The United States and South Korea are going ahead with annual military exercises, despite tensions over North Korea's nuclear programs. The news comes as Pyongyang declares it is ready to take on the United States in a nuclear war.
U.S. and South Korean troops will stage two exercises next month to improve their ability to defend the South.
A U.S. military statement Monday said the annual exercises include "reconnaissance, Special Forces and air, land and sea assets."
The exercises come as global concern builds over North Korea's nuclear programs. U.S. Army Colonel Marty Doebel, however, said the training does not address the threat of a possible North Korean nuclear attack. I think the thing to stress is that these are the same exercises taken annually for quite some time. So from that standpoint there is no difference," he said. "We have not tailored it in anyway specifically for ongoing world events."
Pyongyang has in the past often responded angrily to such exercises, claiming they were a prelude to an invasion of North Korea. In some cases, the North has gone on a war footing during exercises in the South, digging air-raid trenches and building defenses in cities.
Colonel Doebel said Pyongyang has been told of the exercises, which he said have been structured to avoid provoking North Korea. The North has one of the world's largest armies, with more than one million troops, most of them near the border with South Korea. "In that transmittal we stress that this is our annual training, very similar to the annual training rotations and exercise events that the North Koreans conduct themselves," he said.
On Monday, North Korea ratcheted up its anti-American rhetoric, saying it would win a nuclear war with the United States. While Washington has said repeatedly it has no plans to attack, Pyongyang has been saying the United States is planning to launch a nuclear strike against it.
Last week the United Nations nuclear watchdog referred the North Korean nuclear violations to the U.N. Security Council. The Council could impose sanctions if North Korea does not move back into compliance with non-proliferation agreements.
The New York Times reported Monday that the White House is drafting a list of possible sanctions against North Korea, including more ways to cut of its international arms trade.
The nuclear issue arose in October, when the United States said North Korea admitted having a banned nuclear weapons program.