South Korean army soldiers walk as rain falls during Warrior Strike VIII, a bilateral training exercise between the U.S. Army and the South Korean army in Paju, South Korea. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

U.S.-South Korea Military Drills to Test Kim's Desire for Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises will start on April 1, in a move that risks irking North Korea ahead of planned summits with the leaders of South Korea and the U.S.

The exercises on the Korean Peninsula would be of a similar scale as in previous years, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement, stressing they were routine and not in response to any North Korean provocations or the current political situation. No details were given on specifics such as whether U.S. strategic assets would be deployed.

United Nations Command has informed North Korea, which has yet to respond to the announcement.

U.S.-South Korea Military Drills to Test Kim's Desire for Talks

The exercises had been delayed from their normal start in March as South Korean President Moon Jae-in sought to ensure a peaceful Olympics and Paralympics in his country. They come as Moon prepares for a planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month, while U.S. President Donald Trump prepares for a potential meeting with Kim the following month.

During the current pause in tensions, Moon wants to avoid provoking another weapons test by Kim, whose regime has pursued a nuclear arsenal for decades to deter any U.S.-led invasion. Kim declared his weapons program complete after his last rocket launch Nov. 29 -- an intercontinental ballistic missile that arms control experts believe could reach any U.S. city.

While North Korea has long seen the drills as provocations of war, Kim was quoted by one of Moon’s envoys to Pyongyang this month as saying he understands they must go ahead. But North Korean state media said later they were a "grave provocation aimed to deliberately deteriorate the situation of the Korean peninsula and again push it to the brink of war."

Thousands of Troops

The Foal Eagle field training exercises will involve about 11,500 U.S. troops and 290,000 South Korean soldiers, while around 12,200 U.S. troops and 10,000 South Korean personnel will conduct the Key Resolve 18 exercises focused on computer simulations, the Pentagon said. Last year’s drills included the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and F-35B fighter jets.

Foal Eagle will last for four weeks -- compared with about two months last year -- and Key Resolve for two weeks from mid-April, said a South Korean official who asked not to be identified due to military policy.

The exercises "demonstrate the Alliance’s commitment to the defense of the ROK through combined and joint training," the statement said. "They are not conducted in response to any provocations."

The announcement of the exercises came as South Korean delegates led by a famous musician Yoon Sang traveled to the truce village of Panmunjom on the border to discuss a concert by South Korean artists in Pyongyang in early April.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.