November 23, 2017 / 12:49 AM / 25 days ago

South Korea considers scrapping exercise with U.S. for Olympics: Yonhap

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is considering scrapping a regular military exercise with U.S. forces next year to minimize the risk of an aggressive North Korean reaction during the Winter Olympics in the South, the Yonhap news agency reported on Thursday.

North Korea denounces regular military exercises between South Korean and U.S. forces as preparations to invade it, and it has at times conducted missile tests or taken other aggressive action in response.

The Winter Olympics will be held in South Korea from Feb. 9 to Feb. 25, with the Paralympics on March 8-18.

The South’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified South Korean presidential office official, said the option of scrapping the exercise had been considered for “a very long time”.

The Blue House presidential office said in a statement no decision has been made on the exercise. Officials at the defense ministry declined to comment.

The South Korean and U.S. militaries usually hold a military exercise in March and April called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, which involves about 17,000 U.S. troops and more than 300,000 South Koreans.

South Korea is hopeful that North Korean participation in the games could help improve their fraught relations. The South has said any North Korean athletes who are eligible for the competition would be welcome.

A North Korean figure skating pair has qualified to compete but their participation has not been confirmed.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high for the past year with North Korea developing its nuclear weapons and missiles in defiance of international condemnation and U.N. sanctions.

While North Korea has not conducted any tests over the past two months, it has repeatedly vowed to never give up the weapons it deems it needs to protect itself against what it sees as U.S. aggression.

Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel

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