SEOUL, A U.S. B-52 strategic bomber may not participate in the ongoing South Korea-U.S. air maneuvers, a source here said Wednesday, hours after North Korea canceled high-level cross-border talks in an angry response to the exercise.
The two-week Max Thunder exercise began Friday, involving 100 aircraft, including eight F-22 radar-evading fighter jets, as well as F-15Ks and F-16s. It is hosted by South Korea's Air Force Operations Command and the U.S. 7th Air Force.
The North's Korean Central News Agency lambasted the drills as a rehearsal for invasion and a provocation amid thawing inter-Korean ties.
"In the training, the U.S. F-22 stealth fighters have already participated, while the B-52 has yet to join," the source said on condition of anonymity. "It appears that the B-52 may not attend the exercise, which runs through May 25."
Pyongyang has repeatedly shown its aversion to the deployment of the B-52 bomber, part of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, over the peninsula.
Its protest came after South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued their landmark summit declaration last month, in which they pledged to halt all hostile acts on land, sea and air.
But the North's angry reaction and abrupt cancellation of the high-level inter-Korean talks slated for Wednesday have caused concerns that ongoing peace efforts could be jeopardized.
Pyongyang's protest also reinforced the conservative view that the communist state might use the inter-Korean declaration to oppose any allied drills that form an integral part of the Seoul-Washington collective defense system.
Meanwhile, South Korea's Defense Minister Song Young-moo is set to hold an emergency meeting with Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, apparently to discuss the North's protest.
Source: Yonhap News Agency