Compromise on drill by U.S., Korea

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Compromise on drill by U.S., Korea

South Korea and the United States will push ahead with a joint naval exercise to warn North Korea against making attacks on the South, officials in Seoul and Washington said.

But a defense ministry official told the JoongAng Ilbo that the two countries have arrived at a compromise to avoid angering China, which objected to the exercise being held in the Yellow Sea near its own territorial waters.

“We will hold drills in both the Yellow Sea and the East Sea,” the official said.

In addition, the U.S.S. George Washington, a U.S. Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, will participate in the exercise in the East Sea, not the Yellow Sea, the source said.

“The first stage of the drill will take place in the East Sea with the aircraft carrier, and more exercises will follow in the Yellow Sea,” he said. “The aircraft carrier cannot participate in all drills. Last year, it joined the drill in the Yellow Sea. This year, it will participate in the exercise in the East Sea.”

The official admitted that China’s objection to the drill was a factor in changing the plan.

“We first discussed a plan of holding the exercise in the Yellow Sea, but changed the location to the East Sea taking into account the development in the United Nations Security Council,” he said. On July 9, the UN Security Council issued a presidential statement deploring the sinking of the naval warship Cheonan on March 26, but didn’t say North Korea was behind the attack as South Korea and the U.S. believe. China and Russia objected to North Korea being blamed.

A Pentagon official said Wednesday that foreign affairs and defense policy makers from Seoul and Washington will meet next week to discuss and likely approve the joint drills. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet their South Korean counterparts, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, in Seoul next Wednesday to discuss the drill and other security matters.

The joint drills, which involve a wide range of military assets, will “augment already planned bilateral exercises, such as the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise that takes place annually,” Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a briefing in Washington.

“All of these exercises are defensive in nature, but will send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea and demonstrate our steadfast commitment to the defense of South Korea,” Morrell said.

Asked about China’s objection to the drill, Morrell said China was a country “whose opinion we respect and consider. But this is a matter of our ability to exercise in the open seas, in international waters. Those determinations are made by us, and us alone.”

“Where we exercise, when we exercise, with whom and how, using what assets and so forth, are determinations that are made by the United States navy, by this - by the Department of Defense, by the United States government,” Morrell continued.

A total of about 10 packages of the joint drills are planned in the waters surrounding the peninsula, he added.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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