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US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea for joint drills

BUSAN, South Korea (AP) – The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived at the South Korean port of Busan on Friday ahead of the two countries’ joint military exercise that aims to demonstrate their strength against the growing North. Korean threats.

The joint exercises will be the first involving a US aircraft carrier in the region since 2017, when the US sent three aircraft carriers, including the Reagan, for naval exercises with South Korea in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

The allies have this year revived their large-scale military exercises that had been scaled down or suspended in previous years to support diplomacy with Pyongyang or because of COVID-19, in response to North Korea’s resumption of major weapons tests and increasing threat of nuclear conflict with Seoul and Washington.

The South Korean Navy said the training is intended to increase the military readiness of the Allies and demonstrate “the determination of the Korean-American alliance in the interest of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”.

“The commitment of the US carrier strike group operating in and around the peninsula illustrates our commitment to stand together and our desire and focus to ensure we are interoperable and integrated to face any challenge or threat. provide when we need it,” Rear Admiral Michael Donnelly, the carrier strike group commander, said at a news conference.

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The North Korean threat is also expected to be a major agenda when US Vice President Kamala Harris visits South Korea next week after attending the state funeral in Tokyo of assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Reagan’s arrival in South Korea comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told the Pyongyang parliament this month that he would never abandon his nuclear weapons. and missiles he needs to withstand what he sees as US hostility.

North Korea has also passed a new law that enshrines its status as a nuclear power and allows the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a wide variety of scenarios where the country or its leadership is threatened.

Sung Kim, the Biden government’s special representative for North Korea, met in Seoul on Thursday with South Korean counterpart Kim Gunn, where they expressed “serious concern” about the north’s escalating nuclear doctrine that has been inflicted in the new law is being set out, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The diplomats reaffirmed the US commitment to defend South Korea in the event of nuclear war with the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear. The allies also maintained their months-old assessment that North Korea is gearing up to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 and discussed “severe” countermeasures against such action, the ministry said.

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North Korea has ramped up weapons testing at a record pace in 2022 and has launched more than 30 ballistic weapons since 2017, including its intercontinental ballistic missiles, as it exploits a rift in the UN Security Council that has deepened over the Russian war. against Ukraine.

While North Korea’s ICBMs are attracting a lot of US attention because they pose a potential threat to its homeland, the North has also expanded its arsenal of nuclear-capable, shorter-range missiles designed to evade South Korea’s missile defenses.

North Korea’s growing arsenal and the threat of preemptive nuclear strikes have raised concerns in South Korea about the credibility of the US “nuclear umbrella” that protects its allies in the event of war.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative who took office in May, has vowed to bolster South Korea’s conventional missile capabilities and work with the Biden administration to develop more effective strategies to counter North Korean attacks. to startle.

Senior US and South Korean officials met in Washington this month to discuss the allies’ deterrence strategies and issued a statement reaffirming that “any (North Korean) nuclear attack would receive an overwhelming and decisive response.” The statement said the United States “repeated its rock-solid and unwavering commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear (one)” to provide South Korea with comprehensive deterrence.

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North Korea has so far rejected calls from the US and South Korea to return to nuclear diplomacy, which has stalled since 2019 over disagreements over the release of US-led sanctions against the north and the disarmament steps of the North. north.

North Korea has harshly criticized Yoon for continuing military exercises with the US and also for allowing South Korean civilian activists to balloon anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty waste” across the border, even it is doubtfully claimed that the items caused the COVID-19 outbreak.

South Korean activists have continued to launch balloons after North Korea warned of “deadly” retaliation last month, concerns sparked North Korea’s response with a weapons test or even border battles.

The South Korean Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, begged activists to stop, citing security concerns. Lee Hyo-jung, the ministry’s spokesman, also said on Friday that South Korea is prepared to respond harshly to any North Korean retaliation for pamphlets.

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AP video journalist Yong Jun Chang contributed. Kim Tong-hyung reported from Seoul.

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