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US navy strike group moves towards Korean peninsula, official says / No peace in Syria until Assad is ousted, says Nikki Haley

US navy strike group moves towards Korean peninsula, official says

Donald Trump speaks to acting leader of South Korea after Syria missile strike described by North as ‘intolerable act of aggression’

Staff and agencies
Sunday 9 April 2017 04.57 BST First published on Sunday 9 April 2017 00.28 BST

The US navy has deployed a strike group towards the western Pacific Ocean to provide a presence near the Korean peninsula, a US official said on Saturday.

The Carl Vinson strike group, which includes an aircraft carrier, was originally scheduled to make port calls in Australia, but is now on its way from Singapore to the western Pacific ocean.

“US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Strike Group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the western Pacific,” said Commander Dave Benham, spokesman at US Pacific Command.

“The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilising program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” he said, in an unusually forceful statement.

The news followed a Friday report by NBC that the National Security Council had included the return of nuclear weapons to South Korea in options presented to Donald Trump for dealing with the threat posed by North Korea. Killing North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, was also presented as an option, NBC reported.

On Saturday the White House said the US president had spoken to the acting president of South Korea, Hwang Kyo-Ahn. North Korea, meanwhile, called the US missile strike on Syria on Thursday night “an intolerable act of aggression”.

Rising tensions between North Korea, South Korea and the US and the North’s nuclear ambitions were chief among subjects discussed by Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in Florida this week.

The White House said on Saturday Trump spoke with Hwang about the strike in Syria, launched in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack on civilians by Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The two leaders agreed to stay in close contact, the White House said, regarding North Korea and other issues of mutual concern.

Analysts have said the Syria strike contained a clear message for Pyongyang that the US was not afraid to exercise the military option, and there had been speculation as to how the North would respond.

Trump has recently threatened unilateral action against Pyongyang if Beijing fails to help curb its neighbour’s nuclear weapons programme. Pyongyang’s response on Saturday suggested the reclusive state was determined to continue with its nuclear weapons programme.

“Swaggering as a superpower, the US has been picking only on countries without nuclear weapons and the Trump administration is no exception,” a foreign ministry spokesman said, according to the KCNA news agency.

The comments were Pyongyang’s first since Trump ordered the strikes on an airbase in Syria.

“The US missile attack against Syria is a clear and intolerable act of aggression against a sovereign state and we strongly condemn it,” KCNA quoted the spokesman as saying.

 “The reality of today shows that we must stand against power with power and it proves a million times over that our decision to strengthen our nuclear deterrence has been the right choice.

“The Syria attack thoroughly reminds us the fact that it is absolutely dangerous to have any illusions about imperialism and only military power of our own will protect us from imperialistic aggression.

“We will keep bolstering our self-defensive military might in various ways in order to cope with the ever-intensifying US acts of aggression.”

The North has carried out five nuclear tests – two last year – and expert satellite imagery analysis suggests it could well be preparing for a sixth.

Pyongyang has shown no sign of reining in a missile testing programme ultimately aimed at securing the capability to deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental US.

No peace in Syria until Assad is ousted, says Nikki Haley

In a departure from the administration’s previous stance, US ambassador to the UN suggests regime change is now one of its priorities

Staff and agencies
Sunday 9 April 2017 03.44 BST

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has said that she sees regime change in Syria as one of the Trump administration’s priorities in the country wracked by civil war.

Defeating Islamic State, pushing Iranian influence out of Syria, and the ousting of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad are priorities for Washington, Haley said in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, which will air in full on Sunday.

 “There’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime,” Haley said, while reiterating that defeating Isis was still the number one policy goal. “If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad.”

“Regime change is something that we think is going to happen.”

The comments represented a departure from what Haley said before the United States hit a Syrian air base with 59 Tomahawk missiles on Thursday in retaliation for what it said was a chemical weapons attack by Assad’s forces on Syrian civilians.

President Donald Trump ordered the missile strike after watching television images of infants suffering from chemical weapons injuries.

“You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” Haley had told reporters on 30 March, just days before dozens of Syrian civilians died from chemical weapons injuries.

Haley’s latest comments jarred with remarks made by secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who said on Saturday that Washington’s first priority is the defeat of Isis.

Once the threat from Isis has been reduced or eliminated, “I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilising the situation in Syria,” Tillerson said in excerpts from an interview on CBSs Face the Nation, that will air in full on Sunday.

Tillerson said the United States is hopeful it can help bring parties together to begin the process of hammering out a political solution.

“If we can achieve ceasefires in zones of stabilisation in Syria, then I believe – we hope we will have the conditions to begin a useful political process,” Tillerson said.

Syrian forces launched further airstrikes on Saturday that killed 18 people including five children in rebel-controlled Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the civil defence rescue service reported.

Reuters contributed to this report

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