The Trump Administration offering Pyongyang the world

In the above photo, Kim Yong Chol and an unidentified aide gaze out at sweeping view of Lower Manhattan, as a smiling Mike Pompeo points out some highlights.

The Trump administration is arguing that if the North Koreans want security, it cannot come from nuclear weapons. Instead, their pitch is that Pyongyang will gain more security by abandoning its nuclear program, allowing it to escape from the yoke of international sanctions and isolation and concentrate on economic prosperity.

To drive the point home, the State Department released a photo of Pompeo pointing out of the condo’s window to the splendor of the New York skyline, as if to say to the two North Koreans by his side that the same kind of wealth could be theirs, too.

“We are talking about a brighter future for North Korea, if it makes a smart choice,” the State Department official said.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin also met with a North Korean team in Singapore on Wednesday and Thursday. Separately, a U.S. delegation led by U.S. envoy Sung Kim met with North Korean officials Wednesday at the demilitarized zone.

But the primary focus is on Pompeo’s meeting with Kim Yong Chol, who is the vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee responsible for South Korean affairs. He is also on the State Affairs Commission, the North Korean government’s supreme policymaking organization. His portfolio includes North Korea’s relationship with China and, lately, the United States.

[Washington Post]

North Korea summit still expected to take place June 12

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with top North Korean official Kim Yong Chol in New York City Wednesday night ahead of a possible summit with North Korea next month.

Pompeo tweeted: “Good progress today during our meetings with Kim Yong Chol and his team,” Pompeo tweeted. “#NorthKorea and the world would benefit greatly from the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

On Thursday morning, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said on Fox News the summit is still expected to take place June 12, and President Trump tweeted that meetings with North Korea were going well.

Mr. Trump told reporters Thursday North Korea is expected to deliver him a letter from Kim Jong Un on Friday in Washington. It’s yet unclear what that letter might contain.

[CBS]

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to visit North Korea

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit North Korea on Thursday at the invitation of counterpart Ri Yong-ho, according to the reclusive nation’s state news agency. The foreign ministry statement said Lavrov and the North’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri will discuss the reclusive state’s nuclear programme, bilateral cooperation and other key international problems during the meeting.

It’s the second time in as many months that the pair will meet, after Ri flew to Moscow in May for talks with the Russian foreign minister. Lavrov at the time floated the possibility of a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sometime in the future.

Lavrov’s trip on Thursday comes amid preparations for a high-stakes summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim set for June 12. Washington wants North Korea to quickly give up all its nuclear weapons in return for sanctions and economic relief.

Pyongyang has a different view of denuclearisation and remains deeply worried that abandoning its deterrent would leave it vulnerable, especially while the US maintains a military presence in South Korea. Lavrov said he hoped the meeting between Kim and Trump would not degenerate into a trading of accusations.

News of Lavrov’s visit came after Putin called for restraint to keep Kim at the negotiating table for the Trump meeting. Russia is a traditional ally of North Korea, along with China. Putin said on Friday that finding a solution to the North Korea nuclear tensions is of great importance to Russia and North Korea’s sovereignty should be guaranteed.

[South China Morning Post]

Top North Korean official Kim Yong Chol visiting US

One of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s top officials is traveling to the United States and will meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the two countries lay the groundwork for on-again, off-again talks between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.

Once he touches down on American soil, Kim would be the most senior official to visit the United States since 2000.

Kim Yong Chol and Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, have been two of the most visible and important players in Pyongyang’s push for rapprochement with South Korea and the United States this year.

Kim Yong Chol is the vice chairman of North Korea’s Party Central Committee, and is Kim Jong Un’s top official in charge of relations between North and South Korea. He’s often pictured with the North Korean leader and attended his two recent meetings with South Korea’s President Moon at the DMZ that divides the two Koreas.  Kim Yong Chol was also part of the delegation from the North that traveled South in February for the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, a decision that surprised many considering he was believed to have masterminded the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in 2010 that killed 46 sailors while serving as North Korea’s top intelligence official.

[CNN]

North and South Korean leaders again meet to discuss how to make Trump-Kim summit a success

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un discussed their hopes for a U.S.-North Korea summit at a previously unannounced meeting, South Korean officials announced. The two leaders met for two hours Saturday and “frankly” discussed how to make the U.S.-North Korea summit a success, the presidential Blue House said.

President Trump canceled his meeting with Kim on Thursday, though he later said both sides are “having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating” it, leaving the door open for further negotiation. This came after several roller-coaster days in which Trump canceled the summit, set for June 12 in Singapore. Moon was blindsided by Trump’s decision to abruptly announce he was canceling the summit, less than a day after returning from meeting in the Oval Office.

Moon and Kim met at Panmunjom, the truce village in the demilitarized zone and the site of their first meeting in April. The two met on the northern side of the line. The North Korean leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong awaited Moon’s motorcade on the north side of the demilitarized zone. Once he arrived, he shook hands with Kim Yo Jong and walked down a red carpet as members of the North Korean military saluted. Moon then walked inside and shook hands with Kim Jong Un and posed for a photo.

The two leaders also discussed a successful implementation of the inter-Korean “Panmunjom Declaration.” The two signed the three-page agreement at their earlier meeting, stating that “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” officials said Saturday.

[Washington Post]

Two North Koreans defecting latest upset for diplomatic thaw on Korean peninsula

Last Saturday morning, two North Koreans, including a military officer, defected to the South. The officer and a civilian defected by boat and were picked up by the South Korean military in the Yellow Sea, near the inter-Korean sea border, after expressing willingness to defect, reported the South’s newswire, Yonhap.

The defection, the first of a North Korean military officer since 2008, is awkward timing for Seoul, which has a longstanding policy of accepting any North Korean defectors who want to live in the South.

Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, has been at pains to keep this year’s diplomatic détente between North and South on track. But despite a friendly first meeting between Kim Jong-Un and Mr Moon at the end of April, during which they held hands as they crossed their shared border, the diplomatic thaw that began in January, the latest defections could raise tensions further.

[The Telegraph]

North Korea blows up tunnels at Punggye-ri nuclear test site

North Korea appeared to destroy at least three nuclear tunnels, observation buildings, a metal foundry and living quarters at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site on Thursday, in a process observed by invited international journalists.

North Korea announced on April 20 that the country would no longer need to test nuclear weapons, and to demonstrate its commitment, it said it would destroy the nuclear test site.

A CNN crew at the remote mountain site in the country’s north witnessed explosions at nuclear tunnels 2, 3 and 4, from observation decks about 500 meters away. They were among two dozen journalists invited into the country to observe the apparent destruction of the site.
Hours later, the White House canceled a planned meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump which had been billed as a historic opportunity to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.
[CNN]

President Trump cancels June 12 North Korea summit

President Donald Trump today called off the planned summit with North Korea, writing in a letter to Kim Jong-Un that he didn’t want to go forward with the meeting because of “tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement.”

In the run-up to the proposed summit, Mr. Trump had said that if North Korea cooperated and relinquished its nuclear weapons, the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, could expect that his regime would remain intact and the country would experience an economic revival.

But increasingly combative statements from North Korea’s leadership in recent days dimmed prospects for the summit.

On Monday, Vice-President Pence suggested that Mr. Kim would be overthrown like Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi if he doesn’t make a deal on U.S. terms. “This will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Mr. Pence told Fox News.

North Korea’s senior envoy for U.S. affairs threatened to cancel the summit and warned that the country could inflict on America an “appalling tragedy that it has never experienced nor even imagined.”

One official said that it was “wise” of Mr. Trump “to walk away for the time being.” Even after the U.S. and North Korea agreed on a summit date and venue, it was clear that substantial gaps remained. A major gap, according to experts, is whether the U.S. and North Korea shared the same understanding of “denuclearization.” The Trump administration envisioned a rapid process—perhaps taking less than a year—in which important sanctions relief would come only at the end. Mr. Kim spoke about a prolonged process in which sanctions relief would come earlier.

On Tuesday, South Korea’s president met with Mr. Trump in a bid to keep the summit planning on track. China’s foreign minister said Wednesday that he also hoped the summit would take place. On Thursday White House officials said the summit could be revived at some point, suggesting that Mr. Trump’s letter was only the latest turn in a continuing negotiation.

[CNN]

On North Korean defectors’ concerns about being returned to the North

North Korean defectors now living in South Korea Seoul are concerned that Pyongyang could demand that defectors be forcibly returned to their homeland as a condition for the resumption of talks with Seoul, and thus that their lives might be at risk.

James Brown, an associate professor at Tokyo’s Temple University, agrees that the aggressive demands that North Korea is making of the South will inevitably be of serious concern to the defector community.

“Moon is under great pressure and clearly wants the talks with the North to resume and succeed, but he built his reputation on being a lawyer for human rights so I doubt he will actually order the repatriation of any defectors,” he said. “I imagine that Pyongyang has reached a similar conclusion, so they will soon ask for something else instead,” he suggested.

And because that request will be more palatable than sending defectors back to a deeply uncertain future, the South may give in to that request. And then, Brown expects, they will make another demand to test Seoul’s resolve.

[Deutsche Welle]

North Korea demanding the return of restaurant worker defectors

North Korea is demanding the return of 13 defectors as a condition for the resumption of talks with Seoul, with support groups for thousands who have fled the repressive regime in the North saying there is genuine fear that Seoul might give in to Pyongyang’s demands and that their lives might be at risk.

Pyongyang is demanding that 12 women who had worked at a North Korean restaurant in China and their manager be returned to the North after it was claimed on a television program that the women had not been told they were being taken to South Korea in 2016 and that they have been tricked into going by the South Korean intelligence services.

The demands coincide with Pyongyang cancelling a high-level meeting scheduled for last week that was designed to build on the agreements reached when South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, at the border village of Panmunjom late last month.

[Deutsche Welle]