Posts Tagged ‘nuclear weapons’

North Korea Expands Long-Range Missile Base, Analysts Say

December 7, 2018

Pyongyang is also still producing nuclear weapons, according to researchers studying satellite images, casting a new shadow over disarmament talks

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SEOUL—North Korea is expanding military facilities thought to house long-range missiles that can hit the U.S., according to a think-tank report that revives doubts about the regime’s sincerity in disarmament negotiations.

Pyongyang is still producing nuclear weapons and appears to be upgrading a missile base near the Chinese border, according to the analysis by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif., based on satellite imagery taken in recent months.

“The missile base at Yeongjeo-dong has long been a concern to U.S. and South Korean officials because of its unique location,” the report said, referring to the border site, which it said is likely to receive the North’s latest weapons.

Seven miles away, North Korea has been building new facilities that appear to be either another missile base or an expansion of the Yeongjeo-dong facility, said the Middlebury analysis, first reported by CNN.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul declined to comment.

U.S. officials have questioned whether North Korea is serious about giving up nuclear weapons as negotiations falter due to disagreements over U.S.-led sanctions and the pace of North Korean disarmament.

North Korea insists it has made significant concessions, including dismantling a missile launch site and a nuclear-weapons test site, and has called for the lifting of sanctions that ban or limit its trade in coal, textiles and raw materials. Washington has refused to ease sanctions until Pyongyang takes more concrete steps toward denuclearization.

Expansion of the Yeongjeo-dong site wouldn’t necessarily violate the agreement that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump reached in Singapore in June.

The deal obliges both sides to pursue new relations and “to work toward complete denuclearization”—vague phrases that were drafted by Pyongyang officials, according to a former senior North Korean official who defected to the South. The lack of specifics in the agreement has given diplomats room to negotiate, but also failed to bridge fundamental disagreements between the sides.

The U.S., though, has kept open the possibility of another summit between the two leaders, which Mr. Trump has said could take place early in the new year.

Meanwhile, warming inter-Korean relations are complicating the nuclear calculus.

South Korea has been urging Washington to accept some North Korean demands for a partial lifting of sanctions. Such a step would allow for renewed economic engagement between North and South, a goal of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

But the South Korean leader has been cautious not to get too far out ahead of his U.S. ally. In a meeting with Mr. Trump last weekend, Mr. Moon expressed continued support for sanctions on Pyongyang, according to his spokesman.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and South Korea have worked to ease tensions with Pyongyang by scaling back joint military exercises this week. North Korea likewise toned down its usual criticism of the maneuvers, only briefly calling the exercises a “dangerous” move in a short article on its state media.

Write to Andrew Jeong at


Growing split in Seoul over North Korea threatens Korea detente, nuclear talks

December 5, 2018

When Seoul was preparing to open a liaison office in the North Korean city of Kaesong this summer after a decade of virtually no contact with its longtime enemy, South Korean officials had heated debates over whether they should seek approval from Washington.

Image result for Moon Jae-in, Kim Jong Un photos

Some top aides to President Moon Jae-in stressed it was an issue for the two Koreas alone and there was no need to involve their U.S. ally, two people with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.

But to the surprise of several officials at the meeting, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon argued Washington must be consulted because Seoul’s plans might run afoul of sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

South Korean President Still Hopes to Host Kim Jong Un This Year

Two dozen countries including the Britain, Germany and Sweden already have embassies in Pyongyang, and other officials saw the proposed liaison office as a far lower-level of contact with the North.

Explainer: South Korea’s unique Unification Ministry has thorny task of handling ties with North

And they certainly did not expect Cho to be a leading advocate of strict enforcement of sanctions. Cho was Moon’s personal choice to head the ministry, whose prime mission is to foster reconciliation, cooperation and eventual reunification with the North.

Cho, whose 30 year public service history has been inextricably linked to reunification, was even sacked from the ministry in 2008 over his “dovish” stance toward Pyongyang.

At the suggestion of Cho and senior diplomats, Seoul ultimately sought U.S. consent before opening the office in September, one of the sources said.

All the sources spoke to condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the matter.

Cho declined to comment for this article, but a senior official at the Unification Ministry said it was aware of criticisms of Cho.

“Inter-Korean ties are unique in their nature, but it’s been difficult, and there’s North Korea’s duplicity. It’s a dilemma we face, or our fate,” the official said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.


The previously unreported debate among Moon’s top officials illustrates a growing divide within South Korea over how to progress relations with the North while keeping Washington on side.

Some corners of the administration argue Seoul can’t afford to be seen veering from the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure campaign until Pyongyang gives up its nuclear weapons program, while others feel closer inter-Korean ties can help expedite the stalled diplomatic process, several officials close to the situation say.

“If the internal rift leads to moving too quickly with the North without sufficient U.S. consultations, it could pose a setback to not only the nuclear talks but also the alliance and inter-Korean relations,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

After the inter-Korean thaw gave way to reconciliation efforts between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year, Trump asked Moon to be “chief negotiator” between the two.

That task has become increasingly difficult as Washington and Pyongyang blame each other for the faltering nuclear talks.

U.S. officials insist punishing sanctions must remain until North Korea completely denuclearises. North Korea says it has already made concessions by dismantling key facilities and Washington must reciprocate by easing sanctions and declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

“Unlike other advisers, Minister Cho has balanced his staunch desire for peace with an understanding of the importance of retaining a strong South Korea-U.S. alignment,” said Patrick Cronin of the Centre for a New American Security, an Asia expert in close touch with both U.S. and South Korean officials.

“Some alliance discord is inevitable and not worrisome. What would be worrisome would be a clear rupture in South Korea-U.S. approaches for managing North Korea.”

The presidential Blue House declined to comment, but Moon told reporters on Monday the view that there was discord between South Korea and the United States was “groundless” because there is no difference in the two countries’ positions on the North’s denuclearization.


A third source familiar with the presidential office’s thinking said there was mounting frustration with Cho within the Blue House and even inside the Unification Ministry amid concerns he worried too much about U.S. views.

“What the president would want from him as the unification minister is to come up with bold ideas to make his pet initiatives happen,” the source said.

During three summits this year, Moon and Kim agreed to re-link railways and roads, and when conditions are met, restart the joint factory park in Kaesong and tours to the North’s Mount Kumgang resort that have been suspended for years.

None of those plans have made much headway, either because sanctions ban them outright, or as in the case of Kaesong, Seoul took time to convince skeptical U.S. officials that cross-border projects wouldn’t undermine sanctions.

North Korea itself has been an unpredictable partner. Discussions through the Kaesong office have been few and far between, with Pyongyang’s negotiators often failing to show up for scheduled weekly meetings without notice, Unification Ministry officials say.

Even so, the Kaesong move has caused tensions with Washington.

U.S. officials told Seoul that South Korea’s explanations on the Kaesong office were not “satisfactory,” the South’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told a parliamentary hearing in August.

Full Coverage: North Korea revealed 

Washington was also caught off guard when a group of businessmen who used to operate factories in the now-closed Kaesong industrial park were invited for the opening ceremony of the office, a diplomatic source in Seoul said.

The allies launched a working group last month led by their nuclear envoys to coordinate North Korean policy. It was borne out of U.S. desire to “keep inter-Korean relations in check,” the source said.

Asked about the Kaesong office, a U.S. State Department official said: “We expect all member states to fully implement U.N. sanctions, including sectoral goods banned under UN Security Council resolution, and expect all nations to take their responsibilities seriously to help end (North Korea’s) illegal nuclear and missile programs.”

Another State official said the United States endorsed April’s inter-Korean summit agreement during its own summit with North Korea “because progress on inter-Korean relations must happen in lockstep with progress on denuclearization.”

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Cho in Washington, bluntly warning him that inter-Korean cooperation and progress on nuclear negotiations should “remain aligned.”


Even as he faced pressure from Washington to hold a tough line, Cho was being criticized for dragging his feet on reconciliation.

In May, the North called off planned talks with the South led by Cho in protest against U.S.-South Korean air combat exercises. When the meeting eventually took place, Cho’s counterpart, Ri Son Gwon, openly blamed Cho for having caused a “grave situation” that resulted in the cancellation of the talks.

At the Kaesong office opening, factory owners pressed Cho to reopen the complex and said they were dismayed at the Unification Ministry for repeatedly rejecting requests to visit the border city to check on equipment and facilities idled since the 2016 shutdown.

“We’ve expressed, directly and indirectly, our complaint that the minister may be too lukewarm about our requests, even though allowing the trip has nothing to do with sanctions,” said Shin Han-yong, who chairs a group of businessmen with plants in Kaesong.

Cho recently told the parliament the delays are due to scheduling issues with the North, adding the ministry “needs more time to explain the overall circumstances” to the international community.

Shin, the expert at Asan, warned any move to undermine sanctions may expose South Korean companies to risks of punishment.

After Moon and Kim’s summit in Pyongyang in September, a senior U.S. Treasury official called compliance officers at seven South Korean banks to warn them that resuming financial cooperation with North Korea “does not align with U.S. policies” and the banks must comply with U.N. and U.S. financial sanctions, according to a South Korean regulatory document.

“Realistically we have no option but to consider U.S. positions, as the top priority is the North’s denuclearization and the United States has the biggest leverage on that,” said Kim Hyung-suk, who served as vice unification minister until last year.

“Without progress on the nuclear issues, there would be constraints at some point in sustaining inter-Korean ties. And Minister Cho knows that.”

Editing by Soyoung Kim and Lincoln Feast.


How to confront Iran’s new ballistic missile tests

December 4, 2018

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday disclosed that Iran had recently test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying multiple warheads and able to reach most of the Middle East and parts of Europe. Pompeo stressed that Iran was, as such, in clear breach of UN Security Council resolution 2231.

After the US disclosure, Iran admitted to the test, saying that it would continue testing ballistic missiles, but denied that it was violating the resolution.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AFP)

The ballistic missile test and Iran’s public admission have put the EU in a difficult spot, as it has been leading its reluctant membership to keep Iran’s nuclear deal, which is also governed by resolution 2231. The EU has taken extraordinary measures to safeguard the nuclear deal and shield Iran and European companies from US sanctions.


By Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

Resolution 2231 calls on Iran to refrain from “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” The scrutiny regime imposed by this resolution, which was adopted in 2015, reinforces restrictions that had been imposed by the earlier resolution 1929, which the Security Council adopted in 2010.

Since the American disclosure of Iran’s breach, the UK and France — key European partners in the nuclear deal with Iran — expressed concern. On Monday, they condemned Iran’s missile testing, calling it a provocative action that contributes to destabilizing the area.

On Tuesday, France and Britain asked for a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Iran’s violation. However, that meeting was not expected to produce any results because of a potential veto from Russia, which is involved in developing Iran’s missile program and is keen to shield it from criticism.

What to do then about Iran’s missile program, given Tehran’s declared intention to continue developing and testing its missiles?

The countries of the region, which are directly threatened by Iran’s missile program, need to bolster their defenses.

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

The UNSC may be deadlocked because of the potential Russian veto, thus making it difficult for the UN to deal with Iran’s defiance. The countries of the region, which are directly threatened by Iran’s missile program, need to bolster their own defenses against the growing threat of Iranian missile development.

Saudi Arabia has already been subjected to hundreds of Iranian-supplied short- and medium-range missiles launched by the Houthi militia from Yemen over the past three years. The technology used in those missiles, and more recently unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), is evolving. The recent test-firing of missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads increases the potential destruction that they could wreak. The possibility that those missiles and drones could carry nuclear warheads or others weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) should not be ruled out.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) last week organized a public conference in Riyadh to discuss Iranian threats. Military and strategic experts from the region stressed the need to bolster the GCC’s capabilities to meet the growing threats of Iran’s proliferation of ballistic missiles and drones, as well as WMDs carried by those devices.

The GCC takes into consideration not only the existing technologies that Iran and its proxies possess, but the potential for more sophisticated capabilities in the future, with the help of Russian, Chinese or North Korean experts. The recent launch represents an escalation and Iran declared last week that it will continue to develop its missile capabilities, aiming for longer range and more destructive weapons.

The GCC strategy, discussed at last week’s conference in Riyadh, is multi-pronged. Saudi Arabia’s missile defenses have demonstrated their capacity to withstand the attacks launched by the Houthis using Iranian-supplied missiles and drones. The Kingdom and its GCC partners are developing those defenses to withstand more sophisticated missiles that may be launched in large numbers simultaneously. The GCC and the US have also held discussions on building an integrated, GCC-wide ballistic missile defense network that provides such capabilities.

At the same time, the GCC is trying to deal diplomatically with ballistic missile proliferation in the Gulf. It has called on the UNSC to strengthen the oversight and inspection regime included in resolution 2231. All states, but especially UNSC permanent members, should refrain from helping Iran develop its missile program. The GCC has also offered Iran a way out of confrontation. The arms race that Iran has started is putting pressure on the region’s resources and diverting funds from development.

The GCC is also working with close allies, especially the US and UK, to deal with Iran’s threats. The US is bolstering its military presence in the region, which is already one of the most guarded in the world. The USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and accompanying war ships are scheduled to arrive in a few days. This armada will end an eight-month hiatus in the US military presence, and it demonstrates a renewed show of force against Iran. Similarly, the UK is bolstering its military footprint in the region, from Kuwait to Oman and other GCC countries.

The objective is to persuade Iran to sue for peace and ensure that it will have nothing to gain, in the long run, from military escalation.

  • Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

North Korean and Syrian foreign ministers meet in Damascus

December 4, 2018

Syria and North Korea’s foreign ministers met in Damascus on Tuesday, officials said, and thanked each other for their support during years of international isolation.

North Korea’s Ri Yong Ho thanked Walid Al-Moualem for Syria’s opposition to economic sanctions on Pyongyang, according to Syria’s foreign ministry. Moualem said Syria was grateful for North Korea’s support in international forums.

North Korea’s Ri Yong Ho (L) thanked Walid Al-Moualem (R) for Syria’s opposition to economic sanctions on Pyongyang. (File/AFP)

United Nations monitors say the relationship has gone deeper than diplomacy and accused North Korea in February of cooperating with Syria on chemical weapons — a charge North Korea denied.

Israel in 2007 bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in eastern Syria which it said was being constructed with help from North Korea and had been months away from activation.

Syria, a signatory of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has always denied that the site was a reactor or that Damascus engaged in nuclear cooperation with North Korea.

Both countries have faced international isolation, North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, and Syria over its nearly eight-year-old civil war.

A Syrian parliamentary delegation visited North Korea in October.


Trump Wants Another Meeting With North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

December 2, 2018


US President Donald Trump said Saturday he hoped to organize a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in early 2019, perhaps as soon as January or February.

Trump told reporters traveling home to Washington with him aboard Air Force One from Argentina that “three sites” were in consideration for the meeting, a follow-up to their historic summit in Singapore in June.

When asked about a future meeting, Trump said: “I think we’re going to do one fairly (soon) — into January, February, I think.”

Trump had been in Buenos Aires for the Group of 20 summit.

When asked Saturday if he would ever host Kim in the United States, the Republican president replied: “At some point, yeah.”

© Korea Summit Press Pool/AFP/File | North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (L) and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in have met three times in 2018 — the first was in April at the truce village of Panmunjom but they first shook hands at the Military Demarcation Line dividing their nations

In June, Trump and Kim opened up dialogue on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula after months of trading military threats and pointed barbs.

The two leaders signed a vaguely worded document on denuclearization of the peninsula, but progress since has stalled as Washington and Pyongyang spar over the meaning of the document.

North Korea has taken few concrete steps to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to meet with a top North Korean official in early November, but the meeting was abruptly put off, with North Korea insisting that Washington ease sanctions.

On Friday, Trump discussed the situation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

The pair “reaffirmed their commitment to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

They agreed on the need for “maintaining vigorous enforcement of existing sanctions to ensure the DPRK understands that denuclearization is the only path,” Sanders said, using the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

– Kim visit to Seoul this year? –

But differences have emerged between Washington and Seoul on how to proceed with Kim, as the dovish Moon has long favored engagement with the North.

North and South Korea have begun to remove landmines and destroy military bunkers at parts of their common border as part of efforts to improve long-strained relations.

They have also begun work to reconnect a train line and repair another rail link across the border.

Despite the warming ties, it remains unclear whether Kim will make his first-ever visit to the South this year, as Seoul is hoping.

Kim agreed to travel to Seoul after hosting Moon in Pyongyang in September for their third summit this year.

But prospects of a fourth Moon-Kim meeting have recently dimmed, with negotiations on denuclearizing the North grinding to a halt.

In his talks with Trump in Argentina, Moon earned some support for the Seoul summit from the US leader — perhaps in a bid to entice Kim to make good on his pledge.

The two leaders said Kim’s visit to the South Korean capital “would provide additional momentum to their joint efforts to establish peace on the Korean peninsula,” Moon’s press secretary Yoon Young-chan said.


In North Korea, Missile Bases Suggest a Great Deception

November 12, 2018

North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images, a network long known to American intelligence agencies but left undiscussed as President Trump claims to have neutralized the North’s nuclear threat.

The satellite images suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception: It has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads.

Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un is thought to be under pressure as a young leader. GETTY IMAGES

The existence of the ballistic missile bases, which North Korea has never acknowledged, contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile program that the North had warned could devastate the United States.

“We are in no rush,” Mr. Trump said of talks with the North at a news conference on Wednesday, after Republicans lost control of the House. “The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home.”

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

A satellite image of a secret North Korean ballistic missile base. The North has offered to dismantle a different major missile launching site while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others. Credit  CSIS/Beyond Parallel, via DigitalGlobe 2018

His statement was true in just one sense. Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to the halt of missile flight tests, which have not occurred in nearly a year. But American intelligence officials say that the North’s production of nuclear material, of new nuclear weapons and of missiles that can be placed on mobile launchers and hidden in mountains at the secret bases has continued.

And the sanctions are collapsing, in part because North Korea has leveraged its new, softer-sounding relationship with Washington, and its stated commitment to eventual denuclearization, to resume trade with Russia and China.

Moreover, an American program to track those mobile missiles with a new generation of small, inexpensive satellites, disclosed by The New York Times more than a year ago, is stalled. The Pentagon once hoped to have the first satellites over North Korea by now, giving it early warning if the mobile missiles are rolled out of mountain tunnels and prepared for launch.

But because of a series of budget and bureaucratic disputes, the early warning system, begun by the Obama administration and handed off to the Trump administration, has yet to go into operation. Current and former officials, who said they could not publicly discuss the program because it is heavily classified, said there was still hope of launching the satellites, but they offered no timeline.

The secret ballistic missile bases were identified in a detailed study published Monday by the Beyond Parallel program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank in Washington.

The existence of a series of ballistic missile bases contradicts President Trump’s assertion that his diplomacy with North Korea is leading to the elimination of its nuclear and missile program. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

The program, which focuses on the prospects of North-South integration, is led by Victor Cha, a prominent North Korea expert whom the Trump administration considered appointing as the ambassador to South Korea last year. His name was pulled back when he objected to the White House strategy for dealing with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

A State Department spokesman responded to the findings with a written statement suggesting that the government believed the sites must be dismantled: “President Trump has made clear that should Chairman Kim follow through on his commitments, including complete denuclearization and the elimination of ballistic missile programs, a much brighter future lies ahead for North Korea and its people.” A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment.

The revelation of the bases comes as Mr. Trump’s signature piece of diplomacy, based on his meeting exactly five months ago with Mr. Kim, appears in peril. Publicly, Mr. Trump remains relentlessly optimistic, to the point that he said at a campaign rally that he and Mr. Kim, one of the world’s most brutal dictators, “fell in love.” But last week, talks with the North hit another snag, as it declared that it would not send its chief negotiator to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York to plan the next summit meeting.

Since the initial meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, on June 12 in Singapore, the North has yet to take the first step toward denuclearization: providing the United States with a list of its nuclear sites, weapons, production facilities and missile bases. North Korean officials have told Mr. Pompeo that would amount to giving him a “target list.”

American officials have responded that they already have a detailed target list — one that goes back decades — but want to use the North’s accounting to determine whether it is revealing all the known facilities and moving honestly toward denuclearization.

The new satellite imagery suggests the opposite.

“It’s not like these bases have been frozen,” Mr. Cha, the leader of the team that studied the images, said in an interview. “Work is continuing. What everybody is worried about is that Trump is going to accept a bad deal — they give us a single test site and dismantle a few other things, and in return they get a peace agreement” that formally ends the Korean War.

Mr. Trump, he said, “would then declare victory, say he got more than any other American president ever got, and the threat would still be there.”

The North Korea experts who have examined the images believe that the North’s motivations are fairly easy to interpret. “It looks like they’re trying to maximize their capabilities,” Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a co-author of the report and a veteran analyst of satellite images of North Korea, said in an interview. “Any missile at these bases can take a nuclear warhead.”

“The level of effort that North Korea has invested in building these bases and dispersing them is impressive,” he added. “It’s very logical from a survival point of view.”

Weapons experts, as well as Mr. Pompeo, say that North Korea, despite engaging in denuclearization talks, continues to produce the fissile material that fuels nuclear arms. The North is believed to have about 40 to 60 nuclear warheads.

The new report profiles a missile base known as Sakkanmol, a little more than 50 miles north of the Demilitarized Zone. It is one of the closest to South Korea. Seoul, the capital, is about 80 miles away, as are American troops.


Support facilities within the base, which is a little more than 50 miles north of the Demilitarized Zone. Credit CSIS/Beyond Parallel, via DigitalGlobe 2018

The report contains a dozen or so satellite images of Sakkanmol — each heavily annotated to show the base checkpoint, headquarters buildings, barracks, security areas, maintenance depots and the entrances to the warrens of underground tunnels that hide mobile missiles and their transporter trucks.


Fears Grow As North Korea Possibly Building Up Nuclear Capability

November 9, 2018

North Korea could be quietly moving forward with its nuclear weapons program while stalling talks on denuclearization — as differences between the United States and South Korea raise new concerns, analysts said.

(AFP/ File Photo)

In a week that began with fresh threats from Pyongyang to restart its nuclear program over the weekend, followed by the abrupt cancellation of a planned meeting in New York between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean official Kim Yong Chol, the latest setbacks are not surprising given the regime’s escalating rhetoric, North Korea watchers say.

Terence Roehrig, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, in Newport, R.I., said there is no way of confirming whether North Korea has abandoned its weapons of mass destruction.

“Moving forward with their nuclear program doesn’t necessarily involve testing in the high profile ways they’ve done it in the past,” Roehrig said. “And we’ve already seen evidence where there are indicators that the North Koreans have continued to move forward with their nuclear program.”

Roehrig said it is “not a surprise” there is little progress on denuclearization.

“There’s no deal in place yet,” he said. “I remain skeptical North Korea is going to be willing to give up its nuclear weapons.”

Bruce Bennett, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, told UPI Kim Jong Un may be doing as he pleases while he continues to engage U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Trump said Wednesday during his press conference on the U.S. midterm election he plans to meet with Kim in early 2019.

“We’re very happy how it’s going with North Korea,” the president said. “We think it’s going fine…We’re in no rush. We’re in no hurry. The sanctions are still on.”

Bennett is skeptical North Korea’s goals are compatible with U.S. objectives.

“Kim has not surrendered a single nuclear weapon and certainly the number of nuclear weapons is one of the best indicators of whether or not he is denuclearizing,” the analyst said. “In fact he appears to be building more nuclear weapons, going in exactly the opposite direction he’s promised to.”

Trump did not provide details on the reason for the postponed meeting between Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol, after the U.S. State Department said the meeting will “reconvene when our respective schedules permit.”

It is also unclear whether the delay was initiated by North Korea or the Trump administration, but the move is hardly surprising, says Sharon Squassoni, a research professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

“The question is can anybody in the Trump administration be flexible or creative enough to come up with a fix or an option that meets assumptions and expectations,” the analyst said. “When one side has preconditions, it’s really difficult to even start talking.”

U.S., South Korea marines hold small-scale exercise ahead of North Korea talks

November 5, 2018

About 500 United States and South Korean marines began small-scale military drills on Monday, just days before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to hold talks with North Korea on denuclearization and plans for a second summit of their leaders.

The Korean Marine Exchange Program was among the training drills indefinitely suspended in June after U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore and promised to end joint, U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

Although larger exercises were suspended, the two countries have continued small-scale drills, the South’s Ministry of National Defense said on Monday, adding that the marines were holding a training round near the southern city of Pohang.

Troops engage in South Korea-U.S. combined marine drills on Baengnyeong Island on Nov. 6, 2017 in this photo provided by Seoul's Marine Corps. (Yonhap)

Troops engage in South Korea-U.S. combined marine drills on Baengnyeong Island on Nov. 6, 2017 in this photo provided by Seoul’s Marine Corps. (Yonhap)

Pompeo, interviewed on broadcaster CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said on Sunday he would be in New York City at the end of this week to meet his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol.

“I expect we’ll make some real progress, including an effort to make sure that the summit between our two leaders can take place, where we can make substantial steps towards denuclearization,” he added.

In Washington last week, South Korea’s defence minister said the two countries would decide by December on major joint military exercises for 2019. Vigilant Ace, suspended this month, is one of several such exercises halted to encourage dialogue with Pyongyang, which has criticised joint U.S.-South Korea exercises in the past.

The biggest combat-readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan has gone ahead, however, with nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan joining Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship in the ocean off Japan, another key player in the effort to pressure North Korea.

Image result for USS Ronald Reagan, Photos

USS Ronald Reagan

This week’s exercises follow a warning by North Korea on Friday that it could resume development of its nuclear programme if the United States did not drop its campaign of “maximum pressure” and sanctions.

“The improvement of relations and sanctions are incompatible,” a foreign ministry official said in a statement released through state-run KCNA news agency.

“The U.S. thinks that its oft-repeated ‘sanctions and pressure’ lead to ‘denuclearization.’ We cannot help laughing at such a foolish idea.”

South Korea hopes the North and the United States will make “big progress” during the talks set for this week, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said on Monday, but declined to comment on the North’s Friday statement.

North Korea has not tested a ballistic missile or nuclear weapon for nearly a year, and has said it has shuttered its main nuclear test site with plans to dismantle several more facilities.

In recent weeks, North Korea has pressed harder for what it sees as reciprocal concessions by the United States and other countries.

“As shown, the U.S. is totally to blame for all the problems on the Korean peninsula, including the nuclear issue and therefore, the very one that caused all those must untie the knot it made,” it said on Friday.

American officials have remained sceptical of Kim’s commitment to give up his nuclear arsenal, however, and Washington says it will not support easing international sanctions until more verified progress is made.

Pompeo, interviewed on television’s “Fox News Sunday,” said the Trump administration wants a full, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, adding that Trump insisted on “no economic relief until we have achieved our ultimate objective.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s continuing efforts to engage with North Korea have fanned U.S. concerns that Seoul could weaken pressure on North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.

Reporting by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee; additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington and Soyoung Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Catherine Evans and Lisa Shumaker




North Korea threatens to resume nuclear development over US sanctions

November 3, 2018

North Korea on Friday threatened to revive a state policy aimed at nuclear development if the U.S. does not lift economic sanctions imposed on the country.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that North Korea is facing pressure from the U.S. and South Korea to relinquish its nuclear program, NBC News reported.

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Kim Jong Un To Visit Seoul Soon, Says South Korea President

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang in September. (File)

North Korea did not threaten to pull out of ongoing nuclear negotiations with Washington, but floated the idea of bringing back its “pyongjin” policy” to advance its nuclear force.

“If the U.S. keeps behaving arrogantly without showing any change in its stand, while failing to properly understand our repeated demand, the DPRK may add one thing to the state policy for directing all efforts to the economic construction adopted in April and as a result, the word ‘pyongjin’ may appear again,” the statement reads, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The statement marks the first time North Korea has signaled a chance at resuming nuclear weapons tests and further development since the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, signed the new state policy, NBC News reported.

Image result for Donald Trump, with Kim Jong Un

The Foreign Ministry’s statement, released under the name of the director of the ministry’s Institute for American Studies, said the “improvement of relations and sanctions is incompatible,” according to NBC News.

“The U.S. thinks that its oft-repeated ‘sanctions and pressure’ leads to ‘denuclearization.’ We cannot help laughing at such a foolish idea,” it said.

NBC News noted that the statement did not elaborate what commitments were being blocked.

Pyongyang accused Washington of trying to disrupt promises made between Kim and President Trump when they met during a historic summit in Singapore this summer.

The two leaders signed an agreement committing the United States to unspecified “security guarantees” in exchange for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Trump also decided to call off joint military exercises with South Korea. In exchange, North Korea said it unilaterally suspended nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and closed a nuclear testing facility.

North Korea’s “proactive and good-will measures” were supposed to be met with reciprocity by the U.S. in lifting sanctions, the Foreign Ministry said, according to NBC News.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said last month that the country is contemplating lifting some of the sanctions it has imposed against North Korea in an effort to further improve relations between the two countries.

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South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha

The South has had unilateral sanctions in place against North Korea since a 2010 attack on a warship killed 45 sailors from South Korea.


North Korea readies nuclear, missile sites for international inspectors

October 31, 2018

South Korea’s spy agency has observed preparations by North Korea for international inspections at several of its nuclear and missile test sites, the Yonhap news agency said on Wednesday, citing a South Korean lawmaker.

Kim Min-ki of the ruling Democratic Party told reporters that intelligence officials had observed what they believed to be preparations for possible inspections at Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the Sohae Satellite launching ground.

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The South’s National Intelligence Service observed North Koreans “conducting preparation and intelligence activities that seem to be in preparation for foreign inspectors’ visit,” the lawmaker added, but no major movements were seen at Yongbyon.

Yongbyon is the North’s main nuclear complex.

North Korea has stopped nuclear and missile tests in the past year, but it did not allow international inspections of its dismantling of Punggye-ri in May, drawing criticism that the action was merely for show and could be reversed.

Image result for North Korea, nuclear, photos

In September, its leader Kim Jong Un pledged at a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to also close Sohae and allow experts to observe the dismantling of the missile engine testing site and a launch pad.

At the time, Moon said North Korea agreed to let international inspectors observe a “permanent dismantlement” of key missile facilities, and take further steps, such as closing Yongbyon, in return for reciprocal moves by the United States.

Washington has demanded steps such as a full disclosure of the North’s nuclear and missile facilities, before agreeing to Pyongyang’s key goals, including an easing of international sanctions and an official end to the Korean War.

American officials have been skeptical of Kim’s commitment to giving up nuclear weapons, but the North’s pledge at the summit with the South drew an enthusiastic response from President Donald Trump.

Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez