Washington: The United States and South Korea will likely hold joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea "in the near future”, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, ratcheting up pressure on North Korea after the sinking of a South Korean warship.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet their counterparts in Seoul on July 21 to "discuss and likely approve a proposed series of USD/ROK combined military exercises, including new naval and air exercises in both the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea," the Pentagon said.
The war games, said spokesman Geoff Morrell "will involve a wide range of assets and are expected to be initiated in the near future."
The move comes after China warned against the joint exercises near its waters, with Beijing urging the two allies to not add to tensions with its own ally, North Korea.
Morrell, however, dismissed Chinese criticism, insisting the drills are "a matter of our ability to exercise in the open seas, in international waters. Those determinations are made by us, and us alone."
The exercises, he said, are defensive in nature but "will send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea”.
Earlier this month, South Korea confirmed it would stage a naval exercise with the United States in the Yellow Sea, to deter North Korean`s "illegal provocation”, with Defence Ministry spokesman Won Tae-Jae again slamming the sinking the Cheonan warship.
The South, citing the findings of a multinational investigation, accuses the North of torpedoing the warship in March with the loss of 46 lives.
Permanent UN Security Council members China and Russia have not publicly accused the North of being behind the attack, though a unanimously adopted statement from the body this month condemned the attack that led to the sinking but stopped short of directly blaming Pyongyang.
In the wake of the UN statement, the North reiterated conditional willingness to return to stalled six-party nuclear disarmament negotiations. It also, however, threatened "strong physical retaliation" if South Korea and the United States persist in "demonstration of forces and
North Korea`s military, meanwhile, said it had scheduled talks for tomorrow with the US-led United Nations Command, the first since the warship`s sinking.