US carrier strike group heads toward W. Pacific near Korea

In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the USS Gerald R. Ford departs Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding for builder's sea trials off the U.S. East Coast, Saturday, April 8, 2017, in Newport News, Va. The first of the Navy's new class of aircraft carriers will spend several days conducting builder's sea trials, a comprehensive test of many of the ship's key systems and technologies. (Chief Mass Communication Specialist Christopher Delano/U.S. Navy via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon says a Navy carrier strike group is moving toward the western Pacific Ocean to provide a physical presence near the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests and continued pursuit of a nuclear program have raised tensions in the region, where U.S. Navy ships are a common presence and serve in part as a show of force.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump and South Korea’s leader, Acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn, spoke by phone. The White House said the two agreed to stay in close contact about North Korea and other issues.

The U.S. Pacific Command directed the carrier group to sail north to the western Pacific after departing Singapore on Saturday, according to a Navy news release. The carrier group includes the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, with support from several missile destroyers and missile cruisers.

Deployed from San Diego to the western Pacific since Jan. 5, the strike group has participated in numerous exercises with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and Republic of Korea Navy, various maritime security initiatives, and routine patrol operations in the South China Sea.

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