S. Korea, U.S., Japan hold joint naval drill

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea, the United States and Japan began a two-day drill in waters off the Korean Peninsula, Seoul's defense ministry said Thursday, amid heightened tensions with North Korea, which angrily responded to the trilateral joint exercise involving an American aircraft carrier.

The drill, which was delayed for a few days due to a typhoon, started in waters off the peninsula's southern coast as part of routine trainings, mobilizing the nuclear-powered, 97,000-ton carrier USS George Washington as well as Aegis destroyers of South Korea and Japan.

The training also includes the guided-missile USS Antietam CG-54 cruiser and guided-missile USS Preble DDG 88 destroyer. Fighter jets, anti-submarine helicopters and early warning aircraft will also be included.

"This annual training is aimed at carrying out joint maritime search and rescue operations for humanitarian purposes, not a military one," Wi Wong-seop, vice ministry spokesman, said in a briefing.

USS George Washington, the supercarrier forward deployed to Japan's Yokosuka, arrived in South Korean port city of Busan last Friday ahead of the trilateral exercise.

The routine training takes place at a time of high tension as Pyongyang earlier this week warned the U.S. of "disastrous consequences" for the joint drills and put its troops on alert against the massive drill.

On Wednesday, the North's foreign ministry spokesman issued a statement to accuse the U.S. of focusing on "military provocations" rather than accepting talk offers by North Korea.

Seoul's defense ministry said it is closely watching North Korean military's moves to detect any signs of aggression, noting there has been no unusual movement.

North Korea has routinely condemned the allies' joint drills as a prelude to war. In March, Pyongyang threatened to strike Seoul and the continental U.S. when the two nations' forces conducted their annual drills involving stealth bombers, stealth jets and aircraft carriers.

The two Koreas technically remain at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

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