US works its worldwide squeeze on North Korea

Over 20 nations have curbed diplomatic or business operations of the North Korean government following a more-than-yearlong effort by the U.S. State Department, an indication of the kind of behind-the-scenes pressure the U.S. is using to tackle an emerging nuclear standoff.

U.S. officials have asked countries to shut down businesses owned by the North Korean government, remove North Korean vessels from ship registries, end flights by the country’s national air carrier and expel its ambassadors. At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit earlier this year, U.S. diplomats made sure North Korea couldn’t secure any bilateral meetings.

Mexico, Peru, Spain and Kuwait all expelled their North Korean ambassadors after the U.S. warned that Pyongyang was using its embassies to ship contraband and possibly weapons components in diplomatic pouches and earn currency for the regime. Italy became the latest country to do so on Oct. 1.

Kuwait and Qatar, among other countries, have agreed to reduce the presence of North Korean guest workers, according to U.S. officials and people familiar with the matter.

State Department officials drew up a detailed spreadsheet that listed all of North Korea’s known political, economic and military interests around the world, a former U.S. official said. The document functioned as a “to do” list of entities to target for closure. The campaign abroad is intensifying as the Trump administration adopts stricter sanctions at home, and the United Nations pursues enforcement of its tightest sanctions on Pyongyang yet.

The talks are also a contrast to the heated exchanges between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Mr. Trump, who has issued a series of vague threats of possible military action, saying diplomacy has failed. The latest threat came in a Twitter message Saturday from the president. “Sorry, but only one thing will work,” Mr. Trump wrote. On Thursday, he said a White House meeting with military leaders represented “the calm before the storm.” The White House refused to clarify either remark.

Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, has said that new pressure tactics need time to work, but that North Korea eventually will lack the resources to run its missile program.

[Wall Street Journal]

Jimmy Carter on moving forward with North Korea’s leaders

Excerpts of a Washington Post article by former President Jimmy Carter:

As the world knows, we face the strong possibility of another Korean war, with potentially devastating consequences to the Korean Peninsula, Japan, our outlying territories in the Pacific and perhaps the mainland of the United States. This is the most serious existing threat to world peace, and it is imperative that Pyongyang and Washington find some way to ease the escalating tension and reach a lasting, peaceful agreement.

Over more than 20 years, I have spent many hours in discussions with top North Korean officials and private citizens during visits to Pyongyang and to the countryside. I found [many of the] leaders to be both completely rational and dedicated to the preservation of their regime.

What the officials have always demanded is direct talks with the United States, leading to a permanent peace treaty to replace the still-prevailing 1953 cease-fire that has failed to end the Korean conflict. They want an end to sanctions, a guarantee that there will be no military attack on a peaceful North Korea, and eventual normal relations between their country and the international community. There is no remaining chance that it will agree to a total denuclearization, as it has seen what happened in a denuclearized Libya and assessed the doubtful status of U.S. adherence to the Iran nuclear agreement.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement last week that “we have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation” is a good first step to defusing tensions.

The next step should be for the United States to offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference including North and South Korea, the United States and China, at a mutually acceptable.

The message behind the liquid VX murder of Kim Jong Nam

Two women accused of fatally poisoning the estranged half brother of North Korea’s ruler pleaded not guilty as their trial began Monday in Malaysia’s High Court, nearly eight months after the brazen airport assassination that sparked a diplomatic standoff.

In a case with a thousand plot twists, there has been but one constant in the murder investigation of Kim Jong Nam: Nothing is ever what it seems. The two women accused of killing the playboy half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appear to be hired dupes, paid a few dollars to perform what they thought was a reality-TV stunt.  Stranger still was the murder weapon, liquid VX, a toxin so powerful that a few drops rubbed onto the skin killed the victim in minutes, yet it failed to harm the two women who applied the poison with their bare hands.

Some of the mysteries behind Kim Jong Nam’s death inside a Malaysian airport terminal will likely never be resolved. But U.S. and Asian officials have a clearer view of the attack’s significance. In carrying out history’s first state-sponsored VX assassination in a country 3,000 miles from its borders, North Korea has demonstrated a new willingness to use its formidable arsenal of deadly toxins and poisons to kill or intimidate enemies on foreign soil, analysts say.

Kim Jong Nam’s killing now looks to many experts like a proving exercise for a weapons system — in this case, a robust chemical-weapons stockpile that Pyongyang is thought to have built over decades and kept carefully under wraps.

A State Department report in 2001 found that North Korea was “already self-sufficient” in making all the necessary precursors for sarin and VX, as well as older weapons such as mustard gas. Drawing from an array of sources — from North Korean defectors and spies to satellite photos and electronic eavesdropping — U.S. agencies calculated the size of the country’s chemical stockpile at between 2,500 and 5,000 tons. That’s far larger than Syria’s arsenal at its peak, and larger than any known to exist in the world, except for those built by the Soviet and U.S. militaries during the Cold War.

[Washington Post]

US negotiating with North Korea, sort of!

Yesterday Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US had direct lines of communication with North Korea and that he was trying to “calm things down” following months of escalating rhetoric over Pyongyang’s continued nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.

Tillerson, speaking at a press conference in Beijing, said the US made it clear through its direct channels to North Korea that it was seeking peace through talks. “I think the most immediate action that we need is to calm things down,” Tillerson added. “They’re a little overheated right now, and I think we need to calm them down first.”

Then today, President Donald Trump again mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and said his Secretary of State should not bother trying to negotiate with him in an effort to stop the country’s development of nuclear weapons.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…” Trump said on Twitter. He continued, “…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Asked if the President’s tweets indicate he has decided to abandon the diplomatic track on North Korea, a senior administration official told CNN: “We are still committed to a diplomatic approach.”

In September, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis had said the goal on North Korea is to reach a diplomatic solution between the countries. The month prior, in August, Mattis stressed the importance of the nation’s diplomatic efforts, particularly through the United Nations, but in September he warned the US would meet threats from North Korea with “a massive military response.”

“I feel like we still have two different polices on North Korea: one at the Department of State and Department of Defense, and another on the President’s Twitter feed,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said.

[Source: CNN]

Difference between American and North Korean war rhetoric

President Trump’s aggressive rhetoric about North Korea [includes] his threat at the United Nations to “totally destroy” the country. Whereas North Korea tends to couch its threats, however lurid, with carefully worded conditions.

When American B-1B long-range bombers, escorted by F-15 fighter jets, prowled along North Korea’s east coast on Saturday, one of the United States military’s most daring maneuvers on the Korean peninsula in decades, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, declared that North Korea had the right to shoot down the American bombers, not outright declaring they would.

“The North Koreans know how to choose their words,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, who served as a presidential secretary for security strategy in South Korea until early this year. “They know how to calculate their stakes. They are not reckless.”

With its threats, North Korea is trying to make the United States think twice about further shows of force, even as it seeks to portray itself as playing defense against an American bully, said Lee Sung-yoon, a Korea expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. At the same time, Pyongyang probably hopes China and South Korea will call for calm and restraint, while using Mr. Trump’s threats as justification to conduct another missile or nuclear test, Mr. Lee said.

Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday at a regular news conference in Beijing that China was “very displeased with the escalating war of words between the United States and North Korea,” adding that there would be “no winners from rashly triggering war on the peninsula.”

[The New York Times]

North Korean refugees fleeing a hypothetical Korean contingency

In the event of a Korean “contingency,” there is speculation that a large number of refugees from impoverished, starving North Korea could make their way to Japan.

Citing an estimate of over 100,000 appearing along Sea of Japan coast in prefectures like Niigata, Yamagata and Aomori, with some possibly armed, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso recently posed the question: “Will police respond and arrest them on charges of illegal immigration? If the Self-Defense Forces are dispatched, will they shoot them down?”

Aso raised the specter of armed North Korean refugees flooding the Sea of Japan coastline in a speech on Saturday. Aso, who is also the finance minister, asked how authorities would respond if that should happen. “Can the police handle them? Will the Self-Defense Forces be dispatched …? We’d better think about it seriously,” he claimed.

Aso also suggested that the government should discuss where such refugees would be held.

“It’s a politician’s job to think of (an emergency) response. It may not be an event in the distant future,” he said.

The United States and North Korea remain on high alert as their leaders continue to hurl nuclear threats at each other.

[Japan Times]

Trump’s statements play right into the North Korean narrative

Kim Jong Un’s regime tells the North Korean people every day that the United States wants to destroy them and their country. Now, they will hear it from another source: from the President of the United States himself.

In his maiden address to the United Nations Tuesday, President Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea.” Analysts noted that he didn’t even differentiate between the Kim regime (as President George W. Bush did with his infamous “axis of evil” speech) and the 25 million people of North Korea.

“President Trump has handed the North Koreans the soundbite of the century,” said Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and one of the authors of its “North Korea: Witness to Transformation” blog. “That footage will be used time and time and time again on North Korea’s state television channel.”

Since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, the Kim regime has portrayed the United States as an “imperialist aggressor” pursuing to “hostile policy” to crush North Korea–again. To keep control of and unify the populace, the regime has kept alive the memories of the Korean War, when the U.S. destroyed 80 percent of all the buildings in the North and killed as many as 20 percent of its people.

“The Kim regime argues that only it is capable of protecting the country from the existential threat North Korea faces from ‘hostile foreign forces’ led by the United States,” Noland said. “All of the depravity and the denial of rights is all justified by this.”

The “threat” from the United States is the whole reason why North Korea needs nuclear weapons, the regime tells the people. Trump’s words feed right into that narrative.

[Washington Post]

Escalating verbal war between Trump and Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un warned U.S. president Donald Trump that the US would “pay dearly” for his address to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week.

“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” Kim said of Trump. “Action is the best option in treating the dotard* who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wanted to say,” he continued, according to a translation of his statement.

Hours later, North Korea’s foreign minister threatened to drop a hydrogen bomb somewhere in the Pacific.

President Donald Trump then responded by calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un a “madman” who would be “tested like never before”.

The threat marks the latest attack in an escalating verbal war between the two leaders.

Days before at the UN, Trump had  called the North Korean leader a “rocket man … on a suicide mission,” and warned that he would “totally destroy” North Korea if Kim’s regime did not tamp down its nuclear development, later announcing new U.S.-imposed sanctions against North Korea on Thursday, which would force countries to choose between doing business with the U.S., an economic juggernaut, or isolated North Korea.

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Trump is “very serious” about holding other countries ― especially China ― accountable over their relationship with North Korea.

But experts have warned against U.S. leadership using bombastic language. “Describing North Korea as irrational and crazy [in the U.S.] might demonize the existence of the Kim Jong Un regime, or provide the rationale to criticize or kind of act more coercively towards North Korea,” Kuyoun Chung, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a think tank funded by the South Korean government, told HuffPost in August. “But that does not really help the security of the United States and the security of northeast Asia.”

Note: "Dotard", while not widely used today, is an insult centuries
old. Merriam-Webster defines the term as referring to "a state or
period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise."

Trump signs new order to widen sanctions on North Korea

US President Donald Trump has signed a new order that boosts sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme.

The US Treasury has been authorized to target firms and financial institutions conducting business with the North. Trump singled out the North’s textiles, fishing, information technology and manufacturing industries.

The president also said China’s Central Bank had instructed other Chinese banks to stop doing business with Pyongyang.

It comes less than two weeks after the UN approved new sanctions against the country over its latest nuclear test.

Announcing a new executive order on Thursday, President Trump said the measures were designed to “cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind”.

[BBC]

North Korea ridicules Trump threat as the ‘sound of a dog barking’

North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, has issued a withering riposte to Donald Trump, likening his threat to destroy the regime to the “sound of a dog barking”.

Trump had said on Tuesday the US would be forced to “totally destroy” North Korea if Washington was forced to defend itself or its allies against the country’s missiles.

Speaking to reporters outside his New York hotel, Ri cited a Korean proverb when asked to respond to Trump’s vow to destroy his country. “There is a saying that the marching goes on even when dogs bark,” Ri said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

“If he was thinking he could scare us with the sound of a dog barking, that’s really a dog dream,” he added. In Korean, a dog dream is one that makes little sense.

Asked what he thought of Trump’s description of Kim Jong-un as rocket man, Ri replied: “I feel sorry for his aides.”

 [The Guardian]