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USS Ronald Reagan to join fleet review

South, U.S. mum on whether joint military exercise will be held
Sept 07,2018
The United States Navy plans to send the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, to a naval ceremony on Jeju Island next month, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said on Thursday, raising speculation about a possible military exercise amid stalled talks between North Korea and the United States on denuclearization.

The USS Ronald Reagan is scheduled to participate in an international fleet review that South Korea has hosted every 10 years since 1998. The ceremonial event brings together warships from around the world to promote ties between each participating country.

An official from the South Korean Navy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Seoul and Washington had no plans to hold a joint exercise during the event, which runs from Oct. 10 to 14.

However, another government source said the United States suggested they hold one. The source did not elaborate on how the South responded, though North Korea would have been a key variable in the decision since the North sees any military drills between the South and United States as a rehearsal for invasion.

Exactly when the USS Ronald Reagan will enter South Korean waters remains unknown.

The last time the aircraft carrier approached South Korea was in November 2017, when it participated in a rare four-day naval exercise timed with U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia. It was part of a strike group that jointly practiced with the South Korean Navy.

Speculation about a possible joint exercise involving the USS Ronald Reagan comes after U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said last week that Washington had no plans to suspend any more joint military drills with Seoul.

The remarks suggested that the United States wanted to resume large-scale exercises with South Korea, which were shelved to help advance negotiations with North Korea.

Seoul has yet to announce whether any drills will resume or whether both countries were actually discussing the issue. If the allies do decide to resume them, the next major drill could be Vigilant Ace, an aerial exercise which usually takes place between October and December.

The South’s Defense Ministry said a total of 21 ships from 14 foreign countries will participate in the naval ceremony on Jeju. There will also be delegations from 45 countries.

The South Korean Navy plans to have 19 ships at the event. The United States is sending the largest number among foreign navies, a total of four, including the USS Ronald Reagan and three convoys.

Russia is sending the Varyag, a Slava-class guided missile cruiser built by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]