Mike Pence to visit South Korea on Easter Day as tensions escalate

Vice President Pence is heading to Seoul tomorrowReuters

The US Vice President Mike Pence, a deeply committed Christian, is to visit South Korea on Easter Day as tensions escalate over the nuclear testing programme of its neighbour North Korea.

The US has sent a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the peninusla as North Korea today marks the 105th anninversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung today. The holiday is the most important in North Korea's calendar It features highly regimented dancers and singers, including children, march-pasts and colourful floral displays around public screens showing films of nuclear warheads being launched into blue skies

This year the regime is expected to showcase its new long-range and submarine missiles. North Korea has warned the US it will retaliate 'with nuclear attacks' if provoked. The displays will serve as a defiant show of strength and a statement of intent that the regime in the South is prepared to use its growing nuclear arsenal as it approaches its sixth nuclear test. 

Pence's trip is understood to be intended as a signal to South Korea, an ally of the US, of its continued commitment. He will land in Seoul today in what is the first stop of a 10-day trip to Asia.

In a briefing on the visit, a senior administration official told journalists that Pence's long-planned trip to Seoul, Tokyo, Jakarta and Sydney was to develop economic dialogues and business relationships.

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The official said: 'A couple of key themes that you'll see reinforced throughout each visit with our alliances – that we are fully committed to our security alliances, especially in the face of our evolving security challenges. And you've seen the nuclear threat of North Korea, and we'll reinforce those security alliances.'

He said: 'Our visit with the acting president [of South Korea], as we go into Seoul, the Vice President is going to reaffirm our commitment -- ironclad US-ROK alliance. And the Vice President is going to underscore intent -- we're going to continue to consult with the Republic of Korea on North Korea's efforts to advance its ballistic missile and its nuclear program. So that will be critical as we sit down with the acting president.'

He said there will be 'particular emphasis' in talks 'on the belligerency of North Korea'.

He added: 'And we've got some military options already being assessed, but we'll work that as we sit down in discussions with General Brooks, the commander there on Peninsula.'

 Asked what he meant by 'military options with regard to North Korea', he declined to go into specifics. 'Obviously, in our commitment to the Republic of Korea, we consult with them as well -- those discussions, as part of the broader assessment with the National Security Council, so we wouldn't get into the weeds in the military setting.'

Asked about potential sanctions on North Korea or firms that do business with North Korea, he said said this was 'another tool' at US disposal.

'I would imagine again that the South Korean leadership may raise that as a point and we're prepared to address that. Obviously, we've been working here collaboratively with the National Security Council, again, to look for a wide range of options for North Korea, one of which, to no surprise, would be sanctions. So if that is raised, we're prepared to discuss it.'

He stated that the long alliance between the US and South Korea is the linchpin of peace and prosperity. 'The President takes national security as a top priority,' he added. The US has 'an ironclad commitment' to all its allies in the Asia Pacific.

And the US is prepared for North Korea to do a possible test even this weekend. 'Unfortunately, it's not a new surprise for us. He continues to develop this program. He continues to launch missiles into the Sea of Japan. So with that regime it's not a matter of "if," it's "when." So we're well prepared to counter that.'

Military trucks carry soldiers through central Pyongyang before sunset as the capital preparers for a parade marking today's 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founding father and grandfather of the current ruler.Reuters

Meanwhile, in North Korea, Choe Ryong Hae, a close aide to Kim Jong Un, addressed a square packed with people with a bellicose warning to the US.

He said: 'If the United States wages reckless provocation against us, our revolutionary power will instantly counter with annihilating strike, and we will respond to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike warfare.'

Additional reporting by Reuters

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