North Korea swiftly quashed hopes for a détente with the US and its regional allies earlier this week when a government spokesman said there would be no sit-down between US and North Korean diplomats at a non-proliferation conference in Moscow this week.
Now that the North – presumably taking its ques from President Donald Trump who earlier this month ridiculed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s attempts at backchanneling – has refused to participate in talks, tensions between the two nuclear-armed powers have escalated to absurd new heights.
Making matters worse, Russian media reported earlier this week that Pyongyang is preparing to test a ballistic missile capable of reaching the west coast of the US. And in a move that alarmed the international community, about a Deputy UN Envoy Kim In Ryong told a UN General Assembly committee the situation on the Korean peninsula had reached a touch-and-go point and a nuclear war could break out at any moment.
Apparently, the rising tensions have only emboldened the US, Japan and South Korea to carry out more provocative war games this week, eliciting howls of condemnation from North Korea.
But this time, US and South Korean fighter jets will be accompanied by the USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear powered aircraft carrier which has been patrolling the waters east of the Korean peninsula on Thursday in a show of sea and air power designed to warn off North Korea from any military action. But as China and Russia have repeatedly warned, its presence will only exacerbate tensions between the North and the US, increasing the chances of a military conflict, Reuters reported.
The US Navy’s biggest warship in Asia – sporting a crew of 5,000 sailors – sailed around 100 miles (160.93 km) this week, launching almost 90 F-18 Super Hornet sorties from its deck.
The Ronald Reagan is conducting drills with the South Korean navy involving 40 warships deployed in a line stretching from the Yellow Sea west of the peninsula into the Sea of Japan.
“The dangerous and aggressive behavior by North Korea concerns everybody in the world,” Rear Admiral Marc Dalton, commander of the Reagan’s strike group, said in the carrier’s hangar as war planes taxied on the flight deck above.
North Korea has slammed the warship gathering as a “rehearsal for war.”
As the standoff with the North enters its ninth month, the US, Japan and South Korea are meeting to discuss a possible diplomatic resolution to the war of words. On Sunday, Trump changed his mind – something he's done a lot lately – and ordered Tillerson to try and revive backchannel talks with the North. Washington has not ruled out the eventual possibility of direct talks with the North to resolve the stand-off, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said on Tuesday.
But who’s to say whether another missile test, or, worse, another nuclear test, won't again change the president's mind, leading to a resumption of the threatening rhetoric that has so alarmed the North?