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Report: U.S., South Korea holding joint exercises away from peninsula

By Elizabeth Shim
Report: U.S., South Korea holding joint exercises away from peninsula
The United States has formally suspended the deployment of B-1B Lancers to the Korean Peninsula. File Photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard P. Ebensberger/U.S. Air Force | License Photo

Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Military training designed to avoid provoking North Korea has slowly replaced the reduced and postponed joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises on the peninsula, according to a recent South Korean press report.

The Segye Ilbo reported Tuesday the U.S. military has proposed more joint drills away from the peninsula in areas of the Pacific that will not trigger the Kim Jong Un regime. Behind the scenes, Seoul is quietly taking part in U.S.-led simulation training on the U.S. mainland and other areas, according to the report.

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The United States has "formally suspended" the deployment of the B-1B strategic bomber to make way for denuclearization talks, but not all South Korean military officials are happy with the suspension or other conciliatory gestures.

Sources told the Segye Ilbo there is no way to check the combined U.S., South Korea operation system without the deployment of the strategic bomber. If the suspension is prolonged, the decision could weaken joint responses on the peninsula, they say.

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In the absence of large-scale exercises, the South Korean forces have been taking part in U.S.-led multinational training. South Korean marines took part in Cobra Gold in Thailand, "Conquest" in Mongolia, and RIMPAC, the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, in Hawaii, according to the Segye Ilbo.

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RIMPAC is the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise.

The decision to downscale the exercises has been taking place as North Korea has ceased its ballistic missile and nuclear bomb tests.

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Yonhap reported Tuesday Kim has said he would allow inspectors to the North's Yongbyon nuclear facility.

Quoting an unnamed South Korean diplomatic source, the report states Kim asked South Korean President Moon Jae-in to deliver the message to U.S. President Donald Trump following the September summit in Pyongyang.

Shin Bum-cheol, director of the Center for Security and Unification at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said the decision indicates Kim is ready to "put down all his nuclear weapons."

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"If the inspection includes sampling and random inspections, this is an extremely positive development," Shin said.

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