Ahead of an expected nuclear test by North Korea, the United States and South Korea launched a joint naval exercise off the east coast of Korean port of Pohang, which involved live fire, naval maneuvers, and submarine detection drills.
South Korean military officials stated that the joint exercise was scheduled before Pyongyang threatened the launch of its third nuclear test, but the presence of nuclear-powered submarine, USS San Francisco, indicates that the drill serves more than a joint naval exercise and is meant to send a message to North Korea.
The joint naval drill comes as North Korea renews its threats of a nuclear test in response to the extended UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after the launch of its long-range rocket in December.
According to reports, Kim Jong-Un, leader of North Korea chaired a high-level meeting Sunday to discuss bolstering of Pyongyang’s military capability, which South Korea perceives as indication of an official go-ahead for a nuclear test.
While there are no reports yet on when North Korea plans to launch the nuclear tests, observers predict that it might happen before the Lunar New Year on Feb. 10 or the tests may be timed to coincide with the with the birthday of Kim Jong-Un's father on Feb. 16.
Over the last few weeks, North Korea has aired a series of warnings against the latest UN sanctions imposed after the December rocket launch. Pyongyang on Saturday declared one of the toughest retaliation against the UN imposed sanctions.
North Korea insists that the rocket launch in December was a scientific mission to place satellites in orbit but the rest of the world considers the launch as a disguised ballistic missile test banned under UN resolutions. UN sanctions banned North Korea from testing missiles with nuclear capabilities after its earlier nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
On the diplomatic front, South Korea’s top nuclear envoy met Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei and requested China to exert pressure on Pyongyang not to go ahead with the test. China remains North Korea’s major ally and is seen as a key player that could influence the regime in Pyongyang.
Additionally, Beijing also chairs the stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament forum on the North, which includes the two Koreas, Japan, the United States and Russia. North Korea withdrew from the denuclearization talks in exchange for aid in April 2009 and launched its second nuclear test a month later.
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