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US aircraft carrier arrives in Korea for joint drills

BUSAN, South Korea – The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived at the South Korean port of Busan on Friday ahead of joint exercises by the two countries aimed at demonstrating their strength in the face of growing North Korean threats.

The joint exercises will be the first time that a US aircraft carrier has been involved in the region since 2017, when the US sent three aircraft carriers, including the Reagan, to participate in naval exercises with South Korea in response. North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.

The Allies this year revived large-scale military exercises that were cut or postponed in previous years to aid diplomacy with Pyongyang or because of COVID-19, in response to North Korea’s resumption. major weapons tests and increasing threats of nuclear conflict with Seoul and Washington.

The ROK Navy said its combined training with the Reagan Task Group was aimed at enhancing the allies’ military readiness and demonstrating “the unwavering determination of the ROK-US alliance for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”.

The threat from North Korea is also expected to be a key agenda item when US Vice President Kamala Harris visits South Korea next week after attending a state funeral in Tokyo after the former Japanese prime minister. Shinzo Abe is killed.

Reagan’s arrival in South Korea comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told Pyongyang’s National Assembly this month that he would never give up the nuclear weapons and missiles he needs to fight what he considered an enemy of the United States.

North Korea also passed a new law affirming its status as a nuclear power and authorizing the pre-use of nuclear weapons in a range of situations where the country or its leadership is threatened. threaten.

Sung Kim, the Biden administration’s special representative for North Korea, met his South Korean counterpart Kim Gunn in Seoul on Thursday, where they expressed “serious concerns” about North Korea’s escalating nuclear doctrine introduced in the new law, South Korea’s foreign ministry said.

The diplomats reaffirmed the US commitment to defend South Korea in the event of a nuclear war with the country’s full range of military capabilities, including nuclear. The allies also maintained their assessment months ago that North Korea was preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 and discussed “severe” countermeasures to such action, the ministry said. said.

North Korea has conducted weapons tests at a record rate in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic weapons including intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017, when it exploited deep divisions. in the United Nations Security Council on Russia’s war with Ukraine.

While North Korea’s ICBMs attract much of the United States’ attention because they pose a potential threat to the American homeland, North Korea is also expanding its arsenal of short-range, nuclear-capable missiles. designed to evade missile defense systems in South Korea.

North Korea’s expanding arsenal and threats of a pre-emptive nuclear strike have raised concerns in South Korea about the reliability of the US “nuclear umbrella” to protect its allies in the event of war. .

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

Senior US and South Korean officials met in Washington this month to discuss the allies’ deterrence strategy and issued a statement reaffirming that “any nuclear attack ( of North Korea) will be met with a strong and decisive response.” The statement said the United States reiterates its “firm and unwavering commitment to the full use of its military capabilities, including nuclear (one)” to provide extended deterrence against with Korea.

North Korea has so far rejected calls by the United States and South Korea to return to nuclear diplomacy, which has been stalled since 2019 due to disagreements over the exchange of sanctions relief. The US takes the lead on North Korea and its disarmament steps.

North Korea has harshly criticized Yoon for continuing to carry out military exercises with the US and also for allowing South Korean civil activists to distribute anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty waste” across the border by means of military equipment. hot air balloons, even suspiciously claiming these caused their COVID-19 outbreak. .

South Korean activists have continued to launch hot air balloons after North Korea warned last month of “deadly” retaliation, sparking fears the North could respond with a weapons test or even border skirmishes.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, begged the activists to stop, citing safety concerns. Lee Hyo-jung, a ministry spokesman, also said on Friday that South Korea was prepared to respond sternly to any North Korean retaliation for the distribution of the leaflets.

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Kim Tong-hyung reported from Seoul.

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