WASHINGTON (AP) – The parading of US air and naval power within view of the Korean Peninsula – first a few long-range bombers, then stealth fighters, then ships – is as much about psychological war as real war. The US wants to discourage North Korea’s young leader from starting a fight that could escalate to renewed war with South Korea.
Worries in Washington rose Tuesday with North Korea’s vow to increase production of nuclear weapons
material. Secretary of State John Kerry called the announced plan “unacceptable” and stressed that the US is ready to defend itself and its allies. But he and other US officials also sought to lower the rhetorical temperature by holding out the prospect of the North’s reversing course and resuming nuclear negotiations.
At a joint news conference with visiting South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Kerry said the US would proceed “thoughtfully and carefully” and in consultation with South Korea, Japan, China and others.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a call late Tuesday to China’s defense minister, called the North’s
development of nuclear weapons a “growing threat” to the US and its allies.
Hagel, citing North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in his phone conversation with Chang Wanquan, said Washington and Beijing should continue to cooperate on those problems, according to a Pentagon statement describing the call.
Michael Green, an Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it should be no surprise that North Korea is vowing to restart a long-dormant nuclear reactor and ramp up production of atomic weapons material.
“This is part of their protection racket,” Green said in an interview. “I think the end state North Korea would like is that we, the US in particular, but also China, Japan, South Korea, are so rattled by all this that we decide it’s just better to cut a deal with them.”
Tensions have flared many times in the six decades since a truce halted the 1950-53 Korean War, but the stakes are higher now that a defiant North Korea appears to have moved closer to building a nuclear bomb.