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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

China’s continued efforts to apprehend North Korean defectors

China’s continued forced deportation of North Korean defectors, who face imprisonment or even death upon return to the repressive state, has received muted international criticism, as diplomatic efforts have intensified to negotiate a denuclearization deal with Pyongyang.

In the first three months of 2018, China apprehended at least 41 undocumented North Korean migrants, who crossed the Sino-Korean border, and more than 100 others between July 2016 and December 2017, according to the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

The Chinese crackdown on these defectors, which has intensified in recent years, could get worse as relations improve between Beijing and Pyongyang, following Kim Jong Un’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“If relations between China and North Korea are good, North Korean authorities will be able to put pressure on the issue of North Korean defectors,” said Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and analyst with the World Institute of North Korean studies.

Xi is likely to demonstrate greater solidarity on border security enforcement, with little regard for humanitarian concerns. “He’s using these defectors to say to Pyongyang that we are still your friend, we are committed to working with you, and we don’t want these people either,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

Robertson says China’s forced deportation policy is in violation of a 1951 United Nations convention, which Beijing signed, recognizing the right of asylum for a people fleeing persecution.

[VoA]

A nuclear deal could increase risk for North Korean defectors

In recent years North Korea increased the number of guards and security measures at the border to prevent defections, that are viewed as a threat to the Kim government’s tight control over the population.

An estimated 100,000 undocumented North Koreans currently live in China, and many other defectors attempt dangerous journeys through China to reach a third country like Thailand or Mongolia, where they can request asylum in South Korea.

However human rights activists are concerned the progressive government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in is taking a passive approach to supporting defectors and confronting human rights violations on North Korea, in an effort to improve inter-Korean relations and facilitate a nuclear deal with the U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been a more vocal critic of North Korean human rights violations, and some defectors expect he will confront Kim Jong Un on this issue when they meet for their summit, that is expected to take place in late May or early June.

However other advocates have voiced concern that Trump may be using human rights criticisms as a negotiating tacit to reach a better deal to end the North Korean nuclear threat.

[VoA]

The risk of Trump’s talks with North Korea

Excerpts of an Opinion piece by Jake Sullivan, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who served in the Obama administration as national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden:

What will happen if President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet? Many experts believe that a rushed and ill-prepared summit is likely to fail, prematurely discrediting diplomacy and putting us on a path to war.

Another scenario is just as plausible: Trump and Kim move quickly to strike a barest-of-bones “grand bargain” that commits Washington to address North Korea’s concerns in return for Pyongyang’s promise to pursue denuclearization, with the details to be worked out later. An all-sizzle-and-no-steak deal of this kind would be classic Trump, giving him the optics of a diplomatic “win” while doing little to reduce the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear program. This could prove a trap for the United States, but Trump may well fall into it.

First, in any high-stakes summit, the laws of diplomatic physics create momentum that drives leaders to reach a “declaration” or “accord,” even if it means defining down success. And Trump has always shown that he’s keen to trumpet “wins” even when the substance doesn’t bear out the claims. For him, it’s the choreography and drama that matter; he can leave the real substance for later, and for others.

Then consider the zone of possible agreement. Like his father and grandfather, Kim has apparently signaled that he is open to mouthing the word “denuclearization,” at least as a bargaining maneuver to alleviate sanctions pressure.

There is a real risk that this kind of outcome would work much more to Pyongyang’s advantage than Washington’s. Our partners would take their foot off the sanctions gas. South Korea would naturally accelerate its engagement with the North, including its economic ties. China, fearing that U.S.-North Korean engagement would weaken its hand, would scramble (even more than it already has) to offer incentives to increase Beijing’s influence with Kim.

North Korea would be implementing a new version of its old playbook: Make a series of promises in exchange for economic breathing room — and break them later. This could easily raise the risk of war in the medium term.

[The Washington Post]

Missionaries at the border spread Christianity to North Koreans

To the North Koreans gathered beneath a crucifix in an apartment in this northeastern Chinese border region, the 69-year-old Korean-Chinese woman is known as “mom.” She feeds them, gives them a place to stay and, on occasion, money.

Such border missionaries provide their North Korean visitors with room and board, and those escaping with places to hide. In return, they ask them to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and other prayers. Some of the most trusted converts return home to North Korea and covertly share what they’ve learned, sometimes carrying Bibles.

It’s almost impossible to determine what happens when those North Koreans return home to evangelize. People involved in Bible distribution, secret prayer services and underground church networks are imprisoned or executed, according to activists and defectors.

Along the North Korean border, dozens of such missionaries are engaged in work that puts them and their North Korean converts in danger. Most are South Koreans, but others, like this 69-year-old woman, are ethnic Koreans whose families have lived in China for generations.

In recent years, 10 such front-line missionaries and pastors have died mysteriously, according to the Rev. Kim Kyou Ho, head of the Seoul-based Chosen People Network, a Christian group that runs a memorial hall in the South Korean capital for the victims. North Korea is suspected in all those deaths.

Hundreds of other missionaries have been imprisoned or expelled by China, which bans foreigners from proselytizing.

[AP]

Direct talks underway between US and North Korea

The United States and North Korea have been holding secret, direct talks to prepare for a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, a sign that planning for the highly anticipated meeting is progressing, several administration officials familiar with the discussions tell CNN.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and a team at the CIA have been working through intelligence back-channels to make preparations for the summit, the officials said. American and North Korean intelligence officials have spoken several times and have even met in a third country, with a focus on nailing down a location for the talks.

The North Koreans are pushing to have the meeting in their capital, Pyongyang, the sources said, although it is unclear whether the White House would be willing to hold the talks there. The Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar has also been raised as a possible location, the sources said.

The talks between intelligence officials are laying the groundwork for a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korea counterpart, the head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, in advance of the leaders’ summit. Officials said the decision to use the already existing intelligence channel was more a facet of Pompeo’s current status as CIA director as he awaits confirmation as secretary of state than a reflection of the content of the discussions.

The Chinese have also provided a briefing to the White House after Kim and President Xi Jinping met in Beijing late last month.

Trump is due to meet in two weeks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Abe is expected to come bearing a list of concerns about opening talks with Kim.

[CNN]