South Korean armed forces on Thursday held a series of air and ground live-ammunition exercises as part of efforts to signal a future robust military response to any new North Korean attacks, the Yonhap News Agency reported (see GSN, March 23).
The exercises were held at a military base north of Seoul. A number of F-15K fighter planes were present for the drills, which involved roughly 1,100 military personnel, tanks and other weaponry. The event was the largest of its kind to be collaboratively staged by the nation's army and air force.
"The exercises are aimed at showing off the military's instant and strong readiness against any types of provocations from the enemy," according to a South Korean Defense Ministry source.
The one-day event comes nearly a year after the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, an inciident which killed 46 sailors. Seoul blames that attack and the November shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on Pyongyang. Following those two incidents, the South moved to bolster its defenses and to amend its military posture to permit for a quicker and stronger response to any future North Korean attacks.
"If the enemy provokes us again, we must swiftly and strongly respond so that the enemy can't dare to make another provocation," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Han Min-koo said in released comments.
The South Korean navy is scheduled on Friday to begin three-days of maneuvers in waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula that would include a live-firing drill on the one-year anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan.
North Korea typically responds to the South's live-fire drills with threats of harsh reprisals (Yonhap News Agency I, March 24).
Separately, ex-U.S. President Carter is anticipated to travel to Pyongyang in April in hopes of improving U.S. ties with the Stalinist state, a Washington-based diplomatic source told Yonhap on Wednesday.
"It is highly likely that ex-President Carter will travel to North Korea in about a month as the North Korean mission in New York has been arranging for the visit," the anonymous source said.
The former president is anticipated to travel with ex-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other notable individuals who are prepared to act as intermediaries for U.S.-North Korea talks.
Carter last traveled to North Korea in August 2010 in a successful bid to secure the release of an imprisoned U.S. citizen. He did not meet with reclusive leader Kim Jong Il, who was in China at the time.
In 1994, Carter negotiated an agreement with the North in 1994 that paved the way for the Agreed Framework, which was intended to halt operations at the regime's Yongbyon nuclear reactor in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits, the Herald reported. The deal was terminated in 2002 when the Bush administration accused North Korea of violating the framework by illicitly enriching uranium.
North Korea went public with its uranium enrichment in November. The impoverished state is seeking to return to the moribund six-nation nuclear talks -- the successor denuclearization arrangement to the Agreed Framework. Washington and Seoul, though, have said they would not rejoin the negotiations until they are assured North Korea is committed to shuttering its nuclear weapons program (Hwang Doo-hyong, Yonhap News Agency II, March 23).