SEOUL, South Korea -- The annual 'Team Spirit' joint U.S.- South Korea military exercise has been called off this year in line with North Korea's announced intention to sign a nuclear safeguards accord and accept international inspections, it was announced Tuesday.
'The government decided not to hold the 1992 Team Spirit and the United States agreed to this decision of ours,' the Defense Ministry said in a terse announcement. 'The decision covers only 1992. For 1993 and beyond, nothing was studied.'
The move to suspend the annual exercise, a routine for South Korean and U.S. forces since 1976, was agreed on between President Bush and his South Korean counterpart, Roh Tae Woo, at a meeting in Seoul Monday.
'If North Korea fulfills its (non-nuclear) obligations and takes steps to implement the inspection agreements, then President Roh and I are prepared to forgo the Team Spirit exercise for this year,' Bush said at a joint news conference following the meeting.
As it pledged, North Korea Tuesday announced it would sign the nuclear accords. A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman made the announcement, which was reported by the official Korean Central News Agency monitored in Tokyo.
Officials at the Defense Ministry said the decision to suspend the war games was made based on two key agreements recently reached between South and North Korea.
They referred to the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation signed Dec. 13 and the Joint Declaration for a Non-Nuclear Korean Peninsula initialed Dec. 31.
North Korean President Kim Il-sung said in a New Year's message that his country will faithfully follow the basic rapprochement agreement.
In the joint declaration, North Korea agreed to renounce nuclear reprocessing and enrichment facilities, and accepted reciprocal simultaneous inspections of facilities separate from inspections by the IAEA.
'In consideration of the circumstances, Team Spirit is being called off for 1992. This is part of our efforts for improvement of South-North relations and reduction of tension,' the officials said.
'Joint combined exercises such as Team Spirit are among elements essential in maintaining and developing a joint U.S.-South Korea defensive posture.
'If the North does not faithfully implement agreements reached with the South, Team Spirit can be resumed at any time. We will closely watch how North Korea's offensive-oriented strategy and military stance change and take adequate countermeasures.'
North Korea has steadfastly opposed Team Spirit as threatening North Korean security. U.S. and South Korean officials maintain the annual exercise is defensive in nature and communist North Korea's militancy made it necessary.