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Nimitz leaves S. Korean port to participate in joint naval drill

SEOUL — The USS Nimitz headed into the Sea of Japan on Monday to participate in a joint naval drill with the South Korean navy, an exercise North Korea called “a grave military provocation to unleash a nuclear war.”

The two-day exercises — in what South Koreans refer to as the East Sea — are “taking place beyond the territorial seas of any coastal nations and are intended to reinforce regional security and stability, enhance interoperability with our allies and increase operational proficiency and readiness,” according to a 7th Fleet statement.

“The operations include integrated flight operations, air defense events, surface warfare training events, precision ship maneuvers and liaison officer exchange,” the statement said.

The aircraft carrier spent the weekend on a port call in Busan.

On Sunday, the North Korea’s state-run media reported that the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea had taken issue with the Nimitz’ visit saying, “Lurking behind the U.S. imperialists’ projected war maneuvers is a sinister intention to stifle [North Korea] and realize their ambition to dominate Asia and the rest of the world.

“They are seriously mistaken if they think they can frighten [North Korea] with such [a] nuclear-powered carrier,” KCNA said. “The heroic revolutionary armed forces of [North Korea] will never pardon the provocateurs but throw into the bottom of the sea the U.S. carrier and other aggressor forces if they dare [launch an] attack on [the North].”

In its statement, the 7th Fleet said, “U.S. forward presence is in accordance with international law, preserves the rights, freedoms and uses of the sea guaranteed to all nations, and contributes to economic development and international commerce.”

The Nimitz’s entry into South Korean waters was a subject of brief controversy last week when South Korea media reported that U.S. and South Korean military officials feared a leak after the website of the North’s official news agency mentioned the ship’s arrival before it was announced or reported by the military or any other media outlets.

An investigation found that posts on a camera club’s website about the impending arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier, combined with a previous post on a U.S. Navy site announced the Nimitz’ arrival in the 7th Fleet’s jurisdiction, were likely behind the KCNA report.

rabiroff.jon@stripes.com
chang.yookyong@stripes.com

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