The diversion of an armada of American warships from port visits in Australia to the waters off North Korea gives US President Donald Trump a “full range of options” against dictator Kim Jong-un’s regime.
Trump’s national security adviser, General HR McMaster, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, signalled on Sunday the US was preparing to respond to North Korea’s aggressive ramp up of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
The US Navy’s Third Fleet forward-deployed strike group, headed by the supercarrier USS Carl Vinson and supported by guided-missile destroyers and cruisers, was scheduled to visit Australia but it was announced on Saturday they had received orders to re-route toward the Korean Peninsula.
“The president has asked to be prepared to give him a full range of options to remove that threat to the American people and to our allies and partners in the region,” General McMaster, in an interview on FOX News Sunday, said.
The significant boost of American military power in Asian waters follows meetings in recent days between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida and military action against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
US destroyers the USS Porter and USS Ross, from the eastern Mediterranean, fired 59 Tomahawk missiles into a Syrian military airfield in response to the chemical bombing attack on citizens in Syria’s Idlib province.
General McMaster said North Korea was “a rogue regime that is now a nuclear capable regime” and at the Florida talks “President Xi and President Trump agreed that that is unacceptable, that what must happen is the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.
“Well, it’s prudent to do it, isn’t it?” General McMaster, when asked about the Third Fleet’s ominous presence, responded.
“I mean, North Korea has been engaged in a pattern of provocative behaviour.”
Senior members of the Trump administration appeared on America’s Sunday morning TV news programs in a publicity offensive, including the usually media shy Tillerson.
Tillerson said Trump and the Chinese president “had extensive discussions around the dangerous situation in North Korea”.
“President Xi clearly understands, and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken,” Tillerson told CBS’s Face the Nation.
The Third Fleet’s forward-deployed strike group was in Singapore and scheduled to sail to Australia for training and port calls.
“Third Fleet ships operate forward with a purpose: to safeguard US interests in the Western Pacific,” Commander Dave Benham, spokesman for the US Pacific Command, said.
“The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible, and destabilising program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”