The United States and South Korea have conducted drills simulating the infiltration of an enemy facility amid tensions with North Korea over its unilaterally set year-end deadline. Meanwhile, a satellite has captured images of the construction of a new structure in a missile-related factory.
The drills, recently conducted by South Korean and U.S. special forces troops, involved soldiers raiding a facility and leading out a man with his hands tied behind his back, according to photos. The exercise was described as a joint regular close-quarters battle training and took place at a U.S. military base in the southwestern South Korean city of Gunsan.
The U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service was behind the rare release of the photos. South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, which first reported the training, said the drills were intended to simulate a scenario to capture North Korean executives.
On Dec. 23, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a meeting that its “more important than anything” to keep up the momentum for talks between the United States and North Korea.
China has a major role to play in getting North Korea to change, Peter Huessy, a senior defense consultant and director of strategic deterrent studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told The Epoch Times.
“The way to do that is to pose a choice for China. Do they want to see six nuclear-armed nations—Japan, South Korea, United States, Russia, China, and North Korea—in the region?” he said. “Or should we seek to at least have three—Russia, China, and the United States? Which is better?”
“Having North Korea now as the fourth one is riskier than having six. Does China see things that way? Some Chinese leaders do, but not enough, and not the premier.”
Huessy also suggested that more pressure should be placed on cutting off Chinese banks that supply North Korea with hard currency and illicit supplies of equipment and luxury goods, among others. He said there are Chinese banks that are
devoted almost entirely to that effort.”
Moon’s office also said that the stalled talks between North Korea and the United States were not beneficial for Pyongyang.
In early December, Pyongyang threatened the United States with a possible “Christmas gift,” saying that the Trump administration was running out of time to salvage nuclear negotiations. Pyongyang has said it’s up to the United States to choose what Christmas gift it gets from the North.
Several satellite images that were taken on Dec. 19 by Planet Labs and recently released show the completion of a new structure at the March 16 Factory near Pyongyang, where North Korea is believed to be developing and manufacturing vehicles used as mobile launchers for long-range ballistic missiles.
Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, said on Dec. 16 that the United States won’t accept a year-end deadline set unilaterally by the communist regime, which has sought concessions in nuclear talks.
“In my view, we should not make any concessions,” Hussey said. “Yes, it’s important to have negotiations but [only] for the purpose of doing an inventory of their nuclear material, their nuclear production, and then an agreement to get rid of them. Period.”
“The North always demands concessions, that’s the way they are,” he said. “Even if they have just come from the table.”
Washington is closely monitoring North Korea for any signs of a potential missile launch or nuclear test during the end-of-year holiday season.
Biegun said Washington is open to talks on denuclearization and urged Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table. North Korea has repeatedly brought up its end-of-year deadline to make concessions and for Washington to soften its stance in talks.
“The Trump administration is very interested in moving negotiations along. … However, the United States is reluctant to offer concessions just to get a meeting,” Mark Cancian, senior adviser for the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Epoch Times via email.
Earlier this month, North Korea carried out two major tests at its long-range rocket launch and missile engine testing site in the country’s northwest. Experts believe it tested a new engine for either an ICBM or a satellite launch vehicle.
China and Russia last week proposed that the U.N. Security Council lift some of its sanctions on North Korea, in what the countries said was an attempt to break the current deadlock and seek to build support.
But it remains unclear whether Beijing can convince Seoul and Tokyo to break ranks from Washington, which has made its opposition against lifting such sanctions clear and can veto any resolution.
Nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea have been stalled since a February summit ended with no agreements being reached. Kim and Trump have met three times since June 2018.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.