De­fense chief tries to pacify North Korea as ten­sions es­ca­late.

Trump tweets Py­ongyang ‘is look­ing for trou­ble’

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ

With Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang lob­bing ver­bal vol­leys and Twit­ter threats, De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis on Tues­day at­tempted to defuse grow­ing ten­sions be­tween the U.S. and North Korea even as a U.S. car­rier strike group ar­rived off the tense Korean penin­sula this week.

Mr. Mat­tis, a for­mer Marine gen­eral mak­ing his first pub­lic briefing at the Pen­tagon, spoke just hours after Pres­i­dent Trump said on Twit­ter that North Korea “is look­ing for trou­ble” and said the U.S. was pre­pared to deal with the North’s threat with or with­out help from China, the North’s main pa­tron and eco­nomic life­line.

North Korea, who some an­a­lysts say could be pre­par­ing yet another provoca­tive bal­lis­tic missile test, re­sponded in kind.

The regime fired back, say­ing North Korea “will hold the U.S. wholly ac­count­able for the cat­a­strophic con­se­quences to be en­tailed by its out­ra­geous ac­tions,” in a state­ment by a for­eign min­istry spokesman pub­lished by state-run Korean Cen­tral News Agency. Py­ongyang “stands ready to re­act to any mode of war de­sired by the U.S.,” the spokesman added.

But Mr. Mat­tis em­pha­sized Tues­day af­ter­noon that the de­ploy­ment of the U.S.S. Carl Vin­son strike group to the in­ter­na­tional wa­ters in the west­ern Pa­cific Ocean was part of rou­tine naval op­er­a­tions, and not a show of force aimed at the regime in Py­ongyang.

“There’s not a spe­cific de­mand sig­nal or spe­cific rea­son why we’re send­ing her up there,” Mr. Mat­tis told re­porters dur­ing a briefing at the Pen­tagon on Tues­day.

The Carl Vin­son strike group is “sta­tioned there in the west­ern Pa­cific for a rea­son. She op­er­ates freely up and down the Pa­cific, and she’s just on her way up there be­cause that’s where we thought it was most pru­dent to have her at this time,” Mr. Mat­tis said, along­side U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand chief Gen. Joseph Vo­tel.

But the strike group’s shift to­ward the Korean penin­sula has been seen as an un­mis­tak­able sig­nal ahead of an an­tic­i­pated new round of nu­clear tests by Py­ongyang. The tests are ex­pected to take place ahead of the 105th birth­day of North Korean found­ing fa­ther Kim Il-sung, set for Satur­day ac­cord­ing to re­cent re­ports.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has typ­i­cally con­ducted tests of mid to lon­grange bal­lis­tic mis­siles in com­mem­o­ra­tion of such events. The White House has ramped up its sharp rhetoric of the North Korean regime in re­cent days.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Gen. H.R. Mc­Mas­ter said Pres­i­dent Trump has re­quested “a full range of op­tions to re­move the [nu­clear] threat to the Amer­i­can peo­ple and to our al­lies,” posed by North Korea. Py­ongyang has grad­u­ated from “a rogue regime that is now a nu­clear-ca­pa­ble regime,” Gen. Mc­Mas­ter told Fox News on Sun­day.

But on Mon­day, Mr. Mat­tis chalked up the re­cent pub­lic­ity gen­er­ated by the strike group’s move­ments to the depart­ment’s bu­reau­cracy. The Carl Vin­son “was orig­i­nally headed in one di­rec­tion for an ex­er­cise, and we can­celed our role in that ex­er­cise, and that’s what be­came pub­lic,” he said, re­fer­ring to a joint naval ex­er­cise off the coast of Aus­tralia.

“We had to ex­plain why she wasn’t in that ex­er­cise,” he added.

Mr. Trump pressed vis­it­ing Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping last week for help in re­strain­ing North Korea, but it was not clear how much progress he made. Bei­jing has grown in­creas­ingly an­noyed by Mr. Kim’s provo­ca­tions, but fears a complete col­lapse of the North would spawn a mas­sive refugee cri­sis and strengthen South Korea, a staunch U.S. ally.

White House Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said Wash­ing­ton still was hop­ing for China’s help in de­fus­ing the cri­sis.

Mr. Trump “would wel­come Pres­i­dent Xi weigh­ing in on this a lit­tle bit more,” Mr. Spicer said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis is at­tempt­ing to defuse the grow­ing war of words be­tween the U.S. and North Korea over the U.S.S. Carl Vin­son strike group.

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