Largest US-S. Korea air drill starts

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Allies begin annual exercise five days after N. Korea test-fires new intercontinental ballistic missile

SEOUL The United States and South Korea yesterday kicked off their largest joint air exercise, an operation North Korea has labelled an "all-out provocation", days after Pyongyang fired its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The five-day Vigilant Ace drill - involving 230 aircraft and tens of thousands of troops - began yesterday morning, South Korea's air force said.

Pyongyang over the weekend blasted the drill, accusing US President Donald Trump's administration of "begging for nuclear war".

The annual exercise comes five days after the nuclear-armed North test-fired a new ICBM, which it says brings the whole of the US within range.

US Senator Lindsey Graham warned that the US is moving closer to "preemptive war" with North Korea.

"If there is an underground nuclear test (by the North), then you need to get ready for a very serious response by the US," Mr Graham told CBS show "Face the Nation".

"Every missile test, every underground test of a nuclear weapon, means the marriage is more likely."

North Korea has staged six increasingly powerful atomic tests since 2006 - most recently in September.

Mr Graham also urged the Pentagon to start moving US military dependents, such as spouses and children, out of South Korea.

"It is crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea given the provocation of North Korea," Mr Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.

"So I want them (the Pentagon) to stop sending dependents, and I think it is now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea."

The US has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Mr Graham's remarks echoed those of National Security Adviser HR McMaster, who told a security forum on Saturday that the potential for war with the North "is increasing every day".

The North has boasted that the Hwasong-15 ICBM tested last Wednesday is capable of delivering a "super-large" nuclear warhead anywhere in the US mainland.

Analysts agreed that the latest test showed a big improvement in potential range, but said it was likely achieved using a dummy warhead, which would have been quite light.

They said a missile carrying a much heavier nuclear warhead would struggle to travel as far.

They are also sceptical that Pyongyang has mastered the technology required to protect such a warhead from the extreme temperatures and stresses encountered as the missile hurtles back to Earth. 

Resurfacing of Korean peninsula tension ‘regrettable’: China's Wang Yi

BEIJING Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday that after two months of relative calm on the Korean peninsula, the resurfacing of tensions was regrettable.

Mr Wang, speaking to reporters at a joint briefing with his Mongolian counterpart, said that China has an open attitude on solutions to the North Korean nuclear issue, but that parties should be consultative.

North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called US President Donald Trump "insane" and said air drills between the US and South Korea would "push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war". - REUTERS