US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a “close coordination” with allies amid the deadlock in the denuclearization talks with Pyongyang just weeks before the communist regime’s year-end deadline.
A day before, North Korea issued statements to announce that it had carried out “another crucial test” at a satellite launching site, warning the United States to “hold off” any action to “rattle” the regime.
During his three-day trip here, the US special envoy is expected to meet with officials here to discuss on the recent situation on the Korean Peninsula and on joint efforts to make progress in the denuclearization talk with the North.
On Monday, Biegun will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and also his counterpart Lee Do-hoon. He may also hold an informal press briefing during his visit, before leaving for Tokyo on Tuesday.
According to the US Department of State, Deputy Special Representative for North Korea Alex Wong and NSC Senior Director for Asian Affairs Allison Hooker accompanied Biegun on the trip.
Biegun’s trip comes leaving just a couple of weeks before the year-end deadline that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has set unilaterally in April, when he called for the US to come up with a “flexible” and “creative” proposal that would satisfy him in the nuclear talks.
Before leaving for South Korea at the airport in Washington, Biegun told a news outlet that the US’ policy on North Korea’s denuclearization remains unchanged, and that North Korea knows it.
As its deadline is drawing in, Pyongyang is seen to ramp up pressure against the US, conducting what it calls as important tests that will restrain the nuclear threats of the US.
On Saturday, Pyongyang issued a statement under the name of Academy of Defence Science, which said it “successfully” conducted “another crucial test” at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, which it had vowed to dismantle in previous summits with the US. Sometimes referred to as the Tongchang-ri site, the Sohae site also has a rocket engine testing facility.
“Another crucial test was successfully conducted at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground from 22:41 to 22:48 on December 13, 2019,” the statement read.
Hours later on Saturday, Pak Jong-chon, the chief of General Staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army also issued a statement to praise the work of the Academy of Defense Science, saying that the priceless experience gained from the tests will be used for the development of “another” strategic weapon “for definitely and reliably restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the US.”
Warning the US to “hold off” on actions to rattle the North in the situation of an “acute confrontation,” Pak also hinted of the possibility of the regime keeping its nuclear weapons for a balance of power.
“Genuine peace can be safeguarded and our development and future be guaranteed only when the balance of power is completely ensured,” Pak said.
Friday’s test is the second of its kind, since Dec. 8, when the communist regime said it performed a “very important test” at the Tongchang-ri site, without revealing what they tested. South Korea’s Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo confirmed later that the regime conducted a “rocket engine test.”
Experts say the recent tests may be aimed to test a solid-fuel rocket engine, a more efficient and powerful type than liquid fueled ones, to allow Pyongyang to field inter-continental ballistic missiles.
“(With Pak mentioning about developing a strategic weapon) I am more convinced that the ‘crucial’ test was testing the solid-fuel rocket engine,” Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University’s North Korean Studies School, said.
“While the result of the ‘crucial test’ may not immediately show in the form of a new weapons test, there is a possibility that the North may take some kind of military action using existing weapons,” Kim added.