North Korea said a flight by the nuclear-capable B-52 took place
off the west coast of the Korean peninsula on Wednesday.
A U.S. military spokeswoman said she could not discuss details of
specific missions, adding: "The U.S. Pacific Command has maintained
a rotational strategic bomber presence in the region for more than a
A South Korean military source told the Yonhap news agency that the
flight was a training sortie involving a single aircraft. The
North's National Defence Commission, the country's top military
body, said in a statement read on state television, that it was a
rehearsal for a nuclear attack.
"At the time when the agreement was made on reunions of separated
families and relatives at Panmunjom, a formation of U.S. B-52
strategic bombers from Guam was carrying out nuclear strike
practices all day over Korea's west sea, aiming at us," a spokesman
for the Commission was quoted as saying.
In a rare confidence-building move, the two Koreas agreed on
Wednesday, in talks at the border village of Panmunjom, to allow
families still divided by the 1950-53 Korean War to meet for five
days in late February for the first time since 2010.
South Korea's Ministry of Unification said it would be "regrettable"
and would hurt separated families if North Korea did not go ahead
with the reunions as agreed in response to the flight.
A sharp escalation of tension between the North and South in early
2013 triggered threats by the North of a nuclear strike on South
Korea, Japan, the U.S. South Pacific territory of Guam and even the
continental United States. Washington responded with B-2 and B-52
flights over South Korea.
Both aircraft can carry nuclear weapons.
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The North has made a diplomatic push to try and halt U.S. and South
Korean drills that are regularly staged at this time of year,
although the South said on Thursday the drills would go ahead as
Hazel Smith, a North Korea expert at Britain's University of Central
Lancashire said she expected North Korea to respond to the sortie.
"Since North Korea is motivated by military thinking, a show of
force is probably going to provoke a response," she said.
Smith said any one of various groups in North Korea might try to
make a show of power with a reaction to the flight, and young leader
Kim Jong Un was probably unable to influence events.
"There is no political manager at the top of this — you need someone
in an authoritarian country to manage the elite, and Kim Jong Un
does not have the legitimacy, authority or experience to manage
these different interests," Smith said.
"I have never seen such an internally unstable political situation
in North Korea," said Smith, who has been researching the country
for more than 25 years.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park and James Pearson;
editing by David Chance
and Robert Birsel)
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