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North Korea

US navy ships head toward Korean peninsula in show of force to North

Strike group includes the Nimitz-class aircraft supercarrier USS Carl Vinson, a carrier air wing, two guided-missile destroyers and a guided-missile cruiser

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 April, 2017, 10:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 April, 2017, 10:23am

A US Navy carrier strike group was moving toward the Korean peninsula on Saturday as the United States boosts its defences against North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

“US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Strike Group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific,” said Commander Dave Benham, spokesman at US Pacific Command.

“The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilising programme of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” he said.

The strike group includes the Nimitz-class aircraft supercarrier USS Carl Vinson, a carrier air wing, two guided-missile destroyers and a guided-missile cruiser.

Originally scheduled to make port calls in Australia, it headed instead from Singapore to the Western Pacific Ocean.

The North has carried out five nuclear tests - two of them last year - and expert satellite imagery analysis suggests it could well be preparing for a sixth.

US intelligence officials say Pyongyang could be less than two years away from developing a nuclear warhead that could reach the continental United States.

Last week US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Florida, where Trump pressed Xi to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Watch: Trump ‘develops’ friendship with Xi

Trump’s national security aides have completed a review of US options to try to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. These include economic and military measures but lean more toward sanctions and increased pressure on Beijing to rein in its reclusive neighbour.

Although the option of pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea is not off the table, the review prioritises less-risky steps and de-emphasizes direct military action.

Trump spoke with South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn on Friday, the White House said on Saturday in a statement which did not mention the strike group.

The head of North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad), which provides missile detection and defence for the region, said Thursday she was “extremely confident” of US capability to intercept a potential intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) bound for America from the North.

But General Lori Robinson expressed concerns for the type of ballistic missile powered by a solid-fuel engine that Pyongyang said it successfully tested in February.

“Amidst an unprecedented pace of North Korean strategic weapons testing, our ability to provide actionable warning continues to diminish,” Robinson said in written testimony to senators.

Additional reporting by Reuters