North ups its rhetoric amid joint military drills

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North ups its rhetoric amid joint military drills

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The U.S. military’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier John C. Stennis enters South Korea’s Fleet Command in Busan on Sunday to take part in ongoing joint military exercises between the two allies. This year’s Key Resolve exercise is the largest to date and comes amid escalating nuclear threats by North Korea. [NEWSIS]

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier John C. Stennis arrived in Busan on Sunday as Seoul and Washington stepped up their military forces in the allies’ largest joint military exercises to date, while North Korea boasted of its nuclear capabilities and an operation plan to “liberate” South Korea.

The USS John C. Stennis, the U.S. Navy’s seventh Nimitz-class, which can carry about 80 fighter jets and 6,500 crewmen, entered the port of Busan early Sunday to participate in the Key Resolve drill, an annual exercise North Korea has consistently claimed is a rehearsal for invasion.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have continued to escalate since the military exercises kicked off March 7. They are scheduled to run until the end of next month.

In response to Seoul and Washington’s new Operational Plan (Oplan) 5015, which aims to deter North Korea’s possible use of weapons of mass destruction by a preemptive attack, the North Korean military said Saturday that its military will counter the landing drill with “an operation to liberate the whole of South Korea including Seoul [… in] an ultra-precision blitzkrieg stroke of the Korean style.”

“The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK holding tightly the arms to annihilate the enemies with towering hatred for them are waiting for the dignified Supreme Command to issue an order to launch a preemptive strike of justice on the aggressors,” the North’s General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said in a statement run by the Korean Central News Agency.

DPRK is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

The isolated North, which was banned from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by a new United Nations Security Council resolution adopted earlier this month, has not complied with international pressure to abandon its nuclear programs, but rather showed off its nuclear capabilities and warned of “all-out offensive” and “pre-emptive” nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington.

A North Korean nuclear scientist, Cho Hyong-il, asserted Sunday that North Korea has a miniaturized warhead and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can precisely attack a target and warned that the hydrogen bomb carried on its ICBM could leave New York City in ashes.

He wrote a column on DPRK Today, a propaganda site, which cited another column by a military officer claiming the nuclear warhead disclosed on Wednesday was not a “mockup” but a “high-tech military equipment which the worlds yet realize.”

On Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un publicly asserted that Pyongyang has succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear warheads to fit atop ballistic missiles, a claim Seoul and Washington doubt.

An analysis by 38 North released on Friday said it appeared possible that North Korea had developed a compact fission device about 60 centimeters in diameter weighing between 200 and 300 kilograms. Although North Korea did not disclose the location of Kim’s visit, the analysis assumed that the location was likely to be the Tae-sung Machine Factory, the North’s main missile production facility outside Pyongyang.

Over the weekend, Seoul and Washington elaborated on their largest scale landing and assault drills conducted in the eastern coast city of Pohang, North Gyeongsang, which simulated storming North Korea’s beach defenses. The exercises included the USS Bonhomme Richard, the USS Boxer and the South Korea Navy’s Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship.

Following the amphibious landing drill, the two allies will start an inland ground operation exercise that simulates attacks on key North Korean facilities and penetrating into North Korean territory.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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