Posts Tagged ‘ICBMs’

Analysis says North Korea yet to dismantle missile facilities despite Trump claim

June 16, 2018

North Korea has apparently yet to begin work to dismantle any of its six known missile launch and engine test facilities and two ejection test stands, according to an analysis of recent satellite photos, despite a claim by U.S. President Donald Trump that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, had told him it was “already destroying” a major testing site.

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A South Korean at Seoul Station watches a TV news report about a North Korean missile launch in November. | AP

The North Korea-watching 38 North website said in an analysis released Friday that recent high-resolution satellite imagery had not identified any activity that could be associated with Kim’s claim to Trump. Trump made the remarks at a news conference Tuesday after his historic summit with Kim in Singapore.

“Chairman Kim has told me that North Korea is already destroying a major missile engine testing site,” he said. “That’s not in your signed document; we agreed to that after the agreement was signed. That’s a big thing — for the missiles that they were testing, the site is going to be destroyed very soon.”

It was not clear what site he was referring to, but a report in South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo daily said that it is the Sohae satellite launch facility in Tongchang-ri in the country’s northwest, where the regime conducted a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile engine last year.

The North conducted the combustion test of the liquid-fuel, “high-thrust” engine in March last year. That test was followed four months later by the successful launch of a Hwasong-14 ICBM using the same engine. The Hwasong-14 is believed to have a range of about 10,000 km, placing much of the Western United States within striking distance.

The six known sites include the Chamjin (Tae-sung) Machine Factory test stand, the Iha-ri Driver Training and Test Facility test stand, the Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility, the Nampo Shipyard submersible test stand barge, the Sinpo South Shipyard submersible test stand barge, the Sinpo South Shipyard test stand, the Tonghae (Musudan-ri) Satellite Launch Facility and the Sohae site, according to the analysis.

“Of these facilities and test stands, it is likely that President Trump’s comment on June 12 … was not referring to either the Iha-ri test stand — which was razed in May — or the Sinpo South Shipyard test stand that has not been used in approximately a year,” it said.

Trump said Friday that he and Kim have “great chemistry” and claimed the standoff with the nuclear-armed nation is “largely solved.”

Many observers, however, remain skeptical of the deal inked by the two leaders at their Singapore summit. The vaguely worded agreement says that the North will “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The North said in April that it was halting all missile and nuclear tests, and ahead of the Kim-Trump summit, it said it had demolished its main Punggye-ri nuclear test site, a highly choreographed event that it invited journalists to witness. The demolition of tunnel entrances there, however, has also been greeted with skepticism, with experts saying it would be relatively easy to reopen the site.

Punggye-ri has been the staging ground for all six of the North’s nuclear tests, including its latest and most powerful one last September, which Pyongyang claimed was of a thermonuclear weapon.


Trump Gave Kim a Summit But Left With Little to Show for It

June 12, 2018
It’s not clear what the U.S. got out of Singapore meeting — Summit delivered a longtime strategic goal for Kim family
Did Trump Give Up Too Much to North Korea?
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk from lunch at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on June 12. | Susan Walsh/AFP/Getty Images

Did Trump give North Korea too much? Bloomberg’s Kevin Cirilli reports from Singapore.

Donald Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was unquestionably a success — for Kim.

By credibly threatening the U.S. with nuclear war, he won a one-on-one meeting with the American president — a longtime strategic goal of his family’s regime. And that’s not all.

Trump tossed in a suspension of military exercises with South Korea, while China suggested revisiting economic sanctions that the White House credits for the summit. Meanwhile, the president showered Kim with praise, calling the dictator who leads one of the planet’s most oppressive and brutal regimes “smart” and “very talented,” declaring the meeting “a great honor” and saying he trusts Kim.

Less clear is what the U.S. got in return. American officials said before the meeting they would insist that Kim agree to the “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” of his nuclear weapons arsenal. The phrase appears nowhere in Trump and Kim’s statement.

Also missing: basics such as a timetable for Kim to give up his weapons, verification procedures or even a mutual definition of denuclearization.

‘Gave Up Nothing’

The president described the summit as a starting point, and the U.S. concessions as innocuous. “I gave up nothing,” he told reporters at a news conference, and then read off a list of what he believes were North Korean concessions — a halt to missile and nuclear tests, the earlier release of three U.S. hostages and a promise to return remains of U.S. soldiers dating to the Korean War.

Still, some Korea watchers said that it was better for the U.S. and North Korea to be talking than threatening each other, even without a host of specific commitments from Kim.

“I would rate the summit a 10 because it achieved a first-ever diplomatic encounter between two long-time adversaries,” said Patrick Cronin, director of the Center for a New American Security’s Asia-Pacific security program. “They signed a broad political understanding while leaving the details for expert negotiations to follow.”

Trump’s political supporters back home may well agree. Seventy percent of Americans supported Trump meeting with Kim, according to a poll by Real Clear Politics and the Charles Koch Institute, even though just 31 percent think he’ll succeed at persuading North Korea to give up its weapons.

But so far, Trump hasn’t shown he’ll avoid the same trap he’s accused his predecessors of falling into: giving North Korea too much without getting anything in return. While the president repeatedly described the document he and Kim signed as “comprehensive,” at 426 words it is anything but — and there is no indication of when or how Kim will follow through on any of his promises.

“I think he will start that process right away,” Trump said.

Kim’s Summit

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, criticized the document as “unsubstantial” and said Trump and Kim instead should have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Michael McFaul, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Russia, said on Twitter after the document was released that the U.S. “gave up a lot for nothing” with the summit and got “much, much less than a binding deal.”

For all of what he achieved at the summit, Kim’s path ahead isn’t all simple. Trump made clear he was keeping U.S. sanctions in place until he saw evidence of a reduced nuclear threat. Kim won only a vague “security guarantee” from Trump and no mention of a treaty to formally end the hostilities between the two nations.

But the summit did have all of the trappings Kim could have desired. He and Trump met on a red carpet in front of a backdrop of equal numbers of U.S. and North Korean flags at the Capella hotel, a luxury resort on Singapore’s Sentosa Island. They greeted each other with a 13-second handshake, then retired for a 38-minute private meeting before being joined by aides.

There were multiple photo ops, including a walk through the hotel’s garden, more hand shakes, pats on the back and finally the signing ceremony, complete with a pen bearing Trump’s signature that Kim did not appear to use.

Before the meeting, Kim was cheered by Singaporeans as he drove from the airport and then during an outing Monday evening.

Through a translator, North Korea’s leader summed up the surreal nature of the meeting, telling the U.S. president that those watching around the world might see it as “a science fiction movie.”

Different Approach

Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a former official of the U.S. State and Treasury departments who investigated the illicit financing of North Korea, said Trump’s meeting with Kim appeared heavy on pomp and light on substance.

“The handshake is historic but the optics likely hide a significant gap in the substance,’’ he said in an interview as the meeting took place. “It’s important for President Trump not to fall into the North Korean trap as it is –which is three generations of Kims have really persuaded American presidents that they’re ready to denuclearize by just simply making promises and not delivering on those promises.”

Former South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young Kwan said Trump’s negotiation appears “very different” from past talks between the two countries because it’s the first time a sitting U.S. president has taken a primarily political approach to the issue.

“So far U.S. administrations tended to focus on a narrowly defined military-security deal instead of trying to tackle the root cause of North Korea problem, which is a high level of mutual distrust,” he said on Bloomberg Television. “North Korea is a small and weak country surrounded by big powers, and that has made North Koreans paranoid about their own national security.”

“We needed to alleviate this kind of paranoia of North Korea on their own national security,” he said.

Trump himself admitted that it might not work.

“I think he’s going to do these things,” the president said. “I may be wrong. I may be standing in front of you in six months and say, ‘I was wrong.’ I don’t know if I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of excuse.”

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams, Jennifer Jacobs, and Justin Sink




Trump Was Outfoxed in Singapore

June 12, 2018

It sure looks as if President Trump was hoodwinked in Singapore.

Trump made a huge concession — the suspension of military exercises with South Korea. That’s on top of the broader concession of the summit meeting itself, security guarantees he gave North Korea and the legitimacy that the summit provides his counterpart, Kim Jong-un.

Within North Korea, the “very special bond” that Trump claimed to have formed with Kim will be portrayed this way: Kim forced the American president, through his nuclear and missile tests, to accept North Korea as a nuclear equal, to provide security guarantees to North Korea, and to cancel war games with South Korea that the North has protested for decades.

President Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

By  Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times
June 12, 2018

In exchange for these concessions, Trump seems to have won astonishingly little. In a joint statement, Kim merely “reaffirmed” the same commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that North Korea has repeatedly made since 1992.

“They were willing to de-nuke,” Trump crowed at his news conference after his meetings with Kim. Trump seemed to believe he had achieved some remarkable agreement, but the concessions were all his own.

The most remarkable aspect of the joint statement was what it didn’t contain. There was nothing about North Korea freezing plutonium and uranium programs, nothing about destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles, nothing about allowing inspectors to return to nuclear sites, nothing about North Korea making a full declaration of its nuclear program, nothing about a timetable, nothing about verification, not even any clear pledge to permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.

Kim seems to have completely out-negotiated Trump, and it’s scary that Trump doesn’t seem to realize this. For now Trump has much less to show than past negotiators who hammered out deals with North Korea like the 1994 Agreed Framework, which completely froze the country’s plutonium program with a rigorous monitoring system.

Trump made a big deal in his news conference about recovering the remains of American soldiers from the Korean War, but this is nothing new. Back in 1989, on my first trip to North Korea, officials there made similar pledges about returning remains, and indeed North Korea has returned some remains over the years. It’s not clear how many more remain.

Trump claimed an “excellent relationship” with Kim, and it certainly is better for the two leaders to be exchanging compliments rather than missiles. In a sense, Trump has eased the tensions that he himself created when he threatened last fall to “totally destroy” North Korea. I’m just not sure a leader should get credit for defusing a crisis that he himself created.

There’s still plenty we don’t know and lots of uncertainty about the future. But for now, the bottom line is that there’s no indication that North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear weapons, and Trump didn’t achieve anything remotely as good as the Iran nuclear deal, which led Iran to eliminate 98 percent of its enriched uranium.

There was also something frankly weird about an American president savaging Canada’s prime minister one day and then embracing the leader of the most totalitarian country in the world.

“He’s a very talented man,” Trump said of Kim. “I also learned that he loves his country very much.”

In an interview with Voice of America, Trump said “I like him” and added: “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country.”

Trump praised Kim in the news conference and, astonishingly, even adopted North Korean positions as his own, saying that the United States military exercises in the region are “provocative.” That’s a standard North Korean propaganda line. Likewise, Trump acknowledged that human rights in North Korea constituted a “rough situation,” but quickly added that “it’s rough in a lot of places, by the way.” (Note that a 2014 United Nations report stated that North Korean human rights violations do “not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”)

Incredibly, Trump told Voice of America that he had this message for the North Korean people: “I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well.”

It’s breathtaking to see an American president emerge as a spokesman for the dictator of North Korea.

One can argue that my perspective is too narrow: That what counts in a broader sense is that the risk of war is much less today than it was a year ago, and North Korea has at least stopped its nuclear tests and missile tests. Fundamentally, Trump has abandoned bellicose rhetoric and instead embraced the longstanding Democratic position — that we should engage North Korea, even if the result isn’t immediate disarmament.

The 1994 Agreed Framework, for example, didn’t denuclearize North Korea or solve the human rights issues there, but it still kept the regime from adding to its plutonium arsenal for eight years. Imperfect processes can still be beneficial, and the ongoing meetings between the United States and North Korea may result in a similar framework that at least freezes the North Korean arsenal.

Of all the things that could have gone badly wrong in a Trump administration, a “bloody nose” strike on North Korea leading to a nuclear war was perhaps the most terrifying. For now at least, Trump seems to have been snookered into the same kind of deeply frustrating diplomatic process with North Korea that he has complained about, but that is far better than war.

Even so, it’s still bewildering how much Trump gave and how little he got. The cancellation of military exercises will raise questions among our allies, such as Japan, about America’s commitment to those allies.

The Trump-Kim statement spoke vaguely about efforts “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula,” whatever that means. But that was much less specific than the 1994 pledge to exchange diplomatic liaison offices, and the 2005 pledge to work for a peace treaty to end the Korean War.

In January 2017, Trump proclaimed in a tweet: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” But in fact it appears to have happened on Trump’s watch, and nothing in the Singapore summit seems to have changed that.

All this is to say that Kim Jong-un proved the more able negotiator. North Korean government officials have to limit their computer time, because of electricity shortages, and they are international pariahs — yet they are very savvy and shrewd, and they were counseled by one of the smartest Trump handlers of all, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.

My guess is that Kim flattered Trump, as Moon has, and that Trump simply didn’t realize how little he was getting. On my most recent visit to North Korea, officials were asking me subtle questions about the differences in views of Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley; meanwhile, Trump said he didn’t need to do much homework.

Whatever our politics, we should all want Trump to succeed in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and it’s good to see that Trump now supports engagement rather than military options. There will be further negotiations, and these may actually freeze plutonium production and destroy missiles. But at least in the first round, Trump seems to have been snookered.

This column has been updated to reflect news developments.

From ‘Punk Kid’ to 21st Century Tyrant: Kim Jong Un Seizes His Moment

June 8, 2018

North Korean dictator goes on a diplomatic blitz after saber-rattling won him a coveted nuclear summit with President Donald Trump

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If North Korea’s propaganda machine is to be believed, “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong Un comes from a long line of mythical heroes.

His grandfather was the greatest genius ever to have walked the Earth. His father was a prodigy in all areas, proving himself a crack pistol shot—on horseback—by age 5.

So International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach was pleasantly surprised during a March meeting in Pyongyang when the North Korean dictator broke the ice with a self-effacing remark about his own diminutive size and portly physique.

“Even if it may not look like it, I love to play sport, and especially basketball,” Mr. Bach, a former Olympic fencer, says Mr. Kim told him.

Kim Jong Un cries as his father, North Korea's late leader Kim Jong-il, lies in state in December, 2011.
Kim Jong Un cries as his father, North Korea’s late leader Kim Jong-il, lies in state in December, 2011. PHOTO:REUTERS/KCNA

Mr. Kim has a knack for overturning expectations. When he inherited power in North Korea in December 2011, expert opinion was he’d be toppled or killed within a year. Filmed red-faced and sobbing at his father’s wake, the pudgy would-be dictator in his late 20s didn’t seem up to the Darwinian task of extending the bloody Kim dynasty to a third generation.

Six years on, he is a bona fide 21st century tyrant prepping for planned June 12 meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump —a summit Mr. Kim’s father and grandfather only dreamed about. Along the way, he acquired intercontinental ballistic missiles faster than many scientists thought possible, and threatened to use them on U.S. cities during a harrowing nuclear standoff.

At home, he is digging in for a long rule by replacing older apparatchiks with younger ones loyal to him. He has killed rival family members, staged public executions and is keeping some 100,000 people in gulags, say United Nations investigators who accused him of crimes against humanity in 2014. He’s had more defense ministers so far than served in all North Korea’s previous 50 years.

Once seen as a sadistic recluse who lacked the confidence to meet a single foreign leader during his first six years in power, Mr. Kim is now on a diplomacy blitz. Since March, he has met the president of South Korea once, China’s leader twice and proposed a summit with Mr. Trump—all while gaining a reputation as a sure-footed host who toasts guests with fine wines and softens his fearsome reputation with humor.

Kim Jong Un met with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, China’s president Xi Jinping, and K-Pop band Red Velvet in the past three months. PHOTOS: KCNA/ASSOCIATED PRESS; SOUTH KOREA PRESIDENTIAL BLUE HOUSE/YONHAP VIA AP; WHITE HOUSE VIA AP; XINHUA VIA AP

While the North Korea nuclear crisis is still unfolding and Mr. Kim’s future is far from certain, the man Mr. Trump is gearing up to meet has turned out to be a far-more-calculating, brutal and ambitious operator than was once believed, raising the challenges for Washington in the years ahead.

“People who have assumed for years that he was some punk kid with a real mean streak put in a position of power are now finding out that he has a lot more capabilities than that,” says Ken Gause, who follows North Korea’s leadership at CNA, an Arlington, Va., think tank.

IOC head Mr. Bach’s encounter with Mr. Kim at a sports complex in Pyongyang came just days after the dictator had traveled by armored train to Beijing to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and just before his secret Easter weekend meeting with now U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

After a private conversation in which Mr. Kim spoke without notes or aides, the North Korean ruler led Mr. Bach into a stadium where some 100,000 North Koreans were awaiting a women’s soccer game. The huge crowd applauded Mr. Kim’s arrival for what seemed like 15 minutes before the game began, an official there said.

Mr. Kim ended the week with a concert by visiting South Korean K-Pop musicians.

With his hair slicked into an anvil-like pompadour, Mr. Kim now appears at least a decade older than he is, and so much like a propaganda poster of his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, worshiped as North Korea’s founder, that some observers suspect he had plastic surgery for that purpose.

Former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung inspects troops in 1983 (left); current leader Kim Jong Un during a military visit in 2016 (right). PHOTOS: KCNA/ASSOCIATED PRESS; KCNA/REUTERS

U.S. intelligence officials concede they lacked a full picture of Mr. Kim, the obscure third son of Kim Jong Il, when he emerged as successor. Perhaps more important, Mr. Kim is evolving on the job, these officials said. They describe his string of diplomatic meetings in the run-up to the possible Trump summit as the “paragon” of strategic foreign-affairs planning.

In the meetings, Mr. Kim is tailoring his posture for effect, seeking to play the interests of China, South Korea and the U.S. against each other to his advantage, says Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Jung H. Pak, a former Central Intelligence Agency senior analyst for North Korea.

In late March, when Mr. Kim went by train to China to improve ties with its leader Xi Jinping, a linchpin for sanctions enforcement, Mr. Kim was filmed taking notes like a schoolboy as Mr. Xi lectured.

Mr. Pompeo said his meeting with Mr. Kim a few days later was “productive” and a sign that there is “a real opportunity” for a historic disarmament deal.

In South Korea, where Mr. Kim is often portrayed as a bloodthirsty delinquent, he smiled, clasped President Moon Jae-in’s hand and promised an era of peace during their live April summit. Mr. Kim even vowed to reset North Korea’s clocks to normal Korea time after turning them back 30 minutes in 2015.

After the summit, 78% of South Korean respondents said they now viewed Mr. Kim positively, according to a poll by South Korea’s MBC News, compared with approval ratings of as low as 10% in previous polls. “Once we start talking, the U.S. will see I am not the kind of person to launch nukes,” Mr. Kim told Mr. Moon, South Korea said.

Trump administration officials credit tough economic sanctions and the threat of U.S. military strikes with pressuring Mr. Kim to come to the negotiating table, raising hopes for nuclear detente and a peace treaty to end the 1950-1953 Korean War.

“He is very young, so he presumably wants to be around for a long time and maybe wants to, you know, have some kind of different future for his country,” said Susan Thornton, an East Asia expert who serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State.

South Korean conservatives and U.S. hawks say Mr. Kim has no intention of giving up his weapons, a move he likely equates with suicide. Instead, his charm offensive is meant to reduce the chances the U.S. will attack, convince China to loosen sanctions enforcement and convince South Korea’s progressive government to provide him with food and other aid.

Long-term, he wants to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, and perhaps one day unify the Korean Peninsula on his terms, these skeptics say.

U.S. officials say they are wary. “No one in the Trump administration is starry-eyed about what’s happening here,” National Security Advisor John Bolton, a longtime North Korea hard-liner, has said.

North Korea has broken four nuclear deals since 1992, while receiving $1.3 billion in food and oil from the U.S.

Getting a read on Mr. Kim is difficult because North Korea is the arguably the world’s most secretive nation, all but cut off from global phone lines and internet, and obscured behind a kaleidoscope of propaganda.

North Korea kept the death of Mr. Kim’s father Kim Jong Il a secret for two full days without the U.S. or South Korean intelligence services figuring it out. Even the younger Mr. Kim’s birth year—believed to be 1984—is unconfirmed.

The North Korean capital of Pyongyang has received a makeover in recent years.
The North Korean capital of Pyongyang has received a makeover in recent years. PHOTO: PAOLO BOSONIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Pyongyang is a city of pastel buildings, huge Kim murals and towering Kim statues. Propaganda music and speeches echo from outdoor speakers. Tourists, businesspeople and journalists who travel there on closely monitored trips see only fragments but never the big picture.

But the capital is changing under Mr. Kim. In his recent visit, Mr. Bach saw a city that appeared more polished and vibrant than what he remembered from a previous visit two decades before. Once gray and drab, the city now features newer buildings. Passersby appeared better dressed, wearing more colors, he said. Where officials once read prepared statements to him, they now spoke extemporaneously.

“You get a glimpse,” Mr. Bach said.

In the absence of data, some researchers turn to history for insights. Like all tyrants, going back to the fourth century B.C. tyrant of Syracuse who lived under the proverbial Sword of Damocles, Mr. Kim rules with the knowledge he may be killed at any moment, many experts believe.

Others search for clues in sources like the video of Mr. Kim’s April meeting with South Korea’s president: Mr. Kim seemed winded after strutting across the DMZ-line. Was he nervous or out of shape?

South Korean envoys who visited him in February told reporters he appeared “relaxed” and “confident,” jokingly apologizing for waking up South Korea’s president with crack-of-dawn missile tests, and musing about his reputation as a global pariah.

Others are repulsed by the idea that Mr. Kim is anything more than a psychopath.

“People are going to see him and say, ‘Wow, he is acting like a normal person.’ But he is not a normal person. This is the guy who kills his own family,” said Go Myong-hyun, a North Korea researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

Tightened BorderFewer North Korean defectors are reachingSouth Korea since Kim Jong Un took power in2011.Source: Ministry of UnificationNote: 2017 figure is provisional.

To instill fear, Mr. Kim uses brutal practices such as public executions with antiaircraft guns and imprisoning three generations of a dissenter’s family, according to Greg Scarlatoiu, who runs the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

“This is a highly paranoid regime built on an us-versus-them mentality, where the Kims truly fear their own people,” said Mr. Scarlatoiu, who grew up under Romania’s brutal dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Mr. Kim threatened terrorist attacks to prevent Sony Pictures from releasing the 2014 film “The Interview,” in which he is killed by buffoonish reporters. Soon after, hackers broke into Sony’s servers and put embarrassing internal email and unreleased films online. U.S. officials say North Korea is responsible.

“He spent six years pushing the envelope without any punishment,” said Ms. Pak, the former CIA analyst. “Once your confidence grows and failure is not in your vocabulary, your ambitions evolve.”

Educated under an alias at posh Swiss schools, the Chicago Bulls-loving youngest son of Kim Jong Il and a Japanese-born dancer was a surprise choice to outsiders. His existence wasn’t even mentioned in state media until 2010.

Though he’d been dressed up as a general as a little boy, Mr. Kim hardly seemed to have the résumé to run a tyrannical regime. While North Koreans starved, the Kims dined on imported sushi, shark fin soup and delicacies including Uzbec caviar, according to Kenji Fujimoto, the alias of a Japanese sushi chef who worked for the Kims.

At 13, Mr. Kim started smoking Yves Saint Laurent menthol cigarettes, among the world’s most expensive at $55 a pack, Mr. Fujimoto said in a televised interview. Mr. Kim told Mr. Bach that he had visited the Olympic museum in Lausanne, Switzerland twice as a boy.

Meantime, North Korea was a mess. Founded as Soviet-backed satellite after World War II, the isolated nation was struggling to emerge from a famine that had killed around 1 million in the 1990s.

The Kims held power through the brutal enforcement of a family personality cult, even though average North Koreans who survived the famine were becoming aware that life was better elsewhere thanks to surging defections.

Mr. Kim’s overseas schooling may have afforded him some advantages. He has seen far more of the West than his father, and may speak some German and English.

Western experts believed Mr. Kim would rule as a weak figurehead under the care of a regent, his uncle-by-marriage, and powerful generals.

But more than his father, Mr. Kim has shown a willingness to kill family.

In 2013, he ordered the execution of his uncle, leaving little question who was in charge.

In 2017, Mr. Kim ordered his half-brother and critic, Kim Jong Nam, killed with VX nerve agent in a Malaysian airport, U.S. officials say. The victim carried atropine, a possible VX antidote, suggesting he lived in fear of a foretold fate.

In five years Mr. Kim executed or purged some 340 officials, according to South Korea’s intelligence service.

“At first we were all perplexed why he was chosen,” says Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “But then we realized that he is an efficient, rational, Machiavellian dictator, and only an efficient, rational, Machiavellian dictator can rule North Korea, otherwise it will collapse.”

Cameras rolled as Jang Song Thaek, center, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was grabbed during an emergency central-committee meeting. He was soon executed.
Cameras rolled as Jang Song Thaek, center, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was grabbed during an emergency central-committee meeting. He was soon executed. PHOTO: AHN YOUNG-JOON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

One month before Mr. Kim took office, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who had dismantled his own nuclear program in 2003 under U.S. pressure, was killed by a NATO-backed insurgency.

To avoid a similar fate, Mr. Kim began a policy of byungjin, a two-pronged strategy of “irreversibly” completing the nuclear program to deter foreign intervention, while reviving the economy to bolster his legitimacy, observers say.

To improve food supply, Mr. Kim de-collectivized some farms and allowed black-market trading in food and other goods to flourish.

To raise living standards for loyal elites, he imported some $2 billion of luxury goods including whiskey and electronics in his first three years, according to Chinese trade data. He built attractions such as a water park, dolphin show and a ski resort.

Though the measures helped achieve 4% growth, they have also made North Korea more vulnerable to economic sanctions.

North Koreans watch a dolphin performance in Pyongyang.
North Koreans watch a dolphin performance in Pyongyang. PHOTO: VINCENT YU/ASSOCIATED PRESS

North Korea had wanted nuclear weapons for 60 years when Mr. Kim took power, but managed to detonate only two embarrassingly low-yield bombs.

A crucial sign Mr. Kim was serious about completing the task came just four months into his rule, when he ripped up a “Leap Day” disarmament deal to receive food aid he’d agreed to two weeks earlier. Instead, he declared he would launch a rocket into space—a key step toward building a ballistic missile.

It didn’t go well. The rocket broke up after 90 seconds and splashed into the ocean west of Seoul. Mr. Kim, who had invited the foreign press to view the launchpad, had failed publicly.

Instead of covering up the mishap at home, as many foreign observers expected, Mr. Kim allowed his state media to report the mishap. He admitted the failure and encouraged his scientists to keep trying.

“It showed the more modern, flexible management style that you need for innovation, the difference between a system where everyone is afraid of failure, and one where you learn from your mistakes, fix it and get better,” said John Delury, an expert on North Korea at Yonsei University in Seoul who is writing a book about the Kims.

One month later, Mr. Kim added the term “Nuclear State” to the definition of North Korea in its constitution. By the end of that year, the North Korean missile engineers were ready to attempt to launch the rocket again—and it worked.

In Sept., he detonated North Korea’s most powerful nuclear device. In Nov. 2017, North Korea launched the Hwasong-15, an intercontinental missile that flew for 53 minutes with a range of 8,000 miles—enough to hit anywhere in the U.S. Though doubts remain, Mr. Kim declared he had a achieved a “state nuclear force.”

“Our Republic has at last come to possess a powerful and reliable war deterrent, which no force and nothing can reverse,” Mr. Kim said his annual January speech, wearing a tan business suit instead of a Mao outfit. “The nuclear button is on my office desk all the time.”

Then he offered to deal.

Write to John Lyons at

Democrats Childishly Resist Trump’s North Korea Efforts

June 7, 2018

Shock! Horror! President Trump is actually doing something right.

Sadly, Democrats in Congress are responding in a quite Trumpian way: They seem more concerned with undermining him than supporting a peace process with North Korea. They are on the same side as National Security Adviser John Bolton, quietly subverting attempts to pursue peace.

By  Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times

While international security is complicated, here’s a rule of thumb: When you find yourself on the same side as Bolton, go back and re-examine your position.

Sure, we all wish that Trump treated Justin Trudeau or Angela Merkel with the respect that he now shows Kim Jong-un. Yes, it seems that Trump has been played by Kim. Yet another way of putting it is that Trump is finally investing in the kind of diplomatic engagement that he used to denounce, and that we should all applaud.

Trump’s newfound pragmatism is infinitely preferable to the threat of nuclear war that used to hang over all of us, so it’s mystifying to see Democrats carping about any possible North Korea deal.

President Trump met last week with Kim Yong-chol, one of the closest aides to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.Credit Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

“Any deal that explicitly or implicitly gives North Korea sanctions relief for anything other than the verifiable performance of its obligations to dismantle its nuclear and missile arsenal is a bad deal,” seven Democratic senators, including Chuck Schumer, warned in a letter to Trump this week.

The letter also insisted on “anywhere, anytime” inspections of suspected North Korean nuclear sites, as well as those linked to its chemical and biological warfare programs.

It’s almost unimaginable that North Korea will allow such intrusive inspections — any country would resist having an enemy poke around its military bases, underground bomb shelters and border fortifications. So these Democrats are essentially saying that no plausible deal will pass muster.

“The Democrats have gone overboard in the conditions they listed in the letter,” said Joel Wit, a North Korea watcher at the Stimson Center in Washington. “If they’re serious, it’s a prescription for failure because no one could achieve the conditions. It’s maybe payback for everything they were dealt in the Iran deal.”

“It’s like role reversal,” Wit added. “For years Democrats criticized Republicans for not wanting to engage North Korea. Now that Republicans want to engage North Korea, the Democrats are preparing to criticize them.”

Aside from Schumer, the Democratic senators who signed the letter are Sherrod Brown, Richard Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, Robert Menendez and Mark Warner.

I appreciate that it’s galling for Democrats to see Trump present himself as a great strategist who has forced North Korea to knuckle under. White House aide Larry Kudlow boasted on Fox News: “North Korea coming to the negotiating table has a lot do with President Trump’s very firm stand.”

Poppycock. North Korean leaders have been eager for decades to meet with an American president; it’s just that no previous president agreed for fear of legitimizing the regime. It’s actually Trump who has made stunning compromises — holding a get-acquainted summit with Kim without any prospect of near-term denuclearization.

The real hero here is South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, who shrewdly used the Olympics to kick-start the peace process. Trump and Kim won’t get a Nobel Peace Prize, but if the peace process survives, Moon will be a worthy recipient.

For decades, especially after Bill Clinton’s 1994 “Agreed Framework” with North Korea, it was conservative Republicans who were the spoilers on nuclear deals with North Korea and Iran alike.

This G.O.P. petulance was bad for America. Bolton helped kill the Agreed Framework, so that North Korea hugely expanded its weapons program. Similar petulance led Trump and Bolton to try to destroy the Iran nuclear deal this spring; as a result, Iran this week announced that it was increasing its uranium enrichment capacity. Boy, that went well.

Now a similar partisan petulance seems to be turning some Democrats into spoilers. Trump’s engagement with North Korea has been chaotic and should have begun with working-level talks, but it’s still better for leaders to exchange handshakes than missiles.

Granted, there’s plenty of reason to be nervous about Trump’s deal making with North Korea, and plans can still collapse. How will Trump manage Kim when he can’t even manage a summit with the Philadelphia Eagles?

Still, even if North Korea won’t hand over nuclear weapons in the next few years, I can imagine it committing in coming months to a sustained moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile tests, on production of plutonium and uranium fuel, on transfer of nuclear technology to other countries, such as Syria. North Korea might also destroy an ICBM or two and accept inspectors at its nuclear sites in Yongbyon. Trump and Kim might agree to exchange liaison offices and to declare peace on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea might well cheat, and these are half-steps, not rapid denuclearization. But half-steps toward peace are better than full strides toward war.

Budding Moon-Kim Friendship Risks Undermining Trump Pressure

May 27, 2018

When Donald Trump abruptly scrapped their planned summit, Kim Jong Un sought out someone he knew would come over for a chat: South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.

Moon’s surprise meeting with Kim on Saturday shows he’s willing to do what it takes to keep diplomacy on track and avoid a return to threats of war over North Korea’s nuclear program. Moon called the gathering a meaningful attempt to clear up “some difficulties in communication” as the two leaders shared warm words on the northern side of their border.

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Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un on May 26.   Source: Blue House

More significantly, Moon secured the restart of minister-level inter-Korean talks on June 1, followed by a dialogue between military leaders and a Red Cross meeting to reunite families separated by the war. North Korea, which canceled the talks earlier this month in a sign of reemerging tensions, said the two leaders agreed to “meet frequently in the future.” Moon pledged to visit Pyongyang later this year.

For the moment, Moon has maintained an appearance as a neutral middleman who can bridge the gap between Trump and Kim, two reactive leaders who create a high risk of miscalculation. Yet over the longer term, Moon’s desire to cut a peace deal with North Korea during his single five-year term means Trump could find it harder to enforce his “maximum pressure” campaign if talks break down again.

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Kim has now separately met Moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping twice in the past three months, and both leaders have pledged to strengthen ties with his regime. South Korea and China account for almost all of North Korea’s land borders, so their support is essential for enforcing sanctions ramped up last year after Kim declared the ability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

“With South Korea and China already talking to the North, it’s hard for Trump to reignite his campaign at this point or after the summit fails,” said Namkoong Young, who has advised South Korea’s Unification Ministry and the Foreign Ministry on policy for almost 10 years.

“In Trump’s thinking, his ‘maximum pressure’ would’ve resulted in Kim kneeling and returning to dialogue in surrender anyway if it reached the boiling point,” he said. “But Moon interrupted this by reinstating inter-Korean exchanges.”

Trump’s team believes the “maximum pressure” campaign to strangle North Korea’s economy is working, and Kim’s regime will have to come to the table eventually, according to a person familiar with the administration’s thinking. North Korea’s push to get the summit back on track shows that it’s probably looking for sanctions relief, even as Kim retains concerns about his own security.

Differing Approaches

Even so, Trump has clashed with both China and South Korea over the best approach to dealing with Kim, as well as on issues like trade.

Before canceling the summit last week, Trump said that China had eased up enforcement of sanctions on its border. Bloomberg News reported Friday that China is still severely restricting cross-border trade, although optimism is growing that commerce will once again increase.

North Korea’s Gateway to China Is Optimistic Regardless of Trump

Moon, meanwhile, didn’t get an advance warning from Trump that he was canceling the summit even though the leaders had met only 48 hours earlier. He expressed frustration immediately afterward, calling the move “very regrettable.” South Korean officials have since attributed the communications gap to time differences.

China, South Korea and the U.S. all back denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but differ on how to make that happen. The Trump-Kim summit hit a snag after North Korea lambasted Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser John Bolton for suggesting it give up its nuclear weapons before receiving anything in return — the so-called Libya model.

Trust Issue

Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi agreed in 2003 to give up his weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms, in return for sanctions relief. He ended up getting killed at the hands of U.S.-backed rebels less than a decade later.

“Chairman Kim clearly appealed once again that his intent to completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is firm,” Moon said. “What’s unclear for Chairman Kim, in my opinion, is not his willingness for denuclearization, but whether he can certainly trust the U.S. saying that it’ll end hostile relations and guarantee the security of his regime after his denuclearization.”

In a conciliatory statement Friday aimed at getting the summit back on track, North Korea said it favored a “Trump formula” to resolve tensions and praised the president for agreeing to meet Kim. His regime has couched denuclearization in global terms and called for a step-by-step process, saying it would have no need for nuclear weapons once its leadership felt secure.

The Man Who Brought Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un to the Table

South Korea is reviewing ways to address North Korea’s security concerns, including turning the current armistice into a peace agreement, a senior Moon administration official said on Sunday. Moon said he would seek a trilateral summit with Trump and Kim to officially end the war if their meeting is successful.

Still, there’s no sense of a consensus yet on denuclearization. Moon sidestepped a question Sunday on whether Kim clearly mentioned if he would agree to the U.S. demand for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization, saying that the two sides would need to discuss it at working-level talks.

The U.S.-South Korea alliance could take a hit if Moon intentionally exaggerated Kim’s commitment to denuclearization, according to Namkoong, who also teaches inter-Korean politics at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

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“The stakes of this summit are big,” he said. “If the Trump-Kim summit succeeds, Moon will win big. If it doesn’t, he will lose a lot.”

By Kanga Kong, Bloomberg

— With assistance by Tony Jordan

Land dispute dominates Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Japan’s Shinzo Abe meeting

May 27, 2018

Japan and Russia are to work closely over the Kuril Islands or Northern Territories to resolve a decades-long dispute. They are also to co-operate over denuclearization of the Korean peninsular.

Vladimir Putin meets Shinzo Abe in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin said a solution with Japan had to be found to allow the two countries to conclude a World War II peace treaty which would reflect the interests of both.

Putin had welcomed Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Moscow on Saturday after meeting in Saint Petersburg for the economic forum, which Abe attended as a guest of honor. “Yesterday we discussed the advancement of economic and commercial ties” Putin said Saturday.

Japan's Shinzo Abe and Russia's Vladimir Putin at their joint press conferenceJapan’s Shinzo Abe and Russia’s Vladimir Putin at their joint press conference

Speaking after their meeting, Abe said they had agreed to speed up joint commercial activity to include health care, energy and urban development on the disputed chain of islands seized by Moscow at the end of World War II.

The Japanese premier said he also hoped for a “new breakthrough” in settling the dispute that has festered for decades.

“We are already advancing work on collaborative agricultural activities on four islands and humanitarian measures for former inhabitants of the islands,” Abe said. “Solving (the dispute) is not easy but we would like to end it within the lifetime of our generation.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had sparked outrage in Japan when he visited the disputed territory in 2015. After meeting Abe, Putin said on Saturday that a Japanese business delegation would visit the islands this year.

Map of the Kuril Islands

Cultural relations

The two sides have already agreed to cultural exchanges, and Putin said Moscow’s heralded Bolshoi Theater would mark the new program on Saturday night.

“We have observed rising trade and investments, but what’s most important is the interest of both countries to develop relations,” Putin said.

Denuclearization of North Korea

Russia has relatively close diplomatic relations with North Korea.

Abe said “Russia and Japan will maintain close contacts so that North Korea goes in the right direction.” The Japanese premier said: “The most important (thing) is for North Korea to carry out full and irreversible denuclearization.”

Putin called on all sides involved in the situation around North Korea to show restraint.

bik/jm (AFP, dpa)

Kim Jong-un Is a Man In Search of a Deal

May 26, 2018

Ever since Kim Jong-un took over as the young, untested ruler of North Korea seven years ago, he has promised his country a future free from deprivation.

In his first speech as leader, he vowed that North Koreans, millions of whom starved during a famine in the 1990s, would never again have to tighten their belts. Last year, he apologized to the nation for failing to live up to that pledge, expressing how “anxious and remorseful” it made him.

Then, this year, he proclaimed a new shift to North Korea’s 25 million people: Now that the nation possessed a nuclear arsenal, it could change gears and start building a prosperous economy, after years of international sanctions.

So when President Trump on Thursday abruptly canceled their much anticipated summit meeting on June 12, the North Korean response was remarkably diplomatic and cordial, holding open the hope that the meeting could still take place, after all.

South Korean news coverage on a screen in Seoul, the capital. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, has promised his people a prosperous economy, and President Trump’s cancellation of their summit talks put that goal in jeopardy. Credit Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press

It was a strong reminder, analysts said, that Mr. Kim not only wants a diplomatic deal with the United States. He may need one.

“North Korea can still survive under sanctions, especially if China helps it,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “But as long as sanctions are there, Kim Jong-un can never deliver the kind of rapid economic growth he has promised for his people.”

Read the rest:

The New York Times


Iran scrambles for European lifeline

May 26, 2018

‘Noose is tightening on Tehran’ in face of US sanctions, expert tells Arab News — US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

A special meeting of the Joint Commission of parties to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on Iran’s nuclear deal is in progress in Vienna. (Reuters)

Signatories of the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday in a bid to save the agreement after Washington’s dramatic withdrawal earlier this month.

For the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into force in 2015, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany gathered — at Iran’s request — without the US, which pulled out of the agreement on May 8 and said it would reinstate sanctions.

US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran — concluded under his predecessor Barack Obama — saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Speaking to AFP after Friday’s meeting, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, said: “We are negotiating… to see if they can provide us with a package that can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting.”

“Practical solutions” were required to address Iran’s concerns over its oil exports, banking flows and foreign investment in the country, he said.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov struck an upbeat note after the meeting, saying: “We have all the chances to succeed, provided we have the political will.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News that it would be against Europe’s interests to stay in the deal.

“The European nations should be cognizant of the fact that the beneficiary of the nuclear deal is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its militias,” he said. “Staying in the deal or submitting to the Iranian regime’s new demands will inflict damage on the EU’s geopolitical and national security interest in the short and long term.”

The EU could not thwart or skirt US primary and secondary sanctions against Iran, he said. Rafizadeh said Iran’s hard-liners were attempting to obtain concessions from the EU by threatening to pull out of the JCPOA.

“But from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, giving concessions means weakness. And although Iran is playing tough, it needs the deal to support Bashar Assad and its proxies.

“The European governments should be aware that the Iranian leaders — moderates and hard-liners — are playing a shrewd tactical game.

“The regime is playing a classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ game. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to help the moderates win more concessions,” said Rafizadeh.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the noose was tightening on Tehran.

“European firms simply cannot afford the penalties imposed by US secondary sanctions on Iran. The Iranian plan to press Europe to compensate for President Trump’s policy decision to restart a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely to prove fruitful,” he told Arab News.

Recent revelations of a covert Iranian facility designed to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads will only complicate matters for Tehran as it scrambles for a European lifeline, Shahbandar said.

“The collapse of the JCPOA is likely to prove a major shock to the Iranian economy in the long run,” he said.

Arab News


Iran: U.S. Says Europe did nothing to counter Iran’s program to develop ballistic missiles

May 24, 2018

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Europeans Thursday of having done nothing to counter Iran’s program to develop ballistic missiles.

“The Europeans have told us … that they are prepared to engage on missiles, and for three years did nothing,” Pompeo told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Likewise, he said, European governments haven’t done anything in support of the US campaign labelling Iran the world’s leading sponsor of terror.

“They talked about agreeing to things on terror,” Pompeo said, but did nothing.

© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP | US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Europeans did ‘nothing’ to support the US in pressuring Iran over its ballistic missile program

President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that the United States was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear accord, calling its requirements on Tehran too weak.

Until that point the European parties to the accord, France, Germany and Britain, had negotiated with the Trump administration to find a solution to three primary US concerns: the Iran deal’s 2025 sunset provisions on certain prohibited activities; Iran’s ballistic missile program; and Iran’s activities in other countries around the Middle East, including Syria and Yemen, which Washington considers “destabilizing”.

According to European diplomats and some US officials, those talks had made significant progress and were close to completion when Trump announced he would pull out from the Iran nuclear deal.

Pompeo however rejected that view.

“We were never able to get there” in talks with the Europeans, he told the Senate panel.

“There was no evidence that the Europeans had any intention of actually agreeing to those three provisions.”

Since then the other signatories — the three Europeans, the European Union, Russia and China — have sought to keep the Iran deal alive.

Pompeo earlier this week laid out 12 points that need to be addressed for a “new agreement” that covers a much broader range of issues.

However the other parties, including Iran, have all criticized the US approach.