WASHINGTON -- As tensions escalate on the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. is weighing whether to deploy the massive aircraft carrier USS George Washington to the Yellow Sea, where North Korea allegedly sank a South Korean warship, U.S. defense officials said.
Such a deployment would be a show of force by the U.S., which has vowed to protect South Korea and is seeking to blunt aggression from North Korea. An international investigation last month blamed North Korea for torpedoing the Cheonan warship in March, killing 46 South Korean sailors.
U.S. officials, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Wednesday that a final decision on deployment of the nuclear-powered carrier was likely by the end of the week.
If the deployment occurs, the USS George Washington would head to the Yellow Sea by Tuesday for naval exercises with the South Koreans, two senior Pentagon officials told Fox News.
The deployment of the aircraft carrier would be seen as a particularly aggressive move by the United States because of its sheer size. According to a Navy website, the carrier is 244 feet high from keel to mast and can accommodate some 6,250 crew members.
Built in the 1980s, the carrier uses two nuclear reactors that would allow it to steam almost 18 years before needing to refuel.
Inter-Korean political and economic ties have been steadily deteriorating since the February 2008 inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who vowed a tougher line on the North and its nuclear program. The sinking of the Cheonan has returned military tensions — and the prospect of armed conflict — to the forefront.
The U.S. fought on the South Korean side during the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. North Korea has long demanded a permanent peace agreement.
The prospect of another eruption of serious fighting has been constant on the Korean peninsula since the war ended. But it had been largely out of focus in the past decade as North and South Korea took steps to end enmity and distrust, such as launching joint economic projects and holding two summits.
The sinking of the warship, however, clearly caught South Korea — which has a far more modern and advanced military than its impoverished rival — off guard.
Fox News' Justin Fishel, Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.