The U.S. Navy is sending a strike group toward the Korean Peninsula to bolster the U.S. presence there and send a message to North Korea, which this week conducted a ballistic missile test despite U.N. Security Council resolutions banning such launches.
The Carl Vinson Strike Group was making a port call in Singapore and was scheduled to sail for Australia when U.S. Pacific Command ordered the ships to sail north instead.
“Third Fleet ships operate forward with a purpose: to safeguard U.S. interests in the Western Pacific,” Commander Dave Benham, director of media operations for the U.S. Pacific Command Third Fleet told VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb.
“The No. 1 threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible, and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”
The strike group includes its namesake aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, as well as three guided-missile destroyers.
North Korea defies warning
Pyongyang has repeatedly defied international warnings about conducting missile launches and testing nuclear devices.
On Sunday, a North Korean Foreign Ministry official was quoted on state-run media as vowing to step up the country’s defenses to protect itself from airstrikes like the U.S. carried out against Syria last week.
The unidentified official told the Korean Central New Agency the airstrikes were “absolutely unpardonable,” and proves Pyongyang is justified in having nuclear weapons.
This year North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, have repeatedly indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming, possibly as soon as April 15, the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founding president and celebrated annually as “the Day of the Sun.”
While U.S. President Donald Trump has not set out a clear strategy for dealing with the isolated nation, he has criticized the past administration’s U.S. policy of “strategic patience,” in the face of North Korea’s ongoing efforts to develop long-range nuclear strike capability. Trump has also called on China, one of the few nations with strong ties to Pyongyang, to take stronger action to curb those nuclear ambitions.
Earlier this month, Trump suggested the U.S. might take action unilaterally if China wasn’t willing to do more.
“If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” Trump told The Financial Times April 2. “China will either decide to help us with North Korea or they won’t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.”
US, China in agreement
Trump reportedly discussed North Korea with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the two met this week in Florida. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the two leaders agreed that the issue of Pyongyang’s arms buildup has reached a very serious stage, however there were no details of what action either nation might take to curtail the program.
Trump’s national security aides have completed a review of U.S. options to try to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. These include economic and military measures but lean more toward sanctions and increased pressure on Beijing to rein in its reclusive neighbor.
Although the option of pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea is not off the table, the review prioritizes less-risky steps and de-emphasizes direct military action.
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb and Reuters contributed to this report.