(CNSNews.com) – Amid ongoing silence from North Korea about a proposed summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump, the U.S. and South Korea are soon to begin massive joint military exercises of the type that have infuriated the dictator in Pyongyang in the past.
The Pentagon and Seoul’s national defense ministry said in a brief statement that this year’s Foal Eagle/Key Resolve exercises are scheduled to begin on April 1, and will be conducted “at a scale similar to that of the previous years.”
The exercises were delayed at South Korea’s request so as not to clash with the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. The statement said Defense Secretary James Mattis and his South Korean counterpart, Song Young-moo have agreed to “resume” them.
It added that the United Nations Command has notified the North Korean military about the schedule for this year’s exercises, as well as their “defensive nature.”
Key Resolve is a command-post exercise focusing on deploying personnel and equipment to the peninsula in the event of an attack, while Foal Eagle comprises large-scale field exercises, and can involve ground, air, naval and special operations personnel.
Past years’ iterations of the war games have angered the North Korean regime, which charges that they are rehearsals for an invasion or a military strike against Pyongyang. Last year the regime responded to the start of the exercise by launching several missiles, four of which landed in the Sea of Japan.
This year, the exercises come at a time when a South Korean-led diplomatic initiative has resulted in an invitation by Kim Jong-un for a summit with Trump. The White House has confirmed that the president has accepted an invitation to meet with Kim “at a place and time to be determined,” although the regime has made no public statements on the matter.
In the course of their discussions with the regime, South Korean envoys said Kim had accepted that this year’s military exercises would take place as usual.
“He understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue,” South Korean national security advisor Chung Eui-yong told reporters at the White House on March 8, as he broke the news of the summit invitation.
Chung presented that acceptance as a concession on Kim’s part, along with a pledge to refrain from nuclear or missile tests while talks – which the U.S. wants to result in denuclearization – take place.
Last year’s joint exercises prompted angry denunciations from Pyongyang.
“Should the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces fire even a single shell into the waters where the sovereignty of our republic is exercised, the KPA will immediately launch its merciless military counter-actions,” a Korean People’s Army spokesman said at the time.
“The KPA will mercilessly foil the nuclear war racket of the aggressors with its treasured nuclear sword of justice,” the spokesman added, in a statement carried by the regime’s Rodong Sinmun organ.
Four years earlier, North Korea bristled after the U.S. military confirmed that two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers had taken part in the annual joint military drills. They flew more than 6,500 miles from their base in Missouri to South Korea, where they dropped ordinance on a bombing range and then returned home “in a single, continuous mission.”
The show of strength during that year’s Foal Eagle came a month after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. The U.S. also deployed B-52 bombers and Japan-based F-22 Raptor stealth fighters.
During the 2009 Foal Eagle/Key Resolve exercises, North Korea – then ruled by Kim Jong-il – threatened South Korean civilian airliners flying near North Korean airspace, prompting several carrier to reroute flights.
The outgoing commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that “North Korea remains our most urgent security threat in the region.”
He pointed to the regime’s detonation of its largest nuclear device last September – its sixth nuclear test since 2006 – and its intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
“The Republic of Korea and Japan have been living under the shadow of North Korea’s threats for years,” he said. “Now that shadow looms over the American homeland.”
Harris said he was encouraged by recent developments on the peninsula including the summit invitation. Pacific Command would be “ready to respond with our allies and partners to the full range of contingency scenarios.”