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Friday 20 July 2018

US bomber joins drills as UN official arrives in North Korea

A US B-1B bomber and fighter jets over the Korean Peninsula
A US B-1B bomber and fighter jets over the Korean Peninsula

Rachael Alexander

A US B-1B bomber yesterday joined large-scale US-South Korean military exercises that North Korea has denounced as pushing the peninsula to the brink of nuclear war as tension mounts between the North and the United States.

The bomber flew from the Pacific US-administered territory of Guam and joined US F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters in the annual exercises, which run until tomorrow.

The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.

Asked about the bomber's flight, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing in Beijing: "We hope relevant parties can maintain restraint and not do anything to add tensions on the Korean peninsula."

North Korea's official KCNA state news agency said at the weekend the Trump administration was "begging for nuclear war" by staging the drills.

KCNA said on Tuesday the exercises were "simulating an all-out war", including drills to "strike the state leadership and nuclear and ballistic rocket bases, air fields, naval bases and other major objects..."

US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has urged the Pentagon to start moving US military dependants, such as spouses and children, out of South Korea, saying conflict with North Korea was getting close.

The US-South Korea drills coincide with a rare visit to the North by UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman.

North Korea's state media confirmed the arrival of Mr Feltman and his entourage late on Tuesday without offering more details, later issuing a photograph of him and two members of his team.

Mr Feltman, a former senior US State Department official, is the highest-level UN official to visit the North since 2012. The US State Department said on Tuesday he was not carrying any message from Washington.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit China on Wednesday for a summit with his counterpart Xi Jinping, Seoul's presidential Blue House said. North Korea's increasing nuclear and missile capability would top the agenda, it said.

The military exercises, called 'Vigilant Ace', are designed to enhance joint readiness and operational capability of US extended deterrence, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

North Korea has vehemently criticised the drills, saying the exercise precipitates US and South Korean "self-destruction".

China and Russia had proposed the US and South Korea stop major military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programmes.

Russia also has communication channels open with North Korea and is ready to exert its influence on the country, the RIA news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov as saying on Tuesday.

Irish Independent

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