North Korea: US Moves Aircraft Carrier Strike Group Near Korea After North Korea Missile Launches, South Korea Says

Seoul, South Korea

A US Navy aircraft carrier strike group is moving into the waters off the Korean Peninsula as tensions rise after a series of North Korean missile launches in the past two weeks, South Korean security officials said.

South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) held an emergency meeting on Thursday after North Korea launched two more short-range ballistic missiles, the sixth such launch in 12 days, the country’s Presidential Office said. it’s a statement.

The NSC warned that North Korea’s provocation will face a stronger response, as evidenced by the redeployment of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and its strike group to the East Sea, also known as the Sea of ​​Japan, following Pyongyang’s launch. Tuesday of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that flew over Japan.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff also said Wednesday that the US carrier strike group would be redeployed to the waterway, in what it characterized as a “highly unusual” move meant to “demonstrate the resolute will of the SK-US alliance to respond decisively”. to any provocation or threat from North Korea.”

An F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter aircraft operates on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Sea of ​​Japan on Wednesday.

When asked about South Korea’s statement about Reagan’s movements, a spokesman for the US 7th Fleet told CNN: “The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is currently operating in the South Sea. Japan”. The Navy said it does not comment on future operations.

South Korea’s statement about the US Navy strike group’s movements drew a harsh response from Pyongyang.

“The DPRK is observing that the US poses a serious threat to the stability of the situation on and around the Korean Peninsula by redeploying the aircraft carrier task force to the waters off the Korean Peninsula,” a statement said. of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Korea published. on the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang’s missile launches on Thursday are the 24 such tests this year, including ballistic and cruise missiles, the highest annual tally since Kim Jong Un took power in 2012.

He closely followed the highly provocative launch of the isolated country on Tuesday, when North Korea fired a ballistic missile without warning at Japan – the first in five years – prompting Tokyo to urge residents in the north to take refuge.

The United States and South Korea responded with missile launches and exercises on the Korean peninsula on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Speaking Wednesday during a trip to South America, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that if North Korea continues “down this path” of provocation, “it will only increase condemnation, increase isolation, and increase steps being taken in response to its actions.”

Last month, the US, Japanese and South Korean navies held joint anti-submarine exercises in international waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula to enhance response capabilities against North Korean submarine threats.

The Reagan carrier strike group and destroyers from South Korea and Japan participated in that joint exercise, according to the South Korean Navy.

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North Korea’s latest launch came hours after a Security Council briefing at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Pyongyang’s weapons program.

Speaking at the council, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia and China, without naming them, of enabling North Korea.

North Korea has “enjoyed the blanket protection of two members of this council. These two members have been at pains to justify the DPRK’s repeated provocations and block any attempt to update the sanctions regime,” he said.

Referring to Russia and China, Thomas-Greenfield said: “Two permanent members of the Security Council have allowed (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un” to continue these “provocations.”

A USS Ronald Reagan crew member watches the launch of an F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter jet into the Sea of ​​Japan on Wednesday.

But China responded that it was Washington that was raising tensions.

“The United States has recently been strengthening its military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region and intensifying the risk of a military confrontation on the nuclear issue,” Chinese Deputy Ambassador to the UN Geng Shuang said during the Security Council meeting. .

The United States is “poisoning the regional security environment,” he added.

Russia also blamed Washington.

“It is obvious that Pyongyang’s missile launches were a response to short-sighted confrontational military activities by the United States,” said Anna Evstigneeva, Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN.

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Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said military demonstrations by the United States and its allies have no effect on North Korea’s weapons program.

“Yes, US strategic assets are deployed, but does it make a difference?” Lankov asked.

“It doesn’t matter where an American aircraft carrier is… They’re just testing their missiles,” he said of the North Koreans.

Experts have warned that recent tests from North Korea suggest an even larger escalation in weapons testing could be on the horizon.

“North Korea will continue to conduct missile tests until the current round of modernization is complete,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told CNN earlier this week.

Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii, said North Korean leader Kim has national and regional audiences in mind with the evidence.

Kim is telling his own people: “We can deal with any threat that the West, the United States and South Korea come up with,” Schuster said.

“He is also telling the South Koreans that if they go too far, it can rain down destruction on them. He is also indicating to Japan: ‘I can communicate with you and I am not afraid to do so’”.

Schuster also said Kim can be expected to up the ante soon by testing a nuclear weapon.

Lewis agreed, saying a nuclear test could happen “at any time.”

South Korean and US officials have been warning since May that North Korea may be preparing for a nuclear test, with satellite images showing activity at its underground nuclear test site.

If North Korea conducts a test, it would be the country’s seventh underground nuclear test and the first in nearly five years.

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