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SKorea, US to conduct jt drills as warning to NKorea

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F-22 Raptors are expected to participate in the joint naval drill

SEOUL (BNS): South Korea and the US agreed Tuesday to conduct a series of joint military exercises to deter North Korea from any future provocations following the torpedoing of Seoul's warship, a Yonhap report said.

The report quoting a joint statement of South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates after their talks in Seoul said, “These defensive, combined exercises are designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop.”

The two countries also "reaffirmed the commitment to maintain an enduring US military presence and the current US troop level" in South Korea, the statement said.

According to the statement, the first of the joint naval and air exercises will be held from Sunday through Wednesday in the East Sea. The US aircraft carrier USS George Washington and F-22 Raptors will be part of the four-day drill.

"This is the first in a series of ROK (South Korea)-US combined naval exercises that will occur in both the East Sea and Yellow Sea," the statement said.

Officials at the defense ministry said the American-led UN Command in South Korea notified North Korea of the drill earlier Tuesday.

The two defence chiefs met as tensions continue to run high since the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea. A multinational investigation panel had submitted a report that a torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine near the Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea was responsible for sinking the warship in which forty-six South Korean sailors died.

The first joint drill with the US has been changed to the East Sea from the Yellow Sea after North Korea's closest ally China said any South Korean-US naval drills close to its territorial waters will pose a threat to its security.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will arrive in Seoul early Wednesday and will attend with Gates the "two-plus-two" talks with their South Korean counterparts, the report said.

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