South Korea and the U.S. appear cautious about staging their annual springtime military exercise here as planned, as it could provoke North Korea, about which uncertainty has deepened since the death of Kim Jong-il last month. The North has routinely denounced the Key Resolve exercise as a rehearsal to topple its regime. Last year, it hardened its bellicose rhetoric against the allies, warning of a ruthless military response with its nuclear, missile deterrence capabilities. We are coordinating with the U.S. over the Key Resolve exercise slated to take place between late February and early March. There are many variables we need to consider, including the changing situation in the North after Kims death, a government official said in a media interview, declining to be named. Military sources here said that the concrete schedule and other details for this years exercise will be confirmed soon, hinting that there may be some more flexibility in the way the exercise is carried out this year. All regional stakeholders including the U.S. and China have sought to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula since Kims death in December, given any instability in the North could hamper their economies and domestic political situations. Observers said that the regular exercise could send a wrong signal to the North, which is still mourning the death of its Dear Leader and striving to stabilize the new leadership of Kims youngest son Jong-un. Some expressed concern that the exercise could spark another provocation by it, which could worsen inter-Korean ties. One senior government official, however, said, There is no guarantee that the North would not provoke again when we dont carry out the annual exercise. There was a case in which the allies suspended their joint military exercise as their ties with the North began to improve. In 1992, the allies suspended the Team Spirit exercise as the inter-Korean ties improved with an inter-Korean declaration on peninsular denuclearization and a bilateral agreement on inter-Korean reconciliation and exchanges, and non-aggression. The allies had annually held the exercise since 1976. They decided to resume the exercise in 1993 as a nuclear crisis resurged on the peninsula. The exercise was later replaced with other joint drills.