U.S., South Korea prepare for naval exercises
SEOUL -- After weeks of feints and indecision, the USS George Washington will finally make an appearance on the Korean peninsula this week.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, at 97,000 tons one of the biggest ships in the Navy's fleet, will make a port call in Busan, South Korea, on Wednesday to coincide with high-level talks in Seoul between Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and their South Korean counterparts.
The whereabouts and plans of the George Washington have been a subject of intense speculation for weeks as tensions have risen between North and South Korea. In March, the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, sank in a mysterious torpedo attack, killing 46 sailors; a team of international investigators later blamed North Korea for the incident.
U.S. and South Korean officials said in June that they would organize additional joint war-fighting exercises in the region as a show of force to deter North Korea from further attacks. At the time, press reports from Seoul and Washington indicated that the George Washington -- whose home port is Yokosuka, Japan -- and its strike group would join the exercises, though the Pentagon said publicly that no decision had been made.
Complicating matters: vocal opposition from China, which has said the presence of the U.S. carrier in the neighborhood would be a "provocation."
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters traveling with Gates to Seoul that the George Washington would participate in joint exercises with South Korean forces as soon as it departs Busan on Sunday. But he didn't say where, exactly, the ship would go or how long it would participate in the war games.
"It's there as an additional manifestation of our steadfast commitment to the Republic of Korea," Morrell said, referring to the government in Seoul. Overall, he said, the U.S.-South Korean exercises would last for "the next several months" in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan.
More details will be released, he said, after Gates meets Tuesday with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-Young.
| July 19, 2010; 11:53 AM ET
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