SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA South Korea wants to hold smaller joint military drills with the United States next year, the defense ministry said Thursday, scaling back larger exercises as part of an effort to boost nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.

The allies have suspended a number of combined military exercises this year as tensions on the Korean Peninsula eased and Washington began talks to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear program.

The North has denounced the annual drills, which in the past involved hundreds of thousands of troops, warships and aircraft, as a rehearsal for war.

Computer-simulated drills

With nuclear talks under way, Seoul and Washington are discussing scaling back their regular field exercises, including Foal Eagle in early 2019, and hold two computer-simulated command post drills next year, the defense ministry said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last month the Foal Eagle exercise would be reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy with North Korea.

The defense ministry delivered its plan to President Moon Jae-in Thursday as part of its annual policy briefing.

Joint field exercises would take place all year-round after adjusting the scale, the ministry said in a statement.

The plan is also expected to affect a major summer exercise known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which the allies suspended last year for the first time in 28 years.

In his opening remarks at the briefing, Moon said South Korea's strong defense had underpinned a new chapter of history of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

But it's only provisional peace, he said. We have to establish unwavering, lasting peace next year.

Source: Voice of America