S.Korea, U.S. quietly hold joint air exercises amid calls for talks with N.Korea

2 minute read

The South Korean and American flags fly next to each other at Yongin, South Korea, August 23, 2016. Picture taken on August 23, 2016. Courtesy Ken Scar/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

SEOUL, Nov 1 (Reuters) - South Korea and the United States kicked off joint aerial drills on Monday, a military official in Seoul said, amid tensions over North Korea's recent missile tests and calls for a restart of denuclearisation talks.

The exercises, previously called Vigilant Ace, once mobilised tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of cutting-edge fighter jets, bombers and other warplanes.

But the programme has been scaled back since 2017 to facilitate talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

The allies began the drills, which will last five days, without announcing or naming them. Yonhap said that some 100 aircraft were dispatched from each side, including South Korea's F-15Ks and KF-16s and U.S. F-16s, but that no equipment or soldiers from the U.S. mainland would join the exercises.

A South Korean air force spokesman declined to confirm the report.

The drills came after North Korea fired a submarine launched ballistic missile, the latest in its recent series of weapons tests.

The reclusive country sees exercises in the South as a rehearsal for war, and severed inter-Korean hotlines when the allies held regular summer training in August, accusing Seoul of "perfidious behaviour". read more

The U.S. envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, slammed the test as "concerning and counterproductive" during his visit to Seoul last week and urged Pyongyang to accept offers to talks. read more

The North has so far rebuffed U.S. overtures, accusing Washington and Seoul of applying "double standards" by criticising its weapons programmes while talking diplomacy and stoking tension with their own military activities.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.