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US jets intercept Russian warplanes

Four US fighter jets were scrambled after Russian warplanes flew close to an American aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula. The incident took place on Wednesday in international waters and air space.

Two Russian planes flew close to the USS Ronald Reagan, prompting the mobilization of four American F/A-18s, White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed on Thursday.

He said the incident in the Sea of Japan on Wednesday was "not a particularly threatening encounter."

Pentagon officials also said there was no evidence the two Russian aircraft posed a direct threat. But the jets did fly about 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) from the carrier.

The Tu-142 Bear jets, which are primarily reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft, flew at an altitude of 150 meters (500 feet).

"It's standard operating procedure for US planes to escort any aircraft that are flying anywhere in the vicinity of US Navy ships," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said. "The interaction was characterized as safe."

Too close for comfort

The interception happened barely a week after

Russia and the US signed off on a set of air safety protocols for pilots flying over Syria,

where both countries are leading separate bombing campaigns against "Islamic State" militants.

The USS Reagan, which is currently taking part in exercises with the South Korean navy, attempted to radio the Russian planes without success, military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported.

According to the White House, South Korean planes first intercepted the Russians before the US jets escorted them out of the area.

On several occasions over the past 18 months, Britain's RAF has intercepted Russian jets near UK airspace in the North Sea. Similar incidents have been reported by Norway off its coast.

mm/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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