(ATTN: UPDATES with carrier's return to East Sea in headline, lead)
SEOUL, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. aircraft carrier returned to the waters east of South Korea on Wednesday to join a trilateral exercise with South Korea and Japan, Seoul officials said, in a show of force following North Korea's ballistic missile launch earlier this week.
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier left the waters last week after it engaged in a bilateral naval exercise with South Korea and then a trilateral one also involving Japan.
Its redeployment came after Pyongyang fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over Japan on Tuesday, its first IRBM launch in eight months.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the redeployment of a carrier strike group is "very rare" and it demonstrates the "resolve of the South Korea-U.S. alliance to respond sternly to any North Korean provocations and threats."
On Thursday, USS Ronald Reagan is expected to join trilateral drills on detecting and tracking virtual ballistic missiles, according to an informed source.
The deployment of the carrier, a centerpiece of America's naval might, came after Presidents Yoon Suk-yeol and Joe Biden reaffirmed their commitment to deploy U.S. strategic assets in a "timely and coordinated manner as necessary" during their summit in Seoul in May.
Meanwhile, JCS Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum met with Adm. John C. Aquilino, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, in Seoul to discuss the North's nuclear and missile threats and bilateral security cooperation.
They emphasized the North must realize its provocations will further strengthen the bilateral alliance and enhance the execution power of America's extended deterrence, its commitment to use a full range of military capabilities to defend the South, according to the JCS.
Kim called for the U.S. command's support to ensure the swift deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the peninsula if needed.
Aquilino said the alliance is the "linchpin of regional peace and prosperity," the JCS said.
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