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US cancels air drill involving B-52 bombers amid North Korea threats

The United States has canceled a training exercise involving nuclear-capable B-52 bombers flying alongside South Korean warplanes after North Korea threatened to call off a planned meeting between Kim John-un and President Donald Trump, according to reports.

The move follows repeated objection by Pyongyang to US military exercises on the Korean Peninsula and a threat that it would cancel the highly-anticipated summit between the North Korean leader and the US president on June 12.

The Pentagon had initially asserted that it had no plans to change the scope of its exercises in the region, but the South Koreans asked not to take part in what was intended to be an air drill involving the US, South Korea and Japan, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing US officials.

“These are alliance decisions, this is something that we do to ensure the readiness of both our forces as well as the South Korean forces,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday.

The initial plan for the air drill was for two Air Force B-52s, long-range bombers capable of deploying nuclear weapons, to fly from Guam and join the Japanese and South Korean air forces, the officials said.

The bombers were planned to conduct separate training with South Korean and Japanese air forces before returning to base.

However, the three countries agreed to shift the planned flight of the B-52 bombers so they would not fly over the Korean Peninsula.

Pentagon officials sought to tone down the decision not to include the bombers in the ongoing Max Thunder military drills.

The Defense Department told CNN that the decision “was made long before the DPRK’s remarks on May 16 about diplomatic meetings and summits.”

“There was never any plan for B-52s to participate in exercise Max Thunder, and the exercise continues as scheduled without change,” a Pentagon official told CNBC.

US bombers have regularly run training flights over the Korean Peninsula with Japanese and South Korean fighter jets in recent months, provoking the ire of Pyongyang that sees the exercises as a “provocation” and a test run for an invasion.

Pyongyang announced last month that it would decommission a nuclear test site following a thaw in ties with South Korea and Washington as a sign of goodwill. But a failure to reciprocate overtures has upset North Korea.

Chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification Ri Son Gwon threatened on Thursday that Pyongyang would not resume talks with South Korea unless issues leading to the suspension of a high-level meeting were resolved.

“Unless the serious situation, which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks, is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of South Korea,” Ri said in a statement without further elaboration.

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