Pyongyang Scores Diplomatic Victory After US & South Korea Agree Not To Hold Military Drills During Olympics

One month ago, in what appeared to be an imminent diplomatic victory for North Korea's president Kim Jong-Un, we reported  that Kim's regime may have "successfully bluffed its way into getting the US to stop holding massive army drills with South Korea's army." As the FT further noted, South Korea asked the US to "delay" joint military exercises until after the Winter Olympics, in order to lower the chances that North Korea takes provocative actions during the Pyeongchang Games, which Seoul wants to use to showcase the country’s development.

Well, if it was North Korea's intention to bluff its way into blocking joint military drills off the Korean peninsula, it succeeded because as the WSJ reports, President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed not to hold springtime military exercises during the Olympics, the South Korean president’s office said Thursday, a move that could cool tensions with North Korea.

The agreement came during a 30-minute phone call between the two presidents, Seoul’s presidential Blue House said in a statement.

As noted last month, Moon had requested the U.S. delay the annual exercises, which Pyongyang has railed against, so they don’t coincide with the Paralympics, which end on Mar. 18. Meanwhile, disagreement has been brewing between Seoul and Washington over how to rein in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons program. The U.S. late Wednesday in Washington requested South Korea arrange the call, an official at the Blue House said, declining to comment further.

The detente took place in the past 48 hours, however, when the Moon administration seized on an opening from North Korea to propose a face-to-face meeting next week to discuss its atomic weapons program and an announcement by Kim that he would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in the South Korean ski resort of Pyeongchang next month.

“We will closely cooperate with the U.S. in any talks with the North, and strongly believe inter-Korean talks will help create a mood desirable for U.S.-North Korea talks aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear weapons issue,” Moon said in the call, according to the Blue House, which also said that Trump said "the U.S. supports Mr. Moon 100%."

The statement avoids another potentially embarrassing diplomatic fiasco: as the WSJ notes, the talks have emerged as a point of tension. Seoul has tried to dispel rumors that it approached the North without consulting the U.S.

It has also tried to assuage concerns that talks could lead to a cancellation of the springtime military exercises.

“The South Korean government disagrees with the idea of cancelling the military exercises in return for the North halting its nuclear weapons program,” South Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman Roh Kyu-deok said in a press briefing Thursday. The South also consulted the U.S. through diplomatic channels before proposing talks on Tuesday, he added.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the South would aim to better relations with the North, while also cooperating with global efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

The South Korean defense ministry in a separate briefing Thursday dismissed reports that the North could be preparing a missile launch, saying the South had not detected any unusual activities hinting a launch was near, declining to comment further.

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Meanwhile, Trump did everything in his power to save face in light of the detente between the two Koreas by trying to take credit for the apparent thawing of diplomatic tensions between the two nations, stating that his “firm and strong” stance has enabled talks.

Trump, who has openly traded insults with Kim and once suggested North Korea’s long-range missile program should be met with “fire and fury,” tweeted on Thursday that his approach to the delicate situation had fostered an environment for talks.

Slamming "failed experts," Trump asked if the recent communication between North and South Korea would really be happening without his involvement. “Fools, but talks are a good thing,” the US president added.