U.S. Prepares for evacuation in South Korea as tensions rise

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The United States military said on Monday that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea in the event of war and other emergencies, as the two allies began a joint naval exercise amid heightened tensions with North Korea.

It has conducted similar evacuation exercises for decades. But with fears rising in the South that the United States might be preparing for military action against the North, the American military issued a rare news release on Monday stressing that the noncombatant evacuation exercise was a “routinely scheduled” drill.

The drill, known as Courageous Channel, is scheduled from next Monday through Friday and is aimed at preparing American “service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters,” the United States military said in a statement.

The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly warned that it opposes a military solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis because it could quickly escalate into a full-blown war in which Koreans would suffer the most.

United States officials said they were hoping for a diplomatic end to the crisis, but would not rule out military action. And in recent months, as North Korea has accelerated its nuclear and missile programs, President Trump has issued a series of comments that have stoked fears among South Koreans of possible war on the Korean Peninsula. He has threatened to “totally destroy” or rain down “fire and fury” on the North, and has also said that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with the country. 

North Korea has matched Mr. Trump’s tough talk by calling the American leader a “mentally deranged dotard” and threatening to launch missiles around Guam, an American territory in the Western Pacific, and shoot down long-range bombers taking off from the island for exercises near Korea.

The United States military did not disclose how many people would participate in the evacuation drill next week. But it said the scale and focus would not vary from past versions. “Nonparticipants across the peninsula can expect little to no disruption of daily activities on and around military installations,” it said.

Participants in the exercise receive briefings on evacuation procedures and “limited rehearsals,” it said.

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of United States Forces Korea, said, “Although not directly tied to current geopolitical events, our forces must be ready in all areas.”

“This training is as important to readiness as our other routine events such as tank gunnery and fighter wing exercises,” he said.

Also on Monday, the United States and South Korea started a 10-day joint naval exercise in waters east and west of the Korean Peninsula. The American aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan is joining the annual drill, as are American and South Korean warplanes. The nuclear-powered submarine Michigan arrived at the South Korean port of Busan on Friday to join the naval exercise.

North Korea considers joint military drills by the United States and South Korea rehearsals for invasion. On Friday, its officials renewed their threats to launch missiles into the waters around Guam, home to major American military bases from which the United States would send major reinforcements should war break out on the Korean Peninsula.

Mr. Tillerson said on Sunday that his diplomatic efforts would continue even though Mr. Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, have been exchanging threats and personal insults.

“Those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops,” Mr. Tillerson said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Despite Mr. Trump’s rebuffing of Mr. Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts, the secretary of state said that the president preferred making diplomacy a priority as an option to tame the North’s nuclear ambitions.

“The president has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically,” Mr. Tillerson said. “He is not seeking to go to war.”

In Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia approved a package of sanctions against North Korea, fulfilling provisions of a United Nations resolution passed in November 2016 in response to the North’s nuclear program.

According to the document, published on Monday, Russia banned imports of zinc, silver, copper and nickel from North Korea, as well as exports of helicopters and vessels. It also suspended scientific and technical cooperation with the country.

The document also bans exports of luxury products to North Korea, such as carpets worth more than $500 and china worth more than $100. It also included a list of people and companies that were barred from having financial transactions with Russian entities.

New York Times

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