SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, in the Pacific region since February, might remain near Japan after the USS Kitty Hawk returns from its Persian Gulf deployment.

Pentagon officials said the Vinson, now in port on Guam, would remain in the Pacific while the Kitty Hawk receives repairs in a Japanese shipyard, according to an Associated Press report.

“I cannot discuss the arrival date of the Kitty Hawk in Japan,” said Cmdr. Dave Wells, a spokesman for Commander, Naval Forces Japan. But Wells did say that the carrier would undergo maintenance upon its return.

Citing a Navy policy not to discuss ship movements, Wells would neither confirm nor deny the Vinson’s specific plans.

Navy ships go through regular periods of maintenance, repairs and upgrades, known as Selected Restricted Availability. Typically ships in SRA are unavailable unless extreme conditions warrant.

Wells would not characterize the Kitty Hawk’s maintenance availability as an SRA, saying he cannot discuss the repairs or length of time they’d require.

In early February, as tensions with North Korea increased, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld directed the Vinson to the Pacific to serve as an immediate response to any needs that might arise in the region, U.S. media reported. Concurrently, the Kitty Hawk was ordered to the Persian Gulf, where the carrier and crew took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The current round of strife with North Korea began earlier this year, when Pyongyang expelled international nuclear inspectors. Since then, the communist regime reignited facilities thought capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, test-fired short-range non-nuclear missiles, routinely used aggressive language and urged bilateral talks only between itself and the United States.

The United States has resisted one-on-one talks with North Korea, which in turn fought the inclusion of other nations in such sessions. Last week, very shortly after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled in Iraq, both compromised. They agreed to talks with just one other nation, China, at the table.

But the United States has warned it will maintain strong forces in the Western Pacific.

The Vinson, known as the “Gold Eagle,” with a crew of 5,313 enlisted sailors and 568 officers, launched in March 1980. Its permanent base is in Bremerton, Wash.

The Japanese public has long opposed the operation of nuclear-powered vessels in and around Japan. In August the nuclear-powered carrier USS Abraham Lincoln anchored in Sasebo Harbor for a port visit. About 2,000 people marched near Sasebo Naval Base’s main gate to protest the visit.

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