U.N. says 11 Million North Koreans are not getting enough food and kids are stunted

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An estimated 11 million people in North Korea — over 43 percent of the population — are undernourished and “chronic food insecurity and malnutrition is widespread,” according to a U.N. report issued Wednesday.

The report by Tapan Mishra, the head of the U.N. office in North Korea, said that “widespread undernutrition threatens an entire generation of children, with one in five children stunted due to chronic undernutrition.” With only limited health care and a lack of access to clean water and sanitation, “children are also at risk of dying from curable diseases,” the report added.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the U.N. humanitarian team in the country is calling for $120 million “to urgently provide life-saving aid to 3.8 million people.” Without adequate funding this year, some agencies providing desperately needed help to North Koreans will be forced to close down, he said.

Mishra’s report said North Korea faces annual shortfalls in agricultural production because of a shortage of arable land, lack of access to modern agricultural equipment and fertilizers, and recurrent natural disasters. Last year, it said, there was a severe heat wave in provinces considered to be the country’s “food basket,” and the food situation was further aggravated by Typhoon Soulik in late August.

He said an estimated 3 percent of children under age 5 — approximately 140,000 — “suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition” and “have a higher risk of mortality. … The main underlying causes of wasting are poor household food security, inadequate feeding and care practices, as well as poor access to health, water, hygiene and sanitation services.”

While U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs are supposed to exempt humanitarian activities, “humanitarian agencies continue to face serious unintended consequences on their programs,” Mishra said. He cited “lack of funding, the absence of a banking channel for humanitarian transfers and challenges to the delivery of humanitarian supplies. … The continued risk-averse approach taken by suppliers and some authorities in transit countries … continues to cause significant delays in the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance.”

[TIME]

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]

Otto Warmbier’s family rebukes Trump

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The family of Otto Warmbier rebuked President Donald Trump on Friday for siding with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who denied knowledge of their son’s maltreatment during his imprisonment.

“We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that. Thank you,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier, Otto’s parents, said in a statement provided to CNN.

Trump weighed in on Twitter Friday, arguing that he was being “misinterpreted” … and professing to hold the country accountable for Warmbier’s death — though he did not mention Kim’s role.

“I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family,” the President tweeted Friday. “Remember, I got Otto out along with three others. The previous Administration did nothing, and he was taken on their watch.”

“Of course I hold North Korea responsible,” he added, “for Otto’s mistreatment and death. Most important, Otto Warmbier will not have died in vain. Otto and his family have become a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength, which will last for many years into the future. I love Otto and think of him often!”

[CNN]

Trump lets Kim Jong-un off the hook for Otto Warmbier’s death

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President Donald Trump faced a bipartisan backlash after saying he did not believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was responsible for the death of American student Otto Warmbier.

“I don’t believe he knew about it,” Trump said of Kim. “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”

Trump’s comments are a reversal from his past statements. In his 2018 State of the Union address, he criticized North Korea’s “depraved character” and blamed the country’s “dictatorship” for Warmbier’s injuries and eventual death.

Warmbier, 22, was arrested for taking a propaganda banner from a hotel while on a visit to Pyongyang in January 2016 and later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He suffered horrific injuries and died shortly after being released from 17 months of detention.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday called the president’s remarks strange. “There’s something wrong –with Putin, Kim Jong Un, in my view, thugs — that the president chooses to believe,” she said.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News, “Look, Otto Warmbier, they made a spectacle out of him to the world. Accusing him of being a traitor, a spy. And they executed him. The blood of Otto Warmbier is on the hands of Kim Jong Un. There is no doubt in my mind that he knew about it, he allowed it to happen, and the responsibility lies directly with Kim Jong Un,” he said.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Trump’s remarks show he believed an “obvious lie” by Kim. “Otto Warmbier’s bogus arrest and brutal murder was an international incident,” Warner said. “Of course, Kim knew about it. Apparently, the president of the United States is the only one who believes this obvious lie.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., accused Trump of flinching in front of Kim regarding the student’s death: “No American president has ever cowered in front of dictators like @realDonaldTrump,” he said in a tweet.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, tweeted Thursday. “… accepting Kim’s denial of involvement in Warmbier’s death? Detestable, and harkens back to Trump’s duplicitous acceptances of denials from other dictators.”

“Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime,” Nikki Haley, Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, tweeted Thursday.

Former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania told CNN that it was “reprehensible” that Trump gave cover to Kim regarding Warmbier’s death. “… This is reprehensible what he just did. I mean he gave cover … to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Warmbier. And again, I don’t understand why the president does this, I am disappointed to say the least that he did it.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said it’s hard to believe that Kim didn’t know what happened to Warmbier, comparing it to Trump taking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word over U.S. intelligence that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 elections. “I think the president is very gullible in this regard,” she said. “He seems to have a very odd affinity toward dictators … it is very odd, and I think it’s misplaced.”

[NBC News]

North Korea offers its own version of Summit collapse

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As President Trump headed home dealless from Vietnam following his aborted summit with Kim Jong Un, North Korean officials held an impromptu middle-of-the-night news conference at a Hanoi hotel, offering an account about the failed talks that differed from Trump’s.

“What we proposed was not the removal of all sanctions but the partial removal,” Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said through an interpreter in Hanoi. He said North Korea sought relief from five U.N. sanctions imposed in 2016 and 2017 that hurt the country’s economy, out of a total of 11, in exchange for disabling its main nuclear complex.

He said that in exchange for partial sanctions relief, North Korea was willing to “permanently and completely dismantle all the nuclear material production facilities in the Yongbyon area, including plutonium and uranium, in the presence of U.S. experts.” In addition, Ri said the North would also put a “permanent halt” on nuclear and long-range missile testing “in order to lower the concerns of the United States.”

“However, during the meeting, the United States insisted that we should take one more step besides the dismantlement of nuclear facilities in the Yongbyon area,” Ri said. “Therefore, it became crystal clear that the United States was not ready to accept our proposal.”

Ri did not specify what that extra step was.

Ri indicated that another meeting may well be fruitless as the North will not budge. “Our proposal will never be changed.”

[NPR]

No deal summit no surprise to North Korean defectors

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The abrupt end to the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un came as no surprise to North Korean defectors in the south.

Cha Ri-hyuk, 33, told AFP that he was not shocked by the no deal outcome. “I knew that Kim Jong Un would never give up the nukes. If the two countries were to make an agreement, I think they would have done it in Singapore last year,” added Cha, who left North Korea in 2013.

Jo Young-hwa, aged 39, who defected a year earlier, said his countrymen “don’t care” about the summits. “Whenever I talk to them in the North, they are not interested. They don’t bother trying to learn anything about it,” he said.

The no deal outcome will come as a huge disappointment for South Korea’s president, who had touted the summit as a “remarkable breakthrough” for peace negotiations on the Korean peninsula. And in Seoul’s main railway station, dozens of people of all ages were glued to TV screens, sombre faced as Trump explained why he and Kim had failed to reach an agreement.

Some expressed sympathy for the North Korean leader. “I feel bad for Kim Jong Un who made a very long train journey to get to Hanoi only to walk away from the meeting with empty hands,” said Jang Ho-su, 36, a government employee.

Lee Gap-yong, a 71-year-old a taxi driver, said Trump could have been “more flexible. I think he wanted too much out of Kim, to an extent that Kim could not agree to.”

[AFP]