US, SKorea to conduct military drills next week
SEOUL, South Korea – The U.S. and South Korean defense chiefs say they will hold military exercises starting Sunday as part of efforts to sharpen their readiness against North Korean aggression.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and South Korea's Kim Tae-young made the announcement after holding talks in Seoul on Tuesday.
The two said the drills to be held July 25-28 are designed to send a "clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop" in the wake of the March sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang.
Gates arrived in South Korea late Monday for a series of high-profile security talks with South Korean officials. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joins a conference with Gates and their South Korean counterparts on Wednesday. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will make an unprecedented trip together to the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas, meeting Wednesday with troops along one of the world's most heavily fortified borders.
Gates made the announcement Tuesday ahead of talks with South Korea's top military official. It would be the first time the United States' top diplomat and defense chief visit the DMZ together.
"Tomorrow Secretary Clinton and I, along with our Korean counterparts, will visit the DMZ to highlight how important operations are there to the security of the peninsula as well as the region and demonstrate our steadfast commitment" to South Korea, Gates said during a visit Tuesday to Camp Casey, a U.S. base near the DMZ.
The DMZ serves as a buffer between the two Koreas, which technically remain at war because their three-year conflict ended with a fragile armistice in 1953, not a peace treaty. The 155-mile-long (250-kilometer-long) border stretching from east to west, 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep, is strewn with land mines and guarded by hundreds of thousands of combat-ready troops.
At the height of the Cold War, the two Koreas occasionally exchanged gunfire along the DMZ. In 1976, two U.S. Army officers were hacked to death with their own axes by North Korean soldiers.
South Korean soldiers adopt taekwondo stances while manning the "truce village" of Panmunjom just feet (meters) away from North Korean troops with the red badges bearing the image of late President Kim Il Sung pinned to their uniforms.
Former President George W. Bush, during a 2002 visit to the DMZ, urged the "despotic regime" in the North to unite with the free South, saying: "No nation should be a prison for its own people."
is predecessor Bill Clinton, who toured the no man's land in 1993, reportedly described it as "the scariest place on Earth."
A visit by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gates would be a symbolic gesture underlining the United States' firm commitment to South Korea at a time of tension on the Korean peninsula following the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship.
An international investigation concluded in May that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that sank the Cheonan near the tense Korean sea border, killing 46 South Korean sailors. North Korea flatly denies the accusations, and has warned any punishment would trigger war.
Gates met later Tuesday with his South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young.
On Wednesday, Gates and Clinton will hold high-profile security talks with their South Korean colleagues, including discussions about joint military exercises meant to send a message of deterrence to North Korea.
The U.S. stations 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War, and routinely holds joint military drills that raise the ire of North Korean officials, who cite the threat as a main reason for building up its nuclear program.
The talks initially were arranged to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War and to discuss long-term strategies in the bilateral alliance.
The U.S. and South Korea are expected to approve a proposed series of joint military exercise including new naval training off the west and east coasts, officials said.
"All of these exercises are defensive in nature, but will send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea and demonstrate our steadfast commitment to the defense of South Korea," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said last week in Washington.