US and South Korea begin 'low key' military exercises

A number of South Korean protesters held up signs denouncing the military exercises during a rally on Saturday

The United States and South Korea kicked off a low-key joint military drill Sunday as a diplomatic thaw over North Korea gathered pace.

An official from South Korea's Ministry of National Defense said that the annual Foal Eagle drill was launched with the start of the Ssangyong joint military exercises, participated in by US and South Korean Marines and Navy.

The allies will also kick off a two-week Key Resolve command-post war game April 23, in which as many as 12,200 USA troops will be mobilized.

More than 11,500 service members, including thousands based outside of Korea, plan to participate in the four-week Foal Eagle training, along with around 300,000 South Korean soldiers.

The annual drills normally begin in late February or early March but were delayed this year due to the Winter Olympics, which were held in in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February, Yonhap said.

In announcing the dates last month, Pentagon spokesman Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan insisted the exercises are "defense-oriented and there is no reason for North Korea to view them as a provocation".

It's unclear if joint military drills this month or in April will complicate Trump's efforts to secure the denuclearization of North Korea, a goal he will discuss with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a summit in upcoming weeks. The U.S. military also is expected to deploy fewer strategic weapons such as U.S. aircraft carriers and supersonic bombers, South Korean officials have been quoted as saying.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in March told a visiting South Korean delegation that he "understands" the situation, South Korean officials said.

Eleven South Korean acts - including popular K-pop girl group Red Velvet - were to perform in the North Korean capital - the first such concert in more than a decade.

South Korean President Moon Jae In is scheduled to meet Kim in a rare summit on April 27 in the Peace House on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom.

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