N Korea holds back on new nuclear test

PARADE DAY: North Koreans mark the 85th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army
Picture: REUTERS

Massive firing drill marks anniversary instead

Nuclear-armed North Korea marked a military anniversary with a massive conventional firing drill yesterday, as a US guided-missile submarine docked in South Korea amid tensions over Pyongyang’s weapons ambitions.

There had been speculation the North could carry out a sixth nuclear test or another missile launch to mark 85 years since the founding of its army.

But no such event – which usually happens in the morning – had taken place by the evening, and instead Seoul’s defence ministry said Pyongyang was conducting a massive fire drill in the eastern port city of Wonsan.

The South’s Yonhap news agency cited a government source as saying the exercise was the North’s largest ever and was presumed to have been overseen by leader Kim Jong-un.

Washington has sent the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the Korean peninsula, where it is expected to arrive – after a derision-provoking delay – later this week.

Confusion had clouded the carrier’s whereabouts earlier this month after US officials indicated it was sailing towards North Korea when in fact it was heading south.

The vessel will take part in joint naval drills with the South’s forces to demonstrate Seoul and Washington’s strong determination to punish North Korean provocation, the South Korean Navy said.

They would take place in the East Sea, the South’s name for the Sea of Japan, it said, and the two allies were due to begin joint naval exercises in the West Sea – what it calls the Yellow Sea – yesterday “in relation to the security situation”.

The nuclear-powered US submarine USS Michigan also made a port call at Busan in the South yesterday in another show of force, while US navy destroyers carried out separate joint exercises with Japanese and South Korean vessels.

President Donald Trump has said the US was sending an armada to the Korean peninsula, including submarines.

According to the US Navy’s Submarine Force Pacific website, the USS Michigan carries more than 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

They are capable of precision strikes against the North’s nuclear facilities, but the South Korean Navy called the visit routine and said the submarine would not take part in any joint exercises.

North Korea has ambitions to build a nucleartipped missile capable of reaching the US mainland.

Tensions have soared in recent months as it carried out a string of missile tests that sparked titfor-tat sabre-rattling between it and Washington.

Pyongyang’s rhetoric always intensifies in the northern hemisphere spring, when Seoul and Washington hold joint military drills which it sees as rehearsals for an invasion.

The North’s Rodong Sinmun, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, warned yesterday of dire consequences in the event of a US-led pre-emptive strike.

It promised “the most brutal punishment in the sky and land as well as at sea and from underwater without any warning or prior notice”.

North Korea launched two missile tests this month, while Trump and his senior aides have warned that all options are on the table against Pyongyang, including military action.

On Monday Trump urged UN Security Council ambassadors to consider stronger sanctions against Pyongyang, and US senators will be briefed on North Korea at the White House today.

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