A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
As a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean
leader Kim Jong Un looms, and as the American president grapples with an
all-consuming Russia probe, fears are growing that Trump’s next move could put
Tokyo in a bind.
“I think there’s a very a high chance — maybe more than 50 percent — that,
if Trump meets Kim again, there will be a deal that sells out allies,” said Van
Jackson, a former Pentagon official and North Korea expert who teaches at
Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.
Trump has touted his dealings with Kim as his administration’s signature
foreign policy achievement, frequently pointing to the lack of nuclear tests by
the North and the absence of missiles being shot over Japan — part of an
informal moratorium by Pyongyang on atomic or longer-range missile tests. Now,
with the White House mired in what is expected to be a punishing year for the
president as the probe into alleged Russia interference in the 2016 election
gains steam, Trump could look to North Korea for a much-needed victory.
“Anything that can deflect attention from serious questions about Trump’s
integrity and fitness for office will be seen by this White House as worth
trying,” said Andrew O’Neil, an expert on North Korea and a professor at Griffith
University in Australia.
For Trump, such a victory could involve the U.S. signing off on the easing
of crippling sanctions on the North in exchange for Pyongyang capping or
curbing intercontinental ballistic missiles believed capable of striking much
of the United States, while permitting it to keep some level short- and
midrange missiles that could hit Japan, including the estimated 200 to 300
medium-range Nodong missiles it possesses. Those missiles can fly about 1,300
km (800 miles). Such a move, while adhering to Trump’s “America First” mantra,
would almost assuredly have devastating implications for the U.S. alliance with
The U.S. State Department has decided to ease some of its most stringent
restrictions on humanitarian assistance to North Korea, lifting travel
restrictions on American aid workers and loosening its block on humanitarian
supplies destined for the country, according to several diplomats and relief
The decision—which was communicated to humanitarian aid organizations by
Stephen Biegun, the U.S. senior envoy for North Korea—follows claims by United
Nations and private relief agencies in recent months that the U.S. policy was
undermining their efforts to run life-saving relief operations. Those include
programs designed to combat infectious diseases, such as cholera and
The move marked the first significant step in months by the Trump
administration to relax its “maximum pressure” campaign on Pyongyang. But it’s
unclear whether the action was conceived as a goodwill gesture to Kim Jong Un’s
regime to help facilitate further nuclear talks or was a response to mounting
diplomatic pressure to soften a policy that threatened the lives of North
U.S. officials routinely delayed
the export of surgical equipment for hospitals, stainless steel milk containers
for orphanages, and supplies for fighting tuberculosis and malaria. But the
effort led to protests from humanitarian relief organizations and left the
United States diplomatically isolated at the U.N. The drama has been playing
out behind closed doors in a U.N. sanctions committee, where the United States
has used its influence to block or delay requests by relief groups to deliver
assistance to North Korea.
In a confidential Dec 10, 2018 letter to the U.N. sanctions committee, Omar Abdi, the deputy executive director for the U.N. Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, complained that the U.S. holds on medical and relief supplies, including ambulances and solar generators needed to power tuberculosis clinics, were undermining the agency’s effort to fight the disease.
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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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,”
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.
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?”
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.
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.