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The U.S. and South Korea engaged in a joint navy exercise in international waters near Japan as part of a renewed effort to deter North Korea ahead of its possible first nuclear test explosion since 2017.
The U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan led the three-day exercise, joined by Korean vessels, including the amphibious landing ship Marado and two destroyers. The U.S. also deployed a cruiser and replenishment tanker to bolster the fleet.
Satellite images from March of this year appeared to show construction at a nuclear testing facility in the North Korean town of Punggye-ri.
President Biden visited South Korea and Japan as part of a show of unity in the face of North Korea’s potential test. Biden, along with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, has warned in recent weeks about the danger of North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities.
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But the leaders have reiterated their commitment to a united front to deter North Korea’s ambitions.
“North Korea’s sustained provocations can only result in stronger and faster South Korea-U.S. combined deterrence and can only deepen North Korea’s international isolation,” the South Korean government said in a statement. “[Our] government is maintaining constant readiness to strongly and effectively respond to any kind of North Korean provocation.”
The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said the new exercise aimed to demonstrate the cooperation between the two navies. The drills included a rare three-carrier exercise with South Korean naval vessels.
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North Korea has stepped up its missile tests this year after a period of relative inactivity while North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un remained in negotiations with the U.S.
This year has seen Pyongyang conduct 17 test launches, including multiple intercontinental ballistic missile tests. North Korea launched three such missiles as President Biden returned to America following his Asia tour.
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When asked during his trip about possible provocations from the North, Biden said, “We are prepared for anything North Korea does.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.