Trump meeting with North Korean defectors to raise pressure on Kim Jong Un

President Trump will meet North Korean defectors in the Oval Office on Friday, a provocative action meant to highlight human rights violations and one that could raise alarms in Pyongyang.

Trump is expected to meet with eight defectors — six who live in South Korea and two who live in the United States — two days after he punctuated his State of the Union address by praising Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea who had been invited to watch the address from the first lady’s box. Ji will be among the group at the White House on Friday.

Another of the eight defectors is Lee Hyeon-seo, a prominent human rights advocate who recounted her harrowing escape, including being sold as a bride in China, in a memoir called “The Girl with Seven Names.”

The visit will offer the president a chance to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses in North Korea at a time of growing tensions over Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.

“No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” Trump said Tuesday night during the annual address to Congress. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.”

The visit was arranged by Greg Scarlatoiu at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a person familiar with the meeting said. Trump has sought to highlight the human costs of dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime, but foreign policy experts warned that there are risks to such a strategy.

“Meeting [North Korean defectors] in the Oval raises the question of whether the U.S. strategy is regime change,” said one foreign-policy expert who specializes in East Asia.

[Washington Post]

Former US intelligence chief reveals North Korea’s ‘kryptonite’ which could topple Kim Jong Un

Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence, defined what he called North Korea’s “kryptonite,” saying it could collapse Kim Jong Un’s government without firing a shot.

While President Donald Trump’s inner circle reportedly weighs the use of military force against North Korea, Blair, a former US Navy admiral, has suggested another method of attack that wields information, not weapons. “The kryptonite that can weaken North Korea is information from beyond its borders,” Blair said in a written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

North Koreans have no idea how bad things are in their country, Blair said, because they’re subject to an “unrelenting barrage of government propaganda.”

But Blair said the US could leverage a recent trend in North Korea: cellphones. About one in five North Koreans own a cellphone, many of which can connect to Chinese cell towers across the Yalu River along the countries’ border, he said.

“Texts to these cellphones can provide subversive truth,” Blair said. “Cell towers can be extended; CDs and thumb drives can be smuggled in; radio and TV stations can be beamed there.” Blair added: “The objective is to separate the Kim family from its primary support — the secret police, the army, and the propaganda ministry.”

Though outside media does get into North Korea and reaches the country’s elites, the US could expand efforts to flood it with outside news. The US used a similar tactic during the Cold War in setting up Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to combat the Soviet Union and its state-controlled media.

Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center, agrees: “Kim Jong Un understands that as soon as society is open and North Korean people realize what they’re missing, Kim’s regime is unsustainable, and it’s going to be overthrown,” Sun said. Sun said that in the past when South Korea flew balloons that dropped pamphlets and DVDs over North Korea, Kim’s government responded militarily, sensing its frailty relative to those of prosperous liberal democracies.

Blair pointed to other totalitarian states where popular uprisings have become informed and sought to take down a media-controlling dictator, concluding his testimony by saying that “once that process starts, it is hard to stop.” “Such will be North Korea’s fate,” he said.

[Business Insider]

North Korea’s Olympic charm offensive

North Korean defectors, who fled their impoverished and repressive homeland, are voicing concern that the North’s Olympic delegation featuring its “army of beauties” will score deceptive propaganda points, but they also hold out hope that inter-Korean cooperation can create an opportunity for peaceful progress.

A 230 member all female cheerleading squad, often called the “army of beauties,” will be among the large North Korean Olympic delegation planning to visit South Korea for the PyeongChang Olympics in February.

“It will garner the spotlight, and as each of its actions can become an opportunity to promote North Korea, I consider this as a political move,” said Kim Chul-woong, who was a pianist with Pyongyang University of Music and Dance, before defecting in 2002.

The cheering squad is made up of attractive and relatively tall women (over 160cm,) who were selected from elite universities and have no relatives living abroad. Perhaps the most famous former cheering squad member is Ri Sol Ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. At the age of 16 she participated in the 2005 Asian Athletic Championships in South Korea.

The women cheerleaders also undergo extensive ideological education to ensure loyalty to the state and to the leadership of the Kim family. “Leaving North Korea and visiting overseas is like going to fight in the heart of the enemy,” said North Korean defector Han Seo-hee. Han can also testify that the state’s ideological training is not always effective, as she was actually a North Korean cheerleader for the 2002 Asian Games held in Busan, South Korea, before she defected.

[VoA]

A nuclear bomb survivor with a message for President Trump and Kim Jong-Un

Toshiharu Kano, 71, was born seven months after the United States dropped the bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. His mother, pregnant with Kano, miraculously survived and took her two children to a nearby military base. His brother, just 18 months old at the time, died within 60 days of the bombing.

As a survivor, Kano endured a variety of physical challenges. His immune system was impaired and among other things he got mumps seven times. Labeled by society as defective, Kano and his family were spurned. By age ten, he felt so rejected from repeatedly being told he was damaged goods that he seriously contemplated suicide.

Kano notes that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a mere “toy” compared with modern nuclear weapons. Still, the “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed about 100,000 people.

That bomb packed the punch of 15 kilotons of TNT.

By comparison, the largest bomb ever detonated to date (built by the USSR) had the equivalent of 50,000 kilotons or 50 megatons of TNT, about 3,000 times more powerful than Little Boy.

In his book, Passport to Hiroshima, Kano says, “I have a message from God to tell all of the world leaders that we cannot use the nuclear weapons to settle their differences ever again.”

Concerns over US launching ‘limited’ strike or ‘preventive’ action against North Korea after the Olympics

Despite peace gestures tied to next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, officials in South Korea are worried the U.S. may be preparing for military action against North Korea.

Bruce Klingner, former chief of the CIA Korea division and now senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Washington-based conservative think Heritage Foundation, just returned from Korea, where he heard firsthand the concerns of senior South Korean officials. He said the unanimous view is that even a limited strike would certainly trigger a response from the North Koreans.

Some proponents of the Trump administration’s limited-strike option contend that the North Koreans might actually hold back from any military response out of fear that the risks of doing so are too great because it could produce a massive response from Washington and perhaps be fatal to the Kim regime. Yet others disagree, saying the North Korea leader would look bad if he didn’t respond since the regime has blamed the U.S. for crippling international sanctions and its other problems. They also contend that a faction of the military could act on its own if Kim failed to order a military response.

“Kim would have no choice but to respond back or he’d face the possibility of a coup,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, a U.S. think tank. “And maybe even respond more ferociously than we attack him.”

Any retaliation could potentially pose a threat to the greater Seoul area, where about half of the South Korean population lives. North Koreans are known to have thousands of hardened artillery sites, including some dug into mountains, along the Korean DMZ and within range of Seoul.

Another wildcard is what China would do if the U.S. were to conduct a strike against North Korea. An editorial last year in China’s semi-official Global Times newspaper suggested Beijing might help North Korea if Washington launched a pre-emptive attack. China was noticeably absent last week when diplomats from 20 countries met in Vancouver, British Columbia, to discuss the North Korean nuclear threat and international sanctions.

The upcoming war games known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve are set to get underway after the Olympics and involve American and South Korean ships, tanks and aircraft as well as live-fire exercises and more than 230,000 combined troops.

[CNBC]

Neither North or South Korea want defections during Olympic Games

South Korea normally encourages North Koreans to defect, but not at next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The reason: Both countries want to avoid a confrontation at such a sensitive time with the whole world watching.

Both sides want the Olympics to go smoothly. A defection would be a major embarrassment for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a major blow to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has made peace overtures to the North a central policy.

The two countries will march in the opening ceremony behind the same flag, and the women’s ice hockey team will be the first with players from both countries. North Korea also will send a 230-member cheering squad and a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team.

In addition, a 140-member orchestra from the North will be part of the delegation and is expected to perform in the South Korean capital of Seoul, 80 miles west of the Olympic site, and Gangneung, a city hosting some of the events.

The discussions in Panmunjom have not resulted in any major diplomatic breakthroughs and are not designed to reach an agreement on North Korea’s controversial nuclear and ballistic missile development. But Moon sees the Games as an opportunity to lessen tensions, which could lead to broader agreements, and has staked much of his political reputation on hopes the North’s participation will go off without a hitch.

[USA Today]

Initial outcome of North Korea-South Korea meeting

The rival Koreas moved toward reducing their bitter animosity Tuesday during rare talks, with North Korea agreeing to take part in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. The countries also agreed to hold more discussions on easing tension along their border and to reopen a military hotline.

The first meeting of its kind between the nations in about two years was arranged after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea following a year of escalating tensions with the outside world over his expanding nuclear and missile programs.

Critics say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North. In comments that appeared to back up those critical views, chief North Korean delegate Ri Son Gwon said his country’s nuclear weapons are aimed at the United States, not South Korea.

Despite Ri’s comments, the agreements were still seen to be a positive move. Chief South Korean delegate Cho Myoung-gyon described the accords as a “first step toward the development of South-North relations” when he briefed reporters about the meeting.

In another key accord Tuesday, North Korea also agreed to hold military talks aimed at reducing animosity along the border and restore a military hotline communication channel with South Korea, according to Cho. All major inter-Korean communication channels had been shut down over the North’s nuclear program in recent years. But North Korea reopened one channel last week as signs emerged of improving ties.

[AP]

North Korea accepts South’s offer to meet for talks

Kim Jong Un, to general surprise, announced in his New Year’s Day speech that he was prepared to “melt the frozen north-south relations,” to allow contacts with South Koreans and to discuss North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics to be held in February in South Korea.

US President Trump has tweeted that this would not have happened had he not been “firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North.” He may be partly right. The single most important factor driving the North Koreans to this decision was probably economic distress.

President Trump’s unpredictability may also have contributed to Pyongyang’s decision. When United Nations Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman visited Pyongyang from December 5 through 8, the North Koreans asked him repeatedly how decisions were made in Washington. They are nervous that the United States is now behaving in ways that they cannot predict and are probably anxious at President Trump’s talk of military action.

Perhaps the immediate trigger was the announcement on December 19 by President Moon Jae-In of South Korea that he had asked the US military to postpone the annual joint US-South Korean exercises until after the Winter Olympics. The North Koreans hate these exercises and have often tried to get them postponed, reduced or canceled, so this may have seemed too good an opportunity to miss. They acted quickly, meeting South Korean officials secretly right at the end of December.

Person-to-person talks between North and South Korea are scheduled to be held next Tuesday — the day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s birthday — at the Peace House in the village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone.

[CNN]

Kim Jong Un overture could drive wedge between South Korea and USA

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, presented a canny new strategy to initiate direct talks with South Korea in the hope of driving a wedge into its seven-decade alliance with the United States.

Perhaps sensing the simmering tension between President Trump and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Kim called for an urgent dialogue between the two Koreas before the opening of the Winter Olympics in the South next month.

The strained relationship between the allies has been playing out for months, as Mr. Moon, a liberal, argued for economic and diplomatic openings with the North, even as Mr. Trump has worked hard to squeeze the North with increasingly punishing sanctions. Mr. Moon also angered Mr. Trump and his aides in recent months by suggesting he holds what he called a veto over any American pre-emptive military action against the North’s nuclear program.

Until now Mr. Kim has largely ignored Mr. Moon, whom the North Korean media has portrayed as a spineless lackey of the United States. Kim now sees an opportunity to develop and accentuate the split between Mr. Moon and Mr. Trump, betting that the United States will be unable to mount greater pressure on the North if it does not have South Korean acquiescence. The gambit may work. Hours after Mr. Kim’s speech, Mr. Moon’s office welcomed the North’s proposal, in a way that could further aggravate tensions with the United States.

As part of the overture, Mr. Kim also agreed to a request by Mr. Moon to send a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics. The South Korean president is betting that the North is far less likely to disrupt the Olympics, with missile launchings or an act of terrorism, if North Korean athletes are competing.

[New York Times]

The nuclear war tweet heard around the world

The U.S. President ignited a stunning new showdown with North Korea late Tuesday, as Donald Trump boasted to volatile leader Kim Jong Un that he had a “much bigger & more powerful” nuclear weapon.

Trump’s flippant comments about his nuclear prowess — akin to “mine is bigger than yours” schoolyard taunts — raise new questions about whether the President has thought deeply about the awesome destructive power at his command.

His outburst also elevates Kim, leader of an impoverished autocracy using a nuclear program to ensure its survival, to a tit-for-tat confrontation alongside the President of the United States.

“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump tweeted. The tweet was remarkable not just for its content but for the fact it was generated by a President, the holder of the office that for decades has been the effective guarantor of a US-enforced 70-year era of global peace. Before Trump, no US President has made such public and cavalier threats.

Trump’s gambit is all the more risky since it is likely to alienate US allies, anger key world powers like Russia and China that Washington needs to resolve the standoff and because no one knows how the unpredictable Kim will respond.

“To call it juvenile would be an insult to children,” retired Adm. John Kirby, a former State Department and Pentagon spokesman told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday. “I do think in the halls of the Pentagon and the State Department, there has got to be a lot of concern over this, because he is the President of the United States. His tweets are going to be taken as official policy,” said Kirby, now a CNN analyst. “There is no question they are going to lead to miscalculation and confusion over there.”

[CNN]