U.S. defends South Korea's planned drills

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South Korea has a right to exercise its military as it sees fit and the exercises do not pose a threat to Pyongyang, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Friday.

"Clearly, you know, we are concerned about events and North Korean provocations, we want to see tensions reduced," Crowley told reporters at the department. "We've clearly called on North Korea to do that. We want to see other countries, including China, Russia and others, send a clear message to North Korea to cease its provocations."

"But, you know, by the same token, we recognize that South Korea is a sovereign country. It has a right to exercise its military as it sees fit," the spokesman added. "Exercises in the past, routine in nature, do not pose a threat to North Korea. And, you know, North Korea should not use any future exercise as justification to undertake further provocative actions."

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been heightened after South Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) exchanged artillery fire near Yonphyong Island on Nov. 23 that killed four South Koreans. Following military drills held by the United States, South Korea and Japan had contributed to the tensions.

South Korea has declared plans for a live shell artillery drill in the waters southwest of Yonphyong Island on a selected date from Dec. 18-21 depending on weather conditions.

The DPRK military on Friday urged South Korea to immediately stop its plan for the exercise, warning that if South Korea persisted in its plan, the DPRK would deliver a second and third " unpredicted self-defense counterattack" that would be bigger and more powerful than the previous one to defend its territorial waters.

"It's hard to see how a routine live-fire exercise, which has been held in the past, poses any kind of threat to North Korea," Crowley said. "In fact, it does not. A country has every right to train and exercise its military in its own self-defense."

He added that "nobody wants to see a further escalation of tensions in the Korean peninsula. We are in touch with South Korea. We are closely monitoring ongoing events. But at its heart, South Korea has a legitimate right to train its military as it sees fit. "

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