U.S., South to conduct anti-submarine drills: PentagonWASHINGTON - South Korea and the United States will conduct joint anti-submarine exercises in the seas off the Korean Peninsula in the near future, the Pentagon said yesterday.
"Those initiatives are a result of the findings of this recent incident," spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. "We think that this is an area where, working with the Republic of Korea, we can hone some skills and increase capabilities."
Whitman was discussing the March 26 incident in which a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine ripped the South Korean warship Cheonan apart on the sea border with North Korea in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said earlier in the day that his government will bring the incident to the UN Security Council, suspend inter-Korean economic ties and bolster national defense.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement that President Obama has supported Lee, and "has directed his military commanders to coordinate closely with their Republic of Korea counterparts
to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression."
An international team of investigators last week officially blamed the March 26 ship sinking on a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine.
North Korea has denied involvement, describing the probe outcome as a "fabrication" and threatening to wage all-out war if punished or sanctioned.
South Korea wants to bring the case to the UN Security Council for further sanctions on North Korea, which is already under UN sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests last year.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently in Beijing for an annual two-day Strategic and Economic Dialogue, said Monday that she had extensive discussions with Chinese officials to seek their support over the Cheonan issue, amid reports that China seems not yet convinced that North Korea is responsible.
China, North Korea's staunchest ally and biggest benefactor, is crucial to any international efforts to sanction North Korea as Beijing wields veto power on the Security Council.
Whitman, meanwhile, said that "there have been no decisions on any changes with respect to" the schedule for South Korea's retaking of the wartime operational control of its troops in April 2012.
Conservatives from both Seoul and Washington have called for a delay in the OPCON transfer, fearing a possible gap in the joint defense of South Korea after North Korea detonated its second nuclear
device last year and continued testing medium- and long-range missiles.
The wartime OPCON transition agreement was made in 2007 under the liberal former President Roh Moo-hyun, who sought a greater role for South Korea in maintaining its own defense. Peacetime control of South Korean forces was returned in 1994.
The U.S. currently maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War, in which the U.S. fought alongside South Korea against invading North Korean troops aided by China.