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Reports of North Korea artillery drill as U.S. submarine makes South Korea port call

News 25 Apr 2017

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 1/10 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 2/10 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 3/10 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 4/10 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 5/10 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 6/10 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 7/10 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 8/10 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 9/10 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 10/10 By Ju-min Park | SEOUL

SEOUL North Korea put on a massive live-fire drill on Tuesday to mark the foundation of its military, a media report said, as a U.S. submarine docked in South Korea in a show of force amid growing concern over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

The port call by the USS Michigan came as a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group steams for Korean waters and as the top nuclear envoys from South Korea, Japan, and the United States met in Tokyo to discuss the North's refusal to give up its nuclear program.

Fears have risen in recent weeks that North Korea could soon conduct another nuclear test or missile launch in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported that the North appeared to have deployed a large number of long-range artillery units in the region of Wonsan on its east coast on Tuesday, conducting a large-scale live firing drill.

The report, citing an unidentified government source, said the live-fire exercise was possibly supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The South's Defence Ministry could not immediately confirm the report.

North Korea defiantly said in a state media commentary marking the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People's Army's that 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.

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

The carrier group was sent to the region as a warning to North Korea and a show of solidarity with U.S. allies.

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

Emerging from talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, said: "As we discuss these things all our steps and every part of them will be in coordination and consultation with our partners."

RARE SENATE BRIEFING

Matching the flurry of diplomatic and military activity in North 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.

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump called for tougher new U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang, saying the North 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."

South Korean and U.S. officials have feared for some time that a sixth North Korean nuclear test or the latest in a string of missile launches could be imminent.

"SERIOUSLY MISREAD"

The official China Daily said on Tuesday it was time for Pyongyang and Washington to take a step back from harsh rhetoric and heed the 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 also sought to pressure 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.

Angered by the approach of the carrier group, which could arrive within days, North Korea said the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson was "an extremely dangerous act by those who plan a nuclear war to invade".

(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; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)

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