Seoul (Reuters): Two US strategic bombers conducted drills over South Korea on Thursday, the US Air Force said, raising tensions with North Korea just days before President Donald Trump visits the region seeking to shut down Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
News of the drills was first reported by North Korean state news agency KCNA on Friday, which said the exercises involving South Korean and Japanese fighter jets were a “surprise nuclear strike drill”.
“The reality clearly shows that the gangster-like U.S. imperialists are the very one who is aggravating the situation of the Korean peninsula and seeking to ignite a nuclear war,” KCNA said.
A series of missile tests by North Korea and its sixth and largest nuclear test have fueled the most critical international challenge of Trump’s presidency.
“The president recognizes that we’re running out of time (to deal with North Korea) and will ask all nations to do more,” White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters at a briefing in Washington.
McMaster said Trump , who has approved a variety of sanctions against North Korea while pressing China to do more, is at the beginning of his drive for Pyongyang to give up nuclear weapons. Trump has warned he would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the United States.
“I think we have to be a little patient here for at least a few months to see what more we and others can do, including China,” said McMaster. “I don’t think we need to reassess our strategy now. I think we have to give it a couple of months, a few months, and then see what adjustments we might need to make.”
China’s influential state-run tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial on Friday that pressing China will not help solve the Korean peninsula nuclear crisis.
“The complexity of the nuclear crisis means that all sides may have to make some concessions to reach a peaceful solution. China is playing the most difficult role in the process, and is the real hope of peacefully addressing the crisis. Neither side should press China in an extreme way,” it said.
While North Korea has not launched any missiles since Sept. 15, the longest such lull this year, a flurry of activity has recently been detected at the North’s missile research facilities in Pyongyang, pointing to another possible launch, South Korea’s spy agency said in a briefing to lawmakers on Thursday.
Seoul held a National Security Council meeting on Friday to discuss possible unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang, and may announce the measures ahead of Trump’s arrival in South Korea, a presidential official said.
“The United States has wanted the South Korean government to take further steps to sanction the North. Unilateral sanctions by South Korea wouldn’t have much practical impact but it has a symbolic importance,” the official said.
The bombers flew over the Pilsung Range training area in central South Korea, Air Force spokeswoman Captain Victoria Hight said.
Japanese and South Korean fighter jets carried out sequenced missions with the US bombers but no ordnance was dropped, the Air Force said.
The drill was staged at a time when three U.S. aircraft carrier groups are in the Asia-Pacific, the first time such a potent projection of force has been together in the region in a decade.