Vice President Mike Pence issued a fresh warning to North Korea from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier in Japan, hours after reports emerged that the approaching “armada” that President Donald Trump touted last week was still thousands of miles away.
Pence — speaking to sailors and Marines gathered Wednesday on the USS Ronald Reagan at Yokosuka naval base — repeated the Trump administration’s line that all options to end North Korea’s nuclear program were on the table. In a message directed at Kim Jong Un’s regime, he said the world mustn’t doubt Trump’s resolve following his “decisive action” against Syria and Afghanistan.
More than a week earlier, on April 8, the U.S. Navy announced that a strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson had been diverted north from Singapore to the Western Pacific as speculation mounted that North Korea was preparing a nuclear or missile test. Days later, in response to a question about the warships, Trump told the Fox Business Network that the U.S. was “sending an armada, very powerful” to North Korea.
Instead, the fleet sailed south into the Indian Ocean for exercises with the Royal Australian Navy, at a time when Kim was parading his military might and tested another missile. The strike group was now heading to the Western Pacific “as a prudent measure” following a “curtailed” period of training with Australia, U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Commander Dave Benham said on Wednesday.
Reports of the Carl Vinson’s deployment drew condemnation from North Korea, which slammed the move as “reckless.” The country’s United Nations envoy, Kim In Ryong, said this week that the U.S. had pushed the Korean Peninsula to the “brink of war.”
“It does very seriously damage the credibility of the pressure the Americans are trying to apply to North Korea,” said Hugh White, who was deputy secretary for strategy and intelligence in the Australian Department of Defence from 1995 to 2000. “The game that Trump is trying to play requires extremely careful coordination where they are attempting to use the threat of armed forces as a political instrument.”
Pence, in an interview with CNN that aired Wednesday, said there were no direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea “at this time.” He declined to comment on whether or not U.S. sabotage was behind the failure of North Korea’s latest missile test.
Pence on Wednesday also reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and said its common defence alliance with Japan extended to islands also claimed by China. The uninhabited isles in Japanese-administered waters are known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China.
The statements showed that disagreements with China remained even as the Trump administration sought help from Beijing in reining in North Korea, its neighbour and ally.