USS Carl Vinson heads back to Korean Peninsula

By Allen Cone  |  Updated April 10, 2017 at 6:36 AM
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April 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy said it ordered the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and support ships back to Korean waters amid rising tensions with North Korea.

The carrier-led strike group left Singapore on Saturday and was scheduled to go to Australia.

"U.S. Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Strike Group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific," Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the command, said in a statement on Saturday.

"Third Fleet ships operate forward with a purpose: to safeguard U.S. interests in the Western Pacific. The No. 1 threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible, and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability."

North Korea has recently tested ballistic missiles.

On Wednesday, the nation launched an medium-range missile that apparently failed in-flight.

On March 6, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles about 620 miles before falling into the sea, and were likely capable of striking Japan.

On Sept. 9, North Korea said it detonated its fifth nuclear warhead.

The United States has accelerated its scheduled deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, in South Korea.

The carrier's movement came after summit meetings Thursday and Friday between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday the United States and China agreed to work together to push North Korea to abandon its weapons programs, but the United States was willing to go it alone.

"President Trump indicated to President Xi ... that we would be happy to work with them, but we understand it creates unique problems for them and challenges and that we would, and are, prepared to chart our own course if this is something China is just unable to coordinate with us," he said.

On Sunday, Tillerson said North Korea's advancements in ballistic missiles are troubling.

"If we judge that they have perfected that type of delivery system, then that becomes a very serious stage of their further development," he said on ABC's This Week.

The United States sent a message to another country -- Syria -- when it launched 59 cruise missiles Thursday at an airfield in Syria after chemical attacks.

"I think the message that any nation can take is if you violate international norms, if you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken," Tillerson said on ABC. "And I think in terms of North Korea, we have been very clear that our objective is a denuclearized Korean peninsula. We have no objective to change the regime in North Korea, that is not our objective. And so the whole reasons underlying the development of a nuclear program in North Korea are simply not credible."

On Friday in a news conference with reporters in Florida after Trump's summit with Chinese leaders, Tillerson said: "I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line, and cross the line on violating commitments they have made and cross the line in the most heinous of ways."

The Carl Vinson Strike Group departed from the home base of San Diego on Jan. 5 for planned deployment to the western Pacific. It sailed through the South China Sea in February in contested waters, which was condemned by China. In March, it also conducted exercises with Japanese warships and South Korean forces.

The nuclear-powered, 97,000-ton Vinson is one of 10 active U.S. aircraft carriers, and has more than 60 aircraft and about 5,000 personnel.

The group includes guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Michael Murphy and the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain, according to a statement from U.S. Pacific Command.

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