S. Korea flexes muscles with naval exercise
AFP and APSEOUL -- South Korea staged a naval exercise involving U.S. surveillance aircraft on Tuesday, flexing its military muscles at a time of high tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North's third nuclear test.
February 20, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
Day one of a six-day drill in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) involved South Korean warships and submarines, as well as surveillance planes from the United States, the defense ministry in Seoul said.
The exercises will practice operations to detect and track North Korean missiles and submarines, the ministry added.
“The drill is aimed at testing our readiness against threats from the enemy,” a spokesman told AFP.
It is the latest in a series of military exercises, which have been staged alone by South Korea or jointly with the United States since the North launched a long-range rocket on Dec. 12.
Earlier this month Seoul and Washington conducted a joint naval exercise with a U.S. nuclear submarine off South Korea's east coast, followed by a joint air force drill.
Pyongyang insists the December launch put a satellite into orbit for peaceful research, but critics said it amounted to a banned ballistic missile test that marked a major advance for the communist state's nuclear weapons program.
Following the North's nuclear test on Feb. 12, the South vowed to accelerate the development of longer-range ballistic missiles and new cruise missiles capable of a precision strike on members of Pyongyang's high command.
North Korea said the test — widely condemned by the international community — was a direct response to U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after last year's rocket launch.
Pyongyang is already under international sanctions for conducting two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, which both came after long-range rocket launches.
South Korea's outgoing president warns North Korea has pushed itself further into a corner with its recent nuclear test.
President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday in his farewell address that North Korea will only face international sanctions and isolation if it hangs on to its nuclear and missile programs.
South Korea has pressed for tighter U.N. sanctions on North Korea since Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test last week. North Korea defends the underground blast as an act of deterrence against U.S. hostility.
Lee leaves office next Monday. The relations between the two Koreas have frayed badly during his single, five-year tenure.
His successor, Park Geun-hye, has called for reopening dialogue with Pyongyang but also remains firmly opposed to North Korea's nuclear program.