ENIWA, Japan: Some 300 Japanese and US military personnel on Wednesday carried out live-fire artillery training in northern Japan, officials said, amid high regional tensions over North Korean missile threats.
The drill, part of a 19-day exercise, came after a tense war of words between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang’s threats to fire missiles towards the Pacific island of Guam.
Troops from Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) and US Marines fired live ammunition from armed vehicles at a maneuver area on the northern island of Hokkaido.
The two forces began the Northern Viper 2017 exercise on August 10, involving a total of 1,300 GSDF troops and 2,000 Marines.
“It is the first joint exercise between the GSDF and US Marines in Hokkaido,” a defense ministry spokesman said.
The spokesman denied any link between the drill and recent regional tension over North Korea.
“This is not conducted with a particular country or region in mind,” he said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said Tuesday he would hold off on a plan to fire four ballistic missiles towards Guam, a US Pacific island territory.
The threat had come after US President Donald Trump warned Pyongyang of “fire and fury” over intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development.
Japan has deployed the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile defence system in Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures in western Japan, which North Korea had warned could be along its missiles’ flight path.
It also deployed the system in nearby Ehime prefecture.
Meanwhile, the defense ministry said US Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft will join the Northern Viper drills starting on Friday despite growing concerns after a fatal crash off Australia earlier this month.
The MV-22 — a hybrid helicopter-turboprop — has two engines positioned on fixed wingtips that allow it to land and take off vertically.
The aircraft, which can travel much faster than a helicopter, has been involved in a series of deadly incidents, mostly in the United States.
Open to talks
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday after North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un postponed a threat to fire missiles towards the US territory of Guam, that Washington remains ready for talks.
But the top US diplomat said it would be up to Kim when such negotiations would begin, having previously insisted Pyongyang must demonstrate that it accepts it will have to give up its nuclear program.
“I have no response to his decisions at all at this time,” Tillerson said, when asked about Kim’s decision to hold off. “We continue to be interested in finding ways to get to dialogue, but that’s up to him.”
Speaking after the launch of a religious freedom report, Tillerson would not go into more detail as to how North Korea could demonstrate a commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
“North Korea would have to take some very serious steps and show us that they are serious about their interest and intent in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula,” Tillerson’s spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
“It would have to do a lot more. Secretary Tillerson has talked a lot about that. He’s also said ‘I’m not negotiating my way back to the negotiating table,’ and North Korea knows exactly what it has to do.”
He has previously said Pyongyang must halt ballistic missile and nuclear tests for an unspecified amount of time before negotiations can begin on how to halt the stand-off and any threat of US military action.
Earlier Tuesday, the unpredictable and isolated North Korean leader had been briefed by his missile forces on a “plan for an enveloping fire at Guam,” according to the North’s official KCNA news agency.
But afterwards, according to KCNA, he decided to postpone the operation to “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees” and not to go ahead unless the US commits more “ reckless actions.”