The U.S. Navy says an aircraft carrier that is intended as a show of force to North Korea will arrive in the region next week. North Korea was about to test a missile, and the Trump administration was ratcheting up US rhetoric about a potential standoff.
Several news reports last week claimed the Carl Vinson and several ships that accompany it were steaming toward the Sea of Japan to keep a close eye on North Korea.
However, when the announcement was made, the naval strike group was still headed towards Australia, where it was scheduled to take part in joint military exercises, 5600km away.
A Trump administration official said Washington was concerned about the possibility of some kind of North Korean provocation around the time of the South Korean election on May 9. "We will continue to be the centrepiece of visible maritime deterrence, providing our national command authority with flexible deterrent options, all domain access, and a visible forward presence". A Pentagon spokesman told the New York Times on Tuesday that "Sean discussed it once when asked, and it was all about process".
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On Thursday, the US Navy announced it was extending the Vinson's deployment by 30 days "to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula".
Asked specifically about redirecting USA military forces towards the Korean peninsula, the president said, "I don't want to talk about it". In an interview with CNN published Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said the comments from the White House were not intentionally misleading.
"But that's not what we said", Spicer replied.
Lawrence Korb, a former United States assistant secretary of defense and a retired Navy captain, said the conflicting messages were "very typical of how the Trump administration does business".
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"It does very seriously damage the credibility of the pressure the Americans are trying to apply to North Korea", said Hugh White, who was deputy secretary for strategy and intelligence in the Australian Department of Defense from 1995 to 2000. When then-President George W. Bush visited troops in Iraq on Thanksgiving in 2003, for example, the White House briefly told reporters false information about the president's whereabouts.
However, despite worries of North Korea's nuclear missile capabilities, Klinger said he believed the North Korea issue could be less serious than it seemed.
Joel Wit, a co-founder of the 38 North programme of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the matter was "very perplexing" and fed into North Korea's narrative that America is all bluster and doesn't follow through on threats.
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