Korea, US to conduct military drills similar to last year's

Joint exercises could send Korea tensions soaring again

Tensions between the North and the United States had heightened amid exchanges of bellicose rhetoric between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leadership.

"The Korean People's Army is keeping a high alert, fully ready to contain the enemies". North Korea claims it is in the final stages of preparing a plan to launch four intermediate-range ballistic missiles over Japan and into waters just off the island of Guam, where about 7,000 USA troops are based.

The number of United States soldiers in this year's drill was reduced by a third, while South Korean media reported that the USA was considering scrapping a plan to bring in two aircraft carriers to the peninsula.

"Cancelling it would cede into the huge North Korean aim to decouple the allies and drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States", Narang said.

North Korea, for its part, threatened to launch missiles towards the American territory of Guam but then retracted the plan.

But, the KCNA report also stated that Mr Kim could revive plans to attack the U.S. if the military drill went ahead.

Thousands of troops will take part in 10 days of military simulations, created to prepare American and South Korean forces for conflict with North Korea, amid heightened tensions in the peninsula.

Ambassador Kim reiterated his leader's demand that the US immediately stop its "arrogant provocation" and its "extremely unsafe actions around the Korean Peninsula", including deploying "huge nuclear strategic equipment".

Tillerson reiterated the USA interest in resuming a long-stalled diplomatic dialogue with Pyongyang in an effort to stop its nuclear development. It backed off from the threat on Tuesday.

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Mattis also made clear the US' willingness to use force if North Korea steps out of line.

The allies could look to make a conciliatory gesture towards Pyongyang by not involving U.S. strategic assets such as stealth bombers or aircraft carriers, said Koo Kab-Woo, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies.

North and South Korea are still technically at war with the North after the Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

"If anything, the joint exercises must be strengthened", said Cheon Seongwhun, who served as a national security adviser to former conservative South Korean President Park Geun-hye. While some experts believe it may have the technology, others caution that even if it doesn't, North Korea should be taken at its word. "I want to warn North Korea to do no more unsafe gambling", Moon said.

"The government, putting everything on the line, will block war by all means", Moon said.

The United States had been conducting regular "command and control" drills in the years following the 1950-53 Korean War, but combined exercises with the South Korean military following the failed raid, in which all but two of the North Korean commandos were killed.

There are more than 28,000 USA service members stationed in South Korea.

"The drill will definitely provoke Pyongyang more, and Pyongyang is expected to make a more radical response", it said in an editorial.

"It's to prepare if something big were to occur and we needed to protect ROK", a U.S. military spokeswoman, Michelle Thomas, said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name, the Republic of Korea.

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