North Korea: South Korea says U.S. moves carrier strike group near North Korea after North Korean missile launch

Seoul, Korea

U.S., South Korean and Japanese warships conducted missile defense exercises in the Sea of ​​Japan on Thursday, two days after North Korea fired ballistic missiles at Japan, the U.S.-Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement.

Two U.S. warships, the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville and the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold, as members of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group, participated in the exercise along with two Japanese and one South Korean destroyer, the U.S. statement said. Say.

Thursday’s drills also came hours after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles, the latest in a string of missiles fired by Pyongyang over the past two weeks.

“This exercise enhances the interoperability of our collective power and demonstrates the strength of a trilateral relationship with our Japanese and South Korean (South Korean) allies that is forward-looking, reflects our shared values, and stands firmly against those who challenge regional stability,” the U.S. Pacific Command statement said.

Earlier, South Korean security officials said a US Navy aircraft carrier strike group was entering waters off the Korean peninsula.

South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) held an emergency meeting on Thursday following the launch of a short-range ballistic missile, the sixth such launch in 12 days, the presidential office said in a statement.

North Korea’s provocation will face a stronger response after Pyongyang fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over Japan on Tuesday, the NSC warned.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff also said on Wednesday that the U.S. carrier strike group would be redeployed to the waterway, a “very unusual” move meant to “show the resolve of the SK-US alliance to respond decisively.” Any provocation or threat from North Korea. ”

An F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter jet 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 the Reagan operation, a spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet told CNN, “The USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group is currently operating in the Sea of ​​Japan.”

South Korea’s statement about the U.S. naval strike group operation drew a harsh response from Pyongyang.

“North Korea is observing the redeployment of the U.S. aircraft carrier task force in the waters off the Korean peninsula, which poses a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and its surrounding areas,” North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement on the state-run KCNA news agency.

Late Thursday, a formation of 12 North Korean warplanes — eight fighters and four bombers — flew south of the special surveillance line in what appeared to be an air-to-ground firing exercise, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. .

About 30 South Korean military aircraft were launched in a show of South Korea’s strength, JCS said.

The Special Surveillance Line is a virtual line set by the South Korean military; it is not considered South Korean airspace.

Thursday’s missile launch by Pyongyang was the 24th such test this year, including ballistic and cruise missiles — the highest annual record since Kim Jong-un took power in 2012.

It came on the heels of a highly provocative launch by the isolated country on Tuesday when North Korea fired a ballistic missile at Japan without warning – the first time in five years – prompting Tokyo to urge residents Take refuge in the north.

The United States and South Korea responded with missiles and drills around the Korean peninsula on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Speaking on a trip to South America on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned that if North Korea continues “in this path of provocation,” it “will only increase condemnation, increase isolation, and increase action in response to them.”

Last month, the U.S., Japanese and South Korean navies conducted joint anti-submarine exercises in international waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula to improve their ability to counter the threat of North Korean submarines.

The Reagan Carrier Strike Group and South Korean and Japanese destroyers participated in the joint exercise, according to the South Korean navy.

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

Speaking at the Security Council, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, accused Russia and China of helping North Korea, without naming them.

North Korea “has the full protection of two members of the Security Council. Those two members did their best to justify North Korea’s repeated provocations and thwart any attempts to update the sanctions regime,” she said.

Turning to Russia and China, Thomas Greenfield said “two permanent members of the Security Council enable (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un” to continue these “provocations.”

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

But China countered that it was Washington that had heightened tensions.

“The United States has recently been strengthening its military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region and heightening the risk of military confrontation over the nuclear issue,” Geng Shuang, China’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, told a Security Council meeting.

He added that the United States was “poisoning the regional security environment.”

Russia also blamed Washington.

“It is clear that Pyongyang’s missile launch was a response to America’s short-sighted, confrontational military activities,” said Anna Evstineva, Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

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Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said the military display by the United States and its allies had no impact on North Korea’s weapons programs.

“Yes, U.S. strategic assets are deployed, but does that make a difference?” Lankov asked.

“It doesn’t make any difference where the US aircraft carriers are … they’re just testing their missiles,” he said of North Korea.

Experts have warned that North Korea’s recent tests suggest that weapons testing could escalate further.

“North Korea will continue to conduct missile tests until this 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 U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un conducted the test with domestic and regional audiences in mind.

Kim Jong-un told his own people, “We can deal with any threat the West, the United States and South Korea can pose,” Schuster said.

“He also told the Koreans that if they went too far, he would be devastating. He was also signaling to Japan, ‘I can reach you, and I’m not afraid to do that.'”

Schuster also said Kim is expected to up the ante by testing nuclear weapons soon.

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

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

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

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