North Korea has criticized the arrival of the US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in South Korea for a joint drill as an “extremely reckless” provocation and a rehearsal for war against it.
A US naval strike group led by the nuclear-powered Nimitz arrived off the South’s southern port of Busan on Saturday for the drill to be staged this week, following joint exercises that infuriated North Korea in recent months.
The 97,000 tonne Nimitz, one of the world’s largest warships, will participate in joint search-and-rescue operations as well as “sea maneuvering” around the Korean Peninsula, the South’s defense ministry said.
The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles cross-border affairs, called the arrival of the US fleet “a grave military provocation” that would ratchet up tension.
“The joint naval drill involving the latest weaponry, including the nuclear aircraft carrier, is a wanton blackmail against us and demonstrates … that their attempt to invade us has reached an extremely reckless level,” it said.
“The risk of a nuclear war in the peninsula has risen further due to the madcap nuclear war practice by the US and the South’s enemy forces,” the committee said in a statement carried by state-run Korean Central News Agency on Saturday night.
The latest joint naval drill between the two allies is expected to be staged off South Korea’s eastern coast today and tomorrow, Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unnamed Seoul official.
Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been high for months, with the North under young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issuing a series of apocalyptic threats over what it sees as intensely provocative US-South joint exercises.
The friction has abated somewhat after the annual ground exercises were wrapped up at the end of last month, and a US defense official said North Korea had moved two medium-range missiles off their launch pads.
North Korean troops near the disputed Yellow Sea border have been ordered to strike back if “even a single shell drops” in their territorial waters, the North’s army command said in a statement last week.
Any subsequent counterstrike would trigger an escalated military reaction that would see South Korea’s border islands engulfed in a “sea of flames,” it said.
The tense sea border off the west coast saw deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.