Stealth jets sent to South Korea
SEOUL, South Korea - 12 March: In a move certain to further fuel North Korean war fears, the United States is sending up to six radar-avoiding F-117A "stealth" warplanes to South Korea for joint military exercises.
U.S. military officials say the deployment of F-117As to Kunsan Air Base in South Korea is the first in a decade but is not connected to current tensions sparked by the revival of North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
"These defensive exercises are not related to current world events and are not meant to be aggressive or threatening," Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Cram, a spokesman for the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, said according to Reuters news service.
But the current South Korean-U.S. military exercises being held on the Korean peninsula -- which run until April 2 -- are cited by Pyongyang as evidence of U.S. preparations for a pre-emptive, possibly nuclear, strike against it.
The decision to send the stealth fighters to South Korea comes hard on the heels of the deployment of 24 American B-1 and B-52 bombers to the island of Guam in the Western Pacific, well within striking range of North Korea.
That move is seen as sending a message to North Korea that the U.S. will not be distracted by the crisis with Iraq.
On Monday, North Korea test fired a short range missile into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, the second such test in recent weeks.(Missile test)
The tests, and North Korea's continued bellicose rhetoric, have caused increased nervousness among North Korea's neighbors over Pyongyang's military intentions, especially with world attention focused on a looming conflict with Iraq.
South Korea's president -- who won power recently campaigning on an anti-U.S. platform -- meanwhile, has called for a stronger alliance with the United States.
"The staunch Korea-U.S. combined defense arrangement is greatly contributing to our national security," Roh Moo-hyun said in a speech at the Korean Military Academy.
"The solid (South Korea)-U.S. alliance should be maintained even more so," Associated Press reports him saying.
North Korea, meanwhile, is sticking to its demand for direct face-to-face talks with the United States, saying Washington's push for a multilateral dialogue only makes the prospect of armed conflict more likely.
In a commentary Tuesday in the state-owned Rodong Sinmun newspaper North Korea accused the Bush administration of "evading its responsibility" for current tensions over Pyongyang's alleged nuclear weapons program.
Upping the political pressure on Pyongyang "would only make a clash unavoidable" the North's Korean Central News Agency quoted the commentary as saying.
The Bush administration says it wants to begin dialogue with North Korea as part of a broader regional multilateral approach because the North's efforts to build nuclear weapons have regional ramifications.
Speaking at the weekend Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN that talking directly to North Korea would be a "bad practice" because the issue involved other nations in the region. (Talks 'eventually')
His comments were echoed by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice who told ABC that any incentives for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program would "come from the collective weight of the international community, not just from the United States alone."
Pyongyang, however, denies even having a nuclear weapons program and blames the hostile policy of the United States for pushing the two countries towards war.
The only way the ongoing tensions can be resolved, it says, is through direct bilateral talks.
"By calling for multilateral talks the U.S. means letting other countries stand in its stead," Tuesday's commentary said, adding: "This is not the stand and attitude to solve the problem but an act of evading its responsibility."