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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 1:00 am

US carrier in no hurry to get to Korea

Washington Post

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Pence reassures Japan of support

TOKYO – From two continents, top Trump administration officials warned Tuesday that North Korea's latest failed missile launch was a reckless act of provocation and assured allies in Asia that the United States was ready to work to achieve a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

While Defense Secretary Jim Mattis denounced North Korea's weapons test as he began a Mideast tour, Vice President Mike Pence offered support to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo amid a trip dominated by concerns about the rogue state's nuclear intentions.

“We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan,” Pence said after arriving from Seoul for talks with Abe. “We are with you 100 percent.”

– Associated Press

BEIJING – As tensions mounted on the Korean Peninsula, Adm. Harry Harris made a dramatic announcement: An aircraft carrier had been ordered to sail north from Singapore on April 8 toward the Western Pacific.

A spokesman for the Pacific Command linked the deployment directly to the “number one threat in the region,” North Korea, and its “reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters April 11 that the Carl Vinson was “on her way up there.” Asked about the deployment in an interview with Fox Business Network that aired April 12, President Trump said: “We are sending an armada, very powerful.”

The U.S. media went into overdrive and Fox reported Friday that the armada was “steaming” toward North Korea.

But pictures posted by the U.S. Navy suggest that's not quite the case – at least not yet. A photo released by the Navy showed the aircraft carrier sailing through the calm waters of Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java on Saturday. That's more than 3,000 miles southwest of the Korean peninsula.

The presence of the U.S. carrier strike group, and the threat of a U.S. military strike on North Korea, had weighed heavily on Chinese minds and in the media. Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned “storm clouds” were gathering and the risk of conflict rising.

The news that the ships weren't where everyone assumed them to be was greeted with some glee in the Chinese media Tuesday.

“Tricked badly!” the Global Times exulted on its social media account. “None of the U.S. aircraft carriers that South Korea is desperately waiting for has come!”

Ross Babbage, a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessments, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on the military, said it was possible the U.S. administration had decided to give China a little time to put its own pressure on North Korea before sending the carrier strike group north:

Nor should the aircraft carrier's presence, alone, be given too much weight, he added, since any early strikes on North Korea would likely have been carried out by long-range aircraft.

The Korea Herald reported Monday that the USS Carl Vinson is due to arrive in South Korea's eastern waters April 25, in time for another important date in the North Korean calendar: the anniversary of the army's foundation.