SECRETARY of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday that US President Donald Trump had instructed him to continue along a diplomatic path with North Korea, adding that “those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.”
South Korea and the United States began week-long joint Navy drills in the waters around the Korean peninsula on Monday, amid high tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme.
About 40 Navy ships from both countries, including the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, are taking part in the exercises on the east and west coasts of the peninsula from Oct 16 to 20, a spokesman for the South’s defence ministry said on Monday.
“Approximately 200 US personnel are expected to participate in the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2017, scheduled from Oct. 17-22 at the Seoul K-16 airport,” the 7th Air Force said as quoted by South Korea’s news agency Yonhap.
Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union show on Sunday, Tillerson downplayed messages that Trump had previously posted on Twitter suggesting Tillerson was wasting his time trying to negotiate with “Little Rocket Man,” a derogatory nickname Trump has coined for North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump “has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts,” Tillerson said.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen sharply in recent weeks following a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang, including its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept 3 and two missile launches over Japan, and a war of words between the United States and North Korea.
It has called joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea as a “rehearsal for war.”
North Korea is preparing to test a long-range missile which it believes can reach the west coast of the United States, said a Russian lawmaker who returned from a visit to Pyongyang earlier this month.
South Korean intelligence officials and analysts have said that North Korea might time its next provocation to coincide with China’s all-important Communist Party Congress which begins on Wednesday.
Speaking at a military conference in Seoul on Monday, General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of US Pacific Air Force, said North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development programme was “truly a threat to us all” and the United States remains poised to defend allies.
“Although countries like North Korea threaten regional peace and security, our allied air power must be ready to respond with rapid, lethal and overwhelming force to respond to preserve our interests,” O’Shaughnessy said.
Additional reporting from Reuters.