WASHINGTON — Despite a drumbeat of increasingly bellicose threats from North Korea, the White House said Monday that there was no evidence that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was mobilizing troops or other military forces for any imminent attack.
Though U.S. officials said they remained concerned about the invective flowing from North Korea — and South Korea’s president ordered military commanders to carry out a swift and strong response to any provocations — the Obama administration took pains to emphasize the “disconnect” between Kim’s “rhetoric and action.”
The White House’s strategy, officials said, was calculated to ease tensions after a fraught few days in which Kim threatened to rain missiles on the American mainland and the United States responded by flying nuclear-capable bombers over the Korean Peninsula.
“We are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture such as large-scale mobilizations or positioning of forces,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. “What that disconnect between rhetoric and action means, I’ll leave to the analysts to judge.”
Even as the White House tried to tamp down the tensions, the Pentagon said it had moved a Navy missile-defense ship from its home port in Japan to waters closer to the Korean Peninsula, in what was described as a carefully calibrated response, given the North’s warnings about putting its rockets on a higher stage of alert.
The deployment came after the United States publicized a rare training flight by two B-2 bombers over South Korea, where they carried out a mock bombing run, and pledged to spend $1 billion to expand ballistic missile-defense systems along the Pacific Coast.
Having taken these unusually public steps to demonstrate its commitment to defend itself and protect South Korea and Japan, the Obama administration appeared to be trying to defuse a situation that many analysts say has gone beyond previous cycles of provocation by North Korea, and raised genuine fears of war.
“It is a calculated response to say, ‚ÄòWe don’t want anyone to think the situation is getting out of control, that the ladder of escalation is going to end in a full-scale conflict,”’ said Jeffrey A. Bader, who worked on North Korea policy for the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011.
For all the uncertainty surrounding the young ruler of North Korea, Bader said, the latest round of warlike statements from the North recalled the theatrical belligerence shown by Kim ‘s father, Kim Jong Il. Those episodes often led to hostile acts, but never a wholesale military attack on South Korea.
Still, on Monday, South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, ordered her country’s military to deliver a strong and immediate response to any North Korean provocation.