WASHINGTON • A US carrier-led strike group is on its way to the Korean peninsula in a show of force against North Korea's "reckless" nuclear weapons programme, the US Navy has announced.
"US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Strike Group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific," said Commander Dave Benham, spokesman for the US Pacific Command.
"The No. 1 threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilising programme of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability," he told Agence France-Presse.
Originally scheduled to make port calls in Australia, the strike group - which includes the Nimitz-class aircraft supercarrier, the USS Carl Vinson - is now headed from Singapore to the Western Pacific Ocean.
The move is likely to raise tensions in the region further and comes hard on the heels of a US missile strike on Syria that was widely interpreted as putting Pyongyang on warning over its refusal to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
A Russian official expressed worries yesterday that the United States' latest move may push Pyongyang to respond hastily.
If Pyongyang sees the deployment as a threat to its security, it may rush into action in response, said Mr Victor Ozerov, chairman of the Russian Federation Council's Committee on Defence and Security, according to an RIA Novosti report.
It is even possible the US could launch sudden strikes against North Korea as it did to Syria, he said.
North Korea has denounced last week's missile strikes on Syria as "an undisguised act of aggression against a sovereign state" and one that justified "a million times over" the North's push towards a credible nuclear deterrent.
In a statement late on Saturday, Pyongyang accused US President Donald Trump of aggression against Syria, the first time it named Mr Trump directly in its frequent condemnation of the US.
Mr Trump had threatened unilateral action against North Korea if China failed to put pressure on its neighbour and ally.
The US leader and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed during their summit on the "urgency of the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme", and agreed to work together to resolve the issue peacefully, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said following the meeting.
Mr Tillerson said yesterday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "has made significant advancements in delivery systems, and that is what concerns us the most". The US has been "quite clear with the regime in Pyongyang" that it needs to cease all weapons testing "before we can think about having further talks with them", he said.
And in an interview broadcast yesterday, he insisted that the US does not intend to try to remove the regime.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA, BLOOMBERG