Seoul - North Korea accused the United
States on Tuesday of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink
of nuclear war after a pair of strategic US bombers flew
training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces in
another show of strength.
The two supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers were deployed amid
rising tensions over North Korea's dogged pursuit of its nuclear
and missile programmes in defiance of United Nations sanctions
and pressure from the United States.
The flight of the two bombers on Monday came as US President Donald Trump said he was open to meeting North Korean
leader Kim Jong Un in the appropriate circumstances, even though
Pyongyang suggested it would continue with its nuclear tests.
South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told
a briefing in Seoul that Monday's joint drill was conducted to
deter provocations by the North and to test readiness against
another potential nuclear test.
The US air force said in a statement the bombers had flown
from Guam to conduct training exercises with the South Korean
and Japanese air forces.
North Korea said the bombers conducted "a nuclear bomb
dropping drill against major objects" in its territory at a time
when Trump and "other US warmongers are crying out for making
a preemptive nuclear strike" on the North.
"The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation
on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war," the
North's official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high for weeks,
driven by concerns that the North might conduct its sixth
nuclear test in defiance of pressure from the United States and
Pyongyang's sole major ally, China.
China's Global Times, a state-backed tabloid that does not
necessarily reflect national policy, said in an editorial late
on Monday the United States should not rely on China alone to
pressure Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear ambitions.
April could prove a "turning point", the paper said, but
"Washington ... must also continue to exert its own efforts on
It was widely feared North Korea could conduct its sixth
nuclear test on or around April 15 to celebrate the anniversary
of the birth of the North's founding leader, Kim Il Sung, or on
April 25 to coincide with the 85th anniversary of the foundation
of its Korean People's Army.
The North has conducted such tests or missile launches to
mark significant events in the past.
Instead, North Korea conducted an annual military parade,
featuring a display of missiles, on April 15 and then a large,
live-fire artillery drill 10 days later.
South Korea's acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn called for
stronger vigilance because of continuing provocation by Seoul's
poor and isolated neighbour.
"I am asking foreign and security ministries to further
strengthen military readiness in order for North Korea not to
miscalculate ... and drive the Korea-US alliance and
cooperation from neighbouring countries such as China to put
pressure on the North," Hwang told a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Trump said on Monday he would be "honoured" to meet the
North's young leader.
"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would
absolutely, I would be honoured to do it," Trump told Bloomberg
News in comments that drew criticism in Washington.
Trump did not say what conditions would be needed for such a
meeting to occur or when it could happen. The White House said
later North Korea would need to meet many conditions before it
could be contemplated.
"Clearly conditions are not there right now," White House
spokesman Sean Spicer said.
"I don’t see this happening anytime soon."
Trump warned in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a
"major, major conflict" with North Korea was possible, while
China said last week the situation on the Korean peninsula could
escalate or slip out of control.
In a show of force, the United States has already sent an
aircraft carrier strike group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, to
waters off the Korean peninsula to conduct drills with South
Korea and Japan.
The US military's THAAD anti-missile defence system has
reached initial operational capacity in South Korea, U.S.
officials told Reuters, although they cautioned that it would
not be fully operational for some months.
North Korea test-launched a missile on Saturday that
appeared to have failed within minutes, its fourth successive
failed launch since March. It has conducted two nuclear tests
and a series of missile-related activities at an unprecedented
pace since the beginning of last year.
The North is technically still at war with the South after
their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, and
regularly threatens to destroy the United States, Japan and