pyongyang carries out denuclearisation commitments made in Singapore.

Last month General Robert Abrams, the then-nominee to head US and UN forces in South Korea, said there “was certainly a degradation in the readiness of the force, for the combined forces” following the pause in drills.