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US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea to send message to North Korea

A U.S. aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea on Friday as a show of force meant to send a warning to North Korea.

USS Ronald Reagan and ships from its accompanying strike group arrived at a naval base in the city of Busan prior to joint drills with the South Korean military.

Strike group commander Rear Admiral Michael Donnelly told reporters on the ship that the visit was intended to establish allied relations and increase interoperability between the navies.

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When asked about sending a message to North Korea, Donnelly said, “We are leaving messaging to diplomats.” He added that joint drills would ensure the allies could respond to all threats.

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“It’s an opportunity for us to practice tactics and operations,” he said.

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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has wanted more joint exercises and other displays of military force as a deterrence to North Korea. This year, the North has conducted a record number of missile tests and is believed to be preparing to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.

North Korea has criticized previous U.S. military deployments and joint drills as war rehearsals.

The U.S. said last week that the carrier’s visit was a “clear demonstration” of its commitment to deploy and exercise strategic assets to deter North Korea and boost regional security.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

But the U.S. Navy did not mention North Korea when announcing the visit. The branch said there would be a “regularly scheduled port visit” and emphasized that crew members would visit Busan to volunteer at orphanages and explore the K-pop music scene. Officials said the carrier would be in port for several days.

One crew member said they were looking forward to a break but that the geopolitical tensions were always top of mind.

“You can’t ever really forget what we’re all here for,” the crew member said.

This is the first visit to South Korea by a U.S. aircraft carrier since 2018. Many drills have since been scaled back or canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic or diplomatic efforts with North Korea.

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(file photo) - South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has wanted more joint exercises and other displays of military force as a deterrence to North Korea.

Donnelly said questions about the role of the more than 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea in the event of a conflict in Taiwan are for policymakers above him. But he did say that operating with like-minded allies like South Korea is a vital part of the U.S. Navy’s efforts to maintain regional security and stability.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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