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Seoul and Washington Conduct Air Drills with US Strategic Assets; and N. Korea Issues Threat

#Hot Issues of the Week l 2023-02-05



A day after the visiting Pentagon chief, Lloyd Austin, pledged the increased deployment of U.S. strategic assets in the region, the allies conducted a joint aerial exercise involving strategic bombers and stealth fighters. North Korea fired back by threatening the "toughest reaction.".

Seoul and Washington conducted the year's first combined air drills over the Yellow Sea on Wednesday, involving U.S. strategic assets such as the B-1B strategic bomber as well as F-22 and F-35B stealth fighters.

Seoul's defense ministry said on Thursday that the latest exercises displayed Washington's will and capabilities to provide strong and credible extended deterrence against Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threats.

It added that the allies plan to further strengthen joint training involving U.S. strategic assets to increase the South Korean people's faith in the U.S.’ extended deterrence and solidify the allies’ capacity and posture in response to the North's threats.

The exercise came a day after U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during his visit to Seoul that there would be more deployments of Washington's advanced military assets in order to fulfill its security commitment in the region.

Hours after the drills, the North's foreign ministry issued a statement threatening the "toughest reaction" against the U.S. for seeking to expand joint exercises and to deploy more strategic assets in the region.

Accusing Washington of driving the security situation on the Korean Peninsula toward an "extreme red line," Pyongyang said the dangerous scenario would turn the region into a huge arsenal and a more critical war zone.

The White House, for its part, rebutted the North's claims that the combined military exercises between the U.S. and its regional partners serve as a provocation against the regime.

According to Reuters, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said the U.S. has no hostile intent toward the North and in fact seeks serious and sustained diplomacy to address issues of concern to both countries and the region.

President Yoon Suk Yeol also met with the pentagon chief on Tuesday and exchanged views on the security concerns on the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. extended deterrence and trilateral security cooperation between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.

During that meeting, Yoon reportedly asked for consultations between Seoul and Washington to produce an effective and strong extended deterrence system that can dispel the South Korean people's anxieties over the North’s escalating nuclear threats. 

Meanwhile, South Korea and the U.S. staged yet another air drill on Friday. The South Korean air force said the allies held the latest exercise involving U.S. F-22 and F-35B fighter jets and Korea's F-35As with the goal to improve inter-operability.It said the maneuvers demonstrated Washington's unmitigated prowess and commitment to the defense of South Korea. 

Foreign minister Park Jin and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks in Washington on Friday and reaffirmed the two nations' goal of de-nuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. 

During an subsequent joint press briefing, Park touted that 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of bilateral tiesand vowed to expand their alliance beyond political, military and economic partnerships to include technology and culture.

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