North Korea warns of nuke test over ocean as US deploys three aircraft carriers in western Pacific for first time since 2007
It’s a rare occurrence to have three US battle groups in the Western Pacific at once
The US Navy has three aircraft carriers and their assorted missile-carrying vessels deployed to the western Pacific Ocean for the first time in a decade as tensions with North Korea remain high and US President Donald Trump prepares to depart for Asia next week.
The milestone was reached Wednesday when the USS Nimitz and its strike group entered the Western Pacific region after operating in the Middle East.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group, including a cruiser and three destroyers, entered the region October 23, joining the USS Ronald Reagan.
The high-profile deployments are part of a larger build-up and come as a senior North Korean official told CNN that the recent warning from North Korea’s foreign minister of a possible atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean should be taken literally.
“The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally,” Ri Yong-pil, a senior diplomat in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said last month Pyongyang may consider conducting “the most powerful detonation” of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean amid rising tensions with the United States.
Experts say an atmospheric test would be a way of showing that capability. All of North Korea’s previous nuclear tests have been conducted underground.
Despite the threat from North Korea, US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis said Washington was seeking a “peaceful resolution” with Pyongyang ahead of a visit to the divided peninsula.
Mattis, who arrived in Thailand Thursday following a meeting with his Asean counterparts in the Philippines, said Washington was “not rushing to war” and looking for a diplomatic resolution.
“Do we have military options in defence if we’re attacked, our allies are attacked? Of course we do,” Mattis said.
“But everyone is out for a peaceful resolution.”
Mattis is on an Asian tour which will see him arriving in Seoul on Friday for annual defence talks, ahead of Trump’s visit.
All eyes will be on Trump’s message to the isolated North.
The US president’s recent remark that “only one thing will work” with North Korea fuelled concerns of a potential conflict.
In addition to the aircraft carrier strike groups, capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, the US Navy announced October 13 that the USS Michigan – one the service’s four specialised submarines for carrying as many as 66 Navy SEAL commandos and 154 Tomahawks – arrived in Busan, South Korea.
“US Navy Carrier Strike Groups routinely deploy to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean,” according to a US Navy statement.
“These deployments are part of a previously planned deployment cycle and it is not uncommon for incoming and outgoing carrier strike group transit timing to overlap as one begins a deployment the other concludes.”
Still, it’s a rare occurrence to have three battle-groups in the Western Pacific at once.
The last time the US Navy had a similar deployment was in August 2007, when the USS John C. Stennis, USS Nimitz and USS Kitty Hawk took part in the Valiant Shield exercise, according to the service.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters