A new top-of-the-line U.S. guided missile destroyer with missile-tracking radar was deployed to Japan on Saturday, as tensions mounted over neighboring North Korea’s recent missile tests.
The USS Mustin arrived Saturday at Yokosuka, homeport to the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, with its crew of 300 sailors for permanent assignment to the region, said 7th Fleet spokeswoman Hanako Tomizuka.
The move comes as the United States restructures its regional defenses amid growing concern about the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, which stunned northeastern Asia on Wednesday by test-firing seven missiles.
In August, Yokosuka will also welcome the USS Shiloh, which last month demonstrated its ability to shoot down missile warheads in a landmark test off the coast of Hawaii.
The Mustin, commissioned in 2003, is one of the most advanced in the fleet, but its deployment to Yokosuka was previously planned and not made in response to North Korea’s latest missile shots, Tomizuka said.
Both the Mustin and the Shiloh are equipped with radar systems that employ so-called Aegis technology that is geared toward tracking and shooting down enemy missiles. The system was instrumental in identifying and assessing Wednesday’s missile launchings, which all fell apparently harmlessly into the Sea of Japan.
The U.S. Navy now has eight Aegis-equipped vessels at Yokosuka, Kyodo News agency reported.
Also Saturday, U.S. envoy Christopher Hill rejected North Korea’s demand that Washington lift financial measures against the regime, but he backed a Chinese proposal for an informal meeting of countries involved in six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
Hill was in Seoul on a tour of regional capitals in to coordinate the international response to the North’s test-firing of seven missiles on Wednesday. The tests sparked widespread criticism of the regime, but the U.S. is split with China and Russia over whether to punish Pyongyang.
Beijing, where Hill held meetings on Friday, has floated the idea of the members of the six-party talks – the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the U.S. – hold an informal meeting on the standoff. Pyongyang is currently boycotting the formal six-nation talks held in Beijing.
Hill said the U.S. and South Korea backed the idea.
“As many of you know, the Chinese have talked about putting together a six-party informal, and we both support that and we think that all countries are prepared to come to that informal meeting,” Hill told reporters.
The U.S. envoy dismissed a North Korean demand that the U.S. drop its crackdown on the regime’s alleged financial crimes, such as money-laundering and counterfeiting.
“This is not a time for so-called gestures of that kind,” Hill said when asked by reporters for reaction to the North Korean demand. “We have a country that has fired off missiles in a truly reckless way that affects … regional security.”
North Korea has boycotted talks for months in protest on the crackdown, and has refused to return until the punitive measures are lifted. Washington, however, has argued that the two issues are separate and should not be linked.
Hill, speaking after a meeting with Chun Young-woo, South Korea’s top negotiator in international nuclear talks, also insisted the two allies would not be split over their response to the missile tests.
“What we’re not going to do is allow the … missile launches to divide us,” Hill told reporters. “These missile launches have actually brought us closer together and we’re going to work very closely together in the weeks ahead.”
The North in recent days has remained defiant, defending its right to test missiles and saying the launches could continue. Pyongyang has also threatened to take “stronger” measures against anyone who tries to stop further tests.
North Korean media devoted coverage Saturday to the 12th anniversary of the death of President Kim Il Sung, the national founder who was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il, in communism’s first hereditary transfer of power.
“At the same time that Japan, along with the U.S., France, and the U.K. are proposing tough sanctions at the U.N., the U.S. has offered to meet bilaterally with North Korea at the sidelines of six-party talks, if they are resumed,” CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency early Saturday quoted a North Korean diplomat as saying North Korea is willing to return to the six-nation talks if it is allowed to withdraw its money frozen in accounts of a bank blacklisted by the United States.
Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York, made the remark, renewing the North’s long-standing demand that the U.S. lift financial restrictions imposed on a Macau bank for allegedly aiding the North’s illicit activities.
Japan and the United States have led an effort for the U.N. to impose sanctions, but China and Russia have called for softer measures. On Friday, Japan circulated a draft resolution that would order countries to “take those steps necessary” to keep the North from acquiring items that could be used for its missile program. Diplomats said the U.N. Security Council would take up the issue on Monday.
“The challenge for U.S. negotiators will be to determine how to both protect the American public and to get the North Koreans back to the 6-party talks in light of the dangerous provocation that was caused by the July 4th launch of missiles,” adds Falk. “The next step is likely to be diplomacy and all hands on deck at the U.N. Security Council on Monday morning.”
“The reason that the launch is so threatening is because of North Korea’s nuclear capability and because they pulled out of the Non Proliferation Treaty three years ago,” Falk says.