Posts Tagged ‘ICBMs’

North Korea’s Trump-Era Strategy: Keep Making A-Bombs, but Quietly

September 17, 2018

 For seven years, Kim Jong-un has pursued an in-your-face strategy for building his nuclear arsenal: detonating blasts underground and firing missiles into the sky, all to send the message that his country’s nuclear buildup is irreversible.

Now he appears to be changing his approach, current and former American intelligence officials say, tailoring it to his reading of the man he met for a few hours three months ago in Singapore: President Trump.

North Korea is making nuclear fuel and building weapons as actively as ever, the publicly available evidence suggests. But he now appears to be borrowing a page from Israel, Pakistan and India: He is keeping quiet about it, conducting no public nuclear demonstrations and creating no crises, allowing Mr. Trump to portray a denuclearization effort as on track.

Mr. Kim’s new forbearance has helped keep a stream of warm words coming from Mr. Trump. A week ago, the president praised Mr. Kim, with whom he says he has forged a special relationship, after the North Korean leader refrained from parading missiles down the streets of Pyongyang during a military celebration.

By David E. Sanger
The New York Times

President Trump and Kim Jong-un at their summit meeting in June. They have exchanged warm words ever since. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea will visit the North Korean leader in Pyongyang for their third meeting, and over three days the two men are expected to discuss a “peace declaration” that the North has said must precede any further discussion of disarmament.

Looming over the meeting is the post-Singapore stalemate on progress despite Mr. Trump’s new tone of accommodation, including his openness to a second meeting with Mr. Kim. After declaring a year ago that Mr. Kim had to disarm quickly or face “fire and fury,” Mr. Trump now says there is plenty of time.

But even some of the president’s top national security officials privately concede that Mr. Trump’s declaration in June that “there is no longer a nuclear threat” from North Korea was a huge error, because it was taken as a signal by China and Russia that the crisis was over and that they could resume trading with the country.

Current and former intelligence officials say new assessments suggest that Mr. Kim has carefully read Mr. Trump and concluded that as long as the optics are good, and the exchanges between the two leaders are warm, he can hold off demands for progress toward disarmament. If Mr. Kim does not conduct tests, Mr. Trump is unlikely to call out evidence of a continued nuclear buildup.

“I’m shocked at how superficial things have been,” said Jung H. Pak, the C.I.A.’s mission leader for North Korea until she left last year for the Brookings Institution. “I think the North Koreans smell dysfunction and they see dysfunction in the president’s tweets and his compliments and his willingness to meet again.”


Even one of Mr. Trump’s frequent defenders, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, indicated on Sunday he was worried that the president might have been manipulated.

“Are they playing us? I don’t know,” Mr. Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If they’re playing Trump, we’re going to be in a world of hurt, because he’s going to have no options left. This is the last, best chance for peace right here.”

The White House argues that significant progress has been made. Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has cited the fact that Mr. Kim’s last missile and nuclear tests were 10 months ago, and insisted that is a sign of Mr. Kim’s willingness to deal.

It certainly is a constraint on his program: As long as the North conducts no tests, it cannot demonstrate that it has designed a warhead that can survive the huge stresses it would undergo in flight. That leaves ambiguity about whether it can actually strike American cities.

Still, nuclear production continues unabated, satellite photographs and other evidence suggest. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not persuaded the North Koreans to turn over an inventory of their major nuclear facilities and materials, much less declare how many weapons they possess. While Mr. Kim has blown up entrances to a nuclear test site and appeared to start dismantling a test stand for missile engines, he has not allowed in any inspectors to determine whether the actions were simply for show.

Mr. Kim has said a peace “declaration” that formally ends the Korean War must be a first step, and Mr. Moon has privately urged the United States to provide that assurance. The North Korean leader believes that Mr. Trump committed to such a declaration on the way to a more formal peace treaty. But both Mr. Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, have said progress toward denuclearization must come first.

Mr. Kim’s strategy now appears to be simple: Mimic Pakistan, which conducted a major nuclear test in 1998 and deflected demands for years that it give up its weapons. Pakistan has largely succeeded. It has a substantial arsenal, and when Mr. Pompeo visited Islamabad recently, there was little public discussion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

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China Said To Pressure North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to Follow Through on Singapore Agreements With U.S. President Trump

September 9, 2018

Pyongyang puts on show of military hardware for 70th anniversary parade but doesn’t roll out long-range missiles in ‘goodwill gesture’ to US

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 September, 2018, 9:14pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man has urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to realise the consensus on denuclearisation he reached with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

Li Zhanshu, Beijing’s third-ranking Communist Party official, issued the call in talks with Kim on Sunday while in Pyongyang for celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of North Korea.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, raises hands with Chinese envoy Li Zhanshu

Li stressed the need for North Korea and the US “to thoroughly implement the consensus … to reach the common goal of denuclearisation”, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

Kim said North Korea had already taken steps towards denuclearisation, and wanted “the US side to take reciprocal measures to solve the Korean peninsula issues diplomatically”.

“I [also] wish to learn from the Chinese experience of economic development,” Kim was quoted as saying.

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North Korean military parade, September 9, 2018

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said Xi sent a message to Kim on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party to congratulate North Korea on its 70th anniversary ”, and to express Xi’s desire to work closely with Kim to promote a “long-term, healthy and stable development of China-North Korea relations”.

The talks came after North Korea rolled out tanks and troops – but no long-range missiles – for an anniversary military parade, a move observers said could be a goodwill gesture to the US to foster talks on nuclear weapons.

Observers said the decision to hold off on the intercontinental ballistic missiles could also earn North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping and even another summit with US President Donald Trump.

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North Korean military parade, September 9, 2018

But they also warned that simply keeping the ICBMs out of sight would not deflect Washington’s scrutiny of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

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Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping in Dalian, May 8, 2018

Sunday’s military parade was North Korea’s first since Kim and Trump met in Singapore in June, and bigger than one in February to mark the 70th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, according to a South Korean military source.

But the most powerful missiles on show were short-range battlefield devices.

Atsushi Tago, professor of international relations at Tokyo’s Waseda University, said the absence of the ICBMs could signal Kim’s willingness to “denuclearise” and raise prospects for talks with the United States.

“It would be logical to interpret that North Korea would still like to be in line with the Trump-Kim agreement in Singapore,” Tago said.

At their meeting on June 12, Trump and Kim agreed to work towards “complete denuclearisation” of the peninsula.

According to South Korean diplomatic sources, Trump also underscored the need for North Korea to shut down its ICBM facilities. Kim agreed to take action on the missiles but the agreement was not included in the two leaders’ joint declaration, the sources said.

Aircraft fly in formation as part of North Korea’s 70th anniversary celebrations in Pyongyang on Sunday. Photo: AP

Monitoring group 38 North said satellite images taken on August 3 suggested that North Korea had started dismantling ICBM facilities at Sohae, about 200km (120 miles) northwest of Pyongyang.

Song Zhongping, a former member of China’s rocket corps, said Sunday’s “low-profile” parade indicated that Kim did not want to sent any signals that might provoke Washington.

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“There were no Hwasong-14s, Pukguksongs or other weapons of mass destruction that could threaten the US – just some conventional and defensive arms,” Song said.

“Pyongyang doesn’t want to irritate the US and the international community amid the new calm on the Korean peninsula.

“Kim also wants to create a ‘good atmosphere’ for his third meeting with [South Korean President] Moon Jae-in next week.”

Song said Kim might also be aiming for another summit with the US president.

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“The North wants to show their ‘determination and sincerity’ for denuclearisation, as Kim desires continued negotiations with Trump,” he said.

Zhao Tong, a fellow in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Programme at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, said another goal might be economic.

In April, Kim said the country was shifting away from its byungjin twin-track policy of developing nuclear weapons and the economy at the same time, to focusing solely on the economy.

North Koreans march with a float during a parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the country’s foundation in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sunday. Photo: EPA-EFE

“North Korea has a strategic interest in building a positive relationship with the US to create a favourable environment for its economic development … By refraining from showing off its most provocative missiles, North Korea seeks to maintain the momentum of improving bilateral relations with the US and of breaking its international isolation,” Zhao said.

“[This] also makes it easier for the widely speculated visit by the Chinese president to take place.

“Xi’s visit would be an important step forward.”

Zhang Baohui, professor of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said the lower-key parade worked in China’s favour.

“Trump has been saying that China is undermining his Korea policy by encouraging Kim not to denuclearise … Beijing does want to de-escalate the rising mistrust between China and Trump over the North Korean issue. So the restrained parade should give Trump little excuse to further criticise China,” Zhang said.

But analysts were sceptical that the gesture would speed up the denuclearisation process.

“The restraint by North Korea does not necessarily mean it will implement denuclearisation as promised … Fundamentally, North Korea’s nuclear quest is driven by its profound insecurity and mistrust against the US,” Zhang said.

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David Tsui, a Zhongshan-based war historian also known as Xu Zerong, said that “whatever Kim has done, the US would not trust him”.

“It’s impossible to change a communist dictatorship … If the US proves that the North has held on to some nuclear weapons, [the Americans] will definitely wipe him out,” Tsui said.

North Korea holds parade without ballistic missiles — “Concealed carry”

September 9, 2018

North Korea did not display any intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at a military parade to mark its 70th anniversary, reports say.

It is also unclear whether leader Kim Jong-un made a speech at the event.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, raises hands with Chinese envoy Li Zhanshu

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The parade is being scrutinised for clues about North Korea’s weapons arsenal and professed commitment to denuclearisation.

Some analysts had predicted that Mr Kim would tone down the display after his summit with US President Donald Trump.

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Soldiers salute as they ride tanks during a military parade and mass rally in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, September 9, 2018

A large display of ICBMs – which can reach the US mainland, potentially carrying a nuclear warhead – would have been seen as provocative.

No footage of the parade has been released but news agency AFP, which had a reporter at the scene, and NK News, which had pictures from North Korean state TV, said no ICBMs had been seen.

In June Mr Kim and Mr Trump signed a vague agreement to work towards denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula but it did not include a timeline, details or mechanisms to verify the process.

High level talks and visits have continued but the most recent scheduled trip by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was called off last minute and both sides have blamed each other for the stalling negotiations while insisting they’re committed to the progress.

The BBC’s Seoul Correspondent Laura Bicker said any show of ICBMs could have put future discussions and any deal to declare an end to the Korean war at risk.

North Korean military parade, 9 September 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThousands of troops marched in the parade
parade participants wave flowers as they pass Mr KimImage copyrightAFP
Image captionSome parade participants waved flowers as they passed Mr Kim

North Korea was also due to hold its first mass games in five years. The Arirang Mass Games are an elaborate propaganda spectacle with enormous co-ordinated displays.

This year’s games, which tell a symbolic story of North Korea’s history, are titled The Glorious Country.

Analysis of satellite images from the past two weeks suggest this year’s games, which will continue throughout September, are going to be very big.

North Koreans put on gymnastics and arts performances during the Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang 22 July 2013, as part of celebrations ahead of the 60th anniversary marking the end of the 1950-53 Korean WarImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe 2013 games involved tens of thousands of performers

Past games have featured gigantic stadiums filled with performers, synchronised gymnasts and co-ordinated dance displays.

The colourful displays are likely to be striking but the UN has in the past said that children are forced to take part, or to help in the build-up.

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North Korea Preparing Toned-Down Military Parade: Analysts

September 1, 2018

Satellite imagery shows North Korea is poised to stage another military parade amid new worries that diplomatic efforts on denuclearization are stalling, though analysts say it is unclear whether it will showcase any of the country’s largest ballistic missiles.

Pyongyang is preparing to host a number of major events on Sept. 9 for the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding, including a military parade, possible visits by foreign delegations, and – for the first time in five years – a massive choreographed performance known as the “Mass Games.”

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North Korean soldiers march during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country’s founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Parades have long been a way for North Korea to show off its military might, and September’s show comes amid sensitive negotiations over the future of the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met U.S. President Donald Trump in June and agreed to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but negotiations since then appear to have stalled with both sides increasingly criticizing the other for a lack of progress.

Based on commercial satellite imagery gathered by Planet Labs Inc., analysts say September’s military parade is likely to be very similar to one staged on Feb. 8, but so far there is no sign of the controversial intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that are believed to be capable of targeting the United States.

“At the moment, this parade look pretty similar if not smaller than the one in February,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Among the weapons the team at Middlebury spotted in Aug. 22 images of North Korea’s Mirim Parade Training Ground are tanks, self-propelled artillery, infantry carriers, anti-aircraft missiles, and rocket launchers.

Other possible weapons arrayed on the parade ground include coastal defense cruise missiles, as well as at least six solid-fuel, short-range ballistic missiles possibly of a type first seen in February.

Analysts said that short-range ballistic missile is based on the Russian Iskander missile but also shares many features of South Korea’s Hyunmoo-2 missile.

“The first 99 vehicles are identical,” Lewis said. “After that we only see another 20 or so short-range missiles. There were more on parade in February, including ICBMs.”

Another analysis of the Planet Labs images, conducted by Joseph Bermudez at the Stimson Centre’s 38 North website, also found no signs of ICBMs, but noted that an expanded number of heavy equipment storage shelters indicate September’s parade “will likely be considerably larger than the military parade earlier this year.”

If ICBMs or other large missiles are present, “they would likely remain hidden under the shelters in the heavy equipment storage area until the day of the parade,” Bermudez wrote.

Lewis acknowledged that there could be more weapons hidden in the sheds, but said at this point it is “just speculation.”

Analysts say that so far there is no indication the parade will match the April 2017 “Day of the Sun” parade, in which Kim rolled out multiple new missile systems, helping to exacerbate rising tensions with the United States and South Korea.

“It probably wont be anything close to what we saw in 2017,” said Dave Schmerler, a research associate at the Middlebury Institute.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Kim Coghill)


Despite Trump-Kim Singapore Meeting, Japan Has Never Changed Assessment of Asian Neighbors North Korea, China, Russia

August 28, 2018

Japan has not changed its assessment of the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea despite the June 12 U.S.-North Korea summit and ensuing denuclearization talks between the two countries, the Defense Ministry stated in its annual white paper released Tuesday.

Pyongyang has already deployed “several hundred” Rodong ballistic missiles, whose range covers almost all of Japan’s territory, and Pyongyang may have already succeeded in producing nuclear warheads small enough to fit on those missiles, the ministry warned.

The June 12 meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump had “major significance”, the paper noted, because Kim reconfirmed his pledge to make efforts toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a written statement.

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But “we need to carefully ascertain what specific actions North Korea will take toward abolition of nuclear weapons and (ballistic) missiles from now,” the 564-page annual defense paper stressed.

The analysis section of this year’s white paper reflects the deep skepticism held by Japanese diplomats and defense officials over the ongoing denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

On April 27, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in Panmunjom on the border of the two countries and pledged to work for the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The Kim-Trump meeting of June 12 in Singapore reconfirmed the pledge.

But since then, “there has not been much progress” in talks to denuclearize North Korea, a key senior Japanese diplomat in Tokyo said last week.

“In reality, things are not making progress,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Japan is fully cooperating with Washington’s diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the hermit state, the U.S. being Japan’s sole military ally, placing the endeavor at the center of diplomatic moves by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.

But Pyongyang has yet to take any concrete steps to dismantle any of its ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons, deepening skepticism among Japan-based officials and experts.

The analysis section of the white paper mainly discusses the potential military threats posed by three countries: North Korea, China and Russia.

China has been expanding its defense budget for more than 25 years, and is rapidly strengthening its military capability — in particular its nuclear weapons, missiles, air force and naval power, the white paper said.

Beijing has also continued military and coast guard operations around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The Japan-controlled islets are claimed by Beijing and known as Diaoyu in China.

As a result, a so-called “gray zone” situation — one that is neither wartime emergency nor normal peacetime — has continued for a long time and will be extended further, the ministry predicted.

As for Russia, the paper pointed out that Moscow has recently strengthened its military activities and deployment in the Russia-controlled, disputed four islands off Hokkaido known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

Such activities include the deployment of surface-to-ship missiles and a plan to station a new division of ground troops in the area, the paper pointed out.

“We need to keep carefully watching the activities of Russian forces in the Far East, including the Northern Territories,” the white paper says.



Why Should North Korea Give Up Its Nuclear Weapons?

August 23, 2018

To reach a final deal on the denuclearization of North Korea, the Trump administration must give up something substantial. But Washington isn’t budging.

By David C. Kang

Mr. Kang is the director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California


Major Gen. Kim Do-gyun of South Korea, center, shaking hands with a North Korean officer as he crossed the military demarcation line in June. Credit South Korean Defense Ministry, via Getty Images

South Korea and North Korea recently announced plans for a third summit meeting between their two leaders, to take place in Pyongyang in September. From family reunions to fielding a joint sports team in the upcoming Asian Games, the two Koreas are moving forward with steps to further détente on the peninsula.

By contrast, the United States has done very little in the two months since the Singapore summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to advance the relationship.

The United States appears to be waiting for the North to take the next step. But the Trump administration is ignoring the reality that to reach a final deal on the eventual denuclearization of North Korea, the United States must give something substantial in return.

Above all, Washington must take steps to ease North Korean fears of an American attack. Without such a guarantee, the North will never surrender its nuclear arsenal.

Earlier this month, the national security adviser, John Bolton, said that “The United States has lived up to the Singapore declaration. It’s just North Korea that has not taken the steps we feel are necessary to denuclearize.”

And outside of the Trump administration, many other observers have said “I told you so,” blaming North Korea for that lack of progress while arguing that North Korea will never denuclearize. The Washington Post called North Korea’s hesitation to take action “stiff resistance from a North Korean team practiced in the art of delay and obfuscation.”

Let’s take stock of the concessions by the two sides.

North Korea has imposed a moratorium on missile tests and nuclear tests. It has dismantled entrances to a nuclear test site (at Punggye-ri) and a satellite-launching site (at Sohae). There’s evidence of a shutdown of an I.C.B.M.-assembly facility near Pyongyang. It has returned what it says are the remains of 55 United States soldiers killed during the Korean War and has released three American citizens arrested in North Korea as a condition for the summit meeting. Pyongyang has also reduced domestic anti-American propaganda.

The United States has canceled one war game.

All of North Korea’s concessions were unthinkable less than a year ago. It’s clear that Pyongyang is willing to move toward reducing tensions. A United States commander in South Korea, Gen. Vincent Brooks, noted recently that the North has gone more than 200 days “without a provocation,” and that he had seen a slowdown in the operating tempo of North Korean armed forces.

But further North Korean concessions will not happen until the United States makes a move.

North Korea has never offered to unilaterally disarm first, with the hope that the United States would then do something nice in return. Rather, North Korea has consistently called for a “phased” and “synchronous” approach, with “step for step” negotiations.

We are so focused on arguing about whether North Korea will ever completely, verifiably and irreversibly denuclearize that we are overlooking Pyongyang’s reasonable need for guarantees that the United States won’t attack. North Korea has made very clear that it will discuss denuclearization only if the United States demonstrates that it will not invade its country.

Some argue that the United States already made those guarantees to the North in agreements in 2005. Yet those promises were undone by President Trump’s talk of a “bloody nose” option for Pyongyang and claims by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama that “all options remain on the table.”

Washington’s strategy of maximum pressure has reached its limit. North Korea can stop today the concessions it has already made and the rest of the world would look at the United States to respond in some fashion. Without any further North Korean provocations, few countries would be willing to continue heavy pressure, and the United States would be seen as the reluctant negotiating party.

The United States and North Korea are in a better place than they were a year ago. But without concrete action from the United States that deals directly with North Korea’s concerns, it is unlikely that Pyongyang will make any further moves to denuclearize.

David C. Kang is a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, where he directs the Korean Studies Institute. He is the author, most recently, of “East Asian Security and American Grand Strategy in the 21st Century.”


North Korea Moving The Goal Posts for the U.S. — Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump in a Pickle With Kim Jong Un

August 11, 2018

“Trump is in a long tradition of American presidents who have been taken to the cleaners.”

Pyongyang wants the U.S. to formally declare the end of the Korean War before it begins dismantling its nuclear arsenal. Officials said that was not part of the Singapore deal.

North Korea is insisting that the United States declare that the Korean War is over before providing a detailed, written disclosure of all its atomic weapons stockpiles, its nuclear production facilities and its missiles as a first major step toward denuclearization.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles while sitting during a visit to inspect the Pyongyang Children’s Foodstuff Factory, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on November 14, 2015.  (KCNA via Reuters)

Two months after President Trump declared his summit meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong-un a complete success, North Korea has not yet even agreed to provide that list during private exchanges with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to American and South Korean officials familiar with the talks.

Mr. Pompeo maintains progress is being made, although he has provided no details. But John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, this week said, “North Korea that has not taken the steps we feel are necessary to denuclearize.”

On Thursday, North Korea’s state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, called the declaration of the end of the war “the demand of our time” and that would be the “first process” in moving toward a fulfillment of the June 12 deal struck between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim. Pyonygang also wants peace treaty talks to begin before detailing its arsenal.

By  David E. Sanger and William J. Broad
The New York Times

If the standoff over the parallel declarations remains, it is hard to see how the two countries can move forward with an agreement.

“The North Koreans have lied to us consistently for nearly 30 years,” Joseph Nye, who wrote one of the National Intelligence Council’s first assessments of the North’s weapons programs in 1993, said at the Aspen Institute on Tuesday.

“Trump is in a long tradition of American presidents who have been taken to the cleaners,” Mr. Nye said.

Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Pompeo has acknowledged the impasse. But officials said South Korea has quietly backed the North Korean position, betting that once Mr. Trump has issued a “peace declaration” it would be harder for him to later threaten military action if the North fails to disarm or discard its nuclear arsenal.

Against North Korea’s continuing nuclear buildup — and its threats to strike the United States — Washington has long refused to formally declare the end of the war, which was halted with a 1953 armistice but never officially brought to a close.

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Trump Replies to ‘Nice’ Letter From North Korea’s Kim

August 4, 2018

Kim Jong Un wrote to President Trump earlier this week

North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was handed President Trump's reply to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's letter by a member of the U.S. delegation at the Asean meeting in Singapore on Aug. 4.
North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was handed President Trump’s reply to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s letter by a member of the U.S. delegation at the Asean meeting in Singapore on Aug. 4. PHOTO: HANDOUT/REUTERS

The U.S. State Department said it delivered a letter from President Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a regional summit on Saturday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Singapore this weekend for a summit. A member of his delegation delivered the letter, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Donald J. Trump


Thank you to Chairman Kim Jong Un for keeping your word & starting the process of sending home the remains of our great and beloved missing fallen! I am not at all surprised that you took this kind action. Also, thank you for your nice letter – l look forward to seeing you soon!

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greeting Mr. Ri at the Singapore meeting.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greeting Mr. Ri at the Singapore meeting. PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mr. Kim wrote to Mr. Trump earlier this week. Mr. Trump described it as a “nice” letter in a post on his Twitter account.

Ms. Nauert declined to comment on its contents, deferring to the White House.

Mr. Pompeo and North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho shook hands during a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, exchanging a few words. “We should meet again,” Mr. Pompeo told the North Korean, who agreed and said more productive discussions were to be had.

Mr. Pompeo spent two days in Pyongyang about a month ago to press North Korea on its pledge to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. After the meeting, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry criticized Mr. Pompeo’s “gangster-like” approach. Mr. Pompeo insisted afterward that talks had been productive.

Since Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim signed a pledge to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, multiple satellite-imagery reports have shown that Pyongyang continues to invest in its nuclear arsenal.

Write to Jessica Donati at

Corrections & Amplifications 
Mr. Trump described the latest letter he received from Mr. Kim as “nice.” An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that he had described it as “very nice.” (Aug. 4, 2018)

Confidential UN report: North Korea continuing nuclear, missile program

August 4, 2018

North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs, violating sanctions, a confidential UN report details. It also alleges Pyongyang enlisted a Syrian arms broker to sell weapons to Yemen, Libya and Sudan.


A ballistic missile believed to have been launched from underwater near Sinpo, on the northeast coast of North KoreaA ballistic missile believed to have been launched near Sinpo, on the northeast coast of North Korea, in 2015

North Korea has violated a number of sanctions by the United Nations, most notably continuing their nuclear weapons and missile programs, a 149-page confidential UN report said Friday.

The report comes days after reports suggesting the North is developing new missiles. The United States’ top diplomat Mike Pompeo called on countries to maintain pressure on the North and not violate UN sanctions.

Read more: Is North Korea defying the US in expanding weapons production?

What the report said

·     North Korea “has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and continued to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as through transfers of coal at sea during 2018.”

·     US figures estimated that North Korea had procured over 500,000 barrels of petroleum products in the first five months of 2018. The transfer of the products involved 40 vessels and 120 associated companies.

·     North Korea continued to receive revenue from exports of banned commodities. For instance, it received $14 million (€12 million) from October 2017 to March 2018 for deliveries of iron and steel to China, India and other countries.

·     North Korea also violated a textile ban by exporting more than $100 million in goods to China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay within the same time period.

·     Diplomats from North Korea played a key role in evading UN sanctions.

·     Pyeongyang “attempted to supply small arms and light weapons (SALW) and other military equipment via foreign intermediaries” to Libya, Yemen and Sudan.

·     A Syrian arms trafficker, named as Hussein Al-Ali in the report, offered “a range of conventional arms, and in some cases ballistic missiles to armed groups in Yemen and Libya” that were produced in North Korea. Al-Ali also helped negotiate a “protocol of operation” with Yemen’s Huthi rebels in Damascus in 2016.

‘Serious issue’

America’s top diplomat Mike Pompeo reiterated his warning toward Russia, China and other countries against any violation of international sanctions on North Korea.

In Singapore ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, Pompeo told reporters that the US had its own new, credible reports that Russia is violating UN sanctions, including allowing for joint ventures with North Korean companies and issuing new permits for North Korean guest workers.

“If these reports prove accurate, and we have every reason to believe that they are, that would be in violation,” Pompeo said, pointing out that the UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose these sanctions.

“I want to remind every nation that has supported these resolutions that this is a serious issue and something we will discuss with Moscow,” he added.

Pompeo said the US expects “all countries to abide to the UN Security Council resolutions and enforce sanctions on North Korea. Any violation that detracts from the world’s goal of finally, fully denuclearizing North Korea would be something that America would take very seriously.”


Where did the report come from? The report was put together by independent experts who monitored the implementation of UN sanctions over six months. The report was submitted to the UN’s North Korea Sanctions Committee on Friday.

What are the UN’s sanctions on North Korea? When North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, the UN demanded it cease all future nuclear testing and in turn set up the North Korea Sanctions Committee — part of the global organization’s Security Council. It also prohibited countries from exporting military equipment and luxury items to the North. Several other sanctions have been imposed over the past decade, banning North Korea from exporting gold and other rare earth metals, coal, lead, seafood and textiles. The UN has also imposed restrictions on North Korea’s Federal Trade Bank, banned joint ventures and barred North Korean nationals from working in other countries.

North Korea promises denuclearization: At a landmark summit in Singapore with US President Donald Trump in June, North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un committed to “complete denuclearization.” In return, Kim asked for “security guarantees” from the US. Trump tweeted a day after the summit that “North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat.”

dv/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters)


China is quietly relaxing its sanctions against North Korea, complicating matters for Trump

August 4, 2018

China has quietly begun loosening the screws on its long-time ally. China has always been North Korea’s indispensable economic patron.

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Chinese tourists walk along the riverfront in Dandong as vehicles from North Korea line up on the Friendship Bridge to enter China. (Don Lee / Los Angeles Times)

It was drizzling rain, and gloomy clouds darkened the surface of the Yalu River separating this Chinese city from its North Korean neighbor.

In a nearby commercial district named after an old Korean kingdom, a group of men distinguishable only by their high cropped haircuts and the pins in their lapels depicting Kim Jong Un’s father and grandfather were acting out a tiny drama with broader implications for President Trump’s foreign policy and the future security of the United States.

AUG 03, 2018 – 3:20 PM

The men, and a handful of women accompanying them, slipped in and out of storefronts to buy cosmetics and other personal items to take back home. More important, they paid inconspicuous visits to the offices of trading firms that account for part of the vital flow of goods between China and North Korea.

The presence of these visitors was a small but telling sign that China’s critical role in the punishing international embargo on trade with Pyongyang — an embargo the Trump administration is counting on to force North Korea to stop building nuclear weapons — seems to be breaking down.

Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping


After his dramatic summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, Trump declared on Twitter, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Administration officials were quick to say the actual elimination of that threat would be the subject of negotiations now underway.

And, they said, the trade embargo that China has played a pivotal role in enforcing would ease only after North Korea had taken significant steps to stop developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

The visits by North Korean trade officials in Dandong, along with a boomlet in Chinese tourists to Pyongyang and elsewhere in North Korea, are far from the only signs that Beijing is not waiting.

Instead, it has quietly begun loosening the screws on its long-time ally.

Image result for Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, together, Photos

Screen Shot, March 27, 2018  at 4.50.19 PM North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and at right, Chinese leader Xi Jinping.


U.S. satellite images and Japanese naval photos have captured suspected illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil. And experts say North Korean workers are returning to jobs inside China, some under the guise of educational exchanges. Thousands of North Korean laborers also have entered Russia since the U.N. ban against new work permits last September, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

Those workers send home hard-cash wages that, combined with large slush funds likely from prior years of coal sales and clandestine trading networks built up across China and southeast Asia, allow Pyongyang to pursue its nuclear ambitions while keeping its political elite happy with fine liquor, designer watches and the latest electronics normally unobtainable at home.

Some of these transactions, like procuring luxury goods, are clear violations of United Nations resolutions aimed at choking back Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.

Other activities fall into grayer areas. For instance, there were reports that Beijing recently decided to spend about $88 million for road construction around a new but as-yet-unused bridge linking the key trading center of Dandong with North Korea’s Ryongchon County.


(Len De Groot / Los Angeles Times)

Clear-cut or ambiguous, however, all these activities present a vexing problem for the United States as the Trump administration looks to Kim to follow through on his vaguely-worded summit pledge to denuclearize.Tightening of international sanctions, powerfully boosted by tougher enforcement by China, North Korea’s indispensable economic patron, was thought to have played a major role in bringing Kim to the bargaining table with Trump.

Trump hailed the historic June 12 summit in Singapore as a major success.

Since then, U.S. talks with North Korea and progress toward the “complete denuclearization” that Kim committed to have been slow.

Even as Kim seemingly made good on his pledge to return the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, evidence has grown that North Korea is proceeding with its nuclear and missile programs. Recent indications include construction activity at a missile facility in Sanum-dong in the Pyongyang area and a nuclear-enrichment site at Yongbyon.

At the same time, North Korea has stuck by its word to stop conducting nuclear and missile tests.

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Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping in Dalian, May 8, 2018

Trump has made much of the cessation of tests, but in the eyes of analysts, Beijing believes it now has a kind of green light to rebuild its relations with Pyongyang, easing enforcement of sanctions and resuming business activities that help the North Korean regime hold onto power.

Moreover, Washington’s escalating trade war with China has opened up options for North Korea.

In the absence of U.S.-China coordination, Kim has “two separate lines of negotiations, one with Beijing and one with Washington, [which] makes the denuclearization much more difficult in terms of getting the type and pace of movement that Washington wants,” said John Park, a North Korea specialist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“The bar is very low,” he said. “In practice, what we’re seeing is that North Korea just has to abide by a moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile testing, and you would essentially see the ability to move forward on an easing of implementation of sanctions from China.”

Secretary of State MIchael R. Pompeo has accused North Korea of violating various sanctions imposed by the U.N., and last month sought to have the U.N. Security Council ban oil transfers to North Korea. The effort was blocked by China and Russia.

“When sanctions are not enforced the prospects for the successful denuclearization of North Korea are diminished,” he said.

Trump tweeted earlier last month that China might be undercutting U.S. efforts at denuclearizing North Korea, but China’s foreign ministry has insisted that Beijing is acting responsibly.

Chinese analysts say Beijing remains legally bound to the U.N. restrictions. “The improvement in trade is limited,” said Yi Baozhong, a Northeast Asia expert at Jilin University in Liaoning province, which borders North Korea and where many ethnic Koreans live.

Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center’s nuclear policy program in Beijing, notes that China’s previous imposition of economic sanctions on North Korea may have gone beyond the international requirements.

“As long as North Korea continues to make progress on the issue of nuclear abandonment, China should hope to help North Korea carry out economic development and national transformation,” he said. “North Korea hopes to continue to win over China using the strategic competition between China and the United States, and to obtain the greatest economic benefits from China.”

In 2009, China and North Korea, then led by Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, agreed to work together on economic development, tourism and education.

But party-to-party relations were strained thanks to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear tests and capricious acts of violence. Beijing pulled back on trade and other programs that had propped up the isolated North Korean economy.

The North’s exports to China, once dominated by coal, skidded in the second half of last year to practically nothing, and China’s official customs data show there’s been no rebound through June. But Chinese exports into North Korea have risen steadily in recent months, doubling from early in the year to about $200 million in June.

“We’re running up against a clock on how long we can maintain as much pressure as possible,” said Troy Stangarone, senior director at the Korea Economic Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

Most of the China-North Korea trade has been seen as moving through Dandong, across the city’s Friendship Bridge. Reports from NK Pro, a publication specializing in North Korea, and other sources indicate that more truck crossings are taking place and that there’s been a relaxing of customs inspections.

“If authorities are increasingly lax in their monitoring of trade flows across the border, they may well be turning more of a blind eye to smuggling and other trade that goes under the radar as well,” said Benjamin Silberstein, an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writing in NK Pro.

Here in Dandong, owners of trading firms and brokers say commercial activity with the North, while up some, remains low given the dramatic hit from the sanctions in prior months. But even if the floodgates are not entirely open now, the current developments are troubling signs for the future.

This is true even though most people in China still look down on North Korea as a backward, communist little brother. Not that that doesn’t hold fascination for many Chinese.

On the same gray July week that the North Korean officials were moving in and out of those trading offices, a group of Chinese tourists jammed onto a 30-foot boat that set out for a cruise along the Yalu River.

Suddenly, one of the tourists spotted a lone North Korean figure pedaling along the the opposite shore on a bicycle.

“Look,” the Chinese tourist shouted to his friends as he pointed to the cyclist: “Express Delivery.”

The crowd burst out laughing.

Don Lee covers the U.S. and global economy out of Washington, D.C. Since joining the Los Angeles Times in 1992, he has served as the Shanghai bureau chief and in various editing and reporting roles in California. He is a native of Seoul, Korea, and graduated from the University of Chicago.


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Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, January 2017