By Oh Seok-min
BANGKOK, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States decided to put off their wintertime combined air exercises to support ongoing diplomacy with North Korea, the defense chiefs of the two countries said Sunday.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced the decision in Bangkok on the sidelines of the 6th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus).
The allies had planned to stage their joint air drills later this month, named the Combined Flying Training Event, a scaled-back version of their original wintertime drills, codenamed Vigilant Ace, just as they did last year to support diplomacy with the North.
North Korea still angrily protested the upcoming drills, warning of "shocking punishment" that the U.S. cannot cope with if the drills go ahead as planned.
On Sunday, the two allies decided to postpone the maneuvers.
Esper has hinted that the upcoming could be adjusted "depending on what diplomacy may require."
During a press conference held in Seoul on Friday, Esper also said: "The purpose of our forces and exercises is not only to buttress our diplomacy but to also enable and empower it. ... So we remain flexible in terms of how we support our diplomats so we do not close any doors that may allow progress on the diplomatic front."
North Korea has long denounced Seoul and Washington's military drills as a rehearsal for an invasion into the North, though the allies say they are defensive in nature.
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