Category: DPRK Government

North Korea and China project unity on sanctions

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The leaders of China and North Korea used a summit this week to project a show of unity in the face of stalled negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program and to press the U.S. to compromise.

The meetings gave Beijing a platform to underline its clout in global affairs and its critical leverage in resolving one of Washington’s top security challenges. The U.S., embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute with China over trade practices, needs the cooperation of President Xi Jinping to enforce sanctions on North Korea and to nudge his Communist ally into making concessions toward giving up his nuclear arsenal.

For Kim Jong Un, his fourth visit in a year to China carried a purposeful reminder for the Trump administration that it should prepare to give ground to get a denuclearization deal. The regime has been calling for sanctions relief from the U.S.

China’s leadership was instrumental in tightening sanctions and prodding Mr. Kim to the negotiating table last year. As North Korea’s biggest trading partner, aid provider and investor, China is critical to maintaining the pressure. To move ahead with denuclearization, Mr. Xi’s government has suggested a phased approach in which North Korean concessions should be met with ones from the international community—a position potentially at odds with Washington’s.

On Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in pressed the U.S. and North Korea to break the impasse in denuclearization talks, saying reciprocal concessions were needed to achieve the U.S. goal of disarming Pyongyang and Mr. Kim’s goal of obtaining sanctions relief.

With U.N. sanctions still in place, China’s willingness to aid North Korea’s economic ambitions is limited, said Kim Heung-kyu, a professor of political science at Ajou University in South Korea. “At the end, if North Korea wants what it wants, like becoming a normal state, pursuing economic growth, then it must achieve a breakthrough in talks with the U.S.,” he said.

[Wall Street Journal]

Defected North Korean diplomat urges international community to help ex-colleague believed to be in hiding in Italy

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Thae Yong Ho, the former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea in 2016, put out a call to the governments of Italy, South Korea and the United States to help facilitate his former colleague’s reported attempt to leave Italy.

“I urge the Italian government to follow international law and the spirit of humanity to guarantee every condition is met so that political asylum seeker Jo Song Gil and his family can go to the country of their choice,” Thae said at a press conference in Korean in Seoul on Wednesday.

Thae also had a message for Jo Song Gil, the acting North Korean ambassador to Italy, who is reportedly seeking political asylum in the U.S. after leaving the embassy last November. “I am telling you as a friend. Song Gil, do not worry. If you feel unsafe we will actively make an effort to urge the Italian embassy and [authorities] there. So we could at the least help you gain peace of mind.

“We respect your choice [of which country to seek asylum], but you have a home country, the Republic of Korea,” Thae said in Korean.

Jo and his wife are from a politically powerful family of diplomats and have maintained a luxurious lifestyle in Pyongyang, according to Thae, who went to the same university with Jo and knew the family “quite well.”

“As parents, they probably could not force their children, who already are aware of democracy and human rights from living in Europe, back to hell like North Korea. They must have thought that the last thing they could do for the children is to give them freedom,” said Thae, recalling his own defection with his two sons.

[ABC News]

Confirmation that Kim Jong-Un visiting China at Xi Jinping’s invitation

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju and top North Korean officials, has arrived in China for a four-day visit at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, as preparations increase for a second summit with US President Trump.

During his stay in China, Kim is expected to hold his fourth summit with Xi. The visit comes a week after Kim warned that North Korea may seek an alternative course if the United States maintains sanctions and pressure on his country.

Analysts also believe that Kim is eager to use the fact that relations between China and the US are strained amid the world’s two biggest economies’ bitter trade war, in order for North Korea to get as much as possible out of the expected talks.

In his annual New Year’s address last week, Kim renewed his commitment to denuclearization but added that the progress would be faster if Washington took the corresponding action.

North Korea would have “no option but to explore a new path in order to protect our sovereignty” if the US “miscalculates our people’s patience, forces something upon us and pursues sanctions and pressure without keeping a promise it made in front of the world”, Kim said, adding that he was ready to meet Trump again at any time.

Christopher Hill, a former US ambassador to South Korea, said Kim’s visit to China may be Beijing’s way of ensuring it remains a player in any future developments with Washington.

The visit also coincided with what South Korean officials say is Kim Jong-un’s 35th birthday on January 8.

Kim Jong Un may be on his way to China for a summit

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South Korean media reported late Monday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be on his way to Beijing for his fourth summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Officials in China and in Seoul had no immediate comment. North Korea rarely reports such visits until they are over.

The reports said a train like the one often used by Kim was seen crossing through the Chinese border city of Dandong late Monday amid heavy security. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency speculated the train could be carrying a senior North Korean official, while the Hankyoreh newspaper cited sources as saying Kim was in China for a summit.

Yonhap said the train was expected to reach Beijing at about 10 a.m. Tuesday local time.

Reports of the North Korean leader’s possible trip to China come after U.S. and North Korean officials are believed to have met in Vietnam to discuss the location of a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump. China is the North’s most important trading partner and a key buffer against pressure from Washington.

If Kim is going to meet Xi, Kim could be hoping to coordinate his positions with China before the Trump summit.

[AP]

Negotiating a location for second US-North Korea summit

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President Trump said Sunday that the US is “negotiating a location” for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom Trump says he has spoken to “indirectly.”

Trump also said Sunday that the US has a “very good dialogue” going with North Korea, despite signs that talks between the two countries appear to have reached a stalemate.

Trump noted that sanctions against North Korea will remain “in full force and effect” in the meantime, and warned that if anyone else had been elected US president, “you’d be at war right now.”

“You would right now be in a nice, big fat war in Asia with North Korea if I wasn’t elected president,” Trump said.

Last week, Trump said he had received a “great” letter from Kim and held it aloft in the Cabinet Room for reporters to see.

Trump’s remarks last week came one day after Kim’s New Year’s address, in which the North Korean leader warned the US about sanctions. “I’ll endeavor towards a result that will be welcomed by the international community,” Kim said of the potential second meeting between the two leaders. North Korea, however, would have “no choice but to defend our country’s sovereignty and supreme interest, and find a new way to settle peace on our peninsula” if the US “misinterprets our people’s patience, and makes one-sided demands and continues down the path of sanctions and pressure on our republic,” Kim said.

[CNN]

Former North Korean diplomat urges missing colleague in Italy to go to South Korea, not US

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A former North Korean diplomat who staged a high-profile defection to the South has urged an old colleague who has gone missing in Italy to defect to Seoul, following a report that he was seeking asylum in the United States.

Jo Song Gil, the 44-year-old who was until recently North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, disappeared with his wife after leaving the embassy without notice in early November. Jo has applied for asylum in the United States and is under the protection of Italian intelligence, according to Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.

In an open letter, Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s former deputy ambassador to Britain, who said he went to the same university and worked with Jo before defecting to South Korea in 2016, urged Jo to follow in his footsteps. (Thae said his family visited Jo in Rome in 2008, where the latter was studying from 2006 to 2009. He guided them to sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.)

To defect to South is an “obligation, not a choice” for North Korean diplomats committed to unification, Thae said, calling Seoul “the outpost” for that task.

“If you come to South Korea, the day when our suffering colleagues and North Korean citizens are liberated from the fetters would be moved forward,” Thae said in the letter released on his website. “If you come to Seoul, even more of our colleagues would follow suit, and the unification would be accomplished by itself.” South Korea could not be “heaven on earth” but a place where Jo can realize his wishes, Thae said, highlighting the ardent desire for unification among many of the roughly 32,000 defectors there.

“The defectors may not be as wealthy as South Koreans,” Thae added. “But isn’t it the only thing you and I, as North Korean diplomats, should do the rest of our lives – to bring about unification and hand over a unified nation to our children?”

[Reuters]

Missing North Korea ambassador seeking US asylum

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The acting North Korean ambassador to Rome, reportedly missing since November, may have requested U.S. asylum, according to an Italian press report. Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported Friday that Ambassador Jo Song Gil is seeking entry into the United States and is under the protection of Italian intelligence.

The Italian foreign ministry has denied it has received an asylum application from Jo, and stated it is not protecting the North Korean envoy. But an Italian diplomatic source who spoke to La Repubblica on the condition of anonymity said Jo is receiving assistance from Italian intelligence while his U.S. asylum application is under review.

Jo reached out to the Italian government as early as mid-November, according to La Repubblica. Chiefs of Italian agencies and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte have been in contact with U.S. authorities to discuss Jo’s case, the report says.

Jo’s possible defection comes at a sensitive time for U.S.-North Korea relations. CNN reports the Trump administration is scouting locations for a second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.Trump has expressed enthusiasm for talks, and has said he received a “great letter” from Kim.

South Korean news service News 1 reported Friday Ambassador Jo was appointed to the North Korean embassy in Rome in May 2015, and then assumed the acting ambassador position after Italy expelled then-Ambassador Mun Jong Nam in 2017.

[UPI]

North Korean diplomat in Italy goes into hiding

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North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy has disappeared from the diplomatic compound in Rome, according to South Korea’s spy agency.

Ambassador Jo Song Gil and his wife disappeared from the diplomatic compound in Rome in November, before his term was set to end later that month. South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo newspaper reports that the 48-year-old Jo has sought asylum in the west, but Rome has not confirmed this detail. The defection of a senior diplomat would of course be a major embarrassment for Pyongyang.

South Korean lawmaker Kim Min-Ki told reporters he has information about the case, but cannot discuss it, according to Reuters. “They left the diplomatic mission and vanished,” Kim said.

The Italian foreign ministry says it knows nothing of reports that a North Korean diplomat has defected and is seeking asylum, reports NPR Senior European Correspondent Sylvia Poggioli. She says Italian media reports that the Rome foreign ministry “denies he’s in protected hiding.”

The Associated Press reports that North Korea has yet to comment on Jo’s status. Jo became acting ambassador after Italy expelled the former top diplomat in October 2017 to protest a North Korean nuclear test, Poggioli reports.

North Korea has long been concerned about the possibility of defections, especially among its elites. The secretive country has insisted in the past that diplomatic defections are South Korean or U.S. plots to undermine its communist government, reports the AP.

The last high-profile North Korean defector, the No. 2 diplomat in the U.K., escaped to South Korea in 2016.

[NPR]

Amid stalled nuclear talks, North Korea’s Kim sends message to Trump

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a “conciliatory message” to U.S. President Donald Trump amid stalled nuclear negotiations, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Monday.

Kim’s “letter-like” message to Trump was delivered on Friday through an unspecified channel, the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed diplomatic source. The report did not include details about the substance of the message but said they related to U.S-North Korea talks.

[Reuters]

Kim Jong-un vows to meet South Korea’s leader frequently in 2019

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North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has vowed in a rare letter to meet the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, “frequently” next year to discuss denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Moon’s office said on Sunday.

The leader of the isolated North met Moon three times this year, as a reconciliatory push gathered pace. During Moon’s visit to Pyongyang in September, Kim promised to pay a return visit to Seoul “at an earliest date”.

The North’s leader “expressed a strong determination to visit Seoul while watching [the] future situation”, Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters.

Kim Jong-un also “expressed an intention to meet with Moon frequently in 2019” to pursue peace and “solve the issue of denuclearizing the peninsula together”, the spokesman said.

Moon welcomed the latest message, saying the North’s leader had also expressed “active intention to carry out agreements” made in his previous summits with the US and the South, without elaborating further.

[The Guardian]