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(2nd LD) Calls for delaying allied military drills gain traction inside ruling party

North Korea 16:29 August 05, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in last para; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Aug. 5 (Yonhap) -- Calls for postponing the regular joint summertime military drills between South Korea and the United States were gaining traction inside the ruling party Thursday amid growing hope for the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue.

"The atmosphere (here) is that postponing the military exercise might be inevitable despite some potential internal resistance," a high-profile source from the ruling party told Yonhap News Agency a day earlier.

Talk of a possible delay or scale-down of the annual joint military exercise set to take place later this month has surfaced after the two Koreas reopened direct cross-border liaison hotlines last week.

On Sunday, Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs as a senior Workers' Party official, warned that the joint drill will cloud the future of inter-Korean relations. Pyongyang regards the joint Seoul-Washington military drills as the allies' dress rehearsal for invading North Korea despite repeated assurance that they are only defensive in nature.

U.S. military vehicles are on standby at Camp Casey in Dongducheon, north of Seoul, on Aug. 3, 2021. (Yonhap)

Joining the calls for delay, DP lawmakers launched a signature campaign a day earlier, petitioning for a postponement of the joint drills on the condition that the two Koreas resume dialogue. A total of 74 lawmakers from in and outside the DP have joined the petition as of Thursday.

Having signed the petition himself, two-term DP lawmaker Jin Sung-joon, as well as six other DP and independent lawmakers, held a press conference Thursday, urging the government to put off the joint drills.

"On the occasion of this petition, we hope the government will absolutely achieve a breakthrough in opening dialogue between the Koreas, as well as between North Korea and the U.S.," Jin said.

Rep. Sul Hoon also joined the call, saying in the press conference that the government "should make the most of this important time to facilitate an occasion to resume the inter-Korean peace process."

Amid a debate over whether to postpone the drills, President Moon Jae-in instructed South Korea's defense chief Wednesday to consult with the U.S. "with prudence in consideration of various elements," a senior presidential official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Park Jie-won, director of the National Intelligence Service, also said during a parliamentary committee session Tuesday that the government needs to review ways to "flexibly" handle the joint exercise for the sake of the broader cause of denuclearizing the North.

DP Chairman Rep. Song Young-gil, however, reasserted his stance that the military exercise needs to take place as scheduled.

"(The implementation of) the exercise agreed upon between South Korea and the U.S. is inevitable," Song said during his radio appearance Thursday.

"The drills, designed to maintain the balance of power in Northeast Asia, would not be taken as a threat if there were trust between North Korea and the U.S.," Song said, adding that time constraints will also make it hard to delay the drills already under preparation.

He again brushed off calls for delay, telling reporters during his inspection of a local grocery market later in the day that it is "not right" to postpone drills that are already being prepared because of something Kim Yo-jong said.

This photo provided by the press corps of the National Assembly shows Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Song Young-gil (C) inspecting a zucchini at a grocery store in southern Seoul during his on-site inspection of food prices on Aug. 5, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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