Category: DPRK Government

North Korea threatens to suspend denuclearization talks with US

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North Korea is considering suspending denuclearization talks with the United States unless Washington changes its stance after the breakdown of a summit meeting in Hanoi between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a senior North Korean official said Friday.

Kim Jong Un is set to make an official announcement soon on whether to continue diplomatic talks and maintain the country’s moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told foreign diplomats and journalists in Pyongyang, the Associated Press reported.

Choe said North Korea was deeply disappointed by the breakdown of the talks in Hanoi and that the United States had missed a golden opportunity there. She said Pyongyang now has no intention of compromising or continuing talks unless the United States changes its “political calculation” and takes measures that are commensurate with the steps North Korea has already taken, such as the 15-month moratorium on launches and tests.

“I want to make it clear that the gangster-like stand of the U.S. will eventually put the situation in danger,” she added. “We have neither the intention to compromise with the U.S. in any form nor much less the desire or plan to conduct this kind of negotiation.”

Trump’s counteroffer was widely seen as unrealistic. He tried to persuade Kim to “go big” and surrender his entire arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in return for “a bright future” economically. Choe, who attended the Hanoi summit, said Kim was puzzled by what she called the “eccentric” negotiation position of the United States, but she said the North Korean leader still had a good relationship with Trump.

“Personal relations between the two supreme leaders are still good, and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful,” she said, while accusing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton of creating an atmosphere of “hostility and mistrust.”

John Delury, an expert on East Asia at Seoul’s Yonsei University, said Choe’s comments could be seen as a response to Bolton’s threat to ramp up sanctions and did not mean the door to dialogue was closed. “This is each side reminding each other what’s at stake,” he said.

Nevertheless, the deterioration in relations has been a major blow to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has staked his reputation on closer ties with North Korea.

[Washington Post]

North Korea returns Otto Warmbier lawsuit

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North Korea has sent back a $500 million lawsuit to a U.S. District Court that ordered the Kim Jong Un regime to compensate the parents of Otto Warmbier for the student’s death in 2017.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had issued a default judgment in December, ordering North Korea to pay $450 million in punitive damages to the estate of Warmbier and his parents. The remaining $50 million was to cover “pain and suffering,” economic losses and medical costs.

North Korea rejected the suit following its delivery to the foreign ministry, with Pyongyang denying responsibility for Warmbier’s death.

Otto Warmbier was arrested in Pyongyang in January 2016. The former U.S. captive had fallen into a coma by 2017, with North Korea claiming Otto Warmbier had contracted botulism, a claim that is under dispute.

President Trump has said he struggles with a “very, very delicate balance” between negotiations and being mindful of the Warmbiers.

[UPI]

North Korea asks for food aid while hinting at rocket launch

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Kim Jong Un went into his summit with President Trump with one objective: relief from international sanctions crippling North Korea’s economy. Having come away from the Hanoi summit empty-handed, North Korea is now inching toward provocation and simultaneously tugging at heartstrings.

Satellite images have detected activity at a launch facility and a missile manufacturing complex — sites North Korea knows full well are being closely watched — signaling the country may be gearing up for a rocket launch, and rattling nerves in Washington.

At the same time, the United Nations last week said that harvests in North Korea were down 9% in 2018, the lowest yield in a decade, and that 3.8 million people — 1 out of 7 North Koreans — were urgently in need of “life-saving aid.”

In a leaked memo in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit, a North Korean official pleaded for assistance from international organizations to address an impending food shortage that he said was caused not only by abnormally high temperatures and natural disasters, but by “barbaric and inhuman sanctions.”

For the moment, much of Washington’s attention is trained on the potential provocation. Commercial satellite images signal North Korea is taking steps to launch a rocket, analysts said.

Melissa Hanham, a nuclear expert at the One Earth Future Foundation, said in all likelihood, North Korea will launch a space rocket rather than test a missile. Even so, the timing would send a message, she said.

Hazel Smith, a veteran North Korea scholar who was previously based in North Korea working for U.N. agencies, said it would be a “very big mistake” to dismiss the request for aid as a government ploy. Smith, professor of international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said there was no doubt restrictions on North Korea’s oil imports — imposed in September 2017 — led to decreased agricultural productivity.

At least one country has heeded North Korea’s plea. Russia shipped 2,092 tons of wheat in humanitarian aid to feed children and pregnant women. Emblazoned in blue across the length of the white 50 kg sacks, with the stamp of the World Food Programme, were the words: “Gift of Russian Federation.”

[Los Angeles Times]

Top Trump official may have just doomed US-North Korea talks

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A top Trump administration official has all but admitted that the US stance toward North Korea talks is now a hardline one. What this means, some analysts say, is that the American position will sink any chance for progress in US-North Korea negotiations over ending its nuclear program.

A senior State Department official made a stunning remark when asked if the Trump administration agrees on how to handle the complexities of talks with North Korea: “Nobody in the administration advocates a step-by-step approach,” the official said. “In all cases, the expectation is a complete denuclearization of North Korea as a condition for all the other steps … being taken.” In other words, for Pyongyang to receive any kind of benefits like sanctions relief, it has to dismantle its entire nuclear arsenal first.

“Only through practical reciprocal steps will we get closer to denuclearization & peace and away from dangerous & irresponsible ‘fire & fury’ threats,” Arms Control Association Director Daryl Kimball also tweeted.

Here’s why analysts closely following the US-North Korea drama are so worried: Pyongyang for years has said that the only way it would consider giving up its nuclear weapons is through a step-by-step process where both sides offer reciprocal, commensurate concessions. By resolving smaller disagreements, like lifting sanctions in exchange for the closure of an important nuclear facility, over time the US and North Korea would eventually arrive at the grand prize: the end of Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.

This abrupt change in tone isn’t trivial. The North Koreans pay very close attention to any and all statements coming from the US government, and what they just heard is that the US wants “all or nothing.” It’s therefore possible that Pyongyang will get angry at the new rhetoric, thereby threatening the future of negotiations and possibly putting both nations back on the path to war.

“That could very well backfire,” says Harry Kazianis, a North Korea expert at the Center for the National Interest, by enticing Pyongyang “to push back with an intercontinental ballistic missile test in the coming weeks.”

Perhaps by indicating that the US will play hardball from here on out, the US aims to have North Korea moderate its own hardline position.

What’s clear, though, is that this statement won’t be taken kindly by the Kim regime. The US may want to continue negotiations, but comments like the official’s yesterday threaten to end them.

[Vox]

North Korea mentions summit failure in party newspaper

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North Korea is changing its narrative of the Hanoi summit. An article published on page six of Workers’ Party paper Rodong Sinmun stated the world was holding the United States responsible for the end of the bilateral summit without an agreement.

“Those inside and outside North Korea who couldn’t hope enough for good results at the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi are unanimously holding the United States responsible for the end of the summit without an agreement, while being unable to hide their regrets,” the Rodong stated on Friday.

The newspaper also stated the “whole world hopes the peace process in the Korean Peninsula will flow smoothly.”

The admission of the summit’s abrupt end is a first; as recently as Thursday North Korea was stating negotiations are feasible with a “fair proposal, appropriate attitude and will to solve the problem.”

The article may reflect the changing reality of North Korea, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. Ordinary North Koreans have more access to outside world information, and they continue to move across the China-North Korea border. State authorities may have decided to report factual events for practical reasons, according to Yonhap’s analysis.

As speculation continues over what will happen after the Hanoi summit, South Korea appointed a new unification minister, Kim Yeon-chul, president of government-run think tank Korea Institute for National Unification. JTBC reported Friday Kim Yeon-chul seeks to pursue the resumption of U.S.-North Korea negotiations.

[UPI]

Trump voices disappointment over North Korean rocket site report

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Fresh reports of missile-related activity in North Korea have emerged, confirmed by South Korean spy chief Suh Hoon, according to the JoongAng Ilbo. Hours after Donald Trump said he would be “very disappointed” if separate reports about a rocket launch site being rebuilt proved to be true.

“I would be very disappointed if that were happening,” Trump said in the Oval Office, when asked if North Korea was breaking a promise.

“Well, we’re going to see. It’s too early to see … It’s a very early report. …But I would be very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim, and I don’t think I will be, but we’ll see what happens. We’ll take a look. It’ll ultimately get solved.”

Trump, eager for a big foreign policy win on North Korea that has eluded predecessors for decades, has repeatedly stressed his good relationship with Kim. In 2018 he went as far as saying they “fell in love” but the bonhomie has failed so far to bridge the wide gap between the two sides.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, warned on Tuesday that new sanctions could be introduced if North Korea did not scrap its nuclear weapons program.

[The Guardian]

North Korea seen reassembling rocket test site

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Satellite imagery suggests that North Korea may be taking steps to reactivate a partially decommissioned long-range rocket test site on the country’s west coast. Experts say they see evidence that workers are rebuilding at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. In a matter of days, a rocket-engine test stand and a large transfer structure have been reassembled, according to Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a senior fellow for imagery analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The structures were taken down over the course of last summer, Bermudez says, and reassembled in a matter of days. “We’ve seen a remarkably quick rebuilding,” he says.

News of the apparent activity comes less than a week after a second summit between the U.S. and North Korea ended in stalemate. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 27 and 28. But the two sides wrapped up talks early after it became apparent that they were far apart on any deal over North Korea’s nuclear program.

The Sohae facility, also referred to as Dongchang-ri and Tongchang-ri, is the site from which North Korea attempted satellite launches in 2012 and 2016. It’s also the location of a test stand that Pyongyang has used to fire some of its rocket engines on the ground. More recently, Sohae figured prominently in the ongoing talks between North Korea and the United States. Last June, after the first U.S.-North Korea summit, in Singapore, Trump said Kim had given his word that he would close “a major missile-engine testing site.”

“I got that after we signed the agreement,” Trump said at a press conference following his meeting with Kim. “I said, ‘Do me a favor. You’ve got this missile-engine testing site. We know where it is because of the heat.’ … I said, ‘Can you close it up?’ He’s going to close it up.”

During a summit in September with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim followed up with an official announcement that he was closing Sohae. (In that announcement, he referred to Sohae as Dongchang-ri.) Satellite imagery suggested that North Korea did begin disassembling the site in the summer of 2018.

Now, Bermudez says, the test stand appears almost completely reassembled, and the building has been rebuilt with all but part of its roof. The work happened sometime between Feb. 20 and March 2, when the commercial images were taken by the company DigitalGlobe. Given that the site has lain dormant for months, Bermudez believes the work probably took place after Feb. 28, when the Trump-Kim summit concluded unsuccessfully.

Even if Sohae is being rebuilt after the failed summit, Kim isn’t violating any agreement with the U.S., notes David Wright, co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Ultimately, the decision to rebuild Sohae, like the decision to take it apart, may be largely symbolic. Bermudez says the facility is not believed to be at the center of North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“All North Korean ballistic missiles today, maybe with one or two exceptions, can be launched from mobile launchers,” he says.

[NPR]

Trump has given North Korea a valuable bargaining chip for free

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The South Korean capital, Seoul, is within artillery range of North Korea. Millions of South Koreans could be shelled within minutes if a war breaks out. While South Korea’s government favors improved relations with Pyongyang, it also understands the value of a strong military. The Trump administration should be helping a strong ally, not undermining it.

President Trump was …wrong to walk away from annual military exercises with our South Korean allies. That move raises fears that walking away from our decades-long alliance could be next.

Trump says he decided to suspend this year’s two land exercises, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, to save money and to help improve relations with Pyongyang. Neither explanation justifies his decision.

The cost to hold the exercises, estimated at $14 million, is trivial in the context of a $700 billion U.S. defense budget. Moreover, the South Korean government just agreed to increase the amount it pays each year for basing U.S. troops in the country by more than $50 million. Insisting our allies pay more to get less is a terrible idea.

Trump also apparently acceded to this key North Korean demand without getting anything in return. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had specifically protested the annual exercises in his New Year’s Day speech, reiterating a longtime demand.

[Excerpt of Washington Post Opinion]

Kim Jong Un’s sister rushed off her feet on Vietnam trip

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Ready with an ashtray at a railway station, taking away gifts of flowers and giving directions to staff, Kim Yo Jong has been rushed off her feet as personal secretary to her brother and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam.

Kim Yo Jong, who holds the title of vice director of the ruling Workers’ Party, came to the world’s attention at the Winter Olympics in South Korea a year ago, when her big smile and relaxed manner made her a hit with many south of the DMZ.

But it was been non-stop for her on the trip to Hanoi, trailing her brother during his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, her hair neatly half swept back in trademark fashion, making sure everything goes like clockwork.

After Kim’s train rolled into the Vietnamese border station of Dong Dang, Kim Yo Jong was the first person to emerge, alongside protocol chief Kim Chang Son. She appeared at one point to slightly push aside Kim Yong Chol, the leader’s chief nuclear envoy and top aide, as she sprinted from the train towards her brother and took welcome flowers from him.

When Kim Jong Un signed an agreement with Trump after their first summit in Singapore last June, he ditched a pen sterilized by his security officials in favor of one offered by his sister.

“It is most fascinating because we see her discharging technical and hygienic tasks on one hand, but she also has to fulfill certain ceremonial tasks as one of the visiting VIPs,” said Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Centre’s 38 North think tank.

The Kims’ keenness on cleanliness is rooted in the era of their late father, Kim Jong Il, when immaculateness was key and sanitizers were widely used, Madden said.

Experts also say the use of a personal ashtray or pen in particular is intended to prevent the ruling family’s DNA being collected by foreign governments. “The paranoia about medical intelligence involved Kim Jong Il, so the security units may have continued the policy with his son,” Madden said.  

Since her debut on state media in December 2011, Kim Yo Jong has quickly climbed the leadership ladder. She was named as an alternate member of the party’s all-powerful politburo in late 2017 as her brother draws his most important people closer to the center of power.

[Reuters]

South Korea and US to end large-scale war games

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The US and South Korea have confirmed they will no longer hold large-scale joint military exercises, exercises which have always infuriated North Korea.

The alliance’s defense chiefs said the decision supported “diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. North Korea regards the games as preparation for a military invasion.

A number of exercises were suspended last year after US President Donald Trump met North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The defense ministers from the the US and South Korea have now agreed to end the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve series of exercises in a phone call on Saturday.

Critics have said cancelling the drills could undermine US and South Korean military defenses against the North, but others say those concerns are unjustified. President Trump has previously complained of the cost of such exercises, although he has ruled out withdrawing US troops from the peninsula – currently numbering about 30,000.

[BBC]