(LEAD) S. Korea's defense ministry rejects N.K. criticism of allied exercise
(ATTN: ADDS photo, more info in last 4 paras)
SEOUL, March 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense ministry on Friday dismissed the North Korean state media's criticism of its ongoing combined military exercise with the United States, defending its defensive nature.
On Thursday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency denounced the Dong Maeng exercise, arguing that it is in violation of its joint statements with Washington and Seoul aimed at enhancing bilateral ties. Dong Maeng means alliance in English.
South Korea and the U.S. launched the new, weeklong exercise on Monday, replacing their Key Resolve drills in a move to keep alive dialogue with the North despite the breakup of last week's summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi.
"The Dong Maeng exercise is a command post exercise that is defensive in nature," a ministry official told reporters.
"The exercise does not conflict with the Sept. 19 inter-Korean military accord. ... Our military is thoroughly enforcing the accord," he added.
The official was referring to last year's bilateral accord aimed at reducing border tensions, preventing accidental clashes and building mutual trust. It entails a series of confidence-building and conventional arms control measures to halt "all hostile acts against each other."
Pyongyang has long denounced any combined military exercises between Seoul and Washington as rehearsals for invasion or symbols of what it terms U.S. hostility against it.
Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo visited the command center for the Dong Maeng exercise and called for all-out efforts to strengthen the allies' combined defense posture and maintain firm military readiness.
Jeong also stressed the need to use the ongoing exercise as part of efforts to prepare for the allies' plan to verify South Korea's initial operational capability (IOC) required to retake wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington.
The allies plan to carry out the IOC certification in a combined exercise in August. Following the IOC verification, they are expected to test Seoul's full operational and mission capabilities in the coming years.
The two sides have been pushing for a "conditions-based" OPCON transfer after which South Korea will lead wartime operations, with the U.S. playing a supporting role.
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