North Korea says the US carrier’s return is exacerbating tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea warned Saturday that the U.S. redeployment of an aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula would cause a “significantly huge negative change” in regional security, as it defended its recent missile tests as a “just response.” Intimidating military training between its rivals.

The North Korean Defense Ministry statement came a day after the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan began a new round of naval exercises with South Korean warships off the peninsula’s east coast. The Reagan and its battle group returned to the region after North Korea fired a powerful missile over Japan earlier this week in protest of the carrier group’s earlier exercises with South Korea.

Reagan’s redeployment “is a significantly negative event for the regional situation,” an unidentified spokesman for North Korea’s defense ministry said in comments carried by state media. “(North Korea’s) armed forces are seriously approaching the most alarming development of the current situation.”

He also called Reagan’s return “a form of military nonsense” to issue a warning about North Korea’s “just response” to “the most provocative and threatening joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea.”

North Korea views U.S.-South Korean military exercises as an invasion rehearsal, and is particularly sensitive if such exercises involve U.S. strategic assets such as an aircraft carrier. North Korea has argued that it is forced to continue its nuclear weapons program to counter US nuclear threats. US and South Korean officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of attacking North Korea.

In the past two weeks, North Korea has launched 10 ballistic missiles into the sea in five launch events, adding to a record pace of weapons tests this year. The latest weapons tests saw a nuclear-tipped missile fly over Japan for the first time in five years, demonstrating its range over the US Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.

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Earlier this year, North Korea tested other nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that put them within striking distance of the US mainland and its allies South Korea and Japan.

North Korea’s testing ground indicates that its leader, Kim Jong Un, has no intention of resuming diplomacy with the United States and prefers to focus on expanding his arsenal. But some experts say Kim ultimately aims to use his advanced nuclear program to win more external concessions, such as recognizing North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power, if Kim deems it necessary to lift UN sanctions on his country.

The Reagan Carrier Strike Group’s latest exercise with the South Korean Navy ends Saturday.

South Korean officials recently said North Korea is ready to test a new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched missile, while preparing to conduct an underground nuclear test starting in 2017.

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