SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea and the United States said Tuesday they would launch their annual joint military exercises on March 2, setting the stage for a likely surge in tensions with North Korea.
Pyongyang had offered a moratorium on nuclear testing if this year’s joint drills were cancelled – a proposal rejected by Washington as an “implicit threat” to carry out a fourth nuclear test.
The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises are a perennial source of tension on the divided Korean peninsula.
Seoul and Washington insist they are defensive in nature, but they are regularly condemned by Pyongyang as provocative rehearsals for invasion.
“The whole course of Key Resolve and Foal Eagle is aimed to occupy (North Korea) through preemptive strikes,” the North’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial Tuesday.
By refusing to cancel this year’s exercises, Seoul and Washington had effectively “scuppered” any chance of resuming a dialogue with Pyongyang, the editorial said.
“What remains to be done is to militarily react to the US while bolstering up war deterrence to the maximum,” it added.
Both exercises will begin on March 2, with Key Resolve lasting until March 13 and Foal Eagle winding up on April 24, South Korea’s defence ministry said.
North Korea has regularly resorted to missile tests and high-decibel bellicose rhetoric in expressing its displeasure with the exercises in the past.
In a speech to the ruling party’s Central Military Commission at the weekend, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un directed the army to ensure its combat-readiness in order to react to “any form of war ignited by the enemy”.
“Exercising our multi-national force is an important component of readiness and is fundamental to sustaining and strengthening the alliance,” General Curtis Scaparrotti, head of the allies’ Combined Forces Command, said in a statement.
“The United Nations Command has informed the Korean People’s Army in North Korea… about Foal Eagle exercise dates and the non-provocative nature of this training,” the statement said.
There was no immediate response from Pyongyang to the formal announcement of the drill dates, but South Korean defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said nothing would derail the exercises.
“North Korea’s position and provocative remarks will have no impact,” Kim told a press briefing.