The U.S. military said it will begin its annual exercises with South Korea on Feb. 24, five days into scheduled reunions of Korean families separated by war with the North.
North Korea threatened Feb. 6 to scrap the reunions if the South’s drills with the U.S. continue. It calls the drills war preparations, while the allies say the exercises are defensive in nature.
Key Resolve, a command post exercise, will end March 6, and Foal Eagle, a field drill, will last through April 18, both involving thousands of troops, U.S. Forces Korea said today in an e-mailed release. North Korea has been notified of the dates, it said.
“Key Resolve is a vital exercise to strengthen readiness of the Republic of Korea and U.S. alliance,” USFK commander General Curtis Scaparrotti, was quoted as saying in the release. “The scenarios are realistic, enabling us to train on our essential tasks and respond to any crisis which may arise.”
For a second time, the North rescinded an invitation for a U.S. envoy to travel to Pyongyang to discuss the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary and tour guide detained in November 2012, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.
“We are deeply disappointed by the DPRK decision,” Psaki said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “These exercises are in no way linked to Mr. Bae’s case.”
North Korea threatened to attack the U.S. and South Korea with nuclear missiles last spring when the allies conducted their drills, after the country carried out its third nuclear test in February and launched a long-range rocket in December.
Expansion work at North Korea’s western rocket launch site may be completed by March or April, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said on its blog last week.
The drills coincide with the Feb. 20-25 reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea called off the last scheduled family reunions in September just days before they were to be held. South Korean President Park Geun Hye on Feb. 7 warned the North not to “hurt the hearts of separated families again.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who executed his uncle in December, has called for better relations between the two countries this year. Koreans on both sides are barred from traveling across the border or communicating by phone or mail. Millions were separated during the Korean War that ended in a truce and without a peace treaty.