ARLINGTON, Va. — In what the Pentagon says is a direct response to North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, the U.S. and South Korea likely will agree to a series of new naval and air exercises next week, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton make a joint visit to Seoul.

Those war games would be “defensive in nature, but send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Wednesday.

The announcement is the result of direct instruction from President Barack Obama to find new ways to collaborate with their Korean counterparts following the attack, Morrell said. He would not offer specifics other than they would occur in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea.

“We are not yet ready to announce the precise details of those exercises but they will involve a wide range of assets and are expected to be initiated in the near future,” Morrell said.

Gates and Clinton will participate in the first bilateral talks with their South Korean counterparts — Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Minister of National Defense Kim Tae-young — on July 21.

The Pentagon has said for weeks that one or more additional exercises were on the horizon, but officials kept delaying any announcement while the U.S. tried to win Chinese support for the internationally accepted conclusion of an investigation finding North Korea at fault for the sinking.

The annonucement came hours before North Korea was scheduled to meet with U.N. Command officials Thursday morning to prepare for high-level talks about the sinking of the Cheonan. North Korea postponed the initial meeting, which was planned for Tuesday.

Morrell rejected notion that the Pentagon has delayed or taken too long to come up with the response, or that the U.S. had turned a page in its quest for repercussions against Pyongyang for the sinking. “Obviously, there is still work to be done,” Morrell said.

“But these are steps. I don’t think we’ve arrived at any point of finality,” Morrell said. “There’s a process here that we’re still working through.”

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