The White House has defended President Donald Trump’s claim that a US Navy strike group recently dispatched to monitor North Korea was sailing towards the Korean Peninsula and not away from it, as stated in some reports.
The Trump administration said on Wednesday it never gave an arrival date for the US carrier strike group and that the ships were still on their way.
Speaking to the media, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the armada led by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was indeed on its course towards Korean waters.
“The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That's a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather,” Spicer said, while referring further questions to the Pentagon.
“What part is misleading? I’m trying to figure that out. We answered the question on what signal it sent. I’m not the one who commented on timing.”
On April 11, the US Navy said it would take at least a week for the strike group to arrive at the desired location.
However, it emerged later on that the armada was thousands of miles away from Korean waters, heading south to partake in joint drills with Australia.
“We are sending an armada, very powerful,” Trump boasted in an interview aired April 12, indicating an apparent show of force by Washington in the face of North Korea’s increasing ballistic missile tests.
On April 15, the Navy published a photo of the aircraft carrier as it was transiting the Sunda Strait for a scheduled drill with Australia in the Indian Ocean—some 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) southwest of the Korean Peninsula.
It was on Tuesday when the strike group finally turned north and started sailing towards the Korean Peninsula.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis attempted to address the confusion on Wednesday, arguing that the change of course was disclosed in the interest of transparency.
“We are doing exactly what we said we were going to do. She will be on her way,” the Pentagon chief told reporters as he made a stop in Saudi Arabia on a tour to the Middle East. “I’ll determine when she gets there and where she actually operates, but the Vinson is going to be part of our ensuring that we stand by our allies in the north-west Pacific.”
Rear Admiral Jim Kirby, who commands the armada, said in a Facebook post that the deployment had been extended by a month “to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula.”
“If you are going to threaten the North Koreans, you better make sure your threat is credible,” said Joel Wit, a co-founder of the 38 North program of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “If you threaten them and your threat is not credible, it’s only going to undermine whatever your policy toward them is.”