S. Korea and US say now not the time for talks with North Korea

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - The US Air Force's B-1B Lancer strategic bomber aircraft and F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets conducted simulated bombing drills in South Korea on Wednesday, a show of the allies' ability and resolve to retaliate against North Korea's provocations, the defense authorities here said.

South Korea and the US stressed on Wednesday that now is not the time for talks with North Korea over its nuclear and missile program, as a US B-1B Lancer bomber flew over the Korean Peninsula for a joint aerial drill with the South Korean military.

While seeking to resolve the nuclear standoff with “diplomatic and peaceful means,” the two countries will place their emphasis more on maximizing sanctions and pressure against the reclusive regime, the two countries’ government said.

“While we still want to see a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, now is clearly not the time for talks,” Katina Adams, US State Department spokeswoman, said in an interview with Voice of America.

“We must remain focused on increasing the costs for Pyongyang to continue to advance its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs. ... We remain fully committed to the defense of our allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, using the full range of our conventional and nuclear capabilities.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry Spokesperson Baek Tae-hyun echoed the notion, saying the ministry would focus on implementing sanctions and pressure against North Korea and work with the international community to bring them back to the negotiating table.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been running high, after North Korea test-fired intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-15. Pyongyang claimed the launch was successful and the missile is a nuclear-capable ICBM that could strike the contiguous US.

In a show of force, a B-1B bomber flew over the peninsula as part of a massive air combat drill between South Korea and the US. The plane joined two US F-22 Raptor Stealth fighters in a bombing exercise that kicked off Monday and will run until Friday, according to the Korean Air Force.

While the US Air Force highlighted the drill was “not in response to any incident or provocation,” the exercise is largely seen as part of extended deterrence. The annual Vigilant Ace 18 drill involves six F-22 Raptors, six F-35A and 12 F-35B stealth fighter jets, according to the allies’ air forces.

Meanwhile, United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman arrived in North Korea on Tuesday for a rare visit from a senior UN official. During a four-day visit, He is expected to meet the North’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to discuss “the issue of mutual interest and concern.”

“This is broadly a policy dialogue with (North Korea). I think we have to wait and see what comes out. ... All key member states ... were informed and briefed of the visit,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Considered to be the highest-level UN official visit to North Korea since 2012, the event has spawned speculation the UN will play a mediation role amid the escalating nuclear standoff between the US and North Korea.

The US State Department appeared to downplay the speculation, saying Feltman does not carry “any message” from the US government and is not traveling on its behalf.

“And he’s not traveling -- I want to make this clear -- with any kind of message from the US government. ... He is going on behalf of the UN, not US government,” Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswoman, said in a regular briefing.

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