Washington and Seoul to halt joint military drills during Olympics

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Washington and Seoul to halt joint military drills during Olympics

The United States and the Republic of Korea have agreed to halt military drills during next month’s Winter Olympics.

The decision follows a telephone call between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump. The move comes a day after a diplomatic breakthrough between Seoul and Pyongyang, when a communication hotline re-opened after nearly two-years.

CGTN’s Nathan King reports.

It’s the first tangible signs, perhaps that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could go down instead of up. In an apparent reversal of U.S. policy, U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to a request from Seoul’s President Moon Jae-in to suspend planned military exercises during the Winter Olympics.

According to a joint statement, the two leaders believe calling off the exercises would allow the U.S. and the Republic of Korea to focus on ensuring the security of the Games in PyeongChang.

Previously, the White House said any reduction in military exercises was out of the question, and ruled out talks, as it pursues a policy of what it calls “maximum pressure.”

But in a tweet, the U.S. president said the talks show his policy is working saying in part:”…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.”

Engagement between Seoul and Pyongyang follows the DPRK leader’s New Year’s message in which he held out the prospect of talks with the South and proposed sending a DPRK delegation of athletes and officials to the Winter Olympics.

Seoul responded by reopening the telephone hotline which connects the two states.

President Moon Jae-in has also proposed holding talks with Pyongyang over a number of humanitarian issues which could help improve the conditions for future denuclearization talks. No date has been set for any inter-Korean dialogue, but the prospect is there after months of missile testing and increasingly bellicose rhetoric.

Beijing is also stepping up its diplomacy announcing that China is sending a high level diplomatic delegation to Seoul for talks.

The Chinese officials will arrive in Seoul after the U.S. has not only agreed to suspend military exercises but also after Washington has backed talks between Pyongyang and Seoul. While just a small step for now, the climate has not been this positive for diplomacy for months.