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North Korea stages large-scale artillery drill as U.S. submarine docks in South

News 25 Apr 2017

left right North Korean soldiers salute bronze statues (not pictured) of North Korea's late founder Kim Il-sung and late leader Kim Jong Il at Mansudae in Pyongyang, in this photo released by Kyodo April 25, 2017, to mark the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS 1/16 left right An overview of a national meeting at the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang on April 24, 2017 in celebration of the 85th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in this handout photo by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made available on April 25, 2017. KCNA/Handout via REUTERS 2/16 left right The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan arrives for a regularly scheduled port visit while conducting routine patrols throughout the Western Pacific in Busan, South Korea, April 24, 2017. Jermaine Ralliford/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS 3/16 left right An overview of a national meeting at the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang on April 24, 2017 in celebration of the 85th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in this handout photo by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made available on April 25, 2017. KCNA/Handout via REUTERS 4/16 left right The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan arrives for a regularly scheduled port visit while conducting routine patrols throughout the Western Pacific in Busan, South Korea, April 24, 2017. Jermaine Ralliford/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS 5/16 left right Soldiers walk in front of the Monument to the Foundation of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 6/16 left right The USS Michigan, an Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine, arrives at a naval base in Busan, South Korea, April 25, 2017. Cho Jueong-ho/Yonhap via REUTERS 7/16 left right The USS Michigan, an Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine, arrives at a naval base in Busan, South Korea, April 25, 2017. Cho Jueong-ho/Yonhap via REUTERS 8/16 left right With U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at his side (L), U.S. President Donald Trump receives applause after speaking at a working lunch with ambassadors of countries on the UN Security Council at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque 9/16 left right The USS Michigan, an Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine, arrives at a naval base in Busan, South Korea, April 25, 2017. Cho Jueong-ho/Yonhap via REUTERS 10/16 left right North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un visits the Thaechon Pig Farm of the Air and Anti-Air Force of the Korean People's Army. KCNA/Handout via REUTERS 11/16 left right The USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), front, leads the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112 and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57), in the Indian ocean April 14, 2017.U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Danny Kelley/Handout via REUTERS 12/16 left right With U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at his side (L), U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a working lunch with ambassadors of countries on the UN Security Council at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque 13/16 left right FILE PHOTO: The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the Sunda Strait, Indonesia on April 15, 2017. Sean M. Castellano/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS/File photo 14/16 left right The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the South China Sea while conducting flight operations on April 9, 2017. Z.A. Landers/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS 15/16 left right U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun (L), Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs Kenji Kanasugi (C) and South Korean Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Kim Hong-kyun pose for photographs before their meeting to talk about North Korean issues at the Iikura guest house in Tokyo, Japan April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Yamanaka/Pool 16/16 By Ju-min Park | SEOUL

SEOUL North Korea conducted a big live-fire exercise on Tuesday to mark the foundation of its military as a U.S. submarine docked in South Korea in a show of force amid growing concern over the North's nuclear and missile programs.

The port call by the USS Michigan came as a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group steamed toward Korean waters and as top envoys for North Korea policy from South Korea, Japan and the United States met in Tokyo.

Fears have risen in recent weeks that North Korea would conduct another nuclear test or long-range missile launch in defiance of U.N. sanctions, perhaps on the Tuesday anniversary of the founding of its military.

But instead of a nuclear test or big missile launch, North Korea deployed a large number of long-range artillery units in the region of Wonsan on its east coast for a live-fire drill, South Korea's military said. North Korea has an air base in Wonsan and missiles have also been tested there.

"North Korea is conducting a large-scale firing drill in Wonsan areas this afternoon," the South's Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

The South Korean military was monitoring the situation and "firmly maintaining readiness", it said.

The South's Yonhap News Agency said earlier the exercise was possibly supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea's state media was defiant in a commentary marking the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People's Army, saying its military was prepared "to bring to closure the history of U.S. scheming and nuclear blackmail".

"There is no limit to the strike power of the People's Army armed with our style of cutting-edge military equipment including various precision and miniaturized nuclear weapons and submarine-launched ballistic missiles," the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike.

He sent the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group for exercises in waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning to North Korea and a show of solidarity with U.S. allies.

South Korea's navy said it was conducting a live-fire exercise with U.S. destroyers on Tuesday in waters west of the Korean peninsula and would soon join the carrier strike group approaching the region.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga told media that China's envoy for Korean affairs, Wu Dawei, would hold talks with Japanese Foreign Ministry officials. A ministry source said Wu was likely to meet his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, on Wednesday.

Kanasugi said after talks with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts that they all agreed China should take a concrete role to resolve the crisis and it could use an oil embargo as a tool to press the North.

"We believe China has a very, very important role to play," said the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun.

South Korea's envoy, Kim Hong-kyun, said they had also discussed how to get Russia's help to press North Korea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 27, the Kremlin said. It did not elaborate.

RARE SENATE BRIEFING

Matching the flurry of diplomatic and military activity in Asia, the State Department in Washington said on Monday U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would chair a special ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on North Korea on Friday.

Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Joint Chiefs chairman General Joseph Dunford, would also hold a rare briefing for the entire U.S. Senate on North Korea on Wednesday, Senate aides said.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said those meetings called by U.S. officials clearly reflected the U.S. pressure that could "ignite a full-out war" on the Korean peninsula.

"The reality of today again proves the decision to strengthen nuclear power in quality and quantity under the banner of pursuing economic development and nuclear power was the correct one," the unidentified spokesman said in a statement issued by the North's state media.

On Monday, Trump called for tougher U.N. sanctions on the North, saying it was a global threat and "a problem that we have to finally solve".

"The status quo in North Korea is also unacceptable," Trump told a meeting with the 15 U.N. Security Council ambassadors, including China and Russia, at the White House. "The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

The official China Daily said on Tuesday it was time for Pyongyang and Washington to take a step back from harsh rhetoric and heed voices of reason calling for a peaceful resolution.

"Judging from their recent words and deeds, policymakers in Pyongyang have seriously misread the U.N. sanctions, which are aimed at its nuclear/missile provocations, not its system or leadership," the newspaper said in an editorial.

"They are at once perilously overestimating their own strength and underestimating the hazards they are brewing for themselves," it said.

In a phone conversation with Trump on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for all sides to exercise restraint.

As the carrier group drills continued, the USS Michigan arrived in the South Korean port of Busan on Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said. The nuclear-powered submarine is built to carry and launch ballistic missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

As well as his military show of force, Trump has sought to press China to do more to rein in its nuclear-armed neighbor.

China, North Korea's sole major ally, has in turn been angered by Pyongyang's belligerence, as well as its nuclear and missile programs.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Kaori Kaneko, Linda Sieg, Elaine Lies and Tim Kelly in TOKYO, and Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick, Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, Vladimir Soldatkin in MOSCOW; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

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