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South Korea and US launch Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills

South Korea and the US have begun their annual war games. In Seoul, President Moon Jae-in warned his nuclear-armed counterpart in the North against using the drills to continue cranking the "vicious cycle" of tensions.

On Monday, the US and South Korea kicked off Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the 2017 edition of military drills that have run since 1976. This year, the exercises will train 50,000 South Korean troops and 17,500 from the United States - down from 25,000 from last year - in two weeks of largely computer-simulated exercises. North Korea has long viewed the annual drills as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion.

On Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told his Cabinet that "North Korea must understand its repeated provocations are what is forcing South Korea and the US to conduct the joint defensive drills, which in turn, keeps the vicious cycle going."

Only weeks ago, North Korea's military announced the possible firing of a salvo of missiles toward the US Pacific territory of Guam. US President Donald Trump said that military options were "locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely."

North Korea has responded to past exercises with tests of its own missile technology. During last year's drills (pictured above), the country test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile that flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles) - the longest flight yet by that type of weapon. Days after the drills, the North carried out its fifth and biggest nuclear test to date.

In an editorial on Sunday in the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the regime threatened that "if the United States is lost in a fantasy that war on the peninsula is at somebody else's doorstep far away from them across the Pacific, it is far more mistaken than ever."

Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand will join the drills. China and Russia have urged the United States and South Korea to scrap the exercises. The United States has also announced increased military cooperation with Japan.

'Would seem odd'

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel does not believe that Germany will offer its assistance in mediating the negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program. "I would advise caution regarding a German role," Gabriel, who also serves as Angela Merkel's vice chancellor, told the German news service dpa on Monday.

"That is a conflict on the other side of the world," Gabriel said. "It would seem odd to people there if we offered to act as mediators." He said the EU could offer the expertise it gained in negotiations leading up to the nuclear agreement that the bloc and five countries reached with Iran in 2015.

Germany remains one of the few countries to keep an embassy in North Korea. However, the country played no role in six-party talks to find a solution to the standoff with North Korea. The talks collapsed in 2009.

Watch video 03:24

South Koreans split over US missile shield

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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