The U.S. and South Korea began annual military exercises -- denounced by the North as preparations for war -- that coincided with the first reunions of families separated by the Korean War in more than three years.
The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises began today as scheduled, U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Kim Yong Kyu said by phone. The two sets of drills, one based on computer simulations and the other involving field training, will draw thousands of additional U.S. troops into the country, according to USFK. The two allies say the drills are routine and defensive.
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North Korea had initially threatened to pull out of the family reunions if the military drills weren't canceled. Instead, the agreement to hold the reunions led to two rounds of high-level talks between the two countries, and today South Korea offered negotiations on providing assistance to stop the spread of the foot-and-mouth disease in the North.
"South Korea is widening choices for the North to take," Lee Ji Sue, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul's Myongji University, said by phone. "The North says it is worried about the drills but also sees them as a chance to keep its people on their toes and control them."
No unusual North Korean troop movements have been observed in response to the drills, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said at a briefing in Seoul.
The drills overlap with the last two days of the family reunions that are taking place at the North's Mount Geumgang resort. The reunions signal an ease in the tensions between the countries that soared last year when the North conducted a nuclear test and threatened attacks against the U.S. and South Korea over the drills.
The Key Resolve exercises that began today test the readiness of U.S. forces to deploy to the Korean peninsula and join South Korean troops should war break out, Kim at the ministry said. The drills will end on March 6 while Foal Eagle will last through April 18, according to USFK.
The U.S. maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea to help defend against possible attacks from the North, more than 60 years after the Korean War ended without a peace treaty.