Pentagon: Aircraft carriers heading to Korean Peninsula not in response to threats

Pentagon: Aircraft carriers heading to Korean Peninsula not in response to threats
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Pentagon officials said Thursday that the deployment of three Navy aircraft carrier groups heading toward the Korean Peninsula this week has been planned for some time and that the move is not a result of recent North Korean threats.

“This was a unique opportunity to show that the U.S. is the only power in the world that can demonstrate that kind of presence and a unique opportunity for them to be together,” Defense Department chief spokeswoman Dana White told reporters at the Pentagon.

“It’s not directed towards any particular threat. But it is a demonstration that we can do something that no one else in the world can,” she said.

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Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie added that the deployment has “been long scheduled” and “didn’t arise overnight.”

This is the first time since 2007 that three carrier groups have deployed together to the same location.

When pressed on this fact, McKenzie said, “you’re right,” before adding, “I wouldn’t read anything more to it than it’s just an opportunity to exercise three carrier strike groups together. ... It doesn’t come along very often but it does demonstrate a unique and powerful capability that has a very significant assurance effect on our allies in the Western Pacific.”

The three aircraft carrier groups include the 7th Fleet’s permanently stationed Ronald Reagan carrier, along with the Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt.

In a statement announcing the movements, Navy officials said it's part of a planned deployment cycle.

The move to send the three toward the Korean Peninsula comes as tensions continue to rise between Washington and Pyongyang. 

On Wednesday, Senior North Korean official Ri Yong Pil warned the U.S. to take the country’s recent threats of setting off a hydrogen bomb “literally.”

“The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally,” Ri told CNN referring to North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho's threat last month to drop a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific. 

The foreign minister's threat was a reaction to President Trump's speech last month on the floor of the United Nations, during which he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it didn’t end its provocations.

When asked about the hydrogen bomb threat, White said, “North Korea makes a lot of threats and we are ready for anything that may come. We haven’t, to my knowledge, changed any of our status or our posture, but obviously we’re looking and monitoring the situation very, very carefully.”