U.S., North Korea Flex Military Muscles as Tensions SimmerBloomberg News
North Korea conducts largest ever live-fire drill, Yonhap says
Nuclear-powered USS Michigan arrives in South Korean port
The U.S. and North Korea both showed off their military prowess on Tuesday as nations in the region stepped up diplomatic talks to defuse a brewing crisis over Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program.
The nuclear-powered USS Michigan, one of four Ohio-class guided-missile submarines capable of launching cruise missiles, arrived at the South Korean port of Busan, U.S. Naval Forces Korea said in a statement. South Korea’s navy said it had no plans for a joint military drill with the submarine.
Yonhap News reported that Kim attended North Korea’s largest-ever live-fire artillery exercise east of Pyongyang, prompting South Korea’s defense ministry to monitor developments in the area. The report came amid expectations that North Korea might seek to mark the anniversary of the Korean People’s Army with its sixth nuclear test.
President Donald Trump is seeking to press North Korea by emphasizing that all options -- including military -- are on the table to prevent Kim from getting the ability to strike North America with a nuclear weapon. He spoke about the threat again this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping, part of an effort to pressure North Korea’s top ally into curbing vital food and fuel supplies.
While the U.S. military described the submarine’s visit as part of routine patrols in the Asia-Pacific region, it also has an aircraft carrier near the Korean Peninsula. The navy is conducting exercises with counterparts from South Korea and Japan in nearby waters on Tuesday and Wednesday, the U.S. Seventh Fleet said in a statement. Trump this month said the U.S. was sending an “armada” to the region.
Envoys on North Korean affairs from the U.S., Japan and South Korea agreed on Tuesday to keep pressuring Kim’s regime to give up its nuclear program, including through sanctions and cooperation with China. Wu Dawei, China’s envoy on North Korea, is scheduled to arrive in Japan on Tuesday for a four-day visit, Japan’s foreign ministry said.
The envoys agreed “to maximize pressure against North Korea by taking punitive measures that are hard to endure through a UN Security Council resolution and separate measures by the three countries if it persists with its provocations,” South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said in a briefing on the meeting.
Joseph Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, told reporters in Tokyo that “China has a very, very important role to play” to convince its neighbor to abandon its nuclear program. South Korean envoy Kim Hong-kyun said they also discussed the need for Russia’s cooperation on the issue. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Russia and the U.K. on April 27-30.
China has sought to calm tensions on the Korean Peninsula by emphasizing diplomacy. Speaking by phone with Trump on Monday, Xi urged all parties to avoid actions that might make the situation worse, and to work within the framework of UN Security Council resolutions, according to state broadcaster China Central Television.
The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper known for its nationalist views, said North Korea stands to lose the most in a conflict.
“The game of chicken between Washington and Pyongyang has come to a breaking point,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial published Tuesday. “If North Korea carries out a sixth nuclear test as expected, it is more likely than ever that the situation will cross the point of no return. All stakeholders will bear the consequences, with Pyongyang sure to suffer the greatest losses.”
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang again called for restraint on Tuesday, saying the situation on the Korean Peninsula was “complex and sensitive.”
White House Briefing
U.S. Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that China has “repeatedly refused” to use its influence to rein in Pyongyang, leaving the Korean peninsula, the U.S. and allies including Japan facing a more volatile situation.
The White House is planning to brief senators about North Korea on Wednesday as Trump weighs options for dealing with the regime, which also reportedly detained a U.S. citizen last weekend. The head of U.S. forces in South Korea, Admiral Harry Harris, will update lawmakers on the situation during hearings on Wednesday and Thursday.
North Korea condemned Trump for planning the White House briefing, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s plan to lead a Security Council meeting at the United Nations on Friday. The meetings are “as dangerous as lighting the fuse of an all-out war,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported, citing a foreign ministry spokesman.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, told NBC on Monday that Kim is getting “very paranoid” and she refused to rule out military options. Asked about the U.S. response if North Korea were to test another missile or nuclear device, she said, “I think then the president steps in and decides what’s going to happen.”
— With assistance by Peter Martin, and Kanga Kong