WASHINGTON ― U.S. President Barack Obama is “very focused on” the North Korea problem as he heads to another volatile region on the other side of the world, the White House said Monday.
“I can tell you that the president is very focused on this issue, and that his senior national security team is focused on this issue,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing.
He was responding to a question about whether Obama was in close consultations with his South Korean, Chinese and Japanese counterparts over North Korea’s recent military threats.
A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday as part of Korea-U.S. joint military drills. (Hankook Ilbo)
In response to U.N. sanctions imposed after its third nuclear test last month, North Korea has warned of a “second Korean War” and threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes on the South and the United States.
Obama is leaving Washington later this week for Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.
Carney insisted the U.S. remains committed to ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
“This means deterring North Korean aggression, protecting our allies and the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he added.
Carney reiterated that “the U.S. will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, nor will we stand by while it seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States.”
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the U.S. was flying training missions of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over South Korea, in a clear signal to North Korea at a time of escalating military tensions.
The flights ― part of annual joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises ― should be seen as underscoring U.S. commitment and capacity to defend Seoul against an attack from the North, Little said.
Little said a B-52 from Andersen Air Force base in Guam, flew over South Korea on March 8 as part of a military exercise dubbed “Foal Eagle.”
“The B-52 Stratofortress can perform a variety of missions including carrying precision-guided conventional or nuclear ordnance,” he said Monday.
B-52s have taken part in annual exercises before, but Little said the Pentagon wanted to underline their use this time given the current, heightened tensions, and he added that further B-52 flights would be carried out.
“We’re drawing attention to the fact that we have extended deterrence capabilities that we believe are important to demonstrate in the wake of recent North Korean rhetoric,” he said.
That message was echoed in Seoul on Monday by visiting Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who promised to provide South Korea with every available military resource “offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.”
In a major announcement on Friday, the United States unveiled plans to bolster its own missile defenses in direct response to the growing threat posed by North Korea.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that 14 more interceptors would be stationed in Alaska, increasing by almost half the 30 already deployed along the California and Alaska coastlines.
Hagel said the defense upgrade was designed to “stay ahead of the threat” from North Korea, which is still believed to be years from having a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the continental U.S.
(From news reports)