South Korea and the United States have been considering staging a joint military exercise next month as scheduled but under a different name, sources said Sunday, amid warnings from North Korea that the drill could affect its nuclear talks with Washington.
The allies were known to have planned to conduct the summertime exercise, named 19-2 Dong Maeng, to verify Seoul's capabilities for its envisioned retaking of wartime operational control (OPCON) of its troops from Washington.
But they are reviewing whether to rename it, according to the sources, in apparent consideration of North Korea. Last week, the North's foreign ministry said that if South Korea and the U.S. go ahead with the 19-2 Dong Maeng exercise, it will affect its working-level nuclear talks with the U.S.
It is not known how the upcoming drill will be renamed, but Dong Maeng, which means "alliance" in English, is likely to be dropped, sources said.
In June, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to resume working-level talks within a few weeks when they held a surprise meeting at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom.
Washington has reportedly proposed to the North the holding of a working-level meeting, but Pyongyang has yet to respond.
The planned command post exercise is expected to be carried out in early August for about three weeks.
Seoul and Washington have stressed that they abolished the summertime Freedom Guardian drill last year as part of efforts to support peace efforts involving North Korea.
The allies have reorganized major exercises since last year. In March, they launched the Dong Maeng exercise as a replacement for their springtime Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises.
North Korea has long demanded that Seoul and Washington stop joint military exercises, calling them rehearsals for invasion. But the allies have said the drills are defensive in nature.
According to Reuters, a secretary to President Moon said the U.S.-South Korea military exercise would be held next month as planned. Choi Jong-kun, Moon's secretary for peace planning, told a strategic forum held Saturday in the U.S. that the exercise would largely involve computer simulations and not troops in the field, the report said.
In order to test Seoul's initial operational capability (IOC), the August exercise is to be carried out under the envisioned platform of the future joint command, where a South Korean general will command the Combined Forces Command (CFC), with an American general taking the role of vice commander, according to the sources.
Currently, U.S. Gen. Robert Abrams leads the CFC, as well as the U.S. Forces Korea and United Nations Command.
The two sides have agreed on a "conditions-based" OPCON transition. The conditions are the South's capabilities to lead the allies' combined defense mechanism; its capacity for initial responses to the North's nuclear and missile threats; and a stable security environment on the peninsula and in the region. (Yonhap)