Three US aircraft carriers will stage joint drills in the western Pacific for the first time in a decade, the US Navy announced Thursday.
The USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt will conduct ‘coordinated operations in international waters’ as tensions in the region over North Korea reach fever pitch.
The operation starting Saturday shows Washington’s ‘ironclad commitment to the continued security and stability of the region,’ said Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet in a statement.
On Wednesday, Trump warned North Korea not to ‘try’ the United States but appeared to moderate his bellicose tone, offering Pyongyang’s young leader Kim Jong-Un a ‘path to a better future.’
The president meets Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday for talks dominated by the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme.
Beijing and Washington have also been at odds over Chinese naval operations in the South China Sea.
The US warships will carry out air defence drills, sea surveillance, defensive air combat training and other training operations, the Navy said.
‘It is a rare opportunity to train with two aircraft carriers together, and even rarer to be able to train with three,’ said Swift.
It is the first time three aircraft carriers have staged drills in the region since 2007, he added.
The operation will run between November 11 and 14.
On Wednesday Trump said in South Korea that the ‘sinister regime’ to the North has become a dangerous menace, and warned North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un not to test his patience.
‘Today, I hope I speak not only for our countries, but for all civilized nations, when I say to the North: Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.’
Addressing a global audience, he insisted that ‘the world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation.’
‘All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea – to deny it any form of support, supply, or acceptance.’
In a long soliloquy about North Korea, he said the totalitarian state is the result of ‘a tragic experiment in the laboratory of history … in which leaders imprison their people under the banner of fascism and oppression.’
It’s ‘a country ruled like a cult,’ he said, fueled by ‘a deranged belief in the ruler’s destiny.’
And in a stern, direct message to Kim, he declared: ‘The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer. They are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.’
‘North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned, he said of the nation’s founder Kim Il-sung. ‘It is a hell that no person deserves.’
A few hours later he was on Air Force One to China where it was revealed that at the end of his Asia tour, Trump will decide whether to designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters: ‘The president said he’d make a determination at the end of the trip.’
President Obama removed the rogue nation from the US list of states that sponsor terror in a bid to ease relations in 2008.
A senior administration official blasted that decision, saying ‘of course that didn’t work out,’ adding: ‘They clearly fit the criteria for state-sponsored terror’.
He added that North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme is ‘designed to blackmail us into lifting sanctions, and into ultimately dissolving the alliance, getting American troops off of the peninsula, and into eventually reunifying the South and the North, under the North Korean regime.’
In a thinly veiled dig at previous presidents, the official spoke about what he called the ‘very disappointing history’ of American attempts at direct diplomacy with North Korea, going back to President George H. W. Bush, who came to power in 1989.
The official added that the North Korea question will be ‘high on the agenda’ for Trump in China and he will ‘implore China to do their part’ to tackle the rogue state.