US flexes muscles in S. Korea as North defends nuclear test
OSAN AIR BASE, SOUTH KOREA
THE United States sent a heavy bomber over South Korea yesterday in a show of force as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un insisted his country's latest nuclear test was carried out in self-defence.
The test on Wednesday of what the North claimed was its first hydrogen bomb has sparked international alarm and raised tensions along the inter-Korean frontier, with Seoul reviving cross-border propaganda broadcasts.
Yesterday's overflight saw a B52 Stratofortress, which is capable of carrying nuclear weapons, briefly roar over the Osan Air Base, some 70km south of the inter-Korean border, the US military and an eyewitness said.
It was escorted by a South Korean and an American jet.
The B52 conducted a low-level flight before heading back to Andersen Air Base in Guam, where it is stationed.
The mission was conducted "in response to recent provocative action by North Korea", US Forces Korea said in a statement.
The aircraft are known to have taken part in joint annual US-South Korea military exercises that have enraged Pyongyang, but their flights over South Korea are rarely publicised.
The last time such a flight was made public was in 2013, after North Korea carried out its third nuclear test.
Yesterday, the Pyongyang state media called for the establishment of a peace accord to stabilise the Korean peninsula and described the nation's nuclear arsenal as a "treasured sword" that defends the country's sovereignty.
The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
"Gone are days never to return when the US could threaten the (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) with nuclear weapons," said ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.
Wednesday's nuclear test was Pyongyang's fourth though experts have questioned North Korea's claim of the explosion having been triggered by a hydrogen bomb.
On Friday, the North's state broadcaster also released video footage of a submarine-launched ballistic missile test, though the South Korean media have suggested the footage was an edited compilation of a previous test.
Lieutenant General Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, commander of the US 7th Air Force and Deputy Commander of the US Forces Korea, said yesterday that the US maintained an "ironclad" commitment to the defence of South Korea.
In his first public remarks since the explosion, North Korea's Mr Kim was cited yesterday as saying that the test was "a self-defensive step for reliably defending the peace on the Korean peninsula and the regional security from the danger of nuclear war caused by the US-led imperialists".
"It is the legitimate right of a sovereign state and a fair action that nobody can criticise," he added, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
An official commentary published by KCNA late on Friday also cited toppled leaders Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya as examples of what happens when countries forsake their nuclear ambitions.