N/Korea-U.S. tensions worsen, as Japan joins drills

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USS Carl Vinson
North Korea threatens to sink USS Carl Vinson during drills

North Korea on Sunday threatened to sink an American aircraft carrier that is beginning joint drills with two Japanese destroyers in the western Pacific Ocean.

The USS Carl Vinson will be joined by the Ashigara and Samidare destroyers in “tactical training” drills near the Philippines, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force said.

North Korea’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial the country is ready to illustrate its “military force” by sinking a “nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike.”

The state newspaper claimed to have weaponry which “can reach continental U.S. and Asia Pacific region” and the “absolute weapon,” hydrogen bomb.

CNN cannot independently verify the claims.

In the face of recent saber-rattling from North Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump had said the USS Carl Vinson carrier group was being deployed to waters off the Korean peninsula.

The location of the USS Carl Vinson has dominated headlines after Trump’s remark on April 12.

Trump said he was sending “an armada” to Korean waters potentially to deal with threats from North Korea.

The statement came after Pyongyang said it had successfully launched a new ballistic missile.

“We are sending an armada. Very powerful,” Trump told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo. “We have submarines. Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. That I can tell you.”

But it turned out the carrier group was not actually steaming toward the peninsula, but rather heading to joint exercises with the Australian navy.

The U.S. Pacific Command said Tuesday that training with the Australian navy had been completed, and that “the Carl Vinson Strike Group is heading north to the Western Pacific as a prudent measure.”

U.S. defense officials told CNN the Vinson and its carrier group would arrive off the Korean Peninsula by the end of April.

The U.S. Navy announced Thursday that it was extending the Vinson’s deployment by 30 days “to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula.”

Sunday’s threats are consistent with others North Korea has made in past weeks.

North Korea has said it will respond in kind to any U.S. attack on the country and it has claimed it would strike the U.S. mainland and U.S. carriers and forces in the region, specifically U.S. bases in Seoul and Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has called on North Korea to avoid destabilizing the situation further.

“We call on (North Korea) to refrain from provocative, destabilizing actions and rhetoric, and to make the strategic choice to fulfill its international obligations and commitments and return to serious talks,” Pentagon spokesman Gary Ross said.

“North Korea’s unlawful weapons programs represent a clear, grave threat to U.S. national security.”

The statement came just hours after a North Korean newspaper said Pyongyang was ready to take out a U.S. aircraft carrier conducting drills with Japanese destroyers near the Philippines.

North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear weapons test last September and displayed a series of missiles at a military parade on an important North Korean holiday earlier this month before firing one off, which the U.S. said went down in flames shortly after the launch.

President Donald Trump has pledged to rein in the “menace” of North Korea’s nuclear program, and has spoken with Chinese President Xi Jinping several times about getting China, as one of North Korea’s only allies, to put pressure on its neighbour to change course.

The State Department said Sunday that it remains committed to directly addressing the North Korean nuclear threat.

“Provocations from North Korea have grown far too common and far too dangerous to ignore,” a department spokesperson said, referring to the country by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Together with the international community, we will hold the Kim Jung-un regime accountable for its dangerous and reckless actions and serious human rights abuses through a robust international campaign to cut the DPRK off from the rest of the world through diplomatic, security, and economic measures.

“With our allies and partners around the world, we will show the DPRK that the only path to a secure, economically-prosperous future is to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” the spokesperson said.

“We do not seek military conflict, nor do we seek to threaten North Korea,” the spokesperson added.

“However, we will respond to threats to us or our allies accordingly.  We remain open to talks with the DPRK, but need to see that the DPRK will cease all its illegal activities and aggressive behaviour in the region.”

The Pentagon spokesman, Ross, said the U.S.’s continued commitment to defending South Korea and Japan was “ironclad.”

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that a North Korean nuclear missile capable of striking the U.S. would be a “grave threat” and anticipated North Korea could achieve this capability before Trump would begin his second term.

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