US brings warship, top diplomatic guns to South Korea
WASHINGTON — The United States is sending the massive aircraft carrier the USS George Washington to South Korea this week, the military announced yesterday.
The deployment is considered a show of force following the sinking of a South Korean warship in March that killed 46 sailors. South Korea and an international team of investigators have blamed North Korea for the attack.
The carrier was expected to be in South Korea’s port of Busan by tomorrow and could participate in an upcoming military exercise.
The nuclear powered carrier, one of the world’s largest warships, will be accompanied by three destroyers: the McCampbell, the John S. McCain, and the Lassen.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet with their South Korean counterparts in Seoul this week.
The military exercise and deployment of the George Washington have been under discussion since shortly after the sinking of the Cheonan.
The loss of the sailors and ship was considered South Korea’s worst military disaster since the Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire in 1953. No formal peace treaty was signed, and more than 28,000 US troops remain stationed in South Korea with a vow to protect the critical ally.
An international investigation concluded in May that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that sank the warship near the tense Korean sea border. The North flatly denies the accusations and has warned that any punishment would trigger war.
The deployment of the aircraft carrier could be seen by North Korea as a particularly aggressive move by the United States because of the ship’s size. According to a Navy website, the George Washington is 244 feet high from keel to mast and can accommodate 6,250 crew members.
Gates arrived on the peninsula yesterday on a mission to underscore Washington’s firm alliance with South Korea.
He flew to a military airport near Seoul and is set to meet today with South Korea’s defense minister, Kim Tae Young. Tomorrow, the sides will hold high-profile security talks.
The talks were initially arranged to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War and discuss long-term strategies in the bilateral alliance.
The United States and South Korea are expected to approve a proposed series of joint military exercise including new naval training off Korea’s west and east coasts, officials said.
“We are not yet ready to announce the precise details of those exercises, but they will involve a wide range of assets and are expected to be initiated in the near future,’’ a Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said last week. “All of these exercises are defensive in nature, but will send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea and demonstrate our steadfast commitment to the defense of South Korea.’’