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North Korea rebukes U.S. as Navy strike group advances

April 15, 2017 at 4:26 PM EDT
North Korea marked its most important holiday today -- the Day of the Sun, which commemorates the birthday of founding ruler Kim Il-sung. At the ceremony for the event, North Korean politician and army official Choe Ryong-hae charged President Donald Trump with "creating a war situation" by sending a Navy carrier strike group to the region earlier this month. Jean Lee, a correspondent for the Associated Press, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Seoul for more on tensions with North Korea.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Turning to the situation in North Korea, I am joined via Skype by Jean Lee, a correspondent for “The Associated Press” on the Korean peninsula, and now a fellow with the Wilson Center. She is in the South Korean capital city of Seoul.

So, Ms. Lee, this morning, we’ve had pictures of the big parades. The thing that everyone was very concerned about, any sort of a test of a nuclear missile — that did not happen.

JEAN LEE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I think it’s not a matter of whether it will happen. I’m fairly confident that it will happen at some point.

North Korea has made it very clear that they are going to push ahead with their illicit ballistic missiles and weapons program. And certainly what we saw in the parade here, in Pyongyang, earlier this morning, showed us that they are continuing to build some pretty fearsome-looking weapons despite U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban them from building these weapons.

SREENIVASAN: How tense was the situation over the last 24, 48 hours? I mean, in some ways, South Koreans, they’ve been through this drill before.

LEE:South Koreans are largely unfazed. The people of South Korea are largely unfazed. You’d be hard pressed on the streets of Seoul today to tell that there was this kind of a crisis going on.

It was — they’re really concerned about a political upheaval right now. They impeached their president. They’ve got a presidential election coming up in a few weeks. And actually, they were out in the streets today. It was one of the first beautiful spring days.

That said, certainly within the government and among the presidential candidates, there was a lot of concern about some of the language coming from Washington, particularly President Trump saying that the U.S. would deal with North Korea on its own if China didn’t jump in. That is the type of language that South Korea does not want to hear, and every single one of the presidential candidates addressed this and said the U.S. really needs to consult with South Korea. That this — they need to be in the loop on anything to do with North Korea because this is the country that would bear the brunt of any kind of military action.

SREENIVASAN: The Vice President Pence is on his way to the region starting tomorrow. As you mentioned, if the South Korean government is kind of in a state of flux, who does he meet with? How does the region resolve issues with the leadership in South Korea, knowing that that’s going to change in a few weeks?

LEE: This certainly puts Seoul at a disadvantage to have this type of a political vacuum at such a crucial time when the Trump administration is developing its North Korean policy. But part of what he wants to do is reassure Seoul and Tokyo and other partners in the region that the U.S. stands firm, despite some of the language coming out of Washington. And he will be meeting with the acting president on Monday.

So, he is trying to make a point that, yes, they realize that South Korea is in political transition, but that they remain — they remain committed to this long-standing, U.S.-South Korean alliance.

SREENIVASAN: And while South Korea is directly in the crosshairs if there was any sort of military action from North Korea, we are also seeing reports that Japan is, in a way, trying to take measures and trying to figure out contingency plans.

LEE: Japan is nervous as well. We have to remember that one of the recent ballistic missile launches was targeted toward Japan. A number of these ballistic missiles landed within a few hundred miles from the Japanese shores. So, this is certainly sent to — was meant to send a message to Japan but has Tokyo nervous as well. So, I did see those reports that Japan was perhaps practicing to evacuate its citizens and certainly one of the things Pence wants to do by coming is to show that he has confidence in the region.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Jean Lee from “The Associated Press” joining us via Skype from Seoul — thanks so much.

LEE: Thank you.

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