By Kang Ji-Hyun
President Moon Jae-in gave consent to the United States flying B-1B Lancer bombers off the North Korean coast, Cheong Wa Dae said Monday.
The explanation came amid speculation Seoul was unaware of the operation and had been excluded from Washington’s show of force against Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats, although such action could raise military tension that would affect South Korea.
A Cheong Wa Dae official said Seoul and Washington had agreed on the show of force involving B-1B bombers during Moon’s stay in New York for the U.N. General Assembly last week.
Moon returned from New York late Friday night, and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) flew the bombers north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. This was the farthest north of the DMZ any U.S. fighter or bomber has flown off the North’s coast in the 21st century, according to the Pentagon.
“The B-1B flight was conducted after prior agreement and cooperation between South Korea and the U.S.,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “Moon received a briefing about the plan during his stay in New York.”
He said the two countries had a full discussion in advance and the show of force was carried out under close cooperation, stressing “cooperation means South Korea consented to it.”
Moon presided over a National Security Council (NSC) meeting Sunday evening, an unusual move considering NSC meetings are usually held following North Korea’s nuclear or missile provocations. This sparked speculation Washington unilaterally notified Seoul of the operation without prior consultation, and Moon held the meeting hastily to discuss follow-up measures.
But the Cheong Wa Dae official said the meeting had been prearranged. “The meeting was not held suddenly but had been scheduled since last week,” he said. “So far Cheong Wa Dae held NSC meetings after North Korea’s provocations for follow-up measures, but Moon called for the need to hold meetings to check the political and security situation in Northeast Asia and prepare measures in advance. So Sunday’s meeting was held in that sense.”
Even though Seoul was aware of and consented to the USAF show of force against the North, such activities are feared to aggravate military tension on the peninsula coupled with the bellicose rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un toward each other.
Some government sources said the radars of the North’s SA-5 surface-to-air missiles in Wonsan, Kangwon Province, were operating when the B-1B bombers were flying off the coast.
But it seemed the bombers were out of the SA-5’s range, they said.
Although Pyongyang did not fire the missiles at the bombers or take other military action, concern is rising that frequent shows of force could cause unexpected and unintentional clashes.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) urged the Moon government to take more active security measures, saying the military tension reached a flashpoint with the bombers’ flight.
“The U.S. unilaterally carried out a military operation by flying B-1B Lancer bombers and F-15C Eagle fighters north of the DMZ, the first of its kind since the 1950-53 Korean War,” LKP floor leader Chung Woo-taik said.
“The government should give a detailed account to the National Assembly and the people of why such a military operation, which led the country to the brink of war, took place and exactly what agreement was made between South Korea and the U.S.”
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