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(LEAD) S. Korea, U.S. discussing how to hold combined exercise amid pandemic: defense ministry

All News 20:23 February 04, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with defense minister's remarks at parliament in paras 6-8)

SEOUL, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States are in talks over how to hold their annual springtime combined exercise in consideration of the coronavirus situation, the defense ministry said Thursday.

The planned exercise has drawn keen attention amid concern that the North could use the exercise as a pretext for provocations in the early months of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden. Pyongyang has long denounced such drills as a rehearsal for invasion.

The defense ministry has said the exercise will take place as planned, but Unification Minister Lee In-young said Wednesday the two Koreas should come up with a "wise and flexible" solution on the issue to avoid escalating tensions.

Asked to comment on Lee's remark, defense ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan said the combined command post training is a regular exercise that is defensive in nature.

"South Korea and the U.S. are closely coordinating how to hold the combined command post exercise in consideration of the COVID-19 situation," Boo told a regular press briefing.

During a parliamentary session later in the day, Defense Minister Suh Wook reiterated the exercise will go ahead as planned.

"We are preparing to conduct the drill as planned," Suh said "The tailored deterrence strategy by the allies (against North Korea) is the optimized joint strategy on the Korean Peninsula," he added.

The strategy outlines a set of military steps that will be taken in response to Pyongyang's nuclear threats in three different stages -- threat of nuclear attack, an imminent use of nuclear arms and an actual nuclear strike.

Suh said last week Seoul is ready to discuss the issue with Pyongyang via military channels.

Seoul and Washington usually hold major combined military exercises twice a year, along with smaller-scale ones throughout the year. The springtime one is supposed to be held around March.

Since 2018, South Korea and the U.S. have either canceled or scaled back joint drills to back diplomacy with North Korea.

(LEAD) S. Korea, U.S. discussing how to hold combined exercise amid pandemic: defense ministry - 1

scaaet@yna.co.kr
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