Posts Tagged ‘Kim Jong-Un’

North Korea Hacked South Korea’s War Plans

October 10, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A Seoul lawmaker says North Korean hackers stole details of South Korean-US exercises

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korean computer hackers have stolen hundreds of classified military documents from South Korea including detailed wartime operational plans involving its US ally, a report said Tuesday.Rhee Cheol-Hee, a lawmaker for the ruling Democratic party, said the hackers had broken into the South’s military network last September and gained access to 235 gigabytes of sensitive data, the Chosun Ilbo daily reported.

Among the leaked documents was Operational Plans 5015 for use in case of war with the North and including procedures for “decapitation” attacks on leader Kim Jong-Un, the paper quoted Rhee as saying.

Rhee, a member of parliament’s defence committee, could not be reached for comment but his office said he had been quoted correctly.

The report comes amid heightened fears of conflict on the Korean peninsula, fuelled by US President Donald Trump’s continued threats of military action against Pyongyang to tame its weapons ambitions.

In his latest tweet over the weekend, Trump reiterated that diplomatic efforts with North Korea have consistently failed, adding that “only one thing will work”.

Citing Seoul’s defence ministry, Rhee said that 80 percent of the leaked documents had yet to be identified.

But the contingency plan for the South’s special forces was stolen, he said, as well as details about annual joint military drills with the US and information on key military facilities and power plants.

A ministry spokesman declined to confirm the report, citing intelligence matters.

In May the ministry said North Korea had hacked into Seoul’s military intranet but did not say what had been leaked.

Pyongyang has a 6,800-strong unit of trained cyber-warfare specialists, according to the South Korean government. It has been accused of launching high-profile cyber-attacks including the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures.

The Chosun Ilbo story was the second report Tuesday of military-related cyber-attacks in the Asia-Pacific.

Australia’s government said separately an unidentified defence contractor had been hacked and a “significant amount of data” stolen.

There were 47,000 cyber-incidents in the last 12 months, a 15 percent increase from the previous year, Minister for Cyber Security Dan Tehan said in Canberra as he launched a report by the Cyber Security Centre.

The defence contractor was exploited via an internet-facing server, with the cyber-criminals using remote administrative access to remain in its network, the report said.

The Australian newspaper reported that the hacker was based in China but Tehan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that “we don’t know and we cannot confirm exactly who the actor was”.

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North Korea: Where is the war of words with US heading?

September 27, 2017

BBC News

US soldiers from take part in exercises at the Rodriguez Range in Pocheon, South Korea (19 September 2017)Image copyrightAFP
None of the diplomatic initiatives being pursued internationally is likely to provide a magic bullet to the Korean crisis, but they may slow it down. AFP photo

In the wake of an escalating war of words between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, and an unprecedented night-time sortie of US B-1B bombers and F-15 fighters off the east coast of North Korea, relations between the two countries appear to be moving closer towards military conflict and hopes for a diplomatic resolution seem increasingly distant.

But are these fears exaggerated, and is the sign of resolution from the US and its regional allies in fact helping to provide clarity and reassurance at a time of maximum uncertainty?

Superficially, President Trump’s UN speech signalled continuity with the policy of past presidents, making it clear that military action (albeit on a catastrophic scale sufficient to “totally destroy North Korea”) would occur only if the US were “forced to defend itself or its allies”.

Similarly, the dispatch of US aircraft north of the Northern Limit Line – the de facto border separating the two Korea – could be interpreted as a necessary reinforcement of deterrence intended to send an unambiguous signal to the North to avoid further provocations.

The danger of this interpretation is that it is unduly optimistic and one-sided. The history of Cold War and post-Cold War conflict on the Korean peninsula, dating from the Korean War onwards, is littered with critical misperceptions of the intentions of the competing adversaries.

A US Air Force Rockwell B-1B Lancer (left) and a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker (right) sit on the tarmac at Andersen Air Force base in Yigo, Guam (17 August 2017)
By acting alone, as they did in the latest sortie, US military forces can advance the White House’s strategic objectives without having to consider the South’s interests. GETTY IMAGES
South Korean soldiers ride on an armoured vehicle during a South Korea-US combined arms collective training exercise at the US army's Rodriguez shooting range in Pocheon, about 70km north-east of Seoul (19 September 2017)
The war of words between North Korea and the US and its South Korean allies (above) is taking place during a period of maximum uncertainty. AFP photo

From Kim Il-sung’s misplaced confidence that his attack on the South in June 1950 would not provoke a defensive response from the Truman Administration, supported by the United Nations, to Gen Douglas MacArthur’s boast that he could push north beyond the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) which divides the two Koreas, reuniting the peninsula without drawing China into the war. Time and again key actors have all too often misjudged their opponents with devastating consequences.

Intelligence reports from South Korea suggest that the North has not responded to the US aerial show of force either because it failed to detect the incursion, or because its anti-aircraft facilities are too antiquated to deal with the US challenge, or potentially because the regime is trying to minimise the risk of escalation.

Yet, this cautious assessment overlooks the role of emotion in any potential escalation scenario. Mr Trump’s intentionally humiliating description of Kim as “Little Rocket Man” will have been perceived in the North as deeply antagonistic to a North Korean leader for whom status and dignity are the bedrock of his legitimacy at home. Kim may therefore feel compelled to respond with further provocations, beyond the immediate, retaliatory insults that he and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho have directed at the US president.

Military responses

One extreme option for the North would be to follow through on its threat to carry out an aerial test blast of a hydrogen bomb somewhere in the Pacific or in the waters surrounding the peninsula – an outcome that would be a major, and potentially life-threatening, escalation that could risk a military pre-emptive attack on the North by the US.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in makes a speech at the 10th anniversary of an inter-Korean summit in Seoul (26 September 2017)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (above) is both in style and substance pursuing an approach to the North that sets him apart from President Trump. EPA photo

A less obvious response, would be for the North to engage in low-level conventional provocations. These could, for example, include:

  • The shelling of South Korean territory (comparable to the attack on Yeonpyong island in October 2010)
  • The dispatch of North Korea special forces to disable the South’s missile batteries or threaten government personnel below the DMZ
  • Cyber attacks on commercial facilities or South Korean or US military command-and-control sites in the South

There is unconfirmed speculation that prior to becoming the leader of the North, Kim Jong-un planned and co-ordinated the attack on the Cheonan, the South Korean naval vessel that sank with the loss of 46 South Korean sailors in March 2010.

That suggests that Kim’s personal experience might encourage him to explore these options.

Such scenarios raise the important question of how the US would respond and with what level of co-ordination with its key South Korean ally.

President Trump’s national security adviser HR McMaster has made it clear that the US has four or five different options for dealing with potential provocations, including a number of military responses.

South Korea President Moon Jae-in has apparently agreed to the recent US bomber and fighter flights, but progressive critics in the South have warned that Seoul lacks any adequate means to compel Washington to consult it before deciding on an appropriate military response.

By acting alone, as they did in the latest sortie, US military forces can advance the White House’s strategic objectives without having to consider the South’s interests – a situation almost certain to maximise fears of alliance de-coupling in Seoul that could damagingly destabilise US-South Korean co-operation.

Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump
President Trump’s intentionally humiliating description of Kim as ‘Little Rocket Man’ will have been perceived in the North as deeply antagonistic. EPA
A statue of Gen Douglas MacArthur overlooks a plaza at the United States Military Academy at West Point (file picture)
Gen Douglas MacArthur boasted that he could push north beyond the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) which divides the two Koreas, reuniting the peninsula without drawing China into the war. GETTY IMAGES

President Moon, both in style and substance, is pursuing an approach to the North that sets him apart from President Trump. While forcefully making the case for deterrence, he has continued to keep the door open to dialogue with the North, approving humanitarian assistance and most recently, in his speech at the UN reinforcing the case for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

On the latter point, he is joined by the Chinese and the Russians, who are increasingly anxious about the risk of escalation. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has backed Beijing’s call for a suspension deal involving a halt to joint US-South Korean military manoeuvres in return for a freeze in the North’s missile and nuclear tests.

However, the suspension deal is a non-starter, given opposition in the US Congress and within the White House. There is, therefore, an urgent need to find an opportunity for renewed discussions to restart diplomacy. For now, there seems little evidence that either the US or the North Koreans are making any serious efforts to talk to one another, either via the conventional channels via the UN, or even in a low-key gathering such as the one brokered in mid-September by the Swiss government in Geneva.

In this context, the onus is on other international leaders to act. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has constructively suggested that a modified version of “Permanent Five” of France, Britain, America, Russia and China (P5) plus 2 [other countries] format used in the Iran talks might be applied to North-East Asia, presumably via a P5 plus 3 variant that might include the EU, South Korea and Japan in co-ordinated talks with North Korea.

In Moscow, the Putin administration is holding talks with Choe Son Hui, head of North Korean foreign ministry’s North American division. Looking ahead to the 18 and 19 October Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, President Moon plans to send a high profile delegation for potentially constructive discussions with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

None of these initiatives is likely to provide a magic bullet for the current crisis, but they may help to slow down the seemingly irresistible progression towards war.

Here, history may act as a useful guide. In December 1950, it was in part the intervention of British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who announced his plans to travel to Washington to urge the Truman Administration to refrain from using nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, that helped alert the world to the risks of escalation and potentially devastating conflict.

Now is arguably the time for similar interventions from our national leaders, even if the prospects of success are frustratingly limited.

Dr John Nilsson-Wright is Senior Lecturer in Japanese Politics and International Relations, University of Cambridge & Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia, Asia Programme, Chatham House.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41411688

Small North Korean quake likely natural, not nuclear test: experts

September 23, 2017

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Reuters

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – A small earthquake near North Korea’s nuclear test site on Saturday was probably not manmade, the nuclear proliferation watchdog and a South Korean official said, easing fears Pyongyang had exploded another nuclear bomb just weeks after its last one.

Chinese earthquake officials said the magnitude 3.4 quake detected at 0829 GMT was a “suspected explosion” but both the CTBTO, which monitors nuclear tests, and a South Korean meteorological agency official said they believed it was a natural quake.

“A key method is to look at the seismic waves or seismic acoustic waves and the latter can be detected in the case of a manmade earthquake,” said the South Korean official, who asked for anonymity. “In this case we saw none. So as of now, we are categorizing this as a natural earthquake.”

The earthquake, which South Korea put at magnitude 3.0, was detected in Kilju county in North Hamgyong Province, where North Korea’s known Punggyeri nuclear site is located, the official said.

All of North Korea’s previous six nuclear tests registered as earthquakes of magnitude 4.3 or above. The last test on Sept 3 registered as a 6.3 magnitude quake.

A secondary tremor detected after that test could have been caused by the collapse of a tunnel at the mountainous site, experts said at the time. Satellite photos of the area after the Sept 3 quake showed numerous landslides apparently caused by the massive blast, which North Korea said was an advanced hydrogen bomb.

The head of the nuclear test monitoring agency CTBTO said on Saturday that analysts were “looking at unusual seismic activity of a much smaller magnitude” than the Sept 3 test in North Korea.

“Two #Seismic Events! 0829UTC & much smaller @ 0443UTC unlikely Man-made! Similar to ”collapse“ event 8.5 mins after DPRK6! Analysis ongoing,” CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said in a Twitter post, referring to Sept 3 test.

Russia’s emergency ministry says background radiation in nearby Vladivostok was within the natural range.

TENSIONS HIGH

The U.S. Geological Survey said it could not conclusively confirm whether the quake, which it measured at magnitude 3.5, was manmade or natural.

“The depth is poorly constrained and has been held to 5 km by the seismologist,” USGS said. “The Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) is the sole organization in the U.S. federal government whose mission is to detect and report technical data from foreign nuclear explosions.”

There was no immediate reaction from China’s Foreign Ministry, but the news was widely reported by Chinese state media outlets and on social media.

Tensions have continued to rise around the Korean peninsula since Pyongyang carried out its sixth nuclear test, prompting a new round of U.N. sanctions.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, currently in New York for a United Nations meeting, warned on Thursday that Kim could consider a hydrogen bomb test of an unprecedented scale over the Pacific.

Ri is due to address the United Nations later on Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the North Korean leader a “madman” on Friday, a day after Kim dubbed him a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” who would face the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history”.

Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses and closeup

North Korea’s nuclear tests to date have all been underground, and experts say an atmospheric test, which would be the first since one by China in 1980, would be proof of the success of its weapons program.

North Korea has launched dozens of missiles this year, several of them flying over Japan, as it accelerates a weapons program aimed at enabling it to target the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.

While China has been angered by North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests and has signed up for the increasingly tough U.N. sanctions, it has also stressed the need to resume dialogue and for all sides to take steps to reduce tensions.

In a series of meetings this week at the United Nations, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has reiterated to various foreign counterparts that apart from sanctions, the resolutions also call for dialogue to resume and that this needs to happen.

Earlier on Saturday, China said it will limit exports of refined petroleum products from Oct. 1 and ban exports of condensates and liquefied natural gas immediately to comply with the latest U.N. sanctions. It will also ban imports of textiles from North Korea.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.

The North accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.

Reporting by Andrew Galbraith in Shanghai, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Christine Kim and Heekyong Yang in Seoul, Michael Shields in Zurich, Denis Pinchuk in Moscow; Editing by Lincoln Feast

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China experts say 3.4-quake hits N. Korea in ‘suspected explosion’ — Epicenter of the quake is roughly the same as that of a previous shallow tremor on September 3, which turned out to be caused by a North Korean nuclear test

September 23, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The epicenter of the quake is roughly the same as that of a previous shallow tremor on September 3, which turned out to be caused by a North Korean nuclear test, the official Xinhua news agency said

BEIJING (AFP) – China’s seismic service CENC on Saturday detected a zero-depth, 3.4-magnitude earthquake in North Korea, calling it a “suspected explosion”.The epicentre is roughly the same as that of a previous shallow earthquake on September 3, which turned out to be caused by a North Korean nuclear test, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The earthquake comes after days of increasingly bellicose rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s regime over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions that has raised international alarm.

There seemed to be some initial difference of opinion, however, with Seoul’s Korea Meteorological Agency (KMA) saying that it had registered a tremor of a similar size, but judged it a “natural quake”.

The quake comes amid soaring tensions over Pyongyang’s weapons programme, with the firing of two missiles over Japan in recent weeks and its sixth and largest nuclear test earlier this month.

The September 3rd test was North Korea’s most powerful detonation, triggering a much stronger 6.3-magnitude quake that was felt across the border in China.

This week marked a new level of acromony in a blistering war of words between Kim and Trump, with the North Korean leader calling the American president “mentally deranged” and a “dotard”.

Trump has dubbed Kim a “madman” and sought to ratchet up sanctions against the isolted regime, which says it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself against the threat of invasion.

Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses and closeup

Pyongyang later said it had tested a hydrogen bomb that could be fitted onto a missile — an assertion that no foreign government has so far confirmed.

The move prompted global condemnation, leading the UN Security Council to unanimously adopt new sanctions that include restrictions on oil shipments.

Hydrogen bombs, or H-bombs, are thermonuclear weapons far more powerful than ordinary fission-based atomic bombs, and use a nuclear blast to generate the intense temperatures required for fusion to take place.

Kim on Friday threatened the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” in a tirade against Trump’s warning that Washington would “totally destroy” the North if the US or its allies were threatened.

Monitoring groups estimate that the nuclear test conducted in North Korea earlier this month had a yield of 250 kilotons, which is 16 times the size of the US bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

Washington announced tougher restrictions Friday aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme, building on new tough United Nations sanctions aimed to choke Pyongyang of cash.

Russia and China have both appealed for an end to the escalating rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang.

But on the fringes of the UN meeting this week, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho upped the tensions further, telling reporters Pyongyang might now consider detonating a hydrogen bomb outside its territory.

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Trump’s North Korea talk ‘counterproductive’: analysts say

September 20, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Kelly MACNAMARA | US President Donald Trump addresses the General Assembly
SEOUL (AFP) – With his threats to “totally destroy” North Korea, Donald Trump is playing into Pyongyang’s hands by offering justification for a nuclear weapons programme it insists is for self-defence, analysts say.The US leader used his maiden speech at the UN General Assembly to deliver a blistering warning to Pyongyang, after it tested its sixth and largest nuclear bomb and responded to new sanctions by launching its longest-ever missile flight over Japan.

Trump said Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was “on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime”.

If the US is “forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”.

Far from persuading Kim to give up his drive for nuclear weapons, analysts said Trump’s speech could have the opposite effect.

“With those words, President Trump handed the Kim regime the soundbite of the century,” said Marcus Noland at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“It will play on a continuous loop on North Korean national television” as proof that Pyongyang needs an effective deterrent against what it views as American aggression.

Joel Wit, senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said despite the bluster, it was far from clear that Washington was ready to pay the human price for a conflict.

But he added Trump was a “wildcard and it’s hard for anyone to figure out when he is serious and when he isn’t”.

The US has 28,500 US troops stationed in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War which ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.

Aside from the burgeoning nuclear threat, North Korean artillery bristles on the tense frontier, putting nearby Seoul and its millions of inhabitants in the crosshairs of conventional — and chemical — weapons.

Japan and its megacities are also within easy reach of Pyongyang’s missiles.

Any US attack would risk massive retaliation with a potentially catastrophic loss of life.

Earlier this year Trump’s former chief adviser Steve Bannon told The American Prospect: “There’s no military solution, forget it.”

Trump’s comments probably sound to North Korean ears like empty threats, said Wit.

“I suspect they think they are going to prove (Trump) to be a paper tiger,” he told AFP.

– ‘Where is the red line?’ –

But Jeung Young-Tae, director of military studies at Dongyang University in South Korea, said the rising threat from the North meant it was not possible to dismiss Trump’s comments as “empty bluffing”.

“The problem is, where is the red line to trigger a military option?” he said, adding that while conflict was still very unlikely, the North’s continued provocations were making it harder for the US to agree to dialogue.

“Its ICBM and nuclear weapons programmes have become simply too big and too threatening to view as nothing more than a bargaining chip for negotiation. Now the threat is real for many Americans.”

If the purpose of Trump’s apocalyptic language is to bring the North Koreans to the negotiating table, his piecemeal approach to diplomacy is likely to be working against him, said Mira Rapp-Hooper, senior research scholar at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School.

In the same General Assembly speech, he also threatened to end a meticulously constructed deal with Iran over its weapons programme — a move which makes the US look like an unreliable negotiating partner.

China — the North’s only major ally and trading partner — has tried to cool the hyperbole in an effort to reboot long-stalled talks. But it has faced flak over its apparent reluctance to let the global censure destabilise the Pyongyang regime.

Rapp-Hooper said was unclear whether Trump’s “apocalyptic” language was a strategy to scare Beijing to take a tougher line on its isolated neighbour, or a reflection of his belief in the effectiveness of military action.

“But basically that’s a unholy choice between a real threat of deliberate war and a reckless gamble that risks horrid miscalculation,” she said.

by Kelly MACNAMARA

China, Russia urge end to North Korea vicious cycle

September 19, 2017

AFP

© KCNA/AFP/File | North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting a launching drill of the medium-and-long range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location
NEW YORK (AFP) – The Chinese and Russian foreign ministers called for a peaceful end to the “vicious cycle” on the Korean peninsula as they met in New York for the UN General Assembly, Beijing said Tuesday.Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov urged all parties to seek a “peaceful resolution” to the current stand-off with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The Korean Peninsula nuclear problem must be solved through peaceful means,” it quoted Wang as saying, adding that “the current deepening vicious cycle must be broken”.

“Restoring peace talks is also a necessary step to carrying out the UN Security Council’s resolution,” he said.

Lavrov said Russia’s position on the issue is “completely identical” to China’s, the statement said.

Russia has joined China’s call for a “dual-track” approach in which North Korea suspends its weapons programme in return for the United States halting military drills in the region.

The White House said earlier that US President Donald Trump had spoken with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping over the phone, saying the two leaders were “committed to maximizing pressure on North Korea through vigorous enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions”.

Trump is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly but Xi — who has a major Communist Party congress next month that will cement his leadership for the next five years — is not attending the event.

The UN Security Council last week imposed a fresh set of sanctions, though Washington toned down its original proposals to secure support from China and Russia.

Regional tensions have soared this month as North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and staged an intermediate-range missile test over Japan.

Trump has not ruled out a military option for dealing with Pyongyang.

The US flew four F-35B stealth fighter jets and two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula on Monday in a show of force.

Separately, China and Russia began a joint naval exercise east of the Korean peninsula.

South Korea and US agree on need for stronger N. Korea sanctions

September 17, 2017

AFP

© STR, KCNA VIA KNS, AFP | North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting a launching drill of the medium-and-long range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location. Photo released from N. Korea’s official news agency on September 16, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-09-17

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump agreed to exert stronger pressure through sanctions on North Korea following its nuclear and missile tests, South Korea’s presidential office said on Sunday.

“The two leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation, and exert stronger and practical sanctions on North Korea so that it realises provocative actions leads to further diplomatic isolation and economic pressure,” Blue House spokesman Park Soo-hyun said in a televised briefing.

The announcement followed a telephone call between Moon and Trump.

The Blue House said Moon and Trump had strongly condemned the latest missile launch by North Korea, and agreed that the two nations would work with the international community to implement the latest UN Security Council’s resolution 2375, Park said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

US softens N. Korea resolution ahead of UN vote — US Backs Down to Get Russia and China to Agree — Of five key original measures, a ban on textile exports from North Korea remained

September 11, 2017

AFP

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© AFP/File / by Philippe RATER | The Friendship Bridge that connects Sinuiju and the the Chinese city of Dandong, is the conduit for much of the trade between North Korea and China

UNITED NATIONS (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – The United States has submitted a new North Korean sanctions resolution to the UN Security Council, toning down its demands less than 24 hours before a vote, diplomats say, as it sought to bring China and Russia on board.

Washington has led the international drive to punish the rogue state after it detonated a nuclear device this month.

The US had originally pushed for a strict oil embargo, as well as a freeze on the assets of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

But late Sunday, diplomats said the asset freeze had been dropped from the draft, and it now foresaw a progressive tightening of the oil taps, instead of something sudden and complete.

Among other concessions the new text also softens proposed restrictions on North Koreans working overseas, and on the inspection by force of ships suspected of carrying cargo prohibited by the UN.

Of five key original measures, a ban on textile exports from North Korea remained.

Britain and France — permanent Security Council members along with the US, China and Russia — have given Washington their unequivocal backing.

Francois Delattre, the French ambassador to the UN, told AFP: “Maximum pressure today in the form of sanctions is our best hope for promoting a political settlement tomorrow and the best antidote to risks of confrontation.”

His British counterpart Matthew Rycroft added: “To give a chance for diplomacy to end this crisis, we need DPRK (North Korea) to change course now. That means the maximum possible pressure.”

The sticking point will be opposition from Russia and China, the North’s two main backers, who are wary of anything that might force the collapse of the regime and the resulting exodus of refugees.

In addition to bending somewhat to Moscow and Beijing, Washington has dangled the prospect of military action or cutting economic ties with countries that continue to have trade links with the North. Some 90 percent of North Korea’s exports are destined for China.

Kim Hyun-Wook, professor at the state-run Korea National Diplomatic Academy, told AFP the Americans had softened their stance because it was vital to keep Moscow and Beijing on board.

“It is only possible to criticise and rebuke China and Russia for not enforcing the sanctions if they vote for it at the UN Security Council,” he said.

“That’s why I think the US tried to draw a UN sanctions resolution that China and Russia will participate in even if it is not fully satisfactory, which has led to the easing of the initially very strong draft proposal.”

– ‘Pay the price’ –

Early Monday, North Korea said it would not accept any chastisement over its nuclear and missile programme, which it says is vital to stave off the threat of an American invasion.

If Washington does “rig up the illegal and unlawful ‘resolution’ on harsher sanctions, the DPRK shall make absolutely sure that the US pays due price,” its foreign ministry said, in a statement published by the official KCNA news agency.

The North has a long history of making florid threats against Washington and its allies without following through on them.

“The forthcoming measures to be taken by the DPRK will cause the US the greatest pain and suffering it had ever gone through in its entire history,” the ministry said.

“The world will witness how the DPRK tames the US gangsters by taking (a) series of action tougher than they have ever envisaged.”

The expected vote later Monday comes after days of hurried diplomacy with Washington seeking to convince Russia and China — veto-wielding members of the Security Council — that Pyongyang’s weapons advances cannot go unchecked.

Pyongyang has staged a series of missile tests in recent months, culminating in an intercontinental ballistic missile that appeared to bring much of the US mainland into range — ramping up tensions and earning itself a seventh set of UN Security Council sanctions.

It followed up earlier this month with a sixth nuclear test, which it said was a hydrogen bomb small enough to fit onto a missile.

That September 3 detonation was the country’s largest to date and prompted global outrage.

Monday’s expected vote is seen as a key test of resolve for the council, who united last month to adopt a resolution intended to reduce the impoverished country’s export earnings by up to a billion dollars.

by Philippe RATER

Germany open to Iran-style N. Korea talks: Merkel

September 10, 2017

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“Talks with North Korea along the lines of the deal done with Iran.”

AFP

© AFP/File | Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany will support an effort to hold talks with North Korea along the lines of the deal done with Iran

FRANKFURT AM MAIN (AFP) – Germany would lend its weight to a diplomatic push to end North Korean nuclear weapons and missile development along the lines of a past deal with Iran, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday.”I would say yes immediately if we were asked to join talks,” Merkel told weekly newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

Talks between Iran and six world powers, sealed with a 2015 deal for Tehran to roll back its nuclear programme and submit to inspections in exchange for some sanctions being rolled back, were “a long but important period of diplomacy” that had achieved a “good end,” she added.

“I could imagine such a format for the settlement of the North Korea conflict. Europe and especially Germany ought to be ready to make a very active contribution,” Merkel said.

The chancellor said she had held telephone talks with the leaders of France, the United States, China, South Korea and Japan about the North Korea crisis over the past week, and is expected to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday.

Merkel’s comments come as Washington has formally requested a Monday vote on tough new sanctions for Pyongyang at the UN Security Council.

US diplomats have called for an oil embargo, an assets freeze against leader Kim Jong-Un, a ban on textiles and an end to payments of North Korean guest workers in response to the nation’s sixth nuclear test last week.

But the measures could founder on opposition from permanent Security Council members Russia and China.

Merkel said that she backed sanctions as a means of bringing North Korea to the negotiating table.

Russia in new battle of wills with West over North Korea — Whoever will manage to solve the Korea crisis and force Pyongyang to back down, will become the “most influential ‘free agent’ in Asia.”

September 8, 2017

AFP

© KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/File / by Olga ROTENBERG, Anna SMOLCHENKO | Moscow fears that if the confrontation with Pyongyang spirals into a punitive strike or regime change then that could create chaos — and a potential new democratic US ally — on its border

MOSCOW (AFP) – As Washington and its allies push for sanctions on North Korea after its latest nuclear test, Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as one of the most strident voices against punishing Pyongyang.The United States, South Korea, Japan and EU are keen to ratchet up pressure on Kim Jong-Un by cutting oil supplies and freezing his assets, while President Donald Trump has not ruled out military action.

But Putin — whose country enjoys relatively warm relations with Pyongyang rooted in a Soviet-era alliance — insists further sanctions and threats are “useless” against a regime that feels cornered.

“They (North Koreans) will eat grass but will not give up this (nuclear) programme if they don’t feel safe,” Putin said at a summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen this week.

In pushing back against the West over North Korea, analysts say the Kremlin strongman is seeking to protect Moscow’s long-term strategic interests and maximise his own short-term political gains as ties with the US remain in the doldrums.

Moscow has “completely cynical, geopolitical reasons,” Andrei Lankov, professor at Kookmin University in Seoul and director at consultancy Korearisk.com, told AFP.

For the sake of regional stability and influence, the Kremlin will look to shield the Stalinist regime from serious retribution because Russia sees the current status quo as a lesser evil.

– ‘Disastrous consequences’ –

Moscow fears that if the confrontation with Pyongyang spirals into a punitive strike or regime change then that could create chaos — and a potential new democratic US ally — on its border.

Lankov said the Kremlin — which has repeatedly voiced concern over NATO encroaching on its borders — does not want a new “democratic, national, pro-American” state on its eastern flank if the Kim dynasty is ousted.

“That scenario does not suit either China or Russia,” said Lankov, who lived in the isolated state and is the author of “The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia.”

The prospect of a US nuclear strike and subsequent chaos and a refugee exodus is even more scary than a democratic country on Russia’s doorstep, said another Korea scholar, Alexander Zhebin.

“A military conflict on the peninsula would have disastrous consequences for the Koreans and the entire region,” said Zhebin, director of the Center for Korean Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, adding that South Korea — with its 25 nuclear reactors – was especially vulnerable.

“Where would 70 million people go to live?” said Zhebin, referring to a combined population of the two Koreas. “Radiation will also badly affect Russia and China.”

While the doom-and-gloom scenario is still seen by many as an unlikely occurence, experts say Putin is seeking to use the global jitters to reap benefits on the international arena.

– ‘Trump card’ –

Promoting himself as a negotiator capable of dealing with pariah regimes, Putin will once again polish his foreign policy credentials ahead of a 2018 presidential election which he is expected to win.

The veteran Kremlin leader has positioned Moscow as a buffer between a bellicose Trump and unyielding Kim and is keen to be seen as a voice of reason amid all the super-charged rhetoric.

Over the past days, he has discussed Korea with foreign leaders as he sought to impart his knowledge of the North to his counterparts.

He says Kim would not forget the fate of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi who gave up his country’s nuclear programme but ended up being killed in an uprising in 2011.

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, has refused to say whether it will support a draft sanctions resolution against North Korea.

Washington wants to have a vote at the Security Council on Monday, diplomats say.

By contrast, Moscow and Beijing, North Korea’s sole major ally, have called for a simultaneous freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile tests and military exercises by Washington.

“As practice shows, China does not decide anything — either it can’t or does not want to or both. And other countries can count on Russia becoming a communication channel,” said Andrei Baklitskiy, an expert with PIR Center, a Moscow think tank.

“This can be used by Russia as a trump card.”

Fyodor Lukyanov, the Kremlin-connected chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, wrote in a government paper that whoever will manage to solve the Korea crisis and force Pyongyang to back down, will become the “most influential ‘free agent’ in Asia.”

by Olga ROTENBERG, Anna SMOLCHENKO