Former North Korean ambassador may be new point man in US-NK talks

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North Korea appears to have appointed a long-time veteran of international diplomacy as point man in the new round of denuclearisation talks with the United States, a diplomatic source in Seoul confirmed on Friday.

North Korea has indicated that former ambassador to Vietnam Kim Myong Gil would act as counterpart to U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Left: Former ambassador to Vietnam Kim Myong Gil

South Korean media, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, reported on Thursday that Kim Myong Gil would be taking over for Kim Hyok Chol, the North Korean diplomat who served as Biegun’s counterpart ahead of the Hanoi summit, which collapsed with no deal in February. [In June, CNN reported that Kim Hyok Chol, a former ambassador to Spain, was alive and in state custody, contradicting a South Korean newspaper report that he had been executed for his role in the summit breakdown.]

The collapse of the Hanoi summit was a major setback for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who, several sources said, was led to believe by hawkish aides like former general and spy master Kim Yong Chol that he was about to win sought-after sanctions relief in return for a promise to partially scrap nuclear facilities. Kim Yong Chol was also removed from his position as counterpart for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but has since appeared at some public events alongside Kim Jong Un.

After meeting Kim Jong Un on Sunday at the DMZ, President Trump said that the two sides had agreed to name teams to resume talks that have been stalled since the previous summit. According to a fact sheet by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, Kim Myong Gil was previously a member of delegations at the United Nations and the failed six-party talks, aimed at reining in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes that it pursued for years in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

If the appointment is confirmed, Kim Myong Gil’s long experience as a diplomat could pose opportunities as well as challenges for Biegun, said Duyeon Kim, a Seoul-based adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “On the one hand, it will make Biegun’s conversations easier because Kim knows ‘diplomatic speak’ and the issues very well, but his knowledge and experience means that negotiations could also get tricky,” she said. “North Korean diplomats pride themselves for knowing the U.S. better than Americans.” Kim added, “At the end of the day, it almost doesn’t matter who the lead negotiator is because they get their marching orders from Kim Jong Un.”

[Reuter]

Former special envoy defends Trump’s North Korea visit

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Former special envoy Joseph Detrani on Wednesday said President Trump’s recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) has led to meaningful results on the negotiations front.

Detrani, who was special envoy for the six-party talks with North Korea under former President George W. Bush, said Trump secured a commitment that will help jumpstart denuclearization talks.

“He did get something back — he got a commitment from Kim Jong Un that we would now commence with working-level negotiations,” Detrani told Hill.TV. “That means all negotiators will come together and talk about complete verifiable denuclearization. The key now is to get all negotiators to sit down and talk about is there a path to getting complete verifiable denuclearization.”

Detrani advised the administration to “immediately” move forward with talks with North Korea. “We shouldn’t be waiting six months before negotiators sit down,” he told Hill.TV.

[The Hill]

North Korean and Russian top brass meet to agree on military cooperation

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North Korea welcomed a Russian delegation on Wednesday and the two sides agreed to expand military cooperation, according to Russian media.

Russia’s deputy defense minister Alexander Fomin met with his North Korea counterpart, Kim Hyong Ryong, in Pyongyang and discussed common goals of the two countries, Tass reported. “The main objective of the visit is to establish the specific details of military cooperation between Russia and North Korea,” Fomin said.

Ahead of the visit, Russia’s defense ministry issued a statement. “During the upcoming talks, the sides plan to discuss the situation in Northeast Asia and on the Korean Peninsula, the conditions and prospects of Russian-North Korean cooperation in the military sphere, as well as relevant issues on the international and regional security agenda,” the ministry had said.

Fomin said military cooperation between Russia and North Korea had become more active following the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un in April.

[UPI]

Increased number of North Korean defectors to South Korea in 2019

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A total of 546 North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea in the first half of 2019, a 12 per cent rise from the figure recorded in the same months a year earlier, the South Korean government has announced.

The number of people fleeing the North reached an annual high of 2,914 in 2009, while the average number is between 1,000 and 1,500 since current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un came to power in late 2011.

More than 32,000 North Korean defectors currently live in South Korea and Seoul has announced plans to expand state subsidies to help refugees settle.

[AAP]

In game of diplomatic chess, Kim Jong Un is proving to be the more astute player

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Standing side by side with US President Trump on North Korean soil is a tremendous propaganda boost to help secure is Kim Jong Un’s leadership at home.

And Trump got want he wanted: another history-making photo opportunity.

Of the two of them, many say it is Kim Jong Un who is getting the most from these meetings. In exchange for all this, Kim has had to suspend his nuclear and long-range missile tests. But not much else.

Some say the US-led sanctions against Kim’s regime are biting. But there is open acknowledgement from the White House that China — far and away North Korea’s biggest economic partner — isn’t rigorously enforcing them anymore.

Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un tour in an open-top limousine waving to Pyongyang crowds

And although it received less international media coverage, Kim only days ago hosted the world’s other most important political leader: Xi Jinping. The Chinese leader made his first visit to North Korea since becoming President six-and-a-half years ago. The pair toured Pyongyang in an open-top limousine waving to adulating crowds in a style only two communist leaders could pull off. The message was clear — China has North Korea’s back —and it is easy to forget that just over a year ago, ties between the two allies were at their lowest point in decades. What a difference a year makes.

So Kim Jong Un has played host to both the US and Chinese presidents within a week. He is on good terms with the South Korean leader. He has goods flowing across the Chinese border again — and he still has his nuclear arsenal as leverage.

In this game of diplomatic chess, Mr Trump and Chairman Kim are both making bold moves. But it is the youthful dictator who is proving to be the more astute player.

[ABC]

Trump and Kim make history, but despite the theatrics tremendous challenges remain

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With 20 steps over the military demarcation line at the Korean Demilitarized Zone Sunday, US President Donald Trump made history, the first sitting US President to set foot on North Korean soil.

Those 20 steps were, indeed, a remarkable achievement. The fact that US officials and the notoriously rigid North Korean bureaucracy were able to pull together such a momentous meeting in around 24 hours, after Trump proposed the idea on Twitter, is a testament to the warm personal relationship that has developed over the last year between the two leaders.

It is also highly significant that the two were able to go beyond a simple two-minute handshake previewed earlier by the US President to speak privately for nearly an hour — announcing they would form teams with the goal of resuming working level denuclearization talks by mid July.

Both Kim and Trump seem to be banking on their personal relationship as the solution that will help them overcome the huge divide that remains between the US and North Korea.

But as the buzz wears off, a far longer and more difficult march lies ahead. It was noteworthy that Trump never once mentioned the word denuclearization on Sunday. The US has thus far failed to achieve its ultimate goal of getting North Korea to relinquish any of its nuclear weapons, or even agree upon a definition of denuclearization. Kim has so far been unable to achieve his ultimate goal of relief from crushing sanctions. If anything, Sunday’s meeting buys Kim time to prove to skeptics inside his country that he is capable of striking a deal with the US, despite the breakdown of talks in Hanoi.

[CNN]

Trump of Kim Jong Un: “He understands me, and I believe I maybe understand him”

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Taking an unprecedented step onto North Korean soil, President Donald Trump announced Sunday that Washington and Pyongyang will relaunch stalled nuclear talks. Trump deemed the meeting a victory, announcing that nuclear talks would resume “within weeks” and that the two countries were designating teams of officials to take the lead.

Both Trump and Kim offered invitations to the other to visit their capitals, with Trump saying, “I’ll invite him to the White House right now.” Kim said it would be a “great honor” if Trump visited Pyongyang. Neither of those are likely to occur in the short term.

“He understands me, and I believe I maybe understand him,” Trump said. “Sometimes that can lead to very good things.”

For all the fanfare, there were no signs that the U.S. and the North had made any concrete progress on denuclearization, the issue that has led to North Korea’s estrangement from the world. And veteran nuclear negotiators and North Korea experts immediately questioned whether Trump, by staging a high-profile photo-op absent nuclear concessions, was bestowing legitimacy on Kim and undermining global pressure to force the North to accept a denuclearization deal.

“We can only call it historic if it leads to something,” said Victor Cha, a former Asia director at the White House and an NBC News contributor.

[NBC]

US President Trump and Kim Jong-un share historic handshake in North Korea

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US President Donald Trump has shared a symbolic handshake with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the heavily fortified zone dividing the two Koreas.

Mr Trump became the first sitting US president to cross into North Korea after meeting Mr Kim at the demilitarised zone (DMZ).

Critics have dismissed it as pure political theatre, but others say it could set the scene for future talks.

With no time for the all-important backroom diplomacy, it is expected to be largely a photo opportunity. However, it will be seen as a sign of their ongoing commitment to the denuclearisation talks.

[BBC]

President Trump meets Kim Jong Un at the DMZ

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US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met and shook hands at the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the border that separates the two Koreas.

President Trump then made history as he became the first sitting US president to step foot on North Korean soil. Trump crossed over the demarcation line separating North and South Korea at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“This is a historic moment,” Kim Jong Un said of President Trump stepping into North Korea.

“Stepping across that line was a great honor,” Trump said, adding that his and Kim’s was a “great friendship.”

After President Trump walked over the border into North Korea, he shook hands with Kim Jong Un before the two turned back and walked into South Korea.

Trump tweets invitation to Kim Jong Un to meet in Demilitarized Zone

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President Donald Trump made an extraordinary public offer Saturday to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, inviting him to shake hands “and say hello” in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

Trump issued the invitation to the North Korean leader on Twitter as he started his final day in Japan before flying to Seoul, where Trump planned to meet with the South Korean president. “While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello (?)!” the president tweeted.

The White House declined to comment about any potential meeting beyond the president’s tweet. But Trump, minutes later said he’d merely “put out a feeler if he’d like to meet.”

“If he’s there, we’ll see each other for two minutes. That’s all we can,” Trump said.

If the meeting takes place, it will be the first time a U.S. and North Korean leader have met in the DMZ, which despite its name is the most heavily fortified border in the world. It would also mark the third face-to-face meeting between Kim Jong Un and Trump, who made history in 2018 as the first U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader while in office.

Trump said that he and the North Korean leader “seem to get along very well,” calling it “a good thing.” He said it was a “certainty” that if he hadn’t been elected to the White House, the United States would be in a war with the country.

[NBC]