OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AP) — A powerful U.S. B-52 bomber flew low over South Korea on Sunday, a clear show of force from the United States as a Cold War-style standoff deepened between its ally Seoul and North Korea following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test.
North Korea will read the fly-over of a bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons — seen by an Associated Press photographer at Osan Air Base near Seoul — as a threat. Any hint of America’s nuclear power enrages Pyongyang, which links its own pursuit of atomic weapons to what it sees as past nuclear-backed moves by the United States to topple its authoritarian government.
The B-52 was joined by South Korean F-15 and U.S. F-16 fighters and returned to its base in Guam after the flight, the U.S. military said.
“This was a demonstration of the ironclad U.S. commitment to our allies in South Korea, in Japan, and to the defense of the American homeland,” said Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander U.S. Pacific Command, in a statement. “North Korea’s nuclear test is a blatant violation of its international obligations.”
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said the B-52 flight was intended to underscore to South Korean allies “the deep and enduring alliance that we have with them.” Interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McDonough said the United States would work with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia “to deeply isolate the North Koreans” and “squeeze” them until they live up to prior commitments to get rid of their nuclear weapons.
“That’s the baseline requirement they have to rejoin the international community,” McDonough said. “Until they do it, they’ll remain where they are which is an outcast — unable to provide for their own people.”
The B-52 flight follows a victory tour by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to celebrate the country’s widely disputed claim of a hydrogen bomb test. Kim is seeking to rally pride in an explosion viewed with outrage by much of the world and to boost his domestic political goals.
There was no immediate reaction from North Korea’s state media to the B-52 fly-over, which also happened after North Korea’s third nuclear test in 2013.
Kim’s first public comments about last week’s test came in a visit to the country’s military headquarters, where he called the explosion “a self-defensive step” meant to protect the region “from the danger of nuclear war caused by the U.S.-led imperialists,” according to a dispatch Sunday from state-run Korean Central News Agency.
“It is the legitimate right of a sovereign state and a fair action that nobody can criticize,” Kim was reported as saying during his tour of the People’s Armed Forces Ministry.
The tone of Kim’s comments, which sought to glorify him and justify the test, is typical of state media propaganda.
But they also provide insight into North Korea’s long-running argument that it is the presence of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan, and a “hostile” U.S. policy that seeks to topple the government in Pyongyang, that make North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons absolutely necessary.