BUSAN – 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 expected to show their strength against mounting 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, to naval exercises with South Korea in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.
Allies this year have revived large-scale military exercises, which in previous years have been scaled back or shelved to aid diplomacy with Pyongyang or over COVID-19 in response to North Korea’s resumption of major weapons tests and the rising threat of nuclear conflicts with Seoul and Washington.
The South Korean Navy said its combined training with the Reagan battle group was intended to bolster allies’ military readiness and show “the firm determination of the Korean-US alliance for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
The North Korean threat is also expected to be a key agenda when US Vice President Kamala Harris visits South Korea next week after attending the state funeral of assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
Reagan’s arrival in South Korea comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told Pyongyang’s stamp parliament this month he would never give up his nuclear weapons and missiles, which he needs to counter what he perceives as US hostility.
North Korea also passed a new law that enshrined its status as a nuclear power and allowed the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons in a variety of scenarios where the country or its leadership is threatened.
Sung Kim, the Biden administration’s special envoy for North Korea, met with South Korea’s counterpart Kim Gunn in Seoul on Thursday, where they expressed “serious concerns” about the North’s escalating nuclear doctrine spelled out in the new law, South Korea’s foreign ministry said .
The diplomats reaffirmed the US commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear ones, to defend South Korea in the event of a nuclear war. The allies also stood by their months-long assessment that North Korea was preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 and were discussing “tough” countermeasures to such an action, the ministry said.
North Korea has ramped up weapons testing in 2022 and has fired more than 30 ballistic weapons, including its ICBMs, since 2017 while exploiting a split in the UN Security Council that has deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
While North Korea’s ICBMs have attracted much US attention as a potential threat to the American homeland, the North has also expanded its arsenal of short-range nuclear-capable missiles designed to evade South Korea’s missile defenses.
North Korea’s growing arsenal and threats of pre-emptive nuclear attacks 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 promised to improve South Korea’s conventional missile capabilities and work with the Biden administration to develop more effective strategies to deter North Korean attacks.
Senior US and South Korean officials met in Washington this month to discuss allied deterrence strategies and issued a statement affirming that “any (North Korean) nuclear attack would meet with an overwhelming and decisive response.” The statement said the United States reaffirmed “its ironclad and unwavering commitment to draw on the full breadth of its military capabilities, including nuclear (one)” to provide an enhanced deterrent to South Korea.
North Korea has so far dismissed US and South Korean calls for a return to nuclear diplomacy, which have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over lifting US-led sanctions on the North and North’s disarmament moves.
North Korea has slammed Yoon for continuing military exercises with the US and for ballooning South Korean civilian activists anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty trash” across the border, even dubiously claiming the items had the COVID-19 -Eruption caused .
South Korean activists have continued to launch balloons after North Korea last month warned of “deadly” retaliation, sparking concerns North Korea might respond with a weapons test or even border skirmishes.
The South Korean Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, urged the activists to stop, citing security reasons. Lee Hyo-jung, the ministry’s spokesman, also said on Friday that South Korea stands ready to deal severely with any North Korean retaliation for distributing leaflets.
Kim Tong-hyung reported from Seoul.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/09/23/us-aircraft-carrier-arrives-in-south-korea-for-joint-drills/ A US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea for joint exercises