World

North Korea says US carrier groups raise nuclear war threat

US carriers conducted operations with South Korea’s destroyers during a joint naval drill Sunday in East Sea, South Korea.
South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images
US carriers conducted operations with South Korea’s destroyers during a joint naval drill Sunday in East Sea, South Korea.

UNITED NATIONS — North Korea warned Monday that the unprecedented deployment of three US aircraft carrier groups ‘‘taking up a strike posture’’ around the Korean peninsula is making it impossible to predict when nuclear war will break out.

UN Ambassador Ja Song Nam of North Korea said in a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres Monday that the joint military exercises with South Korea are creating ‘‘the worst ever situation prevailing in and around the Korean peninsula.’’

Along with the three carrier groups, he said the United States has reactivated round-the-clock sorties with nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers that ‘‘existed during the Cold War times.’’

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He also said the United States is maintaining ‘‘a surprise strike posture with frequent flight of B-1B and B-2 formations to the airspace of South Korea.’’

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‘‘The large-scale nuclear war exercises and blackmails, which the United States staged for a whole year without a break in collaboration with its followers to stifle our republic, make one conclude that the option we have taken was the right one and we should go along the way to the last,’’ Ja said.

He didn’t elaborate on what ‘‘the last’’ might be, but North Korea has launched ballistic missiles that have the potential to strike the US mainland, and it recently conducted its largest-ever underground nuclear explosion. It has also threatened to explode another nuclear bomb above the Pacific Ocean.

The four-day joint naval exercises by the United States and South Korea, which began Saturday in waters off the South’s eastern coast, were described by military officials as a clear warning to North Korea. They involve the carrier battle groups of the USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, and Nimitz, which include 11 US Aegis ships that can track missiles, and seven South Korean naval vessels.

Seoul’s military said in a statement that the exercises aim to enhance the combined US and South Korean operational and aerial strike capabilities and to display ‘‘strong will and firm military readiness to defeat any provocation by North Korea with dominant force in the event of crisis.’’

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According to the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, it is the first time since a 2007 exercise near Guam that three US carrier strike groups are operating together in the Western Pacific.

In a separate development Monday, North Korean soldiers shot at and wounded a fellow soldier who was crossing a jointly controlled area at the heavily guarded border to defect to South Korea, the South’s military said.

North Korean soldiers have occasionally defected to South Korea across the border. But it’s rare for a North Korean soldier to defect via the Joint Security Area, where border guards of the rival Koreas stand facing each other just feet away, and be shot by fellow North Korean soldiers.

The soldier bolted from a guard post at the northern side of Panmunjom village in the Joint Security Area to the southern side of the village, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

He was shot in the shoulder and elbow and was taken to a South Korean hospital, the South’s Defense Ministry said. It wasn’t immediately known how serious the soldier’s injuries were or why he defected.

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South Korean troops found the injured soldier south of the border after hearing sounds of gunfire, the South Korean Defense Ministry official said. South Korean troops didn’t fire at the North, he said.

The US-South Korean military drills come amid President Trump’s visit to South Korea and Asia, which has been dominated by discussions over the North Korean nuclear threat.

Ja accused the UN Security Council in Monday’s letter of repeatedly ‘‘turning a blind eye to the nuclear war exercises of the United States, who is hell bent on bringing a catastrophic disaster to humanity.’’ He said the exercises raise serious concern about ‘‘the double standard’’ of the United Nations’ most powerful body.

He also referenced Trump’s September speech to the UN General Assembly, in which the president said that if the United States is ‘‘forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.’’

Trump tweeted soon after making the speech that Korea’s leadership ‘‘won’t be around much longer’’ if it continued its provocations, a declaration that led the North’s foreign minister to assert that Trump had ‘‘declared war on our country.’’

Ja said Monday the United States ‘‘is now running amok for war exercises by introducing nuclear war equipment in and around the Korean peninsula, thereby proving that the US itself is the major offender of the escalation of tension and undermining of the peace.’’