DPRK (North Korea) Chronology for 2017


DPRK (NORTH KOREA) CHRONOLOGY FOR 2017
Compiled by
Leon V. Sigal
Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project
Contact:


1/1/17:
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said that his country was making final preparations to conduct its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile — a bold statement less than a month before the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump. In his annual New Year’s Day speech, which was broadcast on the North’s state-run KCTV on Sunday, Mr. Kim spoke proudly of the strides he said his country has made in its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. He said that North Korea would continue to bolster its weapons programs as long as the United States remained hostile and continued its joint military exercises with South Korea. “We have reached the final stage in preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic rocket,” he said. Analysts in the region have said that Kim might conduct another weapons test in coming months, taking advantage of leadership changes in the United States and South Korea. Kim’s speech indicated that North Korea may test-launch a long-range rocket several times this year to complete its ICBM program, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute of South Korea. “We need to take note of the fact that this is the first New Year’s speech where Kim Jong-un mentioned an intercontinental ballistic missile,” he said. Doubt still runs deep that North Korea has mastered all technology needed to build a reliable ICBM. But analysts in the region said that the North’s launchings of three-stage rockets to put satellites into orbit in recent years showed that the country had cleared some key technological hurdles. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Says It’s Close to Long-Range Missile Test,” New York Times, January 2, 2016, p. A-3)

New Year’s Day Address: “Dear Comrades, Having seen out 2016, in which we glorified each and every day with gigantic struggle, creating a new history of great prosperity unprecedented in the history of the Juche revolution, we are seeing in the new year 2017. …Last year, amid the soaring revolutionary enthusiasm of all the Party members, service personnel and other people and great interest of the world, the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea was held in a meaningful and splendid way as a grand political festival. The congress proudly reviewed our Party’s glorious history of advancing the revolutionary cause of Juche along the victorious road under the wise leadership of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and unfolded an ambitious blueprint for accomplishing the socialist cause under the banner of Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism. Through this historic congress, the iron will of our service personnel and people to continuously march along the road of Juche following the Party was fully demonstrated, and lasting groundwork for the Korean revolution was laid. It will be etched in the history of our country as a meeting of victors that demonstrated the invincible might of the great Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist party, as a glorious meeting that set up a new milestone in carrying out the revolutionary cause of Juche. Last year an epochal turn was brought about in consolidating the defense capability of Juche Korea, and our country achieved the status of a nuclear power, a military giant, in the East which no enemy, however formidable, would dare to provoke. We conducted the first H-bomb test, test-firing of various means of strike and nuclear warhead test successfully to cope with the imperialists’ nuclear war threats, which were growing more wicked day by day, briskly developed state-of-the-art military hardware, and entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile; we achieved other marvelous successes one after another for the consolidation of the defense capability. This provided a powerful military guarantee for defending the destiny of the country and nation and victoriously advancing the cause of building a powerful socialist country. Our valiant People’s Army reliably defended the security of the country and the gains of the revolution by resolutely frustrating the enemy’s reckless moves for aggression and war, and gave perfect touches to its political and ideological aspects and military and technical preparations, as befits an invincible army. The brilliant successes achieved in the sector of national defense instilled a great national dignity and courage in our people, drove the imperialists and other reactionary forces into an ignominious defeat, and remarkably raised the strategic position of our country. Last year we achieved proud successes in the 70-day campaign and 200-day campaign organized for glorifying the Seventh Congress of the Party. These campaigns were a do-or-die struggle in which all the people smashed to smithereens the enemy’s vicious schemes to isolate and suffocate our country and brought about a turning point on all fronts where a powerful socialist country is being built, a massive struggle of creation that gave birth to a new Mallima era. Thanks to the heroic struggle of the Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s working class and all other people, the ambitious goals the Party set for the 70-day campaign and 200-day campaign were attained with success and a fresh breakthrough was made in the development of the national economy. Our resourceful, talented scientists and technicians, following the successful launch of the earth observation satellite Kwangmyongsong 4, succeeded in the static firing test of new-type high-thrust motor of the launch vehicle for a geostationary satellite. By doing so, they have opened up a broad avenue to the exploration of outer space. Also, they established fully-automated, model production systems of our own style, bred high-yielding strains with a view to ramping up agricultural production and achieved other laudable scientific and technological breakthroughs one after another. All this will be of great significance in developing the country’s economy and improving the people’s livelihood. The electric-power, coal-mining, metallurgical, chemical and building-materials industries, rail transport and other major sectors of the national economy attained their respective production and transport goals, thereby demonstrating the potential of our self-supporting economy and giving a powerful impetus to the building of a socialist economic giant. Numerous industrial establishments and cooperative farms registered the proud success of surpassing the peak-year level. The People’s Army stood in the vanguard in adding lustre to the history of “gold seas” and in creating a legendary speed at important construction sites. The sectors of education, public health and sports, too, made admirable achievements. When some areas in North Hamgyong Province were devastated by a sudden natural calamity, the whole country turned out in the restoration effort in hearty response to the Party’s appeal and achieved a miraculous success in a short span of time. During the 70-day campaign and 200-day campaign we created a new spirit of the times for building a powerful socialist country, and our people’s trust in the Party and confidence in socialism grew firmer. Last year, in which the whole country kept on seething with vigor day and night, all the Party members and other working people, youth and service personnel gave full scope to the indomitable attacking spirit of braving ordeals and difficulties, the death-defying mettle of answering the Party’s call with devotion and practice in any adversity, and the collectivist might of helping one another and leading one another forward to advance by leaps and bounds. …We should wage a vigorous all-people, general offensive to hit the targets of the five-year strategy on the strength of self-reliance and self-development. The strength of self-reliance and self-development is that of science and technology, and the shortcut to implementing the five-year strategy is to give importance and precedence to science and technology. The sector of science and technology should concentrate efforts on solving scientific and technological problems arising in modernizing factories and enterprises and putting their production on a regular footing with the main emphasis on ensuring the domestic production of raw materials, fuel and equipment. Production units and scientific research institutes should intensify cooperation between themselves, and enterprises should build up their own technological development forces and conduct a proactive mass-based technological innovation drive, propelling economic development with valuable sci-tech achievements conducive to expanded production and the improvement of business operation and management. The electric-power, metallurgical and chemical industries should take the lead in the efforts to hit the targets of the economic strategy. The electric-power industry should carry out its production plan without fail by ensuring good maintenance of generating equipment and structures and stepping up its technical upgrading. It should run the nationwide integrated power control system effectively and organize alternated production scrupulously to ensure balance between power production and consumption; it should also develop the various sources of power to create a new generating capacity on a large scale. The metallurgical industry should introduce advanced technologies to lower the iron production cost and ensure normal operation of Juche-based production lines to turn out iron and steel in larger amounts. The state should take stringent measures to supply raw materials, fuel and power to the Kim Chaek and Hwanghae iron and steel complexes and other metallurgical factories. The chemical industry is a basis for all other industries and plays an important role in consolidating the independence of the economy and improving the people’s living standards. This sector should revitalize production at the February 8 Vinalon Complex, expand the capacity of other major chemical factories and transform their technical processes in our own way, thus increasing the output of various chemical goods. It should direct efforts to establishing a C1 chemical industry to carry out the tasks at every stage promptly and satisfactorily. The coal-mining industry and the rail transport sector should meet the demands for coal and its transport by power stations and metallurgical and chemical factories on a top priority basis. The machine-building industry should be rapidly developed. Machine factories should step up their modernization, perfect the processes for the serial production of new-type tractors, vehicles and multi-purpose farm machines, and produce and supply different kinds of high-performance and quality machinery and equipment. This year light industry, agriculture and fishing industry should be radically developed to make greater progress in improving the people’s living standards. Light industry should work out proper management strategies, regarding use of domestically available raw and other materials as their core, so as to revitalize production and bring about a turn in diversifying the range and types of consumer goods and improving their quality. It should normalize production in the mines and enterprises in the Tanchon area, so that they can prove effective in improving the people’s living standards. The agricultural front, the major thrust in building an economic giant, should raise a strong wind of scientific farming and push forward the movement for increasing crop yield. It should widely introduce seeds of superior strains and scientific farming methods, whose advantages have been proved in practice, expand the area of land under two-crop farming, and be proactive in inventing and introducing high-performance farm machines. By doing so, it can attain the production goal of grains. It should adopt measures to run the livestock farming base in the Sepho area on a normal basis and increase the production of fruits, mushrooms and vegetables, so that the people can enjoy benefits from them. The fishing sector should conduct a dynamic drive for catching fishes and push perseveringly ahead with aquatic farming. It should build modern fishing vessels in a greater number and lay out a comprehensive fishing equipment production base in the east coast area, so as to consolidate the material and technical foundations of the fishing industry. The construction sector should complete the construction of Ryomyong Street at the highest level and concentrate its forces on the major construction projects including the building of the Tanchon Power Station, modernization of the Kim Jong Thae Electric Locomotive Complex and the development of the Wonsan area. It should also build more educational and cultural facilities and houses in an excellent way. …Upholding the slogan of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, every field and every unit of the national economy should launch a dynamic struggle to increase production and practice economy to the maximum, and thus carry out the plan for this year on all indices. The whole country should turn out in land administration. We should further transform the appearance of the land of our country by building modern tree nurseries in provinces, perseveringly pressing on with the forest restoration campaign and conducting river management, road repair and environmental conservation on a planned basis. In order to bring about a turnabout in implementing the five-year strategy for national economic development, it is imperative to carry on economic guidance and business management with clear objectives and in an innovative way. The Cabinet and other economic guidance organs should work out tactics to ensure the sustainable economic development by putting the overall national economy definitely on an upward track, and implement them with an unflinching perseverance. …The political and military position of socialism should be further cemented so that it can be an impregnable fortress. Single-hearted unity is the precious revolutionary legacy the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il bequeathed to us, and herein lies the invincible might of our style of socialism. All the service personnel and people should establish the ties of kinship with the Party, their hearts pulsating to the same beat as it, and unite closely behind it in ideology, purpose and moral obligation, so as to struggle staunchly to achieve the prosperity of the country. We should thoroughly apply the people-first doctrine, the crystallization of the Juche-oriented view on the people, philosophy of the people, in Party work and all the spheres of state and social life, and wage an intensive struggle to root out abuses of power, bureaucratism and corruption that spoil the flower garden of single-hearted unity. We should resolutely thwart the enemy’s sinister and pernicious schemes to check the warm and pure-hearted aspiration of our people who follow the Party single-heartedly and to alienate the Party from them. In this year of the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, we should raise the fierce flames of increasing the military capability. The People’s Army should conduct the Party’s political work in a proactive manner, so as to ensure that it is pervaded with the ideology and intentions of the Party alone. It should designate this year as another year of training, another year of perfecting its combat preparedness, and ensure that all its units of different arms, services and corps raise a hot wind of perfecting their combat preparedness in order to train all its officers and men as a-match-for-a-hundred combatants, tigers of Mt Paektu, who are capable of annihilating any aggressor force at a stroke. Officers and men of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces and members of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards and Young Red Guards should prepare themselves politically and militarily and maintain full combat readiness to firmly defend the socialist system and the people’s lives and property. Officials, scientists and workers in the defense industry, burning their hearts with the “Yongil bomb spirit” of the days of the anti-Japanese struggle and the revolutionary spirit of the workers of Kunja-ri of the days of the Fatherland Liberation War, should develop and produce larger quantities of powerful military hardware of our own style. By doing so, they can build up the arsenal of the Songun revolution. …The current stirring era demands that our officials, standard-bearers in carrying out the Party’s policies, improve their working style and attitude in a revolutionary way. Last year, in reflection of the national desire for reunification and the requirements of the times, we put forward the Juche-oriented line and policy of reunification at the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea and made strenuous efforts to this end. However, the south Korean authorities turned a deaf ear to our patriotic appeal and ignored our sincere proposal. Instead, they clung to their sanctions-and-pressure schemes against the DPRK and persisted in clamoring for a war against it, thus driving inter-Korean relations towards the worst catastrophe. Last year, south Korea witnessed a massive anti-“government” struggle spreading far and wide to shake the reactionary ruling machinery to its foundations. This resistance involving all south Korean people, which left an indelible mark in the history of their struggle, was an outburst of pent-up grudge and indignation against the conservative regime that had been resorting to fascist dictatorship, anti-popular policy, sycophantic and traitorous acts and confrontation with their compatriots. This year we will mark the 45th anniversary of the historic July 4 Joint Statement and the 10th anniversary of the October 4 Declaration. This year we should open up a broad avenue to independent reunification through a concerted effort of the whole nation. Positive measures should be taken to improve inter-Korean relations, avoid acute military confrontation and remove the danger of war between north and south. The improvement of inter-Korean relations is the starting-point for peace and reunification, and it is a pressing demand of the whole nation. Any politician, if he or she remains a passive onlooker to the current deadlock between the two sides, can neither claim to be fully discharging his or her responsibility and role for the nation nor enjoy public support. Every manner of abuses and slanders aimed at offending the other party and inciting confrontation cannot be justified on any account, and an immediate stop should be put to the malicious smear campaign and other acts of hostility towards the DPRK, all designed for the overthrow of its system and any other “change.” We are consistent in our stand to safeguard the security of the compatriots and peace of the country without fighting with the fellow countrymen. The south Korean authorities should not aggravate the situation by finding fault with our exercise of the right to self-defense thoughtlessly, but respond positively to our sincere efforts to prevent military conflict between north and south and ease the tension. They should also discontinue arms buildup and war games. The whole nation should pool their will and efforts to usher in a heyday of the nationwide reunification movement. All the Korean people in the north, in the south and abroad should achieve solidarity, make concerted efforts and unite on the principle of subordinating everything to national reunification, the common cause of the nation, and revitalize the reunification movement on a nationwide scale. They should promote active contact and exchange with each other irrespective of differences in their ideologies and systems, regions and ideals, and classes and social strata, and hold a pan-national, grand meeting for reunification involving all the political parties and organizations including the authorities in the north and south, as well as the compatriots of all strata at home and abroad. We will readily join hands with anyone who prioritizes the fundamental interests of the nation and is desirous of improving inter-Korean relations. It is necessary to frustrate the challenges of the anti-reunification forces at home and abroad who go against the aspiration of the nation for reunification. We must put an end to the moves for aggression and intervention by the foreign forces including the United States that is occupying south Korea and tries to realize the strategy for achieving hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, and wage a dynamic pan-national struggle to thwart the moves of the traitorous and sycophantic anti-reunification forces like Park Geun Hye who, failing to see clearly who is the real arch-enemy of the nation, is trying to find a way out in confrontation with the fellow countrymen. Well aware of the will of the Korean nation to reunify their country, the United States must no longer cling to the scheme of whipping up national estrangement by inciting the anti-reunification forces in south Korea to confrontation with the fellow countrymen and war. It must make a courageous decision to roll back its anachronistic policy hostile towards the DPRK. The international community that values independence and justice should oppose the moves of the United States and its vassal forces aimed at wrecking peace on the Korean peninsula and checking its reunification, and the neighboring countries should act in favor of our nation’s aspiration and efforts for reunification. All the fellow countrymen in the north, in the south and abroad should do something to make this year a meaningful year of a new phase in independent reunification by stepping up a nationwide grand march towards reunification through the concerted effort of the nation. Last year the imperialist reactionary forces’ moves for political and military pressure and sanctions against our country reached an extreme. But they failed to break the faith of our service personnel and people in victory, and could not check the vigorous revolutionary advance of Juche Korea. We will continue to build up our self-defense capability, the pivot of which is the nuclear forces, and the capability for preemptive strike as long as the United States and its vassal forces keep on nuclear threat and blackmail and as long as they do not stop their war games they stage at our doorstep disguising them as annual events. We will defend peace and security of our state at all costs and by our own efforts, and make a positive contribution to safeguarding global peace and stability. Our Party and the government of our Republic will remain committed to the ideals of our foreign policy of independence, peace and friendship, expand and develop the relations of good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation with those countries championing independence, and make concerted efforts with them to ensure genuine international justice. Comrades, As I am standing here to proclaim the beginning of another year, I feel a surge of anxiety about what I should do to hold our people in greater reverence, the best people in the world who have warmly supported me with a single mind out of their firm trust in me. My desires were burning all the time, but I spent the past year feeling anxious and remorseful for the lack of my ability. I am hardening my resolve to seek more tasks for the sake of the people this year and make redoubled, devoted efforts to this end. Previously, all the people used to sing the song We Are the Happiest in the World, feeling optimistic about the future with confidence in the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. I will work with devotion to ensure that the past era does not remain as a moment in history but is re-presented in the present era. On this first morning of the new year I swear to become a true servant loyal to our people who faithfully supports them with a pure conscience. And I will push the effort to set up across the Party a revolutionary climate of making selfless, devoted efforts for the good of the people. As long as the great Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism is illuminating the road ahead of us and we have the single-hearted unity of all the service personnel and people around the Party, we are sure to emerge victorious. Let us all march forward dynamically towards a bright future, holding up the splendid blueprint unfolded by the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea to develop ours into a powerful socialist country.” (Kim Jong Un’s New Year Address, Rodong Sinmun, January 2, 2017)

President-elect Donald Trump has asked for an intelligence briefing on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Reuters reported. “Trump’s first, and at that time only, request for a special classified intelligence briefing was for one on North Korea and its nuclear weapons program,” the news agency said citing a senior U.S. intelligence official. “North Korea and its nuclear program has also been of interest to retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security advisor.” (Cho Yi-jun, “Trump Asks for Briefing on N. Korean Nukes,” Chosun Ilbo, January 3, 2017)


1/2/17:
A day after North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, declared that the “final stage in preparations” was underway to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, President-elect Donald J. Trump took to Twitter to declare bluntly, “It won’t happen!” Kim offered no time frame. “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S.,” Trump wrote, somewhat misstating. Kim’s warning. Pyongyang has already tested nuclear weapons underground; the latest threat concerned what Kim called a “test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.” After his first Twitter message, “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!” That appeared to reflect briefings Mr. Trump has received about how Chinese leaders fear instability and collapse in the North more than the status quo. A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Trump’s criticisms and appeared to suggest that such comments could inflame tensions with North Korea. “We hope that all sides avoid using words and actions that lead to escalating tensions,” the spokesman, Geng Shuang, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on January 3 when asked about Mr. Trump’s messages. Geng said that China was committed to using negotiations to defuse the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons. China, he said, “has made tremendous efforts to promote a peaceful and effective solution to the North Korean nuclear issue.” In his New Year’s Day speech, Kim said he would continue his country’s efforts to build a nuclear-strike capability unless the United States abandoned its “hostile” policy toward the North. How Trump would respond to such a provocation is a matter of great concern for South Koreans. (Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger, “‘Won’t Happen,’ Trump Says of North Korean Missile Test,” New York Times, January 3, 2017, p. A-13)


1/3/17:
The number of North Koreans escaping to South Korea rose 11 percent on-year in 2016, government data showed, as more elites and overseas workers fled the country amid tough international sanctions. A total of 1,414 North Koreans came to South Korea last year, compared to 1,275 tallied for 2015, according to a preliminary data provided by the Ministry of Unification.

The total number of North Korean defectors in South Korea reached 30,208 as of end-December.

The 2016 tally marked the first time that the pace of annual growth picked up since 2011 when the North’s leader Kim Jong-un took office. The number of defectors reaching the South peaked at 2,914 in 2009, but the pace of growth had fallen off since 2011 as Kim strengthened border control and surveillance over North Koreans. (Yonhap, “Number of N.K. Defectors Grows 11% On-Year 2016: Data,” Korea Herald, January 3, 2017)

DoS Spokesman John Kirby: “Q: And then what is the U.S. assessment? I know you say you don’t talk about intelligence, but what if he’s lying? I mean, what if this is just an empty – empty threat? What is your assessment? I mean, is he close to – is this the last stage, or he is just — KIRBY: I think the intel – my understanding is that – again, we don’t talk about intelligence issues, so that’s one. Number two, we do continue to believe that he continues to pursue both nuclear and ballistic missile technologies. I mean, that’s pretty apparent. We do not believe that he, at this point in time, has the capability to tip one of these with a nuclear warhead. That’s as far as I’m going to go in terms of assessing. But we do know that he continues to want to have those capabilities and he continues – the programs continue to march in that direction, which is why, quite frankly, that the whole international community is as galvanized as it is to try to deter and to stop that. … Q: Yeah. Following up on Six-Party Talks, you mentioned – you called for them to return to that process. Is that without preconditions? KIRBY: It has always been. I mean, we want them to return. And the – but the condition is that they have to commit to a verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula. That’s always been the case, if that’s what you mean by preconditions. Nothing’s changed in that regard. They’ve got to be able to commit to denuclearization of the peninsula, and they have proven, obviously, unwilling to do that and unwilling to return to the process. … Q: John, you mentioned that the U.S. doesn’t believe that North Korea has the capability to … put a nuclear warhead on one of its missiles. KIRBY: To tip one. Yeah. Q: Does that mean any kind of missile, a short-range missile, a mid-range? KIRBY: I think I’m just going to leave it at that. I’m going to leave my statement where it was.” (DoS Daily Briefing, January 3, 2017)


1/4/17:
South Korea will this year launch a special unit tasked with incapacitating North Korea’s wartime leadership, two years ahead of schedule, its defense chief said Wednesday, as it strives to better counter Pyongyang’s evolving military threats. During its New Year policy briefing to Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, Defense Minister Han Min-koo said the military is putting top priority on beefing up defense capabilities against North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which includes nukes and missiles. “We are planning to set up a special brigade with the goal of removing or (at least) paralyzing North Korea’s wartime command structure (in the face of escalating threats from the communist state),” Han told Hwang, who took over the country’s executive powers from President Park Geun-Hye after she was impeached by parliament last month. In a related move, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff launched the Countering Nuclear and WMD Center on Jan. 1 to better handle North Korea’s growing nuclear threats by drawing up military operations and strategic countermeasures in a more detailed and organized manner. The Ministry of National Defense has recently updated the size of weapons-grade plutonium and highly-enriched uranium that the North may be holding, the minister said. The materials are critical in making nuclear weapons. Seoul estimates Pyongyang has some 40 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, which is sufficient to manufacture four to eight nuclear weapons. In other efforts to cope with WMDs, the military will speed up the planned deployment of advanced weapons by a couple of years from the original schedule of the mid-2020s to enhance the country’s defense capabilities, the ministry said. Under the “three-pillar” system, South Korea aims to detect the North’s incoming missiles and launch counterattacks against the communist state’s key facilities. The system includes a “kill chain” strike system, the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), and the Korea Massive Punishment & Retaliation (KMPR) plan. The entire plan is based on the use of locally developed defense systems. The kill chain and the KAMD are designed to detect and destroy incoming missiles in the shortest possible time. The KMPR is aimed at launching attacks on the North’s military leadership if signs of the imminent use of nuclear weapons are detected. Han said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) will be deployed in South Korea as planned. In November, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks said the THAAD missile defense system will be installed in eight to 10 months to counter growing nuclear and missile threats from the North. As for defense ties with Japan and China, the minister said South Korea will expand bilateral intelligence sharing with Japan under the the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed in November to counter North Korean threats. With China, he said Seoul will seek ways to explain the need for the THAAD system. China has explicitly expressed opposition against the planned THAAD deployment in South Korea on concerns that the move could hurt its strategic security interests. Looking ahead, the minister warned that the North could make a “strategic or tactical provocation” in the coming months while not giving up its nuclear and missile programs despite stricter international sanctions following its fourth nuclear test in January. The communist nation has a record of staging provocations around U.S. elections and transition periods. (Shin Hyon-hee, “Seoul Aims to Offset Leadership Vacuum, Up N.K. Pressure,” Korea Herald, January 4, 2017)

South Korea plans to faithfully implement a set of U.N. and unilateral sanctions against North Korea and seek ways to boost their effectiveness this year, Seoul’s unification ministry said. It also said that it will not respond to North Korea’s offer for talks which has no sincerity, but instead make efforts to seek inter-Korean dialogue that could contribute to North Korea’s denuclearization. “This year, North Korea is expected to seek recognition as a nuclear state and may continue to overturn South Korea’s inter-Korean policy and the international sanctions regime,” the ministry said in a statement. Seoul’s unification ministry presented its 2017 policy goals to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn who serves as acting president following a parliamentary impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. The government said that North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons should take precedence if the two Koreas are to hold meaningful dialogue. “North Korea does not seem to have an interest in denuclearization, as Kim’s New Year message showed. At the current stage, we are not considering proposing dialogue to the North,” Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo told reporters. Kim Nam-jung, the head of the ministry’s unification policy office, said that resuming the complex would not be easy, given the U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea last year. “There may be many limitations (in resuming the Kaesong Industrial Complex). It is hard to gauge the current situation at the factory zone, but it is believed that there are no signs that North Korea moves equipment out of the complex.” The ministry, meanwhile, said that it seeks to allow civic groups to provide humanitarian assistance to socially vulnerable people in North Korea, including infants, after taking into account various factors such as necessity and urgency. Seoul has suspended almost all civilian inter-Korean exchanges and South Koreans’ visits to North Korea since Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January 2016. With virtually all cross-border exchanges at a standstill, the Unification Ministry will focus on laying the foundation for a unification at home such as by improving policy on defectors and human rights in North Korea. But the ministry said it would explore ways to revive dialogue if it contributes to the denuclearization of the peninsula. “It’s not that we won’t do talks. Our direction is to hold denuclearization talks first and then expand them to other areas if conditions are mature,” Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said at a news conference. “For the two Koreas to have meaningful dialogue, the North’s resolve for a denuclearization is vital. But at the moment, as the North’s firm resolve for nuclear development was confirmed in (Kim’s) New Year speech, we are not considering offering talks from our part first.” Since Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and long-range missile firing early last year, Seoul refrained from providing humanitarian assistance or approving civic groups’ requests. Hong, however, acknowledged the need for sustained relief supplies, saying he would support aid for children, pregnant women and others in need and make a decision based on “necessity, urgency and transparency.” (Yonhap, “S. Korea Vows to Continue Employing Pressure, Sanctions on N.K. This Year,” January 4, 2017)

Rodong Sinmun: “The improvement of the north-south relations is a starting point for achieving the peace in the country and advancing the cause of national reunification. Improving the inter-Korean ties is a vital issue related to the destiny of the nation and the supreme task, a matter of utmost urgency. If the north and the south of Korea remain partitioned and stand against each other, it is absolutely impossible to pave the way for peace and reunification. To allow the north-south ties of confrontation and distrust to persist is just tantamount to committing an indelible crime against history and the generations to come. The north-south ties on which the destiny of the nation depends should be replaced by the ties of trust and reconciliation and only then is it possible to achieve lasting peace on the Korean peninsula and the independent reunification of the country by the concerted efforts of all Koreans. Whoever is concerned about the destiny of the nation should not be indifferent to the improvement of the ties but should boldly take the patriotic road of national reconciliation and unity, transcending differences in ideology, ism and social system. It is the steadfast will of all the fellow countrymen in the north and the south and abroad to meet the blatant challenges of the anti-reunification forces at home and abroad and open a new phase in the improvement of the north-south ties and the realization of the independent reunification.” (KCNA, “Improvement of North-South Relations Is Starting Point for Peace and Reunification: Rodong Sinmun, January 4, 2017)

Kim Jong Un rang in the New Year with an unsettling announcement: that North Korea was perfecting the design of an intercontinental ballistic missile, potentially posing a dire threat to the United States and its allies. President-elect Donald Trump was quick to respond with a pair of cryptic tweets that seemed to warn North Korea, or China, or both. His first: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US. It won’t happen!” Followed by: “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!” Sometime in the past year, the small tribe of North Korea-watchers has watched with alarm as Pyongyang has come closer of realizing its dream of a nuclear weapon that could hit U.S. shores. A swirl of tests this year showed the country making significant progress in its medium-range missile program and advancing toward larger goals. But just how scared should we be? And will Kim test President Trump with his first foreign policy crisis, as many national security experts expect? Not so fast, says Joshua Pollack, the editor of the Nonproliferation Review and senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. It’s possible that North Korea’s enigmatic leader was, in fact, carefully moderating his language and signaling a willingness to go to deal with a new American administration. Of course, even if Kim is trying to cool it, an unpredictable Trump administration still worries Pollack for a number of reasons: rising U.S.-China tensions, a South Korea that wants nukes of its own and a region simmering with submerged tensions. “POLITICO: So after that tweet from Trump, a lot of people are predicting that North Korea will somehow provoke the first overseas crisis of Trump’s presidency. How do you think that might play out? Pollack: I don’t know that they’re intent on doing that. I got a very different message from reading Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech, and I thought he was actually intent on keeping his powder dry and waiting to see what moves the new administration makes and perhaps any new South Korean government that will come along. So, I’m not at all sure that there will be any such crisis. There was barely any movement on these issues during the Obama presidency. So, I could imagine something where the North Koreans could overplay their hand and, as a result, get nowhere. If they play it cool, then they might allow Trump an opening if he’s interested in pursuing one. POLITICO: An opening to do what? Pollack: To reach a new understanding. I think [Kim] said that in 2016 they completed the preparations for a test launch, or words to that effect. And he did not say, contrary to some headlines, that they’re planning one any time soon. So, you know, when you speak of preparations, that implies you will act, but he didn’t actually say that. He certainly did not promise it, and he could have. So, given that the speech overall was about big economic accomplishments this year, and was describing all of the military activities as accomplished or done, it made it sound like they checked a box. He also said that they would continue to strengthen their nuclear forces as long as the United States threatened them with nuclear weapons and with the joint exercises with the South Koreans that take place twice every year, and there he did not specifically say that they would undertake a nuclear test. He could have, but he was vague, and he sort of left it open. So, it seemed like he was putting down some markers about what might justify these activities and was perhaps putting them on the negotiating table. It’s difficult to make these inferences, but since his language was relatively muted and restrained compared to what it has been before and the overall focus of the speech was about basically overhauling the economy, I think it signaled that the door is open a crack. He did not refer openly to the new administration. The North Korean media has said very little about Trump, but simply because they are not eager to negotiate with Obama doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be interested in negotiating with Trump, in my view. That’s why I see an opportunity there. There just wasn’t a whole lot of menace and saber-rattling. POLITICO: Do you think it reflects any kind of real change in their ambitions? Pollack: No. I mean, why would it? They have a longstanding approach which they’ve spelled out for us repeatedly, which is they want us to abandon what they call “the hostile policy.” They want us basically — they see themselves as being on a list of enemies, you know, an impression you might get from George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, and they want off of it. They want us to treat them more like a peer, knowing that countries that have nuclear weapons tend not to mess with each other. So, they’re looking for ways to improve the situation to deter an attack that they always are afraid might be coming from the United States and South Korea.” (Katelyn Fossett, “Is Kim Jong Un Trying to Tell Donald Trump Something?” Politico, January 4, 2017)


1/5/17:
Trilateral Briefing: “Q: (Via interpreter) Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question. I am Hyun Won Sup from MBC. I have two questions. My first question goes to Deputy Secretary Blinken. You have mentioned about ways to address North Korea’s nuclear weapons. In his New Year’s speech, Kim Jong-un has mentioned that he is in the final stage of ICBM testing, and one North Korean defector diplomat has said that in the initial part of the Trump Administration North Korea will complete its nuclear weapons and, as a nuclear power, it will engage in negotiations with the United States. And as was mentioned before, there were several international sanctions; however, whether those sanctions were effective is something that we are thinking of these days. Some experts are saying that the United States has to consider some other military measures, including the preemptive attack, where they have to go ahead with negotiations with North Korea in order to address North Korea’s nuclear threats. What is – would be the most effective ways to address this issue? So we would be grateful for Deputy Secretary Blinken gives an answer to this question. …BLINKEN: Thank you. The effectiveness of sanctions and pressure requires two things. It requires determination and it requires patience: determination to build a sustained, comprehensive pressure campaign; and the patience to see that take hold and have effect. And it’s not like flipping a light switch. It takes time. But what we’ve done in the last year particularly is to put in place the building blocks of that sustained, comprehensive pressure campaign, as I described a few minutes ago, and it’s across the board. And I believe that as long as we sustain it and build on it, it will have an effect. And it will require the regime in North Korea to make a choice – a choice between continuing to pursue nuclear and missile programs that are unacceptable to the international community – not just the United States, not just Japan, not just Korea, the entire international community – or, if it doesn’t, it will face growing isolation and growing pressure in a way that will make it impossible for the regime to deliver on the basic needs of its people. Again, the purpose here is not to bring the regime to its knees. It’s to bring it to the table to negotiate authentic, credible steps toward denuclearization. And again, as I said a moment ago, it’s important to understand that it takes time to do this, and the Iran example is a very good one. We spent years building our own domestic sanctions against Iran and then, in this Administration, several years putting in place an international framework for sanctions and pressure. People said it’s not working, it’s not working, and then all of a sudden it worked. The pressure got to a point where Iran made the wise decision to come to the table to engage. We were able to get an interim agreement that froze the program in place, started to roll it back in certain respects, got inspectors in. That created time and space to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that has produced a very positive result for the security of the world. I would hope that the DPRK would be inspired by that example, and to add to its inspiration we are putting in place these comprehensive, sustained pressure and sanctions.” (DoS, Joint Press Availability with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Sugiyama Shinsuke and Republic of Korea First Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam, Washington, January 5, 2017)


1/6/17:
Tokyo said it will recall its diplomats from South Korea and take other retaliatory measures against Seoul’s inaction concerning a “comfort women” statue in front of the Japanese consulate-general in Busan. “The installment of the statue will have a detrimental effect on Japan-South Korea relations,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide said at a news conference in Tokyo. Through diplomatic channels, Tokyo demanded the immediate removal of the statue, which was set up by a citizens group late last month. The South Korean government, however, has taken no action on the Japanese demands. In response to Seoul’s apparent tacit approval of the statue, Japan will instruct Nagamine Yasumasa, the Japanese ambassador to South Korea, and Morimoto Yasuhiro, consul general at the consulate-general in Busan, to return temporarily to Japan. Tokyo will also suspend talks on a new currency swap arrangement that will oblige the two countries to offer U.S. dollars or other currencies to each other during a financial crisis. In addition, Japan will shelve bilateral talks on economic cooperation involving vice ministers or their equivalents and call off participation by Japanese diplomats in events related to Busan. Suga said the government will “make a comprehensive assessment of the circumstances” before deciding on the time period for the measures. Japan and South Korea reached a bilateral agreement on the comfort women issue in December 2015, calling it a “final and irreversible resolution” to the longstanding source of friction between the two countries. Japan agreed to pay 1 billion yen ($8.62 million) to a foundation that Seoul helped to establish for assistance to the former comfort women who were forced to provide sex to Japanese troops before and during World War II. Tokyo acknowledged the Japanese military’s involvement and responsibility in the agreement. The Japanese government said the statue in Busan, which is similar to the one that remains in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, goes against the spirit of the agreement that pushes future-oriented relations. Seoul promised to “make efforts” in response to Japan’s request for the removal of the comfort women statue put up by a citizens group in front of the Japanese Embassy. “We strongly hope that a promise agreed upon by the two countries is implemented,” Suga said. The statue in Busan was originally removed by city officials on December 28 soon after it was installed. But anti-Japan sentiment resurged in South Korea, fueled by Defense Minister Inada Tomomi’s December 29 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, where Class-A war criminals are honored along with Japan’s war dead. The statue was set up again on December 30. Suga said Seoul is obliged to protect the dignity and other matters of Japanese diplomatic missions on its territory based on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. “(The statue) undermines the dignity of the consulate-general facility, and it is extremely regrettable in light of the provisions of the convention,” he said. (Asahi Shimbun, “Japan to Recall Ambassador over ‘Comfort Women’ Issue,” January 6, 2017)

Perry: “In 1994, when I was secretary of defense, we came perilously close to a second Korean War because of North Korea’s nuclear program. Today we are again approaching a crisis with North Korea, and again the cause is its nuclear program. A war in 1994 would have been terrible, but we were able to avoid it with diplomacy (the Agreed Framework, from which the United States and North Korea withdrew in 2002). Today a war would be no less than catastrophic, possibly destroying the societies of both Koreas as well as causing large casualties in the U.S. military. It is imperative that we employ creative diplomacy to avert such a catastrophe. The pressure boiled over this past week when Kim Jong Un announced plans to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States. In reply, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted, “It won’t happen,” seemingly suggesting he might take military action against North Korea’s missile program. The threat is real enough. North Korea has built more than a dozen nuclear bombs and conducted five nuclear tests, several at about the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb. Pyongyang also has a robust ballistic missile program — it has fielded a large number of medium-range missiles and is testing long-range missiles. So the question is not whether but when Pyongyang will have a nuclear-armed ICBM. Its ICBM program is not yet operational, and it must take many difficult steps to make it so. But this is evidently a high-priority program moving at a fast pace. There is no reason to doubt that it will reach an operational capability, perhaps in the next few years. Certainly this is dangerous, but we should try to understand the nature of the danger. During my discussions and negotiations with members of the North Korean government, I have found that they are not irrational, nor do they have the objective of achieving martyrdom. Their goals, in order of priority, are: preserving the Kim dynasty, gaining international respect and improving their economy. The regime has demonstrated — over and over again — that it is willing to sacrifice its economy to assure that the dynasty is preserved. During negotiations in 1999 and 2000, we found a way to achieve all three of their goals without nuclear weapons. I believe that the North Korean government was ready to accept our proposal (it is easier for leaders to forgo weapons they do not yet have), but we can never be certain of that — nor that they would have, in fact, complied with an agreement — because the George W. Bush administration cut off the talks in 2001. I believe that the danger of a North Korean ICBM program is not that they would launch an unprovoked attack on the United States — they are not suicidal. But they have been playing a weak hand for decades, and they have demonstrated a willingness to take risks in playing it. The real danger of their ICBM program is that it might embolden them to take even greater risks — that is, overplay their hand in a way that could (inadvertently) lead to a military conflict with South Korea. The South Korean military, backed by U.S. air and naval power (and a small ground force), is more than a match for the large but poorly equipped North Korean military. So if North Korea were to begin losing a conventional conflict, they might in desperation turn to their nuclear weapons. What can we do to mitigate that danger? During the time I was defense secretary, I considered a preemptive conventional strike on their Yongbyon nuclear facility. We rejected that option in favor of diplomacy. Such a strike could still destroy the facilities at Yongbyon but probably would not destroy their nuclear weapons, likely not located there. In 2006, Ashton B. Carter, now secretary of defense, and I recommended that the United States consider a strike on North Korea’s ICBM launch facility. I would not recommend either of those strikes today because of the great risk for South Korea; at the very least, any such plan would have to be agreed to by South Korea’s leadership, since their country would bear the brunt of any retaliatory action. I believe it is time to try diplomacy that would actually have a chance to succeed. We lost the opportunity to negotiate with a non-nuclear North Korea when we cut off negotiations in 2001, before it had a nuclear arsenal. The most we can reasonably expect today is an agreement that lowers the dangers of that arsenal. The goals would be an agreement with Pyongyang to not export nuclear technology, to conduct no further nuclear testing and to conduct no further ICBM testing. These goals are worth achieving and, if we succeed, could be the basis for a later discussion of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. These objectives are far less than we would desire but are based on my belief that we should deal with North Korea as it is, not as we wish it to be. If this attempt at diplomacy fails, then we could consider much more punishing sanctions that would require China’s significant participation. That would be more likely if North Korea rejected a serious diplomatic approach. We could also pursue non-diplomatic approaches, such as disrupting their ICBM tests, not at their launch sites but over international waters. Indeed, our diplomacy would have a better chance of working if the North Korean government realized that we were serious about non-diplomatic alternatives. Time is of the essence. If we don’t find a way — and soon — to freeze North Korea’s quest for a nuclear ICBM, this crisis could all too easily spin out of control, leading to a second Korean War, far more devastating than the first. (William J. Perry, “To Confront North Korea, Talk First and Get Tough Later,” Washington Post, January 6, 2017)


1/8/17:
North Korea said it can test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at any time from any location set by leader Kim Jong Un, saying the United States’ hostile policy was to blame for its arms development. “The ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere determined by the supreme headquarters of the DPRK,” an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by KCNA. A U.S. State Department spokesman said last week that the United States does not believe that North Korea is capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. “The U.S. is wholly to blame for pushing the DPRK to have developed ICBM as it has desperately resorted to anachronistic policy hostile toward the DPRK for decades to encroach upon its sovereignty and vital rights,” KCNA quoted the spokesman as saying. “Anyone who wants to deal with the DPRK would be well advised to secure a new way of thinking after having clear understanding of it,” the spokesman said. (Jack Kim, Tony Munroe and Ju-min Park, “North Korea Says Can Test ICBM at Any Time: KCNA,” Reuters, January 8, 2017)

DPRK FoMin spokesman’s “answer to the question raised by KCNA Sunday as regards the fact that the U.S. is pulling up the DPRK over its preparations for ICBM test-fire that have reached their final phase: The DPRK’s ICBM development is part of its efforts for bolstering its capability for self-defense to cope with the ever more undisguised nuclear war threat from the U.S. Nevertheless, the U.S. is crying out for tightening sanctions to pressurize the DPRK, terming the entirely just rocket launch preparations of the latter “provocation” and “threat.” This reminds one of a guilty party filing the suit first. A U.S. deputy secretary of State spouted rubbish on January 5 that threat from north Korea has reached an extreme pitch and sanctions aimed at pressurizing north Korea would as ever continue no matter what administration may appear in the U.S. Some pseudo-experts and conservative media are busy joining the Obama group in putting pressure on the DPRK. Explicitly speaking again, the U.S. is wholly to blame for pushing the DPRK to have developed ICBM as it has desperately resorted to anachronistic policy hostile toward the DPRK for decades to encroach upon its sovereignty and vital rights. Despite the unheard-of harsh sanctions and pressure, the DPRK developed H-bomb and had access to standardized nuclear warheads by bolstering up its nuclear weapons on a high level at an unimaginably high speed on the strength of self-development. The ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere determined by the supreme headquarters of the DPRK. Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un clarified that the DPRK will continue to build up our self-defense capability, the pivot of which is the nuclear forces, and the capability for preemptive strike as long as the United States and its vassal forces keep on nuclear threat and blackmail and as long as they do not stop their war games they stage at our doorstep disguising them as annual events. Anyone who wants to deal with the DPRK would be well advised to secure a new way of thinking after having clear understanding of it.” (KCNA, “DPRK’s ICBM Development Is to Cope with U.S. Nuclear War Threat: FM Spokesman,” January 8, 2017)


1/9/17:
William Perry: “In October of 2000, we had already come to a full verbal agreement on a detailed agreement on North Korea, by which they would agree to give up their nuclear program, and their long-range missile program. We were, I think, three to six months from having a signed, formal, agreement for doing that. Of course, it can, and should, be stated that, at that time, we could not be a hundred percent certain we would actually get that agreement, and even if we got the agreement, we could never be certain that North Korea was going to comply with that. So, I make that caveat. But, we will never know, because in 2000 the Bush administration in, it was about March of 2001, I believe, broke off all discussions with North Korea. It was a whole negotiating process which had gone on for more than a year before that that broke down. They said they had a different, and hopefully better, strategy of pursuing. Whatever that strategy was, the results of it are pretty clear. Namely, that North Korea actually, during that period, that administration, built and tested nuclear weapons. So, whatever you can say about the theory of this strategy, I have to say the results were bad. They were followed, in 2009, by the Obama administration, which actually articulated their strategy. It was called “strategic patience.” The results of “strategic patience” were more nukes and more missiles. So again, whatever you can say about the theory of this strategy, you have to conclude the results were bad. … The time for patience is over. Because time is really not on our side. I emphasize that as clearly as possible: time is not on our side; we have to do something. So, what? I consider those two questions separately, “How do we deal with the present dangers?” And my answer is very clear, simple and straightforward; we deal with it through deterrence. We already implicitly have that deterrence. I believe we should make that explicit, quite clear and quite specific, to North Korea. We do it with deterrence. The argument had been made that deterrence would not work with North Korea because they’re crazy. I simply do not believe that. Indeed, to deal with either of these problems, namely dealing with the present problem or reducing the dangers, we have to understand what North Korea’s goals are. Anybody that’s ever done any negotiations understands you cannot succeed unless you know where the other side of the table is coming from, what they’re trying to achieve. And I think a big failure of our negotiations in the so-called “Six Party Talks” is we have not done that and not understood where North Korea is coming from. I presume to tell you what I think they are. My knowledge is based on two things. Partly on having had numerous discussions with North Korean senior officials on this subject. But, I think more importantly, by observing what they do. What they do makes clear what they are thinking. So, let’s get to that for a moment. I believe – I believe without any, really, uncertainty – goal number one of North Korea is to

sustain the Kim dynasty. You could describe that as survival of the regime. But I put it more specifically: sustaining the Kim dynasty. The second goal is an important goal for them. It is achieving international recognition. A third goal is improving their economy. But I want to emphasize that third goal is subservient to the first two goals, and they have demonstrated that over, and over, again. They’re willing to sacrifice their economy if it’s necessary, to achieve those first two goals. So, sustaining the dynasty, achieving international recognition, and a poor third is improving their economy. The idea of a unified Korea that they talk about I think that’s way behind the other goals. They don’t see that as something that’s going to be operational for many, many – a long, long time. So, when I say, then, that dealing with the present problem is through deterrence, I have in mind that they have in mind sustaining the Kim dynasty is a critical goal, and they understand – they understand – that actions they take to provoke a war with South Korea and the United States would result in retaliation which would end their dynasty. So they are not suicidal, and we may not understand the logic but I think it’s clear that they are not suicidal and, most importantly, this is not ISIS. This is not al-Qaeda. They are not seeking martyrdom; they want to sustain their dynasty. So, deterrence will work. We should just be sure that we’re very clear and very explicit that they’re facing the challenge of a response from the United States, a devastating response to them. That will deal, I think, with the present threat, both for the United States and to our allies. But let’s make it more explicit. The second question is “How do we get them to lessen, take steps to lessen, the danger?” All of our negotiations in the past have been oriented around giving up their nuclear weapons. I just state flatly they are not going to do that; we’re wasting our time on those negotiations. We can achieve, I believe, if we try hard, achieve important goals in lessening the danger of their nuclear weapons. We can formulate that in many ways. Three things I would focus on are, number one, no more nuclear tests. Number two, no more ICBM tests. And number three, no selling or transport of nuclear technology. I think we might be able to achieve that kind of a deal. I think we can enforce that kind of a deal. And I think it would be something worth achieving, in and of itself. Beyond that, it’s quite possible, if we were to achieve that step, it would be a platform on which we could move to the more desirable goal of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. I do not think we can go directly to that goal, today. And we’ve had how many years of Six Party Talks to prove how futile that is. So, I am not at all in favor of restarting the Six Party Talks, based on the same goal we had in the past; it would just be an exercise in futility. I have no way of guaranteeing that even with setting those goals and even with good negotiating tactics, that we could succeed. I believe we can succeed. But I cannot assure that. So, we have to look at a plan B, “What if? What if we try, seriously and specifically, and still fail? What is our backup plan?” I think, first of all, any backup plan, at that stage, has to be based upon _____________, not coercion, and to turn to coercive tactics, and what kind, of course, of tactics? Number one on my list would be disrupting their ICBM tests. There are many ways we could do that. The one way I would not recommend today is bombing their launch sites. Some of you may remember that my colleague, Ash Carter, and I wrote an op-ed seven years ago saying that we should consider that. I do not recommend that today. I think it is too dangerous to South Korea. Any action, any military action, we take against North Korea, South Korea is the one that’s going to bear the brunt of the action. Even when we were considering that, which we were back in 1994, we understood we would never do it without consulting and getting the approval of the South Korean President. So, number one, backup action, if negotiation fails, is disrupting their ICBM tests, in my judgment short of bombing their launch sites. There are many things we – alternatives – for doing that. The second thing we can do is significantly increase sanctions. Our attempts at sanctions in the past have not been fully successful, because they have not had the full cooperation of China. So, what would be different? Why might China consider it this time? I think what might make a different to China is if we really had already gone through a really serious attempt at negotiation, offered a real alternative to North Korea. And, if they turn that offer down, then I think we’re in a much better position to go to China and say “We want to really tighten the screws on sanctions.” We can’t be sure of that outcome but it’s worth a try. The third is strengthen our anti-ballistic missile forces, both in South Korea and in Japan, to help defend those two countries. As many of you know, I am not a big ABM fan, both for technical reasons and for strategic reasons. But, in this case, I think they make sense. A very limited scale attack we’re considering, I think they have a reasonable prospect of, A, diminishing the effectiveness of the attack and, B, creating uncertainty in the minds of the attacker. So, in this case, I would recommend increasing the ABM capability both in South Korea and Japan. And the fourth recommendation I would make is increasing US military presence in South Korea, including a consideration of nuclear weapons. I have never been a fan of deploying nuclear weapons in South Korea, and I am not, today, a fan of that. I look at it only as a backup position if our negotiations completely break down. They are not necessary, to defend South Korea with. We can do it with the other nuclear weapons we have, both land-based and sea-based. What may be necessary, though, is to give the South Korean people the confidence that their nuclear deterrence is there. So therefore, in this case, if negotiations completely break down, I would consider that as a reasonable alternative. That concludes my opening remarks, and I will be happy to take questions. … Q: This is Nico Pandi from Jiji Press, Japan. If, in the negotiations to achieve those …four goals, if North Korea asks for signing a peace treaty, would you be willing to consider that, in exchange for achieving those goals of non-proliferation, halting ICBM tests, halting nuclear tests? PERRY: That’s a very good question and I neglected to answer it. I told you what our goals were. I neglected to say what would we have to offer North Korea, to get this. And my starting point on that would be looking at what we offered them in the year 2000, which in those days they were willing to accept. And we offered them three things. We offered them recognition, in various forms – there are several dimensions to the recognition – that was something primarily the United States could do. And we offered them economic incentives. Not “we.” In this case, it was South Korea and Japan. South Korea had one form of incentives, and Japan had another form of incentives. So, there were three different incentives on the table for them, at that time. They were interested in all three of those, and in those days they were willing to accept those three, in return for the non-nuclear and the no ICBM thing. Now, today, the situation is very different. They already have a nuclear arsenal, so they’re not going to agree to those same three incentives. But I say we look at those incentives as a starting point for what would be required to achieve these lesser goals. I think we could get by with lesser incentives, but I would start off with that package and sort of scale down from there, holding out the whole package for a later negotiation which might eventually get to a non-nuclear Peninsula. But, there’s no doubt in my mind that they are very much interested in the economic incentives of the kind South Korea had offered, which is helping build up some of their industry, for which those of you who are familiar with the Koreans know that the Kaesong factory, which is a joint South Korean-North Korean, is one good example. It could be based on that model. And from Japan we were considering great economic incentives, and the United States would sell them dimensions of recognition, one of which would have included the preliminary steps for setting up an embassy in Pyongyang, another which would include signing a formal peace agreement, which has never been signed after the Korean War. All of those things were very, very important to the North Koreans then. I think they are still important today. But, in and of themselves, they’re probably not enough, today, to make them give up what they were willing to give up in 2000. There’s a big difference negotiating with somebody not to develop nuclear weapons than getting them to give up nuclear weapons they already have. It’s a much steeper area to go. Q: David Brunnstrom from Reuters. Mr. Secretary, when you talked about the possibility of disrupting their ICBM tests, I’m just wondering how you would envisage going about that. PERRY: I can’t elaborate too much on that. Seemingly the most obvious way is simply shooting them down over international waters. But there are other ways of doing that as well, and so I would leave that up to the military, to decide how to do it. The goal would be disrupting their tests, disrupting them with the least – (pause) – the least political impact. I can think of three or four ways of doing it, but the one which is most obvious, the most straightforward, is simply shooting them down over international waters. They cannot really verify the effectiveness of an ICBM if it’s never gone through complete testing. And, to this date, their ICBMs have not gone through complete testing. Particularly, they’ve never tested the reentry aspect of it. Some of you know that technically speaking reentry of an ICBM is a pretty challenging technical problem, because of extreme heat generated on the reentry vehicle when it enters the atmosphere. So, that is a technical challenge which has to be – which I am willing to believe they probably have developed something they believe can do that, but it still has to be tested. So I think disrupting testing is a pretty effective way of stopping their ICBM program. To me, though, that is a far less attractive alternative than getting a diplomatic solution to the problem. WIT: Let me – I’m going to follow up on that a little bit, because this is a very unique opportunity to actually hear from someone who participated in planning for a preemptive attack, in 1994. And so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that experience, of planning for a preemptive attack, considering the consequences… PERRY: Yes, I would be happy to do that. In 1994 – I’ve already said that in ’94 I thought we were very close to a war. I was, in fact, in the Roosevelt Room – I mean, in the Cabinet Room – with the President and his national security staff, for the final meeting to get approval for deployment of many tens of thousands of troops to Korea, and other actions, which might very well have precipitated a North Korean attack. We were preparing for that to happen. And, I was actually in the room about the decision on how many we were going to deploy. Not “whether” to deploy, but how many to deploy. When the telephone call came in from Pyongyang in the middle of the meeting. I have never believed that was a coincidence, that that meeting – they knew the meeting was going on and they wanted to shortstop it. So…now let me get back to the question, the question, now, in particular – would you repeat the question in the question? WIT: I think you answered David’s question. PERRY: Well, okay. We did consider, and I had actually, on my desk, a plan for attacking Yongbyon, and taking the reactor out. We were satisfied we could do it with a few cruise missiles with conventional warheads, and we could do it without undesirable contamination to the people of North Korea. So, it was a plan that was easy to implement. What we did not know, of course, was what the repercussions would be from that plan, and the extent to which it would call upon military action against South Korea. So, we strongly favored diplomacy as an alternative to that, and diplomacy, in fact, was what finally won out. So, that plan could have been done. I never recommended it to the President. Had I recommended it, he would have, then – and had he agreed to do it – he would then have had to go to the President of South Korea and get his agreement also. Because, as I said, any action, military action, that we take against North Korea, the most likely consequence would be military action against South Korea. So, we cannot separate that out. The United States, in my judgment, does not have the right to take unilateral action, military action, against North Korea; it has to come in conjunction with our allies, in particular our ally in South Korea, which would face the brunt of any reprisals. So, that action, even aside from those issues, that actually makes no sense today, taking – namely, bombing Yongbyon – because they now have nuclear weapons and their nuclear weapons are undoubtedly not located at Yongbyon. So, taking out that facility would not take out their nuclear weapons. So, that’s an alternative, that’s an option, whose day has passed.

Q: Korea and Japan to acquire their own nuclear weapons, as a form of deterrence. What do you make of that, the efficacy of that? And also, his idea that it’s really China that should be taking the lead in persuading North Korea to negotiate? PERRY: Two good questions and two very different questions. To get China’s cooperation, I think our only prospect is to demonstrate by our action that we’re offering a serious diplomatic alternative to North Korea. That was basically what I proposed. I believe, if we made that offer and negotiated in good faith and North Korea walked away from negotiations, then I think there would be a much better opportunity to get cooperation from China, much more effective sanctions. On nuclear weapons, on a South Korean nuclear weapons program or Japan nuclear weapons program, let me be very clear on a few points. First, when either nation – if they were to decide to go to build a nuclear weapon – could have nuclear weapons in less than a year’s time. They both have the capability. They both have the ability to get the fissile material. They could move very quickly and very rapidly. They have voluntarily abstained from doing that, I think for good reasons, and I support them continuing to abstain from doing that. I am very much opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons from more nations, including even responsible nations like South Korea and Japan. So, I’m not in favor of that happening. If it gets to the point where either, in particular South Korea, were doubtful that our extended deterrence would apply to them, and therefore were considering building their own nuclear weapons, I think a preferred alternative to that would be the deployment of US nuclear weapons in South Korea, as an alternative to South Korea building their own nuclear weapons. It’s a better alternative, I think, than South Korea building their own nuclear weapons. That was the situation – and some of you may be old enough to remember the days of the Cold War, when Germany was “under the gun,” in this case from the Soviet Union, and we offered our extended deterrence to Germany from an attack by the Soviet Union. The Germans were a little hesitant, and they said, “Would you willing to sacrifice, if the Soviet Union attacked us, would you be willing to sacrifice New York to save Bonn or Berlin? We would feel much more confident about your offer of deterrence if you were deploying your nuclear weapons in Germany.” And so we did, during the Cold War. I think – thought then, and I think now – it was a bad decision, from a military point of view. But, from a political point of view, it was the right decision, because it gave the Germans the confidence that our deterrence really did apply to them. Again, to go one more step in detail, during the Cold War, when we deployed those nuclear weapons in Germany, we deployed them on a two finger on the button policy. In other words, they would be launched not only by the US President giving the authority but by the German Chancellor giving the recommendation. So, it seems to me that’s an analogy we can look to. I didn’t think it was a good idea then. I don’t think it’s a good idea now. But, a far better alternative – but it seems to me – and then it seemed to be a necessary alternative, because Germany was uneasy, uncertain, about our willingness to really follow through on extended deterrence. So, to the extent the South Korean people, for example, feel uncertain about our willingness to really extend our deterrence, and are thinking of building their own nuclear weapons, then I think a good alternative to that would be to deploy nuclear weapons there in the same spirit that we did in Germany during the Cold War.

Q: John Harris from Politico. If you had succeeded, in the closing hours of the Clinton administration, with getting a nuclear deal, that would have solved the security problem. To what extent do you think that would have led to solving the political problem of North Korea? Would it have led to a new North Korea, or did you see yourself as solving only the discrete military problem? PERRY: John, that’s a hell of a good question. And before I answer that one, I want to go back to the history of the Agreed Framework. We had that goal in the Agreed Framework, to not only solve the military problem, but to also solve the political problem. And the Agreed Framework, besides the specific provisions on nuclear weapons and providing nuclear reactors and so on, also had a provision for improving political agreements, steps each country could take. The United States followed through faithfully on all of our technical agreements, [but] did not follow through on the political provisions. I think it did not, not because the Clinton administration wasn’t willing to do it, but because it got a lot of opposition in Congress for doing that. Congress, as you may remember, was not even in favor of the Agreed Framework to begin with. So, there was a lot of resistance in Congress, for whatever reason. The consequence of that was that we did not really follow through on the political end of that agreement. So, that was one of the reasons, I think, the Agreed Framework did not achieve its full potential. The same situation applied to, would have applied, in 2001, if we had agreed – if we had come to the agreement we had reached with North Korea at that time. To get the political as well as the military benefits of it, there would have had to have been steps on both sides to try to reach accommodation, to try to bring North Korea back into the family of normal nations, so to speak. But that would require action on the United States’ [part] as well as on the part of North Korea. Finally, the other side of that picture is that North Korea might have signed such an agreement with the full intention of evading it, and I cannot disprove people who claim that would be the case. So that was always – even had we gotten the agreement – there was always the possibility that we would have arrived at the situation that we are today, only except five or 10 years later. … Q: Matt Pennington from AP. Secretary Perry, can you say – talk a little bit – about the difficulties in assessing North Korea’s capabilities with nuclear weapons and missiles? Currently, we hear different estimations of their capabilities, even within the US government, but you have people at the Department of Defense who will say – they sort of act on the basis that North Korea probably has the ability to put a nuclear warhead on an ICBM, and yet then we hear people at the State Department saying “We don’t believe North Korea has that capability yet.” Has it always been an issue, in the US government, that you get different assessments of North Korea’s capabilities? And how does that, sort of, influence how you make your policy decisions? PERRY: We have a shortage of hard, factual, data on which to base such a conclusion. That gives lots of room for a variety of views and a variety of opinion. My views on that are based primarily on my discussions with Sig Hecker, who I think knows more about this problem than any American. He was, as you may know, the Director of the Los Alamos Livermore Laboratories that developed our own nuclear weapons. He’s made several visits to Yongbyon, the nuclear facility. He has talked in detail with the head of their nuclear program. So, he probably knows more about that issue, based on factual data, than anybody that I know of. So, I look to him for that kind of information. Based on that, I think they have the ability, even now or in the near future, to build a nuclear weapon small enough to go on an ICBM. It’s probably a relatively low-yield weapon. But remember, it was a low-yield weapon that destroyed Hiroshima. So, that’s not a very comforting fact. I would just the biggest deterrence to an operational ICBM lies more in their ICBM than in their warhead. To the extent they have some deficiencies yet in their warhead, they’re probably things that could be tested out in another one or two tests. And, in addition, they may be conducting tests to get higher-yield warheads. So, there are many reasons for wanting to stop the nuclear testing. That’s why I put that number one on our objectives, things we can do to not eliminate the danger but to lessen the danger. So, if I leave anything else with you today, it is my strongly held view that we don’t have it in our power today to negotiate an end to the nuclear weapons program in North Korea, but we do have it in our power, probably, to lessen the danger, and the number one objective of that would be to stop ICBM testing, stop nuclear testing. That would go a long way, I think, towards lessening the danger. And, even if they can put a small enough nuclear warhead on an ICBM and neither of them have been tested, it’s a very dubious proposition. They then have to face three dubious propositions. One is whether their ICBMs will even work. Number two, whether their nuclear weapon will work. And three, whether our defense will work. All those combine together to give you a pretty low confidence that they can really do anything, and give a very high risk of trying.

Q: My name is Aikawa Haruyuki with Mainichi Newspaper. Could you please address your estimation about when the DPRK will get an ICBM with a nuclear warhead? And my second question is how to [intercept DPRK’s ICBMs] I understand that the United States has [different defense systems in Alaska – could the] US intercept North Korean ICBMs? PERRY: The answer to the first question of when they will be ready to deploy the ICBMs, is I don’t know. It depends not just on the factual data and test data we have, but it turns on what are their standards for deployment. Are they willing to deploy something which has not been fully tested? Are they willing to deploy something which they don’t have full confidence in? My guess is they would be, which means, I would say, in a year or two. But if they insist on the standards of testing that we insist on, then they are probably three, or four, or five years away from it. So, the reason I can’t give you a definite answer is that I do not know what standard they’re willing to impose before they could actually deploy something. If they want to deploy it for show, for effect, they could probably do it in a year or two. …Those of you who have heard me speak before, on the ABM subject, know that I’m not a big fan of the ABM, though my big negative on them has to do with their ability to defend against a mass attack, largescale attack. If we continue to work to improve our ABM capability, we probably have a reasonably good probability of stopping a small-scale attack, one, or two, or three. So, we would defend against it, first of all, by trying to catch it early in flight, which is relatively easy because of North Korea’s geography and the fact that we have ABM systems deployed on Aegis ships. We also have ABM systems deployed and designed to go for ICBMs specifically, and the reason I’m concerned about them is that they depend on midflight intercept and midflight intercept is highly susceptible to counter-measures and decoys and the like. But, with a relatively unsophisticated attack, from relatively few ICBMs, I think we’d have a pretty good shot. So, that’s a longwinded answer. To give you a short answer to your question, I think our ICBMs [ABMs] probably could be successful against a small-scale attack.

Q: Jae-soon Chang, Yonhap News Agency. Secretary Perry, you talked about disrupting North Korea’s ICBM tests as part of plan B that should be considered only after negotiations break down completely. …What if North Korea test fires one, even before negotiations begin, like, for example, last week? Do you think we should shoot it down? PERRY: I would not be opposed to some forms of disruption, even then. To make some point about coercive measures, I think it’s useful for North Korea to believe that we are willing to and capable of conducting coercive actions. I want to tell you one anecdote about that, based on the time when I was Secretary of Defense and we were, at the time, I said, we were very close to a war. The issue then was different. The issue was North Korea reprocessing spent fuel at Yongbyon, with the goal of making plutonium. And they had enough that they could – plutonium – they had enough to make about six nuclear bombs with what they had then. And we considered that a very undesirable outcome. And we were taking strong diplomatic measures to try to keep it from doing that. At the same time, as I told you, I had requested a study and had it on my desk of how to take out Yongbyon with cruise missiles. I didn’t advertise that, but I had it. But we did state, and I stated unequivocally, that we would not permit North Korea to make that plutonium. And, by the way, we meant it. This was not an empty threat. What happened, at that time, was a pure accident, as far as I was concerned. But my good friend, Brent Scowcroft, _____________________, wrote an op-ed, I think in the Washington Post, in which they recommended we do the very thing that I had a plan to do, said that’s what we should do. And, two days later, we got the offer from Yongbyon [Pyongyang] to negotiate. I have always believed – I can’t prove it – that that op-ed, which was certainly read by North Korea – that they believed that I had stimulated that op-ed. It was not true; I did not. But they believed it. And they believed that was a very serious threat. So, I think the ability to do coercive actions, and the other side believes that you’re willing to do coercive actions, is a great help in diplomacy sometimes.

Q: Mike Elleman with the IISS. On the ICBM, would you – well, first, if they don’t test it, the chances of it actually working, historically and from an engineering risk analysis, is about 30-40 percent, maybe less, which means they couldn’t possibly have much confidence in it. They may deploy it. But, if you combine that with missile defense and other measures, reliability of the warhead, it has to impact their calculus. If that is true, then would it be worthwhile to negotiate with them specifically on the ICBM issue, leaving the nuclear issue as a second negotiating tactic? Work the ICBM and incentive, allow them to do space launch activity under very controlled circumstances, with sufficient transparency. And what I mean by “controlled circumstances,” there is a limit to what types of engines and trajectories they can use. Would that be something that we should be considering and working towards? PERRY: Mike, understanding “the devil is in the details” in negotiation, my answer to that would be yes. Absolutely. They certainly could not have confidence, whether it’s 30 percent or – I don’t know what the number is – but it’s not fifty-fifty. They certainly cannot have that confidence. Add to that the question about whether our ABM system might work. All of that adds together to say that the deployment, if they made it, would be for show rather than because they think it’s going to work. But they might find value in deploying it, just for the show ________________. We could not write it off, but we should not take it too seriously. …WIT: I actually have a question now, before going back to – I’ll get to John at the end. I’ll save him, the best, for last. Since, of course, you have been Secretary of Defense, you are very well positioned to comment on one of the North Korean demands, which is the suspension of joint exercises, in return for some of the things that you would like to achieve. So, the question is, of course, first of all, do you think we can maybe not suspend joint exercises but modify them, change our exercises in a way that wouldn’t adversely affect our security but that the North Koreans might find attractive? Particularly, this whole idea of decapitating the North Korean regime. PERRY: I would not suspend them as a precondition. In fact, the exercises are a useful pressure for helping bring North Korea to the bargaining table. Once we got into a serious negotiation, would I put them on the table? And the answer is certainly I would. We can do all sorts of exercises; they don’t have to be called “Team Spirit.” They don’t have to be done in the way that was done. So, I think you could, in good faith, put them on the table without giving up the idea that exercises are a good thing. (William J. Perry, Transcript of a 38North Press Briefing, Washington, January 9, 2017)

The $36 billion system of ground-based interceptors can’t yet be counted on to shoot down a nuclear-armed missile aimed at the West Coast by the likes of North Korea or Iran, the Pentagon’s weapons testing office says. The network of radar and communications combined with missiles based in California and Alaska has demonstrated only a “limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers of simple” intercontinental ballistic missiles, the testing office said in its latest annual report. The probability that the U.S. would succeed in intercepting an incoming missile can’t be quantified with any precision “due to a lack of ground tests” supported by verified “modeling and simulation,” according to an advance copy of the assessment provided late today to congressional defense committees and Pentagon officials. The testing office’s assessment is the same as its 2016 report because too few new results were generated to warrant a change, even as the threat from North Korea in particular has grown. The office said the “reliability and availability of the operational” interceptors are also low, as the Missile Defense Agency continues to discover new flaws and “failure modes” during testing. In response, Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the missile defense agency, said in an interview today he retains “high confidence” in the system. He said the next attempt to intercept a dummy missile is tentatively scheduled for the period of April to June. The next test will attempt to shoot down a target that replicates for the first time the speed, trajectory and closing velocity of an actual ICBM, Syring said. The U.S. will test avionics updates to the booster rocket built by Orbital ATK Inc. that carries an improved version of a hit-to-kill conventional warhead built by Raytheon Co. Interceptors are located at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The system is managed by Boeing Co. The next interception attempt will be the first since a successful test in June 2014. Before that, though, two tests that failed in 2010 prompted an extensive effort to fix flaws with the interceptor’s warhead that Syring said have now been fixed and verified. “I am very confident in the systems and procedures” the U.S. Northern Command, which operates the missile defense shield, “will employ to intercept a North Korean ICBM were they to shoot it toward our territory,” Syring said. Laura Grego, a missile defense analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said last year that none of the interception tests since 2010 have used targets representative of actual threats or complex countermeasures. Since its inception, the system “has destroyed its target fewer than half the 17 times it has been tested, and its record is not improving over time,” she said. Since the 2004 deployment decision, “the system has a three-for-nine record,” said Grego, co-author of a July 2016 report titled “Shielded From Oversight: The Disastrous U.S. Approach to Strategic Missile Defense.” (Anthony Capaccio, “Stopping N. Korean Missile No Sure Thing, U.S. Tester Says,” Bloomberg News, January 10, 2017)


1/10/17:
The U.S. military might monitor a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test and gather intelligence rather than destroy it, as long as the launch did not pose a threat, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. “If the missile is threatening, it will be intercepted. If it’s not threatening, we won’t necessarily do so,” Carter said in his final news briefing. “Because it may be more to our advantage to, first of all, save our interceptor inventory, and, second, to gather intelligence from the flight, rather than do that (intercept the ICBM) when it’s not threatening.” The top U.S. military officer, Marine General Joseph Dunford, who will stay in his role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concurred with Carter at the event but did not enter into specifics. Carter’s language left open the possibility of U.S. military action in any scenario. (Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart, “U.S. Says Might Not Shoot down North Korean ICBM, Eying Intel,” Reuters, January 10, 2017)

The Defense Ministry warned that North Korea “seems to be capable” of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile from a mobile launcher. In a press briefing, ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said, “We’re keeping close watch on the North’s big anniversaries this year as possible dates for an ICBM launch.” The Defense Ministry spokesman here said the KN-08 or the improved KN-14 could be launched from a 16-wheeled mobile launch vehicle without being immediately noticed by South Korea and the U.S. (Yu Yong-weon, “N. Korea ‘Could Fire Long-Range Missile from Mobile Launcher,’” Chosun Ilbo, January 10, 2017)

Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. may need “more forceful ways” of dealing with North Korea if it develops an intercontinental ballistic missile that threatens America. Speaking at the U.S. Naval Academy, Kerry said nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea’s “reckless dictator” Kim Jong Un pose one of the most serious national security challenges to the United States. He said the aim should be resuming talks on denuclearization that could open the way to economic assistance for North Korea, sanctions relief and a formal peace on the divided Korean Peninsula. But Kerry said if the North persists in developing the long-range missile it “drags the United States into an immediate threat situation to which we may then have to find other ways, more forceful ways of having an impact on the choices that he is making.” Kerry didn’t elaborate. (Matthew Pennington, “Kerry ‘More Forceful Ways’ May Be needed with North,” Associated Press, January 10, 2017)

Tension between South Korea and China flared up after Beijing‘s fighter jets entered South Korea’s air defense zone without prior notice, amid protests from China over a US anti-missile system set to be installed here. According to the Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, some 10 Chinese military planes — including bombers — flew into the Korean air defense identification zone near the southern island of Jeju between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. yesterday. The aircrafts also entered an equivalent air defense zone near the Tsushima Strait of Japan. In response, the South Korea military sent out 10 fighter jets, including F-15Ks and KF-16s. They sent a warning signal to the Chinese planes whoich, the Korean military said, were in and out of the KADIZ until they exit the area without conflict. It was not the first time that Chinese aircraft have entered the area since it was expanded in 2013. This latest action has, however, prompted fresh speculation over China’s motive in light of its clashes with Seoul over its decision to station the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system here. “(China) gave us the answer that it was for training purposes,” said a JCS official. “We believe they have a different purpose at different times. It needs further analysis to find out what they were getting at.” Beijing has adopted a series of retaliatory measures against Seoul since it reached an agreement with the US to deploy the THAAD battery here last July. Not only did China impose punitive trade measures against Korean companies, it has even banned Korean actors and actresses from appearing on its shows. During a meeting on Jan. 4 with lawmakers of Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi condemned Seoul’s decision to deploy THAAD, saying the process should be “delayed and frozen” if South Korea wants to expand cooperation with Beijing.

Since the ADIZs are not officially recognized airspace, military officials noted, states are not able to exercise sovereign rights to evict aircrafts flying over them. Instead, individual states can issue warnings to other nations who enter the area without prior notice. “Under the KADIZ, we are only allowed to detect and track unidentified aircrafts. We are not able to take forcible measures to evict those who intrude in the zone. It is different from what we can do in the airspace,” said the JCS official. According to the JCS, Chinese military planes intruded into the KADIZ on more than a dozen occasions last year. But the incident yesterday was “unusual,” they said, because it involved more than 10 aircrafts. In 2015, there were only few aircrafts flying into the area. Mounting tensions over the air defense areas has spurred the call for building a proper communication channel between Korea, China and Japan — such as to inform each other of their entry into the areas and to take preventive measures to prevent potential armed onflicts. Currently, the three countries are not obliged to notify each other of their entry into the ADIZs, the JCS said. South Korea often shares flight information with Japan when their aircrafts fly along the ADIZs under bilateral agreement. It has not yet to make such a pact with China. (Yeo Jun-suk, “THAAD Tension Brews after China Sends Planes to Korea’s Air Zone,” Korea Herald, January 10, 2017)


1/11/17:
Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, denounced China’s “empty promises” on North Korea and said he would consider action to “compel” China to comply with the United Nations sanctions in case of violations. Tillerson pointed to North Korea as an adversary which posed “grave threats to the world because of their refusal to conform to international norms.” Speaking at a nine-hour confirmation hearing at the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Tillerson attacked China’s attitude toward the DPRK and said the U.S. wouldn’t ignore “violation of international accords”. “We cannot continue to accept empty promises like the ones China has made to pressure North Korea to reform, only to shy away from enforcement,” Tillerson, former chairman and former chief executive officer (CEO) of Exxon Mobile, told committee members in an opening statement. “Looking the other way when trust is broken only encourages more bad behavior. And it must end.” The U.S. Secretary of State nominee said China “hasn’t been a reliable partner in using its full influence to curb North Korea.” When asked by Senator Cory Gardner whether he would be “willing to exert additional pressure on North Korea through China,” including enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions, Tillerson suggested China should enhance its role in North Korean issues. “I think we have to be clear-eyed as to how far China will go and not get overly optimistic,” Tillerson said. “That’s why ultimately it’s going to require a new approach to China in order for China to understand our expectations of them, going beyond certainly what they have in the past, which has fallen short.” With respect to imposing secondary sanctions, Tillerson also pointed out that “90 percent” of the North’s trade was with China and that it was “solely dependent on Chinese trade.” “To the extent there are specific violations of the sanctions, such as the purchase of coal, which is specifically mentioned in the UN sanctions most recently, if there are gaps of enforcement, they have to be enforced,” Tillerson said. “If China is not going to comply with those UN sanctions, then it’s appropriate for the United States to consider actions to compel them to comply.” The nominee reiterated that the U.S. should “hold China accountable to comporting with the sanctions.” “They really do have complete control over what sustains the government of North Korea. A big part of that is the sale of anthracite coal across the border and sanctions did speak to that sale,” he said. Tillerson called for “closing gaps” caused by insufficient enforcement of the UN sanctions as a way to lead multilateral efforts to peacefully disarm Pyongyang, describing it as “a long-term plan.” “…There are gaps in those sanctions today that are undermining their effectiveness. It is a question of closing those gaps where it’s appropriate to seek further steps against those who are not fully complying with those sanctions.” He said that the U.S. would “put additional pressure” on the North so as to prevent it from continuing to “advance not just their development but the delivery systems, which is where the greatest threat exists today.” (Dagyum Ji, “U.S. Can ‘Compel’ China to Comply with Sanctions on N. Korea: Tillerson,” NKNews, January 12, 2017)

North Korea has made significant progress on its nuclear capability with its plutonium stockpile reaching 50 kilograms, which is capable of making up to a dozen fission bombs, according to South Korea’s 2016 defense white paper released today, The report assessed that Pyongyang has secured some 50 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, up from the 40 kilograms estimated in the 2014 edition of its white paper. The volume is sufficient to manufacture around 10 nuclear weapons, as one bomb generally requires 4 to 6 kilograms of the material. “We have come up with this number based on when its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon began operation (and) how much plutonium it has obtained after using it for nuclear tests,” a Defense Ministry official said. The Defense Ministry’s biennial report said the communist state has scaled up its “Strategic Rocket Force” in charge of nuclear and missile warfare to 10,000 and cyber personnel to 6,800 as part of efforts to boost its asymmetric warfare capability. The 2016 report described in detail information about Pyeongyang’s various ICBMs, including the KN-08 and KN-14 with a range of up to 12,000 kilometers as well as the SLBM that the North test-fired last August. Pyeongyang has yet to test-fire the KN-08 and KN-14, which were revealed during a military parade in 2012. “We decided to classify the KN-08 and KN-14 as ICBMs because we want to track their development process,” the Defense Ministry official said. “It is part of our efforts to figure out the missiles’ capabilities and technological process.” The white paper also noted that Pyongyang has made “considerable” progress in producing highly enriched uranium, another type of fuel for nuclear bombs. But the report did not provide information about the specific amounts of weapon-grade HEU — a material produced by a centrifuge plant usually run in a secretive environment. Meanwhile, North Korea has increased its number of cyberwarfare troops to 6,800 from 6,000 in 2014, said the paper, reflecting mounting concerns over the growing threat of North Korea’s cyberattacks targeting South Korea’s defense system and socioeconomic infrastructure. “Recently, the North Korea military has reshuffled its organization,” said the paper, adding that Pyongyang’s General Staff Department, equivalent to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, has created a new organization dealing with intelligence operation and increased military personnel for the mission. The paper noted that Pyongyang has increased the number of standing troops to 1.28 million in 2016 from 1.2 million two years earlier, highlighting the regime’s efforts to enhance conventional military power despite its decreasing population and shrinking economy. Specifically, the army boasted 1.1 million troops, 80,000 higher than two years earlier. Among them, 100,000 were assigned to “strategic forces” dedicated to nuclear and missile warfare. The air force shrank from 120,000 to 110,000. The navy remained unchanged at 60,000. North Korea’s army has increased the number of corps-level units to 17 from 15, and division-level units by one to 82, the paper said. The newly established units are dedicated to massive construction missions such as building highways and monuments idolizing Kim Jong-un, it added. “North Korea believes that it will need a more unified command and control system for construction missions glorifying Kim’s legacy,” said the official. “They think the military is more suitable for doing such missions than civilian organizations.” (Yeo Jun-suk, “Pyongyang’s Plutonium Stockpile Grows to 50 Kg: Seoul,” Korea Herald, January 11, 2017)

The Treasury Department targeted seven North Korean government officials and two government agencies, escalating the U.S. response to the Asian nation’s missile testing and threats. Americans are banned from financial transactions with the officials and agencies, sanctioned by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The department will also freeze the U.S.-based assets of the sanctioned officials and parties. The sanctioned officials include government and party leaders in charge of national security, labor camps, propaganda, censorship and “maintaining ideological purity,” according to OFAC. Kim Won Hong, North Korean minister of state security, is among those sanctioned. OFAC said his ministry conducts torture at labor camps, including “beatings, forced starvation, sexual assault, forced abortions, and infanticide.” Other sanctioned officials include Kim Il-Nam, who runs a labor camp; Kim Yo Jong, who helps oversee propaganda and media censorship; Kang P’il-Hun, who manages “a network of police stations, interrogation and detention centers, and labor camps;” and Min Byong Chol, reportedly known as the “angel of death” for a record of political purges, according to OFAC. OFAC also sanctioned North Korea’s State Planning Commission and Ministry of Labor. (Sylvan Lane, “Treasury Sanctions Top North Korean Officials,” The Hill, January 11, 2017) The U.S. Department of Treasury has released a new list of designations against North Korean entities and individuals which include Kim Yo Jong, sister of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Kim was identified as Vice Director of the Workers’ Party of Korea Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD), an entity previously designated by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in March. In total seven individuals and two entities were listed “Treasury is taking this action in conjunction with the State Department’s Report on Serious Human Rights Abuses or Censorship in North Korea,” a Treasury press release read. “The North Korean regime not only engages in severe human rights abuses, but it also implements rigid censorship policies and conceals its inhumane and oppressive behavior,” John E. Smith, Acting OFAC Director, was quoted as saying. In a Department of State Report published in February the PAD was identified as controlling all media in the country, “which the government uses to control the public.” Kim Yo Jong now joins her brother Kim Jong Un on the list of designated individuals after he was listed in sanctions by OFAC in June, 2016 for his involvement in for what an accompanying press release called “North Korea’s notorious abuses of human rights.” Choe Hwi was also identified as a Vice Director of PAD and included in the sanctions list alongside Kim. Jo Yong Won and Min Byong Chol were designated for their roles in the country’s Organization and Guidance Department, a previously sanctioned agency. The press relase said that Min was also known as the Angel of Death “for his record of political inspections and purges.” Kang P’il Hun was designated for his role as a Director of the General Political Bureau of the Ministry of People’s Security, which is also an entity previously sanctioned for its role in human rights violations in North Korea. Kim Il Nam and Kim Won Hong were sanctioned for their roles in the Ministry of State Security, again a previously sanctioned agency. Kim Jong Un is head of both the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of People’s Security. North Korea’s Ministry of Labor and its State Planning Commission were the two entities subject to the new designations. “The Ministry of Labor forcibly allocates individuals to specific sectors, including the mining sector, in accordance with the State Planning Commission’s labor allocation plans,” the OFAC press release read. (Hamish Macdonald, “U.S. Sanctions Kim Jong Un’s Sister for Censorship Activities,” NKNews, January 11, 2017)

A high-tech sea-based U.S. military radar has left Hawaii to monitor for potential North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test launches, a U.S. defense official said. The official said the radar, known as the Sea-based X-band radar (SBX), left two days ago and would reach its destination, about 2,000 miles (3,218 km) northwest of Hawaii, towards the end of January. The radar is able to track ICBMs and differentiate between hostile missiles and those that are not a threat. “The SBX’s current deployment is not based on any credible threat; however, we cannot discuss specifics for this particular mission while it is underway,” Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said. (Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart, “U.S. Deploys High-Tech Radar amid Heightened North Korea Rhetoric: Official,” Reuters, January 11, 2017)


1/12/17:
Sigal: “Lost in the countryside, a city slicker stops to ask a farmer for directions. The farmer replies laconically, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.” Starting from here is the sort of advice President Donald Trump is likely to get when he asks about North Korea. He will be urged to pick up where his predecessor left off: refuse to enter into negotiations unless the North first commits to denuclearizing completely and takes steps to demonstrate it is serious about that commitment. He also will be told to continue ratcheting up sanctions in a vain effort to force Pyongyang to the negotiating table on U.S. terms. That advice is tantamount to wishing away Washington’s current predicament in hopes of somehow going back to the future. Looming Threat President Barack Obama’s stance of “strategic patience”—pressure without negotiations—rested on the dubious premise that time was on Washington’s side. His successor does not have that luxury. North Korea’s fifth nuclear test may have yielded a nuclear device that can be mounted on a missile, although a few more tests still may be needed to prove its reliability. The North’s reactor at Yongbyon is fitfully generating more spent fuel, a refurbished reprocessing facility has just turned that spent fuel into plutonium, a new reactor is nearing completion, and its uranium-enrichment program, an alternative route to produce the explosive material for a nuclear bomb, has expanded. At its current pace, Pyongyang could have enough fissile material for more than 40 nuclear weapons by 2021. Pyongyang is also test-launching new missiles, its intermediate-range Musudan and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile that could circumvent the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system that is soon to be deployed in South Korea. A KN-08 ballistic missile is assessed to be capable of reaching the United States. Without testing, neither Washington nor Pyongyang can be sure of its range or reliability, but leader Kim Jong Un now said in his New Year address January 1 that his country is in the “final state of preparation”1 for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). “Won’t happen,” Trump responded in a January 2 tweet.2 So what will Trump do to head off that looming threat? Trump’s Impulses Trump’s campaign rhetoric was contradictory, yielding few cues about what his North Korea policy might be. He has disparaged Kim as a “total nut job” and a “madman playing around with the nukes.”3 Yet, he also expressed willingness to sit down and talk with him. “Who the hell cares? I’ll speak to anybody,” Trump said. “There’s a 10 percent or 20 percent chance I could talk him out of having his damn nukes, because who the hell wants him to have nukes?”4 Trump’s rhetoric was often impulsive, but it may be worth looking at the impulses he repeatedly revealed. Tougher sanctions. The favorite prescription of the foreign policy establishment is to tighten sanctions. To appear to do something while failing to tackle a difficult political problem is the classic stance of Washington insiders. Yet, sanctions may have less appeal to an anti-establishment outsider such as Trump and for good reason. Sanctions have enjoyed far less success against North Korea than against Iran. As the experience of negotiating with Iran suggests, moreover, relaxing sanctions may help stanch nuclear arming better than tightening them. Although UN sanctions have impeded weapons trade with North Korea, the evidence suggests that they have not done much to hamper North Korea’s economy, which has continued to grow at a modest pace over the past decade. Its foreign trade persists despite efforts of the U.S. Department of the Treasury to cut off its access to banks around the globe, suggesting that hawala, the informal networks of brokers and middlemen who move money for clients in countries with large Muslim populations in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, and similar middlemen in China have picked up some of the slack. Unlike oil-rich Iran, North Korea does not have many big-ticket items to buy or sell, making letters of credit from international banks less of a necessity. In a world where money flows more freely than water, trying to plug the many leaks seems doomed to fail. North Koreans may denounce financial sanctions as a sign of U.S. hostile intent, but they are crying all the way around the banks. Let China do it. Another favorite prescription in Washington is to outsource the North Korean problem to China. That misreads Pyongyang’s purpose: it has long sought to improve relations with the United States, South Korea, and Japan as a hedge against overdependence on China for its security and prosperity. Nothing threatens Pyongyang more than cooperation between Washington and Beijing. When Washington and Beijing applied concerted pressure on Pyongyang, the North responded with nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2016 in an effort to drive them apart. During his campaign, Trump repeatedly voiced support for letting China deal with Kim. “I would get China to make that guy disappear, in one form or another, very quickly,” Trump told CBS. “China has absolute control of North Korea. They won’t say it, but they do, and they should make that problem disappear.”5 As it has demonstrated over many years, China has no interest in making Kim or North Korea disappear, which limits how much pressure it is willing to apply on Pyongyang by imposing stringent sanctions. At the same time as he wants China’s help with North Korea, Trump has shown an impulse to pick a fight with China over trade and Taiwan. How will that help persuade China to step up pressure on Pyongyang, let alone “make that guy disappear”? “They don’t live and they don’t breathe without China,” he said of Pyongyang. “They wouldn’t get anything without China. China has the power, and we have to tell China to straighten out the situation,” Trump told Fox News. “We have power over China because of trade. Frankly, if we ever stopped it, believe me you would see a depression in China like you have never seen a depression before.”6 Yet, such a depression might also reduce U.S. growth and imperil South Korea and Japan, whose economies depend heavily on trade with China. And threatening to break the commitment to a one-China policy is likely to encourage Beijing to prop up Pyongyang. Regime change. South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s current passion for regime change has impeded U.S. efforts to open negotiations, but she is being forced out of office. Ironically, regime change seems to have come to Washington and Seoul sooner than to Pyongyang. Yet, if Trump follows Park’s lead and waits for North Korea’s collapse, he will likely face a North Korea with many more nuclear warheads able to be delivered by missiles, some possibly capable of reaching the U.S. heartland, before his first term ends. By then, if not before, Trump will hear siren calls to launch a preventive war to keep North Korea from fielding ICBMs armed with nuclear warheads, as if U.S. intelligence could pinpoint the locations of all the warheads in that tunnel-riven land. For a president who, as a candidate, repeatedly criticized U.S. military intervention abroad and was skeptical of alliances, that option might be particularly unpalatable.7 Negotiation. Trump’s strongest impulse is to approach international politics as transactional and to regard himself as a peerless deal-breaker and deal-maker. He first broached the idea of talking to Kim on January 6, the very day that North Korea conducted its fourth test of a nuclear device. “You have this madman over there who probably would use it, and nobody talks to him other than, of course, Dennis Rodman,” he told “Fox and Friends.” “But nobody is talking to him whatsoever, and nobody is discussing it with China.”8 In a May 17 interview with Reuters, he revealed a willingness to sit down personally with Kim, saying, “I would have no problem speaking to him.”9 In a campaign appearance in California on June 6, he was dismissive of experts’ “qualms about bargaining with North Korea.” To the practitioner of “The Art of the Deal,” that posed “no problems at all.” Not one to suffer critics gladly, Trump added, “They say ‘we would never, ever, talk.’ How foolish they are!”10 Nine days later, at a rally in Atlanta, he doubled down on the need for talks, saying he was prepared to host Kim, although he would forgo the usual diplomatic niceties. “If he came here, I’d accept him, but I wouldn’t give him a state dinner like we do for China and all these other people that rip us off when we give ‘em these big state dinners. We give them state dinners like you’ve never seen. We shouldn’t have dinners at all. We should be eating a hamburger on a conference table, and we should make better deals with China and others.”11 If he follows that instinct, he has to act sooner rather than later. The longer he waits, the greater the North’s bargaining leverage will be. Deferring negotiations until the North commits to complete denuclearization and takes unilateral steps to that end would be a waste of time. The urgent task is to induce Pyongyang to suspend arming now. Past Agreements Suspending the North Korean nuclear program has been the thrust of all three agreements that the United States has made with North Korea: the 1994 Agreed Framework; the September 19, 2005, six-party joint statement; and the 2012 Leap Day deal. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the first two accords had some success.12 The 1994 accord halted all fissile material production in the North for more than nine years until the George W. Bush administration seized on U.S. intelligence reports that Pyongyang was secretly acquiring the means to enrich uranium and used those reports to scrap the accord without bothering to probe the North’s offer to negotiate the issue. The 2005 accord was nearly stillborn when two days before the accord was finalized, the U.S. Treasury Department threatened sanctions on all banks that did business with North Korea, prompting authorities in Macao to seize North Korean funds at Banco Delta Asia. Shortly after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006, Washington agreed to arrange for the return of the funds; and Pyongyang ceased all fissile material production at Yongbyon and nuclear tests and missile test-launches, only to have the deal fall apart in 2009 after South Korea failed to deliver promised energy aid. The Leap Day deal collapsed almost immediately when North Korea proceeded with a satellite launch attempt in 2013 despite a U.S. warning that such a move would be a deal-breaker. Given that history, trying for a suspension yet one more time would face formidable political opposition in Washington and Seoul. Opponents would demand that no deal be made unless Pyongyang first commits to denuclearization, which it insists it will not do. Delaying a possible suspension of the North’s programs while seeking an unlikely commitment to give up its weapons is to sacrifice the practical on the altar of the theoretical, and trying for a permanent dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs would take much more substantial inducements and consume precious time. In short, without giving up the U.S. goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, negotiations have to start somewhere. Insisting on a more comprehensive deal while the North’s programs proceed apace does not make much strategic sense. Next Steps Washington understandably cannot keep negotiating while North Korea continues arming. Recent unofficial contacts indicate that Pyongyang seems open to talks about talks so long as it does not have to satisfy U.S. preconditions unilaterally. The subject of such talks would be a suspension of Pyongyang’s programs and the reciprocal steps that Washington would take to address its security concerns, along the lines of “action for action” as set forth in the September 19, 2005, joint statement. The North might be willing to suspend arming. That was also the implication of its January 9, 2015, offer of “temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned” if the United States “temporarily suspend[s] joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity this year.”13 A one-year suspension would not work. What would happen when that year was up? Would exercises have to be suspended permanently to keep the North from testing? The North may be amenable to a reduction in the scale, scope, and operating tempo of the three largest U.S.-South Korean joint exercises instead. For instance, if it were forgoing nuclear tests, there would be less need to fly B-52s into South Korean airspace to reassure U.S. allies. Similarly, mock attacks on nuclear sites and leadership targets could be avoided as needlessly provocative. Both sides would have to agree to do more. Pyongyang might be willing to suspend not only nuclear testing, but also missile tests and possibly satellite launches and verifiably stop fissile material production. In return, Washington could suspend the application of all sanctions that predate the North’s nuclear program, reaffirm its commitments in the October 2000 U.S.-North Korean joint communiqué renouncing “hostile intent” and pledging to build “a new relationship free from past enmity,” commit to respect the North’s sovereignty and not interfere in its internal affairs, and, after consulting with Seoul, agree to commence a peace process on the Korean peninsula. Yet, the chances of persuading North Korea to go beyond another temporary freeze and dismantle its nuclear and missile programs are slim without firm commitments from Washington and Seoul to move toward political and economic normalization, engage in a peace process to end the Korean War, and negotiate regional security arrangements, among them a nuclear-weapon-free zone that would provide a multilateral legal framework for denuclearization. Trump’s willingness to hold out the prospect of a summit with Kim would also be a significant inducement. Doubts about his enduring commitment to the alliance, however, could intensify Seoul’s resistance to engaging in a peace process. Suspension would leave North Korea with a rudimentary deterrent, but it would forestall unbounded weapons programs with profoundly destabilizing effect on the balance of power in Northeast Asia. Outlook If all else fails and North Korea continues to arm, the fallback position of many in Washington is to bolster deterrence and contain it. For others, that is not enough. Yet, Trump’s indisposition to military intervention and skepticism about alliances14 seem to rule out some of the more forceful options being bruited about in Washington. Impulses are not policies, but they may provide clues to Trump’s inclinations. If he follows his impulse to talk, he could succeed where Presidents Obama and George W. Bush have failed. North Korea’s arming is now unbounded. Temporary suspension of its nuclear and missile programs, if possible, would have huge benefits for U.S. and allied security and could open the way to a gradual improvement in relations with North Korea that would ease its insecurity and facilitate more permanent dismantlement of its weapons programs. Perhaps Trump could get there if he starts from here. ENDNOTES 1. Kim Jong Un, “New Year Address,” http://www.naenara.com.kp/en/news/?22+3039. 2. Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger, “‘It Won’t Happen,’ Trump Says of North Korean Missile Test,” The New York Times, January 2, 2017. 3. Donald Trump, On the Record, Fox News, January 7, 2016. 4. Maxwell Tani, “Donald Trump on North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un: ‘If He Came Here, I’d Accept Him,” Business Insider, June 15, 2016; Steve Holland and Emily Flitter, “Trump Would Talk to North Korea’s Kim, Renegotiate Climate Treaty,” Reuters, May 17, 2016. 5. Donald Trump, This Morning, CBS, February 10, 2016. 6. Donald Trump, “On the Record,” Fox News, January 7, 2016. 7. Trump has said, “We’re basically protecting Japan, and we are, every time North Korea raises its head, you know, we get calls from Japan and we get calls from everybody else, and “Do something.” And there’ll be a point at which we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore. Now, does that mean nuclear? It could mean nuclear.… [A]t some point, we cannot be the policeman of the world. And unfortunately, we have a nuclear world now. And you have, Pakistan has them. You have, probably, North Korea has them. I mean, they don’t have delivery yet, but you know, probably, I mean to me, that’s a big problem. And, would I rather have North Korea have them with Japan sitting there having them also? You may very well be better off if that’s the case.” Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger, “Transcript: Donald Trump Expounds on His Foreign Policy Views,” The New York Times, March 26, 2016. See “Transcript: Donald Trump on NATO, Turkey’s Coup Attempt and the World,” The New York Times, July 21, 2016. 8. David Sherfinski, “Donald Trump: About Time That China Gets Involved With the North Korea Problem,” Washington Times, January 6, 2016. 9. Holland and Flitter, “Trump Would Talk to North Korea’s Kim, Renegotiate Climate Treaty.” 10. Choi Sung-jin, “Trump Reaffirms Intention to Talk With Kim Jong Un,” Korea Times, June 6, 2016. 11. Eric DuVall, “Trump Would Host Kim Jong Un to Discuss Nuclear Program,” UPI, June 15, 2016. 12. For a history of the negotiations, see Leon V. Sigal, “What Have Twenty-Five Years of Nuclear Diplomacy Achieved?” in Pathways to a Peaceful Korean Peninsula: Denuclearization, Reconciliation and Cooperation, ed. Jeong-ho Roh (Seoul: Korean Institute of National Unification) (forthcoming). 13. Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), “KCNA Report,” January 10, 2015. 14. For instance, Haberman and Sanger, “Transcript: Donald Trump Expounds on His Foreign Policy Views.” (Leon V. Sigal, “One Impulse for Trump to Heed,” Arms Control Today, 47, 1 (January/February 2017), pp. 14-17)

John Schilling: “In his 2017 New Year’s Address, Kim Jong Un mentioned (among many other things) that North Korea had “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile.” It should be noted that this was neither the focus of his speech—which, for the most part, was a list of last year’s accomplishments—nor was it an announcement that a test would occur any time soon. Quite possibly, it was a signal to the new dealmaker-in-chief of the United States that North Korea might be ready to make a deal: to not conduct the provocative test for the right price. Still, we should consider the possibility that a test may occur in the near future. In which case, how might this happen and what might it mean? First, any “test” that takes place so soon after such a high-level political announcement is probably no test at all, but a demonstration. A test is an experiment, an attempt to determine whether or not a new system will work, and if not, why. A demonstration is meant to prove to a skeptical audience that, yes, North Korea does have a workable ICBM. Even if a test ends in failure and the North loses credibility it would still gain valuable information about why it failed and how to fix it. People tend to call their demonstrations “tests” to minimize the impact if they do fail, but Kim’s announcement means North Korean credibility will unavoidably be at stake in any long-range missile launch. Which brings us to the next question: which ICBM might they test? North Korea has a family of road-mobile ICBMs under development, of which, the KN-08 and KN-14 might be ready for a real test of the sort that often leads to politically embarrassing failures. It also has a proven space launch vehicle, the Unha-3, which could be pressed into service as a crude ICBM. An ICBM variant of the Unha could be sufficiently similar to the space launch vehicle in that it would be very likely to succeed, making it a good candidate for a political demonstration even though the Unha would make for a poor missile. A demonstration launch of an Unha-based ICBM would, at first, look very much like a satellite launch. The rocket would be assembled, checked out, and fueled over a period of several days at the Sohae launch facility. The launch would follow a trajectory similar to a satellite launch, probably aligned to avoid overflying any of North Korea’s neighbors. The first technical indication that anything was different would be the low acceleration of the upper stage, carrying a reentry vehicle with enough ballast to simulate a nuclear warhead. Eventually, the simulated warhead would enter the atmosphere and impact some eight to ten thousand kilometers downrange. The reentry event would be the only part of this exercise that would qualify as a real test, as North Korea has never demonstrated an ICBM-class reentry vehicle before. If they are conservative in the design, there is little chance that it would fail outright, but the accuracy on the first launch is likely to be poor. North Korean engineers would certainly want to have a ship stationed near the impact point to gather data, and we would certainly hope the United States Navy is keeping a close eye on where the North is stationing its ships. Pyongyang might also test a new upper stage with a more powerful engine, better suited for carrying heavy warheads. They might test an accelerated launch procedure, with hours rather than days of preparation. Such changes would increase risk, however, and even then, they wouldn’t really demonstrate anything we haven’t already known for years. The Unha rocket works, it can be adapted to carry warheads instead of satellites, but it can only be launched from large, fixed sites that can be monitored for signs of an impending launch. If it were seen as a real threat, it could be preemptively destroyed. It is more useful as a space launch vehicle, and North Korea seems to genuinely want a space program as well as an arsenal of missiles. If the North Koreans really want to impress anyone, and particularly if they have any hope of their space program being seen as a peaceful endeavor that might escape the political and economic sanctions imposed on North Korea’s missile programs, they will want to demonstrate their ICBM capability using a KN-08 or KN-14 mobile missile. Moreover, it is more likely that they will test when they are ready to test rather than risk repeating the recent experience of demonstrating the Musudan intermediate-range missile which resulted in an embarrassing record of six or seven failures out of eight launch attempts. In any case, the first test of an entirely new multistage missile whose main engine has only recently been demonstrated on the ground will almost certainly end in failure. Nevertheless, even a failure might put the North on a path to success. This is literally rocket science, one of the archetypal hard problems, and success can only be achieved through perseverance. The first American ICBM, the SM-65 “Atlas,” failed 26 seconds into its maiden flight. Eight tests were conducted over the course of a year, with only two being fully successful. The first all-up test of the competing SM-68 “Titan” was even shorter, exploding on the launch pad. The Titan scored only one success in its first six launches. However, both missiles entered operational service within two years of their initial, disastrous flight tests, and proved adequately reliable in service. Russia’s early experience with ICBMs was similar, though some of the details are still hazy. We should expect North Korean ICBMs to follow a similar path—a series of early failures leading to an operational capability even with a spotty testing record. There might be a somewhat slower pace of testing with a North Korean ICBM since the high pace of testing in early US and Soviet ICBM programs was a sign of desperation, not wanting to be on the wrong side of a “missile gap” by showing up late to the ICBM party. Even under the best of circumstances, it usually takes an engineering team at least three months to verify that they understand why a long-range rocket exploded and develop a fix they can be confident in. If missiles are being tested every month and usually failing, this means someone is willing to destroy large, sophisticated rockets on little more than an educated guess at a solution to the last test’s problem. That’s a very expensive way to gain a few months’ edge in an arms race. North Korea has traditionally conducted large rocket tests at intervals of six months to a year, a slower but more efficient process that gives their engineers time to do their jobs properly. Recently, as with the Musudan, the North tested at the sort of pace we demonstrated in the early Cold War. We can guess at what might drive such desperation, but it seems unlikely that Pyongyang can afford to keep up that pace in a full-scale ICBM development program. Its aerospace industry hasn’t demonstrated the production capacity needed to test an ICBM every month. One test every three to six months would be more realistic, at least in the long run, so this is not a process that will be completed in 2017. If North Korea wants the tests to succeed, or at least to learn as much as possible from the failures, it will also conduct them at existing launch sites and on their usual trajectories. Even if they use a mobile launcher, as the KN-08 and KN-14 likely will in operation, the North will want to have the full support facilities and technical staff of an experimental test facility close at hand for the early flights. And, since at least one of the failed Musudan tests apparently destroyed an expensive mobile launcher, conducting the first few tests from a heavy steel gantry on a concrete pad would be preferable. It is likely that the North Koreans will launch on a trajectory that accurately represents a long-range missile flight, and with full coverage from tracking radar and telemetry antennas. They might choose a lofted trajectory, firing at a steep angle to reach a high altitude but a short range, as they have on some recent Musudan and KN-11 flights. The Unha’s upper stages don’t have the thrust for such a trajectory, but a KN-14 would and a KN-08 might. At ICBM velocities this would be technically challenging, particularly during the reentry phase, but is the only practical way to conduct such a test at reduced range while avoiding the need to send a tracking ship far out into the Pacific to monitor reentry. Several reports have suggested that the United States might respond to a North Korean ICBM test by simply shooting down the missile. The more responsible comments along these lines have limited the discussion to missiles whose trajectory directly threatens the US and its allies. However, North Korea is unlikely to “test” an ICBM by firing it at Los Angeles or Hawaii. In any case, currently the United States and its allies have a very limited ability to shoot down a test or demonstration flight of a North Korean ICBM. The US National Missile Defense system could probably do the job but it is based at fixed sites in Alaska and California and would be of no use in protecting US allies. The US, Japanese and South Korean navies all operate warships with the Aegis, meant for use against shorter-ranged missiles although under ideal conditions could be capable of shooting down an ICBM or even a satellite [6]. However, shooting down something capable of flying as high and as fast as an ICBM would require an Aegis warship to be located very close to the missile’s trajectory during the first or last few minutes of its flight. If the North Koreans limit themselves to using standard trajectories from fixed launch sites we could probably position Aegis warships to shoot the missile down shortly after launch, albeit close enough that North Korea could easily harass them with its air or naval forces. And that problem gets much worse if the North tests from a mobile launcher at a remote site, or on a lofted trajectory, or if they are willing to overfly other nations. To have any chance at an intercept, Aegis ships would have to be stationed even closer to North Korea, in waters Pyongyang regards as critical to its national security. Do we really want to find out what happens if a US warship fires a large surface-to-air missile while a North Korean MiG is conducting a mock attack run? The MiG pilot may not understand the missile isn’t aimed at him. And even then, the attempt to shoot down the ICBM would probably fail because Aegis was never designed to do that under combat conditions, has never been tested in such a role, and would be operating at the edge of its theoretical capabilities. In short, North Korea appears to have three options. First, it could conduct a near-term demonstration using a modified Unha space launch vehicle fitted with a reentry vehicle large enough for a nuclear warhead. Such a test would likely work, gathering information related to reentry technology while putting an end to any pretense or hope of a peaceful space program. Second, the North could launch a KN-08 or KN-14 ICBM prototype almost guaranteed to fail, and fail repeatedly if it keeps launching rockets faster than its engineers can understand what is going wrong. Or third, Pyongyang can conduct a serious test program characterized by launches at a reasonable pace, leading to deployments even before a full program is completed. Only in the very unlikely case that the North fires the test at the United States could the US reliably shoot it down.” (John Schilling, “How Might North Korea Test an ICBM?” 38North, January 12, 2017)


1/14/17:
KCNA: “A sign of acute China-U.S. confrontation is clearly seen in the run-up to Trump’s presidential inauguration. And there is awkward rumor afloat in the world that China would use “north Korea” as a playing card in its confrontation with the U.S. in the future. The Wall Street Journal and American Interest of the U.S. and the Financial Times of Britain and many other media of the world are carrying articles to the effect that there is increasing possibility for China to counter the Trump administration with “north Korea as a playing card.” This cannot be construed otherwise than a unilateral viewpoint of media ignorant of the universal principle concerning the sovereignty of countries and the true picture of the DPRK. Explicitly speaking, it is illogical to say that the DPRK can be used as a “playing card” of others as the country is demonstrating its might as a political and ideological power and a nuclear power. Firm is the DPRK’s position as a nuclear weapons state whether others recognize it or not. One has to face up to the reality of the DPRK clearly and squarely, if one wants to know about it. The hotspot in which the interests of big powers are intertwined and the issues of international nature have historically accumulated is the Northeast Asian region centered on the Korean peninsula. Historically, the tense situation on the Korean peninsula and the war atmosphere fanned up on it have been attributable to the U.S. and other hegemonic forces’ diplomatic and political purposes and the Korean nation has been the biggest victim of the tension on the peninsula. If the DPRK had not bolstered up and defended its sovereignty, it would have already faced the miserable fate of modern day slaves in the 21st century, not just ending in the “color revolution” and Mideast situation. Today the sovereignty of countries and nations is wantonly violated in different parts of the world due to the hegemonic forces’ high-handed and arbitrary practices and appeasement, and the U.S. and its vassal forces’ sanctions and blockade against the DPRK have reached the extremes. Even under such situation the DPRK towered as a nuclear power and a military power in the East no formidable enemies can dare to provoke. The DPRK is not an entity sandwiched between neighboring powers. For its treasured nuclear sword of justice it has emerged a powerful force that can spearhead the regional situation as a strategic stronghold in which the vital interests of big powers are intertwined. A new dynamic structure has been set up with the DPRK as an absolute parameter. Nothing can bring down the position of the DPRK that has ranked itself with dignity among the nuclear powers with a firm hold on the treasured nuclear sword of justice in order to defend the sovereignty of the nation and its rights to existence and development and safeguard the regional peace and stability. It remains strong regardless of someone’s recognition. Now is the time for the DPRK to steer the solution of the issue of peace and stability in Northeast Asia as it has undergone a fundamental change in its strategic position. The DPRK will as ever safeguard its peace and security by its own strength and make a positive contribution to defending the world peace and stability.” (KCNA, “KCNA Commentary Stresses Need to Have Proper Understanding of DPRK,” January 14, 2017)


1/18/17:
Bermudez: “Commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea may be preparing to resume operations at its 5 MWe reactor, which had been suspended since late-2015. Throughout the previous four months, there has been a continued presence of vehicles at and around the 5 MWe reactor suggesting either ongoing maintenance, refueling or preparations for renewed operations. Concurrently, while no steam exhaust was observed at the 5 MWe reactor or its support buildings in any imagery from October through January, the channel in the Taeryong River leading to and from the reactor’s cooling cisterns was cleared of ice and dredged between December 1 and 29. This channel remains clear as of January 16, although no water discharge is observed. Additionally, no snow was observed on the roofs of the 5 MWe reactor or its support buildings in imagery from December 29, but there was snow on the roofs of other buildings in this area. This indicates that the 5 MWe reactor and its support buildings are occupied and at least minimally heated. Taken as a whole, these activities suggest preparations to resume operation of the 5 MWe reactor.” (Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., “North Korea’s Yongbyon Facility: Possible Resumption of Operations at the 5MWe Plutonium Production Reactor,” 38North, January 18, 2017)

A group of F-35 fighter jets arrived at a U.S. Marine base in western Japan, marking the first deployment of the stealth aircraft outside the United States and reflecting the country’s policy of focusing on Asia. The move is expected to increase the importance of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni as a key military post in the region at a time when Japan faces rising Chinese maritime assertiveness. Some F-35s will arrive later, raising the total number of the deployed aircraft to 16, according to the U.S. military. The Yamaguchi Prefecture base is also set to accept about 60 carrier-based aircraft now stationed at the U.S. Navy’s Atsugi Air Facility in Kanagawa Prefecture, with the relocation to start in the second half of this year in line with a realignment plan for U.S. forces in Japan. (Kyodo, “U.S. F-35 Fighter Jets Arrive in Japan, Mark 1st Overseas Deployment,” January 18, 2017)


1/19/17:
North Korea has probably built two missiles presumed to be intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) [?] and placed them on mobile launchers for test-firing in the near future, military officials said. The two missiles are estimated to not exceed 15 meters in length, making them shorter than the North’s existing ICBMs, the 19-20 meter-long KN-08 and the 17-18 meter-long KN-14, the officials familiar with the matter told Yonhap. The North appears to have intentionally leaked the new missiles to send a “strategic message” to the incoming government of Donald Trump who takes office tomorrow, they said. The officials didn’t provide the exact date for when the missiles were picked up by intelligence, although it is estimated that the U.S. detected them on January 16 when the U.S. Navy hurriedly moved its sea-based X-band radar system to the western part of the Pacific Ocean from seas off Hawaii. “There is no imminent sign of provocations, but we remain vigilant as the North could fire a missile at any time and place determined by its leadership,” an official from Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters. The ministry didn’t confirm whether the North has recently developed a new, upgraded prototype of their ICBM. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Has Likely Build 2 ICBMs, Placed Them on Mobile Launchers: Sources,” January 19, 2017) The United States has seen indications that North Korea may be preparing for a new missile test-launch in the coming days or weeks, U.S. officials said on Thursday, in what could be an early test of President-elect Donald Trump’s administration. South Korean media, citing intelligence agencies, said Pyongyang may be readying a test of a new, upgraded prototype of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as early as tomorrow, the day Trump is inaugurated. U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, cautioned however that they did not have such precise information about the range or potential timing of Pyongyang’s missile test, should it happen. One official suggested Pyongyang could be largely seeking to provoke the Trump administration. “If they do something, it would more likely be a test of Trump than a test of a delivery system,” said a U.S. intelligence officer who monitors North Korean activities. “They probably want to see how he reacts to a provocation, even a minor one, and if they really want to poke him, they’ll do it right away.” (James Pearson and Phil Stewart, “North Korea May Be Readying MissileTest,TimingUnclear: U.S. Officials,” Reuters, January 19, 2017)

John Schilling: “On January 19, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea had placed two missiles on mobile launchers in preparation for possible testing in the early days of the Trump administration. Details are still scarce, and it should be noted that North Korea has in the past prepared missiles for launch without conducting any test. As we recently noted, missile “tests” are often political demonstrations, and often what is being demonstrated includes an element of restraint. And, of course, if launch preparations indicate technical problems likely to lead to failure, the nature of the demonstration will likely be changed to accommodate the technical reality. Still, it is possible that North Korea could conduct a missile test in the next few days. We recently discussed what this might entail, but from the limited data available we can perhaps narrow down the speculation. The missiles are reportedly on mobile launchers, but are explicitly described as less than 15 meters long. This measurement rules out any of North Korea’s known ICBM prototypes, all of which are at least 16 meters long. North Korea probably has missiles under development that we don’t know about, but the likelihood of any such missile being ready for an imminent flight test without our first having seen signs of extensive ground testing is very low. One possibility is that we are not seeing a complete missile: a KN-14 mobile intercontinental ballistic (ICBM) without the reentry vehicle, or a KN-08 mobile ICBM without the third stage, would meet the description provided. It would be unusual to mount the missile on a mobile launcher in an incomplete configuration, but it might be done if the reentry vehicle is stored separately and the mobile launcher is the most expedient way to deliver the missile to the launch site. If this is the case, we might expect a demonstration launch in the next few days, allowing time to mate the reentry vehicle and conduct a final checkout of the integrated system. It has been suggested that North Korea might even launch a KN-08 with only the first two stages, if for example, the third stage is facing severe technical difficulties. This seems unlikely, however, as both the guidance system and the attachment fitting for the reentry vehicle are part of the third stage. One might launch a missile with a dummy third stage containing only the guidance and payload systems, with ballast in place of the engines and fuel. There is precedent for this in other countries’ large rocket testing, but the rocket would still be of normal length. A final possibility is that the missile is a plain old-fashioned Nodong missile, the workhorse of North Korea’s strategic arsenal and just about 15 meters long. Kim Jong Un’s engineers almost certainly understand that any test of a new ICBM rushed to meet a political deadline will likely result in failure, and if they have had the courage to tell their boss this then Kim might settle for posturing with shorter-range missiles that he can be confident will actually work. We are looking for high-resolution satellite imagery to help clear this up. For now, we see three realistic possibilities. First, this may turn out to be simply a bluff. Second, the North Koreans may posture with a demonstration launch of a Nodong missile or two, demonstrating no new capabilities but reminding the world that they are at least a regional threat, Finally, they may launch a KN-08 or KN-14 missile after adding a yet-unseen reentry vehicle (and in the case of a KN-08, the entire third stage). Such a test would probably fail and embarrass the regime, but it could fail in a way that provides Pyongyang’s engineers with critical data going forward. North Korea usually fails with their first test of a new missile, and usually figures out how to make it work in the end.” (John Schilling, “Is North Korea Preparing a Missile Test?” 38North, January 21, 2017) North Korea looks set to launch a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) instead of a long-range one as it still has to master the related technologies, military officials said January 30. “There are no signs of an imminent test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by North Korea. But we are closely monitoring any new military activities in the country as it could launch an IRBM at any time if leader Kim Jong-un gives the order,” an official at the defense ministry said. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Likely to Launch Mid-Range Missile,” January 30, 2017)


1/20/17:
White House: “The Trump Administration is committed to a foreign policy focused on American interests and American national security. Peace through strength will be at the center of that foreign policy. This principle will make possible a stable, more peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground. Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be our highest priority. To defeat and destroy these groups, we will pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary. In addition, the Trump Administration will work with international partners to cut off funding for terrorist groups, to expand intelligence sharing, and to engage in cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable propaganda and recruiting. Next, we will rebuild the American military. Our Navy has shrunk from more than 500 ships in 1991 to 275 in 2016. Our Air Force is roughly one third smaller than in 1991. President Trump is committed to reversing this trend, because he knows that our military dominance must be unquestioned. Finally, in pursuing a foreign policy based on American interests, we will embrace diplomacy. The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies. The world will be more peaceful and more prosperous with a stronger and more respected America. …This strategy starts by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and making certain that any new trade deals are in the interests of American workers. …In addition to rejecting and reworking failed trade deals, the United States will crack down on those nations that violate trade agreements and harm American workers in the process. The President will direct the Commerce Secretary to identify all trade violations and to use every tool at the federal government’s disposal to end these abuses.” (White House, “America First Foreign Policy,” January 20, 2017)

In the first major policy change about North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction in nearly a decade, Seoul will focus more on blocking Pyongyang from actually using the weapons instead of trying to deter their development. The change was described by an official from the South Korean government Thursday who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. “For almost 10 years, [the South] tried in vain to freeze North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program or scrap it entirely through the six-party talks and other efforts,” said the source. “But none led to any tangible results.” Seoul’s policy shift reflects the “reality” of circumstances and imminent threats from North Korea, the official continued. For the new strategy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff established a so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction Response Center on Jan. 1 to better respond to North Korean provocations by predicting Pyongyang’s military capabilities five to 10 years from now and devising ways for the South to defend itself from them. The group is composed of three different departments, a drastic expansion from the past when only one department was allotted for the same task. In another tip-off from the South Korean military, a senior official said that North Korea appears to have recently developed a satellite that uses an optical camera it bought last year from abroad. The international community widely views North’s satellite development as a cover to test the ballistic missiles needed to put the satellites into orbit. (Jeong Yong-soo, Lee Sung-eun, and Lee Chul-jae, “Seoul to Give up North Denuclearization Policy,” JoongAng Ilbo, January 20, 2017)

Rodong Sinmun commentary: “The U.S. deputy secretary of State blustered that the DPRK’s threat has reached an alarming phase and sanctions and pressure upon it would go on no matter what administration may emerge in the U.S. as regards the DPRK’s entry into the final stage in preparation for the test launch of ICBM. …It is a righteous self-defensive measure for the DPRK to test-launch its ICBM as part of its measures for bolstering up the military capability to cope with the U.S. daily-increasing threat of nuclear war. Therefore, no one can find fault with this. The U.S. is wholly to blame for pushing the DPRK to developing ICBM as it has desperately pursued its anachronistic policy hostile toward the DPRK for decades to encroach upon its sovereignty and vital rights. The U.S. is not entitled to grumble about the DPRK’s test-fire of inter-continental ballistic racket, to say nothing of more powerful weapons, to react to its nuclear blackmail. The DPRK, a responsible nuclear weapons state, will never remain a passive onlooker to the daily-increasing nuclear war danger on the Korean peninsula. It will redouble its efforts to put an end to the source of nuclear threat and blackmail. Its test-launch of ICBM is part of a series of measures for bolstering up the self-defensive military capability to cope with the U.S. daily-increasing nuclear war threat. No matter what others may say, ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere determined by the supreme leadership of the DPRK.” (KCNA, “No One Can Find Fault with DPRK’s Test-Fire of ICBM: Rodong Sinmun, January 20, 2017)

South Korea, the United States and Japan began a three-day naval exercise designed to counter North Korean missiles amid growing indications that Pyongyang is ready to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile in time for Donald Trump‘s inauguration. According to the South Korean Navy, the joint maritime exercise involves three Aegis-equipped destroyers capable of detecting, tracking and intercepting ICBM. Seoul deployed its first Aegis destroyer, the Sejong the Great, while Washington and Tokyo sent USS Curtis Wilbur and JDS Kirishima, respectively. “The military exercise takes place in the waters of the three countries,” a Navy official familiar with the matter said on the condition of anonymity. “The exercise is not an interception drill. Using hypothetical targets, we will track, detect and share information (about the missiles).” (Yeo Jun-suk, “S. Korea, U.S., Japan Kick off Maritime Drill to Counter N.K. Missiles,” Korea Herald, January 20, 2017)

The United States thought in the early 1990s that economic sanctions would not make North Korea give up its nuclear weapons program even if such a step would significantly hurt the North’s economy, a declassified report showed. The US analyzed the possible impacts of economic sanctions on North Korea and potential responses from the North, South Korea, China and others, according to the National Intelligence Council’s report from December 1991 and titled “North Korea: Likely Response to Economic Sanctions.” The report said that the intelligence community believes that sanctions per se would not cause North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but they would significantly dent the North’s economy. “A trade embargo — if fully respected and enforced — would cause a significant falloff in production and impose severe hardships on the North Korean populace,” it said. “The reduction of crude oil would be particularly troublesome,” the report said, adding that the cutoff of oil deliveries would cause the North to speed up the shutdown of even key industries. It said North Korea could move towards hostile responses including a possible terrorist action against the US or South Korean facilities or people if sanctions were to be enforced militarily. “North Korea could raise tensions by staging military incidents along the Demilitarized Zone,” the report said. The report raised doubt that stronger economic sanctions could pose a threat to the North’s regime. “In the short run at least, the result could produce more support for the leadership rather than any backlash or pressure for change,” the report added. (Yonhap, “U.S. Did Not Think Sanctions Would Cause N.K. to Give up Nukes in 1991: Report,” January 20, 2017)

“President Trump will end the defense sequester and submit a new budget to Congress outlining a plan to rebuild our military,” the White House said on its website, referring to the automatic cuts in defense spending. “We will provide our military leaders with the means to plan for our future defense needs,” it said. “We will also develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system to protect against missile-based attacks from states like Iran and North Korea.” (Yonhap, “Trump’s White House Vows to Develop Missile Defense System to Defend against N. Korea,” January 21, 2017)


1/22/17:
Exports to China have fallen sharply for South Korean materials and components such as semiconductors, flat-panel displays, and automobile parts. Analysts said the phenomenon, which comes amid steps by China to hasten its own technology independence and strengthen bans on processing trade, shows an increasing collapse in the three-way division of labor with China and Japan that took shape after the rapid rise of the Japanese economy in the early ’00s. A report on 2016 exports and imports for materials and components released by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MTIE) on Jan. 16 showed a total of US$82.7 billion (around 97.8 trillion won) in South Korean material and component exports to China last year. The number was down by more than US$10 billion from the US$95.3 billion recorded for 2014 and the US$93.5 billion for 2015. By item, exports of electronic components such as mobile phone liquid crystal displays and wireless communication devices plummeted to US$38.7 billion last year from US$46.2 billion in 2014 and US$47.2 billion in 2015. Transport machinery exports, including mechanical equipment and car parts, were down to US$5.5 billion in 2016 from US$6.7 billion in 2014 and US$6.5 billion in 2015. “Exports have dropped off as China has improved its self-sufficiency in materials and components and strengthened restrictions on processing trade,” explained the MTIE. “There has also been a phenomenon of reverse exports back to South Korea because of businesses that have ventured in China and produced material and component intermediate goods there but have been unable to sell them locally,” it added. The number of items subject to Chinese processing trade bans rose from 341 in 2004 to 1,871 in 2014. As the Chinese economy began its period of rapid growth in the ’00s, material and component manufacturers in South Korea, Japan, and Japan formed a system with a three-way East Asia division of labor. Japan, which holds a technological comparative advantage in key materials, exported materials and parts to South Korea, which developed them into components and half-finished goods for export to China, which in turn assembled and processed them as finished products for export to the global market. Fears that the system might be breaking down have been voiced for several years. Now they appear to be coming true – with a resultant shock to South Korea‘s system. The amount of materials and parts imported by South Korea from Japan has been declining for the past several years, tumbling from US$37.4 billion in 2012 to US$30.5 billion in 2014 and US$27.2 billion last year – a decrease of around US$10 billion, or 27%, in the space of just four years. At first glance, the decrease in imports may be welcome news for the balance of trade with Japan, signaling an improvement in conditions that have persisted since the 1980s. But sentiment on the South Korean end has been mixed. As the collapse in the three-way division of labor intensifies, the result has been a situation of both declining exports to China for South Korean industries and businesses and sharply falling imports of key materials from Japan. South Korea remains dependent on Japanese imports for some of its key materials, including mechanical equipment, semiconductors, and automobile parts, which have international trade harmonized system (HS) codes beginning with the number “8.” It was around 2004 that China, the “world’s factory,” began seriously pushing to stop being a mere assembly base and promoting domestic production of materials and components – a phenomenon called “China inside.” In 2004, Beijing moved to curb imports of intermediate goods and boost the competitiveness of China‘s material and component industries by designating 341 items as subject to processing trade bans, including used machinery. In 2007, it extended that list to 1,140 items. “It was right after the financial crisis in 2008 that China’s self-sufficiency rate for materials and components began to suddenly rise,” explained Hyundai Research Institute researcher Chen Yong-chan. “Recent international technology assessment reports show South Korea is still at the stage of pursuing Japan in terms of key material technology, while China is rapidly gaining on South Korea in semiconductors and machinery,” Chen noted. It’s a situation where improved manufacturing business competitiveness and self-sufficiency for components amid rapid advancements in technological innovation and industry structure in China are spelling emergency for South Korean intermediate good exports. South Korea’s mainstay export items to China remain material and component intermediate goods such as petrochemicals, steel, semiconductors, and displays. (Cho Kye-wan, “Three-Way Division of Labor Breaking Down among S. Korea, China and Japan,” Hankyore, January 22, 2017)


1/23/17:
On his first full weekday in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive action to abandon a multilateral trade deal involving 12 countries, underlining his tough trade policy and raising concerns over a possible renegotiation of the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement. Trump and his economic advisors have showed their strong opposition to free trade deals — which have been a global trend since the mid-2000s — citing a growing trade deficit with its trade partners. In addition to withdrawing from the TPP, the Trump administration also vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. As the US drops out from the deal — a fast execution of one of Trump’s campaign pledges — concerns are raising here over a possible renegotiation of the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement. Peter Navarro, who will lead the new National Trade Council, last year called NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement the three worst trade deals in history. “The entire scrapping of the trade deal seems unrealistic but it is possible that the US might ask for a renegotiation of the trade deal with bigger openness in service sectors such as finance, health and law,” said Oh Jun-beom, a senior researcher at Hyundai Research Institute. Some are adopting a cautious stance on the possibility. “Trump did mention the Korea-US FTA during the campaign, but he has not mentioned it since he was actually elected,” an official at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said Tuesday. Hyundai Research Institute’s Oh also agreed. “If renegotiated, it would be after the Trump administration handles NAFTA and TPP issues and China, which has a bigger trade surplus with the US than South Korea,” Oh said. South Korea‘s trade surplus with the US was $23.4 billion in 2016, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. China’s trade surplus with the US stood at $250.79 billion in 2016, according to China‘s customs data. Over in Washington, the reaction was mixed. Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders welcomed the move while Republican Sen. John McCain lamented it. “Now is the time to develop a new trade policy that helps working families, not just multinational corporations,” Sanders said in a statement. “For the past 30 years, we have had a series of trade deals … which have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs and caused a ‘race to the bottom,’ which has lowered wages for American workers.” McCain said in a statement, “This move to withdraw from the TPP is a serious mistake that will have lasting consequences for America’s economy and our strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region.” The member countries of the TPP showed their willingness to continue the trade pact without the world’s biggest economy and open their doors to other nations. Australian Trade Minster Steven Ciobo said during a radio interview January 24 that there is scope for China to join the TPP. The remaining 11 member countries of TPP include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Japan ratified the treaty January 20, becoming the first country to do so. Meanwhile, South Korean Trade Minister Joo Hyung-hwan said he will visit the US soon to seek ways to expand bilateral cooperation with the new US administration. Joo said the Seoul government remains open to every possibility and is preparing for every possible scenario, as the new US administration’s trade policies still remain uncertain. While the US ditches the TPP, stepping back from free trade deals, Asia will push ahead with regional economic cooperation. Last week at the World Economic Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping likened protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room” and signaled that China would push ahead regional trade deals. Joo urged to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, another major trade deal undertaking of nearly the scope of the TPP, in order to expand markets and regional integration. The RCEP under negotiation since 2012 involves 16 countries including China, Japan, India, Australia and South Korea. (Park Ga-young, “Trump’s TPP Abandonment Fans Trade Fears in Korea,” Korea Herald, January 24, 2017)


1/24/17:
The U.S. government has reportedly sent humanitarian aid earmarked for flood relief to North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province via the UN. “Shortly before President Obama left office, the Obama administration sent humanitarian aid to North Korea by way of the UN, and the Trump administration is planning to make this public before long,” an expert on the Korean Peninsula in Washington who is familiar with affairs in the US government told Hankyore. This expert said that American aid to North Korea was at a “symbolic level” and did not mention the exact size or the items provided. This is the first humanitarian aid the US government has given to North Korea since it gave US$900,000 through the independent relief organization Samaritan’s Purse in 2011. Even as the Obama administration toughened its independent sanctions against the North in response to North Korea’s fourth and fifth nuclear tests, it allowed humanitarian aid from the private sector but did not provide any governmental aid. Considering that the Obama administration maintained a harsh policy of ignoring North Korea known as “strategic patience,” the fact that it played the card of governmental humanitarian aid through the UN just before Obama left office can be seen as a significant message to North Korea. The move provides the Trump administration, which is succeeding Obama, with a way to make unofficial contact with the North Koreans early on to explore resetting US relations with the North while giving Trump cover for the political fallout of providing humanitarian aid. The fact that the Obama administration provided government-level humanitarian aid to North Korea through the UN just before Obama’s term ended looks very much like a “small present” to the incoming Trump administration. The Obama administration takes on the political burden of providing the humanitarian aid to the North, while the Trump administration only has to make the announcement. Considering that the Obama administration even this year avowed putting sanctions and pressure on the North during high-level deliberations with South Korea shortly before the handover of power on Jan. 20, this decision can also be seen as an unexpected twist. The Trump administration has basically been given effective leverage to explore the possibility of resetting US-North Korea relations at the beginning of the Trump presidency. When dealing with North Korea, humanitarian aid from the government is a way to send a friendly signal to the North without spending much domestic political capital. It’s a way to “prime the pump” and relax tensions that offers good “value for money.” While the administration of South Korean President Park Geun-hye completely severed inter-Korean relations and basically banned humanitarian aid from the private sector in response to North Korea’s two nuclear tests in 2016 (the fourth test on January 6 and the fifth test on September. 9), the Obama administration has not closed the final “window of opportunity” that humanitarian aid represents. The fact is that the Trump administration and the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un are still testing the waters. Trump did not mention North Korea during his inaugural address, and the six major policy goals announced by the White House only mention Iran and North Korea in the context of developing a cutting-edge missile defense system. Trump has yet to announce the framework of his North Korean policy or the specific methods of implementing that policy. During his New Year’s address on January 1, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un indulged in a little saber-rattling by claiming that “the preparations for a test launch of an ICBM are in their final stage.” Nevertheless, he has maintained a wait-and-see attitude for President Trump and the new American government by refraining from mentioning them so far. That’s why the Korean Peninsula expert in Washington believes that the US government‘s humanitarian aid to North Korea, as “the first action to be taken,” could cause US-North Korea relations to move in a positive direction in the early days of the Trump administration. “In order for South Korea to avoid being trapped between the US and China, it needs to negotiate with the Trump administration so that Trump will suspend efforts to deploy THAAD for now and so that he will eventually not feel the need to deploy it at all. That will require North and South Korea to hold off-the-record meetings toward that end and for North Korea to continue refraining [from taking military action],” the expert advised. If the Obama administration’s “last little gift” is to be used as a stepping stone to transforming the political situation on the Korean Peninsula, there needs to be wise response not only from North Korea and the US but also from the South Korean government, the expert said. (Lee Je-hun, “U.S. Provides First Humanitarian Aid to North Korea in Five Years,” Hankyore, January 25, 2017)


1/25/17:
The United States has provided $1 million in humanitarian aid to impoverished North Korea, the . State Department said. Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry awarded $1 million for North Korea to UNICEF, a U.N. agency, the day before President Donald Trump took office last week. It marks the first time that the U.S. provided humanitarian assistance to the North since 2011, when it provided relief items including medical supplies to North Korean flood victims. That aid, worth $900,000, was made through Samaritan’s Purse, a U.S.-based humanitarian aid organization. The current assistance comes in the aftermath of Typhoon Lionrock, which hit North Korea in August with heavy rain that resulted in flooding. At the time, the government reported hundreds were dead and missing, and said thousands had lost their homes. International aid organizations responded immediately. The State Department confirmed the assistance in an email to VOA and said the funding was destined only for humanitarian assistance. However, a spokesman added that U.S. officials are “currently reviewing last-minute spending approved by the previous administration.” News of U.S. assistance to North Korea came as a surprise to some officials in Washington and Seoul, since both countries have been increasing pressure on Pyongyang since the communist country conducted multiple nuclear tests last year. (Baik Sungwon, “U.S. Humanitarian Aid Goes to North Korea Despite Nuclear Tensions,” VOA, January 25, 2017)

The highest-ranking defector from North Korea in years said that the days of the country’s leadership were “numbered,” and that its attempts to control outside information were not working because of corruption and discontent. “I am sure that more defections of my colleagues will take place, since North Korea is already on a slippery slope,” the defector, Thae Yong-ho, said during a news conference in Seoul. “The traditional structures of the North Korean system are crumbling.” His diagnosis of Mr. Kim’s rule is hardly new. Defectors from the North, as well as some conservative analysts and policy makers in the South, widely share that view. Before his defection, he was a career diplomat, fluent in English, who had served in Britain, Denmark and Sweden, often delivering passionate speeches glorifying the Kim family that has ruled North Korea for seven decades. In the South, Thae, now affiliated with the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank arm of the National Intelligence Service, has vowed to spend the rest of his life trying to bring down the North Korean government. Thae said he had high expectations when Kim took power after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011. Schooled for several years in Switzerland, Kim was expected to help modernize his impoverished country. Instead, he resorted to a “reign of terror” by executing scores of officials, including his uncle Jang Song-thaek, whom he thought posed a challenge to his power, Thae said. The former diplomat said he had come up with a detailed plan for his defection, first ensuring that his two sons joined him and his wife in London. (North Korean diplomats are required to leave a child in the North, a measure intended to prevent their defection.) The best way to force change in the isolated North, he continued, is to disseminate outside information there to help ordinary citizens eventually rebel. South Korean TV dramas and movies smuggled from China are already popular in the North, he said. Another sign of Kim’s weakening control, Thae said, is evident at the unofficial markets in North Korea where women trade goods, mostly smuggled from China. The vendors used to be called “grasshoppers” because they would pack and flee whenever they saw the police approaching. Now, they are called “ticks” because they refuse to budge, demanding a right to make a living, Thae said. Such resistance, even if small in scale, is unprecedented, he added. The spread of outside news and market activities could eventually doom Kim because his government “can be held in place and maintained only by idolizing Kim Jong-un like a god,” Thae said. “If he tries to introduce a market-oriented economy to North Korean society, then there will be no place for Kim Jong-un in North Korea, and he knows that.” But the leader’s efforts to clamp down on information and products from outside North Korea have been unsuccessful because the police accept bribes in exchange for freeing smugglers and people caught watching banned movies and dramas. “Kim Jong-un’s days are numbered,” Thae said. After months of debriefing by the authorities in South Korea, Thae used meetings with the country’s politicians and the news media to suggest that North Korea was determined to be recognized as a nuclear power, just as India and Pakistan are. Thae warned against compromising with the North, arguing that sanctions were effective. In recent interviews with local news outlets, he said that North Korea had lost annual income worth tens of millions dollars, after Britain froze accounts last year held by its state-run insurance company as part of sanctions recommended by the United Nations. Until then, the company had claimed large insurance payments through fabricated documents, he said. Kim wanted to negotiate a compromise, under which the United States and South Korea would cancel their annual joint military exercises and lift sanctions on the North in return for a moratorium on North Korean missile and nuclear tests, Thae said. But such a deal would validate Kim’s argument that he had been forced to develop nuclear weapons as a reaction to American hostility, he said. “That is really a trap Kim Jong-un wants,” Thae said. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korean Defector Says Leadership’s Control Is Crumbling,” New York Times, January 26, 2017, p. A-6) Besides being the deputy ambassador, North Korea’s number twodiplomat in London was the man appointed to spy on embassy colleagues and report signs of disloyalty to the feared secret police. But last August, it was Thae Yong Ho himself who defected. He said in an interview in Seoul that one of his jobs was to report to the “bowibu”, North Korea’s Stasi-like State Security Department, on everyone in the embassy, including the ambassador. But he told his embassy colleagues about the reports and made sure they were positive. He did not arouse suspicion himself, so it was easy to defect with his wife and two sons, Thae said. Thae and his family disappeared from the embassy quarters in the west London suburb of Gunnersbury in August. “In the London embassy, I was in charge of this kind of surveillance,” the 54-year-old said. “I had to write back if they had any ideological changes or if they met any British or South Koreans in secret,” Thae said of his colleagues. “But I always reported good things.” (James Pearson, “North Korean Defector Was Chief Minder in London Embassy,” Reuters, February 3, 2017)

China has released a new list of items banned for export to North Korea, ranging from wind tunnels to plutonium, following a new round of United Nations sanctions and complaints from U.S. President Donald Trump that Beijing was not doing enough to pressure its communist neighbor. The step was seen by one leading expert on North Korea as an attempt to show that China is fully meeting its commitments, and to pre-empt any moves by the U.S. to punish Chinese companies that deal with the North. However, the expert questioned whether the ban would have much effect in slowing a North Korean nuclear weapons program that is already well advanced and gathering momentum. A statement from the Chinese Commerce Ministry said the items included dual-use technologies that could aid the North’s programs to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as the missiles to deliver them. While largely comprising specialty chemicals and rare alloys, the list also includes computer software, machinery, high-speed cameras, aerospace engines and six-axle truck chassis. Grinding machines, molds and radio transmitting equipment also joined plutonium and wind tunnels among the banned items. The ban on “dual-use measures related to weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery” takes effect immediately, the announcement said. There was no evidence that the extensive list of items was prompted by anything other than the U.N. Security Council resolution passed in November in response to the North’s missile test in September. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Thursday said sanctions should be “implemented in an all-round and balanced way” and China was merely meeting its obligations. However, the official Communist Party newspaper Global Times suggested the timing had to do with the upcoming weeklong Lunar New Year holiday, a period during which North Korea last year staged a missile test and in 2013 held its third underground nuclear test. The announcement “is also a warning for the North Korean side not to conduct another round of nuclear testing during China’s Spring Festival this year,” it quoted Yanbian University expert Jin Qiangyi as saying, using another term for the Lunar New Year. Trump’s nominee to be secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has spoken in starker terms. He accused China of making “empty promises” on North Korea and warned of U.S. sanctions on Chinese companies found to be violating U.N. Security Council resolutions, recently beefed up to tighten restrictions on North Korean coal imports. “If China is not going to comply with those U.N. sanctions then it’s appropriate for the United States to consider actions to compel them to comply,” Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month. China feels like it has not received credit for its previous concessions over North Korea, said John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul. Trump’s “antagonistic rhetoric” has only strengthened those feelings and China is now seeking to avoid U.S. secondary sanctions on its companies, Delury said. China also has its own security concerns over North Korea’s programs and would have banned the items in any case, he said. However, given that previous bans and other sanctions appear to have had little effect, the latest move “won’t be the game-changer that people are looking for,” Delury said. “North Korea is already pretty far along, they’ve got momentum,” he said. “In technical terms, they’re pretty self-reliant at this point and don’t need to buy things ‘over the table’ from China.” (Christopher Bodeen, “China Releases New List of Items Banned for Export to N. Korea,” Associated Press, January 26, 2017)

Robert Huish: “Based on a review of automatic identification system data tracking approximately 70 vessels that entered DPRK ports between April 2016 and October 2016, current sanctions on North Korea do not appear to be impeding marine traffic into the country. The majority of marine traffic into the DPRK during this period was from Chinese ports by vessels flagged by several countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the DPRK. The registration and flagging of vessels trading with North Korea occurs via offshore firms that are based outside sanctions enforcement zones in places such as Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands, and the Seychelles. Sanctions against North Korea are thus largely symbolic gestures of disapproval that do not demonstrate any capability to change the political behavior of the Kim Jong-un regime. For sanctions to influence the regime’s behavior, it would be necessary to pursue restrictions on the capital flows that allow marine traffic to enter the country rather than sanctioning the regime itself. Despite the latest round of UN Security Council sanctions in March 2016 and U.S. sanctions in June 2016, marine traffic into the DPRK continued throughout 2016. Between April 2016 and October 2016, I used automatic identification system (AIS) software from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to analyze marine traffic into active DPRK ports and identified approximately 70 incoming vessels, mostly arriving from Chinese ports but also from other locations, including a vessel that traveled to Sinpo harbor from Vancouver, Canada. While the methods used in this article are insufficient to produce a conclusive account of all marine traffic into the DPRK, this study finds that, despite the existence of sanctions, marine traffic regularly enters DPRK ports owing to the reflagging of vessels under flags of convenience and ownership of vessels by offshore capital management firms. This suggests that the Kim Jong-un regime has the means to bypass many of the sanctions that are currently in place. These restrictions are meant to restrict the movement of any vessel owned, managed, or operated by the Kim regime. The United Nations listed 31 North Korean “blacklisted” vessels under Resolution 2270. This list is meant to include vessels that are flagged in the DPRK or owned by the Kim regime under the Pyongyang-based company Ocean Maritime Management, as well as those that are sailing under flags of convenience but that are ultimately operated by the regime. However, many vessels on this list have since been reflagged in third countries, and ownership data suggests that they are controlled by offshore shell companies, some of which are traceable through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Offshore Leaks Database, which contains information from the Panama Papers. Many vessels on this list continue to facilitate trade with Pyongyang while being insured by European, UK, and U.S. companies. On July 7, 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department enacted new sanctions specifically targeting Kim and ten other top officials in the DPRK. The recent seizure orders by the United States exhibit a political willingness to act in response to the human rights crisis in North Korea, in addition to addressing the nuclear proliferation threat from the Kim regime. The sanctions freeze any property that Kim or his colleagues have in U.S. jurisdictions. The Treasury Department bases the sanctions on “North Korea’s notorious abuses of human rights…and to further our efforts to expose those responsible for serious human rights abuses and censorship in North Korea.” Executive Orders 13722 and 13687 target individuals who “have engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for an abuse or violation of human rights by the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea” and who could assist in the regime’s nuclear proliferation goals. This executive order aims to punish these officials by confiscating any assets that they may have in the United States and U.S. territories. The question remains as to whether any of those named in the executive orders actually have property or assets in the United States. Assets held in offshore accounts set up by third-party intermediaries often cannot be seized under such measures. In addition to the eleven individuals named in Executive Orders 13722 and 13687, five firms are also included. However, all these entities are DPRK government departments, with no mention of banks, transportation firms, merchants, or suppliers. Previous U.S. executive orders have targeted DPRK banks and firms for seizure based on nuclear security concerns. The financial measures that involve maritime vessels are aimed at reducing the importation of military goods and luxury items. The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control passed Executive Order 13551 in June 2015 to target the maritime transport of goods to North Korea, with a specific focus on military material and resources. This executive order uses an assets seizure clause for anyone who has “imported, exported, or re-exported any arms or related material”; provided “training, advice, or other services” related to arms materials; or “imported, exported, or re-exported luxury goods into North Korea.” Executive Order 13466 “prohibits persons from registering vessels in North Korea, obtaining authorization for a vessel to fly the North Korean flag, and owning, leasing, operating, or insuring any vessel flagged by North Korea.” This 2015 legislation, while aimed at stopping arms trafficking into the country, has the ability to target individuals who are profiting from business with the Kim regime. It thus could disrupt trade with the DPRK if the stakeholder also has direct dealings with the United States. Other countries have imposed sanctions on marine vessel traffic into the DPRK. The European Union, Canada, and New Zealand all follow the UN sanctions to restrict trade and financial transactions with the Kim regime. The UK Treasury has a list of 66 North Korean individuals whose assets are subject to seizure. In addition, the British government names 42 DPRK entities, including banks, firms, and merchants. Effectively enforcing these sanctions remains a problem, however, given that the entities targeted likely have their assets outside UK jurisdiction. Although heralded as a worthwhile political move, such executive orders to freeze assets do not actually apply much pressure on their targets and thus have little value in curbing human rights abuses or deterring nuclear proliferation. A notable change in tone exists with the recent U.S. financial measures to focus on human rights as the impetus for the sanctions rather than previous efforts that solely aimed at quelling nuclear proliferation or tactical security concerns. These measures do not target third parties, whereas the 2015 legislation provides the capacity to take action on those trading and dealing with the regime via marine traffic. In both cases, the fundamental purpose of the sanctions is to bring about behavioral change; yet unless the financial networks on which the Kim regime depends are targeted, this is unlikely to occur. Between April 2016 and October 2016, I used IMO’s AIS software—a system that tracks the recorded position and destination of merchant marine vessels—to record approximately 70 vessels that entered DPRK ports. This figure may not include all traffic, but it certainly captures the majority of it. Of the seventeen ports in the DPRK, most marine traffic enters the port of Nampo, located down river from Pyongyang. Other active ports include Daeson, Chongjin, Wonsan, and Sinpo. The vessels’ IMO numbers and call signs were recorded, along with country flag, home port, past track, and itinerary history. The analysis also recorded the management companies, owners, and insurers of the vessels. Taken together, the data demonstrates that despite imposed sanctions, marine traffic continues to Nampo, which is a supply port for the capital, and Sinpo, which includes a submarine pen that is being expanded. This finding exposes four challenges to enforcement of the sanctions regime: the use of flags of convenience, false or misleading vessel identification and registry, offshore ownership, and the failure of maritime insurance companies to monitor compliance with sanctions requirements. The container ships entering DPRK ports are almost entirely arriving from either Chinese ports or the Russian port of Vladivostok. The exceptions are the vessels Cheyenne (IMO 9706504) and Ryong Rim (IMO 8018912) that left the Japanese ports of Kashima and Yokohama, respectively, in early May 2016. Dailan, Bayuquan, Tianjin, Jingtang, and Lianyungang are all Chinese ports from which vessels have departed for the DPRK. Yet despite the number of ships arriving from Chinese ports, no Chinese-flagged vessels were found to have entered DPRK ports during the period of time examined. Rather, nineteen ships were flagged under the DPRK, six were flagged under Panama colors, six were flying Tanzanian flags, four were flagged in Russia, and four carried Mongolian colors. Other arriving vessels were flagged in Jamaica, Liberia, India, Togo, Taiwan, the Bahamas, and Cambodia. No data on the cargo the ships carried is publicly available. While some vessels are linked to the regime or connected to offshore capital, some are not and instead rely on misleading travel plans, misidentification, or false registries. The Voge Challenger (IMO 9490454), a Liberian-flagged vessel owned by TSC Ship Management out of Hamburg, traveled from Bahia Blanca, Argentina, to Sinpo, North Korea, on April 16, 2016. On June 18, it left Vancouver, Canada, broadcasting its destination as Port Qasim in Pakistan. AIS tracking confirmed the ship’s anchorage 38 days later in Port Qasim for a twelve-hour period on August 3. However, the tracking information also shows that the vessel stopped in Sinpo between July 17 and July 26, which constitutes a sanctions violation under Canadian and European law. According to Canadian law, vessels cannot leave Canadian ports carrying goods destined for the DPRK, while the EU prohibits companies from insuring, owning, or managing vessels trading with the DPRK. Other ships entering North Korean waters may have violated regional regulations, including those imposed by China and South Korea. In March 2016, Japanese media reported that China banned DPRK-flagged vessels from entering six of its ports. The DPRK-flagged vessel Su Song, formerly the Sun Orion (IMO 9024889), entered the port of Weifang, one of the allegedly banned Chinese ports, on July 19, 2016. Chinese authorities later denied that the ports were given instructions to prohibit DPRK-flagged vessels. The vessel Chon Un 68 (IMO 9001021) is a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship with a capacity of four thousand tons. AIS tracking shows that on July 10, 2016, the vessel docked at Nampo port, and on July 18 it was docked at Weifang. On July 29, 2016, the ship registered its destination as Barra, a small passenger ferry terminal in the western Hebrides of Scotland. This, however, was a false registry by the ship’s management meant for distraction. On October 10, 2016, the Chon Un 68was sailing for Nampo, once again with its registered destination as Barra. The companies that own and manage these vessels are mostly based in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Pyongyang and registered in offshore locations such as the British Virgin Islands, Samoa, Hong Kong, Seychelles, Panama, and the Bahamas. The companies that own the vessels—including Hunchun Sino Unity, Hua Heng Shipping, Korea Kumunsan Trading, Fortune Shipping International, Nanjing Ocean Shipping Co., World Merge Shipping, and Dorian—are all mentioned in the Offshore Leaks Database (also known as the Panama Papers). These firms are established in offshore locations with the assistance of third-party intermediaries, many of which are based in Hong Kong or Singapore. The Hong Kong company Orion House is cited as the intermediary for several of these shipping firms, including four North Korean vessels on the United Nation’s blacklist. Since these firms are registered in offshore locations, the United States, South Korea, and the EU are unable to pursue enforcement of sanctions. Offshore firms are incredibly opaque, especially with respect to identifying their stakeholders or boards of directors. Intermediaries play an essential role in establishing offshore holdings, and the system could not function in its current form without their assistance. There is little, however, that authorities can do to penalize or otherwise stop intermediaries. As long as they exist, marine traffic will continue to flow to the DPRK. Most of the vessel traffic into the DPRK relies on this murky network of offshore capital. However, companies that do not rely on third-party offshore firms own some vessels that enter DPRK ports. The vessel Badri Prasad (IMO 8903284) was owned by Essar Shipping, an Indian company that is affiliated with Essar Energy, a power-generation company in India. In April 2016, the Badri Prasad docked in Sinpo port, stopped in Yantai port in China, and then traveled to Pakistani waters. As of December 2016, the vessel appears to be decommissioned. The CEO of Essar Power, K.V.B. Reddy, was featured by the North Korean media in early 2016. Although Essar’s traffic between India and Pakistan may be a concern for Indian authorities, the Indian government’s Act East policy has encouraged more trade with the DPRK. Ri Su-young, the DPRK’s foreign minister, visited India in 2015, and since then relations seem to be warming. Another factor is that many of the marine protection and indemnity (P&I) insurance companies connected to vessel traffic into North Korea are able to operate in violation of sanctions because mechanisms of enforcement are not rigorously applied. Some of these insurance firms are questionable shell companies themselves with offshore holdings, but others are legitimate. Yet even when the management firms dealing with North Korea exist outside sanctions jurisdictions, the firms insuring the vessels are registered within enforceable territories. West of England P&I, for example, is headquartered in Luxembourg and has an office in London. It is the insurance provider for dozens of vessels traveling to North Korea, including the Mi Yang 8 (IMO 8863733), a DPRK-flagged vessel owned by Miyang Shipping in Pyongyang. Likewise, Raetsmarine Insurance, a Dutch company, insures the DPRK-flagged vessel Kum San Bong (IMO 8810384), and Britannia Steam Ship Insurance covers the Zhang Hong No. 1 (IMO 8307894), a Taiwan-owned and -flagged vessel that entered Nampo on July 30, 2016. The Norwegian firm Skuld P&I currently insures the Tian Zhu (IMO 9338981), a formerly DPRK-flagged vessel owned by Hunchun Sino Unity Shipping in Hong Kong. On July 19, 2016, Skuld posted a page on its website stating that U.S. and EU sanctions prevent firms from offering marine insurance to DPRK-flagged vessels. As of August 1, 2016, the IMO broadcast signal reported that the name of the Tian Zhu had changed to Chang Phyong and that the vessel is now sailing under the flag of Kiribati—a flag of convenience. The Chon Un 68, mentioned above, is owned by Hua Heng Shipping and K&H Shipping based in Hong Kong. However, the ship is insured by a South Korean firm, Korea P&I Club, based in Seoul, despite the fact that South Korean law prohibits the insurance of ships entering North Korea. Other insurers of vessels entering the DPRK include Steamship Mutual P&I, North of England P&I, and Standard Club in the United Kingdom. A noteworthy example of poor compliance with sanctions by maritime insurance companies involves the Sun Unity, now named the Sun Rizhao (IMO 8736382), which traveled from a Chinese anchorage to Nampo port on August 2, 2016. The vessel is owned by a Hong Kong–based firm and insured by Maritime Mutual Insurance Association, a New Zealand–based company. In 2005, the government of Japan complained to the government of New Zealand that Maritime Mutual had exploited a loophole in sanctions law in order to profit from insuring DPRK vessels entering Japanese waters. The company calls itself an insurance agent even though it is not registered as one in New Zealand. The directors of Maritime Mutual are thought to be based in Liechtenstein and on the island of Guernsey. The company has insured DPRK vessels with impunity for over ten years. New Zealand responded to Japan’s complaint against Maritime Mutual by maintaining that it could do nothing to prevent its corporations from insuring DPRK vessels. In sum, European, Asian, and other marine insurance firms are actively providing coverage for vessels entering the DPRK and possibly for vessels using flags of convenience, which flaunts sanctions restricting the insurance of vessels tied to the Kim regime. Shareholders and directors of offshore accounts or of intermediary firms could be targets for international pressure, but once again no real juridical authority exists within current sanctions law to pursue action. What is even more troubling is that it appears that insurance firms that fall within sanctions jurisdictions, including the New York–based insurance firm American Club P&I that insures the First Gleam (IMO 9110236) and Orion Star (IMO 9333589), continue business with impunity. Any firm with assets in the United States should be pursued under Washington’s executive orders, but there is no evidence of such actions being taken. The lack of political will to enforce sanctions against violating vessels and their associated entities becomes obvious when vessels like the Voge Challenger and the Cheyenne enter U.S. waters after docking at a DPRK port. The Cheyenne was reported in DPRK ports in May 2016 but returned to U.S. ports in August 2016. In sum, marine traffic continues to flow into North Korea, with most of the vessel owners flying flags of convenience and registering with offshore firms, some not accurately disclosing their port calls, and some being insured by marine P&I companies that are merely shells. In the latter case, the insurance companies are in violation of UN sanctions and domestic financial regulations. The Badri Prasad case discussed above demonstrates emerging relations between India and North Korea regardless of international sanctions. The activities of the Voge Challenger and the Chon Un 68 could also be challenged as violations of current sanctions inasmuch as these vessels are operating in jurisdictions with specific sanctions laws against the DPRK. However, many of the owners and managers of vessels entering the DPRK are connected to offshore capital, and additional financial regulations would be needed to target the flow and exchange of money between the regime and the vessel operators. This would involve targeting the offshore firms rather than the regime itself. The lack of action to strengthen enforcement demonstrates a phenomenal indifference to the issue or an embarrassing inability to enforce sanctions on vessels. In either case, the current state of active marine traffic into the DPRK exposes the weaknesses of the recent sanctions aimed at the Kim regime, as the deep involvement of offshore holding companies, combined with lax enforcement, outmaneuvers current sanctions.” (Robert Huish, “The Failure of Maritime Sanctions Enforcement against North Korea,” Asia Policy, 23 (January 2017) pp. 131-52)


1/26/17:
Trump tasks NSC Asia director Matthew Pottinger with preparing options paper on North Korea. (Bob Woodward, Rage (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), p. 39)

Rodong Sinmun: “It is an earnest requirement of the Koreans in the north and the south and abroad to improve the north-south relations and achieve national unity and reunification. …The reality of the situation in which the north-south ties are pushed into the lowest ebb, is presenting their improvement as a pressing issue. …There are extremely growing tensions between the north and the south at present. There is no dialogue or cooperation, exchange or contact between the north and the south but daily escalating political and military confrontation and tensions and the danger of nuclear war only. History and the reality show that the improvement of the inter-Korean ties is a starting point for achieving peace and reunification and that the deadlock between the north and the south leads to confrontation and war. Any politician, if he or she remains a passive onlooker to the current deadlock between the two sides, can neither claim to be fully discharging his or her responsibility and role for the nation nor enjoy public support. Whoever is heartily interested in the destiny of the nation should resolutely break with the outdated confrontation concept, irrespective of differences in ideology, political view, faction and position, and take the patriotic road to mend the north-south relations as desired by the fellow countrymen. If the Koreans are to improve the ties and achieve the national reconciliation and unity, they should resolutely put an end to the confrontation move of the puppet conservatives. The reckless anti-reunification action taken by the puppet ruling forces of south Korea with the extreme hostility to the ideology and system of the fellow countrymen in the north is a serious barrier to the improvement of the relations. All Koreans in the north and the south and abroad should turn out in the nation-wide struggle to thwart the anti-reunification scheme of the puppet regime aimed at inciting and escalating distrust and antagonism among the compatriots.” (KCNA, “Improvement of Inter-Korean Ties Is Pressing Requirement: Rodong Sinmun,” January 26, 2017)


1/27/17:
The White House has launched a review of its policy on North Korea, reflecting the growing nuclear threat from Pyongyang that Barack Obama told Donald Trump would represent his most pressing national security challenge. Two people familiar with the review, which the White House has not disclosed, said it was designed to determine what the Trump administration could do differently to address concerns that North Korea could strike the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile. One person said Michael Flynn, national security adviser, ordered the review on January 27. Trump has personally had several detailed intelligence briefings in recent days, according to a third person familiar with the discussions. The move came just as James Mattis, defense secretary, was preparing to travel to South Korea then Japan to discuss ways the allies can tackle the mounting nuclear threat from Pyongyang. (Demetri Sevastopulo and Bryan Harris, “U.S. Launches Review of North Korea Policy,” Financial Times, February 2, 2017)

President Trump has been deferential to Jim Mattis, the retired Marine general sworn in today as defense secretary, who has quickly established himself as a top aide whose advice the president is willing to take. In a remarkable show of deference to his own subordinate, Trump said during an earlier news conference this morning with Theresa May, the British prime minister, that he would let Mattis decide about whether to use torture in interrogations. Mattis has said he does not believe torture is effective. “I don’t necessarily agree, but I will tell you that he will override because I’m giving him that power,” Trump said. “I’m going to rely on him. I happen to feel that it does work.” Before the refugee ban signing ceremony, Trump met with Mattis and his military chiefs for about an hour. The meeting in “the tank” included introductions for Trump to his military chiefs of staff. The meeting was attended by Michael Flynn, the national security adviser; Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the chiefs of the four services and the National Guard. The men discussed how to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State and North Korea and how to deal with a host of global challenges, said a defense official who was not authorized to talk publicly about the internal talks. The leaders also discussed how to improve military readiness. (Michael D. Shear and Helene Cooper, “Trump Targets Muslim Areas in Refugee Ban,” New York Times, January 28, 2017, p. A-1)

Liu and Bermudez: “New commercial satellite imagery indicates that operations at the 5 MWe plutonium production reactor located at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center has likely resumed. Analysis from January 18 showed signs that Pyongyang was preparing to restart the reactor after spent fuel rods had previously been unloaded for a reprocessing campaign that produced additional plutonium for its nuclear weapons stockpile. Imagery from January 22 shows a water plume (most probably warm) originating from the cooling water outlet of the reactor, an indication that the reactor is very likely operating.” (Jack Liu and Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., “North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Facility: Operations Resume at the 5MWe Plutonium Production Reactor,” 38North, January 27, 2017)

Elleman: “Drawing from an excellent description of how North Korea might test an ICBM by John Schilling, it is easy to see that the most politically and technically feasible flight-test option would be to use an Unha rocket—possibly one modified to include higher-thrust engines for the upper stages—to evaluate warhead re-entry technologies. The test would likely succeed because the Unha is a relatively proven system, though using the satellite-carrier rocket as a military missile would throw cold water on Pyongyang’s claims that its space program is a strictly civilian enterprise. Further, relying on Unha technology would do little to address the development challenges associated with the KN-08 or KN-14 missiles, which appear to be optimized for the delivery of a nuclear weapon. As such, if North Korea’s primary objective is to develop an operational ICBM, Pyongyang would want to begin by conducting flight trials of the KN-08, KN-14 or both notwithstanding the strong probability initial test flights would fail. How the missiles are tested will also take into account geographic, political and diplomatic constraints. To avoid the risk of a simulated warhead landing on the territory of another country, North Korea would likely fly the missile to the east; however, an easterly trajectory would necessarily overfly Japan. A test of the two-stage KN-14 offers the greatest likelihood that the impact of the first stage would fall well short of Japan. Use of the three-stage KN-08 would leave little room for error in missing Japanese territory. It therefore seems reasonable that if North Korea decides to launch an ICBM toward the Pacific Ocean, the KN-14 would be the preferred missile. The United States and Japan operate Aegis ships armed with SM-3 Block 1A and 1B interceptors in the East Sea. These ships are capable of intercepting short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in the mid-course and terminal phases of flight. Tests to validate the performance of the SM-3 Block 1 interceptors are ongoing and to date have been largely successful. SM-3 interceptors have never been tested against an ICBM, nor have they been tested against any missile in the boost or ascent phase of flight. In other words, boost- or ascent phase intercepts using SM-3 interceptors are an unproven, hypothetical capability. An Aegis ship armed with SM-3 Block 1A or B interceptors could, in principle, intercept a North Korean KN-14 ICBM under a limited set of circumstances. If North Korea flies a KN-14 on a minimum-energy trajectory, and the Aegis ship is located 500 km from the launch site, intercepts are kinematically possible. If, however, Pyongyang launches the KN-14 on steeper trajectories, the possibilities are reduced. For lofted trajectories roughly 18 degrees steeper than minimum-energy ones, no intercept is possible. In other words, North Korea can defeat America’s current sea-based capabilities by flying the ICBM to higher altitudes and shorter distances, while still gaining the necessary engineering information to support missile development. Though it must be noted, as stated previously, the KN-14 (or KN-08) is more likely than not to fail on its own during initial flight tests. But even if the US was improbably fortunate, and North Korea launched a KN-14 directly over an Aegis ship, and the trajectory is not sufficiently lofted, it is doubtful that a successful intercept would occur. There are multiple operational reasons why an intercept is beyond current capabilities. First, it is doubtful that an Aegis ship would be close enough (500 km or less from the KN-14 launch location) at the right time. The US or Japan would be placing their Aegis boats at considerable risk if either attempted to move closer than 200 km off North Korea’s coast while waiting for a launch. At the very least, good fortune would be needed to have an Aegis ship in the right place, at the right time to support the narrow circumstances under which an intercept could occur. Second, it is unclear if the necessary tracking data can be acquired with enough precision when relying solely upon the Aegis’s on-board SPY-1D radar. Would other high-precision sensors be available to aid in developing a KN-14 track at the earliest possible moment? The answer today is likely to be no. Third, can a fire-control solution be developed in just the required 10 seconds after the SPY-1 radar detects the KN-14 missile? This is likely an overly optimistic assumption, as command, control and communication limitations would likely delay the transmission of critical data, the development of a fire-control solution by the Aegis SPY-1D radar and battle management system and finally the decision and command to fire the interceptor. If it turns out that 30 seconds are required, then an intercept using SM-3 Block 1 interceptors is not possible, even when only the kinematics are considered. Fourth, to reduce the chances of a successful intercept, North Korea could decide not to fly the missile to maximum range and to put it on a trajectory that is off-line from the Aegis ship. But even in the unlikely event that the KN-14 flies directly over an Aegis ship, the KN-14 would have already passed over and be moving away from it because a fire-control solution for the interceptor will likely require too much time. While it is still kinematically possible for intercepts to occur when the target is moving away from the SM-3’s launch position, such intercepts are not considered feasible because the interceptor is ‘chasing’ the target from behind. Therefore, the last possible intercept point is defined to occur when the target is directly over the Aegis ship. In sum, current capabilities to intercept a North Korean ICBM using sea-based assets are lacking. However, when the SM-3 Block 2A interceptor becomes operational, the calculus changes dramatically. The Block 2A interceptor is projected to have a burnout velocity of 4.5 km/second, which is 50 percent faster than the current Block 1 interceptors. The added speed facilitates much greater possibilities. With this in mind, the Pentagon should be developing concepts of operations, procuring enabling assets and planning to test the Block 2 interceptors against ICBMs in the boost and ascent phases. Preventing Kim Jong Un from developing an operational ICBM can be achieved if North Korea never tests prototypes of the missile. Without flight tests, Pyongyang will not know if the ICBM’s performance and reliability are adequate. However, sea-based missile defenses available today are not capable of reliably interrupting a North Korean ICBM test.” (Michael Elleman, “Can the U.S. Prevent North Korea from Testing an ICBM?” 38North, January 27, 2017)


1/30/17:
President Donald Trump spoke with Korea’s acting president, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, over the phone. “The two discussed the importance of the U.S.-Republic of Korea [ROK] alliance,” the White House said in a statement. “President Trump reiterated our ironclad commitment to defend the ROK, including through the provision of extended deterrence, using the full range of military capabilities.” The statement confirmed the two leaders agreed to “take steps to strengthen joint defense capabilities” to defend against possible threats and provocations from North Korea, and also discussed the upcoming visit of Secretary of Defense James Mattis to Korea. “The conversation took place at the request of the White House,” said an official of the Prime Minister’s Office. “It was the first time that Trump spoke with Hwang after his inauguration.” “The U.S.-Korea relations have developed into a comprehensive and strategic alliance in the past 60 years and must be strengthened further,” Hwang told Trump, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. “Should there be a North Korean provocation in the future, the United States and South Korea will have to respond strongly together.” The Prime Minister’s Office in a press release said that Trump responded by saying the United States will be with Korea “100 percent” of the time, and that the U.S.-Korea relations will be “better than ever before.” The two also reportedly discussed the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to be installed in Korea to counter the military threats from the North. Hwang has been serving as acting president since, though some critics have questioned the extent and power of this role. Hwang has been criticized by some politicians as a possible dark horse in the upcoming presidential election using his new position to his advantage. “It is troubling to see Hwang, an acting president, taking the role for more than it actually is,” Rep. Chang Je-won of the Bareun Party said in a written statement. “[Though he is not the president,] he hosted the New Year press briefing and now is holding talks with leaders of other countries.” (Esther Chung and Jeong Yong-soo, “Trump Chats with Acting President for 30 Minutes,” JoongAng Ilbo, January 31, 2017)


2/1/17:
Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Gen. Lee Sun-jin asked Washington to strengthen its deterrence against North Korea, including deploying U.S. strategic assets in South Korea. During a 20-minute phone call with his U.S. counterpart, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Lee stressed the importance of implementing measures agreed to in December during the inaugural meeting of the allies’ Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) in Washington. At the time, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to regularly deploying strategic weapons, such as nuclear-capable bombers, to South Korea to better deter Pyongyang’s growing nuclear and missile threats. This is the first time that Seoul brought up the issue of the deployment of strategic weapons since the inauguration of President Donald Trump’s administration. The telephone conversation took place a day after talks between Defense Minister Han Min-koo and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, during which the latter vowed to offer extended deterrence, which refers to Washington’s stated commitment to defend its ally by mobilizing all military capabilities ― nuclear and conventional ― to deal with the North’s aggression. “During their phone conversation, the two generals also reaffirmed the allies’ commitment to forming a strong joint defensive posture against the North,” the JCS said, adding that the two agreed on the greater possibility of the isolated state pushing forward with strategic and tactical provocations to show off its advanced nuclear capability around major events in the isolated state. Lee cited North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday on February 16, the allies’ Key Resolve exercise in March and the North’s late founder Kim Il-sung’s birthday on April 15 as possible days for such provocations, according to the JCS. Following the talks, expectations are growing that Han and Mattis will discuss whether Washington will deploy U.S. strategic assets to South Korea on a regular rotational basis during their upcoming meeting scheduled for Friday in Seoul. Mattis will arrive here today for a two-day visit on his first overseas trip after being appointed to head the Pentagon. He said he chose South Korea as his first destination as the Seoul-Washington alliance is significant amid growing North Korean threats. Gen. Dunford will accompany Mattis. During the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) in October, Minister Han and former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter agreed to conduct a review of whether to deploy strategic military assets to the South on a rotational basis. The U.S. armed forces temporarily dispatched strategic assets such as B-52 and B-1B bombers to Seoul last year in response to Pyongyang’s two nuclear tests and missile launches. Observers raised the likelihood that the bombers and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers could participate in the Key Resolve exercise. Meanwhile, the United States plans to deploy 12 F-16 fighter planes to South Korea this month, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces Command said. “Approximately 200 airmen and 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons with the 119th Fighter Squadron from Atlantic City Air National Guard Base, New Jersey, are set to deploy in February to Osan Air Base” in South Korea, the command said on its website. The U.S. Pacific Air Forces routinely deploys a unit to the region in a bid to counter North Korea’s growing threats and bolster the Seoul-Washington alliance since 2004. The move is part of its “theater security packages”, which aims to help “maintain a deterrent against threats to regional security and stability,” the command said. The planned action would mark the first deployment of military assets by the U.S. to South Korea since Trump took office last month. (Jun Ji-hye, “Korea, U.S. Military Chiefs Discuss Contingency Plans,” Korea Times, February 1, 2017)

Rodong Sinmun: “The DPRK set it as a primary task to steadily improve the inter-Korean relations in the whole course of the cause of national reunification and has spared no efforts to carry it out. …The DPRK remains unchanged in its stand to achieve the reunification of the country and prosperity of the nation through improvement of the north-south relations. …Its proactive measures for mending the north-south relations are prompted by the Juche-based stand to settle the issue of national reunification by the concerted efforts of the Koreans responsible for it, the patriotic standpoint of prioritizing the requirements and interests common to the nation. No one can replace the Korean nation in settling its issue. When the Koreans pool their will and intention, they will have nothing impossible to settle and can properly improve the north-south relations as desired by them. How to approach toward improved inter-Korean relations is the touchstone distinguishing reunification from division and peace from war. It is necessary to eliminate the anti-reunification forces to the last one in order to improve the inter-Korean relations as early as possible. The reality goes to prove that the Korean nation cannot achieve peace and the reunification of the country but may suffer irrevocable disasters of a nuclear war unless positive measures are taken to remove the obstacles to mending the north-south relations.” (KCNA, “DPRK Remains Unchanged in Its Stand to Mend Inter-Korean Relations: Rodong Sinmun, January 31, 2017)

Roberta Cohen: “North Korea’s accelerated nuclear weapons development and threats to test inter-continental ballistic missiles to target American cities have prompted calls to the Trump administration to initiate negotiations on denuclearization. But denuclearization talks alone will not be sufficient. The threat to the United States emanates not only from North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction but also from the nature of the regime. A nuclear empowered country with North Korea’s unparalleled human rights record is a danger to the rest of the world. If a denuclearization agreement is to inspire confidence and trust, it would have to be matched by efforts to mitigate serious human rights abuses at the foundation of the regime. During the Cold War, the United States did not limit its discussions with the USSR to one subject—arms reduction. Instead, it insisted upon an expanded information flow between the communist bloc and the West and a more open society; and advocated for core human rights concerns—Soviet Jewish emigration, the protection of Pentecostals and other Christians, the release of political dissidents, the unification of families and the formation of human rights organizations to monitor the Helsinki Final Act. It raised these concerns in bilateral discussions and in the multilateral Helsinki process. Non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, a doctrine espoused by the Soviet Union to shield itself from criticism was not accepted by the US in its negotiations with Moscow. Neither should it be in the case of North Korea, as increasing numbers of policy experts now point out. A recent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Task Force report suggests that nuclear negotiations could expand into broader talks and that a peace agreement and normalization of relations will have to depend on both “nuclear disarmament” and “progress on human rights.” Even more cautious strategists also acknowledge that human rights must be part of any future negotiation. But which human rights issues should be raised? The UN General Assembly’s annual resolution on North Korea’s human rights situation—adopted by consensus in 2016—lists a wide range of violations, many said to constitute crimes against humanity. The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI)’s 400-page report provides extensive backup information on the crimes committed. Beginning in 2016, the US sanctioned some 30 North Korean individuals and entities responsible for serious human rights abuses, from the head of state down. It follows that any human rights negotiations between the US and North Korea would have to address these serious issues of concern rather than limit talks to the lower standard that is sometimes proposed. For example, it has been argued that the US should raise at the outset of negotiations only those human rights issues the DPRK is ready to discuss, in particular, “low hanging fruit,” that is, the rights of women, children and the disabled to which North Korea agreed in a UN process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Such initial talks would presumably also encompass the recommendations agreed to by North Korea concerning the rights to food, health care and education. These are matters worthy of discussion, in particular, non-discrimination in access to food and health care in light of North Korea’s discriminatory songbun (class) system; and the DPRK’s promised increase in governmental expenditures on health care and agriculture. But to limit negotiations, even initially, to issues selected by North Korea would be to set aside many of the serious human rights concerns that the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have identified over the past decade in resolutions and reports as well as those raised publicly by the US and put forward in its own legislation. A permissive approach born out of fear that “a forceful human rights policy may backfire” and put “at risk” security objectives would abet the denial of rights as fundamental as the right to life, freedom of expression and movement, protection from torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, protection from arbitrary detention and imprisonment, protection from deliberate starvation and more. That is, the rights set forth in UN human rights treaties to which the DPRK has acceded, and from which it should not be given a pass. North Korea will not become less dangerous by being asked to promulgate another law on economic, social and cultural rights, ratify more human rights treaties or add more women to public office—per the UPR. Such issues can and should be taken up and advanced by UN treaty bodies, committees and humanitarian organizations on the ground. What must be given attention by the US is that North Korea at the UPR excluded from consideration or redress the many violations deemed by the COI to have crossed “the high threshold of crimes against humanity.” If negotiations are to be credible, they will have to address these issues. The US should begin with those specific to its own interests, namely: The release of all Americans imprisoned in North Korea. Currently, there are two, including a university student on charges that would not merit more than a fine in other countries. A negotiation must also include a warning against the detention of future Americans as hostages—over the past eight years, 10 Americans have been detained and then released for a political price. The reunion of Korean Americans with their families in the North separated since the Korean War. Of the 1.7 million Korean Americans in the US, some 100,000 are estimated to have families in the North, but just about none have been allowed to meet with their relatives. A resolution approved by Congress in 2016 calls upon North Korea to allow such reunions. Another important priority would be access to North Korea by human rights and humanitarian actors since access is an effective entry point for addressing human rights issues. It would enable North Koreans to engage with the world, bring needed information and knowhow into the country, and correct the human rights findings it says are fabrications. In particular, the US should insist on: Access for the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK and for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose offices have requested entry for more than a decade. Since 2014, North Korea has indicated it might allow entry to these officials although it has also obstructed their proposed visits. At the UPR, North Korea agreed to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms. At the UPR, the DPRK accepted “free and unimpeded access to all populations in need” so that humanitarian aid can reach “the most vulnerable.” The US should continue to support this principle together with the language adopted by General Assembly resolutions that the most vulnerable include children, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, the disabled and “political prisoners,” those held in a cruel network of prison camps. Although in 2012, the US regarded prisoners in the prison labor camps as too sensitive to talk about, its statements and policy changed dramatically after satellite imagery, former prisoner and guard testimonies and the COI report offered evidence of the camps’ existence and the cruelty practiced there. In 2016, Congress required the State Department by law to compile and provide information about the prison camps; and US human rights sanctions came about in part because of the camps. The intention is clear: the US must support the access of humanitarian agencies not only to places North Korea allows, but to the most vulnerable in camps and detention facilities. And accordingly, the US must not shy away from raising the most difficult issue—the release of tens of thousands of men, women and children held in political prison camps, reeducation camps and other detention facilities deprived of adequate food and medical care and subject to inhumane treatment. The COI found North Korea’s camps to be reminiscent of those of World War II, and UN resolutions have made them of concern internationally. Although North Korea denies the existence of some of these camps and objects to their being spoken about, it knows that US officials and intelligence agencies have information about these facilities as do members of Congress, the UN, other governments and NGOs and that the US is likely to raise them in discussion. The first step should be to press for the release of the children and families incarcerated with the political prisoners as a result of North Korea’s practice of ‘guilt by association.’ Their liberation should not affect the security of the state. Thereafter, a negotiation should be proposed, led by the UN or an organization like the International Committee of the Red Cross, to support the release of all North Koreans held on political and religious grounds, as called for by UN resolutions. The US should also raise the issue of abduction of foreigners by North Korea, a practice affecting countries’ security outside North Korea’s borders, in particular Japan and South Korea. The lifting of US human rights sanctions depends, in fact, on steps toward resolution of this issue. Most recently, information surfaced about an American who might have been abducted by North Korea while in China in 2012. Clearly, there is need for: An accounting of the numbers and whereabouts of abducted foreigners and the voluntary repatriation of those held and their families. Although Japan has led negotiations regarding abductees from its country and has achieved the return of a small number, it has called for US and international support. A multilateral effort should be undertaken. Finally, the US should seek to expand information exchanges, internet usage, radio broadcasts, DVDs, USBs and other messaging that could bring into North Korea needed information about life in other countries and how to address problems North Koreans face, whether in business, private markets, agriculture or other fields. A more open society and freedom of information would also help assure the success of denuclearization agreements. The US goal should be a negotiation, not a dialogue with North Korea. DPRK dialogues with EU members in the past have been described as sterile legal conversations about provisions in UN human rights treaties. What must be conveyed to North Korea is that political acceptance by the international community, economic investment in its economy, and greater national security will require changes in its human rights practices. The negotiation should be focused on results. In fact, in the past, North Korea has, at times, released Americans, arranged for family meetings at least as concerns South Korea, released some abductees, provided information on others and offered visits to UN human rights officials. Needed now is for North Korea to genuinely carry out these steps and expand them to include access to the camps and release of prisoners. If either a peace treaty or normalization of relations is important to the North, then it should be ready to consider concessions on these issues. Other incentives the US will offer will vary. For some of the family reunification meetings between North and South Koreans, Pyongyang reportedly expected cash payments. In its discussions with Japan over abductions, North Korea asked for and received the easing of financial sanctions and other concessions in exchange for information. Food and fuel aid have been a major incentive in past nuclear negotiations with the DPRK. For the failed “Leap Day Agreement” of 2012, for instance, Pyongyang committed to a freeze on nuclear weapons in exchange for the US provision of food for some 900,000 North Koreans. Sometimes, the question is posed whether North Korea will try to barter away human rights concerns, in particular, accountability, in exchange for making nuclear concessions. But if the past is any guide, North Korea appears to prefer concrete and substantial material gains as a quid pro quo for denuclearization. In the case of human rights, it has confined its bargaining to objectives within that arenaoffering the Special Rapporteur a visit in exchange for the removal of the accountability provisions from a General Assembly resolution. Certainly, were nuclear negotiations to take place, diplomacy and common sense would dictate that the US not use the occasion to publicly call for the accountability of people with whom the US is negotiating. But at the UN, over the past five years, the US, the EU, Japan, South Korea and more than 100 other states have stood firmly behind strong resolutions on North Korea’s human rights situation, including accountability. This multilateral effort is the only human rights measure that has ever unnerved North Korea, and could, over time, lead to results. It was the General Assembly’s reference to crimes against humanity and the ICC that prompted North Korea to offer visits to UN human rights officials. Its sensitivity even prompted Victor Cha and Robert Gallucci to comment that human rights could serve as “a source of leverage and pressure on North Korea for the nuclear issue.” Similarly, in the United States, the human rights provisions in the North Korea Sanctions Act, adopted by near unanimity in Congress cannot simply be bartered away. Specific human rights steps are required to suspend and then terminate sanctions. Choosing nuclear issues at the expense of human rights would be to ignore what the US and world now know about North Korea. It also would be out of step with a well-established part of US policy—expressing Americans’ “shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” which “are probably the most important thing that defines us.” If North Korea refuses the political and economic benefits that could accrue from overall negotiations, and continues to defy UN resolutions, it will undoubtedly face more potent steps to bring it to the table. In the nuclear area, experts speak of more coercive economic and military measures, while the Security Council in its latest resolution mentions the possible threat of suspension from the UN if North Korea fails to cooperate. In the human rights area, there are stronger measures to take as well. The CFR Task Force recommended mobilizing other states to adopt human rights sanctions like those the US has enacted and also to explore the withdrawal of North Korea’s credentials at the General Assembly. It proposes giving North Korea two years to take human rights steps to avert withdrawal. Some might object that withdrawal would only increase North Korea’s isolation, but allowing it to continue to defy the world body undermines the longstanding system established to uphold human rights monitoring and scrutiny and removes pressure on the regime to make improvements. Human rights talks may or may not succeed with North Korea, but the relationship between security and human rights makes it essential to try to encompass both goals in US policy, make clear to North Korea that America stands for both and that improved relations will require both to be taken into account.” (Roberta Cohen, “A Serious Human Rights Negotiation with North Korea,” 38North, February 1, 2017)


2/2/17:
North Korea fired its state security minister last month, presumably over corruption, abuse of power and torture committed by his agency, according to rival South Korea’s government on Friday. Jeong Joon Hee, spokesman for the Unification Ministry, said the sacking of Kim Won Hong, who had been seen as close to leader Kim Jong Un, might cause instability in the country’s leadership by causing more fear into the ruling elite. North Korea has not said anything about Kim Wong Hong, and Jeong did not say how the South’s government obtained the information. South Korea has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea as information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm. It is not clear if Kim Won Hong’s alleged sacking means he has been permanently removed from North Korea’s leadership circle. (Associated Press, “Seoul Says North Korea Has Fired Its Security Chief,” February 2, 2017)


2/2-3/17:
On his first mission to reassure an important American ally, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met on October 2 with top South Korean officials, who agreed to push ahead with the deployment of a new missile defense system. “THAAD is for defense of our allies’ people, of our troops who are committed to their defense,” Mattis told reporters. “Were it not for the provocative behavior of North Korea, we would have no need for THAAD out here,” Mattis added. “There is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD.” Trump’s various messages — some spontaneous, some premeditated — have turned Mattis’s otherwise traditional statements of support for South Korea and Japan into messages with strategic importance. “It is a priority for President Trump’s administration to pay attention to the northwest Pacific,” Mattis said. “I am going to get current by listening to them, finding out where their issues are, and then we are going to work together and strengthen our alliance.” Mattis met with an array of officials in Seoul, including Hwang, who is the country’s prime minister as well as serving as acting president during the impeachment trial of President Park Geun-hye. “Mattis is going to meet with people who probably aren’t going to be in office in a few months,” said Joel S. Wit, a Korea expert at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. During Mattis’s meeting with Hwang, the allies confirmed that they would deploy the THAAD system as planned. “Secretary Mattis reaffirmed the United States’ firm defense commitment to South Korea, including the provision of extended deterrence, and said that the Trump administration will be treating the North Korean nuclear threat as a top-priority security issue,” the office of Kim Kwan-jin, South Korea’s director of national security, said in a statement. Mindful of the possible early election, crucial opposition leaders in Seoul are opposing the deployment of the THAAD system. They say it would do little to defend South Korea from the North’s plentiful short-range missiles but would anger China, which might retaliate economically. Moon Jae-in, an opposition leader who is considered the front-runner among potential presidential candidates, has argued that South Korea should use the THAAD program as diplomatic leverage with China, keeping open the possibility that it would not be deployed if China helped rein in North Korea. “Given our standoff with North Korea and its nuclear program, our security and the alliance with the United States are our top priority,” Moon told reporters recently. “But the best scenario for us is when the U.S. and China get along well. If there is friction between the two, it’s not going to be easy for us.” Hwang, in contrast, has said that the THAAD deployment is “inevitable” because of the North’s rapidly growing missile threat. “THAAD is a defense tool whose deployment should not be delayed any more,” he said at a recent news conference. “We are explaining our position in various ways to neighboring countries like China, who are concerned about the THAAD deployment.” (Michael R. Gordon, “Mattis, in South Korea, Tries to Reassure an Ally as Regional Tensions Rise,” New York Times, February 3, 2017, p. A-4) Mattis promised an “effective and overwhelming” response to any use of nuclear weapons against America or its allies, delivering a firm message to North Korea during his first overseas trip. Mattis said during a meeting on October 3 with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo that the U.S.’s defense commitment was “ironclad” in the face of Pyongyang’s “threatening rhetoric and behavior.” “Any attack on the United States or on our allies will be defeated and any use of nuclear weapons will be met with a response that will be effective and overwhelming,” he said. Mattis cited the deployment in South Korea of a U.S. missile-defense system, known as a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, as a sign of Washington’s commitment to protect South Koreans and the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the country. Mattis visited South Korea’s acting president and foreign minister before meeting with Han. Mattis said that over the course of his two-day trip, he “gained a deeper sense of the trusted bonds between our countries.” Mattis also called the U.S.-South Korea alliance “the linchpin of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.” His reassurances have resonated in Seoul. Meeting with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se yesterday, Mattis emphasized the “100% reliability” of the U.S. commitment to South Korea, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A Pentagon spokesman said that during a meeting with acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, Mattis “emphasized the priority that President Trump places on the Asia-Pacific.” The acting president’s office said that Mattis said that Trump had instructed him to “clearly deliver that the U.S. government is putting a priority on South Korea and the U.S.-Korea alliance.” (Jonathan Cheng, “U.S. Promises ‘Effective and Overwhelming’ Response to Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2017)


2/3/17:
The White House has launched a review of its North Korea policy, reflecting the growing nuclear threat from Pyongyang that Barack Obama told Donald Trump would represent his most pressing national security challenge. Two people familiar with the review, which the White House has not disclosed, said it was designed to determine what the Trump administration could do differently to address concerns that North Korea could strike the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile. One person said that Michael Flynn, national security adviser, ordered the review today. The U.S. president has personally has several detailed intelligence briefings in recent days, according to a third person familiar with the discussions. (Demetri Sevastopulo and Bryan Harris, “White House Shifts Focus to North Korea in Face of Nuclear Threat,” Financial Times, February 3, 2017)

China’s imports of hard coal from North Korea jumped in December despite U.N. sanctions, according to recent data. This suggests Beijing has continued to allow Pyongyang to bypass international sanctions designed to reduce the reclusive country’s coal sales, its biggest foreign exchange source. The latest data from China’s Commerce Department shows that Beijing imported 2 million tons of hard coal (anthracite) worth $168 million in December alone, bringing the 2016 annual figure to 22.5 million tons worth $1.2 billion. The December figure was twice the volume and three times the value approved by the latest United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions imposed late November. On November 30, the council, including China, adopted a set of sanctions over North Korea’s September nuclear test, imposing an export limit of 7.5 million tons for 2017 valued at $401 million. Separately, it put a cap on December exports of 1 million tons ($53 million). “I think China is protecting the Kim regime even though it doesn’t really want to,” William Brown, a non-resident research fellow at the Korea Economic Research Institute, said. He is also professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. “It senses more danger from radical change than from the status quo or from slow change,” he said. (Kim Jae-kyoung, “China Keeps on Pampering N. Korea,” Korea Times, February 3, 2017)

Elleman: “Little is known about the missile, though some have speculated that it relies on a liquid-fueled engine originally developed by the Isayev Design Bureau for the Soviet R-27 submarine-launched ballistic missile. If so, this could make it a variant of the North Korean Musudan (KN-10), an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that uses the same engine and that Pyongyang began flight testing in 2016. The ramifications of such a connection would be significant, not only because it would signify ongoing close Iranian-North Korean missile cooperation, but also because such an engine would be a foundation for Iran to develop a viable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). However, contrary to some assertions, the available evidence cannot verify speculation that the Iranian missile is similar to North Korea’s Musudan, or reports that Pyongyang exported R-27 engines to Iran. … Fox News asserted that Iran tested a BM-25 missile, built with R-27 engine technology imported from North Korea in July 2016. However, that report was not independently confirmed by other media sources. Moreover, during a briefing to journalists on February 1, 2017, a National Security Council official described the missile tested as a Shahab, a missile based on older North Korean technology. Given these uncertainties, there are four possibilities regarding Iran’s new ballistic missile, ordered from most likely to least likely. The first possibility is that Iran tested a Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) based on North Korea’s Nodong missile. Initially test fired by Tehran in 1998, this weapon has a range of 950 kilometers when carrying a 1,000-kg warhead. Iran has created variants of the Shahab-3 called the Ghadr, and most recently the Emad, which deliver a smaller 750-kg payload to roughly 1,600 kilometers. The Emad, the most recent design, is similar to the Ghadr, but in principle could become more accurate since fins on its base allow the warhead to alter its flight path as it re-enters the atmosphere. Perfecting the new re-entry vehicle design requires Iran to conduct a dozen or more flight tests, essentially creating a new missile. The second possibility is that the missile tested was a variant of the Shahab-2, based on the North’s Scud-C missile that was imported by Iran from North Korea in the late-1980s and early-1990s, called the Qiam. It has a maximum range of about 700 kilometers, which would seemingly eliminate it as well as any other Scud variants as the possible subject of the recent test flight. However, North Korea unveiled and tested a one-meter diameter Scud in the summer of 2016 capable of reaching a distance of about 1,000 kilometers. There is no evidence to suggest Pyongyang has transferred one-meter Scuds to Tehran, but it is within Iran’s technical and industrial capacity to develop a clone of the North Korean missile. Third, the recent Iranian test may have been a solid-fueled missile derived from Iran’s Sajjil program which has not been tested since 2011. A missile consisting of only the Sajjil’s first stage would have an approximate range of 1,000 kilometers and could be used to target Arab Gulf states and US forces in the region from less-vulnerable launch positions in Iran’s interior. The final and least likely possibility is that Iran tested a missile that is essentially the same as the North Korean Musudan. This is unlikely for three reasons. First, if the Iranian missile were modeled on the 3,000 kilometer-range Musudan, it would be an intermediate-range ballistic missile, contrary to the US description of the Khorramshahr as a medium-range ballistic missile. Second, while the July 2016 and January 2017 test flights conducted by Iran were largely successful, North Korea’s tests of the Musudan failed soon after launch in six of eight attempts, a wide discrepancy that is difficult to explain even if, as some might assert, Iran is more capable at missile development. Finally, flying a Musudan to only 1,000 kilometers is unnecessary for Iran, since it has a much larger flight corridor within which test flights can be performed and has done so. There is also no reason to believe that Iran could not test a BM-25 to maximum range—instead, if the Khorramshahr is based on the BM-25, it would have flown a very lofted trajectory. In fact, the flight paths associated with each of the possibilities vary considerably, with a possible BM-25 launch flying to the highest altitude, and the one-meter Scud taking the flattest trajectory. The countries monitoring Iranian air space would certainly be able to distinguish between a BM-25 missile test from one involving a Ghadr or Emad. A one-meter Scud missile test would differ from either a BM-25 or Ghadr/Emad test. If a single-stage missile based on Sajjil technology were tested, its flight path and acceleration profile during boost phase would be different from that of a one-meter Scud. Given these differences, it is difficult to imagine that the US government does not know the identity of the missiles tested last July and in January 2017.The strategic implications of Tehran’s recent missile test and the possibility of continued missile cooperation with Pyongyang vary depending on what was actually launched. If the Khorramshahr was a Shahab-3 variant based, in part, on old Nodong technology acquired from North Korea years ago, then Iran is keeping with a pattern it has pursued over the past half dozen years—prioritizing greater accuracy and enhanced military utility. However, it would not be evidence of ongoing missile cooperation with North Korea. If the test involved either a one-meter Scud or a single-stage version of the Sajjil, then Iran has refocused its missile acquisition efforts in an attempt to diversify its stockpile and increase operational flexibility. In this case, only the development of a one-meter Scud would indicate ongoing cooperation with Pyongyang. Finally, in the least likely scenario, if the Khorramshahr did employ an R-27 engine, which uses high-performance propellants, it would signify that not only does Iran continue to have close missile cooperation with North Korea, it could also develop a road-mobile, two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US mainland. However, such a development would not occur overnight, and would require four or five years of observable flight tests.” (Michael Elleman, “Iran’s Missile Test: Getting the Facts Straight on North Korea’s Cooperation,” 38North, February 3, 2017)

Abrahamian: “The leadership of the DPRK certainly realizes that over the next five years their international environment could develop in several different ways—and most of the scenarios would have a negative impact on economic growth and exports. Sanctions could increase, China’s economic slowdown could continue, or other consumers of North Korean goods could abandon traditional partnerships with the DPRK in response to South Korean and US diplomatic pressure. Although it is possible that a breakthrough on the nuclear issue could ease international pressure, Pyongyang cannot count on such a long shot coming to pass. As such, it makes sense for the country to keep its goals vague. It is probably unclear—even to the leaders themselves—to what extent they will incorporate the market economy into official plans for growth. Their policy steps after the Party Congress assumed a decidedly traditionalist tenor with the June commencement of a 200-day “speed battle,” a competitive, Stakhanovite, nationally mandated program of overtime and additional work. This battle followed directly on the heels of a 70-day speed battle that was started in February and lasted until just before the Party Congress. While this grueling work schedule may provide tangible boosts in some sectors, it does little to solve the bottlenecks or key shortages of capital investment that are major inhibitors of growth. If the international environment shapes how the leadership in Pyongyang makes economic promises and policies, what room is there for more reform in the current context? UN, US and ROK sanctions are challenging the DPRK’s economic growth streak of recent years. Facing external pressure, leaders in Pyongyang recognize it will be harder than ever to attract capital and investment from abroad. In theory, they could help alleviate this by improving protection of property rights and access to information and communication tools. However, they have found this hard to do. Some experimentation with greater information access happened between 2010 and 2013 and more companies and organizations appeared to get online, but they still faced serious restrictions. Moreover, property rights also remain politically sensitive; while there is a very active grey market, formal property ownership rights extend only to two apartment blocks in the Rason Special Economic Zone. In both of these areas, concerns over security and stability appeared to supersede any interest in reforms that could spur economic growth. Banking, then, is perhaps the only consequential economic sector poised for potential near-term change. Indeed, that change is underway. In a way, North Korea is taking it back to the 2000s, when they began trying to strengthen the lending functions of banks by encouraging them to attract depositors. In 2004, the DPRK Central Bank Law was passed, followed in 2006 by the DPRK Commercial Bank Law. The latter was supposed to codify rules for two-tier banking and allow “commercial banks to positively mobilize idle funds, for which they can take savings.” Unfortunately, a lack of expertise and commitment hindered progress. Kim Jong Il was primarily focused on the nuclear program and attendant diplomacy, and then suffered ill health in 2008. The 2009 currency revaluation then shattered any faith that North Koreans had in their banking system, prompting most to keep as much of their savings as possible in foreign cash. Recovering the trust of potential North Korean depositors has been an ongoing, years-long project, but the country has steadily trained them to believe in banking again. This has been no easy task. Re-establishing trust in non-cash financial products may have begun with cash cards, which are now available in competing versions and accepted widely in Pyongyang and elsewhere. Such cards are not linked to bank accounts, but they have helped citizens become used to reliable, non-cash transactions. Cash still remains king for most people, and many in Pyongyang and elsewhere have Narae or other cash cards but no bank accounts. Ultimately, though, banks will need to attract deposits for the commercial banking sector to function. To this end, North Korean financial institutions have competed for retail customers since at least 2012, when the DPRK’s Civilian Cooperation Bank reportedly offered interest rates ranging from 1 percent for general deposits to 9 percent for 10-year deposits. Chinmyong Joint Bank, which ran a booth at the 2016 Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair, offered interest rates of 2 percent on three-month deposits, 3 percent on six-month deposits and 7 percent on one-year deposits. These are extremely high rates, arousing skepticism among foreign observers that such returns could possibly be paid out. Possibly in another bid to attract deposits, North Korean banks have improved their use of technology. Retail financial products now include a mobile app that allows payments and top-ups on the go. Corporations appear increasingly reliant on banking and companies have received access to an electronic fingerprint verification system for ensuring secure transfers between one another. Interest in the financial sector has generally grown under Kim Jong Un, as more students and delegations have been sent abroad to explore issues related to banking, and relevant domestic education has increased. Also in the last couple of years, North Korean media have made a rhetorical return to the mid-2000s by lamenting the wastefulness of “idle funds.” As The Kim Il Sung University Gazette noted in 2014: “Some of the funds that are being circulated in the market have strayed away from the normal production process and distribution passage and remain harbored in the hands of organizations, enterprises, and people … mobilization of idle funds shall meet the funding needs of the state and serve as a source of supplementary income to increase state revenue.” The last sentence implies a key risk: if banks in the DPRK take deposits to fund loans, those loans have to perform. If banks are forced to make loans to economically non-viable state projects, depositors could lose out, quickly undermining the process of banking-sector development. Despite this potential pitfall, greater regulation and formalization of the system of deposits and lending would be a positive step. Informal financing currently dominates the commercial loan market with little guidance from the state and interest rates can surpass 15 percent. By offering formal loans that are cheaper, North Korea’s banks could help drive growth. Much remains to be done. The central bank has limited experience managing a banking sector, and the experience of most North Korean bank employees is in many cases limited to being transaction service providers, catering to trading companies that conduct foreign transactions. Moving forward, it will be crucial for these bankers to properly set rates and ensure reliable and transparent practices in an economy known for exactly the opposite. Technocrats realize the high stakes in this sector, but if managed properly, North Korea’s banks could help improve the functioning of the economy. This may contribute to the sense that the country can put off other key reforms. Under Kim Jong Un, the economy has grown and North Korea’s quality of life has improved. His personal brand is very much connected to the economy, and Pyongyang is reluctant to experiment with rules that could disrupt social order or minimize asymmetric advantages it holds over its enemies by having most of its systems offline. Fortunately, though the pace of economic experimentation has slowed significantly since 2013, no significant rollback of prior changes has taken place. Facing a tougher external environment, Pyongyang is responding by trying to invigorate the domestic banking sector. It will be important for observers to pay attention to this sector, and it will be even more important for government officials to regulate and communicate with stakeholders. Such communication is necessary to ensure the development of effective management, as well as trust in banking institutions among North Korean citizens.” (Andray Abrahamian, “Banking on North Korea’s Banks?”38North, February 3, 2017)


2/3-4/17:
Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis clearly said during talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on October 3 that the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture are within the scope of Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which obliges the United States to defend Japan, according to a senior government official who attended the meeting. At the opening of the meeting, Abe said he hopes and is certain the two countries “can demonstrate in our country and abroad that the Japan-U.S. alliance is unshakable.” In response, Mattis said that he intended to make clear during the meeting that Article 5 of the security treaty will be important five years or 10 years from now, just as it was a year ago or five years ago. Mattis arrived in Tokyo on the day to hold talks with the prime minister, Defense Minister Inada Tomomi and other members of Abe’s Cabinet to exchange views on the security environment in East Asia and to address mutual security concerns. (Yomiuri Shimbun, “Abe, Mattis Reaffirm U.S. Commitment on Senkakus,” February 3, 2017)


2/6/17:
North Korea still has a lot of work to do in developing an operational intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), so the test it threatened to do will almost certainly end in failure, according to military experts. They said the North seems to have made progress in some technologies related to the intermediate- and long-range missile, such as stage separation, clustering of engines and guidance and control systems, but its progress in reentry vehicle capability and engine performance remain dubious. Pyongyang has never flight-tested road-mobile KN-08 or KN-14 ICBMs. On January 19, the reclusive state reportedly has built two missiles, presumed to be the new ICBMs, and placed them on transport erector launchers (TELs) for the North’s first test-firing of ICBMs. However, Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in New York, downplayed the young leader’s claim, saying “in the final stages of preparation” may mean the state is not quite ready yet. “There is no sign yet that it has perfected a reentry vehicle robust enough to resist the heat and pressure of penetrating the atmosphere,” he said. Securing missile reentry technology is the toughest challenge in developing operational middle- and long-range ballistic missiles. As missiles reenter the Earth’s atmosphere at Mach 24, the warhead needs to be capable of withstanding temperatures of around 7,000 to 8,000 degrees Celsius. In March last year, after its simulation test, the reclusive state claimed that it has secured the heat-resistant capability of the long-range missiles. But a South Korean military expert said, asking not to be named, the test environment was far different from that in real ICBM test-firing, given that the test temperature was only about 1,500 degrees Celsius.

“I don’t assess that the North has secured reentry vehicle technology,” he said. Terence Roehrig, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, said it was difficult to know for sure how reliable Kim’s claim was, albeit it could be a reliable claim for a future test. But he noted that being willing and able to conduct a test does not mean the test will be successful. “The record would suggest that an ICBM test will likely have problems,” he said. “Though North Korea has improved its missile capabilities through its satellite launches, these have had difficulties.” Referring to last year’s tests of the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM), he said, “The tests had numerous failures before one that showed some degree of success and the likely ICBMs to be tested, the KN-08 or KN-14 have yet to be flight-tested so that the likelihood of failure in the short-term seems high.” According to military officials in Seoul, the North’s ICBM uses engines in the same series as those of the Musudan. They said the fact the only one of the eight tests was successful showed that the North has failed to correct faults in the missile’s engines. Engine performance is essential in boosting the missiles, they added. “Each time North Korea tests, they learn from the attempt and their program continues to move forward,” Professor Roehrig said. “But there remain some important question marks for making the entire system operational. North Korea still has a good deal of work to do in developing an ICBM capability, but they are making progress and they will continue trying.” Taking into consideration the North’s dubious ICBM capability, military authorities here see the greater possibility for Pyongyang to launch the Musudan instead of the ICBM if it does decide to conduct any provocations in the near future. “We are closely monitoring any new military activities in North Korea, as it could launch an IRBM at any time if leader Kim Jong-un gives the order,” a military official said, asking not to be named. The Ministry of National Defense interpreted Kim’s ICBM threat as part of the North’s efforts to send a message to the new administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Referring to the two suspected new ICBMs reported a day before his inauguration, officials raised the possibility that the North intentionally revealed the existence of the new missiles to send a strategic message to the new U.S. administration, which has hinted at carrying out a hard-line policy against the North. U.S. experts agreed with this view. “Kim’s announcement could have been an effort to see how the Trump administration would respond,” Professor Roehrig said. According to Sigal, it is noteworthy that in the past, after each United Nations Security Council sanctions resolution was passed, the North responded with test-launches and nuclear tests, but it did not do so this time. “This could be a sign that it is waiting to see whether President Trump meant what he said during his campaign about wanting to negotiate with Pyongyang, as well as the regime change in Seoul,” he said. “The statements by Kim Jong-un and the foreign ministry are a reminder of what is at stake if there are no talks.” (Jun Ji-hye, “N. Korea Has Yet to Master ICBM Technologies,” Korea Times, February 6, 2017)


2/7/17:
U.S. Forces Korea Commander Vincent Brooks called for greater capability to target and destroy North Korean missile bases. Addressing the Association of the United States Army in a video call, Brooks said the proliferation of low-cost missiles that can be used to threaten the U.S. requires a “layered” approach to missile defense. Brooks joins a growing chorus of hawkish voices in the U.S. calling for preemptive strikes against North Korea if it continues its nuclear and missile programs. Brooks said existing defenses are “insufficient” in dealing with the North Korean missile threat. The U.S. general warned that even one stray North Korean missile could wreak havoc on South Korea because of the high population density here. He also stressed the need “to present a sufficient combination of capabilities that is known to an adversary in both defensive and offensive aspects so that deterrence actually occurs.” Brooks is not the only U.S. government official touting the need for preemptive strike capabilities. New U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the next day vowed to come up with a “new approach” to dealing with North Korea that includes military measures, while Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker asked a hearing on North Korea last week whether the U.S. needs to prepare for a preemptive attack on the North’s putative intercontinental ballistic missiles. (Yu Yong-weon, “USFK Chief Hints at Preemptive Strikes against N. Korean Missiles,” Chosun Ilbo, February 10, 2017)

South Korea’s Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn warned of North Korea’s possible strategic provocations ahead of the birthday of its late former leader next week, stressing the need for Seoul to maintain strong security cooperation with its ally Washington. During a Cabinet meeting, Hwang also noted that U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to Seoul last week reaffirmed the robust bilateral alliance and sent a “strong” warning to an increasingly provocative Pyongyang. “North Korea’s threats of provocations — including its claim that it is in the closing phase of preparations to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile — are increasingly explicit,” Hwang said. “Especially this month, which includes the 75th birthday of (former North Korean leader) Kim Jong-il, the likelihood of strategic provocations is higher than before,” he added. The late Kim’s birthday falls October 16. “I urge (the military) to stay alert so that it can sternly and immediately respond to any kind of provocation,” Hwang said. (Yonhap, “Acting President Warns of N.K. ‘Strategic’ Provocations,” February 7, 2017)

Officials from South and North Korean civic groups met in Shenyang to discuss ways to promote exchanges between the two Koreas despite Seoul’s opposition to their unauthorized contact. The two Koreas’ committees for the joint implementation of the June 15 summit declaration kicked off a two-day conference, according to an official from South Korea. Topics for the meeting are known to include football matches for teams from the labor unions of the two countries and the formation of a joint cheering squad for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Seoul’s unification ministry rejected a request by the South Korean civic group to meet with their North Korean counterparts, citing inter-Korean tensions. “(We) are facing a grave security situation as North Korea has continued to threaten and make provocative acts,” Jeong Joon-hee, a ministry spokesman, said at a regular press briefing yesterday. “The government does not see such inter-Korean civilian exchanges as proper against this backdrop.” The government has suspended almost all inter-Korean exchanges and South Korean visits to North Korea since the North’s fourth nuclear test in January last year. Any trip to the North requires the Seoul government’s approval. “The meeting is being held as we believe that inter-Korean exchanges should be maintained at least at the non-government level,” said Lee Seung-hwan, a spokesman for the South’s committee. A ministry official said that unauthorized contact with North Koreans will entail fines for violators under the law on inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation. (Yonhap, “S. Koreans Make Unauthorized Contact with N. Koreans in China,” February 7, 2017)

The top diplomats of South Korea and the US reaffirmed their commitment to shoring up the alliance Tuesday, calling for a joint approach to tackle North Korea’s “imminent threats,” Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said. Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se had his first phone conversation with new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. During the 25-minute talks, the ministers agreed to continue “coercive diplomacy” to thwart Pyongyang’s unabated nuclear ambitions, while strengthening the alliance to a comprehensive, multifaceted partnership to handle regional and global issues. “The sides also concurred they will deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system here as planned under the view that it is a defensive step to respond to North Korean threats and does not damage other nations’ interests,” the ministry said in a statement. Yun singled out North Korea’s nuclear program as the “most critical foreign policy and security issue that the Donald Trump administration will face,” calling for a mobilization of a round-the-clock consultative scheme.

Tillerson affirmed the US’ “steadfast” security commitment to its key Asian ally including the extended deterrence, saying the allies should develop a “joint approach” to the communist state’s “immediate threat. Ahead of the call, Tillerson also spoke with Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio by phone, during which he reaffirmed that the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands claimed by China are subject to the U.S.’ defense commitment. (Shin Hyon-hee, “Yun, Tillerson Reaffirm ‘Joint Approach’ to N.K. Threats,” Korea Herald, February 7, 2017) Concerning the planned deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korea, the two top diplomats reiterated the agreement reached between Han and Mattis last week. “Yun and Tillerson were on the same page about the deployment of the THAAD battery by the U.S. military in South Korea. They agreed it should be solely a defensive measure aimed at countering North Korea’s military threats, and will not hurt national interests of other countries,” the foreign ministry said. The two vowed to make “a wide range” of efforts to encourage China to join in denuclearizing North Korea, citing that Beijing’s role is critical in thoroughly implementing the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions on Pyongyang and fulfilling other related goals. Tillerson said he supports South Korea’s efforts to improve its relations with Japan, and that it will be helpful in strengthening the trilateral security alliance with the U.S. Both Yun and Tillerson are scheduled to join the Meeting of G20 Foreign Ministers in Bonn, Germany on Feb. 16 and 17, plus the annual Munich Security Conference from Feb. 17 to 19. The foreign ministry said it is consulting with the U.S. on setting up face-to-face talks between Yun and Tillerson then. (Korea Times, “Seoul Backs Trump ‘Peace through Strength,’” February 7, 2017)

North Korea vowed to further launch what it claims to be satellites into space as it marked the first anniversary of firing off a long-range rocket in defiance of international condemnation. “We will launch more satellites at the time and in the place decided by the Workers’ Party of Korea,” Rodong Sinmunr said. South Korea’s Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who serves as acting president, warned today that North Korea could make strategic provocations ahead of the 75th birthday of late North Korean former leader Kim Jong-il slated for February 16. “The government believes that North Korea will (make provocations) if the North’s leader gives the order,” said an official at Seoul’s unification ministry. “But there is no clear sign of (military provocations) yet.” (Yonhap, “N.K. Vows to Launch More Long-Range Rockets,” Korea Herald, February 7, 2017)

South Korea is currently reviewing if China’s recent trade actions, taken after Seoul’s plans to deploy U.S. missile defense systems on its soil, can be referred to the World Trade Organization (WTO), a high-ranking official said. “As we may happen to need to take legal action in the future, a working-level examination is under way on (the illegality of) all measures taken by the Chinese central and regional governments as well as the private sector following the Seoul deployment decision,” the official told reporters. (Yonhap, “South Korea Mulls Referring China to WTO for THAAD Retaliation: Official,” February 7, 2017)

North Korea has threatened a pre-emptive strike against South Korea if provoked as it marked a key military anniversary, KCNA reported. Hwang Pyong-so, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), made the remarks during an event in Pyongyang one day before the 69th anniversary of the foundation of the armed forces. “If the enemies dare violate the sovereignty and dignity of the country even a bit, the KPA will wipe out the strongholds of aggression through merciless pre-emptive strikes of (North) Korean style and accomplish the historic cause of national reunification without fail,” Hwang was quoted as saying. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Threatens Preemptive Strike against S. Korea ahead of Anniversary,” February 9, 2017)

While the Donald Trump administration is reportedly reviewing the current U.S. policy on North Korea, some U.S. lawmakers and experts are calling for increased sanctions on the isolated state. During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on North Korea this week, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, stressed the need for additional sanctions. “There are other steps that can be taken to crack down on the Kim regime,” the committee’s chair said in a prepared statement. Anthony Ruggiero, a North Korea expert in the use of targeted financial measures who spent more than 17 years in the U.S. government, told VOA the failure to thwart North Korea’s nuclear program can be attributed to existing sanctions that aim at the wrong targets. Ruggiero suggested the U.S. should reorient the focus of North Korea sanctions. “I think that North Korea is vulnerable to sanctions if they are done in the right way,” said Ruggiero, who is now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. According to Ruggiero, designations have doubled under the previous administration, with the designated parties mostly being “people located inside North Korea.” Instead, the U.S. should, he said, pursue North Korea’s offshore front companies, whether they be in China or elsewhere, that facilitate the Kim regime’s nuclear development. Ruggiero added that it is crucial to introduce additional sanctions, including restricting tourist travel to North Korea. “I think that’s a dangerous area that provides hard currency to the regime but also puts Americans at risk,” he said. The North is known to hold two U.S. nationals, and the U.S. State Department issues travel warnings about the communist country every 90 days. Joshua Stanton, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who also maintains the influential One Free Korea blog, called on the Trump administration to impose secondary sanctions on third parties that take part in North Korean financial activities, namely Chinese companies and financial institutions. “We need to do a much better job of first, devoting sufficient resources to finding out where North Korea’s money laundering is going through, and second, we have to have the political will to sanction, to designate, to freeze the assets of companies and banks in third countries, including China, that are helping North Korea violate the sanctions,” the lawyer said in an interview. Stanton claims that getting the sanctions to work quickly might be the only alternative to military action. “We have lost too much [time] and if sanctions don’t work, I am afraid that the president will decide that to protect the American people, the only alternative is a preemptive strike,” he said. Some argue the full implementation of existing sanctions is more important than imposing additional sanctions. “The U.S. has substantial sanctions against North Korea as it is. I don’t think it’s really a question of the U.S. adding new measures,” Daniel Glaser, who served as assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department in the Obama administration, told VOA. Glaser, a 20-year veteran of the Treasury Department, added that new measures are not going to have a substantial impact on the North at this point, “unless the [sanctions] are vigorously enforced across the borders throughout the international financial system.” Joseph DeThomas, who has spent 32 years in the U.S. State Department serving in various positions that dealt with North Korea, told the VOA the first step forward is to get the U.N. sanctions fully and completely enforced throughout the world. “We have very little to sanction North Korea. But we have to influence other countries to behave first according to the existing U.N. sanctions, which are relatively tough now,” said DeThomas, who is now an international affairs professor at Penn State University. (Jenny Lee, “Sanctions against North Korea: Strong Should They Be?” VOA, February 9, 2017)


2/8/17:
The Air Force says an unarmed Minuteman 3 missile has been launched from California’s central coast in the latest test of the intercontinental system. The missile blasted off at 11:39 p.m. PDT today from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Air Force says the missile carried test re-entry vehicles that headed for a target area 4,200 miles away to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The Air Force routinely uses Vandenberg to test Minuteman missiles from bases around the country. This test involved personnel from Vandenberg’s 576th Flight Test Squadron and the 91st Missile Wing, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. (Associated Press, “California Missile Launch: Did You See the Bright Flash,” San Jose Mercury News, February 9, 2017)

North Korean and Libyan officials met in Tripoli to discuss increasing military cooperation between the two countries, according to the Information Office of the Libyan Ministry of Defense. The Office of Information for the Libyan Ministry of Defense published details of the meeting between Minister of Defense Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi and newly appointed North Korean Ambassador Ju Jin Hyok on its Facebook page. The meeting “brought together the defense minister with the Ambassador of the Republic of North Korea (sic), to bilaterally discuss the relations between the two countries, particularly in the field of military cooperation,” the post read. The two “agreed to develop a joint action plan to promote bilateral cooperation between Tripoli and Pyongyang in various fields, particularly in the fields of technical cooperation, information technologies and communication in military fields,” it added. Current UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions prohibit the procurement of “all arms and related materiel, as well as to financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of” that material from North Korea. Resolution 2270, which was passed unanimously in March 2016, sought to clarify this point, and prohibits “States from engaging in the hosting of trainers, advisors, or other officials for the purpose of military-, paramilitary- or police-related training.” “UN Resolution 2270 made unavoidably clear that any North Korean exports that enhance the capabilities of foreign armed forces are prohibited,” Andrea Berger, a Senior Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told NK News on Friday. “Military communication and IT technologies are now clearly within the scope of UNSC restrictions.” If the cooperation were to involve the transfer of other military-related equipment it could also be in breach of the Libyan arms embargo originally set out in UNSC Resolution 1970. The intention to continue past military cooperation between North Korea and Libya was also discussed at the meeting. “The Ambassador of the Republic of North Korea (sic) expressed during the meeting the aspiration for Pyongyang to further strengthen… the presence of North Korea’s role in the upgrading of the military establishment with which it has close ties with the state of Libya,” the Office of Information wrote. This is intended to take place “via the acceleration in the pace of the implementation of projects programmed through the past years as well as through the programming of new projects for the upcoming years.” North Korea’s historical military relationship with Libya previously involved cooperation in nuclear and ballistic missile technology, as well as conventional weapons and training. However, due to pressure from the U.S. and the UK in 2004, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi pledged to sever all military-related trade with North Korea, Wikileaks cables revealed. With the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011 and the ongoing civil war, which broke out in 2014, such pledges by the deposed regime are likely no longer in force, however UNSC Resolutions imposed on North Korea would still not permit military cooperation. “Continued political turmoil in Libya and complete disconnect between parts of the system mean that this could be a case either of ignorance or of a conscious breach on the part of the Libyan defense ministry,” Berger said. “Many officials in countries where North Korea has military relations fail to realize that sanctions apply to more than just off-the-shelf weapons purchases from North Korea. But ignorance is not a defense,” she added. The current internationally recognized government of the country, the so-called Government of National Accord (GNA) for which Al-Barghathi is the defense minister, is backed by the UN. The Libyan representative office at the UN did not respond inquiries on whether or not Al-Barghathi’s meeting with Hyok was previously approved of, or sanctioned by, the GNA. The Libyan Ministry of Defense had not replied to NK News’ requests for comment at the time of publication. (Hamish Macdonald, “North Korea and Libya Discuss Military Cooperation despite Sanctions,” NKNews, February 10, 2017)


2/9/17:
North Korea is capable of building as many as 60 nuclear warheads, according to South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities, based on an assessment that it has been secretly producing more highly enriched uranium than previously estimated. According to a secret report by intelligence and military authorities exclusively acquired by JoongAng Ilbo yesterday, Pyongyang has 758 kilograms (0.83 tons) of highly enriched uranium and 54 kilograms of plutonium, based on 2016 figures. Military experts in Seoul and Washington estimate that between four to six kilograms of plutonium and 16 to 20 kilograms of highly enriched uranium are needed to make one nuclear warhead. Taking into consideration the government’s analysis of the plutonium and weapons-grade uranium that North Korea is stockpiling, the regime should be able to build between 46 to 60 nuclear warheads. It is the first time that such specific intelligence on Pyongyang’s highly enriched uranium reserves has been revealed. The figure is much higher than average estimates by defense experts that North Korea possessed around 300 to 400 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and 40 to 50 kilograms of plutonium. Seoul and Washington through intelligence-sharing last year calculated how much nuclear material North Korea has using various data including U.S. information on a new North Korean uranium enrichment facility, as well its expanded existing facility in Yongbyon in North Pyongan Province. “South Korea and the United States have been continuously tracking the trend of North Korea’s facilities that produce nuclear materials,” a South Korean intelligence official said. “And they concluded that the amount of nuclear materials possessed by North Korea far exceeds the amount estimated by experts.” Government officials deduced that Pyongyang is likely to be operating another secret facility to produce highly enriched uranium, taking into consideration the sharp increase in its stockpile of nuclear materials. This second uranium enrichment facility is believed to be located near Panghyon air base in Kusong, a city also in North Pyongan Province. A large-scale facility is needed in order for plutonium production, but centrifuges producing highly enriched uranium only requires around 600 square meters, so Seoul’s intelligence officials believe Pyongyang is concealing more uranium enrichment facilities. In 2010, nuclear expert Siegfried S. Hecker, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, visited the Yongbyon nuclear complex and its uranium enrichment facility with 2,000 centrifuges. He estimated that the site could have produced 40 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. Seoul and Washington concluded in following years that Pyongyang expanded the facility by a factor of two between 2013 and 2014 and that the Yongbyon complex alone produced around 80 kilograms of highly enriched uranium yearly since 2014. Military experts have estimated that North Korea produced some 300 to 400 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium since 2005. However, the Yongbyon facility alone would not be enough to produce 758 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, hence the possibility of a second or even third uranium enrichment facility, according to experts. “A second facility [for uranium enrichment] definitely exists, and we are sharing the information with the United States,” an intelligence official told the newspaper. North Korea’s uranium ore deposits are estimated to be 26 million tons. “Highly enriched uranium can be mass produced for relatively little cost, and 1,000 centrifuges can be operated in a relatively small amount of space of around 600 square meters, so it is easy to conceal,” said Lee Chun-geun, a research fellow with the Science and Technology Policy Institute. The South’s Ministry of National Defense last month claimed in its 2016 defense white paper that North Korea’s stockpile of plutonium was around 50 kilograms, an increase of 10 kilograms from 2014. It estimated that Pyongyang has enough plutonium to manufacture 10 such nuclear bombs. But this biennial white paper released on January 11 only said that North Korea possessed “a considerable level” of highly enriched uranium without specifying a number. The South Korean government said it was not able to confirm the details of the intelligence report on North Korea’s nuclear materials. “We are concerned about North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities and observing the situation closely,” an official of the Ministry of Unification said. “South Korea and the United States routinely evaluate [North Korea’s nuclear capabilities] and closely share information. We cannot speak on this information in detail.” Moon Sang-kyun, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing the same day, “The content is related to security matters, so we cannot confirm the details.” (Jeong Yong-soo, Lee Chul-jae, and Sarah Kim, “North Korea Could Have 60 Nuclear Warheads,” JoongAng Ilbo, February 10, 2017)

A senior US official warned North Korea not to undertake any provocations, saying such actions would affect the strategy the administration of President Donald Trump is putting together to deal with Pyongyang, according to a news report. The unidentified official also told a conference call with reporters that it is premature to discuss Trump’s policy on how to deal with the North’s nuclear program, according to a Reuters report. The White House has reportedly launched a North Korea policy review to determine what the Trump administration could do differently to address concerns that North Korea could strike the US with a nuclear missile. North Korea carried out a string of provocations last year, including two nuclear tests and a number of ballistic missile launches. But the regime in Pyongyang has not carried out any such provocations since November’s US presidential election. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year’s Day address that the country is close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile apparently capable of striking the US and two ICBMs were later readied on mobile launchers, but they were ultimately put back into hiding. Many experts saw that as a sign that the regime might have opted to wait out until the Trump administration puts together its North Korea policy. Other experts say the North is exercising restraint to avoid galvanizing conservatives in South Korea ahead of a presidential election. (Yonhap, “U.S. Official Warns N.K. Provocations Could Affect Trump Strategy,” Korea Herald, February 10, 2017)

Any restart of denuclearization talks with Pyongyang will likely end up as a “great fraud” due to its firm resolve to master its nuclear program, massive political risks for South Korean and US leaders, and the lack of solid monitoring mechanisms, said Thae Yong-ho, who served as the No. 2 man at the communist state’s embassy in London before defecting to the South last summer, said that despite calls for dialogue, a new round of gathering would only buy time for leader Kim Jong-un to prop up the moribund economy as shown by the so-called Geneva agreement with the US in 1994. “In my view, the Geneva deal was a joint work of fraud by Kim Jong-il and Bill Clinton,” he said at an international conference hosted by the Institute for National Security Strategy, an affiliate of the National Security Service, referring to the then North Korean and U.S. leaders. At least within the North, including the Foreign Ministry, no one saw the agreement’s implementation as possible in the first place, he said, citing the utter absence of infrastructure required for a light water reactor to be built by Seoul and Washington. “Back then, what Kim Jong-il needed the most was time, the time to achieve his purpose — patching up the country after his father Kim Il-sung died, the Soviet Union collapsed and so many people died from hunger,” Thae said. “Clinton, for his part, had apparently assessed that the North was about to break down on its own and sought to buy time to manage the situation for the time being.” Thae, who now works at the Seoul-based think tank, underscored that the incumbent Kim will not give up his nuclear ambition even in return for $10 trillion won. The leaders of South Korea and the US, too, would not be able to bear massive risks to strike such a deal at a time when they lack any authority or mechanism to inspect the reclusive country. “It’s never about the quantity or quality of incentives. … Kim will never engage in any act that may pose threats to his long-term rule,” he said, referring to offers from Russia and China to build a gas pipeline and railroad running through the peninsula from there. (Shin Hyon-hee, “Ex-N.K. Diplomats Says New Nuke Talks Would Be ‘Great Fraud,’” Korea Herald, February 9, 2017)

North Korea is increasing the scale and refinement of the tactics it uses to evade international sanctions, particularly in the lucrative trade in military technology, according to a summary of a U.N. experts’ report obtained by Kyodo News. The country’s movement of illicit ammunition, weapons and natural resources continues to prop up the regime of Kim Jong Un. The report blames a lack of political will on the part of the international community in effectively enforcing the implementation of sanctions. “The DPRK is flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication,” the report reads. DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “(The sanctions implementation) effort has not yet been matched by the requisite political will, prioritization and resource allocation to ensure effective implementation,” the summary warned. According to the report, the problem was laid bare when in August the largest shipment of ammunition in the sanctions period was discovered. Maritime databases, which track vessels, indicated that the Cambodian-flagged ship reached a port in Egypt. “An interdiction of the vessel Jie Shun was the largest seizure of ammunition in DPRK sanctions history,” according to the document. A source informed Kyodo that the Egyptian port was not the general cargo ship’s final destination, despite its strategic location near a number of regional conflict hot spots. However, the report said that seizures like it demonstrate “the country’s use of concealment techniques as well as an emerging nexus between DPRK entities trading in arms and minerals.” The trade in minerals is also a valuable source of funding for North Korea despite it being specifically prohibited from supplying or transferring by sea or air from its territory minerals, such as gold, copper, nickel, silver, zinc and rare earth minerals. Although bans on trade in minerals were adopted for the first time in 2016, the report points out there are various interpretations of the minerals that are listed, and countries utilize exemption clauses in different ways, effectively circumventing bans. The summary also points out that North Korean entities and banks continue to operate by using agents who are “highly experienced and well-trained” in moving money, people and goods, which include arms and related materials, across borders. They include agents who are foreigners working as facilitators for North Korea utilizing front companies. “Their ability to conceal financial activity by using foreign nationals and entities allows them to continue to transact through top global financial centers,” the document states. The annual report is produced by a panel of experts under the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions committee on North Korea. The panel also makes recommendations to improve implementation of the resolutions. Before the report is publicly released, it must be adopted by consensus at the next sanctions committee meeting, which is to be held next week. Once adopted it is then circulated to the Security Council and later made public. (Kyodo, “Pyongyang Using Refined Tactics to Duck Sanctions on Large Scale: U.N. Report,” Japan Times, February 9, 2017)


2/10/17:
KCNA: “The government of the United States of America decided to offer humanitarian aid to the DPRK in connection with the flood which hit the northern part of the country last year.” (KCNA, “U.S. Government Decides to Offer Aid to DPRK,” February 11, 2017)

The latest joint statement by Japanese and U.S. leaders mentions nuclear weapons as a U.S. option to defend Japan for the first time since 1975, reflecting growing concerns about North Korea. The statement released by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and President Donald Trump after their summit talks in Washington states: “The U.S. commitment to defend Japan through the full range of U.S. military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional, is unwavering.” Tokyo and Washington agreed they had to reaffirm the “nuclear deterrence” due to the threat posed by North Korea’s repeated missile and nuclear tests, said Mori Takeo at a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on February 14. Mori, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, said it was only the second time for Japanese and U.S. leaders to release a document that uses the word “nuclear” in terms of the U.S. defense of Japan. The previous one, in August 1975 by Prime Minister Takeo Miki and U.S. President Gerald Ford, stated: “(The) United States would continue to abide by its defense commitment to Japan under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in the event of armed attack against Japan, whether by nuclear or conventional forces.” (Geji Kayoko and Takeda Hajimu, “Statement of Nuclear Option to Defend Japan a First in 42 Years,” Asahi Shimbun, February 15, 2017)

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said at a press conference in Seoul that its search list for South Koreans believed to have been abducted by North Korea has been growing. As of last year, was reviewing 53 cases of South Koreans suspected of being taken by North Korea during and after the Korean War (1950-53). The expert group had formally asked the North Korean government to provide information on 41 of the total cases, but the communist country did not come up with an answer sufficient to verify the fates of those missing, according to the group’s report submitted to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in July. Since the report last year, there has been an increase in the number of such missing South Korean cases whose fates are unknown, the five-member panel’s chairwoman Houria Es-Slami told reporters here. Es-Slami said she could not disclose exactly how many until the group’s annual report to be submitted later this year, but called the increase “alarmingly high.”The panel has also called on the U.N. Security Council to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for its “organized and large-scale” human rights violations regarding such enforced disappearances, although little progress has been made so far on the matter, she said. Ariel Dulitzky, one of the panel members, said the group even asked Pyongyang to allow them access to the country for an on-site visit last year, but the country remains unresponsive. “Sadly up to today, we could not verify any single case” because of North Korea’s lack of cooperation on the issue, he noted. The meeting with reporters followed the group’s five-day consultation held in Seoul this week where the experts reviewed petitions seeking to determine the fate or whereabouts of those who were reportedly abducted by the North and other countries. (Yonhap, “UN Search List for S. Koreans Abducted by N. Korea Growing: Expert Group,” February 10, 2017)

The reopening of the inter-Korean industrial park in Gaeseong, North Korea, is emerging as a presidential campaign issue. Moon Jae-in and Lee Jae-myung, presidential hopefuls from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), have pledged to make efforts to reopen the Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC) if elected. They claim this will help restart stalled talks between the two Koreas and save South Korean firms that have plants there. The companies have been suffering snowballing losses following the shutdown a year ago. But other potential presidential contestants are cautious about joining Moon and Lee amid concerns the resumption of the GIC could be a breach of the U.N. Security Council’s (UNSC) nuclear sanctions on North Korea. The Park Geun-hye government closed the GIC on February 10, 2016, claiming that the Kim Jong-un regime was pocketing earnings from North Korean employees there and funneling funds to the UNSC-banned nuclear program. Against this backdrop, Ahn Cheol-soo, a former co-chairman of the minor opposition People’s Party, has an ambiguous approach, saying, “The shutdown of the GIC doesn’t do any good for peace on the Korean Peninsula but we must be prudent over whether to resume its operation.” Another DPK presidential hopeful, South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung, says Pyongyang’s sincerity in making changes, such as resuming inter-Korean dialogue and denuclearization efforts, should precede any GIC reopening. Two conservatives from the Bareun Party – Rep. Yoo Seong-min and Gyeonggi Province Governor Nam Kyung-pil – have echoed a similar view by proposing conditions for the GIC’s reopening. Yoo wants “progress in resolving North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs” while Nam is seeking to “create a peaceful atmosphere on the peninsula.” The accumulated loss of the 123 South Korean enterprises at the GIC is estimated to be at least 250 billion won ($218.1 million), according to an emergency committee aimed at helping the victims. The victims say they have had difficulty securing new factories and experienced other problems in reviving their businesses. The Ministry of Unification, citing its own data, downplayed the concerns. It said 114, or 92.7 percent, of the 123 companies are operating and their average sales last year were about 79 percent of those in 2015. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday reopening the GIC “does not correspond with” the international cooperation to press North Korea.

Some analysts said Moon and Lee are not realistic in their pledge and that they are trying to court more left-wing voters. “The support groups of Moon and Lee tend to overlap and they need to ensure wooing more supporters ahead of the primary by making what can be seen as radical promises,” said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University. Shin said the situation is more urgent for Lee, a Seongnam mayor who has been trailing Moon in the polls. Moon, a former DPK chairman, has had a firm lead for weeks. “The issues over the GIC are not something that can be resolved on our own,” Shin said. “It is complicated and involves discussion with the United States and Russia, and others.” Political commentator Hwang Jae-soon agreed. “The GIC is the most noteworthy legacy of late President Kim Dae-jung and underscoring a need to resume its operation can be effective to bring the voters together for Moon and Lee only until a DPK presidential candidate is chosen,” he said. “It will be burdensome for a candidate to oppose the UNSC sanctions, the U.S. pressure and other international measures taken against North Korea in the presidential campaign.” Other experts disagreed, claiming Seoul’s suspicions over Pyongyang’s exploitation of the GIC to funnel funds to the nuclear program are not proven. “Moreover, the UNSC does not explicitly state anything about closing the GIC,” said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University. Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said the issues over the GIC should be separated from national security and ideology. “It makes more sense to say that the GIC is more related to economic interest,” he said. “Moreover, the voters are fed up with ideological disputes surrounding North Korea.” (Yi Whan-woo, “Kaesong Park Becomes Campaign Issue,” Korea Times, February 10, 2017)

Asia Society: “The biggest immediate challenge confronting the Trump administration in Asia is the nuclear threat posed by the Kim Jong-un regime’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities, which are fast becoming a direct threat to the national security not only of the United States but also of South Korea, Japan, and other Asian countries. The threat of an actual nuclear attack by Pyongyang may not yet be great, but when the regime secures a so-called second-strike capability to respond to a nuclear attack on its soil, its leaders could easily miscalculate and be tempted to undertake other kinds of provocative actions against its neighbors. The North Korean regime has already displayed signs of just such miscalculation. In 2010, it sank the Cheonan, a South Korean naval ship, and launched an unprovoked attack on the South Korean island of Yeongpyeong. If the United States and its allies were to react forcibly to another such provocation, North Korea might then feel compelled to use its nuclear weapons. What is more, it is possible that North Korea will be moved to sell nuclear and missile technology to other actors, including terrorist groups or hostile states. The North Korean nuclear and missile programs present China with difficult choices that have profound ramifications for its own national security, as well as the future path of US-China relations. With as much as 85 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade going through China, the Kim regime is economically dependent on Beijing—a reality that makes China a crucial actor in any potential solution to the nuclear problem. Yet China’s leaders appear to fear that that if they cut off trade and investment with North Korea, then the regime would likely collapse, leaving China facing not only a unified Korea under the Seoul government (and with US armed forces on its border), but also a potential mass refugee crisis across the Yalu River. Still, Beijing appears to recognize that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a serious risk to itself. It is also concerned by the implications for its own security of the defensive security measures now being taken by the United States and its East Asian allies to defend against the North Korean nuclear threat. Moreover, there is evidence that the Chinese public has soured on the Kim Jong-un regime and is increasingly unsupportive of the China-North Korea alliance. Therefore it serves the interests of both the United States and China to reach an agreement on a strategy that brings a halt to North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. To do that, however, Chinese concerns about its own future security must also be addressed. Assessing Current Policy: The lack of progress in the Six Party Talks (comprising China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States) to freeze the North Korean nuclear program, that began in 2003 and have spanned several US administrations, was due to the final unwillingness of Pyongyang to negotiate its denuclearization. Instead, by adopting its so-called byung-jin policy of pursuing the dual goals of developing a nuclear deterrent and economic growth, the Kim regime has hardened its self-proclaimed status as a nuclear power. Indeed, Kim Jong-un has now even added his regime’s nuclear status into his country’s constitution and advanced the development of its nuclear and missile capabilities through an accelerated testing program. North Korean officials have hinted at the possibility of negotiating a freeze if the United States abandons its supposedly hostile policy, but the Kim regime failed to implement a prior agreement along these very lines (the so-called “leap day agreement” in 2012) and has now taken the end goal of denuclearization off the table. One objective of the long-stalled Six Party Talks was to lay a foundation for a permanent multilateral security institution in Northeast Asia. But the cessation of those talks since 2008 alongside China’s veto of proposals for a five-country dialogue process—with an empty chair left for North Korea to join if it ever recommits to denuclearization—stymied those efforts. The United States subsequently strengthened its security posture in the region and reinforced its alliances with Japan and South Korea by encouraging them to work directly together in response to North Korea’s pursuit of its nuclear and missile programs. The heightened threat from North Korea has, indeed, reduced historical animosities and tensions between Japan and South Korea, which long were a barrier to greater amity, intelligence sharing, and defense coordination. This new common threat perception is now permitting deeper defense cooperation, such as the recent progress toward an information-sharing arrangement called the General Security of Military Information Agreement on the threats posed by North Korea’s ballistic missiles. Policy Recommendations: The North Korean nuclear and missile threat should be the highest priority in Northeast Asia for the Trump administration. The most difficult challenge is finding a way to induce China to use its economic and political leverage with North Korean leadership to spur them to halt their nuclear and missile programs. Yet because the stakes for US national security, Northeast Asian security, and the US-China relationship are so high, the new administration must make this a priority in the bilateral relationship. If China and the United States were able to collaborate more closely in addressing this threat, then they would not only alleviate a dangerous common threat but also reinforce mutual confidence in each other’s long-term strategic goals and help lay the groundwork to promote cooperation in other pressing security and economic issues. There are valuable precedents for the two countries to follow such a scenario, namely the cooperative effort of China and the United States (along with other countries) to reduce the threat of the Iranian nuclear program by means of effective sanctions and diplomatic negotiations, as well as earlier US-China coordination during the course of the Six Party Talks from 2003 to 2008. Without the proper diplomatic groundwork, however, US pressure on China to lean harder on North Korea might backfire, not only failing to halt the North Korean nuclear program, but also further complicating US-China relations. For this reason, President Trump should communicate immediately and directly with President Xi Jinping to call for the establishment of a special high-level channel dedicated to jointly resolving this problem. The new president should explain that unless the United States and China can find a more effective way to work together to reduce the North Korean threat, then the United States, South Korea, and Japan will together take any and all measures necessary to deter North Korea and defend themselves against possible attack or provocation. President Trump should make it absolutely clear to President Xi that the United States would much prefer to work in concert with China to reduce the threat through tougher economic sanctions and the promise of new negotiations. To implement this new approach, the United States should explore close coordination with China on existing economic sanctions to restrict North Korean access to sources of foreign exchange and exports of its coal and iron ore. At the same time, the United States should seek China’s agreement to undertake vigorous law-enforcement methods to close down the North Korean front companies operating inside China that Pyongyang uses to finance and transact its foreign trade. (In a promising move, the Chinese government has already begun to do this, launching a criminal inquiry into one firm after the United States charged it with money laundering and evading sanctions.) To secure China’s support, the United States should reiterate its willingness to offer a comprehensive approach to resolving the current impasse. An essential part of gaining China’s cooperation will involve offering Pyongyang an omnibus package deal including negotiations—among the four (United States, China, North Korea, and South Korea) or six (including Japan and Russia) relevant parties—of a peace treaty to replace the Korean War armistice and steps toward establishing diplomatic relations between the United States and North Korea. In return, however, North Korea would have to be willing to implement a verifiable freeze of its nuclear and missile programs, including no further nuclear tests or missile launches and to pledge (echoing the Joint Statement of 2005) to denuclearize the entire Korean peninsula. Steps toward the peace treaty and diplomatic normalization with the United States could begin simultaneously with the nuclear and missile freeze. Of course, if North Korea failed to take measures toward denuclearization, then these diplomatic steps would immediately be halted. If North Korea did begin to honor its pledges on moving toward denuclearization, however, then the United States and its partners would have to be prepared to offer sequential sanction relief. Here, the negotiations would draw the on experience of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed to by Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States—as well as Germany and the European Union. If China fails to respond to such an offer of cooperation and continues to frustrate full sanctions efforts, then the United States must be prepared to use its authority to impose secondary sanctions unilaterally on Chinese banks and firms still doing business with North Korea. In any event, since South Korea plays a valuable role as interlocutor with China on this problem, the United States should express a willingness to establish a trilateral US-South Korea-China dialogue to coordinate diplomatic efforts. North Korea has been very successful at sowing divisions between China, the United States, and South Korea—especially after the fifth nuclear test and the decision by the United States and South Korea to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, antimissile defense system. But the hopeful side of this difficult stand-off is that the three countries involved all actually now share a real common interest—the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. If they fail to diplomatically overcome their differences, only Pyongyang will be the winner. Should North Korea resist all such joint efforts to bring it back to the negotiating table, the United States should be in a better position to overcome China’s reluctance to establish a five-country Northeast Asia security dialogue among China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States without the presence of North Korea. South Korea has already called for such a process, and other countries should not allow North Korea’s refusal to cooperate to veto of the kind of multilateral mechanism that could help stabilize relations among these important Northeast Asian powers.” (Asia Society Task Force, U.S. Policy toward China: Recommendations for a New Administration, Orville Schell and Susan Shirk, chairs, February 2017)


2/12/17:
KCNA: “A surface-to-surface medium long-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2, Korean style new type strategic weapon system, was successfully test-fired on [February 12]. Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, guided the test-fire of Pukguksong-2 [Polaris-2] on the spot. Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un set forth the task of developing the weapon system into surface-to-surface ballistic missile with extended firing range on the basis of the success made in the SLBM underwater test-fire held in August last year. He received the report on the development of Pukguksong-2, set the date of the test-fire of the missile and personally guided the preparations for it on the spot. Before the test-fire that day he looked round the caterpillar self-propelled missile launching truck produced by workers in the munitions industry by their own efforts, technology and wisdom. At the observation post he learned in detail about the plan for the test-fire of Pukguksong-2 and gave the order to launch it. The test-fire proved the reliability and security of the surface launch system and starting feature of the high thrust solid fuel-powered engine and reconfirmed the guidance and control features of ballistic missile during its active flight and working feature of high thrust solid fuel- powered engines and those of separation at the stages. It also verified the position control and guidance in the middle section and section of re-entry after the separation of the improved warhead of the missile which can be tipped with a nuclear warhead, the feature of evading interception, etc. The test-fire helped test and round off the mobility and operation of the new type missile launching truck in the worst surface condition and finally confirm its technological specifications through ballistic missile launch. The test-fire was conducted by the high-angle launching method instead of firing range, taking the security of the neighboring countries into consideration. He said that the newly developed Pukguksong-2 is the Korean style advantageous weapon system providing convenience in operation and ensuring speed in striking and a Juche-missile, Juche-weapon in name and reality as the launching truck and ballistic missile were designed and manufactured and fired by the indigenous wisdom, efforts and technology 100 percent. He expressed great satisfaction over the possession of another powerful nuclear attack means which adds to the tremendous might of the country. Now our rocket industry has radically turned into high thrust solid fuel-powered engine from liquid fuel rocket engine and rapidly developed into a development- and creation-oriented industry, not just copying samples, he said, adding: Thanks to the development of the new strategic weapon system, our People’s Army is capable of performing its strategic duties most accurately and rapidly in any space: under waters or on the land. At the end of the test-fire he had a photo taken with scientists and technicians in the field of defense industry and service personnel who took part in the test-fire of Pukguksong-2.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong UN Guides Test-Fire of Surface-to-Surface Medium Long-Range Missile,” February 13, 2017)

North Korea launched a ballistic missile toward the sea off its eastern coast, in what South Korea called the North’s first attempt to test President Trump’s policy on the isolated country. A projectile believed to be a modified version of the North’s intermediate-range ballistic missile Musudan [solid-fueled KN-15] took off at 7:55 a.m. from Banghyon, a town near North Korea’s northwestern border with China, and flew 310 miles before falling in the sea, the South Korean military said. Earlier, the United States Strategic Command issued a statement identifying the missile as “a medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile” that “did not pose a threat to North America.” South Korea condemned the missile launching, saying that the North had launched the missile to raise tensions over its weapons programs and to use it as leverage in dealing with the Trump administration. “We see this as part of an attempt by the North to grab attention by demonstrating its nuclear and missile capabilities and to counter the new United States administration’s strong policy line against North Korea,” the South Korean military said in its statement. The missile launch came as Trump is hosting Prime Minister Abe Shinzo on an official visit, but it was unclear if the test was intended as a political message. Trump and Abe hastily arranged a joint appearance in response. “North Korea’s most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable,” Abe said, calling on the country to comply with all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. Looking grim, Trump said nothing about the missile launch, but pledged to staunchly back Japan. “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent,” he said. The two leaders are at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla., where they are meeting over the weekend. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the test, the first by the North this year, demonstrated the “maniacal obsession” of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, with developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile. The test came less than two days after Trumpat a news conference with Abe said that defending against the nuclear and missile threats from North Korea was a “very, very high priority.” In their joint statement, the two leaders had urged North Korea “to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and not to take any further provocative actions.” North Korea has deployed and often tested short-range Scud and midrange Rodong ballistic missiles that can reach most of South Korea and Japan, but it has had a spotty record in test-launching the Musudan, its only missile with a range long enough to reach American military bases in the Pacific, including those on Guam. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Missile Test Is First of Trump Era,” New York Times, February 12, 2017, p. A-9) Launched from Banghyon Air Base in North Pyongyan Province at 7:55 a.m., the missile reached an altitude of about 550 kilometers (342 miles) and flew 500 kilometers before splashing into the East Sea, both figures which indicate that it wasn’t an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), said an official from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It appears that the missile was a [KN-15] Nodong medium-range class meant to target Japan, according to another South Korean military source who spoke on the condition of anonymity. A more detailed analysis will take days to draw up. The South Korean military said it was also considering the possibility that the missile was an enhanced version of an intermediate-range Musudan missile, noting that intelligence authorities have recently seen signs that Pyongyang was developing a new missile engine. The projectile was detected “immediately after launch” by South Korea’s anti-ballistic radar, the Green Pine, said the military. As to why the communist regime chose today for the provocation, the second source said it could have been part of a celebration to commemorate the 75th anniversary of former leader Kim Jong-il’s birth, which falls this October 16, or a message to the Trump administration to adopt new policies toward the regime. The test also came as Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was meeting Trump in the U.S. Kim Keun-sik, a political science professor at Kyungnam University in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, said the fact that North Korea didn’t test an ICBM suggested it was seeking a “compromise” with Washington, or at the very least testing the Trump administration’s reaction to a lower grade provocation. Banghyon Air Base is 45 kilometers west of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, the centerpiece of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. It’s also the same place where North Korea test-fired an intermediate-range Musudan missile on Oct. 15, 2016, which exploded within seconds after its launch. Reuters cited an anonymous U.S. government official as saying that the Trump administration is “likely to step up pressure on China to rein in North Korea,” reflecting Trump’s personal view that “Beijing has not done enough on this front.” The official said that Trump and his aides are “likely to weigh a series of possible responses,” including new U.S. sanctions to tighten financial controls on the North, an increase in U.S. naval and air assets in and around the Korean Peninsula and accelerated installation of new missile defense systems in South Korea. (Lee Sung-eun and Jeong Yong-soo, “Pyongyang Fires a Midrange Missile,” JoongAng Ilbo, February 13, 2017) Bermudez: “Almost all initial reporting indicated that the missile was launched from the Panghyon Airbase in North Pyongan Province, located in the northwest. When, however, North Korea released still and video imagery of the test it was clear to North Korea watchers that the test was not conducted from the Panghyon Airbase, but from the Iha-ri Vehicle Testing and Driver Training Facility approximately 9.5 km to the north-northeast. The choice of the Iha-ri facility was undoubtedly due to its proximity (only 5 km) to the No. 95 Factory (Kusong Tank Factory) where it is believed the transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) and its support vehicles were designed and manufactured. It is likely that the Pukguksong-2 pre-test imagery released by North Korea was taken here.” (Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., “Finding the Real Sites for the Pukguksong-2 Launch,” 38North, February 17, 2017)

Nationwide Emergency Measure Committee against DPRK-targeted Nuclear War Exercises spokesman’s statement “as regards the fact that the south Korean puppet forces are going busy to stage the largest-ever Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises together with the U.S. in upcoming March: The said drill which will involve huge aggression forces, including all nuclear strike means of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces, will take place under the plan for a preemptive strike at the DPRK, including 4D operation scenario envisaging the “detection” of its nuclear and missile bases, “defense” from them, “disturbance and destruction” of them and “beheading operation.” This is an open disclosure of the attempt to launch a nuclear war against the DPRK. The puppet forces’ racket for a war against the DPRK and the hostile policy of the U.S. which actively supports it are an intolerable challenge to the Korean nation’s desire and aspiration after peace and reunification. And they constitute an open violation of the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK. Hostility, discord, distrust and confrontation have now gone beyond such tolerance limit that any slightest and accidental conflict may lead to an unpredicted incident on the Korean peninsula. This is the situation prevailing on the peninsula at present. The army and people of the DPRK will take appropriate countermeasures depending on the level of the nuclear war racket being planned and pressed for by the south Korean puppet forces with the U.S. involved. The aggressors and provocateurs had better stop their rash actions, pondering over what counter-actions will be entailed by their reckless and serious nuclear war racket against the DPRK.” (KCNA, “Planned S. Korea-U.S. Joint Military Drill Slammed,” February 13, 2017)

The Institute for Disarmament and Peace of the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs memorial report: “On the occasion of the 75th birth anniversary of the great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il, the army and people of the DPRK recollect with deep emotion the immortal feats he had performed to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula and the world. The great leader staunchly safeguarded peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the world by taming the unprecedented thunders and storms of history with the Songun politics and nuclear deterrent. His immortal feats have been and will forever be the guarantee for peace and prosperity in the Korean peninsula and the world. 1. To Prevent War on the Korean Peninsula. Respected Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un, in his report to the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea on the work of the Central Committee, stated that at present various parts of the world were still being devastated by war but the gunfire of war had not been heard in the DPRK for several decades and our people were leading a peaceful and stable life, free from war. He appraised that it was thanks entirely to the Songun politics of the great leader and herein lay the greatest achievement of the Party. With the collapse of socialist systems in the former Soviet Union and other east European countries in 1990s, major changes followed in the world political structure and the balance of forces. Assuming itself as the world’s “only superpower,” the U.S. became high-handed and arbitrary in the international arena and pursued all the more vicious schemes of aggression and war infringing upon the sovereignty of other nations to realize its ambition of world supremacy. The U.S. concentrated its offensive spearhead on the DPRK which held high the banner of independence and socialism. While unprecedentedly intensifying military aggressive maneuvers to stifle the DPRK, the U.S. and its vassal forces continued to press and suffocate the DPRK in all fields including politics, the economy, ideology, culture and diplomacy. The Korean peninsula had already turned into the hottest spot clouded with increasing danger of nuclear war in the world due to continuous war maneuvers of the U.S. Thus preventing war and defending peace on the peninsula was the pressing issue in ensuring peace and security of the world. Endowed with noble sense of mission to safeguard the destiny of the nation and peace and security of the world, the great leader firmly maintained the Songun-based revolutionary line, an ever-victorious path of the Korean revolution, and administered the Songun politics in an all-round way. Thanks to the iron will of the great leader to enhance defense capabilities at any cost and his energetic guidance, the DPRK’s defense industry had developed into a powerful one for self-defense. The strong defense capability provided under the Songun politics was a guarantee that made it possible to firmly defend our national security and socialist fortress by crushing the aggressive maneuvers of the imperialists. It was the unswerving will of the great leader to crush the imperialists’ outrageous pressure and challenges through tougher countermeasures of wielding a sword when the enemy were drawing a knife and leveling a cannon when they were pointing a gun. The DPRK thoroughly crushed growing military pressure and aggressive maneuvers of the U.S. and its vassal forces with the powerful military might strengthened by the great leader. In 1993 the U.S. resumed “Team Spirit” joint military exercises involving more than 200 000 aggression troops, thus creating a highly touch-and-go situation of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula. The great leader frustrated the U.S. aggressive ambition with decisive measures of declaring a semi-war state and withdrawal from the NPT. In April 1996 the Korean People’s Army (KPA) under the commandership of the great leader physically pacified the reckless maneuvers of the U.S. and south Korean military war maniacs who aggravated tension to the extreme by bringing in heavy weaponry into the DMZ in wanton violation of the Armistice Agreement. At the end of 1998 when the U.S. made public the details of “OPLAN 5027”, a plan for preemptive strike against the DPRK, the KPA made an announcement that no provokers in the planet would be pardoned from its strike and demonstrated practical military capability, thus crushing the enemies’ aggressive intention. Such being the case, in 1999, the U.S., engaged in war against Yugoslavia and bombing the embassy of a sovereign state, sent Perry, former defense secretary, as the U.S. presidential envoy to the DPRK and claimed an engagement policy. Afterwards, the DPRK and the U.S. maintained contacts and cooperation in several sectors to establish new relations free from past hostilities. However, the Bush administration that emerged later unilaterally scrapped the DPRK-U.S. Agreed Framework and designated the DPRK as an “axis of evil” at the Union Address on January 30, 2002. In March the same year, the U.S. announced a “nuclear posture review” that included the DPRK in the list of targets of its nuclear preemptive strike. The U.S. went on to gradually intensify nuclear war exercises against the DPRK. The DPRK and the Korean nation were exposed to the danger of grave nuclear catastrophe. The increasing nuclear threat from the U.S., the world biggest nuclear possessor and the only nuclear weapons user, kept pushing the DPRK to nuclear possession. To address the grave situation, the great leader made strategic decision to cope the nuke with the nuke. Accordingly, on January 10, 2003, the DPRK government took a decisive defense measure as to effectuate withdrawal from NPT that had been on hold for 10 years. 3 years later, in October 2006, the DPRK carried out its first nuclear test followed by a second one in May 2009. This ended the nuclear imbalance in Northeast Asia which was full of nuclear weapons and nuclear umbrella but the DPRK remained the only nuclear vacuum. Owing to the deterrent impact of the DPRK’s nuclear possession, the danger of war on the Korean peninsula had significantly decreased. The great leader reliably defended peace and security of the peninsula and the world by strengthening the defense capability with the nuclear deterrent as its pivot and crushing every war provocations of the U.S. If the DPRK had yielded to the U.S. nuclear threat and blackmail, the tragedies of Iraq and Libya would have taken place on the Korean Peninsula and the world’s current biggest nightmare of refugees would have happened in Northeast Asia as well. The undying feats the great leader performed to prevent war on the Korean peninsula and defend peace and security of the world with the might of the Songun politics and nuclear deterrent will forever shine with the history. 2 To Ensure Durable Peace System. There is no peace mechanism on the Korean peninsula which is at the center of very sensitive Northeast Asia where nuclear states are confronting each other. The great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il wisely led the DPRK government to advance reasonable and practical proposals for ensuring durable peace on the Korean peninsula and the region and make consistent efforts for their materialization. The DPRK government has made strenuous efforts to ensure solid peace mechanism in the Korean Peninsula. These efforts include the proposal to sign DPRK-U.S. peace treaty made in March 1974, the proposal to establish a new peace-keeping mechanism to prevent war and guarantee solid peace on the Korean peninsula made in April 1994, and the proposal to sign DPRK-U.S. interim agreement, a more concrete proposal, made in February 1996. In his historic August 4, 1997, work “Let Us Carry Out the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung’s Instructions for National Reunification”, the great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il clarified the principle stand to reunify the country in a peaceful way without use of armed forces. He stated that, to ensure peaceful reunification, the U.S. should abandon hostile policy towards the DPRK and a new peace mechanism should be established on the Korean peninsula through DPRK-U.S. peace treaty. During the visit to the U.S. by his special envoy in October 2000, a Joint Communiqué was adopted. In the Joint Communiqué the DPRK and the U.S. agreed that there are a variety of available means to reduce tension on the Korean peninsula and formally end the Korean War by replacing the Armistice Agreement with permanent peace arrangements. The DPRK government was actively engaged in multilateral talks including 4-party and 6-party talks and took sincere attitude toward the discussion of issues related with ensuring peace and security of the Korean peninsula. The great leader wisely led the efforts to promote national reunification by concerted efforts of the north and the south and ensure peace and security of the Korean peninsula. Thanks to his great ideas for national reunification and peace mechanism, the inter-Korean contact and cooperation in various fields were active which finally led to the adoption of June 15 Joint Declaration at the historic north-south summit meeting in 2000. The Declaration is a reunification program common to the Korean nation for ensuring peace and realizing reunification by the Koreans themselves. Thereafter, the north and the south adopted and implemented an agreement to prevent accidental collision on the West Sea and end propaganda and remove relevant means along the Military Demarcation Line, which resulted in the brisk inter-Korean cooperation in all fields including politics, the economy and culture. The October 4 Declaration adopted at the historic north-south summit meeting in 2007 proclaimed that the north and the south shared the need to end the existing armistice mechanism and build a durable peace mechanism and agreed to cooperate in arranging the summit meeting of three or four relevant parties in the Korean Peninsula to announce the end of the war. However, the DPRK-U.S. and inter-Korean relations turned towards catastrophe by the Obama administration and the south Korean anti-reunification forces and the danger of nuclear war on the Korean peninsula kept increasing. The reality more clearly proves the validity and vitality of the DPRK’s proposals for peace mechanism and the historic inter-Korean agreements. 3. To Honor the Feats of the Great Leader. Today respected Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un adds light to the immortal feats of the great leader for peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the world. In 2011 when the Koreans suffered a great national loss with the untimely passing away of the great leader, the Obama administration viewed it as a golden opportunity to stifle the DPRK and intensified military pressure on the DPRK, while initiating Asia Pacific Pivot Policy. The U.S. designated the DPRK as its first attack target and moved massively the armed forces that had been deployed in the U.S. mainland, Europe and Middle East into around the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. is increasing the scale and frequency of the U.S.-south Korea joint military exercises by introducing more strategic assets, including strategic bombers, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines, into the Korean Peninsula. The aggressive nature and content of the joint military exercises become more rampant with high-profile operations like “Pyongyang occupation,” “precision strike,” “decapitation operation,” etc. In addition, the U.S. has staged trilateral naval exercises annually that involve the U.S., Japan and south Korea since 2012 and decided to deploy THAAD in south Korea so as to contain Russia and China. These moves made, all the more acute, the strategic confrontation of nuclear states around the Korean Peninsula. It is none other than respected Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un who firmly defended the sovereignty of the DPRK and peace and security of the world from the rigorous whirlpool of the history. Based on scientific analysis of the situation in Asia Pacific, he prevented nuclear war by advancing a new strategic line of simultaneous development of the economy and the nuclear forces and by taking the toughest countermeasures of strengthening nuclear forces. In 2016 alone, he strengthened the nuclear forces at a high speed beyond imagination with successive achievements including the H-bomb test, test launches of various striking means and nuclear warhead explosion test. These measures aimed at defending peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and the region clearly manifested the iron will of the DPRK fully prepared to take counter measures if the enemies dared to provoke it. The U.S. dares not to provoke a war against the DPRK despite its bragging about strong military capability. This is because the U.S. is apprehensive of the strong nuclear deterrent of the DPRK which is fully capable to make preemptive nuclear strike with standardized warheads and diversified delivery means against the aggressive forces deployed in the U.S. mainland and Pacific operation theater. The respected Supreme Leader has wisely led the efforts to prevent war and ensure durable peace on the Korean peninsula. When a touch-and-go situation was created along the Military Demarcation Line in August 2015, he led the DPRK to put under control the crisis by initiating a proposal for north-south high-level urgent contact, thereby clearing the dark clouds of war that hung over the Korean nation and defending peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and the region. The peace restored under the situation that reached the brink of a war was by no means something achieved on the negotiating table but thanks to the tremendous military muscle based on the defensive nuclear deterrent, developed by the great leader and strengthened by the respected Supreme Leader, and to the invincible might of single-minded unity of the army and people around the Party. In his report to the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea on the work of the Central Committee, the respected Supreme Leader stated that the U.S. should squarely see the strategic position of the DPRK that has joined the front ranks of nuclear powers and the trend of the times and scrap its anachronistic policy of hostility towards the DPRK, replace the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty and withdraw its aggressive forces and war equipment from south Korea. In his New Year Address for this year, he stressed that positive measures should be taken to improve inter-Korean relations and remove the acute military confrontation and the danger of war between the north and the south. Now that the DPRK has consolidated its tremendous military muscle and the improvement of inter-Korean relations and national reunification have become a mature and pressing demand of the times, the U.S. and neighboring countries should respect the DPRK’s strategic status and will for independent reunification and change their policies accordingly. This would be the practical way for ensuring durable peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in the region. As long as the immortal feats performed by the great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il shines forever and the DPRK is wisely guided by respected Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un, the DPRK will defend its own peace and security by its own strength and make positive contribution to preserving the global peace and stability.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong Il’s Feats for Peace and Security of Korean Peninsula and the World,” February 12, 2017)

Despite his campaign vows to take a tougher line with North Korea, President Donald Trump’s restrained public reaction to Pyongyang’s first ballistic missile launch on his watch underscores that he has few good options to curb its missile and nuclear programs. Trump’s initial public comments on the test launch of what was believed to be an intermediate-range Musudan-class missile were unexpectedly measured – and brief – compared to earlier bluster about another U.S. adversary, Iran, since he took office on January 20. “I just want everybody to understand, and fully know, that the United States of America is behind Japan, our great ally, 100 percent,” Trump told reporters in Palm Beach, Florida, speaking in a solemn tone alongside visiting Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. The U.S. president did not mention North Korea or signal any retaliatory plans for what was widely seen as an early effort to test the new administration. White House adviser Stephen Miller insisted on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump’s one-sentence statement was an “important show of solidarity” with Japan. He told “Fox News Sunday” the administration was going to bolster its allies in the region against the “increasing hostility” of North Korea. Trump’s aides have said that they will take a more assertive approach than the Obama policy dubbed “strategic patience,” which involved gradually scaling up sanctions and diplomatic pressure and essentially waiting out the North Korean leadership. But the new administration has been vague about how it would do this. The responses under consideration – which range from additional sanctions to U.S. shows of force to beefed-up missile defense, according to one administration official – do not seem to differ significantly so far from the North Korea playbook followed by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Even the idea of stepping up pressure on China to rein in a defiant North Korea has been tried – to little avail – by successive administrations. But Beijing is showing no signs of softening its resistance under a new U.S. president who has bashed them on trade, currency and the contested South China Sea. More dramatic responses to North Korea’s missile tests would be direct military action or negotiations. But neither appears to be on the table – the first because it would risk regional war, the latter because it would be seen as rewarding Pyongyang for bad behavior. And neither would offer certain success. “Trump’s options are limited,” said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. (Matt Spetalnick, “Few Good Options in Trump’s Arsenal to Counter Defiant North Korea,” Reuters, February 12, 2017) After North Korea threatened on New Year’s Day to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, Donald J. Trump, then president-elect, reacted with characteristic swagger. He vowed to stop the North from developing a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States. “It won’t happen!” he wrote on Twitter. But six weeks later, after North Korea defiantly launched a missile into the sea, Trump, now president, reacted with surprising restraint. Appearing before cameras late at night on February 11 in Florida with his golfing guest, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of Japan, Trump read a statement of just 23 words that pledged American support for Tokyo without even mentioning North Korea. The muted comment stood in sharp contrast to his response after Iran tested a ballistic missile, when he directed his national security adviser to publicly warn Tehran that he was “officially putting Iran on notice” and followed up with sanctions. If North Korea was testing the new president, as many analysts believe, then Trump seemed intent on showing that he would not be baited into a confrontation every time an American adversary tried to provoke him. At least not right away. In his short time in office, Trump has shown that he can respond to events in measured ways one moment and with hotheaded bluster the next. But even after waking up on Sunday morning, Mr. Trump chose to publicly feud with Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, rather than the maverick leader of North Korea. “I assume they don’t have a strategy yet, so Trump with Abe by his side was properly taciturn, surprisingly so,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, an Asia scholar at the Brookings Institution who served as President Barack Obama’s Asia adviser. “But that can’t hold. At some point you need to articulate a strategy.” The tempered response may also have reflected the fact that the missile launched on yesterday by North Korea was either a medium- or an intermediate-range missile, according to the American military, and not an intercontinental missile, or ICBM, capable of reaching the United States. The missile flew 310 miles before dropping harmlessly into the Sea of Japan, according to the South Korean military, which identified it as an intermediate-range Musudan. North Korea regularly tests missiles in violation of United Nations resolutions, including roughly two dozen last year, but has boasted that it could test an ICBM “anytime and anywhere.” The kind tested today poses a potential threat to American allies in Japan and South Korea and American forces in the Pacific, but could not strike the United States. “It’s yet unclear what missile was tested,” said Thomas Karako, a missile expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “What is certain is that North Korea has now begun 2017 by continuing the aggressive pace of missile testing they’ve shown in recent years.” North Korea challenged Obama early in his tenure, too, with an underground nuclear blast four months after he took office. The effect was to harden Obama’s attitude toward North Korea for the rest of his presidency, according to former aides. Rather than try to negotiate, as both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did, Obama focused on tightening international sanctions and bolstering alliances with Japan and South Korea. That North Korea’s latest test came while Trump was hosting Abe for a multiday set of meetings, meals and golfing, first at the White House and then at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., was seen as no accident. And it may be that Abe counseled Trump on his response. In his own comments while he stood beside Trump, Abe called the launch “absolutely intolerable.” Asia experts and members of Congress praised Trump for reaffirming American support for Japan but lamented that he did not mention South Korea at the same time. “I was glad he issued the statement with the prime minister of Japan, but he ought to do it quickly with South Korea,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “South Korea is probably more susceptible to North Korea’s virulence than any other country.” White House officials remained quiet about the test and their emerging strategy. Stephen Miller, the president’s senior adviser for policy, said Trump had sent a strong signal with his joint appearance with Abe. “But we’re going to be sending another signal very soon, and that signal is when we begin a great rebuilding of the armed forces of the United States,” he said, also on “Face the Nation.” “President Trump is going to go to Congress and ask them to invest in our military so once again we will have unquestioned military strength beyond anything anybody can imagine.” Most policy makers consider China crucial to any meaningful response to North Korea, given the nations’ extensive economic and political connections, but it remains uncertain that Trump would have any better chance of persuading Beijing to take tougher action. Trump had a fence-mending telephone call with President Xi Jinping of China last week and promised to stick by America’s longstanding “One China” policy, reportedly at Secretary of State Tillerson’s urging. But the president has been an unrelenting critic of China on trade and currency matters, and some of his top advisers, including Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, view China as a long-term adversary. “We will learn an enormous amount about his policy and his administration by how he deals with North Korea,” said Evan S. Medeiros, a managing director at the Eurasia Group and a former Obama adviser. “It’s the land of really bad options, and the threat is only becoming more serious and the window is closing. It will probably become the defining security challenge for the next president in Asia, if not globally.” (Peter Baker, “Trump’s Uncharacteristic Response to Provocation from North Korea,” New York Times, February 13, 2017, p. A-16) John Schilling: “What this missile brings to the table is a much higher degree of mobility, survivability and responsiveness than the Nodong. The Pukguksong-2 was tested from a cold-launch canister system carried on a tracked transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle, which would provide substantially greater cross-country mobility than the Nodong’s wheeled TEL. The solid-fuel missile is more robust, and as it does not need tanker trucks to carry propellant its logistical footprint is smaller. And as it does not need to be fueled prior to launch, it can launch on perhaps five minutes’ notice compared to the thirty to sixty minutes required for a Nodong. All of these factors would make it much harder to find and preemptively destroy the Pukguksong-2. (John Schilling, “The Pukguksong-2: A Higher Degree of Mobility, Survivability, and Responsiveness,” 38North, February 13, 2017) The test took place on Sunday (Saturday evening in the United States) and was dramatic enough that aides to President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of Japan interrupted their dinner at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to bring them early reports of the launch. Initially there was concern that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had made good on his threat to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, which one day may be able to reach the United States. Before dinner was over, it was clear that was not the case. The Sunday test went only about 310 miles, falling harmlessly into the sea after following a high-arc trajectory that took it briefly into space. That is well short of the estimated real range of the missile, of 700 or 800 miles. But the importance of the launch was not the missile’s range — though it could reach much of Japan — but in how hard it would be for the United States, Japan or South Korea to have warning of a launch in a real conflict. The launch of older rockets provides warning time because the loading of liquid fuel takes hours, and can usually be spotted by satellites. Solid-fuel rockets like the new Pukguksong-2, if the North Korean description is accurate, could provide little advance warning time. They can be stored on mobile launchers, rolled out and prepared for launch in minutes. The North said the test was conducted from a self-propelled mobile launcher. “All of these factors would make it much harder to find and pre-emptively destroy the Pukguksong-2,” John Schilling, a missile expert, wrote on February 13 on 38 North, an online publication that specializes in North Korea. For Trump, the new weapon complicates the problem of countering North Korea’s missile and nuclear program. It would be far harder for Trump to threaten to strike North Korean launch sites if the country’s mountainous terrain is hiding scores of mobile missiles in tunnels. North Korea said the new missile was based on the solid-fuel, submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM. After several failed attempts, the North said in August that it had successfully launched the SLBM, claiming that the continental United States, as well as American military bases in the Pacific, were now within the range of its missiles, an assertion that military experts questioned. North Korea said it launched its Pukguksong-2 at a sharp angle to keep it from landing too close to Japan, indicating that it could have flown further than 310 miles if it had launched it at a normal angle.Tom Karako, a proliferation expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy institute in Washington, said that President Barack Obama’s strategy of “strategic patience has failed” and that it was time for the new Trump administration to take a different approach. “This weekend’s launch is part of a larger pattern of aggressive testing that confirms the North’s intent to produce more capable, more lethal and more survivable systems,” he said. (Choe Sang-Hun and David E. Sanger, “As North Korea Tests Missile, Experts See New Dangers in Its Mobility and Stealth,” New York Times, February 14, 2017, p. A-16)

KCNA: “Analysts of some countries are misleading the public opinion to give impression that the U.S. is stepping up the deployment of THAAD in south Korea this year because of the impending DPRK’s ICBM test-fire, floating rumor that the test-fire is escalating discord among its neighboring countries and aggravating the regional situation. Commenting on this, Minju Joson Sunday says that what arouses big astonishment is the simple and unilateral view of ignoring the essence of the problem while echoing sophism made by the U.S. which is accustomed to justifying its aggression moves by faulting others. The commentary points out what is the root cause of the escalated tension prevailing in Northeast Asia.It stresses that it is a vital matter related with the destiny of the country and nation for the DPRK to bolster up its military capability, as it has stood against the U.S., the most aggressive and arbitrary state in the world, over the past several decades. It goes on: The opinion that the “missile threat” from the DPRK spawned the issue of deploying THAAD is a foolish way of thinking that blindly parrots the U.S. assertion. Why is the regional situation in Northeast Asia being steadily aggravated? The reason is the scramble for hegemony among powers. Antagonism between China and the U.S. is the main reason of the aggravated regional tension. The military antagonism between China and the U.S. is bringing arms race to the Northeast Asian region and driving the regional situation into the worst instability.

Another undeniable reason is the antagonism between China and Japan. To try to make the public convince that the DPRK’s self-defensive measures aggravate the situation while ignoring such a reality would be unhelpful to preventing the aggravation of the situation in Northeast Asia.” (KCNA, “Minju Joson Points out Root Causes of Escalated Tension in Northeast Asia,” February 12, 2017)


2/13/17:
UN Security Council: “The members of the Security Council strongly condemned the most recent ballistic missile launches conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on 11 February 2017 and 19 October 2016. These launches are in grave violation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s international obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), and 2321 (2016). The members of the Security Council deplore all the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ballistic missile activities, including these launches, noting that such activities contribute to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s development of nuclear weapons delivery systems and increase tension. The members of the Security Council further regretted that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is diverting resources to the pursuit of ballistic missiles while Democratic People’s Republic of Korea citizens have great unmet needs. The members of the Security Council expressed serious concern that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted these ballistic missile launches after the 15 April, 23 April, 27 April, 28 April, 31 May, 21 June, 9 July, 18 July, 2 August, 23 August, 5 September, and 14 October launches, as well as the nuclear test of 9 September, in flagrant disregard of the repeated statements of the Security Council. The members of the Security Council reiterated that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shall refrain from further actions, including nuclear tests, in violation of the relevant Security Council resolutions, and comply fully with its obligations under these resolutions. The members of the Security Council called upon all Member States to redouble their efforts to implement fully the measures imposed on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by the Security Council, particularly the comprehensive measures contained in resolutions 2321 (2016) and 2270 (2016). The members of the Security Council directed the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006) to intensify its work to strengthen enforcement of resolutions 2321 (2016) and 2270 (2016) and assist Member States to comply with their obligations under those resolutions and other relevant resolutions. The members of the Security Council also called on Member States to report as soon as possible on concrete measures they have taken in order to implement effectively the provisions of resolutions 2321 (2016) and 2270 (2016). The members of the Security Council reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in North-East Asia at large, expressed their commitment to a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution to the situation and welcomed efforts by Council members, as well as other States, to facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue. The members of the Security Council stress the importance of working to reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula and beyond. The members of the Security Council agreed that the Security Council would continue to closely monitor the situation and take further significant measures, in line with the Council’s previously expressed determination. (UN Security Council Press Statement, “DPRK’s Ballistic Missile Launch,” New York, February 13, 2017) Han Tae Song, the new Ambassador of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the United Nations in Geneva, was addressing the Conference on Disarmament on February14,a day after taking up his post. “The various test fires conducted by DPRK for building up self-defense capabilities are, with no exception, self-defense measures to protect national sovereignty and the safety of the people against direct threats by hostile forces,” Han told the 61-member state forum. “The successful test launch of a medium-to-long range missile on February 12th is a part of self-defense measures,” he said. “In this respect, my delegation strongly rejects the latest statement of the U.N. Security Council and all U.N. resolutions against my country.” Han said the divided Korean peninsula “remains the world’s biggest hotspot with a constant danger of war”. He condemned joint military exercises carried out annually by South Korea and the United States, as well as what he called “nuclear threats” and blackmail towards his country. “It is the legitimate self-defense right of the sovereign state to possess strong deterrence to cope with such threat by hostile forces aimed at overthrowing the state and the socialist system,” he said. North Korea shared mankind’s common goal of global denuclearization, Han said. “The DPRK supports global efforts toward nuclear disarmament and complete obliteration of nuclear weapons and we play a responsible role to contribute to achieving global denuclearization,” he said. In New York, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement after the Security Council meeting that it was “time to hold North Korea accountable” with “actions. U.S., Japanese and South Korean military officials held a teleconference today in which they condemned the launch as “a clear violation” of multiple Security Council resolutions. The United States “reaffirmed its iron-clad security commitments” to South Korea and Japan, the Pentagon said. (Stephanie Nebehay, “North Korea Rejects UN Statement, Says Missile Tests Defensive,” Reuters, February 14, 2017) China is moving to blame South Korea for North Korea’s ballistic missile launch, arguing that one of the causes of the launch was inter-Korean differences. “China is opposed to the DPRK’s launch which violates the Security Council resolutions,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang during the regular press conference. While calling on countries in the region to refrain from actions that could increase tensions, Geng noted that the UN Security Council would be dealing with this matter and said that “China will take part in the discussions in a responsible and constructive manner.” Geng also reconfirmed China’s official stance: “As a permanent member of the Security Council [ … ] China has always enforced the Council‘s resolutions in their entirety” and has “made unremitting efforts to facilitate the settlement of the issue of Korean Peninsula.” The most striking part of Geng’s remarks was his statement that “The root of the DPRK nuclear and missile issue lies in the differences between the DPRK and the US and between the DPRK and the ROK.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry has frequently rejected the argument that China should take responsibility for North Korea’s nuclear program by attributing the program to strife between North Korea and the US, but these remarks also mention missiles and inter-Korean conflict. When asked multiple times for confirmation, Geng repeated the same remarks and said, “This is a viewpoint that has been repeatedly emphasized.” After the briefing, Geng told reporters, “You see the way tensions are rising now. When one side does something, the other side does something. It never ends – it’s like a knot that never unravels.” From this perspective, North Korea’s ballistic missile launch is seen as part of an arms race linked to military actions by South Korea and the US. “Pyongyang‘s persistence in launching missiles will further provide an excuse to accelerate Washington and Seoul’s pace to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in South Korea, which damages China‘s strategic interests,” Global Times said in an op-ed. (Kim Oi-hyun, “China Says Inter-Korean Tensions at the Root of N. Korean Missile Launch,” Hankyore, February 14, 2017)

The chief of South Korea’s spy agency confirmed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother was murdered with poison in Malaysia. National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Lee Byong-ho told lawmakers that for the past five years Pyongyang has been attempting to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, who was under the protection of the Chinese government. During a meeting with the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, Lee confirmed that Kim was killed with poison at the airport, although it still needs to find out whether a needle or chemical spray was used. The agency conceded it was notified of the incident about four hours after it occurred. Kim was at the airport to take an airplane heading to Macao when he asked the staff for help after interacting with two “Asian” women. Kim died on the way to a nearby hospital. The Malaysian authorities presume Kim was poisoned, although details will be revealed through an autopsy. The agency said the suspects are presumed to be still at large in Malaysia. “There was also an (assassination attempt) in 2012,” Lee was quoted as saying by Rep. Kim Byung-kee of the Democratic Party. Lee then said the North’s latest action is presumed to have been based on Kim Jong-un’s “delusional disorder,” rather than on any calculation that his half-brother is a threat to the regime. The NIS head also told lawmakers that Kim sent a letter to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2012, asking his brother to spare his and the lives of his family. Kim Jong-nam’s wife is currently staying in Beijing with a son, while his second wife is living in Macao with a son and a daughter. All of them are currently under the protection of Chinese authorities. The son in Macao is Kim Han-sol, who came into the spotlight in 2012 after being interviewed by a Finnish television station. He said he hopes for the unification of the two divided Koreas and wants to improve the livelihoods of ordinary people living in the impoverished country now controlled by his young uncle. The agency said Kim has never asked South Korea for asylum, nor was there an effort within North Korea to place Kim Jong-nam as the leader. (Yonhap, “Spy Agency Confirms Assassination of N.K. Leader’s Half-Brother,” February 15, 2017) The Royal Malaysia Police announced late yesterday afternoon February 15 that they had arrested a woman that morning and that she had been carrying a Vietnamese passport in Terminal 2, where the attack occurred. They said she was “positively identified” from closed-circuit video, and was alone at the time of her arrest. She was identified as Doan Thin Hoang, 28, according to the inspector general of the police, Khalid Abu Bakar. On February 116, the Malaysian police said they had detained a second suspect, a woman with an Indonesian passport. A police official told the Bernama news agency that more arrests were expected. Ever since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father in 2011, “there has been a standing order” to assassinate his half-brother, Lee Byung-ho, the director of the South’s National Intelligence Service, said during a closed-door briefing at the National Assembly, according to lawmakers who attended it. “This is not a calculated action to remove Kim Jong-nam because he was a challenge to power per se, but rather reflected Kim Jong-un’s paranoia,” Lee was quoted as saying. Kim Jong-un wanted his half-brother killed, Lee said, and there was an assassination attempt against him in 2012. Kim was so afraid of assassins that he begged for his life in a letter to his half-brother in 2012. “Please withdraw the order to punish me and my family,” Kim was quoted as saying in the letter. “We have nowhere to hide. The only way to escape is to choose suicide.” Lee said that Kim Jong-nam had no power base inside North Korea, where Kim Jong-un had swiftly established his monolithic rule with what the South called a reign of terror. Kim Jong-nam arrived in Malaysia last week, Lee said. He was in line at the airport to check in for a flight to Macau this morning when he was attacked by the two women, Lee said, citing security camera footage from the airport. The women fled the airport in a taxi, Lee said. If North Korea’s involvement is proved, Washington could face intense pressure to put the country back on its list of nations that sponsor terrorism, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, a think tank in South Korea. North Korea was first put on the terrorism list after the South caught a woman from the North who confessed to planting a bomb on a South Korean airliner that exploded over the Indian Ocean, near Myanmar, in 1987. The North was taken off the list in 2008, after a deal aimed at ending its nuclear program. South Korea’s military plans to use loudspeakers along the shared Korean border to inform North Koreans of Kim’s killing and of their government’s brutality, a South Korean news agency, Yonhap reported February 15. The Defense Ministry declined to confirm the report. Outside analysts often saw him as a possible candidate to replace Kim Jong-un if the North Korean leadership imploded and China, traditionally an ally, sought a replacement in its client state. Chinese experts on North Korea said they doubted that Kim Jong-nam had special security protection from Beijing. “Chinese elites had no expectation this guy could play an important political role,” said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University. “If China wanted to use him as an alternative leader, China would have offered good protection, but this assassination shows he had no security protection.” Kim was a prince in exile with little chance of returning home, analysts and officials in South Korea said. His wife and a daughter and son are in Macau under Chinese protection, Lee said. The South Korean intelligence agency did not disclose how it had obtained the letter from Kim begging his half-brother to spare his life. But government sources said that emails Kim sent home through North Korean embassies had been obtained in a hacking operation. In one of the emails, they said, Kim bitterly complained that the North Korean government stopped sending him cash after his father died and Kim Jong-un took over. In 2012, a news report said Kim was thrown out of a luxury Macau hotel, unable to pay a $15,000 bill. Kim Jong-nam’s mother, Sung Hae-rim, a decorated “people’s actress,” was already married and the mother of a child when Kim Jong-il forced her to divorce her novelist husband to marry him. Kim Jong-il adored his first son, Kim Jong-nam. He once seated his young son at his desk and told him, “This is the place where you will one day give orders,” according to Lee Han-young, a relative who defected to the South in 1982. But Kim Jong-nam’s grandfather, the North’s founding president, Kim Il-sung, never approved of the marriage. “My father was keeping highly secret the fact that he was living with my mother, who was married, a famous movie actress, so I couldn’t get out of the house or make friends,” Kim was quoted as saying in a 2012 book by a Japanese journalist. “That solitude from childhood may have made me what I am now, preferring freedom.” Kim was born in secret, and when his mother fell out of favor with Kim Jong-il and was forced to live in Moscow, he was left in the care of her sister. He was later sent to Geneva, where he learned English and French. (His mother was alone in Moscow when she died in 2002.) Kim Jong-il would later begin a relationship with Ko Young-hee, a star of Pyongyang’s premier opera, who gave birth to Kim Jong-chol and then Kim Jong-un. According to a Japanese sushi chef who published a 2003 memoir about his experience working for the Kim family, Kim Jong-un was by that time the father’s favorite. Kim Jong-nam squandered what little chance he may have had to succeed his father when he embarrassed Pyongyang in 2001; he was caught on a fake passport from the Dominican Republic. He told Japanese investigators that he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. But rumors of intrigue never left Kim, as analysts speculated that if the young, inexperienced Kim Jong-un failed to meet the expectations of hard-line generals, they might summon home the eldest brother. In a way, Kim helped fuel such rumors. In the 2012 book by the Japanese journalist, Kim called his younger brother “a figurehead.” (Choe Sang-Hun and Richard C. Paddock, “Dictator’s Estranged Heir Met Death in Exile from North Korea,” New York Times, February 16, 2017, p. A-6) The poison used to kill Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was VX nerve agent, which is listed as a chemical weapon, the Malaysian police announced February 24. In a brief statement, Khalid Abu Bakar, the national police chief, said the substance was listed as a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Conventions of 1997 and 2005, to which North Korea is not a party. VX nerve agent can be delivered in two compounds that are mixed at the last moment to create a lethal dose. The police say that two women approached Mr. Kim at the airport with the poison on their hands and rubbed it on his face one after the other. Samples were taken from Kim’s skin and eyes. The poison was identified in a preliminary analysis by the Center for Chemical Weapons Analysis of the Chemistry Department of Malaysia, Khalid said. The Chemical Weapons Convention bans the use and stockpiling of chemical weapons, and North Korea is among the world’s largest possessors of such weapons. In 2014, the South Korean Defense Ministry said the North had stockpiled 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons and had a capacity to produce a variety of biological weapons. (The North has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006.) VX is part of a family of nerve agents created decades ago during research into pesticides. It is tasteless and odorless and kills by causing uncontrollable muscle contractions, which eventually stop the victim from breathing. A dose of about 10 milligrams is enough to kill by skin contact, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Several world powers, including the United States and the former Soviet Union, once had large stockpiles of the nerve agent. American stores of VX were destroyed under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997, with incineration completed in 2012. In 1994 and 1995, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo used homemade VX to attack three people, one of whom died. North Korea is estimated to have a chemical weapons production capability of up to 4,500 metric tons during a typical year and 12,000 tons during a period of extended crisis. It is widely reported to possess a large arsenal of chemical weapons, including mustard, phosgene and sarin gas, a United States Congressional Research Service report said last year. (Richard C. Paddock and Choe Sang-hun, “Nerve Agent Killed North Korean Leader’s Half Brother, Police Say,” New York Times, February 24, 2017, p. A-10) By using one of the world’s deadliest known toxins to carry off a high-profile assassination in Malaysia, North Korea sent a message to the world that it has two types of weapons of mass destruction – nuclear bombs and the most ghastly of chemical weapons. “The point was made,” said Raymond Zilinskas, director of the chemical and biological nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California. The United Nations categorizes VX, which English scientists discovered in 1955, as a chemical weapon of mass destruction and banned its use under a 1993 treaty. Tasteless and odorless, VX has an amber-like color and is the consistency of motor oil. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it “the most potent of all nerve agents,” and says victims can die within minutes from convulsions and respiratory failure. The announcement that VX was used in a crowded airport generated alarm in Malaysia and around the world. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons called any use of VX “deeply disturbing” and said it “stands ready to provide expertise” to Malaysia. Teams are expected to sweep the airport Sunday for any remaining toxic chemicals, Reuters reported. North Korea has long been suspected of producing chemical weapons but proof has been elusive. “Now we know they have it,” said Zilinskas. “This might have been actually a field exercise for using (it), how does their VX work? The size of its chemical weapons arsenal is unknown. “We have no idea whether or not they have laboratory quantities – like grams or kilograms – or if they have a factory set up somewhere where they have tons,” Zilinskas said. One of the two young women suspected in the attack, 25-year-old Indonesian Siti Aishah, told an Indonesian diplomat that she was paid the equivalent of $90 but said she didn’t know she was applying poison to Kim’s face, the Straits Times reported February 25. Her alleged accomplice, a Vietnamese woman, Doan Thi Huong, was also in custody. Malaysia’s police chief said one of the two women fell ill after the attack, and vomited. But it remained unclear how assailants would have handled the fatal toxin without dying themselves. “If these assassins had VX on their hands, they would be dead in a few minutes,” said Raymond Zilinskas, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, who served as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq in 1994. Zilinskas said each of the two assailants probably carried a less-toxic component of VX. “They smeared it on his face, and had the reaction between the two of them produce the VX. It probably wasn’t real efficient but enough to kill him in 15 minutes,” he said. “Then, as quickly as they could, they went off to the toilet and washed their hands off,” he suggested. (Tim Johnson, “North Korea’s VX Use Signals It’s More Dangerous than We Thought,” McClatchy, February 25, 2017) Kim Jong Nam apparently made contact with a suspected U.S. intelligence agent in Malaysia four days before he was murdered there. Malaysian investigation authorities speculate that this was one of the reasons behind Pyongyang’s decision to silence him. According to investigative authorities and acquaintances of Kim Jong Nam, he arrived alone in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in the afternoon of February 6 from Macau, where he was living in exile with his family. Security camera footage showed him arriving with a single black bag. On February 8, Kim traveled to the resort island of Langkawi in northern Malaysia without telling anyone around him about his travel plans. Security cameras at a hotel there showed him meeting his contact, described as a middle-aged Korea-American based in Bangkok, in the building on February 9. Malaysian investigation authorities had been tailing the American every time he entered Malaysia, suspecting that he had links to a U.S. intelligence agency. The man entered Malaysia on the same day that Kim arrived in the country. He had met Kim in Malaysia several times in the past. On February 9, Kim and his contact entered a suite in the hotel around 1 p.m. and left two hours later. An analysis of Kim’s notebook computer showed that a USB memory stick had been inserted into the PC, leading to suspicions that Kim handed over a large volume of information he was not able to convey orally. Kim returned from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur on the evening of February 12. He was attacked with poison in the concourse of Kuala Lumpur International Airport the following morning and died shortly afterward. The U.S. citizen left Malaysia the same day. Investigative authorities suspect that North Korea’s secret police had gotten wind of Kim’s activities and itinerary. (Norikyo Masatomo, “Kim Jong Nam Thought to Have Met with U.S. Agent ahead of Slaying,” Asahi Shimbun, May 13, 2017) The estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had $120,000 (13 million yen) in cash in his possession when he was killed at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport in February, triggering speculation the money was a payoff from a U.S. intelligence contact. Malaysian investigative authorities also speculated that Kim Jong Nam’s meetings with an American male believed to have links with a U.S. intelligence agency may have been behind North Korea’s decision to silence him. Malaysian officials said Kim apparently acquired the sum during his stay and was planning to leave the country without declaring it as they found no record of him making a large cash withdrawal from a bank in Malaysia. During a check of Kim’s belongings, police found four bundles of U.S. currency, mostly in mint condition, in a black bag. Each bundle contained 300 $100 dollar bills. Malaysian officials said earlier that Kim, the eldest son of late leader Kim Jong Il, had met with the same U.S. contact on several occasions during previous visits. In Malaysia, as in many countries, arriving and departing passengers with large sums of cash in their possession are required to report the amount to customs officials. As Kim traveled on a diplomatic passport, he was not obliged to follow normal customs or immigration procedures when entering or leaving the country. According to law enforcement officials, Kim spent five days in the northern resort island of Langkawi during his eight-day stay. On February 9, Kim met for about two hours at a hotel with an American male who Malaysian authorities believe is closely associated with a U.S. intelligence agency. Malaysian investigative officials said it was likely that Kim had passed on useful intelligence information to his U.S. contact. “It may well have been in return for the information he provided,” said a Malaysian official, referring to the cash found in Kim’s possession. (Norikyo Masatomi, “Kim Jong Nam Has $120,000 on Him at Time of Slaying,” Asahi Shimbun, June 12, 2017) Kim Jong Nam, the slain half brother of North Korea’s leader, was a Central Intelligence Agency source who met on several occasions with agency operatives, a person knowledgeable about the matter said. “There was a nexus” between the U.S. spy agency and Mr. Kim, the person said.Many details of Kim’s relationship with the CIA remain unclear. Several former U.S. officials said the half brother, who had lived outside of North Korea for many years and had no known power base in Pyongyang, was unlikely to be able to provide details of the secretive country’s inner workings. They also said Kim—who resided mainly in the Chinese enclave of Macau—was almost certainly in contact with security services of other countries, particularly China’s. The CIA declined to comment. Chinese officials didn’t respond to a request for comment. The fact that the CIA held meetings with the North Korean leader’s exiled half brother illustrates the lengths U.S. intelligence will go to gather information about the hermetic country. U.S. intelligence officials at first felt relief that the CIA’s interaction with Kim wasn’t exposed in the immediate aftermath of his killing, the person knowledgeable about the situation said. But three months after his death, in May 2017, Asahi Shimbun reported that while in Malaysia, Kim Jong Nam met with a Korean-American whom Malaysian officials suspected was a U.S. intelligence officer. Kim’s role as a CIA source also is described in a book about Kim Jong Un, “The Great Successor,” written by a Washington Post reporter and due to be published Juen 10, 2019, according to news reports citing excerpts of the book. The Wall Street Journal hasn’t seen a copy of the book. Kim traveled to Malaysia in February 2017 to meet his CIA contact, although that may not have been the sole purpose of the trip, the person knowledgeable about the matter said. (Warren P. Strobel, “North Korean Leader’s Slain Half Brother Was a C.I.A. Source,” Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2019)

In a case with a thousand plot twists, there has been but one constant in the murder investigation of Kim Jong Nam: Nothing is ever what it seems. The victim himself — the playboy half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — was traveling under false papers when he died and had to be identified using DNA. The two women accused of killing him turned out to be hired dupes, paid a few dollars to perform what they thought was a reality-TV stunt. Stranger still was the murder weapon, liquid VX, a toxin so powerful that a few drops rubbed onto the skin killed the victim in minutes, yet it failed to harm the two women who applied the poison with their bare hands. Even more mysterious: why North Korea would go to extravagant lengths to use a battlefield-grade chemical weapon on foreign soil, only to work equally hard to cover its tracks. For the prosecutors preparing for the first court hearings later this month, some of the mysteries behind Kim Jong Nam’s death inside a Malaysian airport terminal will likely never be resolved. But nearly five months after the killing, U.S. and Asian officials have a clearer view of the attack’s significance. In carrying out history’s first state-sponsored VX assassination in a country 3,000 miles from its borders, North Korea has demonstrated a new willingness to use its formidable arsenal of deadly toxins and poisons to kill or intimidate enemies on foreign soil, analysts say.. “The choice of weapons was not accidental,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former senior analyst on North Korea at the CIA and currently managing director for Korea at the Bower Group Asia. “Everything about this incident was intended to send a message.” U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies have long believed that North Korea possesses significant stores of the nerve agents VX and sarin — and probably biological weapons as well — but in the past, such arsenals were assumed to be intended as a deterrent against foreign attacks. But in the attack on Kim Jong Nam, North Korea revealed a strategy for using chemicals that looks a lot like ­cyberwarfare: limited, highly secretive attacks that can damage an enemy without inviting massive retaliation. Whether Kim Jong Un would risk such an attack against a foreign government — even the United States — is unclear. But the February incident is a reminder that North Korea has options for striking targets abroad that do not hinge on the country’s ability to build an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, current and former U.S. officials say. “North Korea is bad enough when you’re talking about their nuclear and missiles program,” Rebecca Hersman, a former Defense Department deputy assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction, said at a recent policy forum. “But I think we ignore their chemical and biological programs truly at our own peril.” Not one, but two teams of assassins had rehearsed for the moment. The only ones Kim Jong Nam would see were female: two attractive women in their 20s who had been recruited locally. One of them, identified by police as Indonesian native Siti Aisyah, worked in a Kuala Lumpur massage parlor; the other, Doan Thi Huong, had moved from Vietnam to Malaysia to work in what authorities described vaguely as the “entertainment” industry. Both would tell police that they were hired by a Korean man to perform “pranks,” such as smearing baby oil on strangers, for a hidden-camera video show. For their service, each was promised $90 in cash and a shot at future TV stardom. At least four men — later identified by Malaysian officials as North Korean agents — are seen watching the attack and shadowing the visibly agitated Kim Jong Nam as he seeks help from police and an airport first-aid station. Minutes later, as the dying Kim is wheeled into an ambulance, the men slip through the departures gate to board flights out of the country. The only ones who didn’t escape were the women and the victim himself. Aisyah and Huong mysteriously avoided serious injury — perhaps, weapons experts speculate, because each handled harmless precursor chemicals that became toxic only when mixed, or perhaps because both women quickly washed their hands after the attack. Both are seen quickly entering airport lavatories after the attack, behavior that prosecutors have cited in accusing the two women of being knowingly complicit in Kim Jong Nam’s murder. The two women face court appearances later this month on charges of first-degree murder, a capital crime in Malaysia. Kim Jong Nam, who quickly sought medical help after the attack, lost consciousness in the airport medical station and died in the ambulance, less than 20 minutes after the episode began. It would take two autopsies and nearly two weeks to determine the name of the rare toxin that took his life. Malaysian investigators would conclude that the VX was smuggled into the country by North Korea, most likely in a commercial jetliner. It’s unclear whether the toxin arrived ready to use or in a form that required mixing two harmless ingredients to create. In either case, the advantage for the assassins is that only a few drops are needed to kill, said a U.S. official with years of experience in ­chemical-weapons defense. “Was it assembled in Malaysia? Not necessarily,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity in discussing U.S. intelligence assessments of the North Korean threat. “A single three-ounce container that would fit in your carry-on luggage would hold far more than you’d ever need.” Until the February 13 attack, hard evidence of Pyongyang’s arsenal of toxins did not exist, at least in the public realm. But for at least two decades, U.S. intelligence assessments have concluded that North Korea possesses a sizable stockpile of chemical weapons, with VX being one of many varieties. A State Department report in 2001 found that North Korea was “already self-sufficient” in making all the necessary precursors for sarin and VX, as well as older weapons such as mustard gas. Drawing from an array of sources — from North Korean defectors and spies to satellite photos and electronic eavesdropping — U.S. agencies calculated the size of the country’s chemical stockpile at between 2,500 and 5,000 tons. That’s far larger than Syria’s arsenal at its peak, and larger than any known to exist in the world, except for those built by the Soviet and U.S. militaries during the Cold War. A parallel but reportedly much smaller program produces biological weapons, current and former U.S. intelligence officials think. Published Defense Intelligence Agency documents have described efforts underway to weaponize at least four pathogens: anthrax, plague, cholera and biological toxins, such as botulinum. Work on chemical and biological programs began years before Pyongyang tested its first nuclear bomb, and U.S. analysts suspect that both were intended at first as a deterrent against foreign attacks. But although North Korea regularly boasts of its achievements in atomic energy and missiles, its chemical and biological weapons have always been kept carefully hidden, according to a study released jointly last month by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the U.S. Korea Institute. “North Korea has deliberately built its NBC [nuclear, biological, chemical] infrastructures in extreme secrecy; undertaken camouflage, concealment and deception operations . . . and dispersed NBC facilities around the country,” report author Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a prominent expert on North Korean weapons systems, wrote in the report. “It is therefore probable that there are significant elements of the NBC programs and their infrastructures that are simply unknown outside the North Korean government.” U.S. and South Korean defense officials alike take the threat seriously, so much so that both governments inoculate their troops against exposure to anthrax bacteria and even the smallpox virus. Soldiers deployed along the border are issued gas masks and protective suits and put through occasional drills to prepare for the day when canisters of VX or sarin are fired across the border in North Korean rockets or artillery shells. Any such attack would certainly prompt a massive retaliation. But Kim Jong Nam’s assassination has forced U.S. officials to consider the possibility of a clandestine attack, one that might be more difficult to trace, or to defend against. “With biological weapons, especially, there’s an opportunity for covert attack with deniability, since attribution would be difficult,” said Andrew C. Weber, former assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons defense. Although U.S. officials are fixated on North Korea’s nuclear advances, a nuclear attack “is not the most likely, or possibly even the most consequential,” he said. As Kim Jong Nam’s assassination demonstrated, the delivery of such weapons can be easy — especially for deadly pathogens, but also for toxic chemicals, he said. And any military response would be delayed for days or weeks while investigators attempted to find evidence that firmly pointed to a perpetrator. “A chemical attack would be knowable, almost as soon as it happens,” Weber said. “But Kim Jong Un is a brutal guy, and he may have no qualms against doing it. Or he may just miscalculate.” Kim Jong Un’s plan to use VX to kill his half-brother included extensive measures to ensure secrecy — so many, in fact, that some experts think the North Koreans wanted to keep their enemies ignorant about its use of the toxin, or at least unsure. After Kim Jong Nam’s death, Pyongyang requested the immediate return of his body, without an autopsy being performed. Malaysia refused, and soon afterward, local news media reported an attempt by unknown individuals to break into the morgue where the body was kept. The attempt failed, but in the weeks since, North Korea has insisted that the leader’s half-brother died of a heart attack and that any reports of chemical toxins were lies spread by outsiders. Kim Jong Un has a history of extreme brutality toward relatives whom he suspects of plotting against him. He may have seen Kim Jong Nam — a free-spoken man of leisure who enjoyed protected status in China and was widely reported to have intelligence contacts with several foreign governments — as a possible future choice by Beijing to replace him. “It might have just been an expression of how much he hates traitors,” said Joshua Pollack, a former government consultant on North Korean weapons programs and now editor of the journal Nonproliferation Review. “There’s no doubt that VX was an unusual choice for an assassination. But I think it was probably chosen because they thought no one would look for it.” Other current and former U.S. officials say that North Korea would have calculated that the VX would be found eventually. According to these officials, Kim Jong Un’s plan was to showcase his ability to strike with terrifying weapons, while also concealing the evidence to reduce the chances of retaliation. “His message about VX was, ‘We have it,’ ” said Terry, the former CIA analyst. “He knew they would eventually find it.” Whatever the motivation, the tactic worked on nearly every ­level, North Korea experts say: A potential rival was eliminated. A capability to strike covertly, using one of the most fearsome chemical weapons ever designed, was amply demonstrated. And North Korea, while issuing denials that are widely seen as implausible, managed to get away with it, at least until now. “They carry out an attack and make people afraid, but then ensure that there’s no evidence that can lead to real accountability,” Pollack said. “For them, that’s the sweet spot.” (Joby Warrick, “The Message behind the Murder: North Korea’s Assassination Sheds Light on Chemical Weapons Arsenal,” Washington Post, July 6, 2017)

A senior South Korean lawmaker called for a revision to the missile defense system sought by the country by the mid-2020s as North Korean missiles will likely become harder to detect before launch. The upcoming “kill chain” strike system and the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system are both designed to detect and destroy incoming missiles in the shortest possible time. In a meeting with reporters after being briefed on North Korea’s latest missile launch and Seoul’s countermeasures by the National Intelligence Service, Lee Cheol-woo, chairman of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, raised questions about the effectiveness of the anti-missile systems in hitting the North’s newly developed solid-fuel missile fired from a mobile launcher on Sunday. “With the planned systems, it is impossible to pre-emptively strike solid propellant missiles (through prior detection). So the kill chain (and KAMD) systems themselves don’t make an effective missile defense system,” he told reporters. Solid-fuel missiles pose a greater threat as they require less preparation time than liquid-fueled rockets, and can be fired more easily and quickly from a mobile launcher. It takes about one to three hours for the North to fuel a liquid-fueled missile, so it can be detected by surveillance satellites operated by the U.S. and South Korea. In that case, a pre-emptive strike is possible, according to military officials. Most of North Korean ballistic missiles, such as the shorter-range Scud with a range of 500-700 kilometers, the medium-range Rodong with a 1,300-1,500 km range and the intermediate-range Musudan missile with a range of more than 3,000 km, use liquid fuel. But the surface-to-surface intermediate-range Pukguksong-2 missile launched by the North February 12 has been determined by the military as a solid fuel type. It is speculated to have a range of more than 2,000 km. As it was launched at a high angle, the missile reached a height of 550 km and flew about 500 km before splashing down into the East Sea. “It takes only five to 10 minutes to launch the solid-fuel Pukguksong-2,” Lee said. As for anti-missile capabilities, the PAC-2 and PAC-3 Patriot systems currently operated by the U.S. Forces Korea and the Korean military are up to the task of intercepting the Pukguksong-type missiles, the chairman said. The PAC-2 and PAC-3 are designed to intercept missiles for a “low altitude” of 20-40 km. “Given the Patriot missile defense systems are designed to strike incoming missiles travelling at speeds of Mach 8-9, they may not be effective in shooting down an incoming missile at speeds of Mach 9-10,” he said. The NIS confirmed the Pukguksong-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 10. Missile experts say if a missile reaches a height of 550 km and falls, it can reach very high speeds. This means the kill chain and KAMD won’t work properly in the face of an incoming missile from the North, they said. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, scheduled to be deployed in South Korea this year, may also be ineffective in dealing with high speed missiles. THAAD is known to be able to intercept a missile flying 40-150 km from the ground, can shoot down missiles that comes directly towards it even if they reach speeds of Mach 14, but are less effective for missiles heading for distant areas. Yoo Seung-min, a presidential candidate for the conservative Bareun Party, argued South Korea needs to “inject a defense budget to secure two to three THAAD batteries here and have control over missile defense operations.” (Yonhap, “South Korean Lawmaker Calls for Revision to Anti-Missile Defense Systems,” February 14, 2017) Before the half-brother of Kim Jong Un was killed in a brazen nerve agent attack at a Malaysian airport in 2017, he was known as a playboy and a hustler — not a secret CIA informant. Kim Jong Nam, the exiled firstborn son of the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, lived among the gamblers and gangsters of the Chinese enclave of Macau. Because he was the only high-profile member of the Kim dynasty living outside the territory and employment of the regime, Japanese and South Korean reporters would flock to him on sight. He was a bon vivant who enjoyed expensive watches, wine and cigars. On Facebook, he posted photos of himself outside various casinos and resorts. “Living Las Vegas in Asia,” he captioned one. But behind the veneer of a high-rolling North Korean card shark was a man supplementing his income with a job as an informant to the CIA, said two people familiar with his activities. Kim Jong Nam provided information to the intelligence agency, often meeting his handlers in Singapore or Malaysia, the people said. The revelation, detailed in the new book “The Great Successor” by Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield, one of the authors of this article, prompted a reaction from President Trump, who when asked about the CIA’s relationship with Kim’s half-brother said he couldn’t confirm or deny the account. “I know this: that the relationship is such that that wouldn’t happen under my auspices, but I don’t know about that. Nobody knows,” he told reporters June 11, 2019. The CIA declined to comment. The secret relationship underscores the lengths to which the spy agency must go to uncover information about the world’s most-closed society, where even an estranged half-brother may be able to offer coveted information. “It’s very viable that he was a source,” Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, said in an interview Wednesday. “After Kim Jong Il died, the U.S. government had very little information on Kim Jong Un, so there would’ve been a scramble for information, and strong interest in talking to the half-brother.” Kim Jong Nam is believed to have met with an American intelligence agent on a Malaysian island a few days before he was killed in Kuala Lumpur’s airport, according to a Malaysian official interviewed after the killing. The backpack he was wearing in the airport held $120,000 in cash, raising immediate suspicions of shadowy dealings. “A wad of cash like that would seem reflective of an under-the-table relationship that is either of a criminal or intelligence nature,” said Klingner, who joked that a payment of that magnitude would show that the “CIA pays its assets better than its employees.” What exactly Kim provided to U.S. officials, or to the South Korean and Chinese intelligence officials with whom he is also believed to have had relations, is unknown. But he is likely to have sought an additional source of income after the killing of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, a person familiar with his finances said. Jang, a senior North Korean official who was executed in 2013 as Kim Jong Un consolidated power, spoke frequently with Kim Jong Nam during his exile and heavily subsidized his life in the resort of Macau, the person said. It is possible that the young leader’s quest for power and the execution of his uncle thrust Kim Jong Nam into the arms of foreign intelligence services as he tried to maintain his lifestyle. Klingner said intelligence officials probably would have asked Kim Jong Nam to interpret events inside North Korea. “When we have assets with information on a hard target like North Korea, we’ll try to get a sense of how they interpret recent actions,” he said, noting his recent discussion with a North Korean defector about the North Korean leader’s decision to launch short-range missiles. Klingner noted that Kim Jong Nam did not seem to have a “political base in North Korea,” so it is unclear how much information he would have had, but any details about how the regime functions would have been valuable. “It’s useful to get a sense of how the regime gets information and how it interprets information,” he said. But Kim would have been sharing information at substantial risk to his own safety, given that he was already viewed as a succession threat by Kim Jong Un because of his status as Kim Jong Il’s firstborn son. In dealing with others, Kim Jong Nam sought to emphasize that he was contented living abroad, away from the temptations of power, where he had children with three women. “He was a bit concerned about what would happen to him” after his brother took over, said one of his business associates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Kim Jong Nam’s feelings. “He was happy living the life that he was living. He was happy that his children and wives and mistresses were not in North Korea.” In the years before he died, the estrangement between the regime and Kim Jong Nam became more apparent. Anthony Sahakian, who went to school with him in Switzerland and kept in touch, said it appeared that Kim Jong Nam was working for a living and was not being subsidized by the Kim regime. On his last trip to Geneva, he stayed at an Airbnb rather than an upscale hotel. In 2009, when Kim Jong Il became noticeably frailer, Kim Jong Nam dismissed the idea that he would succeed his father, telling a Japanese TV crew that was tailing him: “Would I be dressed like this if I was the successor?” He was wearing sweatpants at the time. His view of the totalitarian state also grew more negative as he lived abroad. After his father chose Kim Jong Un as his successor, the overlooked older brother said he was opposed in principle to third-generation leadership but wished his brother good luck. “I hope my brother does his best to make the lives of North Koreans better,” he said, adding that he was happy to offer his help from abroad. He grew even more critical of the regime in 2009, saying it was time for the country to “reform and open up” like China. His harshest condemnations came in 2012 after Kim Jong Un became leader. “I have my doubts about whether a person with only two years of grooming as a leader can govern,” Kim Jong Nam wrote to a Japanese reporter at the time. The life of this jet-setting international playboy ended in airport security footage of him looking overwhelmingly ordinary as a balding 45-year-old man, with no entourage and waiting to check himself in at the counter of Air Asia, a discount airline. As he stood there, two women approached him, wiped different chemicals on his face and mouth and ran off to wash their hands. The chemical agents combined to form the deadly nerve agent VX. Less than 15 minutes later he was dead. Investigators later found 12 vials of antidote for poisons, including VX, on him the day he was murdered. It remains unclear why he never took any. (John Hudson and Anna Fifield, “From Casino Playboy to Slain CIA Informant: The Life of Kim Jong Un’s Half-Brother,” Washington Post, June 12, 2019)


2/14-16/17:
An Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine assigned to Submarine Group 9 completed a Follow-on Commander’s Evaluation Test (FCET) February 16, resulting in four successful test flights of Trident II D5 missiles. Designated FCET-53, the operation spanned a three-day period. The primary objective of an FCET is to obtain, under operationally representative conditions, valid reliability, accuracy, and performance of the missile system for use by Commander, Strategic Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missiles were unarmed and all launches were conducted from the sea, flew over the sea, and landed in the sea. At no time did the missiles fly over land. Since its introduction to the fleet in 1989, the Trident II D5 missile has completed 165 successful test flights. (John M. Daniels, “FCET Success: SSBN Launches Fleet Ballistic Missiles,” Strategic Systems Program Public Affairs NNS 170216-21, February 16, 2017)


2/14/17:
A day after Facebook posts came to light showing deliberations over North Korea in the public dining hall of the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, President Trump is up in arms about loose national security controls. The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc? — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Feb. 14, 2017

For 16 years, the United States has publicly refused to engage in direct talks with North Korea, arguing that doing so would reward it for bad behavior. In the meantime, the North raced ahead with its nuclear weapons program. Yet with a new president in the White House and South Korea’s leader under the threat of impeachment, a break from the longstanding stalemate suddenly seems possible. China has urged the United States to enter talks with North Korea to end its weapons program, apparently sensing that President Trump’s desire to make deals could break the years-long deadlock on negotiations. Beijing did so even after North Korea made another stride in its weapons program on Sunday, testing an intermediate-range missile that went into the Sea of Japan. “The root of the North Korean nuclear and missile issue lies in the difference between North Korea and the United States and between North Korea and South Korea,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, said today. “We believe that dialogue and consultation offers the way out.” China was not alone in seeking a new direction, as it appeared to capitalize on a re-evaluation by the Trump administration of how to handle the government of Kim Jong-un. In Tokyo, after returning from meeting Trump in the United States, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo told a parliamentary committee that Japan needed to join its allies in finding a different approach. Japan must “cooperate with the international community, including China,” he said. And in South Korea, where the government is paralyzed while waiting for a court’s decision on impeachment and where an election is likely, progressive opposition parties called for new talks, emphasizing that sanctions intended to topple the regime had failed. “Dialogue and diplomacy” are the only proven means to end the development of nuclear weapons, said Choo Mi-ae, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party. Such talks seemed politically impossible under President Barack Obama, who favored sanctions as the prime safeguard against the North’s nuclear ambitions. There is a growing sense in the region that Obama’s approach to the North failed. Chinese analysts said the White House should seize the chance for a new chapter in dealing with North Korea and abandon Obama’s policy of applying sanctions. “We all think that the Trump administration should talk directly with North Korea,” said Lu Chao, director of the Border Study Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in Shenyang. “That would be the best approach to crack this problem.” But the unpredictable nature of dealing with North Korea was underscored by reports today that Kim’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, had been assassinated in Malaysia. Dealing directly with the North is anathema to most American officials — Republicans and Democrats alike — who say that would be viewed as compensation for the aggressive behavior of a government whose nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches have alarmed the world. On his first official visit to South Korea as defense secretary, Jim Mattis showed little inclination toward talks. Any use of nuclear weapons will be met with “an effective and overwhelming response,” he said. The United States will keep its “ironclad” commitment to allies in the region, he added. But during his presidential campaign, Trump said he would be prepared to sit down with Kim and share a hamburger with him. After Trump chose not to mention North Korea during his brief remarks after it launched a ballistic missile over the weekend, some analysts interpreted his uncharacteristic restraint as a sign of wanting to take a different tack. Earlier last week, Chinese officials participated in behind-the-scenes talks with senior members of Trump’s staff to arrange the first phone call between President Xi Jinping and Trump. That conversation dealt with Trump’s decision to back the “One China” policy, which recognizes a single Chinese government in Beijing, but the discussions leading to the call covered a range of issues, including North Korea, according to a person in Washington who was briefed on the talks by a Trump administration official. “China wants the Americans to talk directly with North Korea,” said Cheng Xiaohe, associate professor of international relations at Renmin University. “China believes the North Korean nuclear problem actually was caused by the Cold War and Pyongyang’s fear of American invasion. Therefore, the blame falls squarely on the U.S., and all the negotiations should be about the U.S. talking with North Korea.” At the outset, Professor Cheng said China would not be fussy about how the Trump administration approached any talks. “Generally speaking, China is basically saying, please talk — talk whatever you want, in whatever way you like, as long as you guys could reach some consensus,” he said. William J. Perry, a former United States defense secretary, said in Washington last month that the new administration at least had to give direct talks with North Korea a chance to gain China’s help in addressing the nuclear threat. “What might make a difference to China is if we really had already gone through a really serious attempt at negotiation, offered a real alternative to North Korea,” said Perry, who was involved in North Korea policy during the presidency of Bill Clinton and favored Clinton’s visiting the country. “And if they turn that offer down, then I think we’re in a much better position to go to China and say: ‘We want to really tighten the screws on sanctions.’” One American expert on North Korea suggested a clear path for how the Trump administration should proceed. “Trump should start by holding back-channel talks,” said John Delury, associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. “If those make enough progress, he should then send an envoy to Pyongyang, who could negotiate a nuclear freeze.” Trump could then begin high-level talks that would culminate in a meeting with Kim, Professor Delury said in an article in Foreign Affairs this month. Although China is considered the North’s closest ally, Beijing has cool relations with its volatile neighbor. Some Chinese experts call the relationship a “fake alliance,” and Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with the North’s continuing nuclear tests. The Foreign Ministry condemned the latest launch. In a show of exasperation, China backed tougher United Nations sanctions against North Korea last year, but the United States has doubted Beijing’s willingness to exercise control over the North’s rudimentary economy. In a counterpoint to the possibility of talks, a former American ambassador to China, Winston Lord, in a report issued last week by the Asia Society on the future of relations between the United States and China, urged heightening economic pressure on North Korea. Attempts by Washington to gain China’s cooperation have consistently failed because Beijing was more interested in maintaining government stability than removing nuclear weapons, he wrote. Therefore, the United States should move toward “rapid, not incremental, ratcheting up of Iran-type sanctions,” he said. (Jane Perlez, Choe Sang-Hun, Motoko Rich, “Trump’s Muted Tone on North Korea Gives Hope for Nuclear Talks,” New York Times, February 15, 2017, p. A-8)


2/15/17:
DPRK FoMin spokesman answer to a question raised by KCNA “as regards the fact that the U.S. and its vassal forces faulted the DPRK’s surface-to-surface medium to long-range strategic ballistic missile test-fire: The UN Security Council issued a press release under the manipulation of the U.S. on Feb. 13 in which it faulted the DPRK’s test-fire as a “breach of resolution” and threatened it would take “additional crucial measures.” The recent missile test-fire conducted by the DPRK is part of normal course which it has to go through in implementing the line of simultaneous development of the two fronts, its state line. Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in his New Year Address for this year declared that the preparations for the inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire had reached the final phase, and in the subsequent period, the DPRK officially clarified more than once that the measure for further bolstering its nuclear force can be taken any moment the Supreme Leader makes his decision. The self-defensive measure is for firmly protecting the sovereignty of the country and the right to existence of the nation from the threat of nuclear war posed by the U.S. and its vassal forces and reliably guaranteeing the peace on the Korean peninsula and the security of the region. No one is entitled to fault this legitimate right of a sovereign state. The UNSC has long been disqualified to take issue with the DPRK’s legitimate step for self-defense as it has gone to the extremes in its application of double-standards by which it labels the tests carried out by the DPRK for self-defense “illegal” but keeps mum about the tests conducted by the U.S. and other countries. For UN member nations or the UN secretary general to blindly follow the UNSC resolution, failing to discern its absurd double-dealing attitude, means that they do not properly perform their duties. There is no paragraph in the UN Charter which specifies nuclear test and missile test-fire as illegal. Therefore, the DPRK will never acknowledge the UNSC “resolution” which termed the DPRK’s nuclear test and rocket test-fire “illegal”, and will never do in the future, either. We categorically reject the press release of the UNSC which took issue with the right of a sovereign state to self-defense under the high-handed pressure of the U.S. in utter disregard of the DPRK’s just demand.” (KCNA, “Foreign Ministry of DPRK Slams U.S. and Vassal Forces for Faulting Its Strategic Ballistic Missile Test-Fire,” February 15, 2017)


2/16/17:
President Trump: “Those are criminal leaks. They’re put out by people either in agencies — I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in. You know, again, we don’t have our people in because we can’t get them approved by the Senate. We just had Jeff Sessions approved. Injustice, as an example (ph). So, we are looking into that very seriously. It’s a criminal act. You know what I say, when I — when I was called out on Mexico, I was shocked because all this equipment, all this incredible phone equipment — when I was called out on Mexico, I was — honestly, I was really, really surprised. But I said “you know, it doesn’t make sense. That won’t happen” but that wasn’t that important a call, it was fine, I could show it to the world and he could show it to the world, the president who’s a very fine man, by the way. Same thing with Australia. I said “that’s terrible that it was leaked” but it wasn’t that important. But then I said to myself “what happens when I’m dealing with the problem of North Korea?” What happens when I’m dealing with the problems in the Middle East? Are you folks going to be reporting all of that very, very confidential information, very important, very — you know, I mean at the highest level? Are you going to be reporting about that too? So, I don’t want classified information getting out to the public and in a way that was almost a test. So I’m dealing with Mexico, I’m dealing with Argentina, we were dealing on this case with Mike Flynn. All this information gets put into the “Washington Post” and gets put into the “New York Times” and I’m saying “what’s going to happen when I’m dealing on the Middle East? What’s going to happen when I’m dealing with really, really important subjects like North Korea? … I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don’t talk about military response. I don’t want to be one of these guys that say, “Yes, here’s what we’re going to do.” I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea. … I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea. And I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do with Iran. You know why? Because they shouldn’t know. And eventually, you guys are going to get tired of asking that question. (President Donald J. Trump Press Conference February 16, 2017 Transcript)

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se has voiced South Korea’s reservations about any U.S. agreement with North Korea that would reward Pyongyang for a nuclear freeze, sources said Tuesday, referring to the policymaker’s recent talks with American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Instead, any deal with Pyongyang should aim to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible” manner, the sources quoted Yun as telling Tillerson during their talks in Bonn, Germany. It was Yun’s first meeting with the U.S. top diplomat under the Donald Trump administration, which came after North Korea’s launch of an intermediate ballistic missile on Feb. 12. The provocation highlighted North Korea’s nuclear issue as one of the most pressing security challenges facing the new U.S. administration. The sources said that the South Korean foreign minister stressed that a mere freeze on North Korea’s nuclear program would be meaningless mainly because the country is believed to be already in possession of dozens of nuclear weapons and a freeze of North Korea’s highly-enriched uranium program may be hardly verifiable. “The (South Korean) government regards it as meaningless to pursue a freeze deal when North Korea shows no intention to give up its nuclear weapons program although freezing its nuclear facilities would be part of the inevitable process before the complete, verifiable and irreversible (nuclear) dismantlement,” the sources told Yonhap. During the meeting, Yun also expressed Seoul’s skepticism about opening any dialogue over North Korea’s demand to sign a peace treaty, the sources said. Pursuing talks with North Korea simultaneously on denuclearization and a peace treaty would give the regime an excuse to delay its denuclearization, Yun was also quoted as telling Tillerson. The foreign minister then underlined the importance of maintaining the on-going pressure-oriented diplomacy toward North Korea, suggesting broader sanctions on North Korea and Chinese firms doing business with the North. He also called for continuing pressure on North Korea’s human rights violations as a desirable policy approach toward the reclusive country, according to the sources. Yun’s policy stances are likely to be put to discussion when the South Korean and U.S. representatives on the North Korean nuclear issue hold a meeting in Washington possibly before the end of this month. Foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said later, “The South Korean and U.S. foreign ministers shared in specific details in their first talks what our side thinks with regard to the two countries’ joint response to North Korea’s nuclear (development). In follow-up to the ministerial talks, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs Kim Hong-kyun will travel to the U.S. in the near future to put the puzzle together on the matters of joint response,” he noted. (Yonhap, “Foreign Minister Yun Dissuades Tillerson from Reward-for-Nuclear Freeze Deal with N. Korea: Sources,” February 21, 2017)


2/?/17:
Woodward: “In February, General Dunford [chairman of the joint chiefs of staff] stopped by the office of Senator Lindsay Graham, the South Carolina Republican, for a private talk. …Graham could see that the chairman was shaken Trump was asking for a new war plan for a preemptive military strike on North Korea, Dunford confided. The intelligence on North Korea was not good enough. ‘We need better intelligence before I give the president a plan.’ Graham sensed that Dunford was stalling Trump’s request given the risk.” (Woodward, Fear, p. 100)


2/17/17:
South Korea and the United States conducted a joint exercise February 14-17 to seize and destroy North Korean weapons of mass destruction (WMD), according to the U.S. military. More than 400 soldiers, including 200 Korean Army soldiers, took part in the Warrior Strike 5 exercise at a live fire complex in Pocheon, 46 kilometers north of Seoul, the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division’s Web page showed. During the exercise, the allied forces formed a hypothetical special operations unit, practiced an air assault on nuclear and missile facilities, and conducted mock operations to locate and seize WMDs. “Our companies refined their standard operating procedures for air assault operations, urban operations and combined operations with our ROK Army counterparts,” said Maj. Jared Nichols, the battalion’s executive officer. “The value of training like this is key to our mission to be ready to ‘Fight Tonight’ if called upon.” The exercise was designed to train soldiers from 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, currently on a nine-month rotational deployment, with an aim to identify and eliminate sites containing enemy weapons of mass destruction, the Web site said. The allies also plan to start a two-week computer-simulated command post exercise, called Key Resolve, on March 13. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S. Hold Exercise to Counter N. Korea Weapons of Mass Destruction,” March 3, 2017)


2/18/17:
China said that it was suspending all imports of coal from North Korea as part of its effort to enact United Nations Security Council sanctions aimed at stopping the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile program. The ban takes effect tomorrow and will last until the end of the year, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said in a brief statement posted on its website today. Chinese trade and aid have long been a vital economic crutch for North Korea, and the decision strips North Korea of one of its most important sources of foreign currency. Coal has accounted for 34 percent to 40 percent of North Korean exports in the past several years, and almost all of it was shipped to China, according to South Korean government estimates. The ban comes six days after the North Korean test of a ballistic missile that the Security Council condemned as a violation of its resolutions that prohibited the country from developing and testing ballistic missile technology. In the resolution it adopted in November in response to the North’s fifth and most powerful nuclear test, the Security Council said that North Korea should not be allowed to export more than 7.5 million metric tons of coal a year or bring in more than $400 million in coal sales, whichever limit is met first. It was unclear whether that cap has already been reached for this year. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment on the suspension after it was announced today. Calls to the ministry’s press officer were not answered. Yesterday, the Chinese minister of foreign affairs, Wang Yi, said at a conference in Munich that the United Nations sanctions of North Korea “must continue to be strictly implemented.” But Wang also argued that only renewed negotiations would offer any hope of curtailing North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. China has hosted six-party talks — including itself, South Korea, North Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia — aimed at a negotiated settlement of the North Korean nuclear standoff. But those talks have stopped since 2009, and there seems little hope of them restarting anytime soon. “This situation cannot continue,” Wang said, “because the ultimate outcome may be intolerable to all sides.” Last year, China imported 22.5 million metric tons of coal from North Korea, an increase of 14.5 percent on the amount in 2015, according to Chinese customs statistics. In December, China imported about 2 million tons of North Korean coal. Mysteel, a Chinese industrial analysis firm, estimated that under the limits imposed by the sanctions, the coal quota would be used up by April or May. In 2015, China’s cumulative imports of North Korean coal reached 7.5 million metric tons by May. The coal suspension also followed the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, on February 13 at an airport in Malaysia. (Choe Sang-hun, “China Halts Coal Imports from North Korea,” New York Times, February 19, 2017, p. A-6) For years, the United States and others have pressed China’s leaders to suspend imports of coal from North Korea to push the reclusive state to abandon its nuclear weapons program. For years, the Chinese leadership resisted — until February 18, when it suddenly announced in a terse statement that it would do just that. But if Beijing was sending a message to North Korea, it was also directing one at President Trump, who has complained that China was not putting enough pressure on North Korea. Now President Xi Jinping of China has essentially said: We have done our part in enforcing sanctions. Over to you, Mr. Trump. China would like the Trump administration to deal directly with North Korea. Beijing’s suspension of coal imports from North Korea was a signal that China was being tougher than usual, offering Trump a concession to bring Washington to the table with the North. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stepped up his contacts with Chinese officials in recent days. (Jane Perlez, “China Sends a Subtle Signal to North Korea,” New York Times, February 22, 2017, p. A-15) The volume of North Korea’s coal exports reached nearly three times what the U.N. Security Council has allowed in its latest punitive resolution imposed, an update on the U.N. website showed. The report indicates huge shipments of the energy resource were sent before China announced its ban last week. The data did not specify which country imported North Korean coal over the months, but put the number of reporting member states that bought North Korean coal at one, apparently meaning China. The latest update of the U.N.’s 1718 Sanctions Committee, which oversees the implementation of UNSC sanctions on North Korea, showed North Korea exported a total of just over 2 million tons of coal in December, which is worth US$183.89 million. In terms of value, the monthly export volume is well over the import ceiling of $53.5 million which the UNSC imposed in Resolution 2321 for the period of November 30 to December 31. The annual import ceiling for 2017 was set at 7.5 million tons or $400.87 million in value. The sanctions committee update also showed that the monthly export of North Korean coal for January stood at 1.44 million tons, which accounts for over 19 percent of the annual total. The data also suggests that China stockpiled on North Korean coal before its announcement February 18 to suspend imports through the end of the year. (Yonhap, “U.N. Report: N. Korea’s Coal Exports Far Exceed U.N. Ceiling in Dec.,” February 21, 2017)


2/19/17:
Preparations are underway to bring senior North Korean representatives to the United States for talks with former American officials, the first such meeting in more than five years and a sign that Pyongyang sees a potential opening with the Trump administration. Arranging the talks has become a lot more complicated over the past eight days, with North Korea testing a ballistic missile and the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Malaysia, an act that many suspect was ordered by the leader of North Korea. Malaysian police today named as suspects four North Koreans who left the country on the day of the attack. Analysts also say they are highly doubtful that Pyongyang, which has insisted on being recognized as a nuclear state, would be willing to moderate its position on its weapons program. But if the talks do take place, they could offer a glimmer of hope for an already-hostile relationship that has only deteriorated as the Kim government works aggressively to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the continental United States. The planning for the “Track 1.5” talks — with the U.S. side made up of the former officials who usually take part in Track 2 talks, but the North Korean side comprising government officials — is still in a preparatory stage, according to multiple people with knowledge of the arrangements. The State Department has not yet approved the North Koreans’ visas for the talks, which would take place in New York within the next few weeks. “The North Koreans have expressed an interest in engagement, but nothing’s been approved yet,” said one person familiar with the preparations, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them. Others who have been in touch with North Koreans describe an intense interest in what President Trump might do. “If this happens, it would be an interesting signal to the new administration,” he said of the discussions. The talks would be the clearest indication yet that Kim wants to talk with the Trump administration. “If this happens, I would take it as a very positive sign from both sides,” said another person with knowledge of the arrangements. In recent years, there have been sporadic Track 1.5 talks that have taken place in Kuala Lumpur, Geneva, Berlin and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. But these talks have not taken place in the United States since July 2011, before Kim succeeded his father in North Korea. The planned talks are being organized by Donald S. Zagoria of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, who served as a consultant on Asia during the Carter administration and has organized previous rounds of such talks. Zagoria declined to comment on the preparations. Choe Son Hui, the director of the U.S. affairs department in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, is likely to lead the delegation from Pyongyang. She is well known to American officials, having participated in official meetings including the six-party talks on denuclearization, as well as in other Track 1.5 talks. Choe has a direct line to Kim, according to Thae Yong Ho, the North Korean deputy ambassador to London who defected to South Korea last year. Since Trump was elected, there has been a notable change in North Korea’s usually bombastic rhetoric. Pyongyang had been sharply critical of the Obama administration, saying its policy of “strategic patience” — waiting for North Korea to change its nuclear calculations — was “an aggressive and heinous ‘strategic suffocation’ policy” against North Korea. But in its announcement of its missile launch Feb. 12, the North’s state media did not include its usual bluster about needing a deterrent against the United States and its “hostile policies.” In his own statement after the launch, Trump notably did not condemn Pyongyang. The new president has, in fact, said very little about how he plans to deal with North Korea. “North Korea — we’ll take care of it folks, we’re going to take care of it all,” he said at his news conference last week, without elaborating. His administration is now conducting a review of North Korean policy. This provides space to broaden the options for dealing with Pyongyang and an opportunity to influence the new president, analysts say. While some expect him to take a hard-line approach, encouraged by hawkish advisers, others say that Trump, who prides himself on making deals, could be open to dialogue with the North Korean regime. “U.S. policy is hanging in the balance,” said Adam Cathcart, an expert on North Korea at the University of Leeds in Britain. “I think the North Koreans ought to be pretty happy, because the Americans have laid off criticizing them too much and have, in fact, been making things quite easy for them,” Cathcart said. “But at some point, they are going to have to decide whether to pick up the cudgel.” For those favoring an even tougher approach to North Korea, recent events have provided plenty of ammunition. A week ago, North Korea tested a ballistic missile for the first time since Trump was elected. The missile appeared to show significant technological advances, with upgraded power and range, and could mark another step in the push toward the capacity to hit Alaska or Washington state. Then the next day, Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader, was attacked and apparently poisoned at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He died shortly afterward. Although the investigation is ongoing, the South Korean government has blamed the assassination on Kim Jong Un, who has systematically eliminated potential rivals to his power over the past four years. Malaysian police have arrested one North Korean man in connection with the attack — he is said to have a background in chemistry — and today named four other North Koreans suspected of being involved. The four had been in Malaysia for several weeks, but all left February 13, the day of the attack, said Noor Rashid Ibrahim, Malaysia’s deputy national police chief, on Sunday at a news conference. Complicating the environment even further, the South Korean and U.S. militaries are due to start annual joint exercises next month, an event that always elicits an angry response from Pyongyang, which sees the drills as a pretext for an invasion. In the past year or two, the exercises have become more overtly offensive, with the two militaries practicing “decapitation strikes” on the North Korean leadership. (Anna Fifield, “North Korean Officials Are Preparing to Come to U.S. for Talks with Former U.S. Officials,” Washington Post, February 19, 2017)


2/20/17:
China has warned South Korean conglomerate Lotte over its involvement in a planned US missile shield on the peninsula — the first time Beijing has openly criticised the group after months of pressure via undeclared economic sanctions. “Lotte will hurt the Chinese people and the consequences could be severe. The Chinese people will not support a company complicit in damaging China’s interests,” according to aXinhua commentary. The development underscores China’s two-track approach to the Korean peninsula amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic weapons programs. On one hand, it is increasing pressure on Pyongyang following a declaration that it would stop importing North Korean coal. On the other, it is squeezing Seoul on its plans to deploy the US missile shield that Beijing says is a “threat to regional security and stability.” Related article Beijing turns up the heat on corporate South Korea Hyundai hybrid rollout dented and $2.6bn Lotte theme park project halted over THAAD. North Korea has re-emerged as a potential conflict hotspot after last year testing two nuclear devices and more than 20 ballistic missiles. Earlier this month, Pyongyang launched an advanced mid-range missile off its east coast in what observers saw a test of the new Trump administration. “The proposed deployment of a US missile defense system in the Republic of Korea is a threat to regional security and stability, and Lotte Group is one decision away from becoming an accessory to the act,” said Xinhua. Lotte is in talks with the Seoul government to trade the land needed to host the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense platform. However, South Korea’s fifth-largest conglomerate has dragged its heels on negotiations in recent months as Beijing stepped up retaliatory measures against its operations in China. In December, it emerged the group’s premises across China had come under increased scrutiny and had been subject to an array of health and safety and tax investigations. Earlier this month, the company said it would close three retails stores in Beijing, partly as result of the deteriorating bilateral relationship over THAAD. “Lotte stands to lose Chinese customers and the Chinese market. That would be a very large slice out of their business pie,” said Xinhua. The commentary urged Lotte to defer or reject the Thaad deal. Related article Asian consumer stocks: bunkered by politics Unpredictable politics is making shares hard to value conventionally The ultimatum puts the company in a difficult position — caught between its business interests and the will of the South Korean government. The issue is also a sensitive one for policymakers in Seoul who recognise the importance of relations with their biggest trading partner but are increasingly anxious about North Korean belligerence. “Lotte has the position to resolve this issue from the broad point of view, in other words, for the sake of the national security and national interests,” said the South Korean defense ministry. The warning to Lotte came after China announced it would suspend coal imports from North Korea in a sign of Beijing’s displeasure with the reclusive regime. China is North Korea’s main trading partner, and coal is one of its biggest imports from the country. “This warning against Lotte is only the first step in pressuring the company as well as the government,” said Cai Jian, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. “If Lotte does not budge, the penalties will get worse in terms impact and severity.” (Bryan Harris, “Beijing Threatens Lotte over U.S. Missile Shield,” Financial Times, February 21, 2017, p. 4)


2/21/17:
China and the United States have agreed on the need to address the nuclear threat posed by North Korea after a phone call between Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The call came after Tillerson met China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi for talks at the G20 ministerial meeting in Bonn, Germany, last week. A statement released by the US State Department said Tillerson and Yang affirmed the importance of a constructive relationship between the two nations. The two sides also “agreed on the need to address the threat that North Korea poses to regional stability”, the statement added. China this week suspended all coal imports from North Korea as part of efforts to enforce United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang. Tillerson and Wang also discussed economics and trade, potential cooperation on counterterrorism, law enforcement and international crime, the statement said. Yang was quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency as saying that the two countries have reached consensus over safeguarding the “political foundation” of their relationship after a phone call between President Xi Jinping and President Trump earlier this month. Yang was quoted as saying during his conversation with Tillerson that he hoped both countries would work according to “the essence of the two leaders’ conversation” and would strengthen high-level exchanges and interactions at all levels between China and the US. There was no reference to South China Sea in both statements from the two countries. (South China Post, “China, U.S. Vow to Address North Korea Nuclear Threat,” February 22, 2017)

For years, the United States and others have pressed China’s leaders to suspend imports of coal from North Korea to push the reclusive state to abandon its nuclear weapons program. For years, the Chinese leadership resisted — until February 18, when it suddenly announced in a terse statement that it would do just that. But if Beijing was sending a message to North Korea, it was also directing one at President Trump, who has complained that China was not putting enough pressure on North Korea. Now President Xi Jinping of China has essentially said: We have done our part in enforcing sanctions. Over to you, Mr. Trump. The challenge comes at a tantalizing moment. For weeks now, plans have been afoot for a North Korean government delegation to meet in New York in early March with a group of former United States officials who have long been involved in North Korea policy. Will the Trump administration issue visas to the North Koreans, a move that would suggest the new president is interested at least in hearing from Pyongyang through informal channels? There have been indications that Trump was willing to take a quite different tack from President Barack Obama. During his campaign, Trump said he was interested in sharing a hamburger with the 33-year-old leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. He seemed to suggest he had a smidgen of respect for, or at least curiosity about, the maverick leader, the most recent incarnation of a longstanding dynasty. Trump’s response to the recent North Korean missile test was restrained, perhaps the result of Obama’s warning after the November election that North Korea would be the incoming president’s most dangerous foreign policy challenge. “If the visas are issued, it will be a clear message that the Trump administration is prepared to go the extra mile and engage North Korea,” said Evans J. R. Revere, a former principal deputy assistant secretary of state. There should be little expectation, he warned, of any policy shift by the North, which has shown every indication of wanting to continue building its nuclear program. The planned meeting, sponsored by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, headed by Donald S. Zagoria, falls far short of talks between the two governments and has been designed as an initial sounding board. “I have been organizing such meetings with the North Koreans since 2003, and our goal is to increase mutual understanding as well as to encourage the kind of frank dialogue that may not be possible in official talks,” Zagoria said. The gathering would be the first of its type in New York in five years because the Obama administration opposed holding even informal talks on American soil given North Korea’s expansion of its nuclear weapons program. That North Korea is holding two Americans hostage was another impediment. Meetings with North Korean officials arranged by Zagoria and other groups were held in world capitals during the Obama era, including Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Berlin last year. The decision whether to allow the meeting to proceed in New York is now freighted with more than the usual complications. Over the last 10 days, North Korea has shown its full colors. First, the regime flaunted its expanding nuclear capabilities with the test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile that uses a solid-fuel technology that will make it easier for the country to hide its arsenal. Then, last week, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader, was assassinated in Malaysia in a crowded passenger terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The South Korean government has publicly accused North Korea of the killing, and six North Koreans have been linked to the plot. Without these two incidents, the Trump administration could have won praise for breaking the logjam with North Korea by allowing the New York meeting to go ahead, said a former participant in such meetings who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic. But the assassination of Kim Jong-nam would allow opponents of North Korean engagement to charge that granting visas only rewarded bad behavior, the person said. Soon after the killing, Republican and Democratic members of Congress called for the United States to return North Korea to its blacklist of states that sponsor terrorism, from which it was removed nine years ago. The Trump administration faces another, perhaps more profound, decision on how to handle North Korea. Annual joint military exercises, set for March between South Korea and the United States, are expected to involve an American aircraft carrier, advanced stealth fighters, B-52 and B-1B bombers and a nuclear submarine, according to South Korean news reports. This annual show of force, not far from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and off the Korean coast, has traditionally been viewed by North Korea as an American preparation for an attack against its forces. With the heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and Chinese-North Korean relations at a low point, the risk of a strong response by the North to the exercises — through the launch of missiles or a nuclear test — is higher than usual, said Peter Hayes, the executive director of the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability in Berkeley, Calif. Last year, for example, the North conducted its fifth nuclear test during joint American-South Korean military exercises. “We are likely entering a new and extremely dangerous phase of the Korean conflict,” Hayes said. He suggested ramping down the exercises to “avoid inadvertent clashes and escalation to nuclear war, and to probe North Korean intentions.” China would like the Trump administration to deal directly with North Korea. Beijing’s suspension of coal imports from North Korea was a signal that China was being tougher than usual, offering Trump a concession to bring Washington to the table with the North. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stepped up his contacts with Chinese officials in recent days. On February 21 he spoke by telephone with Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, and among the topics they discussed was how to handle North Korea. But how much impact a suspension of coal imports would have on the rudimentary and seemingly resilient North Korean economy was far from clear. The Foreign Ministry insisted that day that the suspension of coal imports was a bureaucratic procedure. In the first six weeks of 2017 China had already imported almost all its annual quota of coal allowed under the United Nations sanctions, the ministry said. Zhang Liangui, an expert on North Korea at the Central Party School of the Communist Party, said he was not optimistic that any talks with North Korea, formal or informal, would result in a diminishing of the North’s nuclear capabilities. “North Korea has said more than 50 times that it will not participate in any talks that have denuclearization on the agenda,” he said. “I don’t think President Trump could pull this off and talk the Koreans out of it.” (Jane Perlez, “China Sends a Subtle Signal to North Korea,” New York Times, February 22, 2017, p. A-15)


2/?/17:
Woodward recounts repeated episodes of anxiety inside the government over Trump’s handling of the North Korean nuclear threat. One month into his presidency, Trump asked Dunford for a plan for a preemptive military strike on North Korea, which rattled the combat veteran. In the fall of 2017, as Trump intensified a war of words with Kim Jong Un, nicknaming North Korea’s dictator “Little Rocket Man” in a speech at the United Nations, aides worried the president might be provoking Kim. But, Woodward writes, Trump told Porter that he saw the situation as a contest of wills: “This is all about leader versus leader. Man versus man. Me versus Kim.” (Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “On the Edge in Trump’s West Wing,” Washington Post, September 5, 2018, p.A-1) Former U.S. President Barack Obama mulled a preemptive attack on North Korea after its fifth nuclear test in 2016, according to a book released September 11, 2018. Obama was deeply disturbed to learn that North Korea had conducted its biggest-yet nuclear detonation on September 9, 2016, with the North claiming the new nuclear bomb could be mounted on a ballistic missile, journalist Bob Woodward wrote in “Fear: Trump in the White House.” “Even with his intense desire to avoid a war, Obama decided the time had come to consider whether the North Korean nuclear threat could be eliminated in a surgical military strike,” the book claims. “The North Korean threat had not been diminished, and in September 2016 Obama posed a sensitive question to his National Security Council: Was it possible to launch a preemptive military strike, supported by cyberattacks, on North Korea to take out their nuclear and missile programs?” it continues.

Obama eventually scrapped any plans for a preemptive strike, according to “Fear.” Not only was there no certainty that it would wipe out North Korea’s nuclear program, it could trigger a North Korean response. “The Pentagon reported that the only way ‘to locate and destroy — with complete certainty — all components of North Korea’s nuclear program’ was through a ground invasion,” Woodward writes. “A ground invasion would trigger a North Korean response, likely with a nuclear weapon.” Obama considered that “unthinkable.” “In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 2009 he said, ‘War promises human tragedy,’ and ‘War at some level is an expression of human folly,'” the book says. “Frustrated and exasperated, he rejected a preemptive strike. It was folly.” After Trump took office, tensions escalated further as the new president engaged in a fiery war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump not only threatened to “totally destroy” the regime but mocked its leader by calling him “Little Rocket Man.” Many of these messages were sent via Twitter, but there was one tweet Trump pulled back from, according to Woodward. “Within the White House but not publicly, Trump proposed sending a tweet declaring that he was ordering all U.S. military dependents — thousands of the family members of 28,500 troops — out of South Korea,” he wrote. “The act of removing the dependents would almost certainly be read in North Korea as a signal that the United States was seriously preparing for war.” In fact, in December 2017, Trump’s then national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, had received a warning attributed to Ri Su-yong, vice chairman of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling party, “that the North would take the evacuation of U.S. civilians as a sign of imminent attack.” Trump consulted with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Armed Services Committee with hawkish views on the North. “You need to think long and hard before you make that decision,” Graham was quoted as telling Trump. “Because when you make that decision, it is hard to go back. The day you do that is the day you rock the South Korean stock market and the Japanese economy. That is a big frigging deal.” Trump asked, “You think I should wait?” Graham replied, “Mr. President, I don’t think you should ever start this process unless you’re ready to go to war.” (Yonhap, “Obama Mulled Preemptive Attack on North Korea: Book,” Korea Herald, September 12, 2018)


2/23/17:
President Donald Trump said he is “very angry” at North Korea’s ballistic missile test earlier this month, and that boosting a missile defense system for Japan and South Korea is among the options to counter provocative acts by Pyongyang. In an interview with Reuters, Trump said he wants to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the “top of the pack,” reversing his predecessor Barack Obama’s goal of achieving a world without nuclear weapons. Trump said China could solve North Korea’s nuclear issue “very easily if they want to,” urging Beijing to exert more influence on Pyongyang to get it to rein in its missile and nuclear weapons programs, which violate U.N. Security Council resolutions. “There’s talks of a lot more than that,” Trump said, when asked about the missile defense system. “We’ll see what happens. But it’s a very dangerous situation, and China can end it very quickly in my opinion,” he said. China said over the weekend that it will suspend coal imports from Pyongyang until the end of the year as part of tightened sanctions against the country in accordance with a UNSC resolution. But China, the main economic and diplomatic benefactor of North Korea, has been reluctant to put too much pressure on the country, fearing it could destabilize Kim’s regime. Scholars say China has a strategic interest in ensuring the stability of North Korea because it serves as a buffer zone between it and South Korea, a U.S. ally. Trump did not completely rule out the possibility of meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the future under certain circumstances, but suggested it might be too late. “It’s very late. We’re very angry at what he’s done, and frankly this should have been taken care of during the Obama administration,” Trump said. Alluding to Obama’s call to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and eventually rid the world of them, as he pledged in his landmark speech in 2009 in Prague, Trump said the United States has “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity.” “It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” he said. “We’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country.” (Reuters, Kyodo, “Trump Backs Missile Shield against North Korea, Pushes Upgrade to Nuclear Arsenal,” Japan Times, February 24, 2017) ON CHINA HALTING COAL IMPORTS FROM NORTH KOREA “Well, we appreciate that. You know, I have a very, very good, I’ve had very good phone calls with the president, President Xi, and I’ve had very, very good talks with him, and the call is a start. But we have a very big problem and a very dangerous problem for the world with North Korea. … I think China has tremendous control over North Korea. Whether they say so or not is up to them, but they have tremendous control over North Korea. I think they could solve the problem very easily if they want to.” ON NORTH KOREA’S MISSILE PROGRAM “It’s very dangerous and something should have been done about it years ago. It’s very dangerous and very unacceptable. … And very unfair to Japan.” ON TALK OF ACCELERATING MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM FOR JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA “There’s talks of a lot more than that. We’ll see what happens. But it’s a very dangerous situation, and China can end it very quickly in my opinion. … It’s one of many things that can be done. Missile defense is one of many things that can be done.” ON WHETHER MEETING WITH KOREAN LEADER KIM JONG UN IS A POSSIBILITY “I guess … I would never say no. It may be very late. It’s very late in the picture right now. … We’re very angry at what he’s done, and frankly this should have been taken care of during the Obama administration.” (Reuters, “Highlights of Reuters Interview with Trump,” February 24, 2017) President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’s “not liking” the military dynamic in eastern Asia, citing the militarization of the South China Sea and the ongoing development of North Korea’s ballistic missile program as causes for global concern. “I know exactly what’s going on between China and North Korea and everybody else,” he told Reuters. “I’m not liking it.” The president, who frequently pledged to stand up to China during his presidential campaign, blamed his predecessor for the dynamic. “This didn’t take place under the Trump administration. This took place under the Obama administration,” Trump said. “Many things took place that should not have been allowed.” The president added: “You were in a much better negotiating position three years ago. I am not happy about it.” (Christiano Lima, “Trump ‘Not Liking’ Chinese and North Korean Military Moves,” Politico, February 24, 2017)

KCNA: “A touch-and-go situation is prevailing again in the hot spot waters of the West Sea of Korea. On February 22 the south Korean belligerent forces let civilian boats repeatedly infiltrate into the waters of the DPRK under the pretext of building “man-made reefs” aimed at checking illegal fishing operations of boats from a third country and protecting aquatic resources in the waters off the five islands in the West Sea. Such intrusion repeated 5 times and its depth reached 1.1 km that day alone. What merits a serious attention is that such intrusion is being perpetrated under the open patronage and zealous wire-pulling of the U.S. imperialists. U.S. imperialist aggressors appeared with a loudspeaker near the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom at dawn of Wednesday and staged a weird farce of “informing” the side of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) of an operation to build “man-made reefs” in the waters off Yeonphyong Island. Then they hurled a pack of hooligans into waters of the north side. They sent even ghost-like “UN Forces”-flagged warships to the waters under the pretext of “monitoring the operation and ensuring security.” Buoyed by their master’s encouragement, gangsters of the puppet military are blustering despite the warning served by the KPA that “it is an absurd accusation against their routine activities” and “it will be forced to pay dearly for threatening,” deliberately escalating the tension. The situation goes to prove that the intrusions are premeditated military provocations of the puppet forces to tide over the prevailing unprecedented crisis in south Korea by creating “security uneasiness and crisis.” The KPA has already warned that it would take a resolute counteraction against the aggressors engrossed in reckless military provocations in the waters of the West Sea where the DPRK’s sovereignty is exercised. If the U.S. and the south Korean puppet bellicose forces persist in foolhardy military provocations despite the repeated warnings served by the DPRK, they will be held wholly accountable for all catastrophic consequences to be entailed by them.” (KCNA, “S. Korean Military Warned of Strong Counteractions against Reckless Provocations in West Sea,” February 23, 2017)


2/24/17:
The poison used to kill Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was VX nerve agent, which is listed as a chemical weapon, the Malaysian police announced. In a brief statement, Khalid Abu Bakar, the national police chief, said the substance was listed as a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Conventions of 1997 and 2005, to which North Korea is not a party. . (Richard C. Paddock and Choe Sang-hun, “Nerve Agent Killed North Korean Leader’s Half Brother, Police Say,” New York Times, February 24, 2017, p. A-10)

Plans for back-channel talks in New York between North Korean government representatives and former U.S. officials were scuttled after the State Department withdrew the visa approvals for Pyongyang’s top envoy on U.S. relations, according to people familiar with the matter. The talks, which were scheduled to take place on March 1 and 2 at a hotel outside the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, where North Korea has a mission, were contingent on the granting of a visa for Choe Son Hui, the director-general of the American affairs bureau in the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Jonathan Cheng, “Planned Back-Channel Talks between U.S., North Korea Scuttled,” Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2017) After approving plans on Friday for informal talks in New York between a North Korean delegation and former American officials, the Trump administration reversed course hours later, withdrawing approval for the North Koreans’ visas, two people who were to take part in the planned talks said. The schedule called for the two sides to meet in early March, and arrangements were underway for the six-member North Korean group, led by Choe Son-hui, who runs the American affairs bureau of the North’s Foreign Ministry, to travel to New York. The organizer of the talks, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, led by Donald S. Zagoria, was told by the State Department the morning of February 24 that the visas would be granted. But the decision was reversed in the afternoon when “someone overruled State,” said one person who planned to participate in the talks. Both of the people on the participants’ list spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. The reversal came as the Malaysian government announced that VX nerve agent, a chemical on a United Nations list of weapons of mass destruction, was used to kill the estranged half-brother of the leader of North Korea at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13. South Korea has accused North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, of ordering the killing of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam. Just days before Mr. Kim’s death, North Korea launched a new type of nuclear-capable missile, apparently timed to coincide with the visit of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of Japan to the United States. At first, the North Korea developments did not appear to deter the State Department’s plan to move ahead with the talks. The use of the VX nerve agent was already known when Zagoria got the green light about the visas on Friday morning. The missile test was on February 11. The State Department also knew about tough comments Trump made about the North Korean leader during an interview with Reuters on February 23. “It’s very late,” Trump said when asked whether he would meet with Kim. “We’re very angry at what he’s done, and frankly this should have been taken care of during the Obama administration.” The decision to reverse the initial approval for the visas came hours later the next afternoon, one of the people who planned to take part in the talks said. But it was clear, that person said, that a senior official in the State Department, the White House or elsewhere in the government had second thoughts about issuing visas to representatives of North Korea in light of recent events. “I suspect it was a combination of the VX attack and the president’s personal pique that caused the reversal,” the person said. “Someone obviously looked at the fact that the United States was going to issue visas to representatives of a country that had just violated international law, carried out a murder and intentionally violated the sovereignty of another country, and decided, ‘Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.’” While the talks were unofficial, they were seen as a test of the willingness of the Trump administration to begin serious negotiations at a later date, or to send a special American envoy to North Korea. Several prominent nuclear weapons experts have urged Trump to send an envoy, arguing that President Barack Obama’s refusal to engage with the North allowed it to make significant advances in its nuclear weapons program. “Every six to seven weeks North Korea may be able to add another nuclear weapon to its arsenal,” Siegfried S. Hecker, emeritus director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said in a recent Op-Ed article. The leader of the North Korean delegation, Choe, planned to travel to New York in her “nongovernmental” role as president of North Korea’s Institute for American Studies. The American participants were mostly former officials who had dealt with North Korea over many years. Some of them have participated in similar gatherings with North Koreans organized outside the United States. But more weight was given to the New York gathering because it was taking place at the start of the new administration. During his election campaign, Trump said he was open to meeting with the North Korean leader over a hamburger. The Americans in the group represented a wide range of views on North Korea. Winston Lord, a former ambassador to China who was on the list of participants, recently wrote in a dissent to a report for the Asia Society that the United States should immediately step up sanctions on North Korea. Others in the American delegation were Robert L. Gallucci, a negotiator on North Korea during the Clinton presidency; Victor Cha, a senior adviser on North Korea to George W. Bush; and Evans J. R. Revere, a former principal deputy assistant secretary of state specializing in North Korea. Gallucci and Cha wrote a report for the George W. Bush Institute last year that emphasized the human rights abuses in North Korea. As well as holding discussions about the North’s rapidly expanding nuclear program, the American delegation was planning to talk with the North Koreans about two Americans now detained in North Korea. (Jane Perlez, U.S. Cancels Talks with North Korea, New York Times, February 26, 2017, p. A-8) Talks between North Korean diplomats and former American officials, scheduled to be held in New York next week, have been canceled following allegations that the Pyongyang regime planned the attack that used a chemical weapon to kill leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother. The plans for the “Track 1.5” talks were already hanging in the balance after North Korea launched a ballistic missile earlier this month and then found itself accused of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the leader’s estranged half-brother, in a busy Kuala Lumpur airport terminal on February 13. But Malaysia’s announcement Friday that his death was caused by VX, a lethal nerve agent banned under the international Chemical Weapons Convention, proved the final straw. The State Department decided not to issue the visas to the North Korean diplomats due to travel from Pyongyang to New York for the talks, according to three people with knowledge of the decision. A State Department spokesperson declined to comment. “We do not discuss the details of individual visa cases,” she said. (Anna Fifield, “North Korea-U.S. Talks Called off after Death of Kim Jong Un’s Half-Brother,” Washington Post, February 25, 2017) 2/24/17:
The United States denied visas for North Korean diplomats set to travel to New York for unofficial talks because the half-brother of North Korea’s leader was “assassinated presumably by or at the behest of North Korean authorities,” Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said March 7. The remark is believed to mark the first time that a senior American official has publicly blamed the North for the February 13 killing in Malaysia of Kim Jong-nam. Russel said the killing led to the decision to deny visas for North Korean diplomats, including Choe Son-hui, director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs bureau, who had planned to travel to New York for talks with former U.S. officials. “Kim Jong-nam was assassinated presumably by or at the behest of North Korean authorities by means of a chemical weapon that is banned by international convention, and under that circumstance, I think all of us got that the notion of some North Korean diplomats prancing into the United States was unseemly and untimely,” Russel said in his farewell briefing to reporters from Asian media. Russel said the planned unofficial talks with the North Koreans were “sideswiped” by the killing. “A North Korea that will commit murder by a WMD, that will threaten the use of nuclear weapons against the United States and its neighbors, and that will launch ballistic missiles repeatedly in the direction of Japan in contravention of its legal obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions, is not going to look like a country that is serious about negotiations,” Russel said. Still, he said the decision to deny visas doesn’t mean the U.S. isn’t interested in talks. (Chang Jae-soon, “U.S. Official: Kim Jong Nam Assassinated ‘Presumably by or at the Behest of North Korea,’”Yonhap, March 8, 2017)


2/25/17:
Rodong Sinmun: “Extremely provocative remarks are heard in the U.S. Brass hats of the U.S. military said that the largest-ever Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military drills would be kicked off in south Korea before long and they were examining the proposal to massively mobilize nuclear strategic assets including nuclear-powered carrier Carl Vinson, nuclear strategic bombers B-52 and B-1B and stealth fighter F-22. This goes to clearly prove that the U.S. policy toward the DPRK to bring down the latter by force of arms remains unchanged and the U.S. wants a war, not peace. The U.S. is groundlessly pulling up the DPRK over its measures for self-defense while talking about “provocations and “threat”. This is nothing but a cynical ploy to cover up its true colors as wrecker of peace and shift the blame on to the DPRK. It is the consistent stand of the DPRK to oppose the confrontation of force and preserve peace on the Korean peninsula through dialogue and negotiations. However, the DPRK cannot take only a fence-sitting attitude towards the U.S. working with bloodshot eyes to swallow up the former. Unless the U.S. makes a switchover in its policy toward the DPRK and stop the saber-rattling to invade the DPRK, the DPRK will steadily bolster up its capability for self-defense with the nuclear force as a pivot. The U.S. would be well advised to face up to the reality and stop going reckless and take a proper strategic option with deep thought. This would do the U.S. good, too. (Rodong Sinmun, “U.S. Should Take Proper Strategic Option,” February 25, 2017)

South Korea has decided to raise its voice against North Korea’s possession of biochemical weapons in international meetings following the Malaysian police’s announcement that a VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, foreign ministry officials said. “The government will bring up the issue of North Korea’s biochemical weapons programs when top nuclear envoys from South Korea, the United States and Japan meet in Washington on Monday [February27], as well as during various multilateral talks based in Geneva and other locations,” one of the officials said. “The government plans to take a tough stance on the killing of Kim Jong-nam,” the other government official said. The third official said, “Things went out of control as the use of a chemical weapon was unveiled… The government is currently on the stage of trying to find the truth behind the case on the one hand and considering many different countermeasures on the other.” (Yonhap, “S. Korea to Raise Issue with N. Korea’s Biochemical Weapons Threat on Global Stage: Official,” February 25, 2017)


2/27/17:
The United States informed Japan and South Korea that it has started a review of whether to put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, Yonhap said. Quoting a senior South Korean official, Yonhap said the February 13 killing of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Malaysia. “I believe the U.S. [government] will take into account reactions from Congress,” the official was quoted as saying, referring to growing calls among U.S. lawmakers for relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Washington removed Pyongyang from the list in 2008. Yonhap said the United States told Japan and South Korea of its intention in a trilateral meeting in Washington of senior diplomats handling North Korean issues. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kanasugi Kenji, head of Asian and Oceanian affairs at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, declined to say whether the three officials discussed such a review in the United States. He only said, “The United States had increasingly severer views on North Korea.” According to a joint statement issued after the talks, the officials explored new measures to further restrict North Korea’s funding for its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. In addition to existing sanctions under U.N. Security Council resolutions, the three allies “considered other possible measures under national authorities,” with a focus on Pyongyang’s illicit revenue streams, the statement said. The meeting between Kanasugi, Joseph Yun, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, and Kim Hong-kyun, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, was the first of its kind since Donald Trump was sworn in as the new U.S. president. Referring to the latest ballistic missile test-launch by North Korea, the statement said the country’s “flagrant disregard” for multiple Security Council resolutions prohibiting its ballistic missile and nuclear programs requires “strong international pressure on the regime.” Kanasugi said the three officials affirmed the need to ensure all countries strictly implement UNSC sanctions resolutions on North Korea. “It is important that China, which accounts for a nearly 90 percent share of North Korea’s trade, strictly implement Security Council resolutions,” he said. “We discussed China’s role following its recent announcement of a suspension of coal imports from North Korea.” Kanasugi also said the three officials exchanged information on the poison attack on Kim Jong Nam. “We discussed how the killing of Kim Jong Nam would affect the situation in North Korea going forward, and what kind of impact it may have on North Korea’s relations with China,” he said, without providing further details. Kim Jong Nam is said to have maintained close ties with China. Malaysian police have determined that the highly toxic VX nerve agent was used in the incident at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. VX is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations and is banned under multiple international agreements. Kanasugi said his U.S. and South Korean counterparts reiterated support for an early resolution of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. (Kyodo, “U.S. Tells South Korea, Japan It May Return North Korea to List of State Sponsors of Terrorism,” February 28, 2017)

North Korean weapons barred by U.N. sanctions ended up in the hands of U.N. peacekeepers in Africa, a confidential annual report by a U.N. panel of experts on North Korea says. That incident and others in more than a half-dozen African nations show how North Korea, despite facing its toughest sanctions in decades, continues to avoid them on the world’s most impoverished continent with few repercussions. The report, obtained by the Associated Press, illustrates how Pyongyang evades sanctions imposed for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs to cooperate “on a large scale,” including military training and construction, in countries from Angola to Uganda. Among the findings was the “largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions” against North Korea, with 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades found hidden under iron ore that was destined for Egypt in a cargo vessel heading toward the Suez Canal. The intended destination of the North Korean-made grenades, seized in August, was not clear. A month before that, the report says, a U.N. member state seized an air shipment destined for a company in Eritrea containing military radio communications items. It was the second time military-related items had been caught being exported from North Korea to Eritrea “and confirms ongoing arms-related cooperation between the two countries.” Eritrea is also under U.N. sanctions for supporting armed groups in the Horn of Africa. Discovering such evasions is challenging because Africa has the world’s lowest rate of reporting on monitoring U.N. sanctions on North Korea. Just 11 of its 54 countries turned in reports to the panel of experts last year, the U.N. report says. “African enforcement tends to be lax,” Marcus Noland, an expert on North Korea at the Petersen Institute for International Economics, wrote last month, adding that “North Korea may deliberately target African countries as a circumvention strategy.” He said North Korea’s long military involvement in Africa, and its growing interest in trade there to reduce its deep dependence on China, “bring the continent’s relationship with North Korea into increasing conflict with tightening U.N. sanctions.” North Korea continues to train and equip some African militaries, the new U.N. report says. In the most striking example, Congo’s government received automatic pistols and other small arms from North Korea that were issued to the Central African nation’s presidential guard and special units of the national police. Some of those national police units were deployed in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in neighboring Central African Republic, the report says. Neither the U.N. peacekeeping office nor Congo’s government responded to requests for comment on how the North Korean weapons, part of a series of shipments to Congo that included assault rifles and anti-tank mines, made their way into the peacekeeping mission. In neighboring Angola, officials in September confirmed to the visiting U.N. panel of experts that North Koreans continued to train members of the presidential guard in martial arts, respite a warning that it was a violation of sanctions. And in Uganda, seen as a regional security ally for the United States, North Korea’s military has been training Ugandan air force pilots and technicians under a contract set to expire in March 2018. Uganda has been warned that violates sanctions, the U.N. report says. A spokesman for Uganda’s military, Brig. Richard Karemire, neither denied nor confirmed that the North Korean training continues and would not comment. Last year, under the international pressure to enforce sanctions on Pyongyang, Uganda said it was not renewing separate contracts for North Korean training of its police. But a number of African leaders, such as longtime Ugandan President Museveni, have continued to praise Pyongyang in the fight against what they describe as Western imperialism. The North Koreans, Museveni has declared, are “friends who have helped Uganda for a long time.” (Edith M. Lederer and Rodney Muhumuza, “U.N. Report Shows North Korea Using Africa to Slip Sanctions,” Associated Press, March 6, 2017)

Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1874 (2009): “Korea Kumsan Trading Corporation 18. The Panel’s investigation reveals that Korea Kumsan Trading Corporation (Kumsan) shares a phone and fax number and an e-mail address with the designated General Bureau of Atomic Energy and the Ministry of Atomic Energy Industry. The Panel previously determined that the Ministry and the Bureau are the same entity. The Panel further notes that Kumsan’s address is identical to that of the sanctioned entities. … General Precious Metal 24. The Panel investigated the 2016 attempted online sale of lithium metal by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The enriched lithium-6 isotope, and products or devices containing it, are on the list of prohibited nuclear-related items adopted by the Security Council. According to IAEA, lithium-6 is used to produce tritium, an isotope found in boosted nuclear devices. This sales attempt suggests that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has access to remaining quantities of the material. Li-6 is advertised for sale by a company of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, General Precious Metal, which the European Union has identified as an alias of Green Pine Associated Corporation (Green Pine). Mr. Chol Yun was listed as the contact person of General Precious Metal for sale of the mineral and has an address and phone numbers in Beijing). The same name appeared as third secretary of the embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Beijing on an official diplomatic list dated 24 September 2012. The Panel notes a pattern whereby the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has accredited Green Pine overseas representatives as diplomats.”

David Albright, et al.: “For several years, North Korea has been concentrating on expanding and refurbishing its nuclear complex with the oft-stated goal of expanding the quantity and quality of its nuclear weapons. One aspect of that expansion has been its development of the capability to make thermonuclear materials. These materials when used in a fission-based nuclear weapon allow for much greater explosive yields and further miniaturization of nuclear weapons. A fundamental thermonuclear material for nuclear weapons is lithium 6, a soft, silver-white metal. When used as a target element in a reactor or a nuclear weapon, lithium 6 reacts with a neutron to produce tritium (T), the most important thermonuclear material for weapons. When tritium fuses with deuterium (D) it releases relatively large amounts of energy and neutrons, becoming a key reaction driving a thermonuclear explosion and leading to more efficient fissioning of the plutonium or weapon-grade uranium in a weapon. Based primarily on procurement data, North Korea appears to have built a lithium 6 production plant near the city of Hamhung on the east coast of North Korea. The existence of this plant adds credibility to North Korea’s claims that it has been working on thermonuclear weapons for several years. Armed with this plant, North Korea is in a far better position to deliver on its ability to improve the quality of its nuclear weapons by making crude types of thermonuclear or boosted fission weapons. One recent data point that supports that North Korea may have finished its lithium 6 production plant is the 2016 attempted online sale of lithium metal by North Korea. This attempted sale was discovered by Project Alpha at Kings College and, subsequently, investigated by the United Nations Panel on North Korea. It concluded: “This sales attempt suggests that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has access to remaining quantities of the material.” Lithium 6 is used in two main ways in thermonuclear weapons. It is irradiated in a reactor to make tritium, which is then separated and used directly in a nuclear weapon. In the case of North Korea, tritium is believed to be produced in either the 5 megawatt-electric (MWe) reactor or the IRT reactor at the Yongbyon site. Separation of the tritium from the lithium could occur at the Isotope Production Laboratory near the IRT reactor or in a new, larger facility being built in the Yongbyon fuel fabrication complex. Lithium 6 can also be combined with deuterium and sometimes also tritium into weapon components for thermonuclear weapons. When fashioned into components of nuclear weapons, the lithium 6 creates a method using neutrons from the nuclear explosion to greatly magnify the number of D-T reactions. In essence, using an abundant background of neutrons, lithium 6 produces a copious supply of tritium that then fuses with deuterium, adding greatly to the explosive yield through its own reaction and more efficient fissioning of the plutonium or weapon-grade uranium in the weapon. Lithium in combination with deuterium and/or tritium can be used in either one or two stage nuclear weapons; a two stage weapon is the traditional H bomb, and a single stage weapon can have multiple designs, which have been called an onion or a layer cake design. North Korea is likely unable to produce two-stage thermonuclear weapons, but it may be developing single stage weapons. This design is easier to achieve than a two-stage weapon but can achieve very high explosive yields. In the case of North Korea, a single-stage thermonuclear device could use a plutonium core with lithium 6-deuterium and/or lithium 6-deuterium-tritium solid components. The device would also be expected to have shells of weapon-grade uranium. A British one-stage thermonuclear device tested in mid-1950s with a plutonium core had 100 kg of weapon-grade uranium in multiple shells and achieved an explosive yield of several hundred kilotons. Lithium 6, deuterium, and tritium have been combined into a solid tablet which is placed at the center of a fission weapon and used to amplify or boost the explosive yield of the weapon. South Africa researched this design in the 1980s during its nuclear weapons program. It involved a fission weapon with a lithium, deuterium, tritium solid tablet placed at its center. With this method, the yield can be boosted many-fold. South Africa investigated boosting the yield of its weapons in this manner from about 10-15 kilotons to about 60-100 kilotons. Lithium 6 is a stable isotope that exists in nature. However, it has a relatively low natural abundance of 7.56 percent in natural lithium, for the bulk of lithium is lithium 7. For use in nuclear weapons or tritium production, the lithium 6 fraction must be typically increased to 40-95 percent of the lithium via a chemical enrichment process. If the lithium 6 is for tritium production in a reactor, the fraction of the lithium 6 in the targets placed in the reactor is limited to about 40 percent to prevent failure of the targets. For use in nuclear weapons, a 95 percent fraction of lithium 6 is desirable. Based on a 2012 procurement order, according to government sources, North Korea is assessed to have procured the wherewithal to build a lithium 6 enrichment plant based on mercury-based lithium exchange, shortened here to mercury exchange. This method of enrichment has been used by nuclear weapon states, including the United States. Almost all lithium 6 produced by the United States was enriched by the mercury-based column exchange process (COLEX) from 1954 to 1963. South Africa also built a pilot plant using this method to make lithium 6 for its nuclear weapons program in the 1970s. The mercury exchange process involves an amalgam of lithium and mercury which is made via electrolysis. Subsequently, the mercury lithium amalgam is mixed with an aqueous lithium hydroxide (LiOH) solution. Lithium 6 has a slightly higher affinity to mercury than lithium 7, so lithium 7 diffuses out of the amalgam more quickly than lithium 6, leaving the amalgam with increased, or enriched, concentration of lithium 6. The lithium 6 can be separated from the amalgam. The tailings fraction of Lithium 7 is electrolyzed from the aqueous solution of lithium hydroxide. Afterwards, the lithium hydroxide can be reused. What was procured? Most of the procurements were for industrial-scale equipment. Included in the order was metric tonne quantities of mercury and tens of kilograms of lithium hydroxide. Given the procurement of these two materials and the replacement of mercury with less harmful metals in many industrial processes, the purchase of mercury in combination with lithium hydroxide is a strong indicator that North Korea is using the chemicals in a mercury-dependent lithium 6 production process. The procurement evidence is reportedly contained in a 2012 North Korean contract to arrange the purchase of a wide range of industrial and lab-scale equipment and materials abroad in China. The purpose of the contract is not included but the list of goods, including the mercury and lithium hydroxide, implies they are for a lithium 6 enrichment plant using the mercury exchange method. The most likely site for the lithium 6 plant is the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex near the city of Hamhung in North Korea. The procurement contract had handwritten notes stating that the goods were needed urgently and the procurements involved the Hungnam complex. The Hungnam complex makes sense for a lithium 6 production plant. This site is involved in ammonia processing and fertilizer production, and has electrolysis facilities. We were unable to locate a lithium 6 production site at the Hungnam complex using commercial satellite imagery. Such a facility is not very distinctive in such a large complex (see figures 1 and 2). Moreover, equipment, which includes tanks and columns, would be brought into the building after the roof is installed. Nonetheless, by using historical Google Earth imagery, we could identify new construction in the period of 2009, 2012-2014, and 2016. …. However, it should be noted that the equipment may have been put into a refurbished building. We are unable to estimate lithium 6 output. But one would expect that North Korea would build a plant able to produce at least tens of kilograms of lithium 6 per year. This rate would allow both the use of lithium 6 in nuclear weapons and the production of many grams of tritium per year. North Korea’s choice of the mercury exchange method is further supported by examining its scientific and engineering literature. North Korea has devoted considerable effort to the research and development of lithium 6. Analysis of open source literature reveals that North Korea has conducted theoretical and experimental research on this and other lithium 6 production processes since the 1990s. The mercury-dependent process is based on immersing a lithium-mercury-amalgam in lithium-containing solution, such as aqueous lithium hydroxide. Both cost and efficiency of the separation process depend on several factors, and many of them have been studied by North Korea. Among them are kinetic studies, which determine the speed of the process and differences in experimental results and theoretical predictions. Except for the mercury and lithium components, the process includes many variables that North Korea can take advantage of to improve, re-scale, or disguise the enrichment. First, there are variables in the synthesis of the lithium-mercury amalgam, then there are variables during the isotope separation. One study shows that North Korea has used electrolysis of aqueous lithium hydroxide for the preparation of lithium-mercury amalgam at least on the laboratory scale. The following are a few variables from North Korea’s isotope separation studies: amalgam composition, solvents, column length and design, and stirring systems. Two of these studies show the common use of aqueous lithium hydroxide in the process. All this research comes on top of more general fluid mechanics studies. Studies on how these factors change when the individual process is repeated in an enrichment cascade have also been published. A 2004 journal article focused on the reasons why “concentrations of isotopes abnormally fluctuate with time in an […] enrichment cascade.” In this article, some references are made to unreported studies. The length of time North Korea researched the mercury exchange process, combined with procurement data and the ease of making necessary sensitive procurements in China, provide strong evidence that North Korea has built a lithium 6 production plant. There is little reason to doubt that such a plant is operational. The recent attempt by North Korea to sell lithium 6 metal in China supports that conclusion and suggests that North Korea is making more lithium 6 than it needs in its nuclear weapons program. These findings add credibility to North Korea’s claims that it has been developing thermonuclear or boosted fission weapons, albeit likely crude ones that may still not work. But with more nuclear testing and time, North Korea is likely to succeed.” (David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Mark Gorwitz, and Allison Lach, North Korea’s Lithium 6 Production for Thermonuclear Weapons, Institute for Science and International Security, March 17, 2017)


2/28/17:
An internal White House review of strategy on North Korea includes the possibility of military force or regime change to blunt the country’s nuclear-weapons threat, people familiar with the process said, a prospect that has some U.S. allies in the region on edge. While President Donald Trump has taken steps to reassure allies that he won’t abandon agreements that have underpinned decades of U.S. policy on Asia, his pledge that Pyongyang would be stopped from ever testing an intercontinental ballistic missile—coupled with the two-week-old strategy review—has some leaders bracing for a shift in American policy. U.S. officials have underscored the possible military dimensions of their emerging strategy in recent discussions with allies, according to people familiar with the talks. During Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s two-day summit in February with Trump, U.S. officials on several occasions stated that all options were under consideration to deal with North Korea, according to a person familiar with the discussions. It was clear to the Japanese side that those options encompassed a U.S. military strike on North Korea, possibly if Pyongyang appeared ready to test an ICBM, this person said. The Japanese side found that scenario “worrisome,” he said. U.S. allies in recent years have closely aligned with Washington in trying to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang in an effort to force it to drop its nuclear program. But the new U.S. policy review has generated anxiety in Japan and South Korea about a radical shift. After North Korea said earlier this year it was ready to test an ICBM, Trump wrote on Twitter, “It won’t happen!” About two weeks ago, Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland convened a meeting with national-security officials across the government and asked them for proposals on North Korea, including ideas that one official described as well outside the mainstream. The request was for all options, ranging from U.S. recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state to military action against Pyongyang. McFarland’s directive was for the administration to undergo a comprehensive rethink of America’s North Korea policy. The national-security officials reported back to McFarland with their ideas and suggestions today. Those options now will undergo a process under which they will be refined and shaped before they’re given to the president for consideration. The heightened prospect of U.S. military action in North Korea could encourage China, which fears the fallout of a military confrontation with its neighbor, to take steps Washington has long sought to choke off Pyongyang’s economic lifeline. In the wake of Trump’s election, leaders in Tokyo and Seoul have sought to intensify the existing U.S. strategy of exerting economic and diplomatic pressure against North Korea. “We will make sure that the North changes its erroneous calculations by further enhancing sanctions and pressure,” South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn said in a speech on March 1, as South Korea and the U.S. kicked off major annual military exercises. Japan is concerned it could get sucked into a regional conflict by a U.S. military strike on North Korea, said Kotani Tetsuo, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, a Tokyo think tank. Another fear for Japan is a scenario in which the U.S. instead holds talks with North Korea and reaches a deal that would lead to Washington disengaging from the region, he said. “Direct talks between Trump and Kim Jong Un would be a nightmare scenario for Japan,” Kotani said. Despite concerns about a military confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea, the acceleration of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile program has emboldened calls by military hawks in Japan and South Korea for capabilities to pre-emptively hit North Korean military facilities if an attack appears imminent. Komura Masahiko, the vice president of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said recently that Japan should begin discussing whether to acquire such an ability. In parliament, Abe said there were no plans to do so. (Carol E. Lee and Alastair Gale, “White House Explores Options, Including Use of Military Force, to Counter North Korea Threat,” Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2017

President Donald Trump believes the “greatest immediate threat” to the U.S. is North Korea and its nuclear program, a senior administration official told reporters. Trump has already called on China to take action to rein in North Korea, over which China has considerable influence and leverage, the official said. “You gotta work on North Korea,” Trump told a Chinese official yesterday, the senior administration official said, apparently pointing to a brief meeting at the White House yesterday between Trump and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, the highest-ranking Chinese official Trump has met with since taking office. The senior official who spoke to reporters Tuesday on the condition of anonymity said President Barack Obama on his final day in office told Trump he believed North Korea is the biggest national security threat to the U.S. Trump previously referred to the conversation during an interview last month with Fox News, but declined to reveal what Obama relayed, other than to call it “a military problem with a certain place.” Trump’s concern over North Korea is in part fueled by his belief that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un “may be crazy,” the official said. The question for Trump, though, has been, “Is he crazy or is he smart and strategic?” the official said, relaying Trump’s thinking. The senior administration official also pointed to North Korea’s alleged role in orchestrating the assassination of Kim’s half-brother as a sign of the country’s capabilities. Still, the senior administration official said Trump believes the US has a good relationship with China and expressed optimism about the prospects of enlisting China’s help in controlling Pyongyang. (Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, and Jeremy Diamond, “Top Source: Trump Believes North Korea Is Greatest Threat,” CNN, February 28, 2017)

Trump State of the Union: “We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific –- to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost. We will respect historic institutions, but we will also respect the sovereign rights of nations. Free nations are the best vehicle for expressing the will of the people –- and America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path. My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America. But we know that America is better off, when there is less conflict — not more. We must learn from the mistakes of the past –- we have seen the war and destruction that have raged across our world. The only long-term solution for these humanitarian disasters is to create the conditions where displaced persons can safely return home and begin the long process of rebuilding. America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align. We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict. We want peace, wherever peace can be found. America is friends today with former enemies. Some of our closest allies, decades ago, fought on the opposite side of these World Wars. This history should give us all faith in the possibilities for a better world.” (Donald Trump, State of the Union Address, February 28, 2017)

Chinese state media have reacted with anger and boycott threats after the board of an affiliate of South Korea’s Lotte Group approved a land swap with the government that allows authorities to deploy a U.S. missile defense system on land that is part of a golf course owned by Lotte in the Seongju region, southeast of Seoul. The board of unlisted Lotte International Co Ltd approved the deal with the government on yesterday. Lotte should be shown the door in China, the influential state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial today. “We also propose that Chinese society should coordinate voluntarily in expanding restrictions on South Korean cultural goods and entertainment exports to China, and block them when necessary,” it said in its English-language edition. The paper’s Chinese version said South Korean cars and cellphones should be targeted as well. “There are loads of substitutes for South Korean cars and cellphones,” it said. China has already twice issued “solemn representations” to South Korea about the most recent THAAD-related developments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily briefing in Beijing. But it welcomes foreign companies to operate in China, he said. “Whether or not a foreign company can operate successfully in China, in the end is a decision for the Chinese market and consumer,” he added. Late yesterday, the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said cutting diplomatic ties should be considered. “If THAAD is really deployed in South Korea, then China-South Korea relations will face the possibility of getting ready to cut off diplomatic relations,” it said on the WeChat account of its overseas edition. Xinhua also said in a commentary late yesterday that China “did not welcome this kind of Lotte.” “Chinese consumers can absolutely say no to this kind of company and their goods based on considerations of ‘national security’,” it said. (Reuters, “China Reacts with Anger, Threats after South Korean Missile Defense Decision,” February 28, 2017)

South Korea called for “collective measures” against North Korea, including possible suspension of its United Nations membership, saying the use of chemical weapons to assassinate the half-brother of North Korea’s leader was a “wake-up call.” Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se was addressing the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament (CD) after Malaysia’s attorney general said two women will be charged with the murder of Kim Jong Nam. “Just a few grams of VX is sufficient for mass killing,” Yun told the Geneva forum. “North Korea is reported to have not just grams but thousands of tons of chemical weapons including VX all over the country …The recent assassination is a wake-up call to all of us to North Korea’s chemical weapons capability and its intent to actually use them,” Yun said. States could invoke the Chemical Weapons Convention, as the use of such agents is in violation of international law, he said. Malaysia is part of the 1993 pact prohibiting their production, transfer and use, but North Korea is not. States that have ratified the chemical weapons ban could invoke the treaty and “take collective measures,” Yun added. “Now is the time, I believe, for us to seriously consider taking extraordinary measures in all relevant regional and international fora including the U.N. as well as the CD.” “It could take the form of suspension of North Korea’s rights and privileges as a U.N. member,” he said, calling South Korea’s isolated neighbor a “serial rule-breaker.” Yun, in a speech yesterday to the U.N. Human Rights Council, urged major powers to criminally pursue Pyongyang’s leadership before its “ever-worsening” rights record, including mass executions and labor camps, threatened world peace. (Stephanie Nebehay, “South Korea Suggest Suspending North Korea’s U.N. Seat,” Reuters, February 28, 2017)

A senior North Korean diplomat arrived in Beijing for talks on “issues of mutual concern,” amid growing tensions over the North’s missile test and the death of the Pyongyang leader’s half-brother. China’s foreign ministry said that the North’s Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil-song came to Beijing at its invitation and will have talks with senior officials including Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his stay. KCNA also confirmed Kyodo report earlier in the day about his visit. This marked the first time in about nine months that a high-ranking North Korean official has visited China for dialogue with his counterparts. In May, Ri Su-yong, a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, visited Beijing. (Yonhap, “Senior N.K. Official Arrives in Beijing for Talks,” February 28, 2017)


3/1/17:
South Korean and U.S. troops began large-scale joint military exercise conducted annually to test their defense readiness against the threat from North Korea, which routinely characterizes the drills as preparation for war against it. The exercise, called Foal Eagle, comes amid heightened tension following the latest test launch of a ballistic missile by the North and in the past prompted threats by Pyongyang to launch military action in retaliation. South Korea’s Defense Ministry and the U.S. military based in the South confirmed the start of the drills on Wednesday that will continue until the end of April but did not immediately provide further details. The exercise last year involved about 17,000 American troops and more than 300,000 South Koreans. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-Koo early today by telephone and said the United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the defense of its ally. Mattis welcomed a deal signed by South Korea with the Lotte Group conglomerate this week to secure the land to station the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in the South, the two countries said. Han said in the phone call with Mattis that this year’s joint drills will be conducted at a similar scale as last year’s, which the South’s Defense Ministry had called the “largest-ever” exercises by the allies. North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said earlier on Wednesday its leader Kim Jong Un inspected the headquarters of a major military unit and issued guidance on increasing combat readiness. (Jack Kim, Ju-min Park, and Phil Stewart, “S. Korea, U.S. Begin Large-Scale Annual Drills amid North Korea Tension,” Reuters, March 1, 2017)

KCNA: “It is half a month since Kim Chol, a citizen of the DPRK bearing a diplomatic passport, died in Malaysia on February 13. The cause of his death has not yet been clearly identified but the U.S. and the south Korean authorities are groundlessly blaming the DPRK, asserting that he was intoxicated by highly poisonous VX nerve substance. The absurdity of the U.S. and the south Korean authorities’ assertion and lack of its scientific accuracy and logical coherence are proven even by comments made by experts and media of other countries. It is view of chemists of many countries that even a drop of VX may claim deaths of tens or hundreds of people and it has strong permeability and stability as its properties. They asserted a claim that the woman suspect was safe because she washed her hands at a washroom does not correspond with the chemical property of VX. They added that even if the persons suspected of murder had been injected with atropine, basic antidote of VX, they might have fallen into shock and that even if they had worn gloves, this fatal substance would have been extremely dangerous. It is, therefore, the height of absurdity to claim that the person who applied VX, a substance fatal to the life even in case of inhalation of a tiny amount of it or its touch of skin, was left unaffected and the person to whom it was applied met a death, they asserted. World media query that if component of VX was allegedly detected from Kim Chol’s eyes and lips, the ambulance that carried him and police who guarded him must have all been intoxicated and if so, the airport should have been closed but it is still in operation.

Experts on international law and analysts said that under a regulation of the international organization on ban on chemical weapons, a final conclusion on the results of analysis of chemical weapons can be drawn only on the basis of the identical results of analysis made by at least two specialized laboratories, stressing that the recent case should have been reported to the organization and the relevant sample should have been analyzed at a lab designated by the organization. They further contended that if the use of VX were true, it would be necessary to probe where the substance was from, who made it and who handed it. Drawing any conclusion about VX without any concrete study would be unscientific and if some countries try to use it for other political purposes, the consequences will be beyond imagination, they warned. Some media suspect that in view of the fact that the women arrested as suspected murderers had visited south Korea several times in the past, it is highly possible that the south Korean authorities let them carry the said substance. This is by no means fortuitous. Almost all countries have scrapped chemical weapons under the convention on ban on chemical weapons but only the U.S. and some other countries still possess the said substance. What is all the more problematic is the fact that the U.S. is introducing into south Korea all kinds of chemical weapons. This being a hard fact, the U.S. and the south Korean authorities are kicking up an anti-DPRK smear campaign, groundlessly pulling it up. From the beginning the south Korean authorities spread rumor that the “death of Kim Chol was intoxication by two women secret agents sent by General Reconnaissance Bureau of north Korea” and “their dead bodies will appear”, causing confusion and driving a wedge between the DPRK and Malaysia. Lately they tried to use Kim Chol’s death for their stepped-up racket of “human rights” against the DPRK and floated the story about “use of chemical weapons” or “use of WMD” by someone in a bid to create atmosphere of “international criticism” of the DPRK. The reckless moves of the U.S. and the south Korean authorities are aimed to meet the dangerous political purpose to tarnish the image of the dignified DPRK and bring down the social system in it. This is clear to everyone. The danger and gravity of the problem lie in that the story about “use of chemical weapons” touted by the U.S. and the south Korean authorities has something in common with the story of “Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction” spread by the U.S. in the 1990s. It is the final aim sought by the U.S. to stir up international repugnancy towards the DPRK, lay an international siege for putting pressure on it and provoke a nuclear war against the DPRK at any cost. The U.S., however, is mistaken. Should the U.S. and the south Korean authorities keep resorting to political chicanery to bring down the social system in the DPRK, being lost to reasons, the DPRK will be compelled to take stronger measures for self-defense in order to protect the sovereignty and dignity of the country. The U.S. and its vassal forces should not run amuck, clearly understanding the strategic position of the DPRK as a nuclear power.” (KCNA, “U.S., S. Korea’s Absurd Sophism against DPRK over Its Citizen’s Death abroad Blasted,” March 1, 2017)

Two women were charged with murder in a Kuala Lumpur court in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Siti Aisyah, 25, of Indonesia, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, of Vietnam, could receive the death penalty. The police said the two women rubbed a deadly nerve agent on Kim’s face as he prepared to check in for a flight at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on the morning of February 13. The women were charged as North Korea yesterday began a diplomatic effort to repair the damage from the killing, sending delegations to Beijing and Kuala Lumpur in a rare bit of outreach by the reclusive nation as it faced accusations that it had carried out the brazen assassination. The delegation to Beijing was led by Vice Foreign Minister Ri Gil-song, said KCNA, which did not provide further details. The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that Ri was visiting at its invitation and would meet with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi. Ri is the most senior North Korean official to visit Beijing since a delegation met with President Xi Jinping of China in May. His trip came five days after the North lashed out at China in unusually bitter language for tightening sanctions by suspending all coal imports from North Korea for the rest of the year, depriving North Korea of one of its most important sources of hard currency. The police have also arrested a North Korean man, Ri Jong-chol, and are seeking seven others. South Korean officials have accused the North Korean government of ordering the assassination. There was no word yet on whether Malaysian officials would charge Ri Jong-chol in the attack. With relations between Malaysia and North Korea fraying over the killing, a high-level North Korean delegation, including the former deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ri Dong-il, arrived in the Malaysian capital to discuss taking Mr. Kim’s body to North Korea, Yonhap reported from Kuala Lumpur. Ri Dong-il, the envoy, said he also would demand the release of Ri Jong-chol, Yonhap reported. “We are here to discuss human rights issues and find an agreement,” Ri told reporters outside the North Korean Embassy. Ri also said he would discuss “strengthening friendly relations” with Malaysia. Whether Malaysia is prepared to discuss friendly relations remains to be seen. Officials at the Malaysian Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the standoff over the release of the body and the detention of the North Korean suspect. (Richard C. Paddock and Choe Sang-hun, “Two Women Are Charged with Murder in Kim’s Death,” New York Times, March 1, 2017, p. A-10)

The US Trade Representative (USTR) issued an official report stressing the need for serious reconsideration of the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, citing it along with NAFTA and China joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) as factors in a rapid rise in its trade deficit. This marks the first time reconsideration of the KORUS FTA has been mentioned in an official government document since the Donald Trump administration’s inauguration. “[T]he largest trade deal implemented during the [Barack] Obama Administration – our free trade agreement with South Korea – has coincided with a dramatic increase in our trade deficit with that country,” the USTR said in its “2017 Trade Policy Agenda and 2016 Annual Report.” Specifically, the USTR noted that US exports to South Korea in 2016 were down US$1.2 billion (1.3 trillion won) from 2011, the year before the KORUS FTA took effect, while imports of South Korean items had increased by US$13 billion (around 14.8 trillion won). “As a result, our trade deficit in goods with South Korea more than doubled. Needless to say, this is not the outcome the American people expected from that agreement,” the report said. In addition to the KORUS FTA, the USTR also offered a diagnosis of trade with China and NAFTA. “Plainly, the time has come for a major review of how we approach trade agreements,” the report concluded. The statements offer a clear indication that the Trump administration has selected trade issues with three partners – China, Mexico, and South Korea – as areas for focused reconsideration. They also indicate a much stronger possibility of renegotiations on the KORUS FTA. While Trump has not specifically mentioned the KORUS FTA since taking office, he criticized it harshly during his election campaign, calling it a “disaster” and a “job-killing” deal. The message hints that the US may attempt harsh trade retaliation measures on partners in what the Trump administration deems “unfair” trade through anti-dumping and countervailing duties or executive orders. An early chapter on the President’s Trade Policy Agenda noted that “the largest trade deal implemented during the Obama Administration – our free trade agreement with South Korea – has coincided with a dramatic increase in our trade deficit with that country.” “As a result, our trade deficit in goods with South Korea more than doubled [after the agreement]. Needless to say, this is not the outcome the American people expected from that agreement,” it continued. “President Trump is just rehashing the same things he’s said in the past. There’s nothing new there, and he acknowledged some results from the KORUS FTA,” said Moon Jong-cheol, a senior analyst with the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade. At the same time, Moon said “things like the reference to ‘resisting’ the WTO suggest a commitment to seeing its policies through.” The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said the report “made no direct mention of renegotiating the KORUS FTA, and the position is the same as what the US has expressed before.” The ministry added it would “continue working to develop response measures.” (Ko Na-mu, “U.S. Government Reports Stresses Need for Reconsideration of KORUS FTA,” Hankyore, March 3, 2017)

As ordinary North Koreans have found ways to get information the state denies them — soppy South Korean dramas and peppy pop songs, novels, news from the outside world — so too has the Kim regime has developed sophisticated new tools to check just what its citizens are up to, according to Compromising Connectivity, a new report from Intermedia, a Washington-based research group. The report underlines the challenges in getting information into the most tightly controlled country on the planet — and the challenges that North Korea watchers as diverse as the U.S. Congress and small defector-led groups face in trying to penetrate it. “In a lot of ways, the expansion of information is continuing,” said Nat Kretchun, the lead author of the report, which draws on interviews with 34 recent defectors from North Korea. “It’s just that we also see a lot of signs that the North Korean government is gearing up to combat it.” Thanks to dramas smuggled in on USB sticks and illicit shortwave radio broadcasts from the outside, an increasing number of North Koreans have realized that their brethren in the South enjoy unimaginable levels of wealth and freedom. Being caught with such banned media can result in harsh penalties, including imprisonment. At the same time, the introduction of cellphones — albeit for domestic calls only, and without Internet access — is allowing people around the country to share information much more freely internally. High-profile defectors such as Thae Yong-ho, who served as a North Korean diplomat in Europe for almost 20 years, have described the transformative effect of outside information and have urged governments and NGOs to flood North Korea with it. While imposing new sanctions on North Korea last year, Congress allocated $50 million over the next five years for radio programming and the promotion of freedom of information inside North Korea. But the real picture is more complicated, the Intermedia report says. “They’re clearly trying to innovate their way out of the breakdown of the security apparatus rather than going back to Kim Il Sung times,” Kretchun said, referring to the founding president of the totalitarian state. North Korea’s security apparatus began crumbling in the 1990s, after a devastating famine that gave the regime no choice but to tolerate markets — which then became a venue for sharing information. “They now have a vision of a more sophisticated but no less controlled media environment,” he said. Take cellphones. North Koreans are now allowed such devices — including a re-branded Chinese Android-based smartphone called Arirang. As recently as 2013, North Koreans could use these to share files — including songs and text — through Bluetooth or micro-storage SD cards. But a mandatory software update rolled out in 2013 included a program called “TraceViewer” that would collect browsing history and take periodic screenshots of activity — which the user could not delete. That means the security services can see exactly what the user has been up to, long after they have removed any SD card. The update also included a “signature system” that would prevent a device from opening any files that don’t bear a North Korean state signature — and, in fact, automatically deletes them. “Even with the network restrictions that were applied at the beginning, cellphones could have been a game-changing device in North Korea,” Kretchun said. But the system update stops that from happening. “North Korea has a unique advantage in that it can dictate what devices their people have,” he said. He added that the state has made it very difficult for citizens to undermine their technology. “They put a lot of work into making sure you have to be quite technologically sophisticated to do the equivalent of jailbreaking these phones.” Access to outside networks has also been curtailed. Residents on the border with China have been able to get signals on Chinese phones, but the regime appears to have cracked down on this, using jammers and signal detectors. “Once, I went into a house and made a call to China and inspectors came within 30 seconds,” said a 59-year-old man who used to work for a trading company near the Chinese city of Dandong. “There are inspectors going around with an eavesdropping device to control calls to China,” he told the report’s authors. But North Koreans are still able to watch movies and dramas at home relatively easily. Previously, they watched foreign movies and soap operas on DVDs smuggled into the country, but in recent years they have developed a preference for USB sticks and SD cards, which are easier to hide. They plug the USBs or SD cards into their DVD players — which are permitted, although only to watch North Korean propaganda — and make sure to have a DVD in the drive in case of a spot inspection. Small portable DVD players called “notels” also are used for watching foreign dramas. Using small storage devices not only allows North Koreans to hide them easily during raids but also enables them to share media with each other. All but one of the North Korean defectors Intermedia interviewed said they had shared content with others. Despite the challenges, Kretchun said there was reason to keep trying to penetrate the North Korean regime’s information blockade. “Right now, all the arrows continue to point up. People are still certainly watching foreign dramas and listening to the radio,” he said. (Anna Fifield, “North Korea Regime Is Finding New Ways to Stop Information Flows, Reports Says,” Washington Post, March 1, 2017)

One day THAAD could destroy North Korean missiles in mid-flight, a remarkable feat of military might and technical prowess. But so far, its main victims have been South Korean pop stars, cosmetics companies, and TV shows. As THAAD’s deployment date draws near, its denunciations have reached fever pitch, spurring retaliations online and in the streets. Chinese authorities have denied visas to South Korean pop stars who frequently perform on the mainland; rejected imports of South Korean cosmetics; and scrubbed at least five enormously popular South Korean TV shows — some with hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers — from Chinese video streaming sites. “We don’t have to make the country bleed, but we’d better make it hurt,” the Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid, said in an editorial on today. The measures have stirred anxiety in South Korea’s business community, upset Chinese TV fans and cast uncertainty over the future of the China-South Korea relationship, which has enjoyed relative stability since the 1990s, enabling huge amounts of transnational commerce and migration. Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said that China — angered by North Korea’s recent missile tests — now faces strained relations with both Koreas for the first time in recent memory. “This is quite bad, in the long term, for the diplomatic security environment in Northeast Asia,” he said. Beijing has issued two “solemn representations” to Seoul over the impending deployment, and the People’s Daily, said in an editorial that Beijing could potentially sever diplomatic ties. But the measures have also played out in more minute and unexpected ways. Yesterday, after months of negotiations, South Korean retail giant Lotte Group reached a deal to swap land at its Lotte Skyhill Country Club — a lush, mountainous resort in on the southern side of Jeju Island — for a military-owned parcel on the outskirts of Seoul, making way for the missile shield to be placed on the country club site. That same day, Chinese authorities fined one of Lotte’s Beijing supermarkets $6,500 for displaying a “false advertisement” — a vanishingly rare charge in the city, according to the state-run Legal Daily. The fine, while negligible for Lotte — one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates — adds to a long list of challenges in the country. Lotte suspended construction of a planned $2.6-billion theme park project in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang last month after facing several fire, safety and tax investigations. Authorities have also targeted Lotte businesses in Beijing, Shanghai and the southwestern city of Chengdu. Today, Lotte’s Chinese website was inaccessible, showing only the message: “Lotte’s official webpage is undergoing maintenance. Please forgive any inconvenience.” Its South Korean page remained accessible. The cause of the outage is unclear. Starting last year, Chinese authorities have forbidden Korean stars from appearing on Chinese TV programs and soap operas; one Korean reality show participant, singer Hwang Chi Yeul, was abruptly replaced by an actor from Hong Kong. They have also banned imports from 19 Korean cosmetics brands. Since February 24, at least five Korean TV shows — including the extraordinarily popular variety show Running Man — have been inaccessible on Chinese video websites. South Korea’s economy is heavily dependent upon exports, about a quarter of which go to China, and experts say that the measures could take a bite. “Economic sanctions by China may have a substantial impact on the Korean economy as a whole, and especially on certain business sectors” such as its entertainment industry, said Sangin Park, an economics professor at Seoul National University. South Korean pop culture, exemplified by K-pop music and TV soap operas, is one of the country’s most important exports, and not just economically. Troy Stangarone, a senior director at the Korea Economic Institute of America, said China risks overplaying its hand by blocking popular South Korean content and could, over time, push its neighbor toward investing in other regional economies, such as Vietnam. “Banning or prohibiting the update of additional Korean dramas is a risky course by the Chinese due to the popularity of the products,” he said. “In the short term, it might have a negative impact on South Korea. There could also be a negative impact on China.” “It hurts China’s image as a business-friendly country,” he added. Last week, the South Korean government said it was aware that some local companies have expressed concerns about China’s new trade barriers. “Despite a tightened Korea-China relationship, we keep in touch with China,” said Woo Tae-hee, a deputy South Korean trade minister. He said South Korea would express its concerns to China under a communication framework that’s part of a year-old bilateral trade deal. South Korea plans to deploy the defensive missile system “before the end of the year,” said Moon Sang-gyun, a spokesman for the South Korean defense ministry. He said that authorities are still working on environmental impact studies, facility construction and final negotiations with American officials. Despite the tensions, the number of Chinese visitors to South Korea increased more than 8% from January 2016 to the same month this year. Zhu Quanjingzi, 24, a human resource professional in Beijing, said her feelings about THAAD were “a little complicated.” “I oppose THAAD — I think it poses a threat to China’s safety,” she said. She plans to stop traveling to South Korea as a tourist, and boycott Korean cosmetics. “But I cannot live without Korean TV shows,” she said. “I can watch them on YouTube.” (Jonathan Kaiman and Matt Stiles, “China, Upset over a Planned Missile-Defense System, Is Taking Aim at South Korea’s Pop Starts and TV Shows,” Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2017)


3/2/17:
KPA General Staff statement “as the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet warmongers kicked off joint military exercises for aggression against the DPRK on Wednesday [March 1]: The largest-ever war drills will reportedly be staged by unprecedentedly huge aggressor forces including the U.S. imperialist forces present in south Korea, reinforced U.S. forces from overseas, south Korean puppet troops and forces of various vassal states. To be involved in this muscle-flexing are various type strategic assets such as striking groups of U.S. nuclear carriers Ronald Reagan and Carl Vinson, nuclear submarines, nuclear strategic bombers, stealth fighters and Aegis destroyers. Lots of U.S. war operation groups and nuclear strike means deployed in south Korea and in its vicinity have already begun moving to the positions for invasion of the north. The enemies openly announced that Key Resolve and Foal Eagle this year would involve rehearsals for putting into a more concrete shape the 4D operation for preemptive attack on the DPRK and, at the same time, drills under the simulated conditions of deployment of THAAD. The above-said saber-rattling assumes ever-growing danger as it is under way after the U.S. imperialists secretly introduced at least 6 million tons of ammunition and war hardware into south Korea from the end of last year and took recently even the measure for urgent evacuation of families of U.S. forces in south Korea and those with U.S. citizenship staying there. In view of the prevailing grave situation the General Staff of the KPA clarifies the following principled stand of the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK: 1. Now that the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces again kicked off the dangerous nuclear war drills against the DPRK at its doorstep, our army will counter them with the toughest counteractions as it had already declared. This stand of ours clarified before the world is by no means an empty talk. 2. Should the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces fire even a single shell into the waters where the sovereignty of our Republic is exercised, the KPA will immediately launch its merciless military counter-actions. They should not forget that our revolutionary armed forces have everything in place and are always on alert. 3. The forces of vassal countries will be targets of our strikes as they are imprudently involved in the on-going saber-rattling, toeing the U.S. imperialists’ hostile policy towards the DPRK. They have to bear in mind that those lackeys have always met a miserable fate for recklessly running wild, backed by their master. The KPA will mercilessly foil the nuclear war racket of the aggressors with its treasured nuclear sword of justice.” (KCNA, “KPA General Staff Warns of Merciless Nuclear Counter-Action of Justice,” March 2, 2017)

Malaysia has canceled its visa waiver arrangement with North Korea amid a diplomatic spat over the assassination of the half-brother of the North’s leader, Malaysian news agency Bernama said. The cancellation will take effect on March 6, after which North Koreans entering Malaysia will be required to obtain a visa, Bernama quoted the country’s deputy prime minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as saying. He cited national security as the reason. This marks Malaysia’s first tangible action taken against Pyongyang following the assassination of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13. Malaysia has decided to release and deport Ri Jong-chol, a 47-year-old North Korean suspect, due to a lack of incriminating evidence, AP reported. Four North Korean suspects are believed to have fled Malaysia on the day of Kim Jong-nam’s death while three others, including Hyon Kwang-song, the second secretary at the North’s embassy in Malaysia, are wanted for questioning. South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers February 27 that Pyongyang’s foreign ministry and spy agency were behind Kim’s killing. As North Korea continued to heap on accusations, the Malaysian deputy prime minister said last week that his country will re-examine its diplomatic relationship with Pyongyang, alluding to a possible severance of formal ties with the communist country. Malaysia formally established its diplomatic relationship with North Korean in 1973 and installed its embassy in Pyongyang in 2003. In 2009, they forged a visa waiver program through which about 1,000 North Korean workers are currently employed in Malaysia. On Tuesday, North Korea sent a high-level delegation led by former deputy ambassador to the United Nations Ri Tong-il to Malaysia, as it seeks to take custody of Kim Jong-nam’s body. Ri said he will also request that Malaysia release the one North Korean national detained over the incident and discuss ways to strengthen friendly ties with Malaysia. Malaysian authorities said that Kim’s next-of-kin should identify and claim his body. (Yonhap, “Malaysia Cancels Visa Waiver Program with North Korea: Report,” March 2, 2017)

A North Korean diplomat, Ri Tong-il, who is leading a delegation to Malaysia, suggested that Kim Jong-nam died of heart failure despite Malaysia’s finding that he was killed by a banned nerve agent. He said Kim had a history of heart disease and high blood pressure for which he needed medication. But while asserting the cause of Mr. Kim’s death, without providing any evidence, he stood by his country’s refusal to acknowledge that the victim was the half-brother of Kim Jong-un, instead calling him by the name Kim Chol, which South Korean officials have said is an alias. He also called on Malaysia to provide samples of the VX nerve agent that the police say they found on the body to the international organization charged with carrying out the global treaty that bans the use of chemical weapons. “If it is true that it was used,” he told reporters, “then the samples should be sent to the office” of the group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, for examination. The Malaysian government said it has indeed reported the use of VX to the organization, which must now decide whether to bring the matter before the United Nations Security Council. “The ministry is in close contact with the O.P.C.W. regarding the recent incident and the latter has provided the Malaysian authority with some technical materials that have been requested to assist in its investigation,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on March 3. But the organization has declined to say whether Malaysia had provided it with samples for independent testing. Malaysian officials have also declined to comment on that question. The latest assertions came as Malaysia moved to punish North Korea for the airport assassination, saying that it would require visitors from that country to obtain visas, the government said. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the deputy prime minister, imposed the restrictions effective March 6, citing national security concerns. Until now, North Koreans have been able to enter Malaysia without a visa — one of the few places in the world that allowed such easy access for citizens of a country that is widely viewed as a pariah. About 1,000 North Koreans live and work in Malaysia, where they have been able to establish international companies and have access to the global banking system. It was unclear whether the visa order would affect North Koreans who are already in Malaysia. (Richard C. Paddock, “North Korea Offers an Alternate Cause in a Death,” New York Times, March 3, 2017, p. A-6)

The Chinese government is ratcheting up pressure on South Korea over its plans to deploy an American missile defense system, with the state-controlled news media urging the public to boycott South Korean retail products and threatening diplomatic and even military repercussions. Yesterday, South Korea and the United States began talks in Seoul to finalize details of the deployment of the so-called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System, or THAAD, according to the South’s Foreign Ministry. No date has been set for the system’s deployment, but the Pentagon said on March 1 that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wanted it in place “as soon as feasible.” Military experts said the United States could use C-17 transport aircraft to quickly move the system’s truck-mounted launchers, interceptors, radar, fire control units and support equipment to South Korea. An outspoken Chinese general, Luo Yuan, now retired, recommended a tough series of responses in an article, going so far as to suggest a military strike against the missile system. “We could conduct a surgical hard-kill operation that would destroy the target, paralyzing it and making it unable to hit back,” General Luo wrote in the Global Times, a state-run newspaper that often features strident, nationalist views. “Since the United States, Japan and South Korea choose not to respect China’s major security concerns, China does not need to be a gentleman on everything,” the general wrote. “We must not undermine our own security interests while respecting the security interests of others.” People’s Daily, the party newspaper that is often considered the official voice of the leadership, said in its international edition this week that China should consider a “de facto” severance of diplomatic ties with South Korea. It said in a commentary that China should take “political and military measures” against South Korea and that it should consider coordinating with Russia in dealing with what it called the “U.S.-Japan-South Korea antimissile network.” China has said that THAAD would threaten its nuclear deterrent capacity. It said the system’s powerful radar would make it much easier for the United States to detect Chinese missiles and would give the American military much more time to intercept them. Trade experts said Beijing might be reluctant to take more extreme economic measures. China is South Korea’s largest trading partner by far, but South Korea is also China’s fourth-largest, and Beijing would probably be reluctant to damage those ties during the current economic slowdown. South Korean politicians have said that Washington wants THAAD deployed by mid-May, when many expect presidential elections to be held in the South. President Park Geun-hye awaits a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court on whether she will be permanently removed from office. The court’s decision is expected in the coming weeks, and if it rules against her, a new president will be elected 60 days later. South Korea’s progressive opposition is seen as having a strong chance of winning the presidency should that election be held. Opposition politicians have expressed skepticism about the THAAD system, and some have charged that the United States wants to rush the deployment to ensure that it is completed before a new president takes office. Members of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, have visited China twice since August. In January, in an unusual development, a delegation from the party met with the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi. China had hoped it could persuade the South’s next president to refuse to agree to THAAD, said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “Now China is afraid THAAD will be deployed before the new president of South Korea is in office,” he said. Even as China’s fury toward the South is on full display, it is also at odds with the North. A North Korean diplomat, Ri Kil-song, arrived in Beijing on February 28 for five days of talks, an apparent effort by Pyongyang to reach out to China, its economic and political benefactor. Ri and Wang made soothing public statements on March 1 about the “traditional friendship” between their two countries. Behind the scenes, though, things are unlikely to have been so smooth. “One thing after another is happening,” Cheng, the Renmin University professor, said of China’s simultaneous troubles with the Koreas. “Not good things — all bad things.” (Jane Perlez and Choe Sang-Hun, “Actions by North and South Korea Give China a Double Headache,” New York Times, March 3, 2017, p. A-8)


3/3/17:
DPRK FoMin spokesman’s “answer to a question raised by KCNA as regards the fact that sophism calling for re-listing the DPRK as a “sponsor of terrorism” is heard in the U.S. Hard-line conservatives in the U.S., including some congressmen, have called for re-listing the DPRK as a “sponsor of terrorism” since the outset of the year. The DPRK government had already clarified its principled stand of opposing all forms of terrorism and any support for it before the international community and has consistently proved the stand in practice. Nevertheless, the U.S. is seeking to label the DPRK a “sponsor of terrorism” though it has nothing in common with it. This cannot be construed otherwise than an expression of inveterate repugnancy and hostile attitude towards it.

No matter how the U.S. again calls the DPRK as a “sponsor of terrorism” in line with its standard and interests, the latter will never be a “sponsor of terrorism.” Gone are the days never to return when the U.S. could stigmatize at random to oppress those countries incurring its displeasure, while having the world under its control. The U.S. will keenly realize how dearly it has to pay for its groundless accusations against the dignified DPRK.” (KCNA, “DPRK FM Spokesman Warns of Serious Consequences of Its Groundless Accusation,” March 3, 2017)


3/4/17:
DPRK FoMin spokesman’s statement: “in denunciation of the ongoing U.S.-south Korea joint military drills against the DPRK. The spokesman branded the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises being staged by the U.S. in south Korea as the most undisguised nuclear war move to throw the Korean Peninsula and the rest of Northeast Asia into nuclear disaster. Nobody can vouch when the war drills kicked off after introducing a lot of nuclear strike means and huge forces into south Korea and the waters off it may go over to an actual war and, consequently, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is again inching close to the brink of a nuclear war. … The U.S. nuclear war drills assume more dangerous nature as they are staged at a time when it is resorting to the worst political and economic sanctions and pressure against the DPRK while finding fault with the latter’s measure for bolstering up its nuclear force. The U.S. seeks to convince the public that the joint military exercises are ascribable to the DPRK’s access to nuclear weapons, but this is sophism making profound confusing of right and wrong. The DPRK will never remain a passive onlooker to the new U.S. administration overtly revealing its intention to put military pressure on the DPRK and invade it while crying out for “peace by dint of strength.” The spokesman stressed that the army and people of the DPRK are unshakable in their will to further bolster up the deterrence for self-defense with the strategic nuclear force as a pivot in order to put a radical end to the danger of a nuclear war being imposed by the U.S. and deal a merciless retaliatory strike at any provocation by the invaders.” (KCNA, “DPRK Will Deal Merciless Retaliatory Strike at Provokers: Foreign Ministry Spokesman,” March 4, 2017)

The government of Malaysia declared North Korea’s ambassador “persona non grata” and gave him 48 hours to leave the country, a major break in diplomatic relations after the airport assassination of Kim Jong-nam. The decision to expel Ambassador Kang Chol came after he failed to appear at Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as requested. Earlier, Kang had ignored a request to apologize for several inflammatory statements, including questioning the police finding that Kim was murdered with a banned nerve agent. “It should be made clear — Malaysia will react strongly against any insults made against it or any attempt to tarnish its reputation,” Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in a statement announcing the expulsion order. (Richard C. Paddock, “Malaysia, in Major Diplomatic Break, Forces Out North Korean Ambassador,” New York Times, March 5, 2017, p. A-6)


3/5/17:
Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds. Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea. Advocates of such efforts say they believe that targeted attacks have given American antimissile defenses a new edge and delayed by several years the day when North Korea will be able to threaten American cities with nuclear weapons launched atop intercontinental ballistic missiles. But other experts have grown increasingly skeptical of the new approach, arguing that manufacturing errors, disgruntled insiders and sheer incompetence can also send missiles awry. Over the past eight months, they note, the North has managed to successfully launch three medium-range rockets. And Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, now claims his country is in “the final stage in preparations” for the inaugural test of his intercontinental missiles — perhaps a bluff, perhaps not. An examination of the Pentagon’s disruption effort, based on interviews with officials of the Obama and Trump administrations as well as a review of extensive but obscure public records, found that the United States still does not have the ability to effectively counter the North Korean nuclear and missile programs. Those threats are far more resilient than many experts thought, The New York Times’s reporting found, and pose such a danger that Obama, as he left office, warned President Trump they were likely to be the most urgent problem he would confront. Trump has signaled his preference to respond aggressively against the North Korean threat. In a Twitter post after Kim first issued his warning on New Year’s Day, the president wrote, “It won’t happen!” Yet like Obama before him, Trump is quickly discovering that he must choose from highly imperfect options. He could order the escalation of the Pentagon’s cyber and electronic warfare effort, but that carries no guarantees. He could open negotiations with the North to freeze its nuclear and missile programs, but that would leave a looming threat in place. He could prepare for direct missile strikes on the launch sites, which Obama also considered, but there is little chance of hitting every target. He could press the Chinese to cut off trade and support, but Beijing has always stopped short of steps that could lead to the regime’s collapse. In two meetings of Trump’s national security deputies in the Situation Room, the most recent on February 28, all those options were discussed, along with the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to South Korea as a dramatic warning. Administration officials say those issues will soon go to Trump and his top national security aides. The decision to intensify the cyber and electronic strikes, in early 2014, came after Obama concluded that the $300 billion spent since the Eisenhower era on traditional antimissile systems, often compared to hitting “a bullet with a bullet,” had failed the core purpose of protecting the continental United States. Flight tests of interceptors based in Alaska and California had an overall failure rate of 56 percent, under near-perfect conditions. Privately, many experts warned the system would fare worse in real combat. So the Obama administration searched for a better way to destroy missiles. It reached for techniques the Pentagon had long been experimenting with under the rubric of “left of launch,” because the attacks begin before the missiles ever reach the launch pad, or just as they lift off. For years, the Pentagon’s most senior officers and officials have publicly advocated these kinds of sophisticated attacks in little-noticed testimony to Congress and at defense conferences. The Times inquiry began last spring as the number of the North’s missile failures soared. The investigation uncovered the military documents praising the new antimissile approach and found some pointing with photos and diagrams to North Korea as one of the most urgent targets. After discussions with the office of the director of national intelligence last year and in recent days with Trump’s national security team, the Times agreed to withhold details of those efforts to keep North Korea from learning how to defeat them. Last fall, Kim was widely reported to have ordered an investigation into whether the United States was sabotaging North Korea’s launches, and over the past week he has executed senior security officials. The approach taken in targeting the North Korean missiles has distinct echoes of the American- and Israeli-led sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program, the most sophisticated known use of a cyber weapon meant to cripple a nuclear threat. But even that use of the “Stuxnet” worm in Iran quickly ran into limits. It was effective for several years, until the Iranians figured it out and recovered. And Iran posed a relatively easy target: an underground nuclear enrichment plant that could be attacked repeatedly. In North Korea, the target is much more challenging. Missiles are fired from multiple launch sites around the country and moved about on mobile launchers in an elaborate shell game meant to deceive adversaries. To strike them, timing is critical. Advocates of the sophisticated effort to remotely manipulate data inside North Korea’s missile systems argue the United States has no real alternative because the effort to stop the North from learning the secrets of making nuclear weapons has already failed. The only hope now is stopping the country from developing an intercontinental missile, and demonstrating that destructive threat to the world. “Disrupting their tests,” William J. Perry, secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, said at a recent presentation in Washington, would be “a pretty effective way of stopping their ICBM program.” North Korea began seeking an intercontinental ballistic missile decades ago: It was the dream of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder, who bitterly remembered the American threats to use nuclear weapons against the North during the Korean War. His break came after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when out-of-work Russian rocket scientists began seeking employment in North Korea. Soon, a new generation of North Korean missiles began to appear, all knockoffs of Soviet designs. Though flight tests were sparse, American experts marveled at how the North seemed to avoid the kinds of failures that typically strike new rocket programs, including those of the United States in the late 1950s. The success was so marked that Timothy McCarthy of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey wrote in a 2001 analysis that Pyongyang’s record “appears completely unique in the history of missile development and production.” In response, President George W. Bush in late 2002 announced the deployment of antimissile interceptors in Alaska and California. At the same time, Bush accelerated programs to get inside the long supply chain of parts for North Korean missiles, lacing them with defects and weaknesses, a technique also used for years against Iran. By the time Obama took office in January 2009, the North had deployed hundreds of short- and medium-range missiles that used Russian designs, and had made billions of dollars selling its Scud missiles to Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. But it aspired to a new generation of missiles that could fire warheads over much longer distances. In secret cables written in the first year of the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out the emerging threat. Among the most alarming released by WikiLeaks, the cables described a new path the North was taking to reach its long-range goal, based on a missile designed by the Soviets decades ago for their submarines that carried thermonuclear warheads. It was called the R-27. Unlike the North’s lumbering, older rockets and missiles, these would be small enough to hide in caves and move into position by truck. The advantage was clear: This missile would be far harder for the United States to find and destroy. “North Korea’s next goal may be to develop a mobile ICBM that would be capable of threatening targets around the world,” said an October 2009 cable marked “Secret” and signed by Clinton. The next year, one of the new missiles showed up in a North Korean military parade, just as the intelligence reports had warned. By 2013, North Korean rockets thundered with new regularity. And that February, the North set off a nuclear test that woke up Washington: The monitoring data told of an explosion roughly the size of the bomb that had leveled Hiroshima. Days after the explosion, the Pentagon announced an expansion of its force of antimissile interceptors in California and Alaska. It also began to unveil its “left of launch” program to disable missiles before liftoff — hoping to bolster its chances of destroying them. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced the program, saying that “cyberwarfare, directed energy and electronic attack,” a reference to such things as malware, lasers and signal jamming, were all becoming important new adjuncts to the traditional ways of deflecting enemy strikes. He never mentioned North Korea. But a map accompanying General Dempsey’s policy paper on the subject showed one of the North’s missiles streaking toward the United States. Soon, in testimony before Congress and at public panels in Washington, current and former officials and a major contractor — Raytheon — began talking openly about “left of launch” technologies, in particular cyber and electronic strikes at the moment of launch. The North, meanwhile, was developing its own exotic arsenal. It tried repeatedly to disrupt American and South Korean military exercises by jamming electronic signals for guided weapons, including missiles. And it demonstrated its cyber power in the oddest of places — Hollywood. In 2014, it attacked Sony Pictures Entertainment with a strike that destroyed about 70 percent of the company’s computing systems, surprising experts with its technical savvy. Last month, a report on cyber vulnerabilities by the Defense Science Board, commissioned by the Pentagon during the Obama administration, warned that North Korea might acquire the ability to cripple the American power grid, and cautioned that it could never be allowed to “hold vital U.S. strike systems at risk.” Not long after General Dempsey made his public announcement, Obama and his defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, began calling meetings focused on one question: Could a crash program slow the North’s march toward an intercontinental ballistic missile? There were many options, some drawn from General Dempsey’s list. Obama ultimately pressed the Pentagon and intelligence agencies to pull out all the stops, which officials took as encouragement to reach for untested technologies. The North’s missiles soon began to fail at a remarkable pace. Some were destroyed, no doubt, by accident as well as by design. The technology the North was pursuing, using new designs and new engines, involved multistage rockets, introducing all kinds of possibilities for catastrophic mistakes. But by most accounts, the United States program accentuated the failures. The evidence was in the numbers. Most flight tests of an intermediate-range missile called the Musudan, the weapon that the North Koreans showed off in public just after Clinton’s warning, ended in flames: Its overall failure rate is 88 percent. Nonetheless Kim Jong-un has pressed ahead on his main goal: an intercontinental ballistic missile. Last April, he was photographed standing next to a giant test-stand, celebrating after engineers successfully fired off a matched pair of the potent Russian-designed R-27 engines. The implication was clear: Strapping two of the engines together at the base of a missile was the secret to building an ICBM that could ultimately hurl warheads at the United States. In September, he celebrated the most successful test yet of a North Korean nuclear weapon — one that exploded with more than twice the destructive force of the Hiroshima bomb. His next goal, experts say, is to combine those two technologies, shrinking his nuclear warheads to a size that can fit on an intercontinental missile. Only then can he credibly claim that his isolated country has the know-how to hit an American city thousands of miles away. In the last year of his presidency, Obama often noted publicly that the North was learning from every nuclear and missile test — even the failures — and getting closer to its goal. In private, aides noticed he was increasingly disturbed by North Korea’s progress. With only a few months left in office, he pushed aides for new approaches. At one meeting, he declared that he would have targeted the North Korean leadership and weapons sites if he thought it would work. But it was, as Obama and his assembled aides knew, an empty threat: Getting timely intelligence on the location of North Korea’s leaders or their weapons at any moment would be almost impossible, and the risks of missing were tremendous, including renewed war on the Korean Peninsula. As a presidential candidate, Trump complained that “we’re so obsolete in cyber,” a line that grated on officials at the United States Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, where billions of dollars have been spent to provide the president with new options for intelligence gathering and cyberattacks. Now, one of the immediate questions he faces is whether to accelerate or scale back those efforts. A decision to go after an adversary’s launch ability can have unintended consequences, experts warn. Once the United States uses cyber weapons against nuclear launch systems — even in a threatening state like North Korea — Russia and China may feel free to do the same, targeting fields of American missiles. Some strategists argue that all nuclear systems should be off limits for cyberattack. Otherwise, if a nuclear power thought it could secretly disable an adversary’s atomic controls, it might be more tempted to take the risk of launching a pre-emptive attack. “I understand the urgent threat,” said Amy Zegart, a Stanford University intelligence and cybersecurity expert, who said she had no independent knowledge of the American effort. “But 30 years from now we may decide it was a very, very dangerous thing to do.” Trump’s aides say everything is on the table. China recently cut off coal imports from the North, but the United States is also looking at ways to freeze the Kim family’s assets, some of which are believed held in Chinese-controlled banks. The Chinese have already opposed the deployment of THAAD in South Korea; the Trump team may call for even more such systems. The White House is also looking at pre-emptive military strike options, a senior Trump administration official said, though the challenge is huge given the country’s mountainous terrain and deep tunnels and bunkers. Putting American tactical nuclear weapons back in South Korea — they were withdrawn a quarter-century ago — is also under consideration, even if that step could accelerate an arms race with the North. Trump’s “It won’t happen!” post on Twitter about the North’s ICBM threat suggests a larger confrontation could be looming. “Regardless of Trump’s actual intentions,” James M. Acton, a nuclear analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently noted, “the tweet could come to be seen as a ‘red line’ and hence set up a potential test of his credibility.” (David E. Sanger and William Broad, “President Inherits Cyberwar on North Korea,” New York Times, March 4, 2017, p. 1)

Schiller and Hayes: “On March 6, 2017, the New York Times published an article that stated that the United States deployed cyberattacks against North Korea’s missile tests. The article implied that these attacks may have succeeded in causing the failure of North Korean missile tests. The assertion that cyberattacks could cause a higher rate of failure than would otherwise have occurred is, to put it mildly, a stretch, given the intervening variables and other factors that are well known to cause high failure rates early in missile testing programs. It is useful, therefore, to examine the fundamentals of how a missile could be caused to fail by a cyber-attack. In principle, interference with a missile’s guidance system may cause it to veer it off course, or even destroy it in flight. But this is not as easily done as people would imagine, or as is suggested in the New York Times article. To mess with a guidance system by hacking into it, it has contain a computer system that uses software. This sounds very obvious, but it is very important to be reminded of this, because different rockets use very different guidance system. The Falcon 9 space launcher from SpaceX, for example, uses a guidance system with software that is based on Linux. It should be possible to hack this software, or plant some virus in it that does something weird during launch. To do this, the attacker must be able to meet two conditions. First, the attacker must know which software is used, and understand how the software is working to create compatible lines of code that actually do what you want them to do, and to plant this code into the existing software. Second, the attacker must have access to the software, either by direct access to the guidance system you want to sabotage, or by infecting the software before it is transferred into the missile’s computers. Also, the malware should not be detected once it is planted. Certainly the DPRK would have established a guidance laboratory early in its missile program to develop accelerometers, gyroscopes, computers, and inertial platforms in the quest for an indigenous inertial guidance system and developed the transformation techniques needed to convert inertial measurements into targeting information. However, the DPRK is not yet capable of developing and producing the required sensors and computers and has had to buy in many of these parts from the world market. The chances that the United States could identify and implant malware in such black-market imports are low. Moreover, it is not likely that that the DPRK would have failed to take cyber warfare defensive counter-measures to protect its guidance research and development program. Of course, all bureaucracies make mistakes, especially when operating in compartmentalized, vertical silos like those in the DPRK. But it is unlikely that the DPRK military did not mount cyber defenses given that it was forewarned by media reports in 2011 of the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s centrifuge program. It may also have been aware of the US National Security Agency attempts starting in 2010 to penetrate North Korea’s cyber systems. And it certainly has highly capable and world class cyber warriors to lend a hand. Even if the DPRK missile guidance system community let down its guard, U.S. knowledge of North Korea’s missile program is quite limited. It is doubtful that the United States has sufficient knowledge of the DPRK’s missile guidance software code, or even which software is used. It is also highly improbable that the DPRK’s missiles have a WiFi link, or Internet access, which could be used to infect the guidance software. But, even more basic: some missile guidance systems cannot be hacked, because they are not software-based. The Scud B guidance system, for example, is quite close to the guidance system that the German A4/V2 used during World War 2. This system is based on mechanical inputs. You cannot hack it, just as you cannot hack old Wurlitzer jukeboxes, or mechanical computers. There is no software, no line of code that could be modified. Scuds, of course, use a Scud-type guidance system, as does the Nodong. And judging by the technology that was found inside the Unha first stage, the Unha satellite launcher also uses some kind of this guidance type, perhaps just a modified Scud guidance system. There is simply no way to infect these systems with malware. The question today is whether the DPRK’s Musudan and the KN-15 missiles use a similar non-cyber guidance system; or if they use some type of modern strap-down guidance system that is based on sensors and a computer, and is running some software. And this question leads us straight to the old questions of where these missiles come from, what technology they are based on, and at what time they were actually developed. If the Musudan indeed is based on the R-27/SS-N-6, the chances are high that the original guidance system of this missile was also used for the Musudan, which means Soviet technology from the nineteen sixties, which would have been mechanical and therefore “hack-proof.” Even if the DPRK uses a modern guidance system on the Musudan, it is doubtful that the United States would have had access to the guidance software and be able to plant a code in there. And missiles do not have an USB port that you can use to infect their computer via USB stick, or just connect from a distance via Bluetooth. Such an insertion would have to be highly targeted, specific to the design and software used in the DPRK’s laboratory, and able to circumvent all the obvious countermeasures and barriers that would stand in the way of such an effort in the first place. Such a combination strains credulity. The New York Times article hearkens back to the movie “Independence Day”, where the world is saved from the Alien invasion by simply planting a computer virus into the mothership’s main computer by somehow just sending it over with a standard laptop. This might work in movies, but not in reality. Perhaps the more interesting story is who leaked to the New York Times the claims of the efficacy of cyberattacks on North Korea’s missiles and why now? We wonder if it is part of a policy battle in the course of the Trump Administration’s North Korea policy review, possibly designed to get President Trump’s attention. It might also be an intentional effort to conduct psychological warfare against the DPRK by creating paranoia and purges within the DPRK missile program. It might also be a way to impress allies and third parties that the United States has been doing more behind the scenes than patiently waiting for the DPRK threat to resolve itself and imposing ineffectual sanctions. We don’t know.” (Markus Schiller and Peter Hayes, “Could Cyberattacks Defeat North Korean Missile Tests?” NAPSnet, March 7, 2017)

KCNA: “The U.S. imperialists and south Korean puppet military warmongers staged the largest-ever joint military exercise for searching and destroying strategic facilities of the DPRK in Phochon, Kyonggi Province from February 14 to 17, according to the south Korean Yonhap News. They are mulling waging again such exercise during the Foal Eagle drill with ground, naval and air forces involved.” (KCNA, “U.S., S. Korean Warmongers Stage Exercise for Searching and Destroying Strategic Facilities of DPRK,” March 5, 2017)

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said that it would quadruple the cash reward it provides for North Korean defectors arriving with important information to 1 billion won, or $860,000 from $217,000, in an effort to encourage more elite members from the North to flee. Since famine hit the North in the mid-1990s, more than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South. The South Korean government helps them resettle by providing job training, rent and other subsidies. But it has also offered extra cash rewards for those who defected with information on the North Korean military or the inner workings of the secretive North Korean government, as well as for those who fled with military planes or other weapons. Defectors who flee with a warship or a military fighter jet will also get $860,000, instead of the current $130,000. Those who arrive with lesser weapons, like a tank or a machine gun, can expect rewards ranging from $43,000 to $260,000. The new cash awards will take effect in April, the ministry said. South Korea said the drastic increases reflected the effects of inflation over the 20 years since the rewards were last adjusted. They come at a time when South Korean officials say that more elite members from North Korea, deeply disappointed with their leader, Kim Jong-un, and fearful of his “reign of terror,” are trying to defect to the South. (Choe Sang-hun, “South Korea Increases Rewards for Northern Defectors,” New York Times, March 6, 2017, p. A-7)


3/6/17:
North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the waters off its east coast this morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, the latest sign of Pyongyang’s determination to push ahead with its missile program despite increasing pressure against it. The Joint Chiefs said the projectiles were launched from Tongchang-ri in North Korea’s northwestern North Pyongan Province, at 7:36 a.m. Seoul time. North Korea has a launch site for longer-range rockets northwest of the capital Pyongyang. They said the projectiles flew about 620 miles and that the South Korean authorities were analyzing exactly what type of projectiles were fired. There were no immediate signs of any damage. A Japanese government spokesman said North Korea launched four missiles, and that three had landed inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, an area extending about 230 miles out to sea from its coastline. South Korea’s acting president, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, convened a meeting of the Standing Committee of the National Security Council in response this morning. Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said he would hold a meeting of its National Security Council to discuss the missile launches. South Korea’s national-security adviser, Kim Kwan-jin, also spoke by phone with Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a spokesman for the South Korean president’s office said. During the meeting, Hwang called the missile launch “an act of outright defiance to the international community, and a serious provocation.” The U.S. State Department condemned the launches on Sunday night, while reaffirming its commitment to defending allies including South Korea and Japan. “The [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]’s provocations only serve to increase the international community’s resolve to counter the DPRK’s prohibited weapons of mass destruction programs,” said Mark Toner, acting State Department spokesman. A South Korean defense ministry official said the flight paths of four projectiles — including the flight distance and the maximum height of about 160 miles — indicate they weren’t ICBMs. “The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” said Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman. As with its launch in February, which came while Trump was meeting with Abe in West Palm Beach, Fla., analysts and experts struggled to identify details of the exact launch. In that case, analysts initially identified the missile as an intermediate-range missile it had previously fired. But the missile was actually a modified version of a submarine-launched missile that Pyongyang called the Polaris-2, boasting new capabilities some experts hadn’t yet expected North Korea to have developed. In this case, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs initially identified one missile launch from Tongchang-ri site, but then modified their assessment to include three more missiles, though it remains unclear whether those missiles were also fired from the same site. “This is an unusual launch because of its number and location. If it was this number in a different location or just one launch from this location, it would make sense,” said Scott LaFoy, a satellite-imagery and ballistic-missile analyst based in Washington. “North Korea is getting very good at switching up their tests. They keep changing the variables analysts watch for, so it is harder to quickly assess what any one event was.” The North’s missile launch took place as the U.S. and South Korea were conducting annual joint military exercises, strongly opposed by Pyongyang. Jeffrey Lewis, an arms-control expert at the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said it was normal for the North launch a salvo of missiles during big U.S. exercises, to signal that they can “practice nuking the forces we are practicing with to invade them.” He added that “they are conveying that their plan, early on, is to use nuclear-armed missiles at our forces in the region to repel an attack.” (Jonathan Cheng and Kwanwoo Jun, “North Korea Fires Missiles, Fanning Regional Concerns,” Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2017, p. 1) Japan believes one of the ballistic missiles test-fired by North Korea earlier in the week may have come closer to its coast than any other missile launched by Pyongyang in the past, splashing down some 200 kilometers out to sea, a Japanese government source said March 9. The missile, one of four launched nearly simultaneously this morning from North Korea’s northwest, fell into the Sea of Japan around 200 km north-northwest of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide told a press conference. (Kyodo, “North Korean Missile May Have Come Closer to Japan than Any in the Past,” March 9, 2017) North Korea was practicing to strike United States military bases in Japan with its latest barrage of missiles, state media in Pyongyang reported March 7, and it appeared to be trying to outsmart a new American antimissile battery being deployed to South Korea by firing multiple rockets at once. Kim Jong Un presided over today’s launch of the four missiles, “feasting his eyes on the trails of ballistic rockets,” KCNA reported in a statement that analysts called a “brazen declaration” of the country’s intent to strike enemies with a nuclear weapon if it came under attack. “If the United States or South Korea fires even a single flame inside North Korean territory, we will demolish the origin of the invasion and provocation with a nuclear tipped missile,” the KCNA statement said. The four ballistic missiles fired this morning were launched by the elite Hwasong ballistic missile division “tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan,” KCNA said. The United States has numerous military bases and about 54,000 military personnel stationed in Japan, the legacy of its postwar security alliance with the country. Three of the four missiles flew about 600 miles over North Korea and landed in the sea, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone off the Oga Peninsula in Akita prefecture, home to a Japanese self-defense forces base. The fourth fell just outside the zone. North Korea did not say what kind of missiles it had fired, but after poring over photos released by state media, analysts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California said they were extended-range Scuds capable of flying more than 600 miles. North Korea’s extended-range Scud is halfway between a traditional short-range Scud and the medium-range missile known as the Rodong. But they can be produced much more cheaply than the Rodong, Lewis said, meaning that North Korea could fire them with more abandon. North Korea has tested these types of missiles before, so the point of today’s launches was not to see if the rockets would fly, but to test how quickly the unit could set them up and deploy them — classic training for a wartime situation, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute. “They want to know if they can get these missiles out into the field rapidly and deploy them all at once,” Lewis said. “They are practicing launching a nuclear-armed missile and hitting targets in Japan as if this was a real war.” KCNA reported that the four missiles were launched simultaneously and that Kim commented that they “are so accurate that they look like acrobatic flying corps in formation.” This appeared to be a further challenge to the United States and South Korea, which said March 7 that it had started deploying the advanced antimissile battery called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, designed to protect the region against North Korea’s rockets. The first parts of the THAAD system arrived today at Osan Air Base south of Seoul, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said. But THAAD would have difficulty intercepting four missiles launched at the same time, analysts said. Furthermore, Osan Air Base is less than 300 miles from the missile launch site in North Korea — another apparent message to Pyongyang’s enemies. The launches coincided with joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, drills that take place every year and that North Korea views as preparation for an invasion. After the missiles were launched, the U.S. Strategic Command said it had determined that the missile launch “did not pose a threat to North America.” But KCNA reported that the 33-year-old Kim had ordered the strategic forces to be on high alert, “as required by the grim situation in which an actual war may break out anytime, and get fully ready to promptly move.” (Anna Fifield, “North Korea Said It Was Practicing to Hit U.S. Military Bases in Japan with Missiles,” Washington Post, March 7, 2017) A new open-source intelligence analysis of North Korean state-run media by missile experts has shown what appears to be the hypothetical target of the country’s test-launches earlier this week: U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Using images released by North Korean state media — including one showing a map detailing the range of the missiles — David Schmerler and Jeffrey Lewis of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, determined that the drill intended to simulate a nuclear attack on the base at Iwakuni. “This is the first time that the North Koreans have been specific about attacking U.S. Forces in Japan,” Lewis told Japan Times. “But last year, a North Korean missile unit launched a Nodong to simulate a nuclear attack on Busan, (South Korea).” Last July, the North said it held a similar drill that “was conducted by limiting the firing range under the simulated conditions of making pre-emptive strikes at ports and airfields in the operational theater in South Korea,” KCNA said in a dispatch at the time. An accompanying photo, similar to the one released Tuesday, showed a map that displayed the possible flight path of the missiles from Hwangju, North Korea, to areas near South Korea’s southern port cities of Ulsan and Busan. Because the flight path of the four missiles launched was about 1,000 km into the Sea of Japan off the coasts of Aomori and Akita prefectures, Schmerler said he initially believed the simulation might be targeting the U.S. air base in Misawa, Aomori. “But the range would be a push for the ER Scud to be reasonably used,” he said. Instead, Lewis suggested that U.S. bases in both Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, and Iwakuni would be within range from ER Scuds deployed near the North’s Sohae Satellite Launch Station in Dongchang-ri, where the March 6 missiles were launched. After discovering the map photo from today’s launch, Schmerler compared it with the similar shot from the Busan drill in July, concluding that Iwakuni was the “hypothetical target for the (recent) drill,” he said. Besides American personnel, the U.S. base at Iwakuni is also home to Fleet Air Wing 31 of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, and other units of the MSDF. At present, the station has about 15,000 personnel, including Japanese national employees. The base is also now home to a squadron of F-35B stealth fighters, after the U.S. deployed them in January, marking the first operational overseas deployment for the high-tech aircraft. Lewis said the March 6 drill “demonstrates that North Korea’s war plan is to engage in the large-scale use of nuclear weapons against U.S. forces in the region to ‘repel’ an invasion.” Media reports have said the F-35B would participate in the exercises, known as Foal Eagle. “The addition of the F-35B is meant to deliver a strong message to the North that they could be used against the rogue state in case of a conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula,” Yonhap quoted an unidentified military official as saying last week. This, said both Lewis and Schmerler, was likely the North’s rationale for targeting Iwakuni. “North Korea sees Foal Eagle as a dress rehearsal for an invasion,” Lewis said. “So the missile launch is their rehearsal for using nuclear weapons to stop the invasion.” Asked about the analysis at a daily news conference on March 8, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide said he was not aware that Iwakuni may have been the simulation’s target, but noted the 1,000-km range would put it and other areas in Japan within the North’s sights. “The missiles flew for 1,000 km, so if you take that into account, western Japan, including Shikoku, could surely be a target,” Suga said, reiterating Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s comment that the government views the four missiles’ simultaneous launch as “a new level of threat.” A spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan also declined comment on the apparent threat to Iwakuni, but reiterated the U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan and South Korea. “We remain prepared and will continue to take steps to increase our readiness to defend ourselves and our allies from attack, and are prepared to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against this growing threat,” U.S. Air Force Maj. John Severns said in an email. According to Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Australia, targeting Iwakuni could be a “way of letting us know they have the ability to hit U.S. bases in Japan that are likely to be used in a Korean contingency.” Graham also noted the threat to Japanese living nearby. “I wonder how the people of Hiroshima will feel at the prospect they may again be targeted by nuclear weapons in wartime, given the proximity of the marine base at Iwakuni,” he said. (Jesse Johnson, “North Korea Missile Drill Simulated Targeting Iwakuni Base, Analysis Shows,” Japan Times, March 8, 2017)

Fred Kaplan: “[T]he Joint Chiefs of Staff and the officers of the U.S. Pacific Command had devised a concrete plan for attacking North Korea. … The Trump-ordered plan assumed the United States would strike the first blow. It was a plan covering what officers call ‘the full array of military options’ different options for different scenarios – including, ultimately if necessary, a nuclear option. The scenarios began with North Korea preparing to launch a missile. If intelliegcen idnciated that the missile was armed with a nuclear warhead, one set of actions would be recommended; if the missile was headed to Japan, the plan would suggest a different set of actions; if it was headed toward the United States, a different set still. Under the plan, the first phase of the attack was to strike the launch pad with Army Tactical Missiles, known as ATACMs – ballistic missiles tipped with highly accurate conventional munitions, deployed on U.S. Army bases in South Korea, having sufficient range to hit targets throughout North Korea. Under this scenario, if the North Koreans hadn’t yet launched their missile, the ATACM would destroy it on the launch pad; if they had launched the missile, the ATACM would hit the launch pad anyway, demonstrating what the United States was willing to do – and ossibly killing some of the North Korean leaders, maybe even Kim himself, who often observed missile tests in person. … Some on the White House staff believed, or at least hoped out loud in private conversations, that the North Koreans would not retaliate; the strike would be too small, too clearly onfined to one target, for them to expand the confrontation; Kim and hs entourage would be so shcked by the strike – by the sheer, unprecedented act of an American attack – that they would have to step back. When vague details were leaked to the press, it became known as the ‘bloody nose’ plan – the idea being that a single punch would make Kim wobble and bring the fight to an end: a politico-military TKO. But military officers, including those who wrote the plan, were not so confident that Kim would simply reel. They thought it more likely that he would retaliate against South Korea or Japan, possibly against American military units in either or both of those countries – forcing the president to hit back, and so the conflict would spiral upward, eventually escalating to all-out war. The Joint Staff’s OPLAN … contained an option to launch nuclear weapons at eighty targets, mostly military and leadership sites, across North Korea. The OPLAN was not the starting point for the plan that Trump ordered; the new plan laid out a series of more limited strikes, with several stages of escalation, which, at some point, might make Kim alter his calculus and back down. But the officers had no illusions that they knew where Kim’s cracking pointwas; most of them figured he probably wouldn’t crack. The OPLAN was what would be put in motion if the Trump-ordered plan didn’t produce the desired effects. So the military commanders and the Joint Chiefs urged the president to take no action unless and until he was ready to go the full distance, H-bombs included. When a reporter asked [Defense Secretary] Mattis if there were military options the U.S. could take without putting South Korea at risk, he replied, ‘Yes, there are, but I will not go into details.’ The telling point was that he did not claim the options were realistic. At first, Mattis ignored the request from the White House to work up a new war plan. The request came early in the Trump term, after intelligence revealed that the North Koreans were about to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. Mattis wasn’t keen on preventive war; or was he confident that the first blow in such a war would be the final blow. … In short, Mattis didn’t think there were anygood military options in Korea and he didn’t want to foster the illusion that there were. Mattis’ resistance infuriated [National Security Advier] McMaster … The two officers did not get along. … In the end, McMaster got his – and Trump’s – way. Mattis could slow-roll his disobedience for only so long. Before the end of spring, a new war plan was in place. … Starting on Mrch 9 and continuing through November 29, every time the North Koreans launched a ballistic missile – fifteen launches in all, involving twenty-two mssiles – the National Military Command Center, inside the Pentagon, coordinated a ‘national event’ conference call with the relevant four-star generals, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of Strategic Command, Pacific Command, Northern Command, and U.S. Forces Korea. Early warning radars, installed in Korea, detected the launch – and usually preparations for the launch – in real time. The officers were plugged into the conference call within a few minutes of th alert. General John Hyten, the commander o StratCom, had stepped up the rehearsals of these conference calls since arriving at the Omaha headquarters the previous November, toard the end of Obama’s presidency. The conference calls had an air of urgency, not only because they weren’t drills, but also because, until a North Korean missile was launched, and sometimes not until it touched down, the American generals did not know whether the launch was a test or the onset of an attack. On at least five of those fifteen occasions, when a different type of missile was launched (for instance, a missile with three stages, suggesting it might be an ICBM) or whe it was headed toward Japan, the National Military Command Center brought cabinet secretaries into the conference call – Mattis, McMaster, Tillerson, and sometimes Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. The crises never got to the point where Trump was called in; by the time when he might have been, the nature of the launch – the fact that it was a tet – had been established. But if these officers and officials had decided to take military action, Mattis possessed the legal authority to fire ATACMs at the North Korean launch site – to take the first step to what he and others thought would probably spiral into a major war. And starting with North Korea’s mssile launch in March, its second launch of the year, the ATACMs were moved into position and kept in a constant state of readiness. On two occasions, just after the North Koreans launched their missile, Mattis ordered the U.S. commander in South Korea to fire an ATACM – not at the launch pad or any other target in North Korea, but Rather into the Sea of Japan, along a path running parallel to the North-South Korean border. On those two occasions, South Korean officers, who were brought into the consultations, fired Hyunmoo-2 missiles – their version of ATACMs – at the same time, along a similar path. The South Koreans fired their missiles on three additional occasions when Mattis decided not to. Both of the ATACM firings took place between June and early August – before Trump’s bellicose remarks of August 8.” (Fred Kaplan, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020) , pp. 265-69)


3/?/17:
President Trump meets with DCI Mike Pompeo and just retired CIA case officer Andy Kim, whom Pompeo tasked with setting up a North Korean mission center and planning for the covert overthrow of Kim Jong Un. (Woodward, Rage, pp.42-3) One of Kim’s first actions was to reach to a back-channel contact in the North Korean intelligence service he’d developed 20 years earlier. The White House sanctioned the meeting, which he arranged in a third country. His instructions were to find out what North Korea wanted. The contact could not give Kim authoritative information about the real goals. (p. 89)


3/7/17:
Alarmed over North Korea’s increasingly provocative behavior, the United States said that it had started to deploy THAAD in South Korea that China has angrily opposed as a threat to its security. The deployment came after North Korea launched four ballistic missiles yesterday, apparently in response to joint naval exercises by South Korea and the United States. Those launchings led South Korea to call for the accelerated deployment of THAAD. A spokeswoman for the United States forces in South Korea said that one of five major components of the missile system had arrived yesterday. Officials said it could take a couple of months for the system to become fully operational. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had urged the South Koreans to move ahead with the deployment of the system during a visit to Seoul in February. In telephone calls yesterday to South Korean and Japanese leaders, President Trump said the United States would stand with its Asian allies and take steps to defend against North Korea’s growing ballistic missile threat. Trump emphasized that the United States was taking steps to “enhance our ability to deter and defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles using the full range of United States military capabilities,” the White House said in a statement. China has been incensed over the deployment of the system, fearing it could give the United States military the ability to quickly detect and track missiles launched in China, according to analysts. A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Geng Shuang, said today that China would “take the necessary steps to safeguard our own security interests, and the consequences will be shouldered by the United States and South Korea.” Geng warned the two countries not to “go further and further down the wrong road.” Yang Xiyu, a former senior Chinese official who once oversaw talks with North Korea, said China was worried that the deployment of the system would open the door to a broader American network of antimissile systems in the region, possibly in places like Japan and the Philippines, to counter a growing Chinese military. “China can see benefits only for a U.S. regional plan, not for South Korea’s national security interest,” he said. The state media recently encouraged Chinese citizens to boycott South Korean products and companies over the THAAD issue. The Chinese authorities recently forced the closing of 23 stores owned by Lotte, a South Korean conglomerate that agreed to turn over land that it owned for use in the THAAD deployment. Hundreds of Chinese protested at Lotte stores over the weekend, some holding banners that read, “Get out of China.” Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the head of the United States Pacific Command, announced the start of the deployment, saying that “continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday’s launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea.” The developments come as South Korea is consumed by turmoil over the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, whose administration agreed to the deployment. But with the president facing possible removal from office over a corruption scandal, the fate of the system had been in doubt. Its accelerated deployment could make it harder, if not impossible, for her successor to head off its installation. Moon Jae-in, an opposition leader who is the front-runner in the race to replace President Park, acknowledged that it would be difficult to overturn South Korea’s agreement to deploy the system. But he has insisted that the next South Korean government should have the final say on the matter, saying that Park’s government never allowed a full debate on it. Under its deal with Washington, South Korea is providing the land for the missile system and will build the base, but the United States will pay for the system, to be built by Lockheed Martin, as well as its operational costs. The United States military statement said that “the first elements” of THAAD were deployed yesterday, the same day as the North’s missile launchings. A C-17 cargo plane landed at the United States military’s Osan Air Base, about 40 miles south of Seoul, last evening, carrying two trucks, each mounted with a THAAD launchpad. More equipment and personnel will start arriving in the coming weeks, South Korean military officials said. “South Korea and the United States are doing their best to make the THAAD system operational as soon as possible,” the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a statement today, adding that the system was necessary “to protect South Korea from the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea.” The ministry declined to specify when the system would be operational. But Yonhap reported that the deployment was likely to be completed in one or two months, with the system ready for use by April. The arrival of THAAD equipment was announced after South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, talked with Trump on the phone on this morning. The two leaders condemned the North’s missile tests as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and agreed to beef up the allies’ joint defense posture, strengthen sanctions and step up pressure against the North, Hwang’s office said. On the phone with Trump, Hwang called the North’s nuclear and missile threat a “present and direct danger” to its allies, his office said. The Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo, said he spoke for 25 minutes on Tuesday with Trump, who reiterated his pledge to stand by Japan “100 percent,” according to the public broadcaster NHK. “I appreciate that the United States is showing that all the options are on the table,” Abe said, adding that Japan was “ready to fulfill larger roles and responsibilities” to deter North Korea. Kawakami Takashi, a professor of international politics and security at Takushoku University in Tokyo, said the deployment of THAAD could put the United States in a stronger position to consider a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. If the United States took such action, he said, “North Korea is going to make a counterattack on the U.S. or Japan or another place, so in this case they will use THAAD.” With tensions increasing over the deployment of the system, some in China have advocated stern measures, including severing diplomatic relations with South Korea, or more. A retired general, Luo Yuan, even suggested that China destroy the system with a military strike. “We could conduct a surgical hard-kill operation that would destroy the target, paralyzing it and making it unable to hit back,” General Luo wrote in Global Times, a state-run newspaper. (Gerry Mullany and Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Deploys Antimissile System in South Korea after North’s Launches,” New York Times, March 7, 2017, p. A-9) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe informed U.S. President Donald Trump on March 7 that Japan is willing to play a larger security role to counter the growing threat from North Korea. “Japan is prepared to perform more activities and responsibilities to heighten deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Abe told Trump during their 25-minute phone conversation. “To do that, we want to promote studies and talks (with the United States) in a rapid manner.” Abe and Trump agreed to hold a bilateral “2 plus 2” meeting of the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries at an early date. The two leaders also agreed that Japan and the United States will closely cooperate with South Korea in dealing with the belligerence of North Korea. (Asahi Shimbun, “Abe to Trump: Japan Ready to Do More to Deal with North Korea,” March 7, 2017)

KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA on the spot. Involved in the drill were Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in contingency. Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un learned in detail about the preparations for fire strike while going round the ballistic rocket launching grounds. At an observation post he was briefed on a launching plan and gave an order to start the drill. Feasting his eyes on the trails of ballistic rockets, he appreciated that Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force are very good at organizing and commanding fire strikes and strictly ensuring rapid and simultaneous fire strikes. The four ballistic rockets launched simultaneously are so accurate that they look like acrobatic flying corps in formation, he said. Praising once again the Hwasong artillerymen for successfully concluding the drill for launching ballistic rockets simultaneously, he added that it is a great pride of the Party and state, army and people to have such strongest one as the KPA Strategic Force equipped with Korean-style powerful ballistic rockets and Juche-based fire strike methods. He gave the officials accompanying him the tasks to be fulfilled to strictly establish a monolithic leadership system and commanding and managing system of the Supreme Commander over the strategic force, further round off the Juche-based rocket striking methods put on an actual, scientific and modern basis, continuously develop Korean-style ultra-precision and intellectually promoted rockets and bolster them in quality and quantity. He ordered the KPA Strategic Force to keep highly alert as required by the grim situation in which an actual war may break out anytime, and get fully ready to promptly move, take positions and strike so that it can open fire to annihilate the enemies once the Party Central Committee issues an order. Expressing expectation and belief that the Hwasong artillerymen of the KPA Strategic Force would successfully discharge their sacred mission and duty as creditable nuclear force of the Workers’ Party of Korea in the death-defying struggle against the enemies, he had a photo session with them. Accompanying him were Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Jong Sik and other leading officials of the WPK Central Committee and scientists and technicians in the nuclear weapon and rocket research fields. (KCNA, “Kim Jong Un Supervises Ballistic Launching Rocket Drill of Hwasong Artillery Unites of KPA Strategic Force,” March 7, 2017)

The apparent success of four simultaneous missile launchings by North Korea yesterday raised new alarms about the threat to its neighbors and its progress toward developing an ability to overcome their ballistic missile defense systems, including those that have yet to be deployed. In Japan, analysts said the launches suggested that North Korea could pose a more serious threat than indicated by previous tests. Indeed, North Korea said that the tests were conducted by units “tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in contingency.” “That would mean a lot in terms of the defense of Tokyo, because North Korea might have been conducting a simulation of a ‘saturation attack’ in which they launch a number of missiles simultaneously in order to saturate the missile defense that Japan has,” said Michishita Narushige, director of the Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “It would be difficult for Japan to shoot down four missiles all at the same time because of our limited missile defense.” KCNA said today that the launches were timed to counter a joint United States-South Korean military exercise. Japan’s Coast Guard sent out navigation warnings and stepped up air and sea patrols on yesterday after three of the missiles landed within the country’s so-called exclusive economic zone, where fishing and cargo ships are active. The fourth landed outside it, though nearby. During a parliamentary committee session yesterday morning, Abe said that the launches “clearly represent a new threat from North Korea.” The missiles took off from Tongchang-ri, in northwestern North Korea, and flew an average of 620 miles before falling into the sea between North Korea and Japan, said Noh Jae-chon, a South Korean military spokesman. Michishita, of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said the missile launches could accelerate a discussion within the Japanese government about whether Japan should acquire more missile defense systems, including THAAD. In January, Japan’s defense minister, Inada Tomomi, visited a United States Air Force base on Guam for a briefing on THAAD. After North Korea’s missile test last month, Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party formed a committee to discuss the country’s ballistic missile defenses, and it plans to debate various options, including THAAD, early warning satellites and other defense systems that could intercept incoming missiles. North Korea’s provocations could also embolden Abe in his campaign to raise military spending. “This can be used by the government as a pretty credible reason why we have to spend more on defense at the expense of other budget items,” including social welfare programs, Michishita said. Mainichi Shimbun reported that residents in Akita Prefecture, which sits closest to where the missiles landed in the Sea of Japan, were concerned by the increasing frequency of the tests. Asai Kazuhiro, director of the Kitaura branch of the Fishermen’s Cooperative of Akita Prefecture, told Mainichi Shimbun that members of the group were frightened by the launches. (Mokoto Rich, “North Korean Missile Test Raises Stakes for Japan,” New York Times, March 7, 2017, p. A-7)

Woodward: “Trump invited [Senator Lindsay] Graham to lunch at the White House. …’What’s on your mind?’ Trump asked. ‘Short term, North Korea,’ Graham said. ‘There’ll come a day when somebody’s going to come in and say, ‘Mr. President, they’re on the verge of getting a missile. They’ve miniaturized a nuclear weapon to put on it. They can hit the homeland. What do you want us to do?’ …’What do you think I should do about it?’ he asked. ‘You can accept they’ve got a missile and tell them and China that if you ever use it, that’s the end of North Korea,’ Graham said. ‘And have a missile defense system that has a high percentage of knocking it down. That’s scenario one. Scenario two is that you tell China that we’re not going to let them get get such a missile to hit our homeland. And if you don’t take care of it, I will.’ ‘What would you do?’ the president asked. It had to be the second option, Graham said. You can’t let them have that capability. Number one is too risky. The president leaned toward [H.R.] McMaster. ‘What do you think?’ ’I think he’s right,’ the national security adviser said. ‘If it gets to be a mature threat,’ Graham said, don’t let us [Congress] just sit on the sidelines and bitch and moan. If you had the evidence, the day that they come in and tell you that, you call the congressional leadership up and say, I may have to use force here. Let me tell you why I want your backing to use force against North Korea. If we had a vote that was decisive and you had that authorization in your back pocket, it may prevent you from having to use it.’ ‘That’d be very provocative,’ Priebus said. ‘It’s menat to be provocative.’ Graham said. ‘You only do it as a last result.’ ‘That will get everyone worried and excited,’ Priebus said. ‘I don’t give a shit who I make nervous,’ Trump said.” (Woodward, Fear, pp. 100-02)

North Korea said that it was barring all Malaysians from leaving the country until there is a “fair settlement” of a dispute over the assassination in Kuala Lumpur of Kim Jong-nam. Malaysia responded in kind, with Prime Minister Najib Razak instructing the police to prevent all North Koreans from leaving Malaysia until he was assured of the safety of Malaysians in North Korea. The developments were a dramatic escalation in the diplomatic dispute over Kim’s killing, in which the Malaysian police have said that several North Koreans are suspects. Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s top police official, confirmed at a news conference that at least two suspects had taken refuge at the North Korean Embassy and that North Korea had refused a request to hand them over. “The North Korean authorities are not cooperating with us in this investigation,” he said. He said the police would wait as long as necessary to arrest Kim, the airline employee, and Ri, if he is there. “If it takes five years, we will wait outside,” he said. “Definitely somebody will come out.” North Korea’s statement on Tuesday described the exit ban as temporary. But Pyongyang has been accused of playing hostage politics before, partly to complicate negotiations over its nuclear arms and missile development. In 2014, North Korea said it would reopen an investigation into Japanese citizens it was accused of abducting during the Cold War, but it halted that inquiry last year in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Japan over a rocket launch. Duyeon Kim, a Seoul-based nonresident fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, said on Tuesday that North Korea was “playing dirty and not diplomatically, apparently hoping this might force Malaysia to reverse its findings” about Kim’s killing. Today’s developments follow the tit-for-tat expulsion of ambassadors between the two countries. Kang Chol, North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia, was expelled on yesterday over what Malaysia considered to be insulting comments. North Korea responded by formally expelling Malaysia’s ambassador, Mohamad Nizan Mohamad, though he had already been recalled to Malaysia for consultations. (Richard C. Paddock, “North Korea, Citing Kim Jong-nam Dispute, Blocks Malaysians from Exiting,” New York Times, March 7, 2017)

As part of a settlement for breaking sanctions and selling electronics to Iran and North Korea, ZTE agreed to plead guilty and pay $1.19 billion in fines, the United States Department of Commerce said in an announcement. The penalty is the largest criminal fine in a United States sanctions case. The action is the latest in a series of skirmishes between the United States and China over technology policy. It also offered a chance for President Trump’s young administration to make a statement about the seriousness of United States sanctions. In addition to ZTE, the Commerce Department is also investigating the company’s larger Chinese rival, Huawei, for violating United States sanctions. “We are putting the world on notice: The games are over,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross. “Those who flout our economic sanctions and export control laws will not go unpunished — they will suffer the harshest of consequences.” ZTE was found to have breached United States sanctions against Iran by selling American-made goods to the country last March. At the time, the Commerce Department said it would force American companies to obtain a special license to sell to ZTE, which makes smartphones and telecommunications infrastructure equipment. The restrictions would have had the potential to cripple ZTE’s supply chain. The ban, however, was never put in place, and instead the Chinese company was given a series of reprieves. Still, ZTE, which is China’s second-largest maker of telecom equipment, has not fared well over the past year. Its revenue from the expansion of China’s 4G cellular networks has slowed and its smartphone business has faced major competition from new Chinese handset makers, as well as Huawei. Today, the Commerce Department said that along with selling prohibited American electronics to build Iran’s telecom networks, ZTE also made 283 shipments of microprocessors, servers and routers to North Korea, violating American embargoes in that country as well. “ZTE engaged in an elaborate scheme to acquire U.S.-origin items, send the items to Iran and mask its involvement in those exports,” said the acting assistant attorney general, Mary B. McCord. “The plea agreement alleges that the highest levels of management within the company approved the scheme.” She added that ZTE repeatedly lied to and misled federal investigators, its own lawyers and internal investigators. In a statement, ZTE said that it had strengthened its compliance policies and undergone a shake-up of top leaders; the company named a new chief executive last April. “ZTE acknowledges the mistakes it made, takes responsibility for them and remains committed to positive change in the company,” said Zhao Xianming, chairman and chief executive of ZTE. It is unclear whether the Commerce Department has completed its investigations into Chinese telecom equipment makers. In a rare step accompanying the announcement last March, the Commerce Department provided two internal ZTE documents. One, from 2011 and signed by several senior ZTE executives, detailed how the company had “ongoing projects in all five major embargoed countries — Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Syria and Cuba.” Another document laid out in a complex flow chart a method for circumventing United States export controls. Citing an unnamed company as a model for circumventing United States sanctions, that second document seemed to implicate ZTE’s more politically important rival, Huawei. The New York Times reported last year that the United States government was also investigating whether Huawei broke export controls. The Commerce Department subpoenaed Huawei, demanding it turn over all information regarding the export or re-export of American technology to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. Huawei has said it is committed to complying with laws and regulations where it operates. Huawei and ZTE are private companies, but they have deep ties to the Chinese government, in part because they supply much of the equipment that makes the country’s telecom backbone function. (Paul Mozur and Cecilia Kang, “U.S. Fines Chinese Electronics Company ZTE for Breaching Sanctions,” New York Times, March 8, 2017, p. B-3)


3/8/17:
China, fearing a rapid escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula, called on North Korea on to top its nuclear and missile tests and for South Korea and the United States to stop joint military drills and seek talks instead. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the tests by the North and the joint drills across the border in South Korea were causing tension to increase like two “accelerating trains coming toward each other.” At his annual news conference on the sidelines of the meeting of China’s parliament in Beijing, Wang said, “China’s suggestion is, as a first step, for North Korea to suspend nuclear and missile activities, and for the U.S. and South Korea to also suspend large-scale military drills.” Such a “dual suspension” would allow all sides to return to the negotiating table, Wang said. “Holding nuclear weapons won’t bring security, using military force won’t be a way out,” Wang said. “There remains a chance of resuming talks, there is still hope for peace.” (Ben Blanchard, “China Asks North Korea to Stop Missile Tests, Tells U.S. and South to Seek Talks,” Reuters, March 8, 2017)

Wang Yi press conference: “Reuters: The situation on the Korean Peninsula at the moment is extremely tense. North Korea has again test missiles this week. Does China think there will be war on the Korean Peninsula? What is China’s strategy for preventing war from breaking out?

Wang Yi: Once again, tensions are rising on the Korean Peninsula. On the one hand, the DPRK has ignored international opposition and insisted on advancing its nuclear and missile programs in violation of Security Council resolutions. On the other hand, the US and the ROK are conducting military exercises of an enormous scale and putting more military pressure on the DPRK. The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other with neither side willing to give way. The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision? Given the situation, our priority now is to flash the red light and apply brakes on both trains. To defuse the looming crisis on the peninsula, China proposes that, as a first step, the DPRK suspend its missile and nuclear activities in exchange for a halt of the large-scale US-ROK exercises. This suspension-for-suspension can help us break out of the security dilemma and bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Then we can follow the dual-track approach of denuclearizing the peninsula on the one hand and establishing a peace mechanism on the other. Only by addressing the parties’ concerns in a synchronized and reciprocal manner, can we find a fundamental solution to lasting peace and stability on the peninsula. China’s proposal, fully in keeping with resolutions 2270 and 2321, tries to get to the crux of the matter. To resolve the nuclear issue, we have to walk on both legs, which means not just implementing sanctions, but also restarting talks, both of which are set out in the Security Council resolutions. The nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula is mainly between the DPRK and the United States. China is a next-door neighbor with a lips-and-teeth relationship with the peninsula, so we’re indispensable to the resolution of the nuclear issue. China has a strong commitment to denuclearizing the peninsula, to maintaining stability there and to resolving the issues peacefully. Indeed, China has done its level best to bring the DPRK and the US together and to chair the Six-Party Talks. We’ve also contributed to the adoption and implementation of Security Council resolutions. Going forward, to continue my earlier railway metaphor, China will continue to be a “switch-man”. We will try to switch the issue back to the track of seeking a negotiated settlement. And I wish to emphasize that nuclear weapons will not bring security, the use of force is no solution, talks deserve another chance and peace is still within our grasp.” (Embassy of China Press Office, Foreign Minister Wang Yi Meets the Press, Transcript, March 8, 2017)

China tried unsuccessfully to calm newly volatile tensions on the Korean Peninsula, proposing that North Korea freeze nuclear and missile programs in exchange for a halt to major military exercises by American and South Korean forces. The proposal was rejected hours later by the United States and South Korea. “We have to see some sort of positive action by North Korea before we can take them seriously,” Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters after a Security Council meeting in New York on the escalating Korea crisis. Standing beside her, Cho Tae-yul, the South Korean ambassador, said, “This is not the time for us to talk about freezing or dialogue with North Korea.” “The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming toward each other, and neither side is willing to give way,” Wang said. “The question is: Are both sides really prepared for a head-on collision?” But in what appeared to be a hardening American position on North Korea, Haley said the United States was re-evaluating its approach to the country and its unpredictable young leader, Kim Jong-un, whom she described as “not rational.” “I can tell you we’re not ruling anything out, and we’re considering every option,” Haley said after the Security Council meeting, flanked by Cho and Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bessho Koro. At the same time, Haley sought to reassure China publicly that the United States meant no harm by moving ahead with the deployment of a defensive missile shield system in South Korea, after North Korea’s missile launch on March 6. China has condemned the missile shield as a provocation by the Americans that risked a new arms race in the region. Doubts that Wang’s idea would gain traction were not surprising. North Korea made a similar offer in 2015 that went nowhere. Wang’s proposal was China’s latest attempt to regain the initiative on the nuclear issue, which has bedeviled Beijing’s efforts to stay friends with both North and South Korea and prove itself a mature regional power broker. “The current situation is a challenge for the Chinese government’s diplomacy,” said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at Renmin University in Beijing who specializes in North Korea. “The situation in the East Asian region is increasingly complicated, and the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the nuclear missile issue is increasingly slim,” he said, referring to North Korea’s nuclear arms program. Reining in North Korea has also become a focus for the Trump administration’s dealings with China. Starting next week, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is to visit Japan, South Korea and China for talks that will focus on “the advancing nuclear and missile threat” from North Korea, the State Department said. North Korea’s weapons advancements have reached a point where “we do need to look at other alternatives,” Mark C. Toner, a spokesman for the State Department, told reporters in Washington yesterday. “And that’s part of what this trip is about, that we’re going to talk to our allies and partners in the region to try to generate a new approach to North Korea.” But bringing the countries into agreement over initial steps toward peace will not be easy, especially while China is also in a deepening dispute with South Korea and the Trump administration. At the same news conference where he laid out his proposal, Wang stuck to China’s fierce opposition to the missile defense system the United States began assembling in South Korea this week, known as THAAD, or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense. “It’s common knowledge that the monitoring and early warning radius of THAAD reaches far beyond the Korean Peninsula and compromises China’s strategic security,” Wang said at the news conference, which was part of a regular round of briefings during China’s annual legislative session. “It’s not the way that neighbors should treat each other, and it may very well make South Korea less secure.” American and South Korean officials say that that is untrue, and that China should instead focus on halting North Korea’s threats. Wang’s proposal for mutual suspensions was an attempt to give new life to China’s long-running efforts to tamp down confrontation between North and South Korea. China is the North’s only major economic and security partner, but it has also developed strong economic and political ties with South Korea that the missile defense system threatens to rupture. China’s rift with South Korea and the United States over the missile defense system is likely to embolden North Korea, making it more confident that Beijing would not turn on it, said Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai who specializes in nuclear proliferation issues. “The deployment of THAAD has led to a serious deterioration in Chinese-South Korean relations, so North Korea is delighted with that,” Dr. Shen said in an interview. North Korea appears to have passed the point where it would abandon its nuclear arms, he said. “There’s no solution to this, because North Korea won’t give up its nuclear weapons.” But Wang said negotiations were the only acceptable way to resolve the dispute. “To resolve the nuclear issue, we have to walk on both legs,” he said, “which means not just implementing sanctions, but also restarting talks.” North Korea’s ties to the global financial system are also under renewed pressure. Today, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, issued a statement saying it had recently moved to ban North Korean banks from accessing its platform. Swift operates as part of the backbone of global bank payment processing by providing a communication platform used by central banks and financial institutions around the world. Several North Korean banks that were subject to sanctions by both the United Nations and the United States had continued as recently as last year to find ways to access the Swift network, according to a report by a United Nations expert panel that was published last week. Swift said it was responding to an enforcement action by the authorities in Belgium, where Swift is based, but it did not say when it moved to block the North Korean banks from its service. (Chris Buckley and Somini Sengupta, “China Is Rebuffed over Suggestion for Defusing Korean Tensions,” New York Times, March 9, 2017, p. A-7) The Trump administration has no intention of taking up China on its proposal of a deal between the United States and North Korea. But behind the scenes, the White House is working to come up with an alternative approach that could be ready soon. A senior Trump administration official told me that the U.S. government is “underwhelmed” by the Chinese offer and will not use it as a starting point for dealing with the North Korean threat, though the policy is still being formed. “This isn’t really a new proposal in any way. This is what the Chinese have wanted for a long time,” the official said. The Trump administration believes that China is still reluctant to use the leverage on the Kim regime that Beijing has available, despite recent steps such as suspending coal imports. “They take steps, but steps that are inadequate to change the regime’s behavior,” the official said. “We’re looking for genuine signs the Chinese are willing to get serious about North Korea.” There have been multiple meetings of the National Security Council’s deputies committee, most recently last week, the senior Trump administration official said. A principals committee meeting, which would include Cabinet members and White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, is in the works. “We are reevaluating how we are going to handle North Korea going forward,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said. “We are making those decisions now. And we will act accordingly.” The options span a broad range and could be altered or adjusted throughout the process, officials cautioned. But lawmakers and experts said that short of a military strike, which nobody wants to contemplate, there is a limited set of tactics the Trump administration could adopt: increase the pressure, engage, or some combination of the two. Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Democrat Ben Cardin (Md.) told reporters that he too rejects Beijing’s idea that the United States and South Korea should stop military exercises in exchange for Pyongyang adhering to multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. But he wants the United States to talk with the Kim regime. “It’s not a matter of trading with North Korea for it complying with its international obligations, that’s not what’s at stake,” he said. “But I would welcome an opportunity to have exchanges with North Korea.” Multiple Trump administration officials said that White House is wary of engaging with Pyongyang unless the Kim regime first changes its behavior. Some officials are pushing for increased sanctions on North Korea as well as secondary sanctions on foreign entities that aid North Korea, which would include Chinese state-connected companies. Cardin would rather the administration persuade Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang, rather than escalating a dispute with China over the issue by sanctioning Chinese firms. “If we are going to be effective, we need Chinese cooperation. So I would hope the Trump administration has a strategy for working with China for isolating North Korea’s activity,” he said. “We have a common interest here, and it seems to me through diplomacy we should be able to get China to put the pressure on North Korea.” Joel Wit, a nuclear expert who has participated in several “Track 2″ unofficial dialogues with North Korean officials, told me that simply increasing the pressure on Pyongyang and Beijing would likely not achieve U.S. objectives. “I don’t think we’re going to get anything out of it, and it’s likely the Chinese will react badly and the North Korean reaction will be more tests,” he said. A more nuanced strategy might be to prepare the punitive measures while simultaneously reaching out to Pyongyang to offer a direct dialogue, even if it’s done on an unofficial level. By nodding to China’s request, the United States could be in a better position to bring Beijing along if and when harsher measures become absolutely necessary. “If we make a credible offer to restart negotiations with the North Koreans and they blow us off, that may help us with the Chinese,” said Wit. “If we think we can just push around the Chinese with second degree sanctions and they are going to roll over, that’s not going to happen.” Time is of the essence. The end of the U.S.-South Korea military exercises will be a natural opportunity for both sides to step back from the brink of conflict. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is headed to the region next week. He has a brief window to find a way for both Beijing and Pyongyang to save face while giving Trump enough reason to reengage. If that opportunity passes, both sides could escalate, the situation could deteriorate further and the options for the Trump administration would only narrow. (Josh Rogin, “Trump Administration ‘Underwhelmed’ by Chinese Offer on North Korea,” Washington Post, March 9, 2017)

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday rejected calls for opening negotiations with North Korea to defuse escalating tensions, saying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is “not a rational person.” Amb. Nikki Haley also turned down China’s suggestion that the U.S. halt annual joint military exercises with South Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s suspension of its nuclear and missile activities. She also said the U.S. is reviewing all options on the table. “I appreciate all of my counterparts wanting to talk about talks and negotiations. We are not dealing with a rational person. If this was any other country, we would be talking about that and it wouldn’t be an issue. This is not a rational person who has not had rational acts, who is not thinking clearly,” Haley told reporters after an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea. But State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Haley’s point was that the North’s “behavior” has not been rational. He also said the U.S. remains open to dialogue with the North with the aim of returning to credible and authentic negotiations on denuclearization, and the North should take meaningful actions toward the goal. “Efforts up until today, whether it’s six party talks, whether it’s sanctions, all of the efforts that we have taken thus far to attempt to persuade North Korea to, again, engage in meaningful negotiations, have fallen short, to be honest. So we need to look at new ways to convince them, to persuade them that it’s in their interest,” he said. (Yonhap, “U.S. Envoy: N. Korea Leader ‘Not Rational Person’ to Talk to,” March 8, 2017)

DPRK FoMin spokesman gave the following answer to a question raised by KCNA “as regards the fact that the U.S. and its vassal forces are moving to take issue with the ballistic rocket launching drill staged by the Korean People’s Army (KPA): The ballistic rocket launching drill conducted by the Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA this time is a routine one to resolutely frustrate the ever more undisguised nuclear war racket of the U.S. and other hostile forces and honorably defend the security of the country and nation. The U.S. and south Korean puppet forces kicked off the joint military maneuvers aimed at a preemptive nuclear strike against the DPRK only to push the situation to the brink of a nuclear war. It is a just self-defensive right of a sovereign state to keep highly alert as required by the grim situation in which an actual war may break out anytime and to consolidate powerful deterrence in every way to mercilessly wipe out the aggressors. Nevertheless, the U.S. and other hostile forces are openly conducting the drills for a real war aimed at a preemptive nuclear strike against the DPRK by mobilizing lots of strategic assets and armed forces. They let the UN Security Council release a press statement, labeling KPA’s routine drill as “threat”. It is a brigandish act like a thief crying “stop thief!” The DPRK categorically rejects the press statement of the UNSC as it wantonly violated sovereign state’s rights to self-defense. It is the unanimous view of the fair-minded international community that the largest-ever nuclear war drills launched by the U.S. in league with the south Korean puppet forces are the root cause of pushing the DPRK to take the toughest action. The DPRK has already clarified several times that the joint military drills are potentially dangerous as they will wreck peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and screw up regional tensions. So, it filed complaint with the UNSC against the war games this time, too. How to deal with the complaint and the ill-intended maneuvers of the U.S. and its vassal forces will be a marked occasion for the UNSC to show the international community whether the UNSC regarding it as its mission to preserve global peace and security fulfils its responsibility or not. As already clarified, the KPA will reduce the bases of aggression and provocation to ashes with its invincible Hwasong rockets tipped with nuclear warheads and reliably defend the security of the country and its people’s happiness in case the U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces fire even a single bullet at the territory of the DPRK. The DPRK will certainly preserve its peace and security with its own efforts and positively contribute to protecting global peace and security.” (KCNA, “Spokesman for DPRK FM Rejects Press Statement of UNSC,” March 8, 2017)

When the United States began deploying a missile defense system in South Korea this week, it was to protect an ally long threatened by North Korean provocations. But it was instantly met by angry Chinese warnings that the United States is setting off a new arms race in a region already on edge over the North’s drive to build a nuclear arsenal. China condemned the new antimissile system as a dangerous opening move in what it called America’s grand strategy to set up similar defenses across Asia, threatening to tilt the balance of power there against Beijing. The tensions are testing the new Trump administration and its uneasy allies South Korea and Japan, which have complained for years that China has simultaneously chastised and coddled the North, refusing to enact stiff enough measures to force it to abandon its nuclear and missile programs. But with the beginning of work to install the antimissile system, the delicate international cooperation against North Korea is splintering: Beijing is expressing more concern about American intentions in the region than about the dangers of the North’s latest surge in nuclear and missile testing. The dual approach seemed evident today when China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said, “The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming toward each other, and neither side is willing to give way.” “Our priority now is to flash the red light and apply brakes,” Wang said at a news conference in Beijing. He said that North Korea should suspend its nuclear and missile activities and that in exchange, South Korea and the United States should suspend large-scale joint military exercises, laying the way to new negotiations with North Korea. President Trump got personally engaged in the problem on March 6, after North Korea launched four ballistic missiles, aimed toward Japan, that the North Koreans later described as practice for hitting American bases there. Japan’s prime minister, Abe Shinzo, said he spoke with Trump for 25 minutes, adding, “I appreciate that the United States is showing that all the options are on the table,” usually code words for raising the possibility of a military response. To conservatives in South Korea’s crisis-racked government, the antimissile system is exactly the kind of strong action needed to counter the North’s belligerence and demonstrate unity with Trump, who had suggested during the campaign that Asian nations needed to do far more to defend themselves. But South Korea remains deeply divided about the one response already underway: the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, or THAAD. It is designed to intercept short- and medium-range missiles, but not the kind of intercontinental missiles that the North says it is developing to reach the United States. Many South Koreans oppose it and worry about China’s moves to block South Korean imports because of Beijing’s continued insistence that THAAD is aimed at containing Chinese power, not the missile capabilities of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. Japan is urging stronger American action, but remains uncertain about how much it wants to commit when a conflict with the North — deliberate or accidental — once again looks like a real possibility. The combination of military and diplomatic tensions suddenly unleashed in Asia comes before Trump’s full national security team is in place, and before it has a well-thought-out strategy. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who will travel to the region next week — stopping in Tokyo; Seoul, South Korea; and Beijing — has never dealt with a proliferation problem like this one. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has already been to Seoul on one visit, but was there mostly to reassure the country that, despite Trump’s statements last year, the United States remains committed to its defense. The new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, has focused more on counterinsurgency than dealing with the peculiar problem of a nuclear-armed failing state. In three meetings at the White House — more than on any other foreign policy problem — the National Security Council deputies have considered a range of options, and have already come to the predictable conclusion that a dramatic show of force, like attacks on the North’s missile and nuclear sites, would probably start a war. The New York Times reported this weekend that the Obama administration had created a cyber- and electronic-warfare program to slow the North’s missile tests, but that it was unclear how effective it had been, particularly in recent months. The North Koreans have made the most of this period of uncertainty and transition. Their sped-up testing seems intended to send a message that they can overwhelm antimissile defenses, deploying missiles faster than the United States and its allies can put countermeasures in place. And they hold an ace card: an ability to destroy Seoul with artillery buried in the mountains just north of the Demilitarized Zone, a remnant of the Korean War. In the North’s view, the American rush to put missile defenses around it only splits the global community, pushing China and Russia closer to Pyongyang, as American officials acknowledge. Tillerson is focused on ways to pressure China, while trying to set up a first meeting between President Xi Jinping and Trump. But the two nations’ leaders are conducting a balancing act. Xi’s is the hardest, trying to weigh his opposition to North Korea’s nuclear program against his conviction that a North Korean collapse would be far worse. The Trump administration is measuring how hard it can press Beijing. It is mulling negotiations to “freeze” the North’s nuclear arsenal, but that would also acknowledge it as a fact. “You may not want to acknowledge that North Korea has 12 or 20 weapons,” said Robert Litwak of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, the author of the new study “Preventing North Korea’s Nuclear Breakout,” “but wouldn’t a freeze be better than looking at 100 weapons a few years from now?” That is exactly the debate taking place in the White House, as Trump’s aides try to figure out their alternatives, including changing the security landscape with a major military buildup or, if needed, an open conflict with North Korea. The current, slow-burning crisis arose not from one episode, but from Kim’s broader strategy over the past year: to accelerate the pace of nuclear and missile tests so his arsenal becomes a fait accompli, something the United States cannot hope to reverse. When North Korea launched four Scud-ER ballistic missiles on March 6, it tried to demonstrate an ability to simultaneously launch multiple missiles at American bases in Japan and at American aircraft carriers around the Korean Peninsula, South Korean military officials said yesterday. The ability to launch a barrage of missiles increases the chances of breaching an antimissile shield. But the types of midrange missiles North Korea has launched in recent months — including the Scud-ERs, with a 620-mile range — pose another problem for South Korea. Some of the missiles have been launched at a steep angle to achieve a higher altitude and return to earth at high speed, techniques that appear intended to complicate intercepting them. American military officials said the recent tests were a particular concern because they illustrated Pyongyang’s ability to carry out a salvo of launches and on very short notice. “What we saw this weekend was demonstration of a near-term simultaneous launch,” said Vice Adm. James D. Syring, the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency. “That is something beyond what we have seen in the past.” For Washington and Seoul, the rush to field THADD is as much about politics as missile interception. American officials have repeatedly warned China that its failure to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs would force the United States to deploy missile defenses in the region. Seoul’s interim government wants to deploy the antimissile system before a progressive leader, skeptical of the deployment, can take power in a coming presidential election. But progressives have held deep reservations about the THAAD deployment, seeing it as part of the United States’ effort to wrap the South into an anti-China coalition and arms race. They have already mounted a case against it. Yesterday, Woo Sang-ho, the floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, warned, “Our business are dying; our people residing in China are being threatened.” Hong Ik-pyo, a senior policy maker in the opposition, said the THAAD deployment would do more harm than good for South Korea, whose economy depends on exports for growth and reaps a huge annual trade surplus with China. “They say this is only to defend us from North Korea, but everyone knows this is part of the American missile defense plan,” Hong said. “China sees the THAAD deployment in South Korea the way the Americans saw the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s.” Chinese leaders have struggled to grapple with the unpredictable styles of Kim and Trump. Now there are fears that the North might take advantage of the political discord to move ahead with its nuclear weapons program. “They have seized this opportunity, knowing that U.S. and China are clashing,” said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international studies at Renmin University in Beijing. In recent weeks, China has shown signs of toughening its stance on North Korea, including banning imports of coal from the North. Criticism of the North has also sharpened. Yesterday, a state-run newspaper warned that North Korea should give up its weapons or “face long-lasting isolation and pressure.” Yet policy makers in Beijing failed to grasp how Washington and its allies regarded North Korea’s nuclear program as getting closer to a dangerous threshold of being able to place a warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile, said Paul Haenle, the director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “That’s a game-changer,” he added. (David E. Sanger, Choe Sang-hun, Chris Buckley, and Michael R. Gordon, “Korea Tensions Present Trump with Early Test,” New York Times, March 8, 2017, p. A-1)

Rattled by North Korean military advances, influential Japanese lawmakers are pushing harder for Japan to develop the ability to strike preemptively at the missile facilities of its nuclear-armed neighbor. Japan has so far avoided taking the controversial and costly step of acquiring bombers or weapons such as cruise missiles with enough range to strike other countries, relying instead on its U.S. ally to take the fight to its enemies. “If bombers attacked us or warships bombarded us, we would fire back. Striking a country lobbing missiles at us is no different,” said Onodera Itsunori, a former defense minister who heads a ruling Liberal Democratic Party committee looking at how Japan can defend against the North Korean missile threat. “Technology has advanced and the nature of conflict has changed.” For decades, Japan has been stretching the limits of its postwar, pacifist Constitution. Successive governments have said Tokyo has the right to attack enemy bases overseas when the enemy’s intention to attack Japan is evident, the threat is imminent and there are no other defense options. But while previous administrations shied away from acquiring the hardware to do so, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s LDP has been urging him to consider the step. “It is time we acquired the capability,” said Imazu Hiroshi, chairman of the LDP’s policy council on security. “I don’t know whether that would be with ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or even the F-35 (fighter bomber), but without a deterrence North Korea will see us as weak.”The idea has faced stiff resistance in the past but the latest round of North Korean tests means Japan may move more swiftly to enact a tougher defense policy. “We have already done the groundwork on how we could acquire a strike capability,” said a source with knowledge of Japan’s military planning. Any weapon Japan acquired with the reach to hit North Korea would also put parts of China’s eastern seaboard within range of Japanese munitions for the first time. That would likely anger Beijing. “China has missiles that can hit Japan, so any complaints it may have are not likely to garner much sympathy in the international community,” said Onodera. Currently, more than three missiles at once would be too many for Japan’s already stretched ballistic missile defense to cope with, another source familiar with Japan’s capability said. One serious concern for Japan is North Korea’s development of solid fuel systems demonstrated last month that will allow it to conceal preparations for missile strikes because it no longer needs to fuel its missiles just prior to firing. That test also demonstrated a cold launch, with the rocket ejected from its launcher before engine ignition, minimizing damage to the mobile launch pads. Japanese officials also noted that the launch truck was equipped with tracks rather than wheels, allowing it to hide off road. Japan is already improving its ballistic missile defenses with longer-range, more accurate sea-based missiles on Aegis destroyers in the Sea of Japan and from next month will start a $1 billion (114 billion yen) upgrade of its ground-based PAC-3 Patriot batteries. Also under consideration is a land-based version of the Aegis system or the THAAD system. Those changes, however, will take years to complete and may not be enough to keep pace with rocket technology advances by Pyongyang, the sources said. A quicker option would be for Japan to deploy ground-to-ground missiles to defend against an attack on its Yonaguni island near Taiwan fired from bases on Japanese territory several hundred kilometers to the east. A missile with that range could also hit sites in North Korea. Japan could also buy precision air launched missiles such as Lockheed Martin Corp.’s extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) or the shorter-range Joint Strike missile designed by Norway’s Kongsberg Defense Aerospace AS for the F-35 fighter jet. But with limited capability to track mobile launchers, some Japanese officials still fear any strike would leave North Korea with enough rockets to retaliate with a mass attack. “A strike could be justified as self-defense, but we have to consider the response that could provoke,” said another LDP lawmaker. (Reuters, “As Missile Threat Grows, Japanese Lawmakers Debate 1st Strike Options,” Asahi Shimbun, March 8, 2017)


3/9/17:
While the Trump administration is exploring strategies to thwart North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, former U.S. officials who dealt with the communist state extensively offer mixed views on how to achieve that goal. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed Wednesday to halt the military drills in exchange for North Korea freezing nuclear and missile programs, a proposition that has been rejected by the United States and South Korea. Speaking to reporters after attending a U.N. Security Council meeting over the launches, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the regime must take “positive action” before it can be taken seriously. She made her remarks a week before U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to make his first trip to Asia, where North Korea is likely to top his agenda. Although former U.S. nuclear envoys who participated in direct talks with the North appear to agree that dialogue with North Korea may not be possible in the near future, they differ on whether the U.S. should pursue negotiations as part of its long-term policy. Christopher Hill, who served as the head of the U.S. delegation to the six-party talks, which stalled in 2008 during the George W. Bush administration, raised doubts about the regime’s willingness to discuss denuclearization. “I’m very pessimistic about talks, but I think we should leave the door open to talks,” Hill said during an interview with VOA Wednesday. “North Korea indicates no interest in doing away with its nuclear weapons. On the contrary, their interest is in enhancing their nuclear arsenals,” added the former envoy, now the dean of Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Hill stressed that any future talks with North Korea must be based on what the country has already agreed to, referring to a nuclear deal in 2005 in which Pyongyang promised to give up its nuclear weapons programs. The envoy called for U.S. efforts to strengthen relations with regional allies and engage China to try to narrow differences on the North. James Kelly, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs who also led the U.S. negotiation team in the Bush administration, called on the Trump administration to put all options on the table, describing the current standoff with the North as “very dangerous.” Kelly believes the Trump administration could consider talks as an option, but cautioned against direct engagement with the North, saying it could undermine the administration’s coordination with U.S. allies. Critics argue pressure alone would not resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Robert Gallucci, who was the top U.S. negotiator when the first North Korean nuclear crisis broke in the early 1990s, said the U.S. should seek an opportunity to engage North Korea without any precondition. “I think the smart thing would be at some point to agree to have talks without preconditions, and then talk about what both sides want to discuss,” said Gallucci in an interview with VOA. Sanctions would not change Pyongyang’s course on its nuclear weapons, Gallucci said. “I am opposed to the idea that we imagine that sanctions are going to be so effective that they are going to stop the North Korean behavior that we don’t like, or maybe even they are going to be so effective, they will cause the regime to collapse,” he said. Joseph DeTrani, who served as envoy for the nuclear talks from 2003 to 2005 during the Bush administration, told VOA the Trump administration should rein in the North’s provocative behavior, while seeking talks to try to slow the country’s nuclear development. “I think it’s important for North Korea to understand that there are consequences when they violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and launch missiles as they recently did,” said the envoy, who currently is the president of the Daniel Morgan Graduate School on National Security in Washington, DC. DeTrani suggested the Trump administration should try “exploratory talks” with Pyongyang to test if the country has any intention of freezing its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for easing sanctions or a security guarantee. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported the Trump security team is considering military action against the North as part of a review of its policy toward Pyongyang. However, whether such a plan is viable remains unclear. Adm. Samuel Locklear, the former head of U.S. Pacific Command in the Obama administration, told VOA this week the U.S. should not rule out any possibility, including the use of military force, in its dealing with North Korea. Retired Adm. William Fallon, who also commanded U.S. forces in the Pacific in the Bush administration, however, showed skepticism about using force, telling VOA he “would not go down that road.” (Jenny Lee, “U.S. Policy toward North Korea: More Pressure or Dialogue?” VOA, March 10, 2017)


3/10/17:
A South Korean court removed the president, a first in the nation’s history, rattling the delicate balance of relationships across Asia at a particularly tense time. Eight justices of the Constitutional Court unanimously decided to unseat Park for committing “acts that violated the Constitution and laws” throughout her time in office, Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said in a ruling that was nationally broadcast. Park’s acts “betrayed the trust of the people and were of the kind that cannot be tolerated for the sake of protecting the Constitution.” Her removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that shook the top echelons of business and government. Park Geun-hye, the nation’s first female president and the daughter of the Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington in pressing for a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations. Now, her downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, whose leaders want more engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major confrontation in the region. They say they will re-examine the country’s joint strategy on North Korea with the United States and defuse tensions with China, which has sounded alarms about the growing American military footprint in Asia. As the verdict was announced, silence fell over thousands of Park supporters who rallied near the courthouse waving South Korean flags. Soon, they tried to march on the court and called for “destroying” it. When the police blocked them, some of the mostly elderly protesters attacked the officers with flagpoles, hurling water bottles and pieces of the sidewalk pavement. Two pro-Park demonstrators, ages 60 and 72, died during the unrest. Park did not comment on the ruling, and remained in the presidential palace after her removal from power. But In Myung-jin, leader of Park’s Liberty Korea Party, said he “humbly respected” the ruling. With the immunity conferred by her office now gone, Park, 65, faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with a confidante, her childhood friend Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from companies like Samsung.

By law, the country must elect a new president within 60 days. The acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, an ally of Park’s, will remain in office in the interim. After the ruling, Hwang called key ministers to put the nation on a heightened state of military readiness, saying the lack of a president represented a national “emergency.” He also warned North Korea against making “additional provocations.” The last time a South Korean leader was removed from office under popular pressure was in 1960, when the police fired on crowds calling for President Syngman Rhee to step down. (Rhee, a dictator, fled into exile in Hawaii and died there.) In a sign of how far South Korea’s young democracy has evolved, Park was removed without any violence, after large, peaceful protests in recent months demanding that she step down. In addition to the swell of popular anger, the legislature and the judiciary — two institutions that have been weaker than the presidency historically — were crucial to the outcome. “This is a miracle, a new milestone in the strengthening and institutionalizing of democracy in South Korea,” said Kang Won-taek, a political scientist at Seoul National University. When crowds took to the streets, they were not just seeking to remove a leader who had one year left in office. They were also rebelling against a political order that had held South Korea together for decades but is now fracturing under pressures both at home and abroad, analysts said. Park’s father ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. He founded its economic growth model, which transformed the nation into an export powerhouse and allowed the emergence of family-controlled conglomerates known as chaebol that benefited from tax cuts and anti-labor policies. Park was elected in 2012 with the support of older conservative South Koreans who revered her father for the country’s breakneck economic growth. But the nexus of industry and political power gave rise to collusive ties, highlighted by the scandal that led to Park’s fall. The scandal also swept up the de facto head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, who was indicted on charges of bribing Park and her confidante, Choi. Samsung, the nation’s largest conglomerate, has been tainted by corruption before. But the company has been considered too important to the economy for any of its top leaders to spend time behind bars — until now. The jailing of Lee, who is facing trial, is another potent sign that the old order is not holding. In the wake of the Park scandal, all political parties have vowed to curtail presidential power to pardon chaebol tycoons convicted of white-collar crimes. They also promised to stop chaebol chairmen from helping their children amass fortunes through dubious means, like forcing their companies to do exclusive business with the children’s businesses. With the conservatives discredited — and no leading conservative candidate to succeed Park — the left could take power for the first time in a decade. The dominant campaign issues will probably be North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and South Korea’s relations with the United States and China. If the opposition takes power, it may try to revive its old “sunshine policy” of building ties with North Korea through aid and exchanges, an approach favored by China. That would complicate Washington’s efforts to isolate the North at a time other Asian nations like the Philippines are gravitating toward Beijing. Moon Jae-in, the Democratic Party leader who is leading in opinion surveys, has said that a decade of applying sanctions on North Korea had failed to stop its nuclear weapons programs. He has said that sanctions are necessary, but that “their goal should be to draw North Korea back to the negotiating table.” He believes that Park’s decision to allow the deployment of the American missile defense system — known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD — has dragged the country into the dangerous and growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing; China has called the system a threat to its security and taken steps to punish South Korea economically for accepting it. Conservative South Koreans see the deployment of the antimissile system not only as a guard against the North but also as a symbolic reaffirmation of the all-important alliance with the United States. Moon’s party demands that the deployment, which began this week, be suspended immediately. If it takes power, it says it will review the deployment of the antimissile system to determine if it is in South Korea’s best interest. As South Korea has learned, it cannot always keep Washington and Beijing happy at the same time, as in the case of the country’s decision to accept the American missile defenses. Park’s impeachment was also a pushback against “Cold War conservatives” like her father, who seized on Communist threats from North Korea to hide their corruption and silence political opponents, said Kim Dong-choon, a sociologist at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul. Park’s father tortured and executed dissidents, framing them with spying charges. Now, his daughter faces charges that her government blacklisted thousands of unfriendly artists and writers. “Her removal means that the curtain is finally drawing on the authoritarian political and economic order that has dominated South Korea for decades,” said Ahn Byong-jin, rector of the Global Academy for Future Civilizations at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. Analysts cautioned that political and economic change will come slowly. As Moon put it recently: “We need a national cleanup. We need to liquidate the old system and build a new South Korea. Only then can we complete the revolution started by the people who rallied with candlelight.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Leader Is Ousted in South Korea,” New York Times, March 10, 2017, p. A-1)

Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and the U.S. military’s Carrier Strike Group 1, comprising the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, destroyers, supply and other ships, have been conducting a joint exercise in the East China Sea since Tuesday, according to multiple government sources. It is unusual for the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the MSDF to conduct a joint exercise in that sea. The USS Carl Vinson has conducted patrols in the South China Sea since mid-February, putting strong pressure on China. The aircraft carrier was traveling in the East China Sea toward the sea around South Korea to join a U.S.-South Korea joint military exercise. (Yomiuri Shimbun, “Japan, U.S. Conduct Joint Military Exercise,” March 10, 2017)

KPA Strategic Force spokesman’s statement: “The U.S. and its vassal forces are running around like a chicken with its head cut off following the ballistic rocket launching drill conducted by Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) on March 6. It is against this backdrop that the UN Security Council, at the instigation of the U.S., Japan and the south Korean puppet forces, made public a press release terming the KPA’s ballistic rocket launching drill as “threat” and “violation of resolution”, after discarding international justice and impartiality once again. … There is no country in the world whose army responsible for the defense of the state takes into account the approval by the UN or article of the international convention when staging exercises and it does not make sense to claim that the KPA’s rocket launching drill becomes a threat to world peace and security. …We have never acknowledged the illegal “resolution” cooked up by the U.S. and its vassal forces. The aggressors and provokers keen on holding the largest-ever nuclear war drills against the north after massively introducing nuclear strike means in and around the Korean peninsula are finding fault with the regular and just drill of the KPA for defending sovereignty. This is nothing but a strange act like a thief crying “stop thief.” No matter what rhetoric the aggressors and provokers may make, our Strategic Force will more perfectly arm itself with our-style rockets of super precision and intelligence and further round off the Juche-based rocket strike war methods. The U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces should clearly bear in mind that our warning that if a single bullet is fired into the areas where the sovereignty of the DPRK is exercised, it will blow up the bases of aggression and provocation with the matchless Hwasong artillery pieces mounted with nuclear warheads, is not hot air. (KCNA, “Ballistic Rocket Launching Drill Is Right for Self-Defense of Sovereign State: KPA Strategic Force Spokesman,” March 10, 2017)

A group of former U.S. officials plans to seek its latest round of informal talks with North Korean officials as tensions escalate in the region. Joseph DeTrani, a former U.S. intelligence specialist who helped broker a 2005 agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program, said unofficial talks between the two sides usually take place about every six months. He said his group plans to contact the North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York at the end of this month or the beginning of April to arrange the meetings. DeTrani said he is hopeful that informal talks will eventually lead to exploratory meetings between current U.S. officials and North Korean diplomats. That would allow North Korea to explain its insistence on having a nuclear deterrence, talk about a peace treaty and discuss objections to U.S.-South Korea military exercises, DeTrani said. “You have to give it a shot, re-engage, have some exploratory talks, and see if you can get some momentum on halting what they are doing, because it is beyond the pale right now,” DeTrani said in an interview. (David Tweed, “U.S. Group Seeks Informal Meeting with North Korea as Threat Grows,” Bloomberg, March 12, 2017)

Frank Pabian and David Coblentz: “Commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site shows that substantial tunnel excavation is continuing at the “North” Portal (previously the “West” Portal), which provided support for the last four of the five declared underground nuclear tests conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The North Portal tunnels provide direct access under Mt. Mantap, where up to 800 meters of overlying rock is available for test containment. This locale provides the maximum overlying rock possible within the entire test site and is where the most recent and largest detected test occurred on September 9, 2016 (estimated at 15-20 kilotons yield). The continued tunneling under Mt. Mantap via the North Portal has the potential for allowing North Korea to support additional underground nuclear tests of significantly higher explosive yields, perhaps up to 282 kilotons (or just above a quarter of a megaton). In a recent article, we discussed the yield progression of the five acknowledged underground nuclear tests at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site and the general lack of associated observable surface disturbances until the most recent one. The tests have generally been increasing in explosive yield, from the first test on October 9, 2006, which had an estimated yield of less than one kiloton equivalent of chemical explosives, to the latest test on September 9, 2016, which had a yield of up to 20 kilotons. Several independent seismological teams (in China, South Korea and Norway) have very precisely geolocated the last four tests in the same region near Mt. Mantap, with the most recent test directly under Mt. Mantap. A study by another South Korean team, using Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) data, provided an empirical basis from which to corroborate those geolocations. It is most likely that a complex horizontal tunnel network, accessible via the “North” Portal (previously designated by outside observers as the “West” Portal), supported these four tests and is in the same general location where additional tunneling is now ongoing. The North Portal is also the only portal within the test site to have an encompassing security perimeter fence, further emphasizing its current role as the primary test portal. There are three other tunnel portals located within the test site: the “East,” “South” and the new “West.” (“new” because it is a bit west of the original “West” Portal that has been re-designated by those same observers as the “North” Portal). Prior to the first test in 2006, only two tunnel portals (entrances) were present within the Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site. Large piles of excavated rock spoil were already present outside and downslope from each of those two portals since at least February 14, 2005 (using Google Earth archive imagery). Following its employment in support of the first underground nuclear test in September 2006, the East Portal was abandoned (most likely due to the post-test radionuclide release). The next two tests (in May 2009 and February 2013) involved the use of the tunnel accessed by the North Portal. New excavation activity for a third tunnel, located in a southern portion of the main nuclear test site, was observed on commercial satellite imagery on October 8, 2009. That new tunnel area has been since labeled by outside observers as the “South” Portal. Tunnel excavation at the South Portal continued for several years with one hiatus due to massive flooding that washed away most of the spoil pile in mid-July 2013. The excavation may have also involved a smaller adjacent ancillary tunnel. Since that time, there has been minimal new tunneling activity near the South Portal. Currently, the South Portal is likely to be fully operational and capable of supporting a future underground nuclear test. However, to date, it has not been used for a known nuclear test. Excavation for a fourth tunnel, the new “West” Portal, has been underway since mid-2015. It has also undergone some improvements including terracing above the tunnel entrance in early 2016 for earth stabilization. While clearly an operational site, it is not yet possible to determine the status of that tunnel regarding its readiness for future underground nuclear testing. Roughly six weeks after the third DPRK underground nuclear test (February 12, 2013) involving the North Portal, excavation was observed nearly coincident with a radionuclide detection associated with that test. At about the same time that the radionuclides were detected, additional activity in the form of new tunnel excavation and spoil dumping had already begun at the North Portal. It is also possible that the radionuclide release led to some form of site contamination, because in April 2014, two support buildings nearest the tunnel entrance were removed entirely. One building had previously served to conceal the tunnel entrance (it was not replaced) and the other was a support/compressor building, which was completely reconstructed. In any case, it seems that a second, entirely new, test support tunnel had begun to be excavated very close to the same starting point as the original entrance in the North Portal area, creating a new spoil pile. More spoil has been excavated from tunnel construction in the North Portal tunnel complex than from any other portal within the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.” Frank Pabian and David Coblentz, “North Korea’s Punggye-ri Test Site: Analysis Reveals Its Potential for Additional Testing with Significantly Higher Yields,” 38North, March 10, 2017)


3/11/17:
The foes of South Korea’s likely new leaders have called them blindly naïve, closet North Korea followers and anti-American — an unsettling accusation in a country where the alliance with Washington has been the military bedrock for seven decades. Now, after being out of power for almost 10 years, the South Korean liberal opposition is on the verge of retaking the presidency with the historic court ruling on Friday that ousted its conservative enemy, President Park Geun-hye, who had been impeached in a corruption scandal. The liberals’ presidential hopeful, Moon Jae-in, wants a profound change in the country’s tense relations with North Korea, pushing outreach and dialogue. He also is deeply skeptical of the hawkish stance embraced by the conservatives and South Korea’s most important defender, the United States. Moon and his liberal partners are especially worried about a new antimissile shield the Americans are installing in South Korea, citing China’s fury over it and warning of a standoff reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The challenges for Moon and his liberal partners as they push to reclaim power in elections now scheduled for May will be how to engage with a far more dangerous North Korea, maintain close ties with the United States and repair relations with China, which increasingly mistrusts the American military’s intentions. Moon has called himself “America’s friend,” grateful that the United States protected South Korea from communism and supported its economic growth and democratization. The alliance with Washington is “a pillar of our diplomacy,” he said in an interview on the eve of Park’s court-ordered ouster. But he also said South Korea should learn to “say ‘No’ to the Americans.” Moon’s ascent could seriously complicate the American rush this past week to deploy the new advanced missile-defense system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, in the South. He and his liberal associates have questioned the deployment, calling it an unnecessary escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The missile system would put sophisticated American weaponry on China’s doorstep, and has infuriated the Chinese so much they are boycotting South Korean brands and may now be less willing to use economic leverage to rein in the North. Moon vowed to review the deployment if elected. “I cannot understand why there should be such a hurry with this,” he said. “I suspect that they are trying to make it a fait accompli, make it a political issue to be used in the election.” Moon said he abhorred “the ruthless dictatorial regime of North Korea.” But he also said sanctions that the United States had enforced with the conservatives in South Korea for a decade had failed to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, so it was time to try something less confrontational. “We must embrace the North Korean people as part of the Korean nation, and to do that, whether we like it or not, we must recognize Kim Jong-un as their ruler and as our dialogue partner,” Moon said. That idea is not entirely new. The last time the liberals were in power, from 1998 to 2008, they pushed the so-called Sunshine Policy of promoting aid and exchanges with North Korea in the hopes of building trust and guiding it toward openness and nuclear disarmament. Moon said the strategy pursued by the conservatives was simply not working. “What have the conservative governments done, except badmouthing the North?” he said. “If necessary, we will have to strengthen sanctions even further, but the goal of sanctions must be to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.” The possibility that Moon could become South Korea’s next president in a few months also comes as the Trump administration is formulating a new policy on North Korea. “I hope that Mr. Trump will come to the same conclusion as I did,” Moon said. As part of his outreach to the North, Moon said he would reopen the joint-venture factory complex the two Koreas had run in the North Korean town of Kaesong. Analysts of the conflict said it was premature to assess the outcome of Ms. Park’s removal. “A giant leap forward for South Korean democracy, a major step backward for taming Pyongyang,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korea expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. For the past decade, South Korea has been governed by conservative leaders who regard anything less than unequivocal support for the alliance with Washington and the downfall of the Kim Jong-un government as ideologically suspect. Their liberal adversaries would bring in a new mentality. Moon grew up in a family that hated the Communist rule in the North but also had roots there. His parents were among tens of thousands of Korean War refugees on the run from Communists who were evacuated from the North Korean port of Hungnam by retreating American Navy vessels in the winter of 1950. But Moon also belonged to the generation of South Koreans who shaped their perspectives by fighting the anti-North Korean, pro-American military dictators, like Park Chung-hee, Ms. Park’s father, who ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. In college in the 1970s, Moon said he was profoundly influenced by Rhee Young-hee, a dissident journalist who wrote a book criticizing the Vietnam War. The military government, which sent its troops to fight for the Americans in Vietnam, banned the book and arrested the writer. “Until then, we were taught to think that whatever the United States did was justice, whatever the United States said was truth, and that whoever argued otherwise was an evil to repel,” Moon wrote in his 2011 memoir, “Fate.” “The book helped lift the veil of falsehood.” Some of the old student activists, like Moon, from the 1970s and ’80s form the mainstay of the political opposition of today. They do not want their country dragged into what they see as a hegemonic struggle among big powers, while conservatives have no qualms about siding with the United States in its rivalry with China. The Thaad antimissile deployment showcased those opposing perspectives. “The United States is pushing us to the West unnecessarily, and China is shoving us to the East unnecessarily,” said Kim Ki-jung, a political scientist at Yonsei University in Seoul and foreign policy adviser for Moon. “They should not push us too much; part of the Korean DNA is resistance against big powers.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Korean Ouster Could Herald a Shift in Ties,” New York Times, March 11, 2017, p. A-1)


3/12/17:
Henry A. Kissinger slipped into the State Department last week for a quiet lunch in his old office with Rex W. Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil chief executive, who has all but covered himself in a cloak of invisibility in his first six weeks as secretary of state. He has been absent from the White House meetings with key world leaders, and when the State Department issued its annual report on human rights — usually a major moment for the United States to stand up against repression around the world — he skipped the announcement. On March 14, Tillerson will leave for his first truly fraught diplomatic mission: a trip to Japan, South Korea and China, at a moment when open conflict with North Korea is a growing possibility, and when the administration is planning Trump’s first meeting with President Xi Jinping of China. The trip is so vital that the “principals” committee of the National Security Council is set to convene tomorrow to discuss the North Korean threat and how to deal with China, so that Tillerson speaks from a consensus strategy. But do not expect to hear much about that strategy from the secretary before he arrives in Asia: The State Department has told reporters that they cannot ride on the plane. The decision appears to be unprecedented for a major diplomatic trip — even four decades ago, when Kissinger was conducting shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East and opening up China, he was delivering spin to reporters on the plane and offering up diplomatic tutorials. So why is the man many in the State Department call T. Rex so quiet? There are several theories. One is that his silence is highly strategic: He wants to cement key relationships in private, make sure he is aligned with a mercurial president and let the policy process at the National Security Council play out before making any grand pronouncements. The second is that he is waiting for the battles at the White House to burn out. In short, he wants to sidestep Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s top strategist, who believes that China’s rise can be halted and that Iran should be vigorously confronted, and work with Mattis, Kushner and McMaster. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that “he’s already reached an agreement with Mattis to come to agreement and present ideas together,” something that Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton often did with their defense counterpart, Robert Gates. The third is that he sees the job as more akin to what he did at Exxon Mobil: Cut your deals, say as little as possible and take the heat. (David E. Sanger, “Tillerson Leads from Shadows of State Dept,” New York Times, March 12, 2017, p. A-1)


3/13/17:
KCNA: “The U.S. administration is floating a rumor that it is examining a way of mounting a preemptive attack on the DPRK. Various media including VOA, CNN and the Wall Street Journal carried articles to the effect that the White House is now examining strategies targeting the DPRK ranging from preemptive attack to regime change, anticipating a military conflict on the Korean peninsula within a month or two. It is against this backdrop that experts on the Korean issue are commenting in unison that the U.S. planned military attack on the DPRK is a crazy act of inviting irrevocable disasters. Harry J. Kazianis, room chief for defense studies of the Center for the National Interest and researcher for national security of the Potomac Foundation, warned that attack aimed at removing the regime in north Korea will invite an irrevocable disaster. He asserted that military invasion of north Korea is a crazy act, adding north Korea, which is well aware of foolishness of Saddam Hussein who allowed the deployment of the world’s most powerful war forces just at its doorstep, would not miss an opportunity but mount an attack by mobilizing all possible forces under its possession in case there is a sign of deployment of armed forces. He also said that if the U.S. is true in its decision to “overthrow” the regime in north Korea, there can be no reason for north Korea to tolerate, stressing that what should be taken into consideration is that north Korea has maintained its social system for over six decades to counter possible invasion by the U.S. Researcher of Defense Priorities Bonnie Kristian in a commentary titled “No, let’s not invade north Korea” said that the plan for a preemptive attack on north Korea will bring diverse disaster as it is a big blunder rather than a wise alternative. The commentary said that north Korea will decide on a powerful nuclear strike the moment it senses an imminent attack by the U.S., adding that it will be very stressful for the Trump administration to try to find out a solution to the issue of north Korea but military option will entail much greater danger let alone interests. The chairman of the U.S. Council of Foreign Relations when interviewed by media, warned that the Trump administration is at crossroads of crucial choice of whether to co-exist with north Korea possessed of capabilities of attacking the U.S. or disable nuclear and missile capabilities of north Korea by use of military force. This cannot but be wise advices to the Trump administration’s hard-line stand toward the DPRK. The present U.S. administration is repeating senseless policy of nuclear blackmail which would bring only defeat, from the outset of its office, far from drawing a lesson from the failed north Korea policy of the preceding regimes. It has gone foolish to plan a preemptive attack while pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war by staging joint military drills with the south Korean puppet forces with the involvement of nuclear strategic assets like carrier task force, nuclear submarines, B-1B, B-52, B-2 strategic bomber triad. The U.S. had better stop the foolish act of pricking its eyes with its own fingers. Nothing can undermine the strategic position of the DPRK that has reached the highest level. Now that the U.S. started dangerous nuclear war drills again, the DPRK has no option but to counter it with the toughest measures for bolstering the nuclear force as it had already declared. If even a single shell is fired into the territory in which the sovereignty of the DPRK is exercised, the bases of aggression and provocation will be reduced to such debris that no living thing can be found. The U.S. should properly understand that its slightest misjudgment about the DPRK will lead it to final doom.” (KCNA: “U.S. Slightest Misjudgment of DPRK Will Lead to Its Final Doom: KCNA Commentary,” March 13, 2017)


3/14/17:
The US has declared it will permanently station missile-capable drones in South Korea in the latest round of military escalation in north-eastern Asia. The US military in South Korea took the unusual step of publicly announcing the deployment of a company of Grey Eagle drones, which it said would add “significant intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability” for American and South Korean forces. Grey Eagles are designed to carry Hellfire missiles and together with the deployment of Thaad anti-ballistic missile defenses in South Korea they represent a significant build-up of US military muscle in response to an accelerated program of missile and nuclear testing by the North Korean regime. Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on the North Korean nuclear weapons program, warned that unless the US military made it very clear that the new drones would not carry missiles in Korean skies, they could bring an already very dangerous situation closer to the brink of war. “If they are not going to arm them, they need to say that. They need to make them absolutely clear,” said Lewis, the director of the east Asia nonproliferation programme at Middlebury Institute of International Affairs at Monterey in California. “The thing the North Koreans are most afraid of is that we’re going to kill Kim Jong-un in a decapitating strike and … that will strengthen their incentives to make sure that low level commanders will have the ability to use nuclear weapons. It will make the North Koreans even more jumpy and have a way itchier trigger finger.” Lewis believes the North Korean strategy is to use a nuclear first strike to deter an attack aimed at regime change, a posture which makes for a particularly unstable balance of forces, with the adversaries motivated to act preemptively. “In a war they plan to use their weapons early,” Lewis said. “We plan to hit them before they do that, and the South Koreans plan to hit them before we have a chance to take too long to do that.” (Julian Borger, “U.S. to Deploy Missile Capable Drones across the Border from North Korea,” The Guardian, March 14, 2017)


3/15/17:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will warn China’s leaders that the United States is prepared to step up missile defenses and pressure on Chinese financial institutions if they fail to use their influence to restrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, according to several officials involved in planning his first mission to Asia. China has complained vociferously about the Trump administration’s recent decision to speed up the deployment of the Thaad antimissile system in South Korea, charging that it will undermine regional stability. But the Trump administration’s message is that the United States has run out of time to respond to North Korea’s military advances, and that the party the Chinese needs to complain to is in Pyongyang. One senior administration official involved in the planning called it “responsible” to increase the defenses of the United States and its allies against growing threats from North Korea. The official acknowledged that doing so would displease Beijing, but noted that China has the option of helping constrain and pressure the North. The tough message was shaped in a series of White House meetings before Tillerson’s departure for Japan today. It also followed more proposals at both ends of the spectrum — including opening up talks with North Korea and preparing for military action against its key missile and nuclear sites — that were set aside, at least for now. The result is that Tillerson is essentially adopting variants of the approaches that the Bush and Obama administrations took, though guided by Trump’s declarations that, unlike his predecessors, he will stop the North Korean program from developing a new intercontinental missile. This is not the first time that a secretary of state has sought to play the missile defense card. John Kerry told the Chinese that if China succeeded in constraining Pyongyang’s military ambitions, the United States could limit and perhaps even withdraw some of its antimissile systems in the region. “The president of the United States deployed some additional missile defense capacity precisely because of the threat of North Korea,” Kerry said after an April 2013 visit to Beijing. “And it is logical that if the threat of North Korea disappears because the peninsula denuclearizes, then obviously that threat no longer mandates that kind of posture.” During the presidential campaign, Trump said he was willing to sit down with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and negotiate with him directly, perhaps over a hamburger. Since then, Trump has taken an increasingly hard line, and suggested that he would link China’s use of its influence over the North to other issues, including trade relations. Last week, the Chinese repeated a proposal they knew the United States would reject, calling for a freeze in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for a cessation of American and South Korean annual military exercises, which are just now beginning. The Trump administration immediately rejected that call, saying that it would reward the North if it complied with United Nations resolutions it had long ignored, and would make the United States’ defense arrangements with South Korea a subject of bargaining. Reinforcing military ties, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducted a 30-minute phone call on today with his South Korean counterpart, Gen. Lee Sun-jin. A Pentagon statement said the generals discussed the possibility that North Korea could carry out “provocative actions” during the joint American and South Korean exercises now underway, or in April when North Korean authorities commemorate the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the founder and first leader of the country.During the administration’s deliberations, there has also been discussion of putting more pressure on Chinese banks, perhaps through “secondary sanctions,” that would make it difficult for any bank that did business with North Korea to also deal in American dollars. The technique worked effectively against Iran before it reached a nuclear agreement in the summer of 2015. But Daniel L. Glaser, a former Treasury official who constructed many of the sanctions, and now a principal at the Financial Integrity Network, said in an interview that the largest Chinese banks often shun dealings with North Korea and that some of the smaller ones have little exposure to the American banking system. “It’s not easy to execute,” he said. “The North Koreans have hidden these relationships, and directed them, with care.” (David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon, “Pressure Builds on China to Hold back North Korea,” New York Times, March 16, 2017, p. A-15)

The US Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden is reportedly set to join military training drills against North Korea for the first time. Along with other elite US units including the Army Rangers, Delta Force and the Green Berets, SEAL Team Six will take part in annual training exercises alongside South Korean forces, according to Yonhap. “A bigger number of and more diverse US special operation forces will take part in this year’s Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises to practise missions to infiltrate into the North, remove the North’s war command and demolition of its key military facilities,” a South Korean official told Yonhap. SEAL Team Six would practice removing Kim Jong-un and destroying North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, South Korea’s Defense Ministry told the Joong Ang Ilbo. A ministry official told the newspaper it would send a “strong message” to the communist state. But US Navy Commander Gary Ross denied the US military would practice taking out the North Korean leader. “Foal Eagle is designed to enhance the Republic of Korea-US alliance’s ability tio defend the RoK,” he said. F-35 fighter jets will also reportedly carry out strike simulations on key North Korean sites, while a joint amphibious landing drill involving the US and South Korea will begin next month. (Tom Embury-Dennis, “Navy SEAL Team That Killed Osama bin Laden ‘Taking Part in Military Drills against North Korea for First Time,’” The Independent, March 15, 2017)


3/16/17:
At a time of multiplying tensions in Asia, Rex W. Tillerson, the American secretary of state, began his first major foreign trip in Japan and said that the United States needed a “different approach” to North Korea’s escalating nuclear threat, though he declined to give specifics. Speaking to reporters in Tokyo after talks with Japan’s foreign minister, Kishida Fumio, Tillerson said that “the diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed,” noting that during those 20 years, the United States had provided $1.35 billion in assistance to North Korea to encourage it to abandon its nuclear program. “Part of the purpose of my visit to the region is to exchange views on a new approach,” Tillerson added, saying he would highlight the issue in Seoul and Beijing, the next stops on his trip. Tillerson, who took questions only from reporters who had been preselected by one of his press advisers, did not answer when asked for details of a new approach. In his prepared remarks, Tillerson took a markedly different tone than the secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, who said on a visit to Seoul in February that the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea would be met with an “overwhelming” response. Tillerson said “North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea.” He added, “With this in mind the United States calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile program and refrain from any further provocations.” Experts in the region said that while the United States had so far emphasized expanded missile defense with the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, they wanted to hear what Tillerson had to say about diplomatic options, as well as cooperation within the region. “It was very important to show the deterrence capability,” said Watanabe Tsuneo, a senior research fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo. “But at the same time we need to create a carrot-and-stick type signal to North Korea.” Watanabe said that in addition to coordination among the United States, Japan and South Korea, “we also need coordination with China.” Still, given that President Trump suggested during the campaign that he might pull back from American security commitments to allies in Asia, both Japan and South Korea are likely to remain anxious about American resolve. “There’s that sense that they are assured for the moment,” said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, “but Japan and South Korea are like skittish small dogs that need constant reassurance and are constantly nervous.” Some Diet members have suggested that Japan needs to consider obtaining the ability to make pre-emptive strikes against missile launches. Kishida said that “Japan will assume larger roles and responsibilities,” but when asked by Adriana Diaz, Asia correspondent for CBS News, about pre-emptive capabilities, he said he did not understand the question and declined to allow her to clarify. (Motoko Rich, “Tillerson Calls for ‘Different Approach’ to North Korea,” New York Times, March 16, 2017)

Tillerson: “As President Trump and Prime Minister Abe expressed in their February 10th statement, a priority of ours is expanding trilateral cooperation with the Republic of Korea. Trilateral cooperation allows our three nations to coordinate actions on major regional and global problems, and more effectively counter the threats posed by North Korea. We intend to continue our coordination in regard to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 2270 and 2231, which imposed robust and comprehensive sanctions on North Korea to inhibit its campaign to develop operational nuclear and missile capabilities. North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea. With this in mind, the United States calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and refrain from any further provocations. The U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan and its other treaty allies through the full range of our military capabilities is unwavering. Q: (Via interpreter) My name is Takigawa from NHK. I have a question to both Minister Kishida and Secretary Tillerson. At the moment, the Trump administration is reviewing on the U.S. policy vis-a-vis North Korea. In your meeting, were you able to discuss that – the direction of the review? What was the position or the thinking as indicated from the U.S. side? And it is also said that the U.S. may re-designate the North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. So I would like to seek your thoughts on this. KISHIDA: (Via interpreter) So let me respond, first of all. As the United States is currently reviewing on the U.S. policy on North Korea, there seems to be a good progress. And today, I have conveyed Japan’s thoughts and position, and we were able to firmly align the policies of our two governments. It was very timely, I believe, and it was also very meaningful and relevant. But because of the nature of this issue, as to the specifics of what we have discussed, I would like to refrain from mentioning them. Now, as for the re-designation of North Korea as state sponsor of terrorism, you have asked this point as well. This is to do with how the legislations are interpreted and applied inside the United States, so ultimately, this is something to be decided by the U.S. Government. But between myself and Secretary Tillerson, we have agreed that we should keep in close contact. …TILLERSON: Well, I think it’s important to recognize that the diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed. So we have 20 years of failed approach, and that includes a period in which the United States provided $1.35 billion in assistance to North Korea as an encouragement to take a different pathway. That encouragement has been met with further development of nuclear capabilities, more missile launches, including those of the recent February 11th and March the 5th. In the face of this ever-escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required. The purpose of – part of the purpose of my visit to the region is to exchange views on a new approach.” (DoS, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson Press Availability with Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio, Tokyo, March 16, 2017)

The Trump administration is moving toward increasing pressure on North Korea. The United States has started deploying the advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile system to U.S. forces stationed in South Korea earlier than previously planned, and is considering deploying unmanned attack aircraft. But the Trump administration has not ruled out the possibility of having direct talks with Pyongyang. Some Japanese government officials are therefore wary. “The United States may start bilateral talks with North Korea and make a compromise deal, with Japan being left out,” a Foreign Ministry source said. Due to this concern, both Abe and Kishida, in separate meetings with Tillerson, asked for “close coordination” over the policy toward North Korea between Japan and the United States. As Abe and Tillerson agreed on the importance of the two countries sharing a strategic goal on North Korea, the Japanese side is relieved for now. The strained relationship between Japan and South Korea over the issue of comfort women has cast a shadow in dealing with North Korea. Depending on the result of the South Korean presidential election, it is possible that the South Korean government will take a stronger anti-Japan stance. During the talks with Tillerson, Kishida emphasized the importance of implementing the Japan-South Korea deal on the comfort women issue as the foundation of cooperation between Japan and South Korea and between Japan, the United States and South Korea. He thus urged Tillerson, who was scheduled to visit South Korea on Friday, to discuss the issue in Seoul. (Miyai Toshimitsu and Oki Seima, “Japan, U.S. Agree to Closely Coordinate on North Korea,” Yomiuri Shimbun, March 17, 2017)

North Korea’s remaining links to global banking networks via SWIFT have been severed, according to the Brussels-based international system that supports most of the world’s financial transactions. (Don Weinland, “SWIFT Severs Remaining North Korean Links to Global Banking,” Financial Times, March 17, 2017) A further four North Korean banks were blocked from the world’s primary financial messaging service, as they were not in-line with the organization’s membership criteria. The SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system allows banks and financial institutions to communicate about transactions and trades. But this month SWIFT has blocked seven DPRK banks from using its services. The Belgium-based group barred three banks designated by the UN on March 9, and another four that were not included on UN or EU blacklists. “The DPRK banks remaining on the network are no longer compliant with SWIFT’s membership criteria. As a result, these entities will no longer have access to the SWIFT financial messaging service,” a SWIFT spokesperson told NK News. “Given the increased ongoing international attention on the DPRK, SWIFT has informed the Belgian and EU authorities.” SWIFT did not reveal the names of the newly blocked banks to NK News, though an article from the Wall Street Journal in March listed four DPRK banks which were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department which continued to use the service, the Foreign Trade Bank of the DPRK, Kumgang Bank; Koryo Credit Development Bank and North East Asia Bank. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury said the Foreign Trade Bank facilitates “transactions on behalf of actors linked to its proliferation network, which is under increasing pressure from recent international sanctions.” Reuters reported SWIFT’s actions were unusual given the banks were not sanctioned by the EU or UN, and the group had previously resisted pressure to cut off institutions from other countries in Washington’s crosshairs. “Removing them was long overdue. Taking steps to deny services to other DPRK banks is prudent because the jurisdiction is identified as a money laundering threat,” William Newcomb, a former member of the UN Panel of Experts told NK News. “There is no way for banks to be certain that funds originating or destined for DPRK are legitimate transfers, i.e. international banks are unable to take Financial Action Task Force-required countermeasures such as enhanced due diligence (EDD) in dealings with DPRK financial institutions.” Newcomb added the action would make it more difficult for North Korean banks to send money quickly and securely and might push the DPRK towards making greater use of cash couriers. (Leo Byrne, “SWIFT Blocks Four More North Korean Banks,” NKNews, March 17, 2017)


3/17/17:
President Trump decides on a policy of maximum pressure on North Korea, ratcheting up economic, rhetorical, military, and diplomatic preesure, and if necessary, covert action. (Woodward, Rage, p. 40)

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson ruled out opening any negotiation with North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programs and said for the first time that the Trump administration might be forced to take pre-emptive action “if they elevate the threat of their weapons program” to an unacceptable level. Tillerson’s comments in Seoul, a day before he travels to Beijing to meet Chinese leaders, explicitly rejected any return to the bargaining table in an effort to buy time by halting North Korea’s accelerating testing program. “The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Tillerson said, a reference to the term used by the Obama administration to describe a policy of waiting out the North Koreans, while gradually ratcheting up sanctions and covert action. Negotiations “can only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction,” he said — a step to which the North committed in 1992, and again in subsequent accords, but has always violated. “Only then will we be prepared to engage them in talks.” His inconsistency of tone may have been intended to signal a tougher line to the Chinese before he lands in Beijing tomorrow. It could also reflect an effort by Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, to issue the right diplomatic signals in a region where American commitment is in doubt. This afternoon, after visiting the Demilitarized Zone and peering into North Korean territory in what has become a ritual for American officials making a first visit to the South, Tillerson explicitly rejected a Chinese proposal to get the North Koreans to freeze their testing in return for the United States and South Korea suspending all annual joint military exercises, which are now underway. Tillerson argued that a freeze would essentially enshrine “a comprehensive set of capabilities” North Korea possesses that already pose too great a threat to the United States and its allies, and he said there would be no negotiation until the North agreed to dismantle its programs. Tillerson ignored a question about whether the Trump administration would double down on the use of cyberweapons against the North’s missile development, a covert program that . Obama accelerated early in 2014 and that so far has yielded mixed results. Instead, he referred vaguely to a “number of steps” the United States could take — a phrase that seemed to embrace much more vigorous enforcement of sanctions, ramping up missile defenses, cutting off North Korea’s oil, intensifying the cyberwar program and striking the North’s known missile sites. At a meeting of the “principals committee” of the National Security Council today, any discussion of military action was kicked down the road. The rejection of negotiations on a freeze would be consistent with the approach taken by President Barack Obama, who declined Chinese offers to restart the so-called six-party talks that stalled several years ago — which included North Korea, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States — unless the North agreed at the outset that the goal of the negotiations was the “complete, verifiable, irreversible” dismantling of its program. South Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, repeated that formulation today; Tillerson did not. But classified assessments of the North that the Obama administration left for its successors included a grim assessment by the intelligence community: that North Korea’s leader Kim believes his nuclear weapons program is the only way to guarantee the survival of his regime and will never trade it away for economic or other benefits. The assessment said that the example of what happened to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the longtime leader of Libya, had played a critical role in North Korean thinking. Colonel Qaddafi gave up the components of Libya’s nuclear program in late 2003 — most of them were still in crates from Pakistan — in hopes of economic integration with the West. Eight years later, when the Arab Spring broke out, the United States and its European allies joined forces to depose Colonel Qaddafi, who was eventually found hiding in a ditch and executed by Libyan rebels. Among many experts, the idea of a freeze has been favored as the least terrible of a series of bad options. Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear expert who worked on Obama’s National Security Council, and Toby Dalton wrote recently in Politico, “A temporary freeze on missile and nuclear developments sounds better than an unconstrained and growing threat. It is also, possibly, the most logical and necessary first step toward an overall agreement between the U.S. and North Korea. But the risk that North Korea will cheat or hide facilities during a negotiated freeze is great.” William J. Perry, who was secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, said in Beijing that the Trump administration would have to offer North Korea security assurances if it wanted to escape an increasingly dangerous spiral of confrontation. Previous administrations had mistakenly based their policies on the assumption that North Korea would collapse on their watch, Perry told a small group of reporters. “I see very little prospect of a collapse,” he said. “For eight years in the Obama administration and eight years in the Bush administration, they were expecting that to happen. As a consequence, their policies were not very effective. I would think that the United States and other countries as well should stop expecting a collapse in North Korea.” Perry said that American policy makers needed to grasp that North Korea’s leaders regarded their own survival in power, and especially the continuation of the Kim dynasty, as more important than improving the economy. He said that as long as the goal of the United States remained completely eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons, “I think we will continue to be unsuccessful.” He said, “It will take initiative, primarily by the United States, to be willing to talk with North Korea.” (David E. Sanger, “Secretary of State Rejects Talks With North Korea on Nuclear Program,” New York Times, March 18, 2017, p. A-8)

In a post on his Twitter account, President Trump said, “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!” It comes after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said military action against North Korea was an “option on the table.” (Andrew Buncombe, “Donald Trump Says North Is Behaving ‘Very Badly’ and China Is Not Helping,” The Independent, March 17, 2017)

Tillerson-Yun: “FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) … Today’s dialogue with the Secretary will be my third one in about a month’s time. North Korea’s latest provocations and additional threats will be analyzed, and our common actions forward will be forged upon this very important occasion. Especially the U.S. is still reviewing its North Korean policies. As such, Secretary Tillerson and I, in our phone conversations in early February, have discussed a joint approach on the response to North Korea’s nuclear programs, and concretizing our approach in this regard will be the main agenda of our discussions today. In pursuing such coordination, our unchanging goal is something that has already been declared by both countries, and spelled out in relevant UNSC resolutions. It is a complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program CVID-based dismantlement. Under this unwavering shared goal for the denuclearization of North Korea, effective and comprehensive policy options will be discussed extensively. Furthermore, additional provocations of North Korea are anticipated (inaudible). The assassination of Kim Jong Nam with a chemical weapon has triggered an unprecedented turn of events. As such, in addition to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, its use of chemical weapons and human rights violations will be addressed as we will have in-depth discussions on ways to guide international collaboration regarding these overall North Korea matters. Our two governments, in a bid to counter North Korea’s threat, which is of a different dimension from the past, have been pushing for the USFK’s THAAD deployment based on the alliance decision. This is attributed to the North nuclear missile threats, and does not target any specific third country. This has been our clear position. To safeguard national security and our people’s lives, the measure was taken as a self-defensive one against any bullying against us. Both our governments will respond bilaterally and on the global stage with clarity and resoluteness. The Korean Government welcomes the Trump Administration’s announcement of its robust Asia engagement policy and its steadfast commitment to the defense of the ROK. Most notably, the President himself stated that, in a new administration, the ROK-U.S. alliance would be made even stronger. I am very appreciative to bolster the ROK-U.S. alliance, the lynchpin of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific. We are committed to maintaining our close coordination with the U.S. in the coming months and years. I have no doubt that this meeting today will mark another milestone in developing our comprehensive alliance that contributes to peace and stability, not only on the peninsula, but also the entire world. …TILLERSON: … The U.S. and our allies have repeatedly reassured North Korea’s leaders that we seek only peace, stability, and economic prosperity for Northeast Asia. As proof of our intent, America has provided $1.3 billion in assistance to North Korea since 1995. In return, North Korea has detonated nuclear weapons, and dramatically increased its launches of ballistic missiles to threaten America and our allies. The U.S. commitment to our allies is unwavering. In the face of North Korea’s grave and escalating global threat, it is important for me to consult with our friends, and chart a path that secures the peace. Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures. All options are on the table. North Korea must understand that the only path to a secure, economically-prosperous future is to abandon its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction. We call on other regional powers and all nations to join us in demanding the North Korean Government choose a better path and a different future for its people. The United States is committed to supporting the defense of our allies, and we will continue to develop a comprehensive set of capabilities to counter the growing North Korean ballistic missile threat. That is why the United States and the Republic of Korea decided to take the defensive measure of deploying THAAD Missile Defense System. While we acknowledge China’s opposition, its economic retaliation against South Korea is inappropriate and troubling. We ask China to refrain from such action. Instead, we urge China to address the threat that makes that necessary, that being the escalating threat from North Korea. The United States alliance with South Korea is built not only on security, but our commitment to our core principles that have enabled the success of our nations: a strong economic partnership, deep people-to-people ties, and democratic values. I am encouraged by our productive joint discussions, and pledge continued American support for the shared prosperity and security of our two nations. (Speaks in Korean.) Thank you. …Q: (Via interpreter) I would like to pose this question to the Secretary Tillerson. You are saying that we need a new approach to North Korea in order to resolve North Korea’s nuclear program problem. China probably needs to play a more active part. Have all of the tools in the tool kit probably have not been exhausted. What specific actions can we take, in your opinion? And the six-party talks were not fruitful, according to a press statement by the State Department. So I wonder — what will be the effective measures, going forward? And also, regarding a new approach, what will be the Korean Government’s position on this new approach? I pose this question to Foreign Minister Yun. TILLERSON: Well, as I indicated in my remarks, 20 years of talks with North Korea have brought us to where we are today. Both the ROK and the United States have been quite clear over these 20 years, that we seek nothing but a stable Korean Peninsula and an economically prosperous Korean Peninsula. North Korea has nothing to fear from the United States. But this 20 years of talking has brought us to the point we are today. So the track that we are now on is to use a number of steps with an ever greater number of actions ahead of us that involve sanctions, which the United Nations Security Council has already approved, including China, which voted for those sanctions. And then we are calling on all countries to now fully implement those sanctions. We are also calling upon China to fully implement those sanctions, as well, in compliance with the UN Security Council resolution that it voted for. We will be widening the circle of allies in response to North Korea’s threats and their provocative actions, and asking others to join in. It is important that the leadership of North Korea realize that their current pathway of nuclear weapons and escalating threats will not lead to their objective of security and economic development. That pathway can only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction. And only then will we be prepared to engage with them in talks. YUN: (Via interpreter) Yes, regarding this new approach, Secretary Tillerson has given you a comprehensive response. As such, I don’t believe that there is much to add, myself. But, basically, our two ministers, as we stated in our opening remarks, the current North Korea nuclear and missile threats are of a different dimension from the past. It is an imminent and grave threat facing us. As such, this new approach that we are pursuing, this joint approach, will be against this imminent threat, and probably more than at any point in the past. We would be willing to utilize all of the means that are available to us. Diplomatic pressures will be one stream of such endeavors, but there could be other types of efforts. At the same time, as was mentioned by Secretary Tillerson, all of the stakeholders themselves, more than any point in time in the past, they should cooperate together to make sure that North Korea feels the pain for its wrongdoings, and pay the cost, pay the price. And for the aspects that were not up to our expectations, we should be collaborating further to ensure that there are tangible outcomes. In this process, one of the most important principles will be this: ROK and the U.S. will remain closely coordinating with each other for a shared response. And, through that effort, we can demonstrate our strong alliance. Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary — down here — you mentioned a range of options, but I’m hoping you can drill down into a few specifics that we know are on the table. So one, for example, is the possibility of stepped-up interdiction by China against shipping into North Korea. Another is the cyber campaign against the North Korean nuclear or ballistic missile program. And the third is the possibility of negotiating a freeze, though I’m wondering whether the program is too far along for a negotiated freeze. So, could you address the pluses and the minuses of those specific programs, and the possibility for action on those? And then, for the Foreign Minister, just a very simple question. Can you guarantee that THAAD will go ahead, regardless of who wins the presidential election? Thank you. TILLERSON: Well, I think with regard to escalating sanctions, I don’t believe we have ever fully achieved the maximum level of action that can be taken under the UN Security Council resolution, with full participation of all countries. There also are other sources of revenue to North Korea that fall outside of the specific sanctions, and we know that other nations could take actions to alter their relationship with North Korea in support of our efforts to have them give up their nuclear weapons program. I think, in terms of talking about any kind of a freeze, I think it’s premature for that. But at this stage I’m not sure we would be willing to freeze, with the circumstances where they exist today, given that that would leave North Korea with significant capabilities that would represent a true threat, not just to the region, but to American forces, as well. YUN: (Via interpreter) Yes, regarding the question that was posed by the journalist from Bloomberg, basically, on the Korean Peninsula, this threat that we face from North Korea, these grave circumstances, will not change, even with a change of the governments in Korea. That is the reality that we face. As such, national security and the people’s lives should be safeguarded. And for that purpose, no matter which government comes into power in Korea in the future, such a gravity and urgency of the problem should be considered well for making a wise decision. In particular, the diplomatic policies and security policies should remain consistent. Responsible leaders of Korea would probably have the same view, similar view. MODERATOR: Thank you. Again, we would like to take a question from a Korean journalist from Arirang TV. Q: Welcome to South Korea, Mr. Secretary. I would like to ask you about the THAAD issue that you mentioned in your remarks. It seems like the THAAD deployment to South Korea is going to be completed before the new South Korean administration kicks in. And China has been imposing apparent retaliatory actions against South Korea for the deployment decision. When you meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China, are you going to discuss the current difficulties that Seoul is facing? And is this issue going to be brought up during the U.S.-China Summit next month? TILLERSON: Well, I do believe that we will proceed with the installation of THAAD. And it’s my expectation that the new government in South Korea will continue to be supportive of the THAAD system, because it is directed solely at the defense of the ROK. As to conversations with the Government of China, we will be discussing with them the serious threat that North Korea poses to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, but even beyond. North Korea is now pursuing programs that would allow them to present a clear threat to the continental United States and to other parts of the world. So we will be discussing with China what we believe they should be doing to help mitigate this threat, as well. As to their punitive actions against South Korea because of the agreement to install the THAAD system, as I indicated in my remarks, we believe these actions are unnecessary, and we believe they are troubling. We also believe it is not the way for a regional power to help resolve what is a serious threat to everyone. And so we would hope that China would alter its position on punishing South Korea for the THAAD system. As I said, we have emphasized many times it’s purely defensive in nature, and we would hope that they would help us engage with North Korea to eliminate the reason a THAAD system is even required. MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Yes, we are ready to take one more question from the members of the U.S. press. Yes, from CNN, please go ahead. Q: Mr. Secretary, is there a truly new or different approach that doesn’t include a military option? At what point does a military option become truly necessary, considering the obvious threat of retaliation to more than 20 million people in the Seoul Metropolitan Area? Also, it seems that the State Department has rejected the Chinese suggestion of a negotiation with North Korea that would involve dropping the joint military drills. Is that a viable option? Is it something that could be discussed between you on this trip? And, in turn, when you arrive in Beijing, will you push officials there to cut off the oil to North Korea? TILLERSON: As to — I will take the latter part of your question, first. As to the suggestion from the Chinese Government that we should stand down our joint military operations in exchange for engaging in talks, we do not believe the conditions are right to engage in any talks at this time. (Inaudible) and standing down our joint military operations. Those operations are an annual event. We’ve been carrying out these joint military operations for over 40 years. When those operations are to be undertaken, it is with clear transparency. We announce to the world that we are going to carry out these operations, so there is no surprise to anyone. And the purpose of those is made quite clear to the North Korean Government, as well. North Korea does not provide any of us the same type of transparency and forewarning when they choose to launch ballistic missiles. So, again, conditions must change before there is any scope for talks to resume, whether they be five-party or six-party. …All of the options are on the table. Certainly, we do not want to — for things to get to a military conflict. We are quite clear in that, in our communications. But obviously, if North Korea takes actions that threatens the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that would be met with an appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table. But we are hopeful that, by taking these steps — and we have many, many steps we can take before we get to that point — we hope that that will persuade North Korea to take a different course of action. That is our desire. Q: And the oil? TILLERSON: Well, I think, to the extent that China is supplying that oil — I think others are supplying oil, some of that oil comes from Russia, it comes from other sources — we will be calling on everyone to join in these actions. Certainly all of the regional players, but others who have commercial relationships with North Korea, we will be asking them to take steps, as well. (DoS, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Remarks with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se Before Their Meeting, Seoul, March 17, 2017)

Japan launched a new spy satellite, the country’s space agency said, as the region grows increasingly uneasy over North Korea’s quickening missile and nuclear programs. (AFP-JIJI, “Japan Launches New Spy Satellite to Keep Eye on North Korea,” Japan Times, March 17, 2017)


3/18/17:
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson signaled that the Trump administration was prepared to scrap nearly a decade of United States policy toward North Korea in favor of a more aggressive effort to eliminate the country’s nuclear weapons program. Whether that means pre-emptive action, which he warned was “on the table,” will depend a great deal on how China responds. Up to 40 percent of the North’s foreign currency — essential for buying goods abroad — comes from a network of about 600 Chinese companies, according to a recent study by Sayari Analytics, a Washington financial intelligence firm. Tillerson went to China today, a day after saying in Seoul that the United States would not negotiate with North Korea on freezing its nuclear and missile programs. In Beijing, Tillerson met with China’s top foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, and the foreign minister, Wang Yi, today. He will see President Xi Jinping tomorrow. “We have committed ourselves to do everything we can to prevent a conflict from breaking out,” Tillerson said at a press conference after meeting Wang. The secretary said China and the United States “will work together” to see if they could make North Korea take “a course correction and move away from nuclear weapons.” Tillerson declined to specify the “number of steps” that would be taken to achieve that goal. His interactions with his hosts in Beijing, and whether he takes a hard line with China over its support for North Korea, will be closely watched — as will be China’s response. Last month, Beijing showed a new willingness to punish its longtime ally when it suspended imports of North Korean coal, saying it had reached the annual limit allowed under United Nations sanctions. Customs figures later showed that China had in fact imported only about 30 percent of the quota for 2017. Yang Xiyu, a veteran Chinese diplomat involved with North Korea, said Tillerson may be able to persuade Chinese leaders to do more when he meets with them in Beijing this weekend, particularly against Chinese companies that do business with the North. Yang cited as a potential model the case that United States officials built last year against a Chinese executive accused of selling North Korea a chemical that can be used in nuclear-enrichment centrifuges. While Beijing was not happy about the case, it eventually accepted it. “It wasn’t easy, but it was the right way to push the issue to a solution,” he said. When the United States filed criminal charges against the businesswoman, Ma Xiaohong, the owner of the Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Company, other Chinese companies conducting similar transactions were apparently left untouched. But Yang, who was a top negotiator for China during six-nation talks with North Korea from 2003 to 2009, suggested that those companies may now be vulnerable. If the United States continues to present evidence of illegal activities that contravene China’s responsibilities under United Nations sanctions, “there is a great deal of room for cooperation,” he said. He noted that China had published five executive orders, totaling more than 900 pages, listing items banned from export to North Korea. “Such activities violate China’s adherence to those orders,” he said. Yang added: “The United States should say, ‘Let’s extend our cooperation to implementation of the United Nations resolutions on sanctions.’ They should say, ‘Starting with the Hongxiang case, let’s move forward.’” Anthony Ruggiero, a former United States Treasury official involved in sanctions enforcement against Pyongyang, told a congressional panel last month, “It is not a foregone conclusion that China’s leaders will shelter North Korea.” Ruggiero said the United States would be likeliest to achieve Chinese cooperation from a position of strength. In 2013, he noted, when the Treasury blacklisted North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank for contributing to the proliferation of nuclear materials, the Bank of China, one of China’s major commercial banks, immediately closed its account with the North Korean outfit. Now, no major Chinese banks deal with North Korea for fear of being penalized by the United States, though smaller ones do, along with front companies operating along the North Korean border with few links to the United States financial system, according to American sanctions experts. “This is a good example of China acting to cut off North Korea’s activities inside China when those actions threaten China’s economic interests,” Ruggierio said of the Bank of China’s severance of its North Korea connections. A more recent episode that could serve as a model came last week, when the United States Department of Commerce fined ZTE, one of China’s biggest technology companies, $1.19 billion for breaking sanctions and selling electronics to Iran and North Korea. “This is what the U.S. should be doing, but finding it out ain’t easy,” said Stephan Haggard, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which is based in Washington. “I think that Commerce pretty much had a gun to ZTE’s head.” Officials in the Trump administration have discussed putting pressure on Chinese banks through “secondary sanctions,” which would make it hard for any bank that did business with the North to also deal in American dollars. That technique worked against Iran, helping to force it to the negotiating table over its own nuclear program. But such measures are likely to have much less impact in North Korea, which is already isolated, than they did in Iran, a major trading nation, sanctions experts said. “North Korea has one of the smallest international trade profiles on earth,” said Joseph M. DeThomas, a former American ambassador who served as a State Department adviser on Iran and North Korea sanctions. “North Korea often has to end-run the entire financial system to move money. They do things the old-fashioned way: sending guys on airplanes with suitcases full of money.” In an opinion article this week in the New York Times, a former United States deputy secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, said the Obama administration had quietly pressed countries to eject North Korean workers whose remittances help fund the country’s military. He did not say how successful that effort had been. Tens of thousands of such workers are employed in China’s northeastern cities like Dandong and Hunchun, along the North Korean border. But Marcus Noland, of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said he believed the organized export of labor earned the North Korean government less than has often been reported — hundreds of millions of dollars per year, probably less than half a billion, he said. “The next time you hear the claim of $2 billion annual earnings from the organized export of labor, remember not to believe everything you hear,” he said. Far more has been contributed in foreign currency by Chinese companies doing trade across the border, said Jessica Knight, director of analysis at Sayari Analytics. “Customs data indicates more than $8 billion in cross-border trade between China and North Korea since 2013, much of it in commodities like coal and steel,” she said. Whether any sanctions at all will deter the North from its nuclear pursuits is far from clear. The former United States defense secretary William J. Perry, who dealt with the North Korean problem during the Clinton administration, said on Friday in Beijing that he doubted they would. “We have sanctioned them a hundred times, and it didn’t stop developing nuclear weapons,” he said. “They seem to be prepared to suffer economic deprivation for the people so they can achieve the preservation of the regime, which they think that nuclear weapons is going to do for them.” (Jane Perlez, “As U.S. Shifts on Korea, China Holds Cards,” New York Times, March 18, 2017, p. A-1) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pushed back against the tougher U.S. line on North Korea, reiterating his country’s view that the only way to rein in its reclusive neighbor is through talks. Bottom of Form

Wang spoke at a briefing in Beijing with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “The most important principle we have identified is that no matter what happens, we have to stay committed to diplomatic means as a way to seek a peaceful settlement,” Wang said on Saturday. “We hope all parties including our friends from the United States could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision.” In his comments in Seoul, Tillerson laid out details of the U.S. approach, saying it would focus on getting China to better enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea. His tone was more moderate when he spoke alongside Wang on Saturday, saying the countries had agreed to work together to confront North Korea. “I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now and things have reached a rather dangerous level,” Tillerson said. “We’ve committed ourselves to do everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out.” Wang said China has come up with proposals for all sides to study, though he didn’t detail them. While Tillerson has said a key component of his new effort involves pressing China to better enforce UN sanctions, Wang said the matter is primarily between the U.S. and Pyongyang. “The Korean peninsula nuclear issue in nature is an issue between the United States and the DPRK,” Wang said. “It is obliged upon all parties to implement the sanctions and restart the talks at the same time.” (Nick Wadhams, “China Pushes Back on U.S. Talk of ‘All Options’ over North Korea,” Bloomberg, March 18, 2017)

Tillerson-Wang: “TILLERSON: Nihao. Good afternoon. I’m pleased to be here this afternoon in Beijing to discuss the way forward in forging a constructive and results-oriented relationship between the United States and China. This is an important opportunity to follow up on the telephone conversation between President Trump and President Xi and to pave the way for continued productive high-level engagement. Since the historic opening of relations between our two countries more than 40 years ago, the U.S.-China relationship has been guided by an understanding of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation. It is important that the leaders of our two countries engage in further dialogue to develop a common understanding that will guide our relationship for the next half-century. The United States and China are the world’s two largest economies, and we must both promote stability and growth. Our two countries should have a positive trading relationship that is fair and pays dividends both ways, and we will be working on that going forth. Foreign Minister Wang and I also spoke about the importance of safeguarding stability and security in Northeast Asia and the Asia Pacific region. We noted that efforts made over the last 20 years have so far not succeeded in curbing the threat posed by North Korea’s illegal weapons programs. Because China’s stated policy is denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, we renewed our determination to work together to convince the North Korean Government to choose a better path and a different future for its people. I discussed the importance of upholding a rules-based order in dealing with maritime disputes and freedom of navigation and overflight. And I made clear that the United States will continue to advocate for universal values such as human rights and religious freedom. I look forward on this visit to additional meetings today with State Counselor Yang and tomorrow with President Xi, and to continue to work together with my Chinese host to address shared challenges and opportunities. MODERATOR: Question goes to Bob Woodruff, ABC News. Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for talking today. (Inaudible) in terms of all these terms – in terms of all these issues, North Korea is certainly at the top, and you’ve spoken this week, couple days ago, there is this possibility of a preemptive strike and that it’s “on the table,” quote/unquote. Exactly where’s the red line on this? What would cause this to happen, do you think? You probably don’t have to detail it, but what does North Korea have to do in order to have that possibility? And also, did you talk to China about that today, and has that given some pressure, to use some influence on them to give you anything new in terms of sanctions, et cetera, or any changes in laws to enforce some rules about trading with North Korea? Secondly, it also was tweeted by the President, President Trump, yesterday, where he said very clearly that North Korea’s bad and China has done very, very little. Did you know about that tweet when that went out? Did you have a chance to talk to him, and what was his reaction to you? Has he made your job a lot harder? TILLERSON: As I indicated in my prepared statement, Foreign Minister Wang and I had a very extensive exchange on North Korea, and Foreign Minister Wang affirmed again China’s longstanding policy of a denuclearized Korean peninsula. We also exchanged views and I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high (inaudible) and that things have reached a rather dangerous level. And we’ve committed ourselves to do everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out, and we view there are a number of steps that we can take that are in front of us. And Foreign Minister Wang has agreed that we will work together to see if we cannot bring the government in Pyongyang to a place where they want to make a different course – make a course correction and move away from their development of their nuclear weapons. But it is with a certain sense of urgency that we both feel because of the current situation that we have on the peninsula. So I appreciated Foreign Minister Wang’s sincere expressions about how China sees the situation, and we had a very good exchange on that and we will continue to be talking with one another on what we can both do, along with working with others, to bring North Korea to a different place where we are hopeful we can then begin a dialogue. MODERATOR: (Via interpreter, in progress) — goes to the Chinese journalist from CCTV to Foreign Minister Wang. Q: (Via interpreter, in progress) — CCTV, and my question goes to Foreign Minister Wang. Recently, the situation on Korean peninsula is highly complex, and it is in a constant state of tension. And we have also noticed that some people are of the view that despite China has the biggest influence on Pyongyang, it has not done enough to address the issue of the peninsula. So how does China look at the cooperation between China and the United States on international and regional issues, especially the question of the Korean peninsula? WANG: (Via interpreter) Indeed, the Korean peninsula nuclear issue is of interest to everyone. And on this issue, I would like to say that China stays committed to the goal of denuclearization and upholds the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime. We are for the settlement of this issue through dialogue and negotiations and the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula and the overall region. The Korean peninsula nuclear issue in nature is an issue between the United States and the D.P.R.K. China, as a close neighbor of the peninsula and a responsible major country, has over the years devoted a lot of energy and efforts to seek a settlement to this issue. Upon the request of the U.S. side, China has worked to facilitate and secure the establishment of the Three-Party Talks, which was expanded to become the Six-Party Talks later on. In fact, all these efforts were geared to create the conditions and provide support to the engagement and the discussions between the D.P.R.K. and the United States. The tremendous, important efforts China has thus made is visible to all. And after the Six-Party Talks ground to a halt, China again worked together with the United States and the other members of the UN Security Council to pass a series of D.P.R.K.-related resolutions and played an important role in containing D.P.R.K.’s nuclear and missile programs and controlling tension on the peninsula. Hereby, I would like to bring to your special notice here is the fact that while all Security Council resolutions related to D.P.R.K. have mapped out a series of increasingly tougher sanctions against Pyongyang, they have also at the same time included clear provisions calling for efforts to resume the talks, to de-escalate the tension, and to safeguard stability of the peninsula. Therefore, it is obliged upon all parties to implement the sanctions and restart the talks at the same time. The entire course of trying to seek a solution to the Korean peninsula nuclear issue up to date has both had successes and failures and both successful experience and hard lessons. The most important progress made is the September the 19th joint statement we reached in 2005, when we drafted a comprehensive roadmap for the D.P.R.K. to give up its nuclear and missile programs and realize denuclearization on the peninsula. And the most important experience we have learned is that only when the legitimate concerns of all parties are addressed in a synchronized and reciprocal fashion could we secure genuine progress in the talks. And the most important principle we have identified is that no matter what happens, we have to stay committed to diplomatic means as a way to seek peaceful settlement. The situation we face today is precisely caused by the very fact that the Six-Party Talks has ground to a halt and there was no means for diplomatic and political dialogues. Right now, the situation on the peninsula has arrived at a new crossroads. We could either let the situation continue to escalate and aggravate, which will finally lead to confronting conflicts, or we could continue to strictly implement the Security Council resolutions, and while we do so, try to seek a breakthrough point to restart the dialogues and come back to the right track of a negotiated settlement. And we hope all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision. The Chinese side has in this respect come up with our proposals. We hope the parties will study the Chinese suggestions carefully. And meanwhile, we welcome all parties to come up with their own proposals, and we stand ready to continue to maintain close communication and the necessary coordination with the U.S. side on this issue. I spent a lot of time with Secretary Tillerson just now during our meeting on the Korean peninsula nuclear issue. Of course, one or two exchange of views like this will not arrive us at complete agreement, but the good thing is we have reached a fundamental consensus governing some of the overall general directions. As Mr. Tillerson has just said now – has said just now, both of us are firmly committed to the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, and we are both ready to comprehensively and strictly implement the Security Council resolutions. And we both hope to find ways to restart the talks, and neither of us are ready to give up the hope for peace. And such discussions between China and the United States will keep going, and this is and will be an important aspect of China-U.S. cooperation.” (DoS, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Remarks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a Press Availability,” Diaoyutai, Beijing, March 18, 2017)

Tillerson: “Q. First of all, let me just ask you since the South Korean newspaper reported that you cancelled dinner because of fatigue, and then they said you spent more time with the Japanese than the South Koreans. What happened? Tillerson: They never invited us for dinner, then at the last minute they realized that optically it wasn’t playing very well in public for them, so they put out a statement that we didn’t have dinner because I was tired. Q: So are you saying they lied about it? RT: No, it was just their explanation. … Q: Given the focus that they’re saying was on Japan, let me say broadly — it seems like there is an extraordinary focus on Japan from the administration, given the President’s two meetings with Abe, your visit, Mattis’ visit, and the vice president coming next month — Japan is getting more focus at a high level than any other country. It has to be more than just a reassurance mission. What do you want from the Japanese and what can you give the Japanese? RT: Well, let me correct a little bit just from the perspective on what you just said. There has been a high level visit with the Japanese because the Japanese prime minister is in place. South Korea’s government is not in place. So there’s been no opportunity for a high level meeting, so let’s keep things in perspective. When Secretary Mattis came, [he] came to Korea also. So no preference given there. Vice President Pence’s trip next month — he’s going to both countries also. So there is no … I don’t think anything should be made that there is some kind of imbalance in the relationship. I think it’s more of a reflection of the situation with the Korean government. The impeachment of the president — the Korean president — they have an interim government now. They’ll have a new government in place after elections in May. So in the meantime, the level of communication between our governments at the active ministerial level and active presence level has been very — it’s been frequent. Foreign minister Yun and I have met several times and have spoken on the phone several times, so I don’t think anything should be read into the amount of time with visits. I think people are making more of that than they should. …Q: You told Fox yesterday that ‘nothing is off the table’ with respect to the nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. In your confirmation hearing, you kind of said that South Korea and Japan don’t need to have nuclear weapons. Has your view changed, given the urgency of the situation with North Korea, particularly because Japan could finalize development of a nuclear weapon rather quickly if they needed to? RT: No, it has not, nor has the policy of the United States changed. Our objective is a denuclearized Korean peninsula. A denuclearized Korean peninsula negates any thought or need for Japan to have nuclear weapons. We say all options are on the table, but we cannot predict the future. So we do think it’s important that everyone in the region has a clear understanding that circumstances could evolve to the point that for mutual deterrence reasons, we might have to consider that. But as I said yesterday, there are a lot of … there’s a lot of steps and a lot of distance between now and a time that we would have to make a decision like that. Our objective is to have the regime in North Korea come to a conclusion that the reasons that they have felt they have had to develop nuclear weapons, those reasons are not well-founded. We want to change that understanding. With that, we do believe that if North Korea [were to] stand down on this nuclear program, that is their quickest means to begin to develop their economy and to become a vibrant economy for the North Korean people. If they don’t do that, they will have a very difficult time developing their economy. Q: Over the last couple of days, you’ve laid out a couple of options that you can take, saying that all options are on the table. But what is option one? RT: Well, option one is to send very strong messages to North Korea by way of the sanctions — sanctions which have already been imposed by the UN Security Council resolutions — and to ask that everyone fully implement those sanctions. And there are additional steps that we can take to increase the pressure on the regime in hopes that they will understand the path they’re on is simply not sustainable. Q: And those steps — what’s step one and what’s step two? RT: Well, the first steps are the UN sanctions. There are broader sanctions that we can consider. I think that there are additional actions that the UN, that we can consider. There are broader participation by other countries in putting pressure on North Korea. So, this is a staged approach in which we want to give the North Korean government time to understand what’s happening, time to make decisions and adjust. We’re not … it’s not our objective to force them into some brash action. It’s our objective for them to understand things only continue to get more difficult if they don’t change their path. We want to give you time to change your path. Q: Now the liberal opposition is likely to take office in South Korea, and the Chinese are obviously opposed to that. My understanding, though, is that in addition to the North Koreans trying to send a message complaining about U.S. military exercises, part of the reason that they deployed four missiles at the same time was to practice … beating missile defense systems. So, how do you get ahead of the North Koreans, particularly when the Chinese and the next administration in South Korea want more engagement and less of a military posturing? RT: Well that’s the point. We’re not sure if we can get ahead of them. If they just continue, you know, we’re headed to a place no one wants to be. And that’s why the actions are tending to cause them to pause and rethink the pathway you’re on. ‘Cause if they continue with their testing and continue the development of both their weapons and their delivery systems, then we’re going to find ourselves in a place that’s even more dangerous than we are today. …And we don’t want anyone to arrive at that destination. Q: How dangerous is the place we’re in today? The State Department just announced that Joseph Yun is on the way here for six days. What’s his mission? What are the next steps? How urgent is it right now? RT: Well, in terms of the urgency right now is to ensure that the regime of Pyongyang has heard the message. That’s why we’ve tried to be very clear and succinct with the message, which is, first, we do not intend to be a threat to you. We do not want to have a conflict with you. We want you to change your direction. And we want others in the region to help us help them make a different decision. That’s the first step. And then obviously that has to be backed up with action, so that they understand we’re serious. And that means soliciting others to help us with that message and backing that message up to North Korea: that you need to change directions. Q: Which includes the Chinese. Now hours before we took off for Beijing, the President got onto Twitter and said “North Koreans are behaving badly and China has done little to help.” So let me ask, did you know that was coming? Was that an intentional … you’re shaking your head, no. So you don’t know if that was an intentional bargaining chip (RT: No) to set a table with the Chinese? Does it complicate your mission this weekend? RT: No, it’s consistent with the discussions I had with the president before I left on this trip. I had a very good conversation with the president on the approach that I felt was necessary with North Korea, including all of the parties that we think have to be a part of this. So, I did not know that he was going to tweet anything out, but the message that he sent out was very consistent with the message that I’ve been delivering so far in Tokyo and in Seoul. And I don’t think it will come as any surprise to the Chinese government that we do not view that they have ever fully used all of the influence available to them to cause the North Korean regime to rethink its pursuit of these weapons, and that’s some of what I’ll be talking with the Chinese government about as well is, you know, they need to understand: what are they willing to do? How far are they willing to go? Can this be an area of mutual cooperation between two great powers to bring peace and stability to the Korean peninsula? And let’s be great powers. Let’s denuclearize the peninsula. That has been China’s stated policy for more than two decades — is a denuclearized Korean peninsula. They need to help solve this. (Transcript of Secretary of State Tillerson’s Interview with Erin McPike, Independent Journal Review, March 18, 2017. This interview was provided to the traveling press.)


3/19/17:
North Korea heralded the successful development of a new “high-thrust engine” during a visit to the country’s rocket test site by leader Kim Jong Un, the reclusive nation’s state media said. Kim observed the test of the indigenously built high-powered engine at the North’s Sohae satellite facility in Dongchang-ri, according to KCNA. The facility is near the site where the isolated country launched four extended-range Scud missiles earlier this month as part of a practice exercise aimed at striking U.S. military bases in Japan. Kim said that the “development and completion of the engine would help consolidate the scientific and technological foundation to match the world-level satellite delivery capability,” the report said — an indication that the test was likely that of a long-range rocket engine. KCNA said the purpose of the test was to confirm the reliability of the engine’s features, including its thrust power in the combustion chamber and the movements of various valves. Rocket engines can be easily repurposed for use in missiles. In September, the North announced the successful ground test of a new type of “high-power engine,” ostensibly for launching satellites. State media said the engine could deliver 80 tons of thrust, making it likely the most powerful the country had ever seen. David Schmerler, a researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said today’s test was different from the engine tested last September. “This appears to be a single-nozzle engine with four vernier thrusters,” Schmerler said, referring to thrusters used to maneuver and stabilize a spacecraft. “We haven’t seen this configuration before in North Korea.” Schmerler said it could be a new second-stage engine for the North’s next satellite launch vehicle. “However, it may also have a dual use in their ballistic missile program,” he added. (Jesse Johnson, “North Korea Hails Test of Powerful New Rocket Engine,” Japan Times, March 19, 2017)

KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, watched the ground jet test of Korean-style high-thrust engine newly developed by the Academy of the National Defense Science. After being told about the production of the new-type high-thrust engine, he personally visited the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground at dawn to learn in detail about the technical specifications of the engine and preparations for the test and guided it. The test was conducted to confirm the overall technical indices of the engine such as features of thrust power in the combustion chamber, accurate movement of turbine pump, control system and various valves and their structural safety and reliability. He mounted an observation post and gave an order to start the test. The results of the test confirmed the stable maintenance of technical indices of all systems such as starting and stopping features of a new-type high-thrust engine of Korean style designed and manufactured by the defense scientists and technicians by their own efforts and with indigenous technology, the features of the thrust power in the combustion chamber, turbine pump, control systems in the whole course of engine operation after accurately reaching the expected values, and the perfect guarantee of their structural reliability. He noted that the success made in the current test marked a great event of historic significance as it declared a new birth of the Juche-based rocket industry which has radically turned into a development-and creation-oriented industry both in name and in reality by completely doing away with dogmatism, conservatism and formalism left in the field of rocket industry and the dependence on the technology of other countries. He emphasized that the whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries. The development and completion of a new-type high-thrust engine would help consolidate the scientific and technological foundation to match the world-level satellite delivery capability in the field of outer space development, he noted, adding with pleasure that today when a great leaping forward has been made in the development of the rocket industry is the day to be always remembered, a historic day which can be called “March 18 revolution.” He said that the field of munitions industry made a series of unprecedented successes this year as it did last year, instilling dynamism into the grand revolutionary advance of all the service personnel and people. Then he had a significant photo session with the officials, scientists and technicians in the field of defense science who took part in the test. He was accompanied by Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Jong Sik and other leading officials of the C.C. the WPK and scientists and technicians in the field of rocket research.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong Un Watches Ground Jet Test of Newly Developed High-Thrust Engine,” March 19, 2017)

John Schilling: “North Korea continues its new practice of releasing colorful audiovisual presentations of Kim Jong Un watching ground tests of rocket hardware, presumably as a way of signaling constant progress in the development of North Korean space and missile systems. This weekend’s test was of an integrated propulsion system for a large rocket or missile. Pyongyang claims that this “new-type high-thrust engine would help consolidate the scientific and technological foundation to match the world-level satellite delivery capability in the field of outer space development”—a bombastic way to say that this engine is meant for launching satellites, not missiles. Photographs released by KCNA shows a propulsion system consisting of one core engine surrounded by four verniers. We may have seen the core engine before; it is similar in size and appearance to an engine tested last September. That engine was assessed as producing approximately 160,000 pounds of thrust, using high-energy propellants, and being better suited for use in satellite launch vehicles than ballistic missiles. The engine tested in September included no visible steering mechanism, leading us to speculate that perhaps North Korea was planning to swivel the entire engine on gimbals. North Korea has traditionally used either jet vanes or separate vernier engines for steering—easier but less efficient practices—and it may be that they simply didn’t have the verniers ready last September. There are differences in the plume and the plumbing configuration between last September’s and this weekend’s engine tests. These may be due to the incorporation of the verniers, but we should not rule out the possibility that the core engine itself may be different. The new engine’s core may be slightly smaller than what was tested before. An upscaled derivative of North Korea’s old Nodong missile engine might fit what we are seeing, and while it would not be as efficient, it would probably be easier for North Korea to manufacture domestically. Whatever the underlying heritage of this engine, it appears that the combination of the core engine and verniers is too is too large to fit in any of North Korea’s known ICBM prototypes, or in any missile that could be carried on any of its mobile launchers. Unfortunately, we cannot be 100 percent certain of that assessment from the photographs available so far. With four steering engines around a single core, the engine is probably meant to be used alone rather than clustered. Of the North Korean rocket and missile projects that we are currently aware of, the best fit for this engine would be as the second stage of the new satellite launch vehicle provisionally known as the “Unha-9.” However, we cannot rule out other possibilities, such as a yet-unknown ICBM design sized for this engine. But North Korea has been moving towards lighter mobile systems and solid propellants for their strategic missiles. Meanwhile, they have been promising us an ambitious new space program, which will require a large new satellite launch vehicle. They have made extensive upgrades to the Sohae Satellite Launching Station to support such a vehicle. Now they have shown us an engine that would be a good fit for this vehicle, and they have told us what they plan to do with it. The North Korean regime has never been shy when it comes to bragging about their missiles. This time, it seems they are bragging about space program. Whenever they get around to showing us their new satellite launcher, we’ll know for sure. (John Schilling, “A New Engine for a New Satellite Launch Vehicle?” 38North, March 20, 2017)

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and President Xi Jinping of China cast aside their differences with a public display of cooperation, sidestepping areas of disagreement even as North Korea made another defiant statement by showing off a new missile engine. In the highest-level face-to-face meeting between the United States and China since President Trump took office, the two sides made no mention of other contentious issues, including possible punitive trade measures against China and Washington’s unhappiness with Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. At least in public, Tillerson adopted a far different tone than that of his boss, who said in a Twitter post on March 17 that China had “done little to help” on North Korea. Instead, Tillerson said the United States looked forward to stronger ties with China. Hours before the meeting, North Korea stuck its nose under the tent, announcing that it had tested a new high-thrust missile engine that analysts said could be used in an intercontinental missile. The missile engine created the “perfect test” of the red line drawn by Tillerson in Seoul, said Evans J. R. Revere, a former principal deputy assistant secretary of state specializing in North Korea. During his 24-hour stay in Beijing, Tillerson took the unusual step of repeating rosy Chinese language on the state of relations. The relationship is guided by “non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation,” Tillerson said at a news conference with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The Chinese state news media quoted Tillerson’s echo of the Chinese phrasing, noting it approvingly. But behind the scenes, diplomats and analysts said there was little doubt that Tillerson had pressed China to enforce sanctions against North Korea and raised the possibility that the United States would bolster its missile defense in Asia if China did not rein in Kim. China strongly objects to the installation of a missile defense system in South Korea, and the polite public words from Tillerson were designed to give China “face,” said a diplomat in Beijing who spoke on the condition of anonymity per diplomatic custom. Tillerson was almost certainly sterner in private, according to the diplomat. “I believe Tillerson repeated in the meetings what he said publicly in South Korea and Japan, and backed up Trump in his tweet,” he said. That meant some public warmth was necessary, the diplomat said, because aside from talking about North Korea, Tillerson also had the task of setting a broad agenda for a summit meeting between Trump and Xi that is expected to take place in Florida in early April. At the summit meeting, China is expected to seek a reaffirmation of the “One China” policy, under which the United States recognizes a single Chinese government in Beijing and does not maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Chinese analysts said Tillerson had probably encountered resistance to his arguments that the THAAD missile defense system was of little danger to China, which firmly believes that the system erodes its nuclear deterrent. “Tillerson will repeat many times this is no threat to China, but Xi won’t believe it,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University. The best chance for cooperation on North Korea might come if China decides to more dutifully enforce some economic sanctions, Shi said. That would be a relatively small price to pay the Americans for a smooth summit meeting in Florida, although it would further hurt China’s already strained ties with North Korea, he said. “Maybe Xi will broaden the punishment against North Korea somewhat, at the cost of further damaging relations with North Korea,” Shi said. “We have punished North Korea many times, and Kim Jong-un hates China more and more. Maybe China will take some small steps to shut down a few trading companies, but not all.” China keeps the rudimentary North Korean economy running by supplying almost all its oil, and there is little chance Xi would consider shutting down the pipeline, even though China abruptly halted imports of North Korea’s coal last month, ending a valuable source of foreign currency for Pyongyang. “China won’t turn the sanctions from targeting the North Korean nuclear program into a punishment for ordinary North Korean people,” Global Times said March 17. But on the eve of Tillerson’s visit to Beijing, the Institute for Science and International Security released a study that it said showed that China was not enforcing the sanctions aimed at the nuclear program. China has allowed large quantities of materials used to make a component of hydrogen bombs to pass through its borders to the North, according to the research group. A newly operating plant in North Korea that produces lithium 6, a key ingredient for hydrogen bombs is a glaring example of China’s ignoring sanctions, the group said. The North purchased mercury and lithium hydroxide in China, and the items were transported across the border, the president of the institute, David Albright, said. The two commodities are needed for production of lithium 6, he said. (Jane Perlez, “Tillerson and Xi Show off Cooperation in Meeting,” New York Times, March 20, 2017, p. A-7)


3/20/17:
The Trump administration is considering sweeping sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system as part of a broad review of measures to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threat, a senior U.S. official said. The sanctions would be part of a multi-pronged approach of increased economic and diplomatic pressure – especially on Chinese banks and firms that do the most business with North Korea – plus beefed-up defenses by the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies, according to the administration official familiar with the deliberations. While the long-standing option of pre-emptive military strikes against North Korea is not off the table – as reflected by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s warning to Pyongyang during his Asia tour last week – the new administration is giving priority for now to less-risky options. The policy recommendations being assembled by President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, are expected to reach the president’s desk within weeks, possibly before a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in early April, the official said. North Korea is expected to top the agenda at that meeting. It is not clear how quickly Trump will decide on a course of action, which could be delayed by the slow pace at which the administration is filling key national security jobs. The White House declined comment. Trump met McMaster on March 18 to discuss North Korea and said afterward that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was “acting very, very badly.” The president spoke hours after North Korea boasted of a successful rocket-engine test, which officials and experts think is part of a program aimed at building an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States. The administration source said U.S. officials, including Tillerson, had privately warned China about broader “secondary sanctions” that would target banks and other companies that do business with North Korea, most of which are Chinese. The move under consideration would mark an escalation of Trump’s pressure on China to do more to contain North Korea. It was not clear how Chinese officials responded to those warnings but Beijing has made clear its strong opposition to such moves. In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the situation on the Korean peninsula was at a crossroads and there were two prospects. One, she said, was that the relevant parties could continue to “escalate toward conflict and potential war,” Hua told a daily news briefing on March 21. “The other choice is that all sides can cool down and jointly pull the Korean nuclear issue back to a path of political and diplomatic resolution,” China would strictly and comprehensively implement its duties under the U.N. Security Council resolutions, which meant implementing sanctions but also making efforts to get back to talks, she added. Analysts also have questioned whether such sanctions would be as effective on North Korea as they were on a major oil producer such as Iran, given the isolated nation’s limited links to the world financial system. North Korea has relied heavily on illicit trade done via small Chinese banks. So, to be applied successfully, the new measures would have to threaten to bar those banks from the international financial system. Also under consideration are expanded efforts to seize assets of Kim and his family outside North Korea, the official said. Washington is increasingly concerned, however, that the winner of South Korea’s May 9 presidential election might backtrack on the deployment and be less supportive of tougher sanctions. Another U.S. government source said Trump could also opt to escalate cyberattacks and other covert action aimed at undermining North Korea’s leadership. “These options are not done as stand-alones,” the first U.S. official said. “It’s going to be some form of ‘all of the above,’ probably excluding military action.” (Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom, “Exclusive: Trump Administration Weighing Broad Sanctions on North Korea – U.S. Official,” Reuters, March 21, 2017)

DPRK FoMin spokesman’s “answer to a question raised by KCNA as regards the fact that the US administration tried to threaten the DPRK and impose pressure upon it, taking advantage of US Secretary of State Tillerson’s tour of Japan, south Korea and China: Tillerson admitted the failure of the US efforts to denuclearize the DPRK for 20 years and the end of Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” during his recent tour of those countries. He said that the US would militarily counteract to the DPRK’s threat to the US and its allies. Now Tillerson is repeating what Obama touted much about sanctions until he left the White House. What matters is that neither Obama nor Tillerson knows the reason why the DPRK had to have access to nuclear weapons and why it is dynamically bolstering up the nuclear force. The nuclear force of the DPRK is the treasured sword of justice and the most reliable war deterrence to defend the socialist motherland and the life of its people. The US should face up to the situation of the world with its eyes wide open. The DPRK has the will and capability to fully respond to any war the US would like to ignite. If the businessmen-turned US authorities thought that they would frighten the DPRK, they would soon know that their method would not work on the latter. The world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won by the DPRK in the recent ground jet test of Korean-style high-thrust engine will carry.” (Pyongyang News, “FM Spokesman Warns against U.S. Anti-DPRK Approach,” March 20, 2017)


3/21/17:
Washington’s special representative for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, arrived in Seoul last night and kicked off his three-day schedule by separately meeting with some of South Korea’s leading presidential contenders. Yun, a career diplomat who was born and raised in Seoul until the age of 10, met South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung this morning for about an hour in a closed-door meeting and had lunch with Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the minor conservative Bareun Party, a breakaway from former President Park Geun-hye’s Liberty Korea Party. Tomorrow, Yun plans to meet with Moon Jae-in’s chief diplomacy advisers Cho Byung-jae, former ambassador to Malaysia, and also Seo Hun, a former first deputy director at the National Intelligence Service. Moon, former leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, who is currently leading in election polls with approval ratings above 30 percent, said he wasn’t planning to personally meet Yun because that it “wasn’t right on diplomatic protocol standards” for him to have discussions with the U.S. envoy before winning the primary, according to Lim Jong-seok, Moon’s senior secretary. Lim said Moon was contacted by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul for a possible meeting. Ahn Cheol-soo, former co-chair of the People’s Party, has no known plans of meeting Yun, which came as a surprise for local analysts because Ahn is another strong candidate in election polls, ranking third in the latest JoongAng Ilbo survey conducted over the past weekend. Moon ranked first with 34.7 percent, followed by South Chungcheong Governor An with 21 percent and Ahn with 13 percent.

Rep. Yoo Seong-min, who met Yun today, did not make it into the top 5 in the JoongAng Ilbo poll but ranked the highest for a candidate from the Bareun Party. Ahn’s close aides said they didn’t receive any calls from the U.S. Embassy about a meeting with Yun. Kim Heung-kyu, a political science and diplomacy professor at Ajou University, who serves as Governor An’s diplomacy adviser, said the candidate explained to the American envoy his views on foreign affairs and national security, and heard what stances the Trump administration was reviewing to take against North Korea. Kim, who said he accompanied An in the meeting this morning, furthered it was a “good opportunity to form a consensus” on related issues. Tomorrow, Yun also planned to meet with his South Korean counterpart Kim Hong-kyun as well as other government officials to discuss North Korean provocations. A spokesman from the Foreign Affairs Ministry said the South Korean government was not involved in planning out Yun’s schedule. Yun, who arrived from Beijing after spending three days there, will be leaving Seoul March 23. The U.S. State Department said in a statement March 17 that Yun will meet his Chinese and South Korean counterparts to “continue our close coordination on North Korea policy.” While Yun’s schedule in Beijing only mentioned a meeting with Wu Dawei, China’s special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, the State Department said the American envoy was planned to meet with Kim Hong-kyun, South Korea’s special representative, and also “senior ROK [Republic of Korea] officials and members of civil society to discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues.” Hua Chunying, spokeswoman of China’s Foreign Ministry, said yesterday during a regular press briefing that Yun and his Chinese counterpart had “candid and in-depth exchange of views on easing tension on the Korean Peninsula, maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula and moving forward the denuclearization of the peninsula,” according to transcripts provided online by the ministry. No further detail was mentioned. (Lee Sung-eun and Yoo Sung-woon, “U.S. Envoy for North Korea Seeks ‘Consensus,’” JoongAng Ilbo, March 22, 2017) “I had a chance to discuss (with China) the shape of our review on North Korea, which is ongoing, as well as the strong points that the secretary delivered both here and in Beijing on THAAD,” Joseph Yun, the top U.S nuclear envoy, said at the start of talks with his South Korean counterpart Kim Hong-kyun on March 22. He came to Seoul from Beijing where he held talks with senior Chinese officials. “The secretary conveyed it very strongly to the Chinese side and the secretary also said in private meetings that really retaliating against a defensive system which China has done was something that was uncalled for and something of a growing concern for us. So I believe those points were well delivered by the secretary,” he added. In what appears to be the latest provocation, the North test-fired a missile from its east coast that appears to have failed, Seoul’s defense ministry said earlier in the day. After completing his talks with Kim, Yun said that he heard about the latest missile test, saying it hurts ongoing global efforts to tackle the nuclear stalemate. “It is not helpful at all. These are tests that have been banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions, so it’s not very helpful,” he said. Asked if Washington was considering a secondary boycott intended to penalize third-country firms doing business with the North in an effort to force Beijing to pressure Pyongyang, he said, “Those are all things we need to study.” Meanwhile, during the talks with Kim, Yun emphasized the strong alliance and close communication between South Korea and the U.S., citing Tillerson’s recent visit and the forthcoming trip to Seoul by Vice President Mike Pence. “I think that shows the highest level of engagement that we have done. I want to thank you on your part also making sure that the alliance relationship and our approach to North Korea is very closely coordinated,” he said. Kim noted that Tillerson made a “very clear and strong statement” in Seoul last week on the “ironclad” alliance with South Korea, the “maximum level” of sanctions against the North and China’s “inappropriate” economic retaliation over THAAD. In a press release after the talks followed by a meeting over lunch, the foreign ministry said that the two condemned in unison the North’s continued provocations, including the latest one on Wednesday, and agreed to step up the economic and diplomatic isolation of Pyongyang going forward. They also reconfirmed that it is not the right time to hold talks with the North given that it continues to carry out provocations, rather it is the time to apply more pressure on its regime until it changes its calculus. Yun delivered that position shared by Seoul and Washington during his trip to Beijing, the ministry said. A diplomatic source quoted Yun as saying during the talks in Seoul that he and his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei shared that it is premature to seek negotiations with the North. Yun added that Tillerson also made it clear in Beijing that Washington will not hesitate to punish any Chinese firms for illegal transactions with the North, according to the source. (Yonhap, “Tillerson Told China Its Retaliation on S. Korea over THAAD Is ‘Uncalled for: U.S. Official,’” March 22, 2017)


3/21/17:
A fast-attack nuclear-powered U.S. submarine has joined an annual combined military exercise in South Korea in the latest show of force against North Korea, a defense source here said. “The U.S. Navy’s USS Columbus (SSN-762) is participating in the Foal Eagle exercise,” the official said. It is the third high-profile strategic defense asset of the U.S. to be deployed here for the drill after aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and two B-IB bombers. (Lee Chi-dong, “U.S. Nuclear Submarine Joins Combined Exercise in S. Korea,” Yonhap, March 21, 2017)


3/22/17:
North Korea fired a missile off its east coast, but the test apparently failed. North Korea launched the missile from near an air base in Wonsan, a port city, the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a brief statement. “We believe the test was a failure,” the ministry added, providing no further details, such as the type of missile launched. Commander Dave Benham, a spokesman for the United States Pacific Command, said in a statement that the missile “appears to have exploded within seconds of launch.” Also on Wednesday, a nuclear-capable B-1B strategic bomber from the United States air base in Guam conducted a mock bombing exercise over the Korean Peninsula with South Korean warplanes, the South Korean military said. Before flying over to the peninsula, it also conducted a similar drill in Japan. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Launches Missile, but Test Appears to Fail,” March 22, 2017, p. A-8)

In what appears to be the latest provocation, the North test-fired a missile from its east coast that appears to have failed, Seoul’s defense ministry said earlier in the day. After completing his talks with Kim, Yun said that he heard about the latest missile test, saying it hurts ongoing global efforts to tackle the nuclear stalemate. “It is not helpful at all. These are tests that have been banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions, so it’s not very helpful,” he said. Asked if Washington was considering a secondary boycott intended to penalize third-country firms doing business with the North in an effort to force Beijing to pressure Pyongyang, he said, “Those are all things we need to study.” Meanwhile, during the talks with Kim, Yun emphasized the strong alliance and close communication between South Korea and the U.S., citing Tillerson’s recent visit and the forthcoming trip to Seoul by Vice President Mike Pence. “I think that shows the highest level of engagement that we have done. I want to thank you on your part also making sure that the alliance relationship and our approach to North Korea is very closely coordinated,” he said. Kim noted that Tillerson made a “very clear and strong statement” in Seoul last week on the “ironclad” alliance with South Korea, the “maximum level” of sanctions against the North and China’s “inappropriate” economic retaliation over THAAD. In a press release after the talks followed by a meeting over lunch, the foreign ministry said that the two condemned in unison the North’s continued provocations, including the latest one on Wednesday, and agreed to step up the economic and diplomatic isolation of Pyongyang going forward. They also reconfirmed that it is not the right time to hold talks with the North given that it continues to carry out provocations, rather it is the time to apply more pressure on its regime until it changes its calculus. Yun delivered that position shared by Seoul and Washington during his trip to Beijing, the ministry said. A diplomatic source quoted Yun as saying during the talks in Seoul that he and his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei shared that it is premature to seek negotiations with the North. Yun added that Tillerson also made it clear in Beijing that Washington will not hesitate to punish any Chinese firms for illegal transactions with the North, according to the source. (Yonhap, “Tillerson told China its retaliation on S. Korea over THAAD is ‘uncalled for’: U.S. official,” March 22, 2017)

Federal prosecutors are investigating North Korea’s possible role in the theft of $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh that security officials fear could be a new front in cyberwarfare. The U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles has been examining the extent to which the North Korea government aided and abetted the bold heist in February 2016, according to a person briefed on the investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly. In the theft, the attackers, using a global payment messaging system known as Swift, were able to persuade the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to move money from the Bangladesh bank to accounts in the Philippines. The Swift system is used by some 11,000 banks and companies to transfer money from one country to another. In the months that followed the Bangladesh heist, it was disclosed that cyber thieves had also attacked banks in Vietnam and Ecuador using Swift. North Korea’s involvement in the attack on the Bangladesh bank had not been publicly known until the New York Times reported last May that security researchers had found evidence that pointed to the country. The researchers discovered that a rare piece of code used in the theft had also been used in the hacking attack on Sony Pictures in December 2014. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are also investigating the Sony breach, and what they uncovered in that inquiry led them to examine the bank theft. United States security officials have largely been quiet about whether North Korea was linked to the bank attacks, even as they have publicly attributed the Sony breach to Pyongyang. That reticence is now slipping, however. Yesterday, Richard Ledgett, a deputy director of the National Security Agency, noted the research that tied the two attacks “forensically” and said that if North Korea’s role in the bank robbery was confirmed, it would represent a troubling new front in cyberwarfare. “That is a big deal,” Ledgett said at an event sponsored by the Aspen Institute. John Carlin, the head of the Aspen Institute’s cybersecurity and technology program, who served as assistant attorney general for national security during the Obama administration, asked whether Ledgett believed that “nation states are now robbing banks.” Ledgett responded, “I do.” The renewed focus on North Korea’s cyber activities comes as the Trump administration seeks to take a tougher line on that country’s nuclear program. The breach of the Bangladesh central bank exposed how banks of all sizes are vulnerable to cyberattacks using the Swift network, once thought to be among the most secure messaging systems in the world. Investigators believe that the attackers gained access to the bank’s Swift credentials, possibly from someone who worked there. Using those credentials, the attackers then sent messages over Swift to the New York Fed, authorizing the release of the funds from the Bangladesh bank account there. The New York Fed released some of the $951 million to accounts in the Philippines, as requested by the attackers. But officials in New York halted the full transfer when they noticed that something seemed amiss. Swift has been urging the thousands of banks that belong to its network to take precautions. A Swift spokeswoman declined to comment today. Ledgett said yesterday that large companies and banks might be fundamentally outmatched by nation-state cyber attackers and suggested that the United States government needed to do more to help bolster their defenses. It is as if the “security guards at Home Depot and Target” are expected “to stand up to the North Korean Army,” said Ledgett, who plans to retire soon from the National Security Agency. “On the face of it, it doesn’t make sense.” News of the criminal investigation into North Korea’s role in the Bangladesh bank attack was reported earlier today by the Wall Street Journal. It was not clear whether any charges from the investigation were imminent. (Michael Corkery and Matthew Goldstein, “North Korea Is Said to Be Target of Inquiry over $81 Million Cyberheist,” New York Times, March 23, 2017, p. B-4) When hackers associated with North Korea tried to break into Polish banks late last year they left a trail of information about their apparent intentions to steal money from more than 100 organizations around the world, according to security researchers. A list of internet protocol addresses, which was supplied by the security researchers and analyzed by the New York Times, showed that the hacking targets were banks and other institutions spread across 31 countries and regions. including institutions like the World Bank, the European Central Bank and big American companies including Bank of America. While some of the Polish banks took the hackers’ bait, the scheme was detected fairly quickly, and there is no evidence that any money was stolen from the intended targets. Yet security researchers said the hit list, found embedded in the code of the attack on more than 20 Polish banks, were dozens of identifying IP addresses of intended targets, which underlines how sophisticated the capabilities of North Korean hackers have become. Their goals have now turned financial, along with efforts to spread propaganda and heist data and to disrupt government and news websites in countries considered enemies. The list of targets, which has not been previously reported, is part of a growing body of evidence showing how North Korea, a country that is cut off from much of the global economy, is increasingly trying to use its cyberattack abilities to bring in cash — and making progressively bolder attempts to do so. North Korea’s hacking network is immense, encompassing a group of 1,700 hackers aided by more than 5,000 trainers, supervisors and others in supporting roles, South Korean officials estimate. Because of the country’s poor infrastructure, the hackers typically work abroad, in places like China, Southeast Asia and Europe. Like other North Koreans allowed to work abroad, the hackers are constantly monitored by minders for possible breaches in allegiance to the government. The security firm Symantec said it believed that the hackers behind the Poland attack were also behind two other major breaches: the theft of $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh and a 2014 attack on Sony Pictures, which rocked the film industry. “We found multiple links, which gave us reasonable confidence that it’s the same group behind Bangladesh as the Polish attacks,” said Eric Chien, a researcher at Symantec, which studied both attacks. The firm has not traced the attacks to a specific country’s government, but American officials have blamed North Korea for the Sony attack, partly based on intelligence that came from American breaches of North Korea’s computer systems. The list of targets uncovered in the Polish attack — including big American financial institutions like State Street Bank and Trust and the Bank of New York Mellon — is illuminating for its ambition, Chien added. “It’s one thing to go after Bangladesh,” he said, “but it’s a whole other thing to take on the U.S.” The Polish episode provides a case study of how North Korean cyberattack goals have escalated. The attack began around October when the hackers planted a virus on the website of the Polish financial regulator — then waited for banks to inadvertently download it when they visited the site. The perpetrators used what is called a watering-hole attack — named after the way predators ambush prey by lazing around a high-traffic spot — to go after the banks; in this case, the “watering hole” was the financial regulator’s website. When the visitors on the list landed on the page, they would be redirected to software that would attempt to download malware. The list of targets extended beyond Poland, investigators said, because the group intended to carry out similar attacks elsewhere. “This was a global list, but they hadn’t gotten around to making a watering hole for all these country banks,” Chien said, adding that the hackers appeared to have created watering-hole sites in Mexico and Uruguay, too. Symantec said it had blocked 14 attacks against computers in Mexico and 11 in Uruguay. The fact that the hackers were able to attack a specific site showed that their capabilities had improved, Chien said. The group also used its own modifications of code and exploits more broadly shared by cybercriminals, whereas before it had mostly built its own tools — another indication of evolution. While Polish banks were the most numerous targets, the second-largest number was in the United States, including the American arm of Deutsche Bank. CoBank, which lends to agriculture and rural projects, was targeted, too. The central banks of Russia, Venezuela, Mexico, Chile and the Czech Republic were on the list. The only target associated with China: branches of the Bank of China in Hong Kong and America. North Korea has been carefully cultivating its cyberattack capabilities since the early 1990s, according to South Korean officials. Generally, the country selects young computer prodigies and trains them as hackers, according to people who have attended the South Korean government’s discussions of the North’s hacking operations. South Korean cybersecurity officials began detecting attacks attributed to North Korean hackers around 2009. Working overseas is a huge incentive for young hackers, since many North Koreans have little chance to leave their impoverished, isolated country. As long as the hackers meet their government-set targets, they are allowed to live abroad and often get the added perk of running illegal gambling sites online, generating profits they can share with supervisors. While North Korea lags developed countries in hacking capabilities, it has occasionally startled observers in South Korea. In 2011, investigators found that a South Korean bank had been hit by malware when an infected computer used by a maintenance-company employee was briefly hooked into the bank’s server network. South Korean hackers who forensically analyzed the attack were impressed not so much by the malware, but by the fact that North Korean hackers had been so constantly on alert, apparently for hours or days on end, waiting for the short window during which the infected computer was connected to the bank’s servers so that they could activate the virus. While the Pentagon has recently warned that North Korea’s hacking abilities could be a cost-effective way of conducting military operations, the attacks on banks shows the country’s more prosaic goal of getting money. “In the past, North Korean hackers usually attacked government websites with the goal of destroying systems and triggering social confusion,” said Kim Seung-joo, a professor at the Graduate School of Information Security at Korea University in Seoul, who is an adviser for the South Korean government’s cybersecurity division. “Now they have shifted to making money, attacking banks and private companies, apparently because the North’s other means of raising foreign currency are increasingly blocked under United Nations sanctions,” Kim said. North Korean hackers have also begun using ransomware — viruses that encrypt all data in an infected computer or smartphone — to make money. The hackers demand a ransom, usually in Bitcoin, in return for providing victims with a decryption code. In July, the South Korean police said North Korea’s main intelligence agency had stolen the personal data of more than 10 million customers of Interpark, an online shopping mall in South Korea. Interpark did not learn about the breach until it received an anonymous message threatening to publicize the leak of personal data unless it paid the equivalent of $2.7 million in Bitcoin. South Korea attributed the attack to hackers belonging to North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, its main spy agency. In the end, no Bitcoin changed hands. Instead of paying the ransom, Interpark reported the attack to the police. (Paul J. Mozur and Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea’s Ambition Seen in North Korea’s Rising Ambition Seen in Bid to Breach Global Banks,” New York Times, March 26, 2017, p. A-1)

Sigal: “During Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first visit to Asia, David Sanger’s lede in The New York Times coming on March 17 was ominous: “Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson ruled out opening any negotiation with North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programs and said for the first time that the Trump administration might be forced to take preemptive action “if they elevate the threat of their weapons program” to an unacceptable level.” The news about no negotiations may have been music to the ears of Tillerson’s hosts in the lame-duck South Korean government, but the mere mention of preventive war, given President Trump’s reputation for recklessness, set off alarm bells elsewhere in the front-line capital. Other news outlets took their cue from Sanger. Soon the airwaves and blogosphere were filled with portentous speculation. After all, compared to dull diplomacy, preventive war is so much more thrilling to contemplate; like Iraq—only this time with real nuclear weapons to attack. Of course, who knows where in North Korea they might be hidden. Sanger was never one to underplay his stories, but had Tillerson “ruled out” talks and ruled in “preemption” in his so-called press availability in Seoul? On the subject of negotiations, Tillerson seemed to allude to the Obama administration’s insistence that North Korea commit up front to denuclearization before talks could begin: “[I]n terms of talking about any kind of a freeze, I think it’s premature for that. But at this stage I’m not sure we would be willing to freeze, with the circumstances where they exist today, given that that would leave North Korea with significant capabilities that would represent a true threat, not just to the region, but to American forces, as well.” “Premature” is not exactly a rejection of negotiating a freeze. And he did not rule that out: “So, again, conditions must change before there is any scope for talks to resume, whether they be five-party or six-party.” Standing beside him, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se spoke of CVID (complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement) but Tillerson, noticeably, did not. What about “preemptive action” or, more precisely, preventive war? Well, Tillerson never actually uttered those words. Instead, he said: “All of the options are on the table. Certainly, we do not want to—for things to get to a military conflict. We are quite clear in that, in our communications. But obviously, if North Korea takes actions that threatens the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that would be met with an appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table. But we are hopeful that, by taking these steps—and we have many, many steps we can take before we get to that point—we hope that that will persuade North Korea to take a different course of action. That is our desire.” War, in short, lay way down a long road—if ever—and the policy review under way in Washington has reportedly already ruled out “preemptive action”—for now. The talk of war was also at odds with the reassuring words Tillerson had uttered in Tokyo the day before: “North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea.” Tillerson’s target audience for his remarks in Seoul seemed to be in Beijing, where he was heading next. Some reporters like Jane Perlez of the Times and Anne Gearan and Anna Fifield of The Washington Post grasped that essential point. President Trump’s policy, if there was any, resembled President Obama’s, if there was any—to push the Chinese to step up pressure on Pyongyang: “Diplomatic pressures will be one stream of such endeavors, but there could be other types of efforts.” That seemed in keeping with Trump’s tweet in the immediate aftermath of Tillerson’s remarks to the press: “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been “playing” the United States for years. China has done little to help!” Tillerson acknowledged as much on March 18 in his only interview during the trip, which was made available to the press. When asked if Trump’s tweet complicated his diplomacy, he replied: “No, it’s consistent with the discussions I had with the president before I left on this trip. I had a very good conversation with the president on the approach that I felt was necessary with North Korea, including all of the parties that we think have to be a part of this. So, I did not know that he was going to tweet anything out, but the message that he sent out was very consistent with the message that I’ve been delivering so far in Tokyo and in Seoul. And I don’t think it will come as any surprise to the Chinese government that we do not view that they have ever fully used all of the influence available to them to cause the North Korean regime to rethink its pursuit of these weapons, and that’s some of what I’ll be talking with the Chinese government about as well is, you know, they need to understand: what are they willing to do? How far are they willing to go? Can this be an area of mutual cooperation between two great powers to bring peace and stability to the Korean peninsula? And let’s be great powers. Let’s denuclearize the peninsula. That has been China’s stated policy for more than two decades—is a denuclearized Korean peninsula. They need to help solve this.” Caught in the shoals between the President’s injunction and the need to keep a diplomatic option open, Tillerson had a tricky course to steer. The problem is, any delay in negotiations, a resort to tougher sanctions and the hint of war could provoke Pyongyang to conduct more missile and nuclear tests and could cause a breach with a soon-to-be elected government in Seoul. Cooperation with China also misconstrues North Korea’s purpose in seeking talks with the United States: to end US enmity and reduce dependence on Beijing. If Tillerson’s aim was to stampede the Chinese into tightening sanctions, there is no sign that he succeeded in Beijing. China was well aware that North Korea is open to talks—but not on US terms: that it first commit to denuclearization. In a joint “press availability” with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on March 18, Tillerson put the emphasis on China’s support for stepped-up pressure to compel the North to accept that goal: “Foreign Minister Wang has agreed that we will work together to see if we cannot bring the government in Pyongyang to a place where they want to make a different course—make a course correction and move away from their development of their nuclear weapons.” Wang’s reaction seemed to echo the longstanding Chinese stance that the Americans and the North Koreans had made the problem and it was up to them solve it: “I would like to bring to your special notice here is the fact that while all Security Council resolutions related to the DPRK have mapped out a series of increasingly tougher sanctions against Pyongyang, they have also at the same time included clear provisions calling for efforts to resume the talks, to de-escalate the tension, and to safeguard stability of the peninsula. Therefore, it is obliged upon all parties to implement the sanctions and restart the talks at the same time.” In Tillerson’s view, past negotiations had failed: “We noted that efforts made over the last 20 years have so far not succeeded in curbing the threat posed by North Korea’s illegal weapons programs.” Wang had a very different take, one closer to the negotiating record: “The entire course of trying to seek a solution to the Korean peninsula nuclear issue up to date has both had successes and failures and both successful experience and hard lessons. …The situation we face today is precisely caused by the very fact that the Six-Party Talks has ground to a halt and there was no means for diplomatic and political dialogues.” Wang implied that there had been a meeting of minds on implementing Security Council sanctions and entering into negotiations: “As Mr. Tillerson has said just now, both of us are firmly committed to the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, and we are both ready to comprehensively and strictly implement the Security Council resolutions. And we both hope to find ways to restart the talks…” Tillerson said nothing about finding ways to restart talks. Was Sanger inspired to interpret Tillerson’s remarks by administration officials who whispered in his ear? In Sanger’s view, the fact that that did not happen was the problem. In an article the next day, he had the effrontery to lecture how the inexperienced Tillerson could benefit by taking reporters along, the next time he traveled abroad: “Rex W. Tillerson, the new secretary of state, offered the diplomatic understatement of the month on Saturday when he told the sole reporter he permitted on his airplane: ‘I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it.’ Perhaps, by breaking with a half-century of past practice and flying off without the regular State Department correspondents on board, Mr. Tillerson was hoping to continue to operate in a style that worked well for him as chief executive of Exxon Mobil. In that job, he could negotiate complex oil and gas deals behind closed doors and then inform his board of directors and shareholders afterward. Certainly, his predecessors at the State Department have all wished for more time, space and secrecy to work through some of the world’s knottiest problems. The North Korea crisis that dominated this trip is a prime example of one that, if mishandled, could easily veer into war. Yet long experience teaches that foreign policy is rarely made in the kind of media-free bubble that Mr. Tillerson wants. … The group that has covered the State Department is heavy with former foreign correspondents and war correspondents who have lived around the world, have sources in foreign capitals and write books about the global challenges the country faces. Their hotel-bar conversations have been known to run to wonkish topics like deterrence theory. So it might not be surprising that Mr. Tillerson doesn’t want them in the back of his airplane, talking to his staff and probing how the new administration’s approach to North Korea and China might differ from what predecessors tried.” Yet the novice secretary of state may have proved defter at delicate diplomacy than some seasoned reporters.” (Leon V. Sigal, “Misreading Tillerson,” 38North, March 22, 2017)

Mason Richey: “One overarching thread has remained true over the long period of North Korean nuclear weapons development and the various iterations of carrot-and-stick diplomacy that have accompanied it: for both the public at large and the leaderships of the United States, South Korea, and Japan, threat perceptions of a potentially nuclear-armed North Korea have been heightened by Pyongyang’s belligerent rhetoric. The regime’s Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) is infamous for English-language propaganda ranging from insulting to bellicose to ludicrous. A few examples include Kim Young-Sam, former South Korean president, referred to as a “thrice-cursed shabby US toady”; Japan’s government officials “are epileptic mentally deranged wretches”; George W. Bush, former US president, was a “cowboy buffoon”; South Korean President Park Geun-Hye “was a venomous swish of skirt”; North Korea will “turn Seoul into a sea of flame”; the North Korean military will “mercilessly annihilate the US”; and “Japan is planning nuclear attacks

on the DPRK.” Over the study period (1997–2006), North Korea uttered 790 insults against the United States, South Korea, and Japan; issued 302 threats against them; and made 130 claims of being under imminent attack by the alliance partners. The United States was the referent for 788 of these instances; South Korea, 550; Japan, 96. … An analysis of insulting, threatening, hyperbolic rhetoric in English-language news articles disseminated over the period 1997–2006 via the Korea Central News Agency and targeting the United States, South Korea, and Japan is instructive with respect to these hypotheses. During this period, belligerent rhetorical statements in the articles

trended downwards overall. Insults and threats diminished marginally, while statements claiming North Korea was imminently under attack by the United States, South Korea, or Japan, which compose a small number of total observations, clearly increased. The decline in rhetoric directed against South Korea roughly coincided with an increase against the United States and the initiation of the Sunshine Policy. Curiously, despite efforts at multilateral diplomacy, North Korean rhetoric claiming imminent attack by the United States, South Korea, and Japan increased by 170 percent after 2000. An ordinary least squares regression shows that the two major diplomatic efforts initiated by the international community—the Sunshine Policy and the Six-Party Talks—have a statistically significant, negative correlation with North Korea’s inflammatory rhetoric. In other words, diplomatic efforts are associated with a lower probability of inflammatory rhetoric by the Pyongyang regime. The reverse occurs—bellicose rhetoric increases—when Pyongyang’s leaders consider American and South Korean actions aggressive. Two classes of events are important: US overseas military operations, or expressions of hawkishness potentially leading to operations, that might indicate Washington’s appetite for strikes against rogue states like North Korea and US-led military exercises in the Asia-Pacific, particularly exercises involving the United States and South Korea. These two “US hawkishness” variables explain 20 percent of the variation in North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric. This is less than the independent variables indexing conciliation, but the coefficients are larger, which indicates greater effect intensity. North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric and independent variables Most people only notice North Korea during episodes in which Pyongyang executes some form of provocation, such as nuclear bomb or ballistic missile tests, artillery bombardments of South Korean islands, attacks on South Korean navy vessels, and violent incursions on the southern side of the military demarcation line. Media reports about and government reactions to such actions are overwhelmingly accompanied by references to North Korea’s inflammatory rhetoric, particularly the threats. But is the incendiary rhetoric meaningfully associated with provocations, or does Pyongyang’s intemperate rhetoric merely appear correlated because popular attention focuses on the Korean peninsula only during such incidents? The data… suggest the latter is the case, as indeed there is no statistically significant relationship between North Korea’s provocations and belligerent rhetoric. This perceived correlation, as opposed to actual correlation, is true of all types of belligerent rhetoric taken together as well as threats and claims of imminent attack against North Korea taken individually.” (Mason Richey, “Turning It up to Eleven: Belligerent Rhetoric in North Korea’s Propaganda,” Parameters 46(4) Winter 2016–17)


3/24/17:
North Korea has carried out another test of a rocket engine that U.S. officials believe could be part of its program to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, officials told Reuters on March 27. The latest test follows one earlier this month, and is another sign of Pyongyang’s advancing weapons program. It comes amid mounting U.S. concerns about additional missile and nuclear tests, potentially in the near future. Several U.S. officials said the test took place on the night of March 24and the engine could possibly be used in an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). (Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart, “North Korea Tests Rocket Engine: U.S. Officials,” Reuters, March 27, 2017)


3/25/17:
It’s easy to write off Kim Jong Un as a madman. What with the colorful nuclear threats, the gruesome executions of family members, the fact that he’s a self-appointed marshal who’s never served in the military. Indeed, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did it just this past week, calling Kim “this crazy, fat kid that’s running North Korea.” That came on the heels of a pronouncement from Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that “we are not dealing with a rational person” in Kim. It’s a relatively common view. World leaders, military chiefs and Hollywood have all painted him as an unhinged maniac. But this is not just wrong, North Korea watchers and dictatorship experts say. It also risks dangerous miscalculation. “North Korea has consistently been treated like a joke, but now the joke has nuclear weapons,” said John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School. “If you deem Kim Jong Un to be irrational, then you’re implicitly underestimating him.” Writing off Kim Jong Un as a lunatic could equally be playing into his hands. Want proof that he’s no senseless madman? Exhibit A: “He’s still in power,” said Benjamin Smith, an expert on regime change at the University of Florida. “He and his father and grandfather have stayed in power through a series of American presidents going back to Truman.” Indeed, the 33-year-old has defied predictions that he would not be able to keep a grip on the authoritarian state that has been in his family’s control since 1948. December marked his fifth anniversary in power — a milestone that the democratically elected president in the South did not reach. In person, Kim is confident and well spoken, said Michael Spavor, a Canadian who runs Paektu Cultural Exchange, which promotes business, sports and tourism with North Korea. Spavor is one of the very few outsiders to have met Kim. “He was acting very diplomatically and professionally,” said Spavor, who accompanied Dennis Rodman, the basketball player, on his trips to North Korea. “He felt old beyond his years. He could be serious at times and fun at times but by no means did he seem weird or odd.” Smith pointed out that saying Kim is rational isn’t the same as saying “he’s a perfect guy who makes perfect decisions.” Kim’s decisions to date have enabled him to achieve his primary goal — so far — of staying in power by staving off threats, real or anticipated, from the elite. “He has reasons to be afraid of conspiracies in the top levels of his government, especially in the military and secret police,” said Andrei Lankov, a Russian scholar of North Korea who once studied at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. “You can buy these people off, but they can still betray you. You have to terrify them, and that’s what he’s doing.” Kim has sent a message to the elites who keep him in power through a series of executions and purges that keep everyone fearful that they will be next. Kim has rid himself of 300-plus officials during his five years at the helm. He notably had his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, executed for disobeying orders and building his own power base. Other high-level figures have been killed — a defense minister was reportedly dispatched with antiaircraft fire — or purged. The state security minister is said to be under house arrest. “What’s irrational about that? Irrational is going to the ICC and surrendering,” Lankov said. A United Nations commission of inquiry has recommended referring Kim to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in Malaysia with a chemical weapon was a message to outside rivals that the young leader could hunt them down wherever they are, analysts say. To deal with threats from “hostile powers,” in North Korean parlance, having nuclear weapons makes sense for Kim, said Kongdan Oh of the Institute for Defense Analyses. “Steadily pursuing nuclear weapons is a very rational thing for him to be doing.” Kim has ordered three nuclear tests since he took power — claiming that one was a hydrogen bomb — and has overseen steady improvements in the missile program. North Korea has “entered the final stage of preparation” for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, Kim has said, referring to a missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. North Korea was established in vehement opposition to the American “imperialist aggressors” and their “puppets” in South Korea. So maintaining a sense of threat from both provides a rationale for the state’s existence and a shared menace to unite the elite and the common people. Then there’s the economy. The fact that it’s growing is a sign that the leadership knows what it’s doing, said Park of Harvard. “There’s a puzzle here: The regime is getting wealthier amid the increasing implementation of sanctions,” he said. While the North Korean economy is far from booming, it has been steadily expanding in recent years, as evidenced by all the construction in Pyongyang despite increasingly tight restrictions imposed by the outside world. It has done this through state-run trading companies that form partnerships with entities in China, enabling them to circumvent sanctions. “Look at the web of elite North Korean state trading companies. You can’t be irrational or somehow crazy to consistently run this system to either make money off it or procure what you need for the nuclear weapons program,” Park said. “That objectively shows that there is a game plan, and a pretty consistently implemented game plan.” But being rational is not the same as being predictable, and many analysts say that the youngest Kim appears to be temperamental and hotheaded. That worries American military leaders. “Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong Un is a recipe for disaster,” Adm. Harry Harris, the head of Pacific Command, said in December. There is reason to be concerned about this factor, said Jerrold Post, a psychiatrist who founded the CIA’s personality analysis center and has studied Kim and his father. Kim’s capacity for brutality and his apparent spontaneity could be compounded by President Trump’s own impulsive acts, he said. “This is all about big boys and their big toys,” Post said. “Will he actively threaten the U.S.? I tend to think not, but I must say I’m concerned about words leading to actions between him and President Trump.” (Anna Fifield, “North Korea’s Leader Is a Lot of Things – But Irrational Is Not One of Them,” Washington Post, March 25, 2017)


3/26/17:
KCNA: “The U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces are busy staging madcap joint military drills for aggression with more than 300 000 troops, U.S. nuclear carrier Carl Vinson and B-1B and other nuclear strategic assets involved. The on-going saber-rattling under the simulated conditions of an actual war assumes more serious nature as its goal is to carry out the “special operation” aimed to eliminate in advance “the person” of the DPRK with “the right to issue an order” and destroy major strategic targets for the purpose of checking the rapid bolstering of nuclear deterrent of the army and people of the DPRK and depriving it of the right to use nukes. At least 3 000 U.S. troops or treble those involved last year are taking part in the “special operation” being conducted as part of the rehearsals. They include the Ranger Unit of the 75th Airborne Regiment of the U.S. Army, the Green Berets Special Units Nos. 1 and 19, the 353rd Special Warfare Corps of the Air Force, the 1st, 3rd 5th and 7th teams of the First Special Warfare Corps of the Navy, two battalions of the First Stryker Brigade of the 25th Division of the Army, one battalion of the 66th Armored Regiment and the 31st Naval Expedition Corps of the Marines. A particular mention should be made of the fact that Navy Seal and Delta Force belonging to the joint special warfare headquarters called “detached force of the White House” are hurled into the “operation” at the direct instruction of the U.S. president. The U.S. imperialists and the south Korean warmongers do not hide the fact that the scenario of the “special operation” being staged by the ill-famed units is mainly aimed at carrying out the “beheading operation” for “removing the headquarters of the north” and the “preemptive attack” operation for blowing up the nuclear and rocket bases. Through a spokesman’s warning statement, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) on Sunday said that all moves assume more dangerous adventurous nature as they are nothing but last-ditch efforts and final gambling of the U.S. imperialists and the puppet military warmongers who are fated to meet destruction owing to the total bankruptcy of the hostile policy toward the DPRK and the policy of confrontation with the compatriots in the north. And it further said: The General Staff of the KPA warns the hideous provocateurs as follows with regard to the situation that has reached an extreme phase which should not be overlooked:

  1. The General Staff declares the KPA’s stand to mercilessly smash the enemy’s moves with its own style of special operation and preemptive attack, now that the sinister aim of the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean war maniacs’ “special operation” to hurt the dignity of the DPRK’s supreme leadership has become clear and they disclosed even the dangerous attempt at “preemptive attack.” They are sadly mistaken if their brigandish “special operation” and “preemptive strike” would work on this land guarded by the powerful revolutionary Paektusan army though they claim they proved successful in other countries and regions.
  2. They should be mindful that the KPA will deal deadly blows without prior warning any time as long as the operation means and troops of the U.S. and south Korean puppet forces involved in the “special operation” and “preemptive attack” targeting the DPRK remain deployed in and around south Korea. The KPA will not remain a passive onlooker to hordes of robbers trying to hurt our people with daggers.
  3. Once the enemy launches the said “operation and strike”, they will only bring about a historic event in which the U.S. imperialists will face a miserable doom and the south Korean puppet forces a final ruin. It is the centuries-old tragedy that the U.S. and the south Korean forces still don’t know how foolish and futile their attempts to hurt the supreme leadership of the DPRK and infringe upon its sovereignty are, though they have stood in standoff with the latter for decades. They should think twice about the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by their outrageous military actions. The KPA’s warning is not hot air.”

(KCNA, “KPA General Staff Warns U.S., S. Korean Forces on ‘Special Operations,’” March 26, 2017)


3/27/17:
As the threat from North Korea’s missiles grows, so the calls in Japan for a stronger military response are getting louder. An influential group of politicians is publicly arguing for technically pacifist Japan to acquire the ability to strike North Korea instead of having to rely on the United States for its defense. “Japan can’t just wait until it’s destroyed,” Imazu Hiroshi, the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s security committee and a proponent of the idea, said in an interview. “It’s legally possible for Japan to strike an enemy base that’s launching a missile at us, but we don’t have the equipment or the capability.” Nakatani Gen, defense minister until last year and a member of the committee, agrees. “I believe that we should consider having the capacity to strike,” he told the Washington Post. Their public pronouncements have not come out by accident, analysts say. Such senior members of the powerful ruling party would not raise the issue unless it was being promoted at the highest levels. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo publicly supports consideration of the idea. “I’d like to encourage the party to have this discussion and am keeping an eye on how it’s going,” he said in the Diet on Friday when asked whether he was in favor of acquiring the capability to strike. Under the American-written constitution imposed in the wake of its World War II defeat, Japan may defend itself if it comes under attack but is not allowed to go on the offensive. Imazu said that the current arrangement made Japan a “peculiar” country. “Our country is protected by other countries, but we can’t do anything to protect them. This is not acceptable in the international community anymore,” Imazu said. “We cooperate with the U.S. and other nations to protect our country and also to contribute to peace in East Asia. In this environment, it’s only proper that we should discuss how we could protect our country.” Abe has been trying to loosen the constitutional shackles on Japan’s military, notably with a 2015 law to allow Japan to come to the aid of the United States. He has signaled he would like to revise the constitution to allow Japan to have a normal military. North Korea is now giving Abe plenty of ammunition to bolster his case. It has been firing missiles at a steady clip into the Sea of Japan between the two countries, and three of the most recent salvo have landed inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The regime in Pyongyang said it was practicing to hit American military bases in Japan. Japan is now upgrading its PAC-3 Patriot missile batteries to double their range, and is considering other defensive measures. At a forum in Washington last year, defense minister Tomomi Inada said that Japan was considering acquiring the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system recently deployed to South Korea — she even went to Guam to see it — and the Aegis Ashore, a land-based version of the SM-3 interceptors that Japan already has mounted on its Aegis destroyers. “We know that North Korea’s missile capability has improved considerably,” said Onodera Itsunori, another former defense minister in the Abe administration and the chairman of an LDP committee on responding to the North Korean missile threat. “Right now, we are discussing how we can make sure to prevent them,” he said, adding that the committee could make a proposal as soon as this week. Onodera was particularly concerned by North Korea’s recent launch of missiles simultaneously, a move apparently designed to outsmart interception systems. “In that case, we would come under attack one missile after another unless we strike the enemy base and stop them,” he said. “So the discussion is around the need to neutralize the missile launch base.” Acquiring strike capability might be legally permissible under international law, but it will be difficult to sell to the Japanese public, the majority of whom have been resistant to the small changes Abe has made so far. Analysts say that senior politicians could be floating a trial balloon to test public reaction to the idea. “This discussion is not random,” said Brad Glosserman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Pacific Forum, saying the likes of Onodera would not raise such an idea without the prime minister’s encouragement. “The bottom line is that a strike capability gives Japan more control over its destiny.” Discussion about acquiring a strike capability also arose during Abe’s first tenure as prime minister, in 2006-2007, a time that coincided with North Korea’s first nuclear test. “Now, the threat is more crystallized. Some in Japan are saying, ‘We want to have our own fingers on the trigger, we want to be able to defend ourselves,’ ” Glosserman said. But the Abe government has already taken one step that could take it halfway there — it decided to acquire 42 F-35 stealth fighter jets for air defense, which could be fitted with strike capability. “The question is whether to use the F-35 to its full extent,” said Michishita Narushige, a North Korea expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. Another option is to buy Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States. The U.S. Marine Corps already has 10 F-35Bs deployed at its air station in Iwakuni, in western Japan. “Abe is politically astute and realistic in understanding what he can do,” Michishita said, describing how the prime minister is harnessing the momentum provided by North Korea’s threats. “F-35s might not be enough, but they’re a good place to start.” Any change would not happen without extensive consultation with the Americans, said Nakatani, Inada’s predecessor as defense minister. “Japan doesn’t have the capacity to launch an attack on North Korea by ourselves,” he said. “In order for Japan to do that, it would take a lot of discussion with the U.S.” (Anna Fifield, “As North Korea Fires Missiles, Some in Japan Want the Ability to Launch Strikes,” Washington Post, March 27, 2017)

Prosecutors said that they were seeking to arrest former President Park Geun-hye of South Korea on criminal charges including bribery and abuse of power. Whether they can arrest Park, who was removed from office in a historic court ruling this month, will depend on whether the Seoul District Court will issue an arrest warrant. If arrested, Park would be the first former South Korean leader put behind bars since two former military dictators were imprisoned on corruption and mutiny charges in the mid-1990s. Today, prosecutors formally asked the court for the warrant. It usually takes several days before the court studies evidence and decides whether an arrest warrant is justified. Prosecutors have been discussing whether they have enough evidence to apply for an arrest warrant since they questioned her for more than 20 hours last week. Prosecutors accused Park of conspiring with a longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars from big businesses, including more than $38 million in bribes from Samsung. Both Choi and Samsung’s top executive, Lee Jae-yong, have been arrested and indicted on a number of charges, including bribery. When they indicted Choi and Lee, prosecutors had already identified Ms. Park as a criminal accomplice. “The suspect abused her power by using her tremendous status and authority as president to help collect funds from businesses,” prosecutors said in a statement today explaining why they thought she needed to be arrested. “Although there have been a number of pieces of evidence collected, the suspect has denied most of them, and there is a danger of her destroying incriminating evidence if she is not arrested.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Prosecutors Seek to Arrest Ousted South Korean Leader,” New York Times, March 27, 2017, p. A-8)


3/28/17:
A ruling Liberal Democratic Party security policy panel urged the government to let Japan directly strike North Korean missile bases in the event Pyongyang stages a ballistic missile attack on the country. Specifically, the panel urged the government to procure long-range cruise missiles capable of striking North Korean sites. Panel members emphasized that Japan should only use such long-range missiles after the North fires a ballistic missile against Japan, given the war-renouncing Constitution that limits the use of force by Tokyo strictly to self-defense. Still, if the proposal is ever adopted by the government, it would mark a significant departure from Japan’s traditional defense posture, which has focused solely on the defense of its territory. Former Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori, a key member of the panel, said Pyongyang’s ballistic missile advancements and spate of recent test-firings into the Sea of Japan had prompted the body to make the “urgent proposal.” Japan currently has a two-layer missile-defense system, consisting of missile interceptors launched from Aegis destroyers and ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems. The two-layer system would first be used to destroy any incoming ballistic missiles from the North, Onodera said during a press briefing at the LDP’s head office in Tokyo on Wednesday. However, Japan needs to bolster its capabilities to destroy missile bases in the North in order to prevent a second or third wave of attacks, he argued. Over a number of years, hawkish LDP lawmakers have repeatedly called on the government to procure powerful weapons that can directly strike North Korean missile bases, including long-range fighter jets and Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from Aegis destroyers. So far, however, top government officials have remained cautious on these proposals. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo told a Diet session last month that currently Tokyo has no plans to procure such arms although he said he would not rule out studies on the option. Some experts have argued that knocking out the North’s ability to strike Japan with missiles is nearly impossible since Pyongyang is believed to have already deployed as many as 200 Nodong ballistic missiles and dozens of mobile launchers that can easily be moved and hidden. The Nodong, one of the North’s go-to missiles, can strike most of Japan. Still, possessing weapons that can directly strike the North would be a rational option for Japan because it would raise the bar for Pyongyang when considering an attack on Japan, said Michishita Narushige, professor of international relations at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “North Korea is now trying to develop ballistic missiles that can reach the U.S.,” Michishita said. “If that goal is achieved, the United States would shift its priority to destroying missiles flying toward the U.S., and the defense of Japan would become a lower priority.” In that sense, he said, it would only be natural for Japan to boost its own defensive capabilities against the North, including one that would allow it to destroy the North’s missile sites. (Yoshida Reiji, “LDP Panel Urges Government to Let Japan Strike North Korean Missile Bases in Event of Attack,” Japan Times, March 29, 2017)

Bermudez and Liu: “New commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site from March 28 shows a heightened level of activity over the past few days. Despite the recent snowfall, there has been continued pumping of water out of the North Portal, presumably to keep the tunnels dry for communications and monitoring equipment; the removal of material (probably rubble) and dumping on the tailings pile immediately to the east of the portal; and the probable removal of one or more vehicles or equipment trailers from in front of the portal. This activity is consistent with previous reports, while the rest of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site has been generally quiet. However, there is now one vehicle and a large contingent (70-100) of people standing in formation or watching in the courtyard of the Main Administrative Area. Such a gathering hasn’t been seen since January 4, 2013, which was followed by a nuclear test on February 12. The North Koreans know when commercial satellites are passing overhead and typically try to avoid activities during that time. The fact these formations can be seen suggests that Pyongyang is sending a political message that the sixth nuclear test will be conducted soon. Alternatively, it may be engaged in a well-planned game of brinkmanship.” (Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. and Jack Liu, “Heightened Activity at North Korea’s Pungye-ri Nuclear Test Site,” 38North, March 29, 2017)


3/29/17:
South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo instructed troops not to hesitate to take retaliatory actions in the event of a North Korea attack. Inspecting a coastline guard post of the Army’s 32nd Infantry Division, Han stressed the need for “perfect” combat posture both on the front lines and in the rear. “There shouldn’t be any disorder even by an inch in the military,” he said. “Any provocation from the North should not be tolerated.” (Yonhap, “Defense Chief Orders Immediate Retaliation to N.K. Provocations,” March 29, 2017)

KCNA: “The U.S. is playing a cheap trick in its relations with the DPRK. Recently a high-ranking official concerned of the U.S. State Department “officially” told that the U.S. decided to exclude the idea of preemptive attack on the DPRK from its planned policy toward the DPRK now under examination. As if to prove it, the paid media trumpeted in unison that “U.S. shows softened attitude to north Korea.” It is great irony to see the wolf whose nature is to bite off bleating. The U.S. rhetoric about “exclusion of preemptive attack” is nothing but a trick to calm down the DPRK taking the stand of the toughest counteraction and then attack it with surprise preemptive nuclear strike and thus put whole Korea under its control. Nothing surprising is the U.S. trite method by which it staged smear campaign to make its rival get relaxed and harbor illusion about the U.S. and then invade it through preemptive attack. On June 24, 1950, the U.S. trumpeted about weekend trips of the U.S. president and warmongers like the chief of the U.S. military advisory group in south Korea. On the other hand, it instigated the Syngman Rhee clique to release a false report that the two thirds of the south Korean puppet military had been on an outing and first-line officers and high-ranking officials of the ground army command had been indulged themselves in entertainment at an officers’ club. Then on June 25, it provoked the Korean War without declaration of it. On the eve of the Iraqi war in the new century, the U.S. conducted smear propaganda campaign against Iraq 17 hours a day at five different frequencies for the purpose of weakening the will of resistance among the army and people of Iraq and creating illusion about the U.S. military among them. After that it started a war through preemptive attack by cruise missiles. The deception of the rhetoric about “exclusion of preemptive attack” made by the U.S. is proven with added clarity through the contents of the military operations pursued by the empire of evil against the DPRK, and performance and deployment of strike means. Now the U.S. is carrying out Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises under the scenario of preemptive strike like OPLAN 5015 and OPLAN 4D targeting “precision strike” at key strategic strongholds including the supreme headquarters and nuclear and missile bases in the DPRK. They are openly describing the nuclear strategic assets involved in the exercises as “ideal preemptive strike means” and are unhesitatingly carrying out “special operation” drills targeting the headquarters of the Korean revolution by setting in motion heinous group of murderers. An assertion that preemptive attack has to be pushed forward in secrecy is heard from the U.S. policy-makers, a clear proof that the U.S. ambition to stifle the DPRK and its strategy for a preemptive attack remain unchanged and that the story now afloat is a prelude to an armed invasion. The U.S. is seriously mistaken if it thinks it can shake the will of retaliation of the army and people of the DPRK through such a trite trick and deceive the international community. The powerful revolutionary Paektusan army is closely following the every move of the hostile forces after putting the strongholds of aggression and provocation within the optical sight of its nuclear weapons. If the slightest sign of preemptive attack on the DPRK is detected, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will punish the enemies with powerful preemptive nuclear strikes. The U.S. should clearly understand the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by the reckless attempt at preemptive strike and behave with discretion.” (KCNA, “U.S. Trick Will Not Work on DPRK: KCNA Commentary,” March 29, 2017)

Russia is seeking to deepen ties with the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, seemingly unconcerned by raised eyebrows in the international community. In fact, Russia is now seen by many experts as closer to the North than Pyongyang’s traditional ally, China. Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have two motives: He may be trying to use his ties with North Korea as a diplomatic card in his dealings with the U.S. He is also eager to bring in North Korean labor to help with the development of the Russian Far East. Moscow has recently begun talks with Pyongyang on allowing more North Koreans to work in the country. According to Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry, the two countries held an intergovernmental meeting on migrant workers in Pyongyang on Wednesday. During the talks, the Russians laid out a medium- to long-term plan for accepting more North Korean workers. Representatives from state-owned Russian Railways also visited North Korea in late January to negotiate expansion of rail links between the two countries. The two sides reached a deal under which more North Korean railway engineers will receive training at a Russian university. According to Russian officials, Moscow did not halt oil exports to the North after the latter conducted test-launches of ballistic missiles in February. In February, KCNA named Russia at the top of the list of countries to which Kim had sent lunar New Year greeting cards. Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman criticized Washington, saying the deployment of the U.S. anti-missile system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense had hurt regional stability. Experts believe Moscow hopes to use its increased influence with Pyongyang as a negotiating card as it deals with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Vasily Mikheev, a deputy director at Russia’s Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said he believes Moscow will maintain its pro-Pyongyang stance as a diplomatic leverage unless the U.S.-Russia relations improve. According to Russian government statistics, the number of North Koreans in Russia with work permits has doubled in the last five years to over 40,000. Many experts believe the actual number of migrant workers is far higher when illegal workers are included. A local official in Primorsky Krai, a territory in Russian Far East that shares a border with North Korea, said the country’s diligent, tireless workers are seen as essential to moving infrastructure projects along in the Russian Far East, including those in Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. According to some analysts, Putin’s government is also seeking to strengthen economic ties with South Korea, again using its Pyongyang ties as a bargaining chip. Putin is hoping relations with Seoul improve after the country’s May presidential election. (Tanaka Takayuki, “Moscow Plays the North Korea Card,” Asian Nikkei Review, March 28, 2017)

Seoul has granted rival North Korea’s women’s ice hockey team permission to play in the South next week, the Unification Ministry said, a positive sign ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics. Seoul’s permission is required for all northern visits to the South, and for all trips by its citizens to the nuclear-armed North. “The visit to the South by the North Korean team was approved,” the unification ministry said in a statement. The 30-member North Korean delegation will include 20 athletes and 10 coaches and support staff. Pyongyang boycotted the 1988 Seoul Games, but Lee Hee-Beom, the chief organiser of next year’s event, has urged it to take part in a “peace” Olympics. (AFP, “Seoul Approves N. Korea Women’s Hockey Visit,” March 29, 2017)

DPRK FoMin spokesman’s statement “as regards the fact that the U.S. is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to an ever more extreme phase through profound confusion of right and wrong: The statement recalled the fact that a spokesman for the U.S. State Department on Monday [March 27] malignantly pulled up the DPRK over the warning served by a spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army with regard to the “special operation” staged by the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces, terming it “provocative act” and “inflammatory remarks.” The warning is an entirely just measure for self-defense against the heinous provocateurs given the prevailing situation that has reached a phase which can never be overlooked. …After kicking off joint military drills involving hundreds of thousands of troops and nuclear strategic assets, the U.S. is staging a “special operation” drill, the keynote of which are a “beheading operation” for “eliminating the headquarters” of a sovereign state and a “preemptive strike” operation designed to destroy its nuclear and rocket bases. Clear is its ulterior design. The U.S. has worked hard to justify the war rehearsals, talking about their transparency, but it is no more than a paradox. Its trumpeting about transparency is just outbursts of a gangster to commit robbery in broad daylight. As the strategic depth of the DPRK is not big, the only way to defend itself from the sudden preemptive attack from the U.S. modern strategic assets and special warfare units is just to mount a resolute preemptive attack. In case a war breaks out on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. will be held wholly accountable for it, no matter who will launch a preemptive attack, as it is causing trouble by bringing lots of nuclear strategic assets and special warfare means, not content with persisting in its hostile policy toward the DPRK.” (KCNA, “U.S. Will Be Held Accountable for Outbreak of War on the Korean Peninsula: Spokesman for DPRK Foreign Ministry,” March 29, 2017)

DPRK FoMin spokesman’s answer to the question raised by KCNA “as regards the frantic financial sanctions racket being kicked up by the U.S.-led hostile forces against the DPRK: The U.S.-led hostile forces at a plenary meeting of the International Financial Supervisory Body held in Paris in February last again staged a farce of re-listing the DPRK as a target of “countermeasure” for blocking its financial transactions with other countries. Then, they pressurized the Society for World Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) headquartered in Belgium into terminating its financial communication service to the banks of the DPRK. The U.S. House of Representatives produced a “bill on escalating sanctions with respect to transactions with North Korea” after modifying and supplementing the “North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016.” It has gone the lengths of crying out for independent sanctions against banks and businesses of other countries dealing with the DPRK after inventing absurd pretexts. The recent racket kicked up by the U.S.-led hostile forces to tighten financial sanctions against the DPRK is no more than a stopgap measure of those being driven into a tight corner in the political and military standoff with the DPRK. A step was taken by SWIFT to ban its communication with the banks of the DPRK but the banks of the DPRK have not dealt with the SWIFT since a long time ago in actuality. As for the farce staged by the International Financial Supervisory Body to re-list the DPRK as a “target of countermeasure”, it is just an unfair one taken under pressure from the U.S., as repeatedly clarified by the DPRK. The DPRK is doing its best after establishing the system of anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism in accordance with international standard. The independent sanctions the U.S. claims slapping against other countries dealing with the DPRK are also being opposed worldwide as an impudent act of wantonly violating international law. All facts go to clearly prove that the frantic racket of the U.S. is aimed to tarnish the international image of the DPRK and stir up the international atmosphere of ratcheting up sanctions and pressure upon it. The whole gamut of base actions the U.S. and its vassal forces are running to deprive the DPRK of its nuclear weapons under the pretexts of UN sanctions and independent sanctions would only result in bringing into bolder relief the unreasonable and immoral nature of the sanctions. They can never check the advance of the DPRK accelerating the building of a socialist power under the unfurled banner of self-reliance and self-development, firmly holding the nuclear deterrent, a treasured sword of victory.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman Slams U.S. Racket of Tightening Financial Sanctions,” March 29, 2017)


3/30/17:
Delegations from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Malaysia issued a joint statement on Thursday. The statement is as follows: “Delegations from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Malaysia recently held a meeting in Kuala Lumpur to resolve issues arising from the death of a DPRK national in Kuala Lumpur on 13 February, 2017. Both countries reaffirmed their desire to resolve the existing issues, based on the fundamental strength of their bilateral relations, which have been cultivated since the diplomatic relations were established in 1973. Both countries agreed on the importance of respecting the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and full implement the provisions contained therein. As the DPRK has produced all necessary documentations related to the body of the deceased from the family, Malaysia agreed to facilitate the transfer of the body to the family of the deceased in DPRK. Both countries agreed to lift the travel ban imposed on citizens of the other country and guarantee their safety and security within their respective territory. This would allow the nine Malaysians presently in Pyongyang to return to Malaysia and the DPRK citizens in Kuala Lumpur to depart Malaysia. The importance of bilateral relations was reaffirmed. In this connection, both countries agreed to positively discuss the re-introduction of the visa-free system and work towards bringing the relations to a higher level.” (KCNA, “Joint Statemnet of DPRK and Malaysia,” March 30, 2017)


3/31/17:
Former President Park Geun-hye was arrested, 21 days after she was removed from office by the Constitutional Court. Park became the nation’s third president to be put behind bars facing criminal charges, following Chung Do-hwan and Roh Tae-woo in the 1990s. The Seoul Central District Court issued the warrant at 3:03 a.m. following a hearing that lasted nearly nine hours.

“There are considerable reasons and need to arrest (Park) as key charges have been substantiated considerably and concerns over the destruction of evidence still prevail,” presiding Judge Kang Bu-young said, approving the prosecution’s request to arrest her. With Park in jail, the number of people who have been arrested because of the massive influence-peddling scandal involving her confidant Choi Soon-sil increased to 21. Park’s arrest warrant is valid until April 19, and the prosecution plans to question her further during this period. It is unclear yet as to whether prosecutors will summon Park or visit the Seoul Detention Center to question her. The questioning of Park is likely to take place early next week. Because official campaigning for the presidential election begins April 17, the prosecution is expected to indict Park before then, to minimize the case’s impact on the election. If Park is found guilty of the multiple charges laid against her, including bribery, she faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and possibly up to 45 years. She faces 13 charges in the scandal, including bribery, abuse of power, extortion and sharing state secrets with an unauthorized person, which is the largest number of charges faced by a former president. Park is suspected of having colluded with her long-time friend Choi to get Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong to provide a total of 43.3 billion won in funds in exchange for Cheong Wa Dae assisting Lee in a smooth power transfer from his ailing father, Chairman Lee Kun-hee. She also faces allegations of collecting funds from over 50 other major conglomerates for the Choi-controlled K-Sports and Mir foundations. The prosecution’s investigation is also focusing on whether the funds were in exchange for business favors. Moreover, Park allegedly pressured conglomerates to sign projects with companies owned by Choi and her acquaintances. In addition, she is suspected of having a hand in the creation of a blacklist of artists critical of the government to cut them off from subsidies, forcing culture ministry officials to resign and pressuring former CJ Vice Chairwoman Lee Mi-kyung to step down, due to her disapproval of the group’s entertainment arm. Park also faces charges of giving classified documents to Choi, who did not hold a government post. Her accomplices in these charges – Choi, Lee and former aides Kim Ki-choon, An Chong-bum and Jeong Ho-seong, as well as former Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun have been indicted and are currently on trial. At the hearing held for the arrest warrant, Park continued to deny all the charges against her. (Kim Bo-eun, “Ex-President Park Arrested,” Korea Times, March 31, 2017)

Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee’s statement “as regards the fact that the U.S. is running the whole gamut of intrigues to tighten its colonial domination over south Korea and persist in its hostile policy towards the DPRK as it feels uneasy about the increasing likelihood of the collapse of the pro-U.S. conservative “government” and the victory of the progressive and pro-reform forces in the coming “presidential” election. Shortly ago, the special representative for DPRK policy of the U.S. Department of State met figures of major opposition parties of south Korea to tap their attitude toward the deployment of THAAD and “nuclear issue of the north” and busied himself pressing them to accept its hostile policy toward the DPRK. Early in February the director general of the Atlantic Council of the U.S., one of the confidants of Trump, flew into south Korea in secret. When coming in touch with a “presidential” candidate from an opposition party, he tried to “verify” the former’s “view on the U.S. and north Korea.” The U.S. is openly wooing senior officials of the White House and the administration, congressmen and media into underscoring the need to prioritize the alliance with south Korea and strengthen it regardless of which regime appears there and steadily maintain the foundation of sanctions against the DPRK. It seeks to effect the deployment of THAAD before the “presidential” election so that the next regime may not reverse it. These moves are open high-handed practices for forcing the next regime to follow the policy of confrontation with the fellow countrymen pursued by the Park Geun Hye group of traitors in a bid to keep its system for domination, use south Korea as its permanent colony and outpost for carrying out its strategy for dominating Asia-Pacific. …The massive candlelight actions of south Korean people, which culminated in removing traitor Park Geun Hye from office, were an eruption of their bitter resentment against her “government’s” despicable submission and sycophancy towards outside forces and an expression of their strong desire to win back the usurped sovereignty. The gangster-like U.S. is the chieftain who has inflicted untold pain and misfortune upon the south Korean people and arch criminal disturbing national reconciliation, unity and reunification and threatening peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the region. The tragic reality of south Korea goes to clearly prove that sycophancy towards the U.S. and submission to it lead to national ruin and destruction but national independence is the way to survive and achieve reunification.” (KCNA, “KAPPC Spokesman Slams U.S. Scheme for Keeping Colonial Rule over Korea,” March 31, 2017)


4/1/17:
Donald Trump has warned that the U.S. will take unilateral action to eliminate the nuclear threat from North Korea unless China increases pressure on the regime in Pyongyang. High quality global journalism requires investment. In an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, the U.S. president said he would discuss the growing threat from Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program with Xi Jinping when he hosts the Chinese president at his Florida resort this week, in their first meeting. “China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.” But he made clear that he would deal with North Korea with or without China’s help. Asked if he would consider a “grand bargain” — where China pressures Pyongyang in exchange for a guarantee that the US would later remove troops from the Korean peninsula — Trump said: “Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.” The White House views North Korea as the most imminent threat to the U.S. after Barack Obama warned his successor about the progress Pyongyang had made developing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. The U.S. president says he has no regrets about his style and agenda but, as his 100-day anniversary approaches, governing is harder than he thought “There is a real possibility that North Korea will be able to hit the US with a nuclear-armed missile by the end of the first Trump term,” K.T. McFarland, the deputy White House national security adviser, told the FT in a separate interview. Ahead of the U.S.-China summit, Trump raised hopes that he would reach some kind of deal with Xi, despite heavy criticism about China’s trade surplus and exchange rate policy. “I have great respect for him. I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so.” The National Security Council has completed a review of options on North Korea that Trump ordered after his inauguration, according to two people familiar with the review. One of those people said the review had been accelerated to have the options ready for the Trump-Xi summit. Barring a preemptive strike on North Korea, which the administration will not rule out since all options are on the table, many experts believe the U.S. needs Chinese help as Beijing has the most sway over Pyongyang. But Wahsington could consider alternatives, ranging from more effective sanctions to more controversial covert action. Barring a pre-emptive strike on North Korea — which the administration will not rule out since all options are on the table — many experts believe the U.S. needs Chinese help as Beijing has the most sway over Pyongyang. But Washington could consider alternatives, ranging from more effective sanctions to various kinds of more controversial covert action. “What President Trump is trying to do here is to press the Chinese hard by warning them what comes next if they don’t help or join with the US to deal with this problem,” said Dennis Wilder, a former CIA China analyst who later served as the top White House Asia aide to George W Bush. Related article Donald Trump in his own words “What he is signaling is that the next step is to begin secondary sanctions, which we have avoided. They are sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals who deal with North Korea,” he added. Wilder said Trump could also pressure China not to use North Korean labor, which is a source of revenue for Pyongyang. “Then you get to the other options, which are much more controversial, like taking covert action against North Korea, for example using cyber.” Trump told the FT that it was “totally” possible for the U.S. to tackle North Korea without China. Asked if that meant dealing with Pyongyang one on one, he said: “I don’t have to say any more. Totally.” (Lionel Barber, Demetri Sevastopolu, and Gillian Tett, “’If China Is Not Going to Solve North Korea, We Will,’” Financial Times, April 3, 2017)


4/2/17:
“We must deal with North Korea as it is, not as we wish it to be.” That was the key phrase in the preface of a report handed to the Japanese, South Korean and American leaders after then-U.S. defense chief William Perry’s unprecedented 1999 visit to Pyongyang. Nearly 18 years later, those words still ring true for Perry. The former defense secretary under President Bill Clinton has become one of the most visible faces of a growing movement urging Washington, as well as other key nations, to set realistic goals and again engage Pyongyang diplomatically over its burgeoning nuclear and weapons programs. According to Perry, recent U.S. policies and strategies toward the North, lacking a clear understanding of Pyongyang’s aims, have failed out of the gate. The result has been a ramped-up level of progress in its weapons programs unforeseen by U.S. analysts and government officials alike. “I believe our policies ought to be oriented around that assessment of what their goals are,” Perry told the Japan Times in an interview. “I think our negotiations ought to be oriented around what their goals are and our policies, our strategies, ought to be oriented around minimizing dangers. I don’t think our negotiations or our policies have been.” This could include moves such as moratoriums or deals on halting long-range missile programs and nuclear tests in exchange for certain carrots like economic aid and recognition. Not acknowledging the motivations behind North Korea’s provocations, Perry alluded, could end up seeing the U.S., South Korea — and in turn Japan — embroiled in another Korean conflict. In a January commentary for the website Politico, he wrote that it is probably too late to dismantle the North’s nuclear program. Instead, he said, the goal must be shifted to containing them. Citing Siegfried Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory who has made four visits to the North’s Yongbyon reactor, Perry wrote that negotiations are “doomed to continue to fail” if they are based on the premise that it will give up its nuclear weapons. He said the U.S. could start off with more modest goals using Hecker’s “Three Nos” (1. No new weapons; 2. No better weapons; and 3. No transfer of nuclear technology or weapons), in addition to incentives previously offered to Pyongyang. Achieving these goals would not only be of great security value, but could also be a “stepping stone” for follow-up negotiations with an ultimate goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, Perry said. In 1999, he delivered to the North a proposal by Clinton that the 50-year-old economic embargo against the country be lifted gradually in exchange for a series of major concessions, including an agreement to end its long-range missile program. Perry’s legwork laid the foundation for a flurry of visits by top officials from both countries and a growing view at the time that a deal could be reached. But as the Clinton administration wound down at the end of 2000, and new President George W. Bush prepared to enter the White House, that momentum dwindled. The U.S. had been “tantalizingly close” to sealing a deal with North Korea to eliminate its medium- and long-range missiles and end its missile exports, Wendy Sherman, former special adviser to the president and secretary of state for North Korea policy, wrote in a New York Times editorial in March 2001. She urged Bush to seize the chance. Ten months later, the ground had shifted. “President Bush deliberately stopped the one negotiations — which were almost completed — which conceivably could have prevented this problem,” Perry said. “He did that with the belief that he had better a negotiation underway. That negotiation obviously did not succeed nor did the negotiations of the Obama administration. “Without assessing the theoretical value of what they were doing, the result is pretty straightforward,” Perry said, noting the current state of affairs. In his 2015 book “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink,” Perry summed up the results of U.S. policy toward the North since the Clinton administration as “perhaps the most unsuccessful exercise of diplomacy in our country’s history.” “My own assessment of why it did not succeed in the case of the Bush administration is that I think they were just distracted by the Iraq War,” Perry said. “They didn’t put enough time or attention into it. Who knows what would have happened if they had really made it a priority and worked at it. But they did not.” Still, Perry said, that while the Bush administration was preoccupied with the Middle East, his successor, President Barack Obama, actually had a policy — under which the North’s nuclear and missile progress continued. “It was called ‘strategic patience,’ ” he said. “Nearly as I can determine, what strategic patience means is that ‘if we wait long enough, North Korea will collapse.’ I think that’s a forlorn hope. I’d be happy to see them collapse, but there’s no reason at all to believe that is going to happen.” Instead, what Perry fears may occur amid the tense security environment on the Korean Peninsula is the eruption of smaller-level hostilities into a wider conflict that drags in the U.S. and Japan. “If that happens, that is if we have a ‘new Korean war,’ the North would surely lose … and at that point, seeing the end of the regime, they might unleash an Armageddon with their nuclear weapons,” Perry said. “So in a sense they could blunder into a war and if they blunder into it, they could use nuclear weapons in a last ditch effort.” For Perry, this scenario is the most likely one among the various theories of how the North could spark a conflict. He rules out any kind of surprise attack against South Korea, Japan or the United States, saying such a move would be “suicidal” and would violate Pyongyang’s No. 1 goal: survival of the regime. “They’re not seeking martyrdom. They’re not an al-Qaida or ISIL,” he said “However they use their weapons will be based on a calculation that the use is oriented around … first and foremost the survival of the regime, the sustaining of the Kim dynasty. That, I’m quite confident, is their primary goal in life.” And while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his regime has often been labeled as “crazy,” including by former GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain last month, Perry believes this to be a false assumption. “People who say they are crazy, I think they’re wrong,” Perry said. “They’re a pariah state. They take outrageous actions, but those actions are all designed to strengthen their hold on power.” According to Perry, a grasp of this is necessary however U.S. policy toward the North proceeds. New U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed that his administration’s policy toward Pyongyang will differ from Obama’s, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declaring the end of strategic patience. Brinkmanship aside, Perry believes there is an opening for talks. “He might actually try to negotiate with them, which would be a good thing — if he negotiated from some real understanding of where they are coming from,” Perry said of Trump, cautioning that a good negotiator must strive to understand what drives the other side. “I think I do understand what drives the other side, which makes me a little pessimistic about a negotiation based on threats and bluster.” Beyond grasping what the North hopes to achieve, Perry believes there is another compound that is essential for the U.S. to make a serious run at negotiations with Pyongyang: China. “We need to do it in conjunction with China, which we have never done in the past,” Perry said. “Even though we both sat in the six-party talks together, we have never had a common understanding of the threat, we’ve never had a common strategy for how to proceed.” Now — amid the North’s frosty ties with Beijing, its erstwhile patron — may be an opportune time, he said. “I think what has happened in China over the last couple of years is they have gotten a better understanding of what the danger is of North Korean nukes,” he said. “I think they’re much more concerned about that than they were a few years ago.” Given that, Perry said, there is a distinct a possibility at least of coming to a common negotiating strategy. “If we could do that, it greatly improves our success in a negotiation,” he said. Some experts, including Perry, say that if the U.S. fails to set reasonable goals, it could inadvertently risk a disastrous situation in the region. One such result could see Japan and South Korea embarking on a quest to develop their own nuclear weapons capabilities — something Trump hinted at while campaigning — and further destabilizing the region. “I understand why the Japanese are distressed, but I also want to think about what their real alternatives are,” Perry said. “One alternative is for them to build nuclear weapons … so they could threaten a response themselves, an assured response. … That, I think is a very bad idea, but it could happen.” Another option, he said, would be to bolster Japanese confidence in the U.S. by asking Washington to make a stronger statement about its policy of extended deterrence. “The surest way of doing it would be to ask us to deploy some of our nuclear weapons in Japan,” Perry said, noting the example of Germany. U.S. atomic weapons were first deployed there during the Cold War as a way of displaying Washington’s commitment to protecting that country. “When you start talking tough, you have to start thinking about what are the realistic alternatives,” Perry said. “None of them is very attractive.” According to Perry, the U.S.-Japan strategy is moving toward reassurances of extended deterrence and providing some limited ballistic missile-defense systems — a policy not unlike that of Trump’s predecessor. For the former defense chief, this trajectory — a potential return to the status quo — has proved maddening. “It’s frustrating to think that you understand the issue and see it moving off in very different directions,” he said. “I could tell you what I think could work, but I have no reason to believe it’s going to be tried.” (Jesse Johnson, “Former U.S. Defense Secretary’s North Korea Strategy: Deal with It as It Is, Not as We Wish It to Be,” Japan Times, April 3, 2017)

The online ad reads like something only a metallurgist could love: an offer to sell 22 pounds of highly pure lithium 6 every month, set for delivery from the port of Dandong, China. But it caught the attention of intelligence agencies around the world for a simple reason: Lithium 6 offers a fast way to turn an ordinary atom bomb into a hydrogen bomb, magnifying its destructive power by up to 1,000 times. The seller listed in the ad — who even provided his cellphone number — was identified in a recent United Nations report as the third secretary in the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. Experts say the lithium ad — with its implication that the North is happy to sell an excess supply of the precious material — suggests that it is far too late to prevent the nation from becoming an advanced nuclear power. It is unclear exactly what Trump means by “solve North Korea,” though he seems to be borrowing from the playbook of the four presidents before him, who fruitlessly tried, with differing mixes of negotiations, sanctions, sabotage and threats of unilateral strikes, to force the North to give up its program. While experts doubt the declaration last year by Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, that the country had tested a hydrogen bomb, intelligence estimates provided to Trump in recent weeks say that the mercurial young ruler is working on it. The acceleration of Kim’s atomic and missile programs — the North launched four ballistic missiles in a test last month — is meant to prove that the country is, and will remain, a nuclear power to be reckoned with. For Trump, that reckoning is coming even as his strategy to halt the North’s program remains incomplete and largely unexplained, and as some experts say the very idea of stopping Pyongyang’s efforts is doomed to failure. Trump’s budget is expected to include more money for antimissile defenses, and officials say he is continuing a cyber- and electronic-warfare effort to sabotage North Korea’s missile launches. The president’s insistence that he will solve the North Korea problem makes it hard to imagine a shift toward acceptance of its arsenal. But in private, even some of his closest aides have begun to question whether the goal of “complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament” — the policy of the Obama and Bush administrations — is feasible anymore. “We need to change the fundamental objective of our policy, because North Korea will never willingly give up its program,” Michael J. Morell, a former deputy director of the C.I.A., and James A. Winnefeld Jr., a retired admiral and a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote last week on the website The Cipher Brief. “Washington’s belief that this was possible was a key mistake in our initial policy thinking,” added the two men, experienced hands at countering the North. The United States and China, they argue, should abandon the idea of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and turn to old-fashioned deterrence. Similarly, Robert Einhorn, a former senior State Department nonproliferation expert, writes in a new report for the Brookings Institution that a “dual-track strategy involving both pressure and negotiations” would be more likely to “bring China on board.” The technique is reminiscent of what was used to push Iran into nuclear negotiations. But Einhorn cautioned that “while the complete denuclearization of North Korea would be the ultimate goal of negotiations, there is virtually no prospect that it could be achieved in the near term.” The Chinese appear unlikely to make more than token efforts to squeeze North Korea, fearing the repercussions if the regime were to collapse, and Kim has made it clear that he is not about to negotiate away what he sees as his main protection against being overthrown by the United States and its allies. “China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” Trump said in the Financial Times interview. If the Chinese fail to act, he added, “It won’t be good for anyone.” It is unclear how close North Korea is to constructing a hydrogen bomb. But Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford University professor who once directed the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico, and has visited the North’s main nuclear complex, said the ad for lithium 6, while surprising, was a reminder that North Korea, though a backward country, was still capable of major technical advances. “I can’t imagine they’re not working on true thermonuclear weapons,” Dr. Hecker said in an interview. As Trump and Xi meet on April 6-7, Kim, on the other side of the world, may have a plan of his own for the summit meeting: Satellite photographs suggest he is preparing for a sixth nuclear test. Workers have dug a deep tunnel, which can block radioactive leaks if carefully sealed, leaving intelligence experts struggling to estimate the North’s progress. American intelligence officials, and their South Korean and Japanese counterparts, are debating whether the next blasts will mark major steps down the road to a true thermonuclear weapon. The lithium 6 ad is evidence that Kim is following a road map that the United States drew up back in 1954. That is when it tested its first thermonuclear weapon fueled by the isotope. The blast, code-named Bravo, was the most powerful the United States ever detonated. In minutes, its mushroom cloud rose to a height of 25 miles. Though difficult to make, hydrogen bombs became the symbol of Cold War power — they are awesomely destructive and relatively cheap. The weapon relies on a small atom bomb, inside a thick metal casing, that works like a match to ignite the hydrogen fuel. For decades, bomb makers have used lithium 6 as a standard way of making hydrogen fuel for nuclear arms. Last month, two Los Alamos scientists argued that the rocky North Korean test site the United States monitors could confine explosions of up to 282 kilotons — roughly 20 times as strong as the Hiroshima blast. Although a hydrogen bomb can be that powerful, so can large atom bombs. Previously, the largest blasts at the site were in the Hiroshima range. “It’s possible that North Korea has already boosted,” said Gregory S. Jones, a scientist at the RAND Corporation who analyzes nuclear issues. Like other experts, he pointed to the nation’s two nuclear blasts last year as possible tests of small boosted arms. A next logical step would be for the North to turn the material it was advertising online, lithium 6, into a more complex kind of thermonuclear fuel arrangement for a much more powerful bomb. “It’s a big step,” Hecker, the Stanford professor, said of a true hydrogen bomb, adding that it was perhaps beyond the North’s skill. But overall, he said, the North had shown technical savvy in carefully pacing its nuclear tests, suggesting that it would eventually learn the main secrets of nuclear arms. “They’ve done five tests in 10 years,” he said. “You can learn a lot in that time.” As for the excess lithium 6, any interested buyers may have a hard time answering the ad. The street address given in the advertisement does not exist. The phone has been disconnected or no one answers. But if the operation really is being run out of the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, it should not be hard for Xi to find out: It is about two and a half miles down the road from the compound where he lives. (David E. Sanger and William Broad, “Ad from North Korea Yields Nuclear Clues,” New York Times, April 4, 2017, p. A-9)


4/3/17:
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation calling for relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and a resolution condemning North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile development. The swift passage of the bipartisan measures, which came just five days after they passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was seen as a message to China in the run-up to the first summit talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act (H.R.479), which was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) in January, was approved in a 398-3 vote, while the resolution on the North’s missile development passed in a 394-1 vote. The terrorism bill requires the State Department to submit a report within 90 days after the bill’s enactment on whether Pyongyang meets the criteria for a terror sponsor. In the event the department determines the North doesn’t merit the designation, it should also offer a detailed justification for the decision.

The resolution (H.Res.92) condemning the North’s ICBM development was introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) on February 17, just days after the North’s test-firing of a newly developed intermediate-range ballistic missile powered by solid fuel. The resolution was later updated to include an appeal to China to “immediately cease its diplomatic intimidation and economic coercion against South Korea” for Seoul’s decision to host the U.S. THAAD missile defense system. “The North Korean threat is urgent and real. Experts predict North Korea will be able to hit the U.S. with an ICBM in less than four years. Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un is taking aggressive steps to make North Korea a fully armed nuclear state,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “It is time for us to ramp up the pressure. That is why I am supporting these measures today, which urge the State Department to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terror and condemn North Korea’s development of an ICBM. By passing these measures, we are taking important steps to push back against North Korea’s dangerous ambitions,” he said. (Yonhap, “U.S. Overwhelmingly Passes Resolution Calling for Relisting N. Korea as Terror Sponsor,” Korea Times, April 4, 2017)


4/4/17:
The White House declared that “the clock has run out and all options are on the table” on the North Korea nuclear issue ahead of a key summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida April 6-7. This assertion came as North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile toward the East Sea. “The clock has now run out and all options are on the table for us,” a senior White House official said in a news conference, which came just ahead of the missile launch. “We would have loved to see North Korea join the community of nations,” said the official. He said that hadn’t happened “over different dialogues and offers over the course of four administrations.” Claiming North Korea is a “matter of urgent interest” for President Trump and his administration, the official added that Trump “has been pretty clear in messaging how important it is for China to coordinate with the United States, and for China to begin exerting its considerable economic leverage to bring about a peaceful resolution to that problem.” (Sarah Kim, Cha Se-hyeon, and Yoo Jee-hye, “All Eye on Trump-Xi Summit,” JoongAng Ilbo, April 5, 2017)

With Japan’s Ambassador to South Korea Nagamine Yasumasa returning to his post in Seoul today, the government appeared to accept that his recall failed to dent South Korea’s resolve not to remove the “comfort women” statue outside Japan’s consulate in the city of Busan and an older one near its embassy in Seoul. Nagamine was ordered home nearly four months ago in protest over the new statue. The monuments commemorate women forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II. “I want to exert every effort in dealing with the present challenges as the ambassador to South Korea,” Nagamine told reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. He declined to give details about instructions he received from the prime minister. Had Japan refused to back down on the statue issue, it risked souring relations from the outset with South Korea’s next president, who will be chosen in a May 9 election to replace disgraced former leader Park Geun-hye, government officials said. “We lowered the fist we had raised,” a government source said yesterday after Nagamine’s return was announced. The saga leaves a muddled impression of the way Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration conducts diplomacy. Bilateral relations had warmed under Park, with Japan and South Korea signing in December 2015 an accord aimed at “finally and irreversibly” resolving the issue. Under the deal, Japan deposited money into a fund that was to pay for care for the surviving women. Still, the statues have remained a sticking point. The Busan statue is of the same design as the one installed outside the embassy in Seoul in 2011 and in several locations abroad. Japan has repeatedly called on South Korea to “resolve” the issue of the statues following the 2015 agreement. Yesterday, Japanese officials reiterated that the next South Korean administration must “steadily implement” the deal. “The timeline and lineup of candidates for the South Korean presidential election have been set. This is the best time [for Nagamine to return],” a senior member of the Abe administration told reporters yesterday. At the time the official made the comment, it had become clear that the Democratic Party of Korea, South Korea’s largest opposition party, would choose Moon Jae-in as its presidential candidate. “Mr. Moon is the strongest candidate to become the next president,” a Foreign Ministry source said. “We will need to meet him quickly and communicate with him. Some have said we should have returned the ambassador earlier.” Nagamine will pursue a meeting with Moon, attempting to build up some sort of trust, before official campaigning in the election begins in the middle of this month. Upon returning to South Korea, Nagamine is set to meet acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and urge the South Korean government to fully implement the deal. The decision to send Nagamine back ultimately came from Abe, who had put up a show of strength against South Korea for not pursuing the statue’s removal. After Park was arrested May 31 over the scandal that led to her impeachment and ousting, Abe summoned Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio to his office for an exchange of views. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, the government’s top spokesman, said the decision was made yesterday on the basis of a range of information Kishida had provided. But some in the government had questioned the recall from the time of Nagamine’s return on January 9, wondering whether the standoff would work in Tokyo’s favor. It was far from guaranteed that Park’s embattled administration would be able to overcome South Korean public opinion and set about removing the Busan statue. Lawmakers had already voted to impeach Park at that point, awaiting the finalization of the motion by the country’s Constitutional Court. But the retaliation over the statue went ahead. “South Korea was supposed to work for a resolution of the statue issue, based on the agreement between Japan and South Korea on the matter of the comfort women, but it didn’t do so,” a government source said. “The prime minister, who had lost face, couldn’t pull out even if he’d wanted to.” When South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told Kishida in a meeting in Germany in February that his country would make “maximum efforts” over the statue issue, Kishida replied that Seoul needed to accompany its words with actions. Kishida’s response served as a message that the ambassador would not return until Seoul had begun efforts to remove the statue. But that turned out to be an empty threat, with the Park administration having done nothing on the statue, even as the presidential election drew near. Moon is considered more of a hard-liner toward Japan than Park and must be acutely aware of South Korean voters’ sensitivities to bilateral issues between the two nations. He has called for a review of the 2015 agreement and was recently photographed touching the hands of the Busan statue, where he said there is “a meaning to (the statue) being in this place.” It remains to be seen whether Moon would respond positively to Japan even if it calls for an improvement in bilateral relations or further coordination in dealing with North Korea. Asked yesterday what the four-month recall of Nagamine accomplished for Japan, government officials were ambiguous in their responses. “In my opinion, it’s not over,” an official with close ties to the prime minister told reporters. Suga, never short of an excuse for the Abe administration’s actions, offered a shaky justification for the standoff. “I guess we let South Korea know about our strong will,” he said. In Seoul, a senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official yesterday expressed a wish that the return of the ambassador would promote bilateral communication. “We hope Ambassador Nagamine’s return to his post will better facilitate communication between the two countries,” the official said. (Kyodo, “Japan’s Statue Standoff with Korea Yields Only Loss of Face,” Japan Times, April 4, 2017)

Despite North Korea’s accelerating efforts, Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pyongyang is still “years away” from mastering the submarine-based ballistic missile technology, said, calling for the greater attention on the communist country‘s progress on land-based ballistic missiles and warhead miniaturization development. Smith also expressed skepticism toward additional deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula, although he did not rule out the possibility for such a measure should North Korea’s military threats evolves further. “To launch the missiles under the water is very, very complicated. I think it is still years away before that technology is developed,” Swift said during an interview with the Korea Herald and other news outlets at the U.S. Naval Forces Korea command in Seoul. “It’s more important to focus on the general ballistic missile capability that North Korea is developing,” said the admiral, referring to Pyongyang’s latest launch of medium-range ballistic missiles that used SLBM technology and solid fuel technology. The admiral was in Seoul as part of a three-day trip to South Korea. On Tuesday, he attended an international forum to discuss amphibious operation in the Asia-Pacific region and met with South Korea’s military leadership, including Gen. Lee Sun-jin, chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. Despite speculation the North has inched closer to completing SLBM technology, he stressed that Pyongyang has yet to secure key elements crucial for a successful launch: the missile technology and the miniaturization of nuclear weapons. “There are two broad elements to focus on. One is missile technology itself: both the physics of developing the missile and its reliability as well as accuracy of the missile. The other element is miniaturization of nuclear capability.” Confronted with North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threat, the commander has been expanding the role of the 3rd Fleet by forward deploying its strategic assets to the 7th fleet, whose area of operation mostly encompasses South Korea, Japan and China. Last month, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was deployed to the Korean Peninsula after departing the home port of the 3rd Fleet in San Diego. After entering the 7th Fleet area of operation, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier remains under the 3rd Fleet’s command and control. But the admiral said although the Navy will continue to expand its involvement in the Asian-Pacific region, there would be no additional “forward deployment” of aircraft carriers and other strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula. “One of the great advantages of naval power is its flexibility to deploy, but I don‘t see any additional carriers being forward deployed. … The challenge we have is the facility for maintaining and sustaining our ships.” “We will reach 60 percent of naval forces present in the Pacific by 2020. And all those decisions have been made and investments have been made. It‘s probably 57 or 58 percent. But it fluctuates from day to day.” When asked about whether the US Navy would dispatch its stealthy destroyer Zumwalt — an idea reportedly floated by Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command, during a meeting with South Korean lawmakers, Adm. Swift expressed skepticism, but added, “Anything is possible. We can have the entire US Navy move somewhere. But it is very, very premature to discuss the probability of that. I would not recommend forward deploying it until we have fully have worked through challenges,” he said. (Yeo Jun-suk, “N.K. SLBM Is ‘Years Away’: U.S. Commander,” Korea Herald, April 4, 2017)


4/5/17:
The Pentagon now assesses North Korean missile launch was likely a failure. The missile did not go as far as intended, officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence reports said. It did not reach Japanese waters and may have “pinwheeled in flight,” according to one official. What’s more, the missile was an older SCUD — not the advanced land version of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (KN-15), as first assessed by the U.S. Pacific Command last night, a U.S. defense official confirmed. (Lucas Tomlinson, “North Korean Missile Launch Likely a Failure, U>S. Officials Say,” Fox News, April 5, 2017) North Korea fired a ballistic missile off its east coast on Wednesday, a day before President Trump was to host his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida for their first summit meeting. The missile test is likely to intensify differences between Trump and Xi over how to deal with the recalcitrant government in North Korea. The timing is also a deep embarrassment for Xi as the leader of China, which for decades has been the North’s closest ally. China accounts for about 90 percent of the North’s trade and is a major supplier of oil for the country. But in the eyes of Washington, China has been reluctant to use its economic leverage forcibly enough to stop the North’s growing nuclear and missile threats. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said in a statement. “We have no further comment.” In Seoul, the South Korean capital, acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn ordered a meeting of security cabinet ministers to assess the test and the North’s growing missile menace. The missile took off from Sinpo, a town on North Korea’s east coast, and flew 37 miles before splashing into the sea, the South Korean military said in a statement. Initial assessments indicated that the type of missile was a KN-15, [?] said Cmdr. David Benham of the Navy, a spokesman for the United States Pacific Command. KN-15 is the name the United States uses to refer to the Pukguksong-2, a new nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missile North Korea launched for the first time in February. “The North American Aerospace Defense Command determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” Benham said. Before the summit meeting, Trump increased pressure on China, saying that it was time for Beijing to rein in its Communist ally. In an interview with the Financial Times published on April 2, he said, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” But he did not say how. But China has insisted that the United States should re-engage the North in dialogue to work out a compromise. Trump and Xi will probably use another missile test by the North to stress the merits of their conflicting approaches on the North. North Korea rattled the region in February when it successfully launched the Pukguksong-2, which uses a solid-fuel technology that American experts say will make it easier for the country to hide its arsenal in its numerous tunnels and launch its missiles on very short notice. Then, on March 6, the North launched four ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan. By firing the four missiles simultaneously, North Korea tried to flaunt an ability to launch multiple missiles at American bases in Japan and at American aircraft carriers around the Korean Peninsula, South Korean defense officials said. The ability to launch a barrage of missiles increases the chances of breaching antimissile defenses. China, which had long considered the system a threat to its own security and strongly opposed it, warned that the deployment, in Seongju, South Korea, could set off a new arms race. China’s state-controlled news media, in angry editorials, urged boycotts of South Korean products, which led to protests against South Korean businesses in China and canceled tours to South Korea. The THAAD system has not won universal approval within South Korea. Moon Jae-in, a liberal candidate running to replace the ousted conservative president, Park Geun-hye, has expressed misgivings over the Thaad system, citing China’s fury. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile a Day before U.S.-China Summit Meeting,” New York Times, April 5, 2017, p. A-4)

Briefing by Pottinger, Thornton: “POTTINGER: And I was going to answer the question on North Korea, that in terms of an area of cooperation, of course we would like to see China working closely with the United States to address the menace emanating from North Korea – their weapons programs, the provocations that we’re seeing every week; missile launches, including one that we just had not too many hours ago. There is an opportunity for that to be an area of cooperation and to grow that. I think it’s in Beijing’s interest. I think that North Korea long ago ceased to be a strategic asset for China. It is now quite clearly a strategic liability, and it is one that is having an impact on the region. It is one that has the potential to destabilize not only the peninsula but really the region as a whole. … Q: Okay. Yeah, I’m Gyuseok Jang, from Christian Broadcasting System. I’m from Korea. …And my question is … what does that mean when you’re saying that the clock has running – the clock is running out? So yeah, if you – possible just to give us a little more explanation about that. …THORNTON: …I think you heard Secretary of State Tillerson. He was in Korea not long ago, made a trip to the Demilitarized Zone, had a press conference in Korea and spoke pretty clearly on the issue of where we stand on North Korea right now, that he said that the time for talking is now over – strategic patience has run out. This problem has really become very urgent, and it is, as Matt said, destabilizing to the entire region and actually further than the region now, reaches across the globe with the progress that North Korea is making in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile. So I think the feeling on our side is that this problem has really now become urgent and we are going to be not only talking to the Chinese this week, but I think you saw on Monday [April 3], Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced that we’re going to be convening a ministerial meeting at which the Secretary of State is going to preside up in New York later this month to talk and galvanize a lot more support from our other partners and allies around the world on this issue and chart a way forward in a very urgent way, because we feel that this problem has now crossed a certain line and we can no longer hope for some kind of reversion to negotiations. We need to do something proactive to change the situation and get some results, and we hope that the Chinese are going to be involved in that. We’ll certainly be talking to them about that in the next couple of days. Q: Thank you. Mariko de Freytas from Kyodo News. I wanted to ask about secondary sanctions. Would you be able to tell us whether the President or the Secretary of State will be discussing this issue at the summit? And if that’s the case, what do you expect the outcome to be? And how ready are you to implement secondary sanctions? POTTINGER: Sure. So, I’m not going to go into the specifics of our approach on North Korea, but I will say that this is going to be an early topic of conversation during the summit, and we will not, sort of, broadcast talking points of the President in advance. But of course, the question of sanctions generally is very much a live one. It’s an operative issue, because the situation’s really boiled down to one of having to apply more pressure, and economic pressure is something that China has the ability to bring to bear in a way that no other single country can.” (Foreign Press Center Briefing with Susan A. Thorton, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Matt Pottinger, Senior Director for Asia, NSC, April 5, 2017)

China carried out a naval training exercise in the Yellow Sea ahead of the first summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The training exercise involved the deployment of the Liaoning, China’s only known aircraft carrier, the Global Times reported today. Quoting a Chinese navy announcement on Weibo, the Chinese social network, state news media said the Liaoning left its station in Qingdao on March 20 and conducted “annual naval drills” in the Yellow and Bohai Seas, off the coast of northeastern China. China also deployed the Shenyang J-15, also known as the “Flying Shark,” a carrier-based fighter jet most likely based on the Soviet-designed Sukhoi Su-33. The Navy carried out tasks including midair refueling, aerial combat and target strikes during aircraft deployment. A helicopter conducted night landing drills and search missions, according to the report. Although the exercises took place in March, they are being made public this week, a day ahead of the first summit between China and the United States. The drills took place near North Korea, a possible sign Beijing is getting its navy ready for any potential instability on the peninsula, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. The deployment of the Liaoning to the area also coincides with the deployment of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the peninsula during joint training exercises. The Chinese navy said the training was a regular occurrence and part of plans to connect the navy and the air force, and further advance “technical tactical and operational training.” (Elizabeth Shin, “Report: China Carried out Naval Drill near North Korea,” UPI, April 5, 2017)

Warning the U.S. could act alone, President Donald Trump has vowed to deliver an ultimatum to Chinese leader Xi Jinping to rein in North Korea when the two men come face-to-face for the first time this week. But Trump’s early retreat on Taiwan already has chipped away at his standing with Beijing, and another bluff could leave him looking the way he hates most: Weak. Trump warned this week, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” He didn’t elaborate, but his administration is looking at sanctions against Chinese banks and companies that provide North Korea access to the international financial system, a move strongly backed by Congress. And on a recent trip to Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reminded the region that the U.S. also retains the option of pre-emptive military force. Trump “is making it seem like we are prepared to go to war or use military action … and I don’t think that is going to be viable,” said Kurt Campbell, top U.S. diplomat for the region during former President Barack Obama’s first term. The devastation could be dramatic. South Korea’s capital, Seoul, lies within retaliatory range of North Korean artillery and missiles. “The key about using leverage in negotiation is that you have to be credible,” Campbell said. Of Trump’s ultimatum, he said, “I think the Chinese are likely to see through this.” In his two-and-a-half-months in office, Trump has backed off on one sensitive issue with China: Taiwan. As president-elect, Trump said he didn’t feel “bound” by existing U.S. policy toward the self-governing island that China considers part of its territory, demanding concessions from Beijing in trade and other areas. Within weeks, Trump reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the 4-decade-old “one China” policy, smoothing the way for a February phone call with Xi. Asked if Taiwan was up for negotiation, Thornton said Wednesday: “We have basically moved on from there.” Winston Lord, the U.S. ambassador to China under former President Ronald Reagan and top diplomat to the region under former President Bill Clinton, said he assumes Trump isn’t bluffing this time. “Trump is right that China is a problem on North Korea and has got to do more. He’s right to stir their anxieties on what the U.S. might do unilaterally if they don’t act,” Lord said. But he said Trump’s back-pedaling on Taiwan made him look like a “paper tiger.” Dennis Wilder, a China specialist who served under former President George W. Bush and Obama, likened Trump’s approach to Obama’s before a Xi summit in 2015. Then, the U.S. was threatening sanctions unless China stopped commercial cyberthefts. A bilateral agreement ensued and has had some impact, though the problem persists. Wilder said past U.S. administrations preferred to be toughest with Beijing behind closed doors — something he said Bush did effectively. But he said Trump’s more forceful approach may now be necessary. “We have been trying the softly-softly approach on the Chinese for years on North Korea,” Wilder said. The Chinese have never gone far enough, as a result, to have “a meaningful impact on the situation,” he said. So can Trump succeed where his predecessors have failed? He faces some disadvantages. Beijing has highly skilled negotiators and their position on North Korea is deeply entrenched. Trump’s administration, by comparison, is thinly staffed and divided on China, Campbell said. Lord, who participated in historic U.S.-Chinese meetings in the 1970s, said an informal summit with Xi allows for strategy and red lines to be exchanged. But he worried about Trump’s knowledge of the issues and ability to negotiate solo. “I think he may end up being too soft,” Lord said. (Matthew Pennington, “Trump Presses China on North Korea; Another Bluff Could Hurt Him,” Associated Press, April 5, 2017) True to his inimitable style, Trump has been talking — and tweeting — tough on North Korea. He had hinted repeatedly that he would support military action to prevent North Korea from developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States. “Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you,’’ Trump cryptically told the Financial Times in an interview published this week. Blustering aside, Trump presumably knows that unilateral military action against Pyongyang could start a war with devastating consequences. The calculus hasn’t changed much since 1994, when the Clinton administration considered striking the North Koreans’ main nuclear facility at Yongbyon. South Koreans produced a computer simulation projecting 1 million dead if a war broke out with North Korea. Although all the war games showed North Korea would be quickly defeated, the costs were deemed too high. Trump is also unlikely to follow through on an off-hand suggestion he made at a campaign rally in Atlanta to invite the rotund young leader, Kim Jong Un, out for a hamburger. So that leaves Trump stuck dealing with China. Beijing has been reluctant to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea or to shut down North Korean trading companies in China that handle money for the leadership and import weapons. At military parades in Pyongyang, the North Koreans have shamelessly displayed Chinese-made trucks converted into missile launchers. The Bank of China’s Singapore branch was implicated in a criminal case last year in the island city-state in which a shipping company was convicted of helping North Korea import weapons from Cuba. “North Korea has faced very few impediments to establishing front companies in China that do global business busting sanctions,” said William Newcomb, formerly the American representative on the U.N. panel that enforces North Korea’s sanctions. “I suspect the [Chinese] Ministry of State Security knows everything about North Korea’s activities, and the fact that they are allowed to continue is pretty disgraceful.” Going into the meeting Thursday, Trump has the advantage of dealing directly with the only person in China capable of deciding to crack down on the North Koreans. China’s North Korea policy is handled by the Communist Party Central Committee’s secretive International Liaison Department, often bypassing the Foreign Ministry. It is not dissimilar to the way that Trump has taken some foreign policy matters away from the State Department to be handled in the White House by his closest associates, including son-in-law Jared Kushner. “You have two alpha males who will be in the same room. Trump wants to come out of this meeting with something tangible that he has achieved,” said Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. And for all their differences, he said, “their grievances about North Korea are not wildly dissimilar.” However, the Chinese balk at any measures that could lead to the collapse of North Korea, an important buffer between its borders and U.S.-allied South Korea. And Trump will have more than met his match when negotiating with Xi, analysts say. “Xi obviously has not-insignificant amounts of experience dealing with American leaders. He is going to come in better briefed, more knowledgeable of the history and the record and more prepared to deflect critiques and beseeching by the United States,” said Pollack. Joshua Stanton, a lawyer specializing in North Korea sanctions, said the best leverage that the United States has in the negotiation is to implement so-called “secondary sanctions” against Chinese banks and businesses doing business with North Korea. “What I hope to see out of this meeting is not Trump and Xi coming out shaking hands and smiling. That probably means that Xi has made a promise he has no intention of fulfilling,” said Stanton. “We all know that [Trump’s book is] ‘The Art of the Deal,’ but the Chinese read that book too,” said Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations. “They are well-positioned to call Trump’s bluff.’’ However, Trump’s bluster and inexperience dealing with the erratic North Korean regime have unnerved Korea specialists who fear that a chain of misunderstandings could lead to another war on the Korean peninsula. “I don’t like bluffing unless I’m playing for small stakes,” said Robert Gallucci, a professor at Georgetown University who served in the State Department during the 1994 crisis. Gallucci said that any military response, such as trying to strike a missile on a launch pad, would likely be ineffective because North Korean weapons facilities are hidden underground and scattered around the country. “You couldn’t ever, ever assume that the North Koreans would just suck it up, and there are vulnerabilities in the South, which is where they would retaliate,” said Gallucci. “We would be involved in a military engagement, and people would die.” Gallucci believes that the United States must rely on the same strategies of deterrence used during the Cold War. “The Russians had 30,000 nuclear weapons. The North Koreans have 12,” he said. Military analysts disagree on how close North Korea is to being able to launch an ICBM capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States or to mount a nuclear warhead, but most agree it is making rapid progress. “The breakneck pace of North Korean nuclear ballistic missile and nuclear testing in the past few years means that a North Korean missile tipped with a nuclear warhead, capable of reaching our homeland, is no longer a distant hypothetical, but an imminent danger,” Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told a congressional panel on April 4. (Barbara Demick, “Trump’s Tough Talk on North Korea Will Be Put to the Test in His Meeting with Chinese Leader,” Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2017)

When Trump explored a presidential run back in 1999, he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he suggested he would bomb North Korea if it didn’t end its nuclear weapons program.”I would let Pyongyang know in no uncertain terms that it can either get out of the nuclear arms race or expect a rebuke similar to the one Ronald Reagan delivered to Muammar Gadhafi in 1986,” he wrote, referring to the U.S. bombing of Libya under Reagan’s administration. Trump followed up those comments with a passage about North Korea in his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve.” In the book, Trump called US policy towards North Korea “weak-minded,” and explicitly said he would bomb the country’s nuclear facilities. “Am I ready to bomb this reactor? You’re damned right,” Trump wrote. “When the Israelis bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor they were condemned by the world community. But they did what they had to do to survive. The Korean nuclear capability is a direct threat to the United States. As an experienced negotiator, I can tell you that negotiation with these madmen will be fruitless once they have the ability to lob a nuclear missile into Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York. I don’t advocate a thermonuclear war, but if negotiations fail, I advocate a surgical strike against these outlaws before they pose a real threat.” In the book, Trump also dismissed concerns about nuclear fallout from the strike. “When I advocated the possibility of a surgical strike against the North Koreans on Meet the Press, moderator Tim Russert asked me about the possibility that nuclear fallout might pollute Asia as a consequence of our taking action. Russert quoted a former secretary of defense saying that a surgical strike was not an option for this reason. After all, Israel attacked a similar facility in Iraq with no fallout. (Within days of the Meet the Press broadcast I had two phone calls from officers very high up in our military who both assured me— off the record— that such a strike could be successful. Because both men are still on active duty, neither one wants to be identified.)” Throughout the 2000s, Trump would identify North Korea as an area of concern. In January 2003, Trump said on Fox News, “North Korea may be a bigger problem than Iraq.” Three years later, Trump told CNN that the US should get out of Iraq, especially with Iran and North Korea developing nuclear weapons. In a 2015 interview with “60 Minutes” Trump was asked about his prior calls for a strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. “You would drop a bomb on their nuclear reactor?” asked Scott Pelley. “I would do something,” Trump responded. “You have to do something about North Korea. Now, what I would do is I would make China respect us because China has extreme control over North Korea.” He added, “And if they don’t do that, they have to suffer economically because we have the engine that makes China work. You know, without the United States or without China sucking out all our money and our jobs, China would collapse in about two minutes.” (Andrew Kaczynski, “Trump Once Said He Would Bomb North Korea’s Nuclear Reactors,” CNN, April 5, 2017)


4/?/17:
Woodward: “During a spring meeting in the Oval Office, discussion turned to the controversy in South Korea about the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, which had become an issue in the South Korea presidential race. …’Have they already paid for it?’ Trump asked. ‘They didn’t pay for it?’ Trump asked. ‘They didn’t pay for it,’ [National Security Adviser H.R.] McMaster said, ‘We paid for it.’ ’That can’t be right,’ Trump said. He wanted an explanation so McMaster set out to get some answers from the Pentagon. ‘It’s actually a very good deal for us,’ McMaster said when he returned in the afternoon. ‘They gave us the land in a 99-year lease for free. But we pay for the system, the installation and the operations.’ Trump went wild. ‘I want to see where it is going,’ he said. Finally some maps came in that showed the location. Some of the land included a former golf course. ‘This is a shit piece of land,’ said the former golf course and real estate developer. ‘This is a terrible deal. Who negotiated this deal? What genius? Take it out. I don’t want the land.’ The major missile defnse system might cost $10 billion over 10 years, and it wasn’t even physically in the United States, Trump said. ‘Fuck it, pull it back and put it in Portland!’ Trump was still outraged by the $18 billion trade deficit with South Korea and wanted to pull out of what he called the ‘horrible’ KORUS trade deal. Rising tensions around THAAD were bad enough. South Korea was a crucial ally and trade partner. Trump met with McMaster and [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis. Both said that given the crisis with North Korea, it was not the time to bring uo the trade deal. ‘That’s exactly when you bring it up,’ Trump said. ‘If they want protection, this is when we renegotiate the deal. We have leverage.’ …On April 30, McMaster called the South Korean national security chief. He told Chris Wallace on Fox News. ‘What I told our South Korean counterpart is until any renegotiation, that the deal’s in place, we’ll adhere to our word.’ As a first step, the South Korean trade ministry later agreed to start to renegotiate the KORUS trade deal.’” (Woodward, Fear, pp. 105-07)


4/6/17:
DPRK FoMin memorandum: “The level of political, military and economic pressure and aggressive schemes of the U.S. against the DPRK is now beyond the danger limit. It is without any hesitancy that heinous acts are committed to insult our supreme dignity. “Special operations” aimed at “getting rid of the headquarters of the north” are in an open preparation in the real stage. The U.S. is now staging military exercises against the DPRK at our doorstep, mobilizing the largest-ever aggression forces and state-of-the art nuclear striking means. They even threw off the deceptive veil as they said the military exerci