The White House on Monday denied provoking North Korea with unusual military maneuvers while playing down the seriousness of the Stalinist regime’s threats, saying in effect that Pyongyang has been all talk and no action.
“I would note that—despite the harsh rhetoric we’re hearing from Pyongyang—we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilizations and positioning of forces,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing. "We haven’t seen action to back up the rhetoric.”
Carney denied that the U.S. response to weeks of escalating rhetoric from North Korea has intensified rather than defused the standoff.
The U.S. has beefed up its missile defenses and flown nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 bombers over the Korean Peninsula. B-2 stealth bombers even dropped dummy munitions during military exercises with South Korea.
Asked if such actions were making matters worse, Carney replied, "Not at all."
The spokesman insisted the U.S. response has been prudent and designed "to reassure our allies, demonstrate our resolve to the North, and reduce pressure on Seoul to take unilateral action."
He added, "We believe this has reduced the chance of miscalculation and provocation."
The key phrase there may be the suggestion that South Korea could take "unilateral action" against its northern neighbor.
The two countries are technically still at war: The Korean War ended with a cease-fire, not a full peace treaty. But if Washington is truly concerned that the first shot could come from a U.S. ally rather than a member of George W. Bush's "axis of evil," that would also explain why the White House is saying that North Korea's actions don't back up its words—an attempt to lower the temperature in the simmering dispute before it boils over.
North Korea has stepped up harsh rhetoric—warning that it is ready to take military action against South Korea and even fire its missiles at the United States—in the weeks after the United Nations imposed new economic sanctions in response to Pyongyang's latest nuclear test in February.
“North Korea should stop its provocative threats,” Carney said on Monday. Such language "does not make it more secure but only increases its isolation and seriously undermines its ability to pursue economic development.”