The US Pentagon agreed to delay joint military exercises with South Korea during the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang to reduce tensions throughout the two-week period.
“The Department of Defence supports [South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s] decision and what is in the best interest of the ROK-US Alliance,” defence department spokesman Colonel Rob Manning told the South China Morning Post in an email exchange.
Manning was referring to reports that Moon and US President Donald Trump agreed in a telephone conversation to postpone the military exercises during the Games, which are set to open on February 9.
The “tentative” agreement came at a request from the South Korean leader, according to a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
“I believe it would greatly help ensure the success of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games if you could express an intention to delay joint South Korea-US military exercises during the Olympics in case the North does not make any more provocations,” Moon was quoted by Yonhap as telling Trump.
US must be wary of Kim Jong-un’s ‘olive branch’ offer to South Korea and its Winter Games
The decision pushes back a set of annual military exercises known as Foal Eagle, which are normally held between February and April to test the readiness of the two countries’ militaries.
North Korea, which has extended an olive branch to the South by offering to send athletes to the Winter Olympics, routinely objects to such manoeuvres, calling them a rehearsal for an invasion.
Thursday’s decision came as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reopened a key cross-border communication channel with South Korea for the first time in nearly two years.
What does Kim Jong-un hope to achieve by offering to send North Korean team to Winter Olympics?
In a tweet early Thursday, Trump claimed his tough stance on nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula is helping push North Korea and South Korea to talk.
Trump tweeted, “Does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North.”
With all of the failed “experts” weighing in, does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total “might” against the North. Fools, but talks are a good thing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
Earlier this week, Trump seemed open to the possibility of an inter-Korean dialogue after Kim made a rare overture toward South Korea in a New Year’s address.
South Korea: North reopening border hotline ‘very significant’
But Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations insisted that talks will not be meaningful unless the North gets rid of its nuclear weapons.
The overture about talks came after Trump and Kim traded more bellicose claims about their nuclear weapons.
In his New Year’s address, Kim repeated fiery nuclear threats against the US. Kim said he has a “nuclear button” on his office desk and warned that “the whole territory of the US is within the range of our nuclear strike.”
Trump mocked that assertion on Tuesday evening, tweeting: “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Additional reporting by Associated Press