By Nam Hyun-woo, November 27, 2017, The Korea Times.
The government wants to delay the joint military drills with the United States during the PyeongChang Olympic Games, said Song Young-gil, the chairman of the Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation.
Song said the Moon Jae-in government has been calling for peace during the Winter Games, and a delay in the exercise may stop North Korea from conducting additional provocations.
He made the comment during a conference hosted by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP) and the Russia-based think tank the Valdai Discussion Club at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul.
Among the participants in the two-day conference were Song, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Morgulov, Valdai Club Chairman Andrey Bystritskiy, KIEP President Hyun Jung-taik and ranking government officials and scholars from South Korea and Asia-Pacific countries.
“Recently, the North Korea-China dialogue has not been going smoothly, while talks between the North and Russia are going relatively well,” Song said. “Thus, we judge that Russia is in a position to mediate inter-Korean talks, which is a very significant role for regional peace.”
A South Korea-U.S. joint air force drill is scheduled for next month, with F-22 Raptor and F-35 stealth fighter jets expected to participate. Also two annual spring military exercises of Key Resolve and Foal Eagle overlap with the PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Games next February.
During the conference, Morgulov stressed that the joint military exercises do not help alleviate the tensions stemming from North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
“The first step toward alleviating tensions is North Korea’s abandoning of its programs and the U.S. and its allies scaling down of joint military drills, simultaneously,” Morgulov said.
“For the past two months, North Korea has been acting within this concept, which seems to be the first step. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not scaled down its drills and plans to add another exercise. In order to bring the North to the discussion table, some action from the U.S. should be seen.”
Along with China, Russia is calling for the dismantling of the North’s nuclear programs and for the U.S. to scale down its military drills in the region. Morgulov stressed that this is the prerequisite for regional peace and mutual recognition of North Korea and the U.S.
Song said Russia’s plan is an “option” that South Korea can consider when a dialogue channel between the two Koreas is reestablished.
Established in 2004, the Valdai Discussion Club is aimed at promoting dialogue between the Russian and international elite in politics, economics and social development among other subjects.
So far, more than 1,000 representatives of the international scholarly community from 63 countries have participated in the club’s work. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been meeting with participants of the club’s annual meetings every year since its founding.
This was the first Valdai Club conference held in Korea.
In economic matters, Song said the government is considering full cooperation for a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, in an effort to prevent South Korea’s trade policies from being swayed by the Donald Trump administration’s protectionism.