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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Seoul Ready to Ditch U.S. War Games

SEOUL -- South Korea, encouraged by North Korea's willingness to end a stalemate over nuclear inspections, said Wednesday that it would study calling off this year's round of controversial war games with the United States.

"Preparations for Team Spirit exercises are still going on," a Defense Ministry official said. "Now North Korea has agreed to let the International Atomic Energy Agency inspect nuclear sites, we will positively study suspending them."

South "Korea and the United States are expected to announce a final decision late this month or early next month," the official, who asked not be named, said. This year's exercises have provisionally been set for March 22 to 31.

North Korea has unfailingly attacked the annual war games as a provocation and rehearsal for invasion of its territory. South Korea and the United States say the exercises are purely defensive.

Last year, as the nuclear inspections issue worsened, North Korean authorities put the entire country on "semi-war" alert for the duration of Team Spirit.

The exercises were suspended for a year in 1992 and South Korean and U.S. officials have said there is the possibility of a similar move this year if Pyongyang agrees to nuclear inspections and inter-Korean dialogue.

North Korea agreed on Tuesday to allow inspectors from the IAEA to check seven declared nuclear plants in the hardline communist state, ending a year-long standoff.

The agreement, thrashed out at the Vienna-based IAEA headquarters just six days before the agency's governing body was scheduled to meet to report on North Korea, was welcomed by the United States and South Korea.

"We sincerely welcome North Korea's decision to accept the IAEA's nuclear inspection," presidential spokesman Choo Don-shik said.

Prime Minister Lee Hoi-chang told parliament Seoul hoped the North would not only faithfully accept IAEA inspections but also engage in substantive inter-Korean dialogue in order to resolve the issue.

Seoul hopes the two Koreas will exchange special envoys to defuse the nuclear row and restart talks that have essentially gone nowhere since the nations signed a non-aggression pact in 1991.

Last November, the North broke off border talks on the exchange of envoys after Seoul rejected Pyongyang's call for an end to Team Spirit war games.