- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2018

South Korean officials have canceled annual civil defense drills designed to prepare the population for a potential North Korean attack, the first time the drills will not be conducted in nearly three decades.

The move, reported by the Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper Wednesday, is a sign that Seoul is pressing ahead with its rapprochement policy toward the North even after a trip by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang over the weekend that appeared to make little visible progress on ending the North’s nuclear weapons threat.

Kim Boo-kyum, South Korea’s interior and safety minister, announced the halt after a meeting of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s Cabinet Tuesday. Mr. Moon has long favored a policy of outreach to the North as a way to ease tensions on the divided and nuclear-armed Korean peninsula.

Though the Ulchi drills are the nation’s largest annual civil defense exercise and utilize around 500,000 personnel, Seoul has long said they are meant to be defensive, not offensive. President Trump had previously announced that joint U.S.-South Korean military drills — long criticized by the North as a rehearsal for an “invasion” — would be suspended while diplomatic efforts continue.

Instead of the civil defense exercises, Mr. Moon’s government said it is working on a more comprehensive strategy, which would guard against terrorist attacks and national disasters as well as an attack from North Korea.

Following President Trump’s June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, many U.S allies have been opening up to the idea of rapprochement down the road. Though the U.S. government says any easing of economic pressure on the North will not happen until the North ends its nuclear and missile programs, South Korean officials have been entertaining the idea of improving relations sooner than scheduled.

Last month, North and South Korean officials met to discuss a potential railway between the two countries. The two also organized a friendly basketball game.

So far, North Korea has not presented a concrete timeline for denuclearization, and criticized what it called Mr. Pompeo’s “gangster-like attitude” during last week’s discussions.


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