SEOUL • The United States' top general plans to meet South Korean President Moon Jae In today, just days after US President Donald Trump said military options against North Korea were "locked and loaded".
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will also meet senior military officials, according to an official with South Korea's Blue House who asked not to be identified.
He will head to China next on the previously scheduled visit, Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unidentified military official.
Gen Dunford's Asia visit comes as fears grow that a war of words between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would lead to a miscalculation that would spark an actual military conflict. In a phone conversation with Mr Trump on Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for all sides to maintain restraint and avoid inflammatory comments.
A tweet from the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday showed him arriving at Yokota Air Base in Japan.
The US has not taken any public steps to prepare for hostilities such as evacuating Americans from Seoul, which is within range of North Korean artillery, or moving ships, aircraft or troops into position for an imminent response. The US has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.
Following Mr Trump's vow to unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea, Mr Kim's regime threatened to fire four Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan into waters near Guam, home to US military bases in the region. The US and its allies warned him against such a move, and Japan deployed four Patriot missile batteries in the western part of the country.
Some analysts expect further escalation in the coming days as both North and South Korea celebrate the Aug 15 anniversary of the end of Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula, and the latter conducts joint military exercises with the US from Aug 21. Japan is also holding annual military drills with the US over the next few weeks.
North Korea's state-run media yesterday condemned the planned military drills, and said the US is "letting out dangerous war rhetoric". The Korean Central News Agency said Mr Trump's "wild remarks" are causing concern and anger in South Korea.
Mr Moon's administration has pushed to start talks with North Korea even while looking to strengthen its defences after Pyongyang test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month.
Yesterday, Deputy Unification Minister Chun Hae Sung said Seoul was seeking to ease tensions and the door for dialogue with North Korea was still open.