Restaurant manager reveals he tricked North Korean waitresses into defecting

When 13 North Korean workers defected en masse from a restaurant in China in April 2016, it was a propaganda boost for South Korea and a huge embarrassment for their homeland.

Heo Gang-il, the manager of the restaurant in the Chinese port city of Ningbo has told CNN that the young women didn’t defect — he tricked them into going to South Korea at the bidding of South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS).  He says he had become an informant for the intelligence agency after becoming disillusioned with Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The South Korean government maintains that the 12 young women defected of their own free will, and took the unusual step of publicizing their decision stating it was the largest group defection since Kim took power in 2011.

Heo says the NIS told him to lie to the waitresses and bring them to South Korea. He told the workers they were relocating to better accommodations.  The 12 waitresses and Heo flew to Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, with tickets, he says, were paid for by the NIS.

Heo says they were given South Korean passports with false names and they flew to Incheon, South Korea’s main international airport. A journey that takes months for most defectors took these North Koreans just two days.

[CNN]

An expert’s opinions on the Trump-Kim Summit

The much-anticipated summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, scheduled for June 12, is in trouble. After National Security Adviser John Bolton said last week that the US would seek complete and total North Korean nuclear disarmament, North Korea said publicly that it would never accept such an outcome — and threatened to pull out of the meeting if Washington didn’t adjust its expectations.

North Korea experts see this as a long-overdue reckoning. The truth is that the United States and North Korea have long expected diametrically opposed outcomes from the talks — with the US wanting North Korea to give up its nukes and North Korea demanding recognition as a legitimate nuclear power. But neither side was willing to confront the reality of the situation. We’ve just been stumbling toward negotiations with no clear sense of how this yawning gulf could be resolved.

How did we get here? Robert E. Kelly, a professor at South Korea’s Pusan National University, gave a really clear explanation in a series of Monday morning tweets, as per the following excerpts:
1) It increasingly looks like the Moon administration overstated North Korea’s willingness to deal.
2) Trump accepted the NK summit offer 45 minutes after he was told of it, without even telling the White House staff, and then drank his own kool-aid watching Fox telling him for weeks that he deserved a Nobel. Now comes the hang-over.
3) It is an open secret in South Korea that this was just flattering Trump to prevent him from starting a war.
4) Moon’s approval rating has shot up into the 80s%, even though he won with just 41% a year ago, and approval of the summit process is in the 90s%. [Note: Moon is a leftist who took office in May of last year, back when Trump was threatening war with North Korea. He made a deep and concerted effort to try to broker negotiations between Trump and Kim to defuse the tension. The problem, as Kelly points out, is that this was always a kind of shell game: Moon could never change the fact that the US and North Korea want fundamentally different things. Basically, he argues, this was a gambit to try to convince Trump not to go to war with North Korea — one that may yet fail.]
5) The problem, of course, is that … NK is not going to denuclearize; NK was not driven to negotiate by maximum pressure (they chose to negotiate, because they established nuclear deterrence with the US mainland);
6) Trump likely desperately wants this summit for the TV, attn, & a political ‘win’ he can market at home to change the story f/ his scandals & blunt a looming blue wave. So the summit will [probably] still happen, even tho, scarily, w/ 3 weeks to go, no one really knows how it will unfold.

[Vox]

North Korean defector hung upside down and/or water-boarded for ten unbearable months

North Korean defector Jung Gwang Il was accused of collaborating with a South Korean while on business in China, and arrested as he returned home to his wife and two young daughters.

Detained without trial, he was tortured daily by electrocution, and put in the “pigeon position” where a prisoner’s hands and legs are tied before being hung from the ceiling.

For ten unbearable months, Jung Gwang Il was hung upside down or waterboarded until he confessed to being a spy. He was then forced into hard labor at North Korea’s notorious Yodok detention camp for another three years.

“In that first ten months, I dropped from 75kg (165 lbs) to 36kg (79 lbs). I tried to hold out for my family as I knew they would be punished if I confessed,” he said.

But after almost a year he could bear it no longer. His torturers promptly shipped him to Yodok, a grim camp about 65 miles north of Pyongyang.

While others died due to the hard labor, Mr Jung fought to survive. “We willed each other not to die, to believe that we might make it out,” he said of his fellow inmates. Three years later he was released, and casually told he had been found ‘not guilty’.

By that time his home had been destroyed and his family hounded into hiding. They were finally reunited in China after he swam across the Tumen border river to escape.

[The Telegraph]

Bolton potential wrecking ball for Trump-Kim summit

John Bolton’s desire to turn North Korea into the next Libya isn’t going over so well in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong Un’s government has threatened to cancel upcoming talks with the U.S. in part because of the U.S. national security adviser’s remarks.

Bolton drew the ire of the North Korean government for saying that the country’s nuclear disarmament should follow the “Libya model” embraced by Muammar Qaddafi, who was later overthrown and killed in a U.S.-backed uprising.

That history is well understood by Kim’s regime. In a blistering statement Wednesday, North Korea’s vice foreign minister and a top disarmament negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, said his government felt “repugnance” toward Bolton.

“[Bolton’s remark] pushes all the wrong buttons,” said Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, which seeks to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. “The diplomacy with North Korea is going very well and Bolton threw a spanner in the works.”

Comparisons to Libya’s disarmament have long been anathema to the North Koreans, according to Robert King, a former U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights who led a delegation to Pyongyang in 2011. “One thing is clear: if the United States is to make progress in the denuclearization of North Korea, it would be well to avoid any reference whatsoever to Libya,’’ King wrote.

Cirincione said Bolton’s repeated references to Libya show that he is in over his head and probably should take a back seat to other top aides in advance of the Singapore summit. “Bolton is approaching this from this Neanderthal view of diplomacy that we pound people into submission and then expect their surrender,” Cirincione said. “If the U.S. holds to that position, the summit will fail.”

[Bloomberg]

North Korea threatens to pull out of Trump-Kim summit over denuclearization demands

North Korea signaled Wednesday that it was not interested in a “one-sided” summit with the U.S. in which it would be pressured to give up its nuclear weapons, The Associated Press reported, citing a top North Korean official. It was the second indication from Pyongyang within a matter of hours that it was reconsidering its positions.

The statement from Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, was issued through the North’s state-run Central News Agency. It came just hours after the Yonhap News Agency, the Seoul-based media outlet, reported that the North had abruptly canceled a high-level meeting with South Korea scheduled for Wednesday and was considering withdrawing altogether from the highly anticipated meeting between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, over ongoing military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea.

It was unclear whether North Korea might seriously contemplate canceling the summit, tentatively set for June 12 in Singapore, or whether it was simply venting over U.S. rhetoric and perhaps also seeking a stronger bargaining position.

In his statement, Kim Kye Gwan criticized comments from Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and other U.S. officials who have been talking about how the North should provide a “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” of its nuclear weapons program, according to The AP.

“We will appropriately respond to the Trump administration if it approaches the North Korea-U.S. summit meeting with a truthful intent to improve relations,” Kim Kye Gwan said, adding: “But we are no longer interested in a negotiation that will be all about driving us into a corner and making a one-sided demand for us to give up our nukes, and this would force us to reconsider whether we would accept the North Korea-U.S. summit meeting.”

[Politico]

More from North Korean diplomat defector on what to expect from Kim Jong Un

Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to the UK, said he did not believe Kim Jong Un would agree to a US request of a “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” due to likelihood that it would “strike at the core of North Korea’s power structure.”

Besides making surprising advances in its missile capabilities in 2017, North Korea’s leadership has focused on peddling its significance to its own society and culture: the regime revised its constitution in 2012 to tout its nuclear ambitions, and despite saying it no longer needs to conduct nuclear tests, its nuclear capabilities still remain an essential part of Kim’s domestic and international clout.

Thae also noted that North Korea was likely to open its borders to tourism projects near its coast. Ho predicts it would then eventually seek joint economic projects with South Korea, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex that used to employ North Korean civilians and provided a revenue stream for the regime.

Thae defected from North Korea with his family in 2016. As one of the highest ranking North Korean defectors, he frequently rails against Kim and is considered an ardent hawk on North Korea’s conciliatory overtures, even going as far as saying “Kim Jong Un’s days are numbered.”

[Business Insider]

Ex-diplomat defector says North Korea will never fully give up nuclear weapons

North Korea will never completely give up its nuclear weapons, a top defector Thae Yong-ho said ahead of Kim Jong Un’s landmark summit with Donald Trump next month.

The current whirlwind of diplomacy and negotiations will not end with “a sincere and complete disarmament” but with “a reduced North Korean nuclear threat”, said Thae, who fled his post as the North’s deputy ambassador to Britain in August 2016. “In the end, North Korea will remain ‘a nuclear power packaged as a non-nuclear state’.”

North and South Korea affirmed their commitment to the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula at summit last month, and Pyongyang announced at the weekend it will destroy its only known nuclear test site next week.

Washington is seeking the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID)” of the North and stresses that verification will be key.

Thae, one of the highest ranking officials to have defected in recent years, said: “North Korea will argue that the process of nuclear disarmament will lead to the collapse of North Korea and oppose CVID.”

The North wanted to ensure Kim’s “absolute power” and its model of hereditary succession, he added, and would oppose intrusive inspections as they “would be viewed as a process of breaking down Kim Jong Un’s absolute power in front of the eyes of ordinary North Koreans and elites”.

At a party meeting last month when Kim proclaimed the development of the North’s nuclear force complete and promised no more nuclear or missile tests, he called its arsenal “a powerful treasured sword for defending peace”.

“Giving it up soon after Kim Jong Un himself labelled it the ‘treasured sword for defending peace’ and a firm guarantee for the future? It can never happen,” Thae said. In his memoir that hit shelves Monday, Thae added: “More people should realize that North Korea is desperately clinging to its nuclear program more than anything.”

[AFP]

North Korea details plans to dismantle nuclear test site this month

North Korea outlined steps Saturday to dismantle its nuclear testing site — and confirmed that international journalists, including from the United States and the United Kingdom, would be invited to watch this month as its tunnels are blown up.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un previously had announced the conclusion of North Korea’s nuclear testing program and the intended shuttering of the Punggye-ri complex. He said on April 20 that his nation already had “completed its mission” to test its weapons capability. (Located in mountainous terrain in the northeast of the country, Punggye-ri is less than 100 miles, or 160 kilometers, from China.)

The latest developments come a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that he’d had “warm” and “good” conversations with Kim.

President Trump announced: “We are starting off on a new footing — I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful. A lot of very good things have happened. … I really think [Kim Jong-Un] wants to do something and bring the country into the real world,” he added.

[CNN]

Trump-Kim Jong-un summit set for Singapore on 12 June

US President Donald Trump will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on 12 June.

The pair had previously exchanged insults and threats. A breakthrough came after landmark talks between North and South Korea.

No sitting US president has ever met a North Korean leader. The White House said the release of three Americans was a gesture of goodwill ahead of the summit, which Mr Trump earlier said he thought would be a “big success”.

“I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful,” he said.

The key issue expected to be discussed is North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme – over which Mr Trump and Mr Kim furiously sparred in 2017. The US wants Pyongyang to give up its weapons programme completely and irreversibly.

But analysts caution that Mr Kim is unlikely to easily abandon nuclear weapons that he has pushed so hard to obtain, and that “denuclearisation” means something quite different to both sides.

[BBC]

Trump greets 3 American hostages freed by North Korea

Three American prisoners freed from North Korea arrived in the US  early Thursday to a personal welcome from President Trump, who traveled to an air base in the middle of the night to meet them.

Waving their hands and flashing peace signs, the freed prisoners — Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song — descended the stairs of their plane, flanked by the president and senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had flown to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, to secure their release.

Their return to the United States removed a delicate obstacle as the president prepares to sit down with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, for a landmark nuclear summit meeting on June 12 in Singapore.

But as Mr. Trump basked in the glow of floodlights and TV cameras, he indicated that the most difficult part of the negotiations, which include persuading North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, still lies ahead.