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SEOUL — The U.S. and South Korea will stage a joint naval exercise in the Yellow Sea next week as a show of force directed at North Korea, blamed for the recent sinking of a South Korean warship.

Officials with South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense on Thursday confirmed the exercise will run from Monday through June 10.

U.S. Forces Korea and U.S. Navy officials in the Pacific declined to comment on the exercise.

An Associated Press report, however, cited unnamed U.S. defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity as saying the aircraft carrier USS George Washington is being considered for participation in the joint exercise. A decision on whether the carrier, which operates out of Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, will be dispatched is expected Friday or Saturday, according to the report.

The joint naval maneuvers will be held in the Yellow Sea near the site where the South Korean patrol ship Cheonan was sunk March 26, Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told reporters Thursday in Seoul.

Tensions between the two Koreas have been running high since a team of investigators announced last month that torpedo parts found on the ocean floor and other evidence led them to conclude that a North Korean submarine was responsible. North Korea has denied involvement.

South Korea has since announced it would cut most trade with North Korea and seek other action with U.S and Japanese support through the United Nations Security Council.

The tensions also have renewed concerns about the planned 2012 transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean military forces on the peninsula. The USFK commander currently has that role, but it would be handed to South Korea after that date.

On Wednesday, the JoongAng Daily quoted an unnamed high-ranking South Korean military source as saying South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and President Barack Obama, when they meet during the June 26-27 Group of 20 Summit in Toronto, could announce delaying the 2012 transfer by a few years.

“Our two countries have formed a consensus that the transfer … should be pushed back to effectively handle crises on the Korean Peninsula,” JoongAng quoted the official as saying.

Asked about the report Wednesday in Washington, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen was noncommittal.

“Whether [the 2012 transfer date] will change or not, I’m just not sure at this particular point in time,” he said.

“With the sinking of the Cheonan … the potential instability that could be created is something that we’re all focused on right now,” he continued. “We need it to remain a stable part of the world … and sometimes it’s pretty difficult to predict what the North Koreans are going to do.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Kevin Baron contributed to this report.


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