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FILE - In this April 27, 2017, file photo, U.S. Army soldiers install the missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, at a golf course in Seongju, South Korea. The THAAD system is now operating and can now defend against North Korean missiles, a South Korean official said Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Shon Hyung-joo/Yonhap via AP, File)
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The Latest: US defends military drills with SKorea

FILE - In this April 27, 2017, file photo, U.S. Army soldiers install the missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, at a golf course in Seongju, South Korea. The THAAD system is now operating and can now defend against North Korean missiles, a South Korean official said Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Shon Hyung-joo/Yonhap via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the President Donald Trump and North Korea (all times local):

1:40 p.m.

The United States is defending its military drills with South Korea amid North Korea’s claims that the drills justify speeding up its nuclear program.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry had said it was bolstering its military capabilities in response to a new U.S. policy calling for more sanctions and pressure. The North Koreans described the recent drills with South Korea as “U.S. aggression hysteria.”

But the U.S. State Department says the exercises are “defense-oriented” and nothing new. The State Department says the drills increase U.S. readiness to defend South Korea and are transparent to outside observers. It says North Korea doesn’t let monitors observe its own military drills.

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1 p.m.

A senior White House official says North Korea may want nuclear weapons less as a deterrent than as a means to attempt a take-over of South Korea and coerce the U.S. into abandoning its close ally.

Matt Pottinger is senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council. Speaking at conference Tuesday, he ruminated about North Korea’s possible motivations for building “an arsenal of the worst weapons in the world.”

He said there may be some truth that it wants a nuclear deterrent to protect the communist regime, but its conventional military already serves that function.

Pottinger said there were other “disturbing” explanations: that it wants the weapons “as an instrument of blackmail to achieve other goals, even including perhaps coercive reunification of the Korean Peninsula one day.”

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