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U.S. Flies B-2 Stealth Bombers Over South Korea Amid Escalating Tensions With The North


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The United States flew two B-2 stealth bombers over South Korea today and dropped dummy munitions on an island range. The drill called Foal Eagle was part of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. It comes at a time of heightened tensions on the peninsula. Just last month, North Korea completed its third nuclear test. And in recent weeks, the North's new leader has repeatedly threatened the U.S. with attack.

Earlier today at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed the situation.

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: I think they're very provocative actions and belligerent tone has ratcheted up the danger and we have to understand that reality.

SIEGEL: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now. And, Tom, today's B-2 maneuvers come after other U.S. bombers, B-52s, also took part in joint exercises. Is this a case of saber-rattling on the part of the U.S.?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: You know, Robert, Secretary Hagel was asked about that today. He denied the U.S. is being provocative in any way. He and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of Joint Chiefs, pointed out that, listen, these exercises have been going on for many years, decades. And the B-2 and the B-52s have been used in past years. And these exercises largely have been ignored in the United States. Of course, not in the Korean peninsula.

What's new here, Robert, is that you have a different political situation. You have two new leaders on the Korean peninsula.

SIEGEL: Those two new leaders, of course, North Korea's young leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea's new and first female President Park Guen-hye.

BOWMAN: That's right. And both have been talking tough. You have Kim threatening war against the United States. He pulled the hotline between North and South Korea. He put his troops on high alert and you also have President Park, she said that North Korea's, quote, "path to survival" is to give up its nuclear weapons program and missile program. And she said that last week during the third anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean ship that was believed sunk by a North Korean submarine. And she spoke at a cemetery where nearly 50 dead South Korean sailors are buried from that incident.

SIEGEL: But, Tom, why would the U.S. fly bombers and drop ammunition? Wouldn't that simply make this tense situation even more tense?

BOWMAN: Right. Well, you know, again, they were asked about that. They said it's not provocative, but clearly on the Korean peninsula, this is causing problems. The North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ratcheting up his rhetoric. There's a lot of worry among South Koreans about this. And also, the Americans have come up with something called a combined counter-provocation plan.

I asked General Dempsey about that today and he really didn't answer what it's all about. But what he did say was - what we're told is the whole point of this is to pull back, to make sure that things don't get worse, that things don't escalate.

SIEGEL: OK. thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.