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]

Reaching out to North Korea’s secret Christians

South Korea’s largest religious radio broadcaster, the Far East Broadcasting Company, transmits gospel-centered programs to both North and South Korea every day of the week. The station’s goal is to use Christian radio to subvert the Kim regime’s strict ban on religion, and ultimately pave the way for a unified, Christianized Korean Peninsula.

North Korean programming provides audio church services–the latter because most North Koreans cannot attend local churches, or even speak about Christianity, without risking forced labor or execution.

Though it’s impossible to get an accurate count given the Kim regime’s strict controls on information, after decades of oppression, the United Nations in 2014 cited estimates that the number of Christians living in North Korea was then between 200,000 and 400,000, or around 1 percent of the country’s population.

But South Korean Christian groups like FEBC cannot meet them, or potential converts, face to face. The station has settled for what it sees as the next best thing: reaching the curious through illicit radio receivers. FEBC buys handheld radio receivers and gives them to Christian organizations that work with smugglers to get the radios into North Korea so residents can secretly listen to the station’s broadcasts.

Chung Soo Kim, who has for more than 20 years been a radio host for FEBC, where he translates California pastor Rick Warren’s sermons, estimated that the company has purchased “tens of thousands” of receivers over more than two decades. Chung Soo Kim said he recognized that while simply owning a radio is not necessarily risky, smuggling the radios into North Korea, or being caught listening to FEBC, can be dangerous.

The station has indications from defectors’ testimonies and listener feedback that its broadcasts are reaching their destination.

[The Atlantic]

North Korean defectors find refuge in New Zealand

When Park Sung Il set foot in New Zealand last week, he felt like his prayers had been answered. Park, who defected from North Korea about 10 years ago when he was 23, is one of nine escapees from the Kim Jong Un regime who arrived in Auckland last week as part of a Christian mission.

David Cho, an Auckland-based Korean Christian organizer, said many of the defectors managed to escape the North with the help of evangelical organizations. Cho said there were plans to set up a proper base and school in Auckland for North Korean defectors.

Pastor Kwang Choi, who is heading the mission, works with North Korean refugees and has heard some harrowing tales of survival and of life in North. One of the worst, Choi said, was from a man who said he camped at his father’s grave for four days to prevent people from digging and eating his father’s corpse. “I have also come across others who went crazy from starvation and saw their own children as food.”

Park, now 33, remembers clearly the hazardous journey he had to make to escape the North. “It was a freezing Korean winter’s evening in March, and I had to cross frozen Amrok River to get to China,” he said. “I … nearly died when a sharp sheet of floating ice floated towards me and pierced my body.”

Growing up in North Korea, Park claimed, he was denied education because some of his other family members were known to be defectors. As a result, he found it difficult to find work or integrate in South Korea once he managed to get there.

As to upcoming summit between Kim Jong Un and President Trump, Choi has deep suspicion of Pyongyang’s true intentions for wanting closer relations with the South, and said many defectors felt the same.

[New Zealand Herald]

Challenges to Korean unification

Sokeel Park, the Seoul-based director of research and strategy at Liberty in North Korea (LINK), a defector assistance group, said for many refugees, “transitioning from North Korea to South Korea, especially if you’re from a provincial town in North Korea, is like coming out of a time machine into the future.”

Many North Korean defectors struggle to get employment and adapt to life in South Korea. If integrating North Koreans into South Korean society one at a time is hard, the task of full reunification seems next to impossible.

“We really haven’t had this debate on a formal level for years …What happens in terms of unification?” said Wol-san Liem, director of Korean Peninsula affairs at the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU). She said some are now talking about a potential two state system — “separate but equal countries with good relations” — that would once have been unthinkable.

“For a lot of young South Koreans, the idea that we are one with the North Korean people is becoming a kind of ancient fiction or myth,” said Park. Most are “basically happy living separate” and unwilling to face the huge costs of reunifying with North Korea.

Economically disadvantaged North Korea, cut off from the world by decades of sanctions, would always be the weaker partner to the South, and there are fears this could lead to South Korean corporations and private interests running roughshod over their northern neighbor. A sudden flood of cheap labor could negatively effect South Korea too, driving down wages and allowing employers to cut benefits.

Estimates of the cost of reunification to South Korea range from around $500 billion to several trillion dollars, and putting even that specific a price on it is difficult, given the impossibility of guessing how the process would play out.

[CNN]

North Korean defectors say unification requires closing a huge cultural chasm

When Ken Eom first arrived in South Korea, he had to get used to hearing a lot of stupid questions. “Is there alcohol in North Korea?” people would ask the former North Korean soldier, who defected in 2010, aged 29. “If people were so malnourished, and couldn’t get rice, why didn’t they just eat ramen?”

The experience was alienating. It was “like they thought I was from an Amazon tribe,” he told CNN.

Now, a historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in has brought the Peninsula closer together than it has been in years. While many South Koreans welcome warming ties between the two countries, deep suspicion of Pyongyang’s intentions and hostility to the Kim regime remains, not least among the small but substantial community of defectors living in the South.

The chasm Eom feels with his southern compatriots, almost nine years after making his hazardous journey, shows that the matter of unification, and what it means for people on both sides of a border far stronger and less permeable than the Berlin Wall ever was, remains unclear.

Travis Jeppesen, a longtime North Korea watcher, said “(There needs to be) an acknowledgment of the vast differences that have emerged in the two societies since the division began in 1945…” he said.

[CNN]