Seoul, US Start War Games

So far, North Korea's response is muted
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2014 7:44 AM CST
The nuclear-powered aircraft supercarrier USS George Washington is escorted into a navy port in Busan, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.   (AP Photo/Yonhap, Jo Jung-ho)

(Newser) – North Korea formerly threatened to cancel the long-awaited family reunions between the two Koreas if South Korea went ahead with its annual joint military drills with the US. But as it stands, both events are happening simultaneously. As the six-day reunion continued today, the military drills began, the BBC reports; they will continue until April 18, and involve roughly 12,500 US troops. As always, Washington and Seoul insist they are simply defensive, while Pyongyang calls them "exercises of war." Even so, the rhetoric has been pretty low-key this year compared to last, when North Korea repeatedly threatened to attack South Korean and US targets over the drills. The Guardian reports that US officials have suggested things will be a little more low-key on their end as well: no aircraft carriers or strategic bombers are to factor into the war games.

Some believe North Korea's reaction to the drills will shed light on whether tensions between the two Koreas are truly thawing, as the family reunions and other recent developments suggest they may be. "As of now, there are no unusual movements from North Korea," said a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson today. "We will only take action against North Korea if it makes provocations or denunciations." Experts say that, for Pyongyang, keeping calm is all about money. Specifically, the North would like the South to restart tours to the North's Mount Kumgang resort that, in the past, provided the North with an important source of income; the South put an end to the tours in 2008 after a female tourist was killed by North Korean security. (Read more South Korea stories.)

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