White House denies bluff over fleet's movement

The USS Carl Vinson leading the USS Michael Murphy and Lake Champlain in the Indian Ocean on April 14, 2017.
The USS Carl Vinson leading the USS Michael Murphy and Lake Champlain in the Indian Ocean on April 14, 2017.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump's administration has denied being misleading about a US carrier strike group's push towards the Korean peninsula, saying it never gave an arrival date and that the ships were still on their way.

The whereabouts of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and its accompanying strike group, were swept up last week in an intensifying stand-off between the United States and North Korea,

Washington has warned North Korea that it is risking American military action by pushing ahead with its disputed nuclear and missile programmes, with Mr Trump declaring last week that he was "sending an armada, very powerful" towards the East Asian nation.

Mr Trump had made the assertion after the US Pacific Command announced on April 8 that the ship was headed from Singapore towards the western Pacific, part of a US response to tensions with Pyongyang.

But the US Pacific Command explained on Tuesday that the strike group had to first complete a shorter than planned period of training with Australia.

US defence officials later said the USS Carl Vinson would not be anywhere near North Korea before next week at the earliest. Critics pounced on the discrepancy as a dangerous miscommunication, saying it fed into North Korea's narrative that the US is all bluster.

 
 

But White House press secretary Sean Spicer, during his daily media briefing on Wednesday, disputed the notion that the administration had led anyone astray.

"The President said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That's a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather," said Mr Spicer.

Defence Secretary James Mattis told reporters in Saudi Arabia that the Pentagon had tried to be open about the carrier's whereabouts.

"She will be on her way. I will determine when she gets there and where she actually operates, but the Vinson is going to be part of our ensuring that we stand by our allies in the north-west Pacific," he said.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Rear Admiral James Kilby, commander of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, said its deployment "has been extended 30 days to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2017, with the headline 'White House denies bluff over fleet's movement'. Print Edition | Subscribe