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(LEAD) Allies decide to end Key Resolve, Foal Eagle exercises to back diplomacy for N.K. denuclearization

All Headlines 09:00 March 03, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States have decided to end their springtime Key Resolve and Foal Eagle combined exercises to back diplomacy for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the allies' defense authorities said Sunday.

In telephone talks Saturday, Seoul's Defense Minister, Jeong Kyeong-doo, and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan made the decision that reflects their resolve to keep alive dialogue with Pyongyang despite the breakup of last week's summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Though the exercises will end, the allies will maintain a firm military readiness "through newly designed command post exercises and revised field training programs," Seoul's defense ministry and Pentagon said in a joint press statement. Pyongyang has criticized the annual exercises as rehearsals for invasion.

"Following close coordination, both sides decided to conclude the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle series of exercises," they said.

"The minister and secretary made clear that the alliance decision to adapt our training program reflected our desire to reduce tension and support our diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a final, fully verified manner," they added.

The decision was based on recommendations by Gen. Park Han-ki, the chairman of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Robert Abrams, the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea.

The allies are expected to replace the Key Resolve command post exercise with a renamed one and change the Foal Eagle field training to downsized drills, likely battalion-level maneuvers.

The defense chiefs also affirmed their continued support for their armed forces, the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the U.S.-led U.N. Command for peace and security in the region.

On Thursday, Trump and Kim abruptly ended their two-day summit in Hanoi without a deal as they failed to compromise over the scope of Washington's sanctions relief and of Pyongyang's denuclearization. But they indicated they will keep the door open for talks.

The allies' military authorities have repeatedly said that they are committed to facilitating ongoing diplomacy to denuclearize the North and foster a lasting peace regime on the divided peninsula.

Last year, Seoul and Washington suspended a set of major exercises, including the summertime Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise and wintertime Vigilant Ace air exercise, though they continued smaller-scale drills to maintain combat readiness.

This image depicts South Korea-U.S. combined exercises. (Yonhap)

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