The latest display of US military might following North Korea’s recent long-range missile test, a US aircraft carrier has sailed off the coast of South Korea for the first time since 2017.
USS Abraham Lincoln The carrier strike group reached the southeastern South Korean city of Ulsan and is expected to remain there for three to five days, Yonhap news agency reported on Tuesday.
Citing an unnamed US official, the Reuters news agency reported that the carrier strike group in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, is conducting exercises with Japanese forces “to help allies and partners in the region”. to assure.”
At a briefing, a South Korean military spokesman said he was aware the US carrier was in international waters near South Korea, but it would be inappropriate to comment further on US military assets.
The United States has not sent an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea since late 2017, when relations with North Korea were particularly strained.
Washington and Pyongyang are now heading towards another turbulent period.
In January, North Korea launched a record number of missiles. Last month, it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time since 2017.
US officials have warned that North Korea may soon launch another missile, or even conduct a nuclear test, possibly as early as this week, as North Korea celebrates the birth anniversary of founding leader Kim Il Sung.
Another point of tension could come later this month, when the United States and South Korea prepare to hold their regular springtime joint military exercises.
Since 2018, the two allies have abandoned or spread joint exercises to preserve the prospects for diplomacy with North Korea and because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But as North Korea conducts major weapons tests, the United States and South Korea have demonstrated more of their military might.
Last month, the US intensified air defense exercises in South Korea and an aircraft carrier exercise in the Yellow Sea off Korea’s west coast.
Soon after North Korea’s ICBM test, South Korea tested five of its own missiles, which they called “a demonstration of our ability and willingness to respond promptly and punish.”
According to a US source with knowledge of the alliance plans, the South Korean hardware used in that performance was “pre-selected and proposed and choreographed”. The source told the VOA last month that future exercises could include strategic bombers, fifth-generation fighter jets and an aircraft carrier strike group in Korean waters.
South Korea’s newly-elected President Yoon Suk-yol, who will take office next month, supports the resumption of large-scale military exercises with the United States. But South Korean officials say the nature of this month’s exercise will be decided by the current administration in Seoul.
North Korea regularly uses the exercise as an opportunity to attack the United States and South Korea. Analysts expect nothing different this time around, saying the exercise could provide an excuse for North Korea to justify the already planned large arms test.
“North Korea has been on a steady path toward resuming its weapons testing and development since the better part of last year,” said Jay James Kim, a researcher at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
The presence of the US aircraft carrier, Kim said, would not change North Korea’s trajectory. ,[But] This is something they will talk about. It is part of the rhetoric,” he said.
North Korea is systematically working through a wish list of strategic weapons set out last year by its leader Kim Jong Un. The list includes tactical nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles and ICBMs that can travel up to 15,000 km.
Meanwhile, North Korea has rejected an invitation from US officials to resume nuclear talks. Talks broke down between Kim and former US President Donald Trump over disagreements over how to ease sanctions with moves to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program in 2019.