In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, US Navy's the guided missile destroyer USS Benfold (right) bottom, the Republic of Korea's Navy destroyer Yulgok Yi I and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's destroyer Atago (top left), sail during a joint missile defense drill among the ROK, the United States and Japan in the international waters of the east coast of Korean peninsular, on April 17, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
SEOUL - The Republic of Korea, the United States and Japan staged joint naval missile defense exercises on Monday, as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea accused Washington of ramping up "nuclear blackmail" with military drills.
The three nations agreed at talks in Washington on Friday to hold regular missile defense and anti-submarine exercises in their efforts to boost diplomatic and military cooperation.
The DPRK tested a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday that experts say would ease the way for missile launches with little warning, part of an increase in its military activities in recent weeks.
The DPRK's weapons development was a self-defensive measure of defense against the US, said Ri Pyong-chol, vice-president of the DPRK ruling party's Central Military Commission. He accused Washington of raising regional tensions "to the brink of explosion" with military drills simulating a "pre-emptive nuclear strike and an all-out war" against the DPRK
Hours after the trilateral exercises, Ri Pyong-chol, vice-president of the DPRK ruling party's Central Military Commission, issued a statement criticizing the US for calling a UN Security Council meeting over its ICBM test.
The DPRK's weapons development was a self-defensive measure of defense against the US, Ri said. He accused Washington of raising regional tensions "to the brink of explosion" with military drills simulating a "pre-emptive nuclear strike and an all-out war" against the DPRK.
The recent deployment of US strategic bombers was "clear evidence that the US nuclear threat and blackmail against us has reached a level that cannot be overlooked", Ri said.
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"If the US ignores our repeated warnings and continues actions that endanger the security environment of the Korean peninsula, we will take necessary action so that it feels a clearer security crisis and insurmountable threat," he added.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UN Security Council at Monday's meeting: "Let me be clear, our lawful efforts to defend against the DPRK's repeated escalatory actions do not in any way justify the DPRK's unlawful behavior."
The DPRK has been under UN sanctions for its missile and nuclear programs since 2006.
After years of unity, the 15-member UN Security Council is now deadlocked on how to deal with Pyongyang.
This picture taken on April 13, 2023 and released by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea’s Korean Central News Agency shows the test-fire of the new Hwasongpho-18 ICBM at an undisclosed location in the DPRK. (STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia described the meeting on Monday as "unnecessary," adding that it would "simply make the situation worse." China's permanent representative to the UN Zhang Jun said the situation on the Korean Peninsula was at a crossroads.
The DPRK has threatened "more practical and offensive" action as ROK and US forces have performed annual springtime exercises since March, some involving Japan, which the DPRK has described as a rehearsal for nuclear war
"The United States and its allies should stop provocative military exercises," Zhang told Reuters. "The other thing, which is also very much urgent, is the resumption of dialogue."
Monday's drills in international waters bring together ROK's 7,600-tonne Aegis destroyer Yulgok Yi I, the US guided-missile destroyer Benfold, and Japan's Atago destroyer, also equipped with Aegis radar systems.
The effort focuses on mastering response procedures, from detection and tracking to information-sharing, by creating a virtual target, the ROK's navy said.
The DPRK has threatened "more practical and offensive" action as ROK and US forces have performed annual springtime exercises since March, some involving Japan, which the DPRK has described as a rehearsal for nuclear war.
Separately, the air forces of ROK and the United States are set to begin drills on Monday for a 12-day run.
Also on Monday, the ROK and Japan resumed "two-plus-two" talks of senior diplomatic and security officials in Seoul after a five-year halt, as their ties thaw after a years-long feud over issues of wartime history.
President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has pledged to move ties with Japan beyond the past, visited Tokyo in March for the first time in 12 years as ROK's leader.