North Korea has decried “blackmail” and “provocation” in the arrival of the US aircraft carrier group Nimitz to its southern neighbor. The warships will take part in joint exercises with South Korea, as tensions in the peninsula run high.
The nuclear-powered USS Nimitz has anchored off the South Korean’s port of Busan on Saturday. The ship will take part in search and rescue operations and sea maneuvers from Monday to Tuesday off the country’s eastern coast, the South Korean Defense Ministry announced.
Pyongyang’s cross-border affairs ministry branded the deployment as a “grave military provocation” that would heighten tension in the Korean Peninsula.
“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,” the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement on Saturday night.
The Carrier Strike Group Eleven, of which Nimitz is the flagship, includes eight warships (including the aircraft carrier itself), four surface action group destroyers and three escort ships. Nimitz also has 64 combat aircraft stationed on board.
The group’s commander, Rear Admiral Mike White, said the arrival was scheduled and not a response to the period of heightened tension in the region. “This is not a response to any particular event, but part of our continuous engagement, much like we shared for 60 years,” he said.
The US and its military ally South Korea conduct over a dozen joint military drills annually, some of which include tens of thousands of troops and some of world’s most powerful military hardware. Currently, a joint anti-submarine warfare exercise is underway in the Yellow Sea.
North Korea regularly denounces such war games as provocative, claiming they are cover for a possible attack. The latest exercise, during which the US deployed its nuclear-capable stealth bombers, was met with a flurry of threats from Pyongyang, which said it would use its nuclear arsenal against American and South Korean troops if attacked.
Washington is flexing its military might in response to North Korea’s third nuclear test in February. The move was condemned internationally, and led to the UN Security Council issuing new sanctions against Pyongyang.
However, North Korea insists that it needs nuclear weapons to defend its national sovereignty from Washington and Seoul, and defies the UNSC’s resolutions requiring it to halt development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology.
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