Category: Kim Jong Un

North Korea waiting for Trump to blink … or leave office?

Posted on by

It used to be North Korea that was facing maximum pressure, not exerting it. More recently, Pyongyang conducted a second ballistic missile test in a week, escalating tensions with Washington.

With Pyongyang ramping up the pressure, Trump will eventually have to blink — one way or another. Either he returns to his policy of “maximum pressure,” threatening North Korea with potential military action if it continues missile and potentially even nuclear testing, or he agrees to reopen the topic of sanctions relief.

North Korea’s current hand is a strong one, even if the potential risks of overplaying it are very real. And Trump can likely not afford a rapid escalation of tensions that would be a tacit admission that his entire strategy towards Pyongyang has been a failure.

Washington’s two other levers for pulling on North Korea, its neighbors in China and South Korea, are also likely not feasible. China is not going to exert any pressure on Kim on Trump’s behalf in the middle of a trade war, and the North Korean leader has made it clear that he blames South Korea in part for the general worsening of relations, particularly Seoul’s decision to go ahead with recent joint military drills with the US.

Pyongyang has also gained a solid new backer: Russia. According to Michael Elleman, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a UK-based think tank with ties to the defense industry, the missiles used it Pyongyang’s recent tests “look remarkably like those of a Russian-produced Iskander.” While he said it was possible North Korea had imported the missile from elsewhere or matched the Russian design, the most likely explanation is that it bought them direct from Moscow. It is surely no coincidence that Pyongyang’s tests came off the back of Kim Jong Un’s successful first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pyongyang may also be playing a longer game. It has shown in the past that it is perfectly willing to wait out difficult US Presidents and wait for a change in leadership that will give it a chance to restart negotiations and earn more time to shore up its military capabilities. While no US leader has ever sat down with their North Korean counterpart before Trump, now that the precedent has been made, Pyongyang will know that future Presidents will not see it as such an impossible step.

[CNN]

US and South Korean position on North Korea

Posted on by

U.S. President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in discussed North Korea’s recent short-range missile test as well as a recent joint food security assessment from the World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

A UN report published on Friday concluded that 10.1 million North Koreans remained food insecure and predicted falling crops yields, expanding food shortfalls and noted lower Public Distribution System (PDS) rations. “Overall, it is estimated that 10.1 million people (40 percent of the population) are food insecure and in urgent need of food assistance,” the report reads. “Prolonged dry spells, abnormally high temperatures and floods, coupled with limited supplies of agricultural inputs, had a severe impact on yields of the 2018 main crops harvested last September/October.”

“President Trump assessed that South Korea’s provision of food to North Korea in a humanitarian move will be very timely and a positive step and supports it,” Blue House spokesperson Ko Min-jung said

Countries are not prohibited from sending humanitarian aid to North Korea, though some items like farming machinery, industrial and medical equipment must first be granted a sanctions exemption from the UN, which can slow down the aid delivery process.

The two leaders also talked about how to keep diplomacy moving forward with North Korea despite recent missile tests, which was likely a new kind of short-range ballistic missile (SRBM).  “We still believe that there is an opportunity to get a negotiated outcome where we get fully verified denuclearization. Chairman Kim has repeated that,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told U.S. media over the weekend.

[NK News]

North Korea’s “Red Dawn” campaign to target defectors

Posted on by

In December last year, the personal information of nearly 1,000 defectors from North Korea was stolen by hackers working for Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The data was taken from a database belonging to South Korea’s resettlement agency via a computer infected with malicious software at the Hana center in the southern city of Gumi, Reuters reported. The Hana center is one of 25 institutes that help some 32,000 North Korean defectors adapt to a new life in the South, offering jobs, medical aid, and more.

Months before news of the hack emerged, cybersecurity company McAfee warned that North Korean hackers, known as “Sun Team,” were actively using malware on mobile phones to spy on Android devices used by defectors.

The malware is spread through social media networks, including Facebook, and used to steal personal information such as photos, contact lists, text messages, and more. Around 100 victims were targeted via the Google Play store.

Some of that information was then used to create fake social media accounts by stealing the victims’ identities. The campaign was dubbed “Red Dawn” by McAfee. It was the second Sun Team operation targeting defectors that McAfee had uncovered in 2018.

[Newsweek]

North Korea test-launches more missiles as U.S. Envoy visits Seoul

Posted on by

North Korea fired two short-range missiles Thursday, an act of defiance that marks the country’s second test launch of weapons in less than a week.

North Korea launched a short-range missile from the country’s northwest Kusong region at 4:29 p.m. and then another short-range missile at 4:49 p.m., South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. Both missiles flew east over the Korean Peninsula, with the first one traveling 420 kilometers (260 miles) and falling into the sea, the joint chiefs said. The second flew 270 kilometers and also fell into the water.

The tests follow increasingly impatient demands for sanctions concessions from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the wake of his failed February nuclear summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Adding to the diplomatic pressure was the presence of the U.S.’s top nuclear envoy, Stephen Biegun, who was in Seoul meeting with South Korean officials Thursday.

The launches come six days after Kim supervised a military exercise in which he fired off several projectiles, including what non-proliferation experts believed was a short-range ballistic missile. While South Korean officials had played down the earlier tests, saying they were not a provocation, President Moon Jae-in was more critical to Thursday’s launches.

The return to missile testing after a lull of 17 months challenges Trump’s decision to continue talks with Kim, since the U.S. president has often cited the lack of such provocations as evidence his approach was working. North Korea, which has often complained about U.S. and South Korean joint military drills, called Saturday’s test a “reasonable strike drill” for its combat readiness.

“Since the U.S. response [has been] low-key, North Korea appears to think that this level of test would not cause problems and it can continue the tests,” said Jina Kim, a research fellow at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

[Bloomberg]

North Korea’s newest missile appears similar to advanced Russian design

Posted on by

North Korea’s newest missile has a striking resemblance to an advanced Russian design, according to experts analyzing images from a test of the weapon on Saturday morning.

The missile, which North Korea describes as a “tactical guided weapon,” appears superficially to be nearly identical to Russia’s Iskander missile — a highly accurate short-range weapon capable of striking targets more than 150 miles away.

Such a system has the potential to challenge missile defenses in South Korea and further escalate tensions in the region. If it is an Iskander-like missile, this new weapon will fly at altitudes that will make it hard to intercept, according to Michael Elleman, a physicist and senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Iskander flies at an altitude of roughly 30 miles, Elleman says, too high for U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missile interceptors, but too low for THAAD, a system capable of intercepting longer-range missiles.

North Korea tested the weapon on May 4 as part of a “strike drill” that included the use of other weapons such as rocket artillery. It was the first publicized test of a missile since North Korea declared a voluntary moratorium on long-range intercontinental missile tests in April 2018. The new missile appears to be short-range, meaning it doesn’t violate the moratorium.

[NPR]

Kim Jong Un arrives in Russia ahead of summit with Putin

Posted on by

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has arrived in Russia ahead of his planned summit with Vladimir Putin, Russian state news agency TASS reported Wednesday.Kim and Putin are set to meet for the first time in the eastern port city of Vladivostok Thursday, but do not plan to sign any agreements or make a joint statement.

The young North Korean leader left the capital of Pyongyang on Wednesday at dawn, traveling by train, North Korean state news agency KCNA reported, as he did for his summit with US President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam. The journey from the train station in Khasan, near the North Korean border, to Vladivostok is expected to take about nine hours, according to TASS.

Kim’s visit to North Korea’s northern neighbor comes amid an impasse in the nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. Though the White House expressed optimism that things were left on good terms after Hanoi, North Korean officials have been less sanguine in public. Diplomats from Pyongyang have speculated about suspending talks with the United States and called for Trump to replace US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with someone “who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”

Analysts have speculated that Kim’s meeting with Putin could be a way for the young North Korean leader to assess his diplomatic options outside talks with the United States.

Joining Kim on the trip is the recently promoted Choe Son Hui, one of Pyongyang’s more experienced diplomats who is heavily involved in talks with the United States. NK News, a prominent website specializing in North Korean news, reported that Choe’s promotion makes her the highest-ranking female diplomat in the country’s history.

[CNN]

North Korean and Russian leaders to meet for first time

Posted on by

North Korean state media has confirmed that leader Kim Jong-un will travel to Russia “soon” for his first ever meeting with Vladimir Putin. Speculation is growing that they’ll meet in Russia’s eastern port of Vladivostok, just hours from their shared border

The Soviet Union was a major ally of North Korea, offering economic co-operation, cultural exchanges and aid. It also provided North Korea with its initial nuclear know-how. But since the collapse of the Iron Curtain the relationship has suffered. The last North Korea-Russia bilateral meeting was in 2011, when then President Dmitry Medvedev met Mr Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.

“International sanctions are beginning to take effect and without a change in the US position, it’s very unlikely North Korea will be able to get sanctions relief and pick up trade with the outside world,” says Professor Andrei Lankov of Seoul’s Kookmin University. . So North Korea needs to contact everyone who might be helpful in achieving that goal. Anything from real progress to even symbolic diplomatic assistance would be useful to Pyongyang.

Alexey Muraviev, associate professor at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, says North Korea has to show the US “they’re not in isolation. If they can show that major powers are still backing them up, this will give them additional bargaining power to talk to the US and China.”

“[Kim Jong Un] needs to be given full credit,” Mr Muraviev says. “He is quite skillful in playing high-stakes diplomacy for North Korea’s economic interest – and for the survival of his own regime.”

“I don’t think North Korea can get much from Russia,” Lee Jai-chun, a former South Korean ambassador to Russia, told BBC Korean. But a meeting will have domestic implications. “North Korea’s citizen know that the summit with US was a failure so the meeting with Russia could be a ‘show’ to the North Korean people.”

[BBC]

North Korea announces testing of new ‘tactical guided weapon’

Posted on by

North Korea says its leader Kim Jong Un has overseen the testing of a “new-type tactical guided weapon.” The North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Kim supervised the test at the Academy of Defense Science on Wednesday.

The report offered few details about the weapon, except that it was test-fired at various targets, carried a “powerful warhead” and had a “peculiar mode of guiding flight.”

The U.S. and South Korean governments have so far not commented on the test.

“Tactical weapons are for attacking South Korea, not the U.S.,” Park Hwee Rhak, a political scientist at Kookmin University in Seoul, and a former South Korean army colonel, commented in a phone interview. “In these tense times, North Korea wouldn’t conduct a test lightly,” he added. “The weapon must be something that can pose a threat or incite terror,” and therefore is likely to contain some new technology or capability.

Last November, North Korea claimed to have tested an “ultra-modern” tactical weapon. No details have emerged as to what the weapon was.

North Korea has not tested any strategic weapons, such as nuclear devices or long-range missiles since late 2017. Kim has since set goals for “keeping munitions production going, and putting national defense science and technology on [a] cutting edge level.

Park Hwee Rhak says whether or not Wednesday’s test violates the North’s testing moratorium is a moot point, because the moratorium is unwritten and self-imposed, and not the result of any agreement.

Kim has also made efforts to avoid diplomatic isolation. He is expected to meet with Vladimir Putin as early as next week. Russia has urged the U.N. to ease sanctions on the North. U.S. special envy on North Korea Steven Biegun is in Moscow Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the expected visit.

If sanctions are not lifted, Kim Jong Un has the option of waiting out the Trump administration, as Kim is in his 30s, and barring unforeseen circumstances, could rule his country for decades to come.

[NPR]

Kim Jong Un sends message to Trump with military visit

Posted on by

North Korea is signaling a firmer stance toward the U.S. following the breakdown of denuclearization talks, with leader Kim Jong Un visiting a military unit for the first time this year and directing pilots in combat maneuvers. He left having “expressed great satisfaction over the excellent readiness,” the report said.

Kim hadn’t visited a military facility since November. Security analysts saw Kim’s most recent trip as a message to the Trump administration: Unless Washington is prepared to compromise on sanctions, Pyongyang can revert to a cycle of confrontation.

The North Korean leader said last week that the U.S. had until year’s end to change its stance in nuclear talks or risk a “gloomy and very dangerous” response.

“Kim Jong Un doesn’t make meaningless visits,” said Moon Seong-mook, a retired South Korean army brigadier general and an analyst for the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, a private think tank in Seoul.“He’s sending a message internationally that we are ready militarily, and domestically that we need to be thoroughly prepared.”

Washington and Pyongyang remain gridlocked over how the North should relinquish its nuclear arsenal. Though the two countries’ leaders affirmed their close personal ties in recent days, the Kim regime has expressed frustration, if not astonishment, over U.S. demands for specific commitments on Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

New evidence suggesting nuclear pursuits came Tuesday, when researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, using satellite imagery, identified five specialized railcars inside Pyongyang’s main Yongbyon nuclear facility. The railcars were near a uranium-enrichment facility and radiochemistry lab. The North has previously used railcars for the movement of radioactive material or reprocessing campaigns, the CSIS said.

“Kim is reminding us, in a general way, that unless the Trump administration is prepared to move forward, then he has military options to up the ante,” said Euan Graham, a North Korea security expert at Australia’s La Trobe University.

About two-fifths of North Korea’s 810 combat aircraft are stationed near Pyongyang, according to South Korean Defense Ministry estimates. The unit is tasked with helping defend airspace over the capital, according to North Korean state media.

North Korea maintains an active military of roughly 1.2 million members, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry. Pyongyang’s air force also operates drones and surface-to-air missiles.

[Washington Post]

North Korea willing to take part in talks if US has ‘right attitude’

Posted on by

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said he would take part in a third summit with Donald Trump – but only if the US brought the “right attitude”.

He urged Mr Trump to pursue a deal that was “mutually acceptable.” In response the president tweeted praise of Mr Kim.

After a February summit, Trump said North Korean officials had wanted economic sanctions lifted in their entirety in exchange for disabling a major nuclear site, provoking him to walk away. However, the North Koreans disputed the US account.

In recent comments, Kim said in a speech that the summit had created a “strong doubt” in him over whether the US genuinely wanted to improve relations. But he went on to say: “We are willing to give another try if the US offers to have a third summit with the right attitude and mutually acceptable terms.”

He said the US “mistakenly believe that if they pressure us to the maximum, they can subdue us” and called on them to cease “hostile” negotiating tactics.

[BBC]