Kim Jong-un ‘moved’ by K-pop peace concert in Pyongyang

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was deeply moved by a concert in Pyongyang featuring South Korea artists, the North’s state news agency KCNA reports.

It said the leader’s heart had swelled when he saw the North Korean audience respond enthusiastically to the performances of famous K-pop groups. He said the musical exchange was a significant occasion giving the appearance of a united country.

The North had sent performers to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this year, followed by the first South Korean musical delegation to visit North Korea in more than a decade. The South Korean music delegation, which combines K-pop, rock and other genres, is set to perform again on Tuesday.

Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, pose for photos with visiting South Korean musicians

Kim Jong Un is the first North Korean leader to attend a performance by an artistic group from the South, said South Korea’s official news agency, Yonhap. His wife Ri Sol-ju, and his sister Kim Yo-jong and the country’s nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam are also said to have attended.

Meanwhile, one of North Korea’s top officials, Kim Yong-chol, has apologized to South Korean reporters who had hoped to cover the performance after all but one were barred from entering the Grand Theatre, South Korean Yonhap news agency reports. “It was wrong to hinder the free media coverage and filming,” he said, in what Yonhap reported as “a rare apology”.

[BBC]

North and South Korean leaders to meet for historic summit on April 27

The leaders of North and South Korea will meet on April 27 for the first time since 2007, the two countries announced Thursday after high-level talks. The landmark meeting between President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un will be held at Freedom House on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), according to the joint statement issued after the talks.

The summit will be seen as a victory for Moon, who has long been pushing hard for diplomatic relations with North Korea. He said at his swearing-in ceremony in 2017 “for peace on the Korean Peninsula, I will do everything that I can do.”

Footnotes:

  • The last Inter-Korean summit was held in October 2007, when then President Roh Moo-hyun met Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il.
  • In January, the North Korean government unexpectedly resumed communications with South Korea and agreed to talks, sending a team to South Korea’s Winter Olympics.
  • When Kim Jong Un’s sister joined the Pyongyang delegation to the games in February, she was the first member of her family to step onto South Korean soil since the Korean War in the 1950s.
  • The Kim-Moon summit will precede a bombshell encounter between the young North Korean leader and US President Donald Trump — the first time a sitting US leader has met with a member of the Kim dynasty.

[CNN]

China throws Trump a curveball ahead of his meeting with Kim Jong Un

When President Donald Trump finally meets North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the specter of China will also be in the room, a potent signal to the American President that Kim Jong Un has support for his cause from the region’s most formidable presence.

Kim Jong Un, his wife Ri Sol Ju, Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan pose together in Beijing

Along with shoring up a rocky alliance, Kim’s two-day visit to Beijing was also designed to show Washington and Seoul that Kim wasn’t without his own diplomatic arsenal as he attempts to push for sanctions relief and recognition of North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power.

“The very fact of this meeting alone, and certainly the tenor of the Chinese statement about it, really does increase Kim Jong Un’s leverage in the upcoming talks. It shows that Kim has a friend in Beijing,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow and director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists, where he covers US nuclear strategy, deterrence and North Korea. “It means the Trump team is going to be navigating really narrow straits here. It’s hard to overstate how dramatic this development is,” Mount said.

Now that ties between Pyongyang and Beijing are seemingly mended, that bodes ill for the White House, said Mount. “The division between Beijing and Pyongyang was really our greatest asset with respect to North Korea,” he told CNN. “If that narrows even slightly, that’s a sea change. It changes the outlook for negotiations that we have to adjust for very rapidly. It’s clear both Pyongyang and Beijing won’t be dictated to by Seoul and Washington, but also develop their own agenda. We should be aware that it might be a coordinated agenda,” Mount said.

The messages out of both Beijing and Pyongyang following the visit are meant to emphasize to all parties that there can be no deal with North Korea without China’s involvement. The “situation on the Peninsula” refers to not only the tension over North Korea’s nuclear program, but the presence of US troops to the south and the outlying waters where US and South Korean militaries regularly conduct naval exercises.
More on the subject

The politics dictating denuclearization on the Korean peninsula

“To the US, denuclearization is denuclearization of North Korea. To Kim Jong Un, denuclearisation applies to the whole peninsula, which includes the South,” said David Maxwell, retired US Army Special Forces Colonel and a fellow at the Institute of Korean American Studies.

“When [North Korea] talks denuclearization, they require the South Korea-US alliance to be ended, US troops removed from the peninsula and an end to extended deterrence and the nuclear umbrella. Once that condition is met, then the North will begin the process of denuclearization,” he said.

The notion North Korea was prepared to meet with Trump and put “nukes” on the table is no longer the case, said Mike Chinoy, a former CNN correspondent and author of “Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis,” who has made regular visits to North Korea in the past.

“This didn’t look to me like a browbeating summit, that is not the dynamic at all,” Chinoy remarked. Rather, it appears that Kim has been shoring up his alliances in anticipation of the meeting with Trump.

Russia also signaled its approval of the Xi-Kim dialogue in Beijing. The Foreign Ministry added that Russia aimed to continue close cooperation with China to resolve tensions on the peninsula by “purely diplomatic means.”

[CNN]

Kim Jong Un makes surprise visit to China

Kim Jong Un has made a surprise visit to Beijing on his first known trip outside North Korea since taking power in 2011, three people with knowledge of the visit told Bloomberg News.

Further details of the visit, including how long Kim would stay and who he would meet, were not immediately available. The people asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information.

A special train may have carried Kim through the northeastern Chinese border city of Dandong under heavy security, Japan’s Kyodo News reported earlier. Nippon TV showed footage of a green and yellow train arriving today in Beijing that looked similar to one used by Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, to visit the Chinese capital shortly before his death in 2011.

The unannounced move follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision this month to grant an unprecedented meeting to Kim, after South Korean officials said Kim was willing to discuss giving up his nuclear weapons program. Diplomats from the U.S., North Korea and its neighbors have since been shuttling across the globe to prepare for the summit.

There has been no word of Kim planning a summit with Beijing. China has been one of North Korea’s most important allies, but relations have grown chilly because of Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Heavy security was reported at the Friendship Bridge before the train passed from North Korea to China, and there were reports of it passing through several stations on the way from North Korea to Beijing.

A video that aired on NTV also showed a motorcade of black limousines waiting at the train station and rows of Chinese soldiers marching on what appeared to be a train platform. The video did not show anyone getting off the train.

[Bloomberg News & Associated Press]

Billy Graham’s first visit to North Korea in 1992

Christian work in North Korea began around the time of two trips to Pyongyang in the early 1990s by the late evangelical leader Billy Graham. He said he was received with a bear hug from Kim Il Sung, the now-deceased founder of North Korea’s dynastic state and grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

The regime gave its own spin. In 2016, state media reported Mr. Graham had affirmed Kim Il Sung was akin to God, “so perfect in his ideas that North Korea didn’t need the Bible,” which the Graham organization denied was said. (Note that regime founder Kim Il Sung grew up in a Presbyterian home and learned to play the church organ, historians said. He built three showcase churches in Pyongyang.)

In 1995, North Korea made an international call for help to combat famine and became one of world’s biggest recipients of food aid, about a million tons a year. The U.S. gave $1.3 billion in food and energy from 1995 to 2008. Researchers now suspect that North Korea diverted much of its famine-era aid to elites and its military.

Christian aid workers say they are confident their donations reach intended recipients. To deliver the food and medicine, North Korean authorities allow the workers to travel to regions otherwise off limits to foreign visitors.

While North Korea accepts Christian aid, it is no friend of Christianity. The regime sees religion as a threat and has imprisoned Christians for praying and owning a Bible. Preaching is forbidden, yet some aid workers say they talk about their beliefs in private with individuals who ask, despite the risk.

[The Wall Street Journal]

How will John Bolton figure into North Korean talks?

When it comes to controversial selections for national security adviser, there are few more divisive than John Bolton. The former U.N. ambassador’s hawkish politics and belittling public statements have made many bitter enemies over his decades in public life.

Among his most vocal critics is North Korea, an isolated dictatorship tentatively scheduled to hold talks on nuclear disarmament in the coming months — talks on which Bolton will play a key role in advising President Trump.

In August 2003, North Korean state media devoted an entire article to Bolton, personally insulting him by describing him as “human scum and a bloodsucker.” In the same article, a representative of the North Korean Foreign Ministry said that Pyongyang would no longer deal with the Bolton, the then-undersecretary of state for arms control and international security — indeed, Bolton did not attend talks with North Korea that took place the next month. Almost 15 years later, it is unclear whether that ban still stands.

What had he done to incur such personal insults from North Korea?

The context of the time is crucial. In his January 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush had included North Korea in his “axis of evil” along with Iraq and Iran. Bolton visited Seoul at the very end of July 2003. There, he delivered a speech titled “A Dictatorship at the Crossroads” and argued that the United States would demand a complete rollback of North Korea’s nuclear program but offer no concessions in return. During the speech, Bolton personally insulted then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, calling him a “tyrannical dictator” who enjoyed the high life while his citizens suffered deeply, though Bolton later said he did not seek regime change. In the speech, Bolton took much of the standard State Department rhetoric about North Korea, but personalized it so it was about Kim.

A few days later, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency released its article belittling Bolton. “We know that there are several hawks within the present U.S. administration but have not yet found out such rude human scum as Bolton,” an English-language version of the article read. “What he uttered is no more than rubbish which can be let loose only by a beastly man bereft of reason.”

[The Washington Post]

South Korean president floats idea of 3-way summit

South Korean President Moon Jae-in raised the idea of a three-way summit among the two Koreas and the United States, depending on the outcome of a planned North-South summit next month and President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sometime before the end of May.

Working-level officials from all three countries have been engaging in a flurry of diplomatic meetings with other nations in Asia, Europe and the United States in the past weeks to get a sense of what to expect out of these two sets of bilateral talks.

South Korean envoys to the North, National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon, made multiple trips to Washington D.C., Beijing, Tokyo and Moscow to deliver Kim’s intentions while North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, flew to Stockholm to discuss Sweden’s consular role as a protecting power for the United States.

Another senior North Korean diplomat in charge of North American affairs, Choe Kang Il, is in Finland this week for semi-official meetings with former U.S. diplomats, including former U.S. Ambassadors to South Korea Kathleen Stephens and Thomas Hubbard, American academics and security experts from Seoul, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Moon’s preparation committee today also suggested a meeting with North Korea on March 29 to kick-start discussions on details of the inter-Korean talks.

[ABC News]

US-North Korea tensions to escalate?

The relative period of calm between the United States and North Korea may soon come to an end — and that’s as scary as it sounds.

Here’s why: On Monday, Washington and Seoul announced they will hold an annual joint military drill next month. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have expected it would not happen ahead of his summit with President Donald Trump. The exercise will certainly annoy him — and may change how he feels about his diplomatic opening.

Also on Monday, the German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency believes North Korea can strike Europe with a nuclear-tipped missile. The US already worries that Pyongyang could nuke its Asian allies. The US has promised to use massive force in defense of friends — but now the US may have to come to the defense of an even larger number of allies. That may necessitate more plans when thinking about war with North Korea.

And finally, South Korea announced plans to deploy “artillery killer” missiles to the border with North Korea. These missiles could potentially destroy Pyongyang’s artillery force, which North Korea would use to kill thousands in South Korea should a conflict break out. These new missiles, in effect, aim to defend against that outcome.

David Shear, who served as the Pentagon’s top Asia official from 2014 to 2016, related the exercises will be the first test of how serious North Korea’s diplomatic overtures really are. If the country threatens the US or South Korea during the drills, then perhaps Pyongyang puts the Trump-Kim summit in doubt. But if North Korea stands by for the full month, then maybe it really does want to sit down with the US for talks.

All of this comes about two months before Trump plans to meet with Kim Jong Un for a high-stakes summit to discuss the future of Kim’s nuclear and while Trump is considering a broader national security team shake-up.

[Vox]

South Korea says Kim Jong-un has committed to denuclearization

South Korea’s foreign minister has said that North Korea’s leader has “given his word” that he is committed to denuclearization, a prime condition for a potential summit with President Donald Trump in May.

South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul has asked the North “to indicate in clear terms the commitment to denuclearization” and she says Kim’s “conveyed that commitment.” She told the CBS program Face the Nation that “he’s given his word” and it’s “the first time that the words came directly” from the North’s leader.

Meanwhile, a senior North Korean diplomat arrived in Finland on Sunday for talks with US and South Korean officials about the nuclear summit between Trump and Kim. Choe Kang-il, deputy director for North American affairs at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry, is expected to meet retired US diplomat Kathleen Stephens, according to multiple reports.

The meeting in Finland follows three days of talks between North Korean and Swedish officials in Stockholm that apparently fell short of clearing the way for a US-North Korea summit attended by both nation’s leaders.

[The Guardian]