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Seoul to send artistic delegation to Pyongyang in late March
Combined forces from the Republic of Korea and the United States will launch their joint military exercises from April 1, Seoul"s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday, with speculation that this year"s drills might be toned down.
The springtime exercises, code-named Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, will be carried out in a "similar scale with last year" as agreed upon by defense ministers of the two countries, according to the ministry.
Meanwhile, Yonhap news agency said the main exercise will be shortened by a month as a diplomatic thaw with the Democratic People"s Republic of Korea gathers pace, quoting a ROK Defense Ministry spokesman. He also mentioned that no aircraft carrier will take part in the exercises, which Pyongyang has condemned as "provocative rehearsals for an invasion".
With talks under way to set up a ROK-DPRK summit, followed by a proposed face-to-face meeting between US President Donald Trump and DPRK top leader Kim Jongun, some analysts said the drill may be more low-key than in the past.
Zhan Debin, director of Korean Peninsula research center at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, said the length of the exercises has been shortened as Washington and Seoul try to make concessions to the DPRK and avoid damaging enthusiasm for discussions.
A similar drill was conducted for two months through March to April last year. This year"s exercises had been delayed by Seoul and Washington during the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in the ROK after a diplomatic thaw led the DPRK to send athletes, cheerleaders, artists and political delegations to the event in Pyeongchang.
According to Yonhap, Seoul informed Pyongyang of the drill schedules through the restored military hotline in the west region.
The Pentagon also said: "Our combined exercises are defense-oriented and there is no reason for North Korea to view them as a provocation."
Foal Eagle is a series of field training exercises with approximately 11,500 US service personnel taking part, together with 290,000 ROK troops, while Key Resolve is a tabletop exercise using mainly computer-based simulations.
According to the ROK"s National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong, who made a visit to Pyongyang earlier this month, Kim Jong-un had said he "understands" the need for the drills to go ahead.
Liu Ming, a researcher at Institute of International Relations at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said the drill has been shortened in time but is similar in scale.
"On one hand, it shows that the US and ROK are trying to have a low-key drill in order not to provoke the DPRK in this mood of rapprochement. On the other, they are also showing maximum pressure toward the DPRK for a bargaining chip in future talks."
Also on Tuesday, the ROK"s Ministry of Unification said the ROK will send a 160-member artistic delegation to Pyongyang from March 31 to April 4 and give two performances.
The group will include K-pop girl group Red Velvet and music industry veterans Cho Yong-pil and Lee Sunhee, the ministry said, after talks on the performances between the neighbors" delegations at the truce border village of Panmunjom.
Cho was the last ROK singer to perform in the DPRK, at a concert in Pyongyang in 2005.
Xinhua and Reuters contributed to this story.