DPRK conducted a big live-fire exercise on Tuesday to mark the foundation of its military as a U.S. submarine docked in South Korea in a show of force amid growing concern over the North's nuclear and missile programs.
The port call by the USS Michigan came as a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group steamed toward Korean waters and as top envoys for North Korea policy from South Korea, Japan and the United States met in Tokyo.
Fears have risen in recent weeks that North Korea would conduct another nuclear test or long-range missile launch in defiance of U.N. sanctions, perhaps on the Tuesday anniversary of the founding of its military.
|North Korean soldiers salute bronze statues (not pictured) of North Korea's late founder Kim Il-sung and late leader Kim Jong Il at Mansudae in Pyongyang, in this photo released by Kyodo April 25, 2017, to mark the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
But instead of a nuclear test or big missile launch, North Korea deployed a large number of long-range artillery units in the region of Wonsan on its east coast for a live-fire drill, South Korea's military said. North Korea has an air base in Wonsan and missiles have also been tested there.
"North Korea is conducting a large-scale firing drill in Wonsan areas this afternoon," the South's Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
The South Korean military was monitoring the situation and "firmly maintaining readiness", it said.
The South's Yonhap News Agency said earlier the exercise was possibly supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea's state media was defiant in a commentary marking the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People's Army, saying its military was prepared "to bring to closure the history of U.S. scheming and nuclear blackmail".
"There is no limit to the strike power of the People's Army armed with our style of cutting-edge military equipment including various precision and miniaturized nuclear weapons and submarine-launched ballistic missiles," the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a front-page editorial.
North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike.
He sent the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group for exercises in waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning to North Korea and a show of solidarity with U.S. allies.
South Korea's navy said it was conducting a live-fire exercise with U.S. destroyers on Tuesday in waters west of the Korean peninsula and would soon join the carrier strike group approaching the region.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga told media that China's envoy for Korean affairs, Wu Dawei, would hold talks with Japanese Foreign Ministry officials. A ministry source said Wu was likely to meet his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, on Wednesday.
Kanasugi said after talks with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts that they all agreed China should take a concrete role to resolve the crisis and it could use an oil embargo as a tool to press the North.
"We believe China has a very, very important role to play," said the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun.
South Korea's envoy, Kim Hong-kyun, said they had also discussed how to get Russia's help to press North Korea.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 27, the Kremlin said. It did not elaborate.