US carrier, S. Korea warships start new drills amid tensions

Oct 6, 2022, 7:55 AM | Updated: Oct 7, 2022, 2:49 am
FILE - A TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch with file fo...

FILE - A TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch with file footage, is seen at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on Oct. 6, 2022. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan launched a new round of naval drills with South Korean warships on Friday, a day after North Korea fired more ballistic missiles and flew warplanes in an escalation of its weapons tests. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

              In this image taken from video, South Korean Air Force's F15K fighter jets prepare to take off Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, in an undisclosed location in South Korea. South Korea says North Korea flew 12 warplanes near their mutual border on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, prompting South Korea to scramble 30 military planes in response. (South Korean Defense Ministry via AP)
            
              FILE - A TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch with file footage, is seen at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on Oct. 6, 2022. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan launched a new round of naval drills with South Korean warships on Friday, a day after North Korea fired more ballistic missiles and flew warplanes in an escalation of its weapons tests. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)
            
              In this photo provided by South Korean Presidential Office, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol talks on the phone with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone Thursday and agreed that North Korea's recent missile tests are "a serious, grave provocation" that threatens international peace. (South Korea Presidential Office via AP)
            
              FILE - The U.S. carrier USS Ronald Reagan is escorted as it arrives in Busan, South Korea on Sept. 23, 2022. North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. Thursday’s launches came as the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan returned to waters east of South Korea in what South Korea’s military called an attempt to demonstrate the allies’ "firm will" to counter North’s continued provocations and threats. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan launched a new round of naval drills with South Korean warships on Friday, a day after North Korea fired more ballistic missiles and flew warplanes in an escalation of tensions with its rivals.

The Reagan and its battle group returned to the waters near the Korean Peninsula after North Korea earlier this week launched a nuclear-capable missile over Japan in response to the carrier group’s earlier training with South Korean navy ships. North Korea views U.S.-South Korean military exercises as a practice to invade the country.

The latest two-day drills, which also involve U.S. and South Korean destroyers and other ships, were taking place in international waters off the peninsula’s east coast. The drills are aimed at bolstering the allies’ defense capabilities and will involve training to escort the Reagan southeast of South Korea’s southern island of Jeju, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

“We will continue to strengthen our firm operational capabilities and readiness to respond to any provocations by North Korea,” the statement said.

North Korea may react to the new drills with more missile tests. The North’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday the carrier group’s redeployment poses “a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in its vicinity.”

Later Friday, the top nuclear envoys of South Korea, the United States and Japan had trilateral phone talks and agreed to increase their efforts to block the North’s alleged cryptocurrency thefts and other means to finance its nuclear and missile programs. The envoys also decided to solidify an international cooperation to check North Korea’s attempts to evade U.N. sanctions such as banned ship-to-ship transfers on the sea, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

North Korea’s record pace of weapons testing this year is intended to expand its arsenal so that it can credibly threaten the U.S. mainland and regional allies with nuclear arms, then engage in negotiations with the U.S. from a stronger position as a recognized nuclear state. Its two ballistic missile launches on Thursday were the North’s sixth round of weapons firings in less than two weeks.

The intermediate-range North Korean missile tested Tuesday was likely a Hwasong-12 missile which is capable of reaching the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, observers say. Other missiles launched recently are short-range weapons that target South Korea.

North Korea is ready to conduct its first nuclear test in five years and is preparing to test a new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile, Heo Tae-keun, South Korea’s deputy minister of national defense policy, told lawmakers earlier this week.

On Friday, Heo had trilateral video calls with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts to discuss North Korea’s recent missile tests. They stressed the security cooperation among the three countries would be bolstered if the North continues its provocations, the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a statement.

On Thursday, naval destroyers of the three countries conducted one-day joint drills off the peninsula’s east coast to hone their abilities to search, track and intercept North Korean ballistic missiles. Last week, they held anti-submarines exercises involving the Reagan in the area.

North Korea also flew 12 warplanes dozens of kilometers (miles) from the inter-Korean border, prompting the South to scramble 30 military aircraft in response. There were no clashes.

The eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers were believed to have conducted air-to-surface firing drills, South Korea’s military said. Yonhap news agency reported it was likely North Korea’s biggest warplane mobilization for such an exercise near the border.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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US carrier, S. Korea warships start new drills amid tensions