- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 17 (UPI) — The United States and South Korea Monday announced plans to stage two major joint war games next month to deter threats from North Korea.

There was no immediate response from Pyongyang, but it vowed its 1.1 million-strong army will win any nuclear war with the United States.

The U.S. military command in Seoul said troops from the United States and South Korea would jointly hold military exercises Foal Eagle from March 4 to April 2. The exercise is the largest joint field training operation between the two allies.

Anther annual joint exercise, "Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration," will take place March 19-26, the command said in a news release. The RSOI is aimed at training and evaluating the command's capabilities to receive U.S. augmentation forces from bases outside South Korea, it said.

The joint drills are "defense-oriented" and designed to improve the U.S.-South Korean combined forces' ability to defend South Korea against "external aggression," the release said.

The two exercises "will include a full range of equipment, capabilities, and personnel including reconnaissance, Special Forces, and air, land, and sea assets," it said.

But U.S. military officials declined to reveal how many troops from each sides would be mobilized in the military drills, saying Foal Eagle will involve South Korean forces and "a number of" U.S. military units assigned on the Korean peninsula, as well as "a small number" of U.S. forces deploying to South Korea.

The war games come at a time when a standoff over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program was escalating.

U.S. military officials refused to link the drills to the nuclear crisis, largely because they anticipated an angry response from North Korea, which has denounced military drills in South Korea as "preparations to provoke a nuclear war" targeting the North. Pyongyang has been informed of the plan and the purposes of the exercises.

Without referring to the military drills, North Korea said it is sure to win in any nuclear war with the United States thanks to the country's "army-first" political system.

"The victory in the nuclear conflict is ours and the red flag of the army-first policy will flutter ever more vigorously," Pyongyang's state-run media said. "Our victory will be decisive and our future will be even brighter," the Central Broadcasting Station said.

South Korean officials said North Korea was expected to make a furious response to the joint military drills. They expressed concerns they may further raise military tensions on the peninsula.

"North Korea has routinely blasted the joint military drills as war gambles. This time, the North is likely to come up with the most belligerent threats of war," an official at the Unification Ministry told United Press International on condition of anonymity.

North Korea has long called for a non-aggression pact with the United States as the "sole way" to resolve the nuclear crisis.

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