News Column

US to 'Ratchet Back' Talk on North Korea

April 5, 2013

The State Department defended the robust U.S. response to North Korean threats but a Pentagon official said announcing the response may have fueled tensions.

"When you have a country that is making the kinds of bellicose threats that they are making and taking the steps that they are taking, and when you have allies and treaty commitments, you have to take it seriously -- you don't have any other choice," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

"So the moves that we have been making are designed to ensure and to reassure the American people and our allies that we can defend the United States, that we will, and that we can defend our allies," she said.

"So, from that perspective, it was the ratcheting up of tensions on the DPRK's side that caused us to need to shore up our own defense posture," she said.

DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea.

But Pentagon officials told CNN Washington may have contributed to the escalating tensions with announcements of U.S. military deployments in response to Pyongyang's bellicose statements.

"We accused the North Koreans of amping things up -- now we are worried we did the same thing," a Defense Department official told the network.

As a result, "we are trying to turn the volume down ... ratchet back the rhetoric," the official said, referring to such matters as where and how U.S. military hardware are deployed in the region.

The Pentagon said Wednesday the U.S. Army was speeding the sophisticated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense system to Guam two years ahead of schedule to protect U.S. forces in the Pacific from a possible North Korean attack.

It earlier announced it flew nuclear-capable B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, Cold War-era B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers and F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters over South Korea in joint military exercises with Seoul.

The U.S. military command in South Korea said Sunday using the F-22 in the training exercises showed that "despite challenges with fiscal constraints," U.S. forces were "battle-ready and trained to employ air power to deter aggression, defend [South Korea] and defeat any attack against the alliance."

The North announced Tuesday it would resume operations to produce weapons-grade plutonium at a formerly shuttered nuclear reactor at its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.

Pyongyang followed that up by moving a medium-range missile to its east coast, South Korea's defense chief said Thursday.

The missile -- which South Korean media said was likely a BM25 Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile -- would possibly be used "for demonstration or for training," Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told Parliament Thursday.

The Musudan's 2,000-mile range could threaten South Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia, but not U.S. forces in Guam, U.S. officials said. Guam is about 2,200 miles from North Korea.

Pyongyang also escalated the war of words Thursday, warning Washington it would "take powerful, practical military counteractions" against the B-2 and B-52 bombers and F-22 jet fighters, which it described as a threat.

"The moment of explosion is approaching fast," the general staff of the North Korean army said in a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. "The U.S. had better ponder over the prevailing grave situation."

Source: Copyright UPI 2013

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