By KIM TONG-HYUNG – Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan wrapped up a naval exercise with South Korea in the Philippine Sea on Saturday, the two militaries said, amid signs that North Korea is getting closer. possibly preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017.
The three-day exercise which began Thursday in international waters off the Japanese island of Okinawa was reportedly the first joint Allied exercise involving a US aircraft carrier since November 2017.
The Ronald Reagan then joined the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the Nimitz in a rare three-carrier drill with South Korean navy ships in North Korea’s provocative latest run in nuclear ballistic missile tests and intercontinental.
The latest drill comes weeks after President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at a summit in Seoul pledged to improve defense drills and discuss ways for Washington to protect its ally in the face of growing North Korean threats.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the exercise was aimed at strengthening the interoperability of the two navies.
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On Friday, Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, said Washington is “preparing for all eventualities” in close coordination with South Korea and Japan as it monitors North Korean arrangements. for a possible nuclear test which could be imminent.
Kim, who was in Seoul for a trilateral meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts to discuss the nuclear standoff with North Korea, said Washington believed the North was continuing preparations at its nuclear testing ground in the city of Punggye-ri, in the northeast of the country. .
The North’s next test would be its seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit its intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over trading the release of crippling US-led sanctions for the North’s disarmament moves.
North Korea has already conducted 17 missile tests this year, including its first ICBM demonstrations in nearly five years.
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