DPRK (North Korea) Chronology for 2018


DPRK (NORTH KOREA) CHRONOLOGY FOR 2018
Compiled by
Leon V. Sigal
Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project
Contact:


1/1/18:
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, moved to ease his country’s isolation by offering to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, even as he claimed to have accomplished the ability to launch a nuclear missile at the mainland United States. Mixing the nuclear threat with an overture for easing tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula, Kim proposed immediate dialogue with South Korea to discuss the North’s participation in the Olympics. If such talks were held, they would mark the first time the two Koreas have had an official dialogue since the South’s new president, Moon Jae-in, took office in May. Moon has doggedly championed dialogue with the North, even as President Trump has threatened military action to stop the North’s nuclear weapons program. “I am willing to send a delegation and take necessary measures, and I believe that the authorities of the North and South can urgently meet to discuss the matter,” Kim said in his annual New Year’s Day speech, broadcast on North Korea’s state-run television. “We sincerely hope that the South will successfully host the Olympics.” “Above all, we must ease the acute military tensions between the North and the South,” Kim said. “The North and the South should no longer do anything that would aggravate the situation, and must exert efforts to ease military tensions and create a peaceful environment.” But Kim also reiterated that his country had mastered a state nuclear deterrent force, which he said would prevent the Trump administration from starting a war on the Korean Peninsula. “It’s not a mere threat but a reality that I have a nuclear button on the desk in my office,” he said. “All of the mainland United States is within the range of our nuclear strike.” But it has yet to demonstrate that its nuclear warhead could survive the re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and hit such long-range targets. He said his government would accelerate the production of nuclear warheads and rockets to launch them. Government and private analysts in South Korea have recently said that despite its claim to have achieved its nuclear ambitions, the North is likely to conduct more weapons tests to improve its nuclear and long-range ballistic missile capabilities. At the same time, they said North Korea will also seek opportunities to engage in dialogue with South Korea and the United States, hoping to use its nuclear threats as leverage to gain concessions, like easing sanctions. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korean Leader Offers a Hand to South While Chiding the U.S.,” New York Times, January 1, 2018)

KCNA: “Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un made the New Year Address for 2018.The full text of the New Year Address reads: … The year 2017 was a year of heroic struggle and great victory, a year when we set up an indestructible milestone in the history of building a powerful socialist country with the spirit of self-reliance and self-development as the dynamic force. Last year the moves of the United States and its vassal forces to isolate and stifle our country went to extremes, and our revolution faced the harshest-ever challenges. … An outstanding success our Party, state and people won last year was the accomplishment of the great, historic cause of perfecting the national nuclear forces. On this platform one year ago I officially made public on behalf of the Party and government that we had entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. In the past one year we conducted several rounds of its test launch, aimed at implementing the program, safely and transparently, thus proving before the eyes of the world its definite success. By also conducting tests of various means of nuclear delivery and super-intense thermonuclear weapon, we attained our general orientation and strategic goal with success, and our Republic has at last come to possess a powerful and reliable war deterrent, which no force and nothing can reverse. Our country’s nuclear forces are capable of thwarting and countering any nuclear threats from the United States, and they constitute a powerful deterrent that prevents it from starting an adventurous war. In no way would the United States dare to ignite a war against me and our country. The whole of its mainland is within the range of our nuclear strike and the nuclear button is on my office desk all the time; the United States needs to be clearly aware that this is not merely a threat but a reality. We have realized the wish of the great leaders who devoted their lives to building the strongest national defense capability for reliably safeguarding our country’s sovereignty, and we have created a mighty sword for defending peace, as desired by all our people who had to tighten their belts for long years. This great victory eloquently proves the validity and vitality of the Party’s line of simultaneously conducting economic construction and building up our nuclear forces and its idea of prioritizing science, and it is a great historic achievement that has opened up bright prospects for the building of a prosperous country and inspired our service personnel and people with confidence in sure victory. I offer my noble respects to the heroic Korean people who, despite the difficult living conditions caused by life-threatening sanctions and blockade, have firmly trusted, absolutely supported and dynamically implemented our Party’s line of simultaneously promoting the two fronts. … The nuclear weapons research sector and the rocket industry should mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, the power and reliability of which have already been proved to the full, to give a spur to the efforts for deploying them for action. And we should always be ready for immediate nuclear counterattack to cope with the enemy’s maneuvers for a nuclear war. … Last year, too, our people made strenuous efforts to defend the peace of the country and hasten national reunification in keeping with the aspirations and demands of the nation. However, owing to the vicious sanctions and pressure by the United States and its vassal forces and their desperate maneuvers to ignite a war, all aimed at checking the reinforcement of the self-defensive nuclear deterrent by our Republic, the situation on the Korean peninsula became aggravated as never before, and greater difficulties and obstacles were put on the road of the country’s reunification. Even though the conservative “regime” in south Korea, which had resorted to fascist rule and confrontation with fellow countrymen, collapsed and the ruling circles were replaced by another thanks to the massive resistance by the enraged people of all walks of life, nothing has been changed in the relations between the north and the south. On the contrary, the south Korean authorities, siding with the United States in its hostile policy towards the DPRK against the aspirations of all the fellow countrymen for national reunification, drove the situation to a tight corner, further aggravated the mistrust and confrontation between the north and the south, and brought the bilateral relations to a fix that can be hardly resolved. We can never escape the holocaust of a nuclear war forced by the outside forces, let alone achieve national reunification, unless we put an end to this abnormal situation. The prevailing situation demands that now the north and the south improve the relations between themselves and take decisive measures for achieving a breakthrough for independent reunification without being obsessed by bygone days. No one can present an honorable appearance in front of the nation if he or she ignores the urgent demands of the times. This year is significant both for the north and the south as in the north the people will greet the 70th founding anniversary of their Republic as a great, auspicious event and in the south the Winter Olympic Games will take place. In order to not only celebrate these great national events in a splendid manner but also demonstrate the dignity and spirit of the nation at home and abroad, we should improve the frozen inter-Korean relations and glorify this meaningful year as an eventful one noteworthy in the history of the nation. First of all, we should work together to ease the acute military tension between the north and the south and create a peaceful environment on the Korean peninsula. As long as this unstable situation, which is neither wartime nor peacetime, persists, the north and the south cannot ensure the success of the scheduled events, nor can they sit face to face to have a sincere discussion over the issue of improving bilateral relations, nor will they advance straight ahead towards the goal of national reunification. The north and the south should desist from doing anything that might aggravate the situation, and they should make concerted efforts to defuse military tension and create a peaceful environment. The south Korean authorities should respond positively to our sincere efforts for a detente, instead of inducing the exacerbation of the situation by joining the United States in its reckless moves for a north-targeted nuclear war that threatens the destiny of the entire nation as well as peace and stability on this land. They should discontinue all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces, as these drills will engulf this land in flames and lead to bloodshed on our sacred territory. They should also refrain from any acts of bringing in nuclear armaments and aggressive forces from the United States. Even though the United States is wielding the nuclear stick and going wild for another war, it will not dare to invade us because we currently have a powerful nuclear deterrent. And when the north and the south are determined, they can surely prevent the outbreak of war and ease tension on the Korean peninsula. A climate favorable for national reconciliation and reunification should be established. The improvement of inter-Korean relations is a pressing matter of concern not only to the authorities but to all other Koreans, and it is a crucial task to be carried out through a concerted effort by the entire nation. The north and the south should promote bilateral contact, travel, cooperation and exchange on a broad scale to remove mutual misunderstanding and distrust, and fulfil their responsibility and role as the motive force of national reunification. We will open our doors to anyone from south Korea, including the ruling party and opposition parties, organizations and individual personages of all backgrounds, for dialogue, contact and travel, if they sincerely wish national concord and unity. A definite end should be put to the acts that might offend the other party and incite discord and hostility between fellow countrymen. The south Korean authorities should not try, as the previous conservative “regime” did, to block contact and travel by people of different social strata and suppress the atmosphere for reunification through alliance with the north, under absurd pretexts and by invoking legal and institutional mechanisms; instead, they should direct efforts to creating conditions and environment conducive to national concord and unity. To improve inter-Korean relations as soon as possible, the authorities of the north and the south should raise the banner of national independence higher than ever before, and fulfil their responsibility and role they have assumed for the times and the nation. Inter-Korean relations are, to all intents and purposes, an internal matter of our nation, which the north and the south should resolve on their own responsibility. Therefore, they should acquire a steadfast stand and viewpoint that they will resolve all the issues arising in bilateral relations on the principle of By Our Nation Itself. The south Korean authorities need to know that they will gain nothing from touring foreign countries to solicit their help on the issue of inter-Korean relations, and that such behavior will give the outside forces, who pursue dishonest objectives, an excuse for their interference and complicate matters further. Now it is not time for the north and the south to turn their backs on each other and merely express their respective standpoints; it is time that they sit face to face with a view to holding sincere discussions over the issue of improving inter-Korean relations by our nation itself and seek a way out for its settlement in a bold manner. As for the Winter Olympic Games to be held soon in south Korea, it will serve as a good occasion for demonstrating our nation’s prestige and we earnestly wish the Olympic Games a success. From this point of view we are willing to dispatch our delegation and adopt other necessary measures; with regard to this matter, the authorities of the north and the south may meet together soon. Since we are compatriots of the same blood as south Koreans, it is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious event and help them. We will, in the future, too, resolve all issues by the efforts of our nation itself under the unfurled banner of national independence and frustrate the schemes by anti-reunification forces within and without on the strength of national unity, thereby opening up a new history of national reunification. Availing myself of this opportunity, I extend warm New Year greetings once again to all Korean compatriots at home and abroad, and I sincerely wish that in this significant year everything would go well both in the north and in the south. Comrades, The international situation we witnessed last year was clear proof that our Party and our state were absolutely correct in their strategic judgement and decision that when we are confronting the imperialist forces of aggression who are attempting to wreck global peace and security and make mankind suffer a nuclear holocaust, our only recourse is the power of justice. As a responsible, peace-loving nuclear power, our country will neither have recourse to nuclear weapons unless hostile forces of aggression violate its sovereignty and interests nor threaten any other country or region by means of nuclear weapons. However, it will resolutely respond to acts of wrecking peace and security on the Korean peninsula. … ” (KCNA, “Kim Jong Un Makes New Year Address,” January 1, 2018)


1/2/18:
South Korea responded to an overture from the North and proposed holding high-level talks between the countries on their border next week. Kim Jong-un, had
suggested yesterday that the countries open dialogue on easing military tensions and on the possibility of the North’s participating in the Winter Olympics in the South, even as he noted that he now had a “nuclear button” on his desk. President Trump responded somewhat cautiously early today on Twitter to the idea of inter-Korean talks, saying, “Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not — we will see!” But in a Twitter message posted tonight, Trump, referring to Kim, said: “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” The Trump administration earlier had sent a series of mixed messages that strongly suggested it was still trying to figure out the meaning of Kim’s overture and the South’s response. This morning, the White House insisted that it had not changed its view of the efficacy of negotiations or its demands on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. “Our policy on North Korea hasn’t changed at all,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. “The United States is committed and will still continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea to change and make sure that it denuclearizes the peninsula. Our goals are the same and we share that with South Korea, but our policy and our process has not changed.” Speaking at the United Nations, the United States Ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, appeared to dismiss the potential for bilateral negotiations between North and South Korea. “We won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea,” she said. “We consider this to be a very reckless regime, we don’t think we need a Band-Aid; we don’t think we need to smile and take a picture. We think we need to have them stop nuclear weapons and they need to stop it now.” Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said the Trump administration was still assessing whether the United States supported direct talks between South Korea and North Korea that excluded the United States. “Right now, if the two countries decide that they want to have talks, that would certainly be their choice,” she said. Nauert added that if Kim’s goal in proposing direct talks with the South was to divide the United States and South Korea, such a strategy would not succeed. “That will not happen,” she said. Cho Myoung-gyon, the South’s point man on the North, proposed that the Korean governments hold their meeting December 9 in Panmunjom. “We hope the two sides sit down for frank talks,” Cho, the unification minister, said at a news conference. If the North responds positively, it will set in motion the first official dialogue between the Koreas in two years. But analysts cautioned that a sudden move to improve ties between the Koreas could strain relations between Seoul and Washington. Cho said the South was closely consulting with Washington on its dealings with the North. Cho urged the North to restore the hotline so that both sides could discuss the agenda for the high-level talks. The governments held their last high-level dialogue in December 2015. North Korea’s offer to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics, which are to begin in February in the South Korean town of Pyeongchang, represented a breakthrough for Moon, a dogged champion of dialogue and reconciliation with the North. Moon has repeatedly urged North Korea to join the Pyeongchang Olympics, hoping it would ease the military tensions over the North’s nuclear and missile programs. “I appreciate and welcome the North’s positive response to our proposal that the Pyeongchang Olympics should be used as a turning point in improving South-North relations and promoting peace,” Moon said early today, instructing his cabinet to move swiftly to open dialogue with North Korea. In 2000, the year the countries held their first summit meeting, their delegations marched together at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. They again marched together at the 2004 Athens Olympics, using the single name “Korea” and carrying a “Korea is one” flag. But they competed separately in 2000 and 2004. North Korea also sent squads to cheer for its athletes in international events in South Korea in 2002, 2003 and 2005. But such scenes came to an end after the conservatives took power in the South in 2008 and instituted tougher measures against the North’s nuclear weapons development. Moon has suggested that South Korea and the United States could postpone their joint military drills until after the Olympics. In an analysis of Kim’s speech, the Unification Ministry said Kim was seeking an “exit” from harsh sanctions by cultivating ties with South Korea. (Choe Sang-hun, “South Korea Proposes Talks with the North after an Overture by Kim,” New York Times, January 3, 2018, p. A-4)

Woodward: “Lingering after receiving his President’s Daily Brief on December 2, President Trump said, ‘[Kim Jong Un] is a bully.’ He told [Presidential Secretary Rob] Porter, ‘He’s a tough guy. The way to deal with these people is being tough. And I’m going to intimidate him and I’m going to outfox him.’ That evening, Trump sent a taunting mine-is-bigger-than-yours tweet that shook the White House and diplomatic community, ‘North Korean leader just stated that the Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,’ Trump wrote on Twitter at 7:49 p.m. ‘Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works.’” (Bob Woodward, Fear: Trump in the White House (New York: Simon & Shuster, 2018), p. 300)


1/3/18:
North Korea reopened a border hotline with South Korea, restoring a channel of direct dialogue and signaling a possible thaw in relations between the two Koreas after years of hair-trigger tensions. “We will connect with the South with a sincere and diligent attitude,” Ri Son-kwon, a senior North Korean official, said in a statement on state-run television, announcing the hotline’s reopening. “We once again express our sincere hope that the Pyeongchang Olympics will be successful.” Ri’s television appearance was the North’s response to Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon’s news conference. Ri is chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland that handles relations with the South. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Reopens Hotline with the South,” New York Times, January 3, 2018)

Trump administration officials said that they were not opposed to the idea of talks, provided that they be limited to the Olympics and that the South Koreans not make any concessions to the North that they, and the United States, would later regret. The White House plans to stay in close touch with South Korean officials to coordinate the messages going out and to review any offers coming in. Above all, the officials said, the Trump administration will resist efforts by the North to drive a wedge between the United States and its ally. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president’s Twitter message late yesterday, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” People, Ms. Sanders said on Wednesday, should question Kim’s mental fitness, not Trump’s. “Our policy with North Korea has not changed,” Ms. Sanders added. “We’re fully committed to continuing to apply maximum pressure and working with all of our partners in the region, including South Korea, who we have a better relationship with now than ever before.” But that relationship will be tested by the opening to the North, according to officials and outside analysts. On September 13 after North Korea tested a nuclear bomb, Trump said on Twitter, “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” Diplomats said it was important that South Korea appear to be in lock step with the United States. That would be easier to do, they said, if the talks remain focused on relatively narrow issues, like security at the Winter Olympics. “It is fine for the South Koreans to take the lead, but if they don’t have the U.S. behind them, they won’t get far with North Korea,” said Daniel R. Russel, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Obama administration. “And if the South Koreans are viewed as running off the leash, it will exacerbate tensions within the alliance.” “Calling his nuclear arsenal too small is not the best way to persuade him to constrain that arsenal,” Russel noted, referring to Kim. Referring to South Korea, Russel asked, “Who is going to bear the brunt of this taunt?” (Mark Landler, “U.S. Stands by As Two Koreas Open Dialogue,” New York Times, January 4, 2018, p. A-1)

CPRC Chairman: “Upon authorization of Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the State and the army, the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) of the DPRK made public the following stand of the DPRK on January 3 in response to the south Korean Chongwadae’s official stand toward our proposed dispatch of our delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympic Games and remarks made by President Mun Jae In at the state council meeting: Comrade Kim Jong Un, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, upon receiving a report that the south Korean Chongwadae officially supported and welcomed his stand toward the participation in the Pyeongchang Olympic Games and the issue of the improvement of the north-south relations he clarified at the 2018 New Year Address and that at the first state council meeting on Jan. 2 President Mun Jae In personally expressed active support and instructed the relevant fields to take substantial measures, gave an affirmative and high estimation of it and expressed his welcome to such response. He instructed the United Front Department of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, the National Sports Guidance Committee and relevant units of the DPRK government to promptly take substantial measures with the south Korean authorities out of sincere stand and honest attitude, as the dispatch of our side’s delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympiad and the talks between the north-south authorities for it which he proposed at the New Year Address are the first meaningful and good step for improved north-south relations under the present situation. He also instructed to open the Panmunjom liaison channel between the north and the south from 15:00 on Jan. 3 so that the issues related to the opening of talks including the dispatch of the delegation to Pyeongchang Olympic Games would be timely communicated to the south side. Whether the issue of improved north-south relations that has been put high on the agenda is settled to comply with the expectation and desire of the whole nation or not entirely depends on how the north and south authorities handle this issue in a responsible manner, he stressed. We will try to keep close communications with the south Korean side and deal with the practical matters related to the dispatch of our delegation from sincere stand and honest attitude, true to the intention of our supreme leadership. We once again sincerely hope that the Pyeongchang Olympic Games would successfully open.” (KCNA, “CPRC Chairman Clarifies Stand of DPRK upon Authorization of Kim Jong Un,” January 3, 2018)

Woodward: “Within the White House, but not publicly, Trump proposed sending a tweet saying he was ordering all military dependents — thousands of family members of 28,500 troops — out of South Korea. The act of removing the dependents would almost certainly be seen as a signal that the United States was seriously preparing for war. On December 4, [National Security Adviser H.R.] McMaster had received a warning at the White House. Ri Su Yong, the vice chairman of the Politburo, had told intermediaries ‘that the North would take the evacuation of U.S. civilians as a sign of imminent attack.’ … The tweet did not go out. But Trump would drop the matter, and raised the issue of withdrawing U.S. military dependents with Senator [Lindsey] Graham [R-SC]. On December 3, before Trump[’s] and Kim’s war of words, and after a North Korean ICBM test, Trump Graham had advocated removing military families from South Korea. ‘It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea,’ he said on CBS’s Face the Nation. He suggested making South Korea an unaccompanied tour for service members and said, ‘I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea.’ Now a month later, when Trump called, Graham seemed to have had a change of heart. ‘You need to think long and hard before you make that decision,’ Graham said. ‘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.’ ‘You think I should wait?’ Trump asked. ‘Mr. President,’ Graham said, ‘I don’t think you should ever start the process unless you’re ready to go to war.’” (Woodward, Fear, pp. 301-02)

Carlin and Wit: “The potential reopening of North-South dialogue is an important development prompting many pundits to speculate as to whether Kim Jong Un is serious or whether it is merely a tactic. Certainly, the North Koreans recognize the potential for driving a “wedge” between Washington and Seoul by launching such an initiative. But this isn’t just a tactic—a close examination of Pyongyang’s January 3 announcement on opening the inter-Korean communication channel makes it clear that this is the “gold standard” when it comes to North Korean initiatives. … [T]here are nine reasons why this is clearly a serious North Korean proposal. First, the statement is not merely from a “spokesman” of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC)—a front organization dealing inter-Korean issues—but delivered by the CPRC chairman in person. The level of the messenger imparts added weight to the message. Second, the announcement is identified as the “stand of the DPRK” being delivered very specifically “upon authorization” of Kim Jong Un. There is to be no misunderstanding of the pedigree of what follows. The North Korean leader has officially and publicly authorized the statement. Third, the announcement identifies South Korean President Moon Jae-in by name and proper title. That is not only a sign of respect but is meant as a signal that Pyongyang is willing to deal with him. Fourth, the statement very specifically acknowledges in positive terms Moon’s instructions at a state council meeting for “relevant [South Korean] sectors to establish working level measures.” The North could have put the South’s response in less personal terms, but by attributing it directly to Moon it further cements the image of Pyongyang’s willingness to deal with him. Fifth, the announcement portrays Kim Jong Un as personally responding to Moon by giving an “affirmative and high estimation” and expressing “welcome” to the stand of “President Moon Jae In.” Sixth, it reports Kim’s personal instructions to the most important North Korean entity dealing with inter-Korean affairs, the United Front Department, as well as to “relevant DPRK government units” to “promptly” take “substantial measures with the South Korean authorities out of sincere stand and honest attitude.” Seventh, it portrays Kim’s proposal to dispatch a delegation to the Olympics and the talks between N-S authorities for realizing this dispatch as the “first meaningful and good step for improved relations under the present situation.” That suggests there could be more to come. Eighth, implicitly, the announcement sets up a positive, nearly personal relationship between the highest authorities of the two Koreas.” (Robert Carlin and Joel S. Wit, “Nine Reasons Why Kim Jong Un’s South Korea Initiative Is More Than Just a Tactic,” 38North, January 3, 2018)


1/4/18:
South Korea and the U.S. agreed to push back joint military drills that coincide with the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games, the two nations’ presidential offices said. The agreement came in the late-night telephone conversation between President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump, which lasted about 30 minutes from 10 p.m. Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games, and Paralympic Winter Games run from February 9 to March 18. If held on schedule, South Korea-US joint military drills of Foal Eagle and Key Resolve would have been held during the games. During the conversation, Moon also stressed the importance of inter-Korean talks, Cheong Wa Dae said. “[Seoul] will work closely with the U.S. in the process of inter-Korean talks, and we (South Korea) firmly believe that inter-Korean talks are helpful to establishing an atmosphere of dialogue between the US and North Korea,” Moon was quoted as saying by Cheong Wa Dae. Cheong Wa Dae also said that Trump expressed full support for Moon’s policies, and confirmed the plans to send a high-level delegation to the Pyeongchang games. While Seoul focused on Trump’s promise of sending a high-level delegation and postponing of the drills, the statement from the White House also highlights the need to pressure North Korea. “The two leaders agreed to continue the campaign of maximum pressure and not repeat mistakes of the past,” a statement from the White House reads. Trump has been critical of past US leaders’ North Korean policies, citing the advancements in the North’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. (Choi He-suk, “Seoul, U.S. Agree to Push back Military Drills for Pyeongchang Olympics,” Korea Herald, January 4, 2018) During a January 4 phone call in which South Korean leader Moon Jae-in briefed President Trump on plans for talks with North Korea, Moon got Trump to agree to postpone joint military drills until after the Olympics, to avoid antagonizing North Korea, and Trump asked Moon to publicly give him the credit for creating the environment for the talks, according to people familiar with the conversation. (In these conversations, Trump calls his counterpart “Jae-in” — an unimaginable informality in Korean business etiquette. Moon calls Trump “Mr. President.”) Later that night, Trump tweeted that the talks wouldn’t be happening “if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North.” At a news conference six days later, Moon agreed Trump deserved “huge credit” for the talks. (Anna Fifield, “Trump Asked Moon to Credit Him for Swaying N. Korea into Talks,” Washington Post, January 21, 2018, p. A-22)

The security situation facing Japan is the most perilous since World War Two because of North Korea’s “unacceptable” provocations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said and he vowed to bolster defenses to protect the Japanese people. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the security environment surrounding Japan is at its severest since World War Two. I will protect the people’s lives and peaceful living in any situation,” Abe told a New Year news conference. Abe said Japan would take new steps to strengthen its defense posture but he did not go to specifics. “It is absolutely unacceptable that North Korea is trampling the strong desire of Japan and the rest of the international community for peaceful resolutions and continuing with its provocative behavior,” Abe said. Abe has said he wants to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution with the aim of loosening constraints on the military, although the public is divided over changes to the charter imposed after Japan’s World War Two defeat. “I would like this to be a year in which public debate over a constitutional revision will be deepened further,” he said. (Kiyoshi Takenaka, “Japan Faces Greatest Danger since World War Due to North Korea: PM,” Reuters, January 4, 2018)


1/5/18:
South and North Korea agreed to hold high-level talks next week to discuss Pyongyang’s potential participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and ways to improve ties. North Korea notified South Korea that it has accepted Seoul’s recent offer to hold talks January 9 at the truce village of Panmunjom, according to the Ministry of Unification. (Kim Soo-yeon, “Koreas Agree to Hold High-Level Talks Next Week,” Yonhap, January 5, 2018)

Tillerson: “Q: Let’s start with North Korea. There was big news last night about the North and South arranging talks for next week, North Korea now coming to the table. Is that an opening maybe for talks with the U.S. or nuclear talks? TILLERSON: Well, I think it’s too early to tell. We need to wait and see what the outcome of their talks are. The President had a — President Trump had a good call with President Moon yesterday morning, which I participated in, and their intent is to talk about the Olympics — obviously, a very important upcoming event for South Korea — and the potential participation of North Korea in those Olympics. So our understanding is that’s the content of the meeting. So I think it’s a little early to draw any conclusions. Q: But it could be a positive sign maybe that North Korea wants to engage a little bit. TILLERSON: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see. Perhaps. I know some are speculating that this may be their first effort to open a channel. But as you know, we’ve had channels open to North Korea for some time, and so they do know how to reach us when — if and when they’re ready to engage with us as well. Q: Well, maybe you’ll be next. TILLERSON: We’ll see. Q: If you could explain a little bit about what the U.S. policy is on North Korea, because I think Americans are a little bit confused. Do the North Koreans have to give up their nuclear program before committing to talks? TILLERSON: Our policy is the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization … of the Korean Peninsula. That is a policy that is commonly held by everyone in the region as well. … The Chinese have that as a stated policy. Russia has it as a stated policy. So regionally, all of the countries in the neighboring area, as well as the international community, are well aligned on the policy. How we achieve the ultimate endpoint, the final fully — full denuclearization, the verification of that, and the irreversibility of it, clearly that’s going to take some time. So how we begin the talks is yet to be determined, but we clearly need a signal from North Korea that they understand these talks must lead to that conclusion. The pathway of how you get there, that is the nature of the negotiation. There’ll be some give and take to achieve those objectives. So that’s — that objective has never changed. Q: Because as you said, it’s unrealistic for them to kind of sit down and say, “We’re ready to do it,” but it sounds like they’d have to show some willingness, but then the mechanics of that are able to be worked out. TILLERSON: We have to have the shared view that that is the reason we’re talking, that’s the purpose of these talks, and it is through those talks that North Korea actually can chart the way for themselves of a more secure future, a more prosperous future for their people as well. So there are very positive outcomes to these talks for North Korea, as there will be positive outcomes for the security of the entire region. That is the nature of the negotiations. Q: Do you think — a lot has been made about the President’s tweet on the nuclear button, but now North Korea is talking with South Korea. Do you think that tough rhetoric has worked here? TILLERSON: I think the rhetoric that North Korea understands is while it is our objective — and the President has been very clear — to achieve a denuclearization through diplomatic efforts, those diplomatic efforts are backed by a strong military option if necessary. That is not the first choice, and the President has been clear that’s not his first choice. But it is important that North Korea, as well as other regional players, understand how high the stakes are in an effort to ensure our diplomatic efforts are fully supported. And I think to date, the diplomatic efforts have been supported very well in the international community. If you look at the three UN Security Council resolutions on sanctions, the participation in those sanctions and a number of countries going well beyond the Security Council resolutions and imposing unilateral actions on their own, both economic as well as diplomatic, I think it is a recognition that the President has demonstrated to the world how high the stakes are. That’s why we must achieve a diplomatic outcome. But the North Koreans have to understand that, and they have to understand that the penalties to them will continue and will only grow more severe in terms of sanctions actions and other actions until they do get on a pathway to achieve that objective that the entire world hopes to achieve. Q: So it sounds like this kind of good cap, bad cop, if you will — hold out the prospect of talks but if talks don’t work, military action — that might be the formula that you and the President will continue. TILLERSON: I’m going to let you characterize it that way. I’m not going to necessarily show all of our cards. … Q: If — we’re surprised that we’re having this conversation, because if you read the papers, you should be gone by now. What is with these rumors about you leaving? How long are you planning to stay, or are you planning to stick around for a while? TILLERSON: I had a — we had a very productive 2017. And the 11 months I was here was an extraordinarily challenging period, because when the President came into office we had so many policies that the President ran on in his campaign and made clear to the American people he intends to pivot those policies in a different direction. It takes a lot of effort to do that in that first year so that your partners, your allies, and your adversaries understand you’ve moved. We had a very successful, in my view, year of 2017 pivoting our policies and helping our partners understand those policies. We’re now into the implementation and execution against those policies. I think we’re going to have a very productive 2018. Again, the State Department gets stronger every day understanding what we’re trying to do, and I look forward to having a very, very successful 2018. Q: For the whole year? TILLERSON: I intend to be here for the whole year. … Q: Has the President given you any indication that you won’t be around for a while? TILLERSON: None. Q: None so — whatsoever? TILLERSON: None whatsoever.” (DoS, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Remarks: Interview with Elise Labott of CNN, January 5, 2017)


1/6/18:
“I would love to see them take it beyond the Olympics,” Trump said at a news conference at the Camp David presidential retreat. “And at the appropriate time, we’ll get involved.” “[Kim] knows I’m not messing around … not even a little, not even one percent. He understands that,” Trump told reporters. “(But) if something can happen and something can come out of those talks, that would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world.” (AFP, “Trump Hopes Korea Talks ‘Go Beyond the Olympics,’” January 6, 2017) President Donald Trump said Saturday he is open to talking with the North Korean leader and hopes some progress results from upcoming talks between the Koreas. “Sure, I always believe in talking,” Trump said. “Absolutely I would do that; I wouldn’t have a problem with that at all.” But he was quick to add that any talks would come with conditions, which he did not specify. The president also said that he had spoken with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, who “thanks me very much for my tough stance.” “You have to have a certain attitude and you have to be prepared to do certain things and I’m totally prepared to do that,” Trump said, contending his tough words have helped persuade the North to sit down with the South. (Associated Press, “Trump Says He’d Be Open to Talking to North Korean Leader,” January 6, 2018)

Trump: “Q Mr. President, the meetings now between South Korea and North Korea — the discussions — THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Hope it works out. Q I was going ask, are you comfortable that this will remain just about the Olympics? Are you — THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think so. I spoke with the President, as you know — with President Moon of South Korea. He thanked me very much for my tough stance. And you know, for 25 years, they haven’t been using a tough stance. They’ve been giving everything. When you look at what Bill Clinton did — and you’ve seen the famous clip where Bill Clinton wants to give them everything, and where I said, years ago, with Russert on Meet the Press — many years ago, I talked to — I don’t think anything has changed. You have to have a certain attitude and you have to be prepared to do certain things. And I’m totally prepared to do that. But President Moon called me, and we had a great discussion a couple of days ago, and he thanked me very much. And I hope it works out. I very much want to see it work out between the two countries. I’d like to see them getting involved in the Olympics and maybe things go from there. So I’m behind that 100 percent. He actually thanked me. He said — and a lot of people have said, a lot of people have written — that without my rhetoric and without my tough stance — and it’s not just a stance — I mean, this is — this is what has to be done, if it has to be done — that they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics, that they wouldn’t be talking right now. Q Are you comfortable that they’re not also taking the conversation beyond the Olympics while he continues to — THE PRESIDENT: Well, I hope they do. I hope they do. I would love to see them take it beyond the Olympics. We have a very good relationship with South Korea. I would love to see it go far beyond the Olympics, absolutely. And at the appropriate time, we’ll get involved. But I like the idea of their dealing on the Olympics. That should be between those two countries. … Q Just to follow up on the conversations between North Korea and South Korea, are you willing to engage in phone talks with Kim Jong-un right now? THE PRESIDENT: Sure. I always believe in talking. Q Do you think that that would be helpful? THE PRESIDENT: But we have a very firm stance. Look, our stance — you know what it is. We’re very firm. But I would be — absolutely I would do that. No problem with that at all. Q So no prerequisites for coming to the table and talking with him? SPEAKER RYAN: That’s not what he said. THE PRESIDENT: We — that’s not what I said, at all. Look, right now, they’re talking Olympics. It’s a start. It’s a big start. If I weren’t involved, they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics right now. They’d be doing no talking or it would be much more serious. He knows I’m not messing around. I’m not messing around — not even a little bit, not even 1 percent. He understands that. At the same time, if we can come up with a very peaceful and very good solution — we’re working on it with Rex and we’re working on it with a lot of people — if something can happen and something can come out of those talks, that would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world. Very important, okay?” (White House, Office of the Spokesman, Remarks by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan after Congressional Republican Leadership Retreat, Camp David, January 6, 2018)

At the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, American intelligence agencies told the new administration that while North Korea had built the bomb, there was still ample time — upward of four years — to slow or stop its development of a missile capable of hitting an American city with a nuclear warhead. Kim Jong-un, faced a range of troubles, they assured the new administration, giving Trump time to explore negotiations or pursue countermeasures. One official who participated in the early policy reviews said estimates suggested Kim would be unable to strike the continental United States until 2020, perhaps even 2022. At a speed that caught American intelligence officials off guard, Kim rolled out new missile technology — based on a decades-old Soviet engine design, apparently developed in a parallel program — and in quick succession demonstrated ranges that could reach Guam, then the West Coast, then Washington. And on the first Sunday in September, he detonated a sixth nuclear bomb. After early hesitation among analysts, a consensus has now emerged that it was the North’s first successful test of a hydrogen weapon, with explosive force some 15 times greater than the atom bomb that leveled Hiroshima. The C.I.A. and other American intelligence services had predicted this moment would come, eventually. For decades, they accurately projected the broad trajectory of North Korea’s nuclear program. Yet their inability to foresee the North’s rapid strides over the past several months now ranks among America’s most significant intelligence failures, current and former officials said in recent interviews. That disconnect — they saw it coming, but got the timing wrong — helps explain the confusion, mixed signals and alarm that have defined how Trump’s untested national security team has responded to the nuclear crisis. In an interview, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, national security adviser, acknowledged that Kim’s race to the finish line — a bid to establish the North as a nuclear power before any negotiations begin or sanctions take a more punishing toll — “has been quicker and the timeline is a lot more compressed than most people believed.” As a result, he argued, “we have to do everything we are doing with a greater degree of urgency, and we have to accelerate our own efforts to resolve the issue short of conflict.” Senior intelligence officials said they began investing more heavily in acquiring information on North Korea’s weapons program in 2012, reaping benefits over the past two years. But they acknowledged they made two key assumptions that proved wrong. They assumed that North Korea would need about as much time to solve the rocket science as other nations did during the Cold War, underestimating its access to both advanced computer modeling and foreign expertise. They also misjudged Kim, who took control of the dynastic regime in late 2011 and made the weapons program more of a priority than his father or grandfather did. Obama warned Trump during the transition a year ago that North Korea would pose the most urgent national security threat. Some former officials in the Obama administration concede that the intelligence community’s flawed assessment of the North’s progress meant there was less pressure to bolster missile defenses, more vigorously enforce sanctions or consider stepped-up covert action. It is not clear that even with more advanced warning the Obama or Trump administrations would have been able to slow Kim’s progress. And the shakiness of intelligence on North Korea — even on fundamental questions like how many nuclear weapons Kim possesses — casts a shadow over Trump’s options going forward. He has repeatedly raised the prospect of war with North Korea. He has also ordered up a range of new military plans, from a limited “punch in the nose” to signal American resolve to a large-scale attack aimed at destroying the country’s nuclear and missile facilities — all of which, his aides worry, could trigger a devastating wider conflict. Yet many in the Pentagon see the failure to anticipate the North’s recent breakthroughs as an ominous reminder of how much could go wrong. A successful pre-emptive strike, for example, might require precise knowledge of the locations of manufacturing facilities, nuclear plants and storage areas, and confidence that cyber strikes and electronic strikes would cripple Kim’s ability to retaliate. The past year, one senior administration official said, had been a “humbling lesson” in the limits of electronic, satellite and human intelligence operations against a sealed-off society with few computer networks, a high degree of paranoia about American covert action, and a determined young leader. Trump, however, was not disturbed by the absence of warning, McMaster said. “He doesn’t have the expectation of perfect intelligence about anything. He is very comfortable with ambiguity. He understands human nature and understands he will never have perfect intelligence about capabilities and intentions.” The North’s rapid progress raises a number of awkward questions: Did the American sabotage effort, for example, prompt Kim to scrap an ailing missile program for a new generation of more capable rocket engines? Or was that his plan all along? And does the new program have similar vulnerabilities the United States can exploit? During a talk last fall, Gen. John E. Hyten, who heads the United States Strategic Command, which controls the American nuclear arsenal, acknowledged he had no idea when North Korea would pass its final technological hurdle: proving its warheads can survive fiery re-entry into the atmosphere to hit targets in the United States. “Will they get there in 2017, 2018, 2019?” he asked rhetorically. “I see a lot of the detailed intel. I can honestly tell you, I don’t know the answer.” Ever since the United States began tracking North Korea’s efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon, a pattern has repeated itself: American intelligence agencies excelled at forecasting the direction and overall timeline of the program, yet repeatedly missed critical turns. Recently declassified documents show the C.I.A. recognized the North’s ambitions in the early 1980s, when spy satellites first spotted evidence that it was building a reactor to produce plutonium, a main fuel for nuclear arms. A division of the agency immersed itself in studying the North’s factories and reactors, trying to gauge how fast the backward state could build advanced rocket engines, specialty fuels and nuclear warheads. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, waves of its impoverished missile scientists began to head for North Korea. While Russian security forces intercepted some, others made it out or assisted the North from afar. In retrospect, former American intelligence officials say they almost certainly missed significant transfers of technology. “These are designs you can put on a thumb drive,” said a senior official who has tracked North Korea for years and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitivity. The missiles launched in recent months bear numerous signs of Soviet provenance. But analysts and intelligence officials say the specific dates, places and means of transfer remain murky. Ostensibly, North Korea suspended its nuclear weapons program in 1994. That deal appeared to hold for six years but, in fact, the North began cheating on the agreement within a few years. The intelligence community eventually spotted shipments from Russia and Pakistan containing parts for centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Confronted with the evidence, North Korea acknowledged the program, prompting the Bush administration to suspend the agreement. But the North pressed ahead, and today analysts believe it uses uranium for many of its new warheads. From as early as 2000, the National Intelligence Council was remarkably prescient about North Korea’s overall direction, predicting in an unclassified report that it would “most likely” have a nuclear missile that could hit American cities by 2015. Late in 2016, North Korea ditched a failing missile technology for a new type that in 2017 racked up major successes, potentially putting its nuclear warheads in range of American cities. Four years later, when the United States was mired in the first year of the Iraq war, the council refined its prediction, saying a “crisis over North Korea is likely to come to a head sometime over the next 15 years,” that is, no later than 2019. None of this was ignored. President George W. Bush began a program to interdict ships delivering material for the North’s weapons program, and he accelerated secret efforts to cripple the program by sabotaging its supply chain with bad parts. But the C.I.A.’s main focus was on counterterrorism, and satellite coverage over North Korea was often diverted to keep troops safe in the Middle East. The United States was surprised in 2006, when it received a heads-up about the North’s first underground nuclear test — from China, only about an hour before the explosion. It was surprised again the next year when the head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, arrived at the White House with photographs showing a nuclear reactor under construction in Syria that matched the North’s Yongbyon reactor. One picture, eventually released by the C.I.A., showed the chief of North Korea’s nuclear-fuel production at the Syrian site. Though the plant was less than 100 miles from the Iraqi border, the United States had missed it. In 2010, North Korea invited Siegfried S. Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, to visit and showed him a complete uranium-enrichment plant it had built inside an old building at Yongbyon. The Koreans had installed the facility, at a site under regular satellite surveillance, without being detected. Intelligence officials said there were good reasons for this spotty record. Foreign governments almost never succeed in recruiting North Korean scientists as sources because they are rarely allowed to go abroad. The North also appears to have figured out the patterns of some American spy satellites. And while documents released by Edward J. Snowden showed the National Security Agency had penetrated North Korea, it is unclear whether its cyber snooping gleaned anything useful in a nation with minimal computer networking. But in 2008, two years after its first nuclear test, Condoleezza Rice, then secretary of state, warned allies that the North was on the verge of another leap: A Soviet rocket engine representing “a substantial advance” had aided its development of longer-range missiles, according to a secret memo disclosed in 2010 by WikiLeaks. Inside the Pentagon, the alarms grew louder. In early 2011, while visiting Beijing, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters North Korea was within five years of being able to fire a long-range missile. Pyongyang, he added, “is becoming a direct threat to the United States.” Then, rather suddenly, the urgency seemed to recede. When Kim came to power, many in the intelligence community doubted he would survive: And over the next four years, during Obama’s second term, North Korea’s missile program experienced repeated public failures, prompting more than a few jokes on late-night television in the United States. The worst humiliation came in April 2012, two days after Kim’s formal elevation to the highest level of state power, on the 100th anniversary of his grandfather’s birthday. He marked the occasion with a satellite launch intended to demonstrate technology used in an intercontinental ballistic missile, and even invited foreign journalists. But the rocket shattered soon after launch and fell into the Yellow Sea. By late 2013, the intelligence community had largely changed its view of Kim. He was eliminating his rivals, sometimes ordering public executions with antiaircraft guns that shredded their bodies. And he seemed far more serious about the nuclear and missile program. His father and grandfather tested weapons to make a political point. Kim, however, turned the program into North Korea’s version of the Manhattan Project, the race to develop the atomic bomb in the United States. He made the development of a nuclear arsenal one of the state’s top priorities, on equal footing with economic development. Only with a nuclear deterrent, he argued, would the nation be secure enough to focus on growth. It now appears that Kim had several missile programs underway simultaneously, and sped efforts to make parts and missile fuel indigenously, so that the United States and its allies could not cut off his supplies. President Obama, increasingly concerned, ordered multiple reviews, including the one in early 2014 in which he authorized an intensification of covert cyber strikes and electronic strikes on the North’s missile program. The pace of missile tests accelerated, reaching a peak of more than two dozen in 2016. But at least 10 launches failed that year, including seven of an intermediate-range missile known as the Musudan. Former senior officials in the Obama administration say it remains unclear whether the sabotage effort contributed to the failed tests; there are many alternative explanations. But this much is clear: In October 2016, Kim ordered a halt to the Musudan tests, and the missile program rapidly shifted in a different direction, focusing on a new generation of more reliable and potent engines. In May, North Korea successfully tested the new design in an intermediate-range missile capable of hitting the American territory of Guam. Then, on July 4, it stunned the world with its first successful test of an ICBM — and repeated the success a few weeks later. In November, it tested a greatly improved ICBM, known as the Hwasong-15, that could fly about 8,100 miles, far enough to threaten all of the United States. The latest missiles appeared to have been based on old Soviet designs. In interviews, intelligence officials said “freelancers” from the former Soviet Union — “a handful” by the estimate of one official — are almost certainly working with North Korea. The Russian government, they added, does not appear to be providing support. Between the missile tests, in September, North Korea also detonated its most powerful underground nuclear blast yet. The North claimed it was a hydrogen bomb, and after initial skepticism, many experts now say it probably was. Richard L. Garwin, a main designer of the world’s first hydrogen bomb, called the North’s hydrogen claim quite plausible given the “enormous advances” in computer modeling and “the dedication of the small group of nuclear technologists in North Korea.” Several officials who served under Obama said that was a real surprise; they had been told that moment was still years away. Entering 2018, there are several disputes inside the intelligence world about the North’s capabilities. Most intelligence agencies say the North has an arsenal of about 20 or 30 nuclear weapons, for example, but the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency puts the number above 50. It is more than an academic argument. If Trump attempted to destroy the arsenal, or if the North Korean government collapsed, the challenge would be to neutralize the weapons without any launch taking place or any warhead falling into the wrong hands. The more there are, the more difficult that task becomes. The intelligence agencies are also intently focused on not missing the next big milestone: the moment North Korea learns how to design and build a warhead that can survive the heat and stresses of re-entry into the atmosphere, continue to plunge downward and succeed in destroying its target. When the United States built its nuclear arsenal in the 1950s and ’60s, that “was the hardest part for us,” said General Hyten of the United States Strategic Command. But the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, told an audience in October that predicting when North Korea crosses this final threshold is less relevant now because “you’re now talking about months.” And Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has urged diplomacy over military action, said the November ICBM test flight indicated the North already has the ability to hit “everywhere in the world, basically.” Having underestimated the North, though, Washington now faces some risk of overstating its capabilities and intentions, some experts hold. Hecker, the former director at Los Alamos, recently argued that North Korea needs “at least two more years and several more missile and nuclear tests” to perfect a weapon that can threaten American cities. There is still time “to start a dialogue,” he said, “in an effort to reduce current tensions and head off misunderstandings that could lead to war.” (David E. Sanger, “U.S. Miscalculated the Nuclear Progress of North Korea by Years,” New York Times, January 7, 2018, p. A-1)


1/?/18:
Woodward: “Early in 2018, the CIA concluded that North Korea did not have the capability to accurately deliver a missile into the United States mainland with a nuclear weapon on top. According to the intelligence and the information on the testing of North Korean rockets, they did not have the reentry of missiles perfected. But they were marching toward that goal.” (Woodward, Fear, p. 308)


1/9/18:
North Korea accepted Seoul’s proposal to hold military talks to reduce tensions and agreed to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in the South, according to a joint press statement issued after their high-level talks. During the meeting, South Korea’s chief delegate Cho Myoung-gyon raised the need to resume talks on North Korea’s denuclearization. Ri Son-gwon, the North’s chief delegate, is said to have made “strong” complaints about South Korean media reports that today’s talks would deal with the North’s nukes. North Korea offered to send high-ranking officials, cheerleaders, performing artists, taekwondo demonstration teams and journalists in addition to athletes. The South promised to provide them with necessary conveniences. The two sides came short of agreeing to march together under a unified Korean flag at the opening and closing ceremonies, but Seoul said that the two Koreas “got closer” on the issue of joint parades and cultural events. They will hold working-level talks to further discuss details of the North’s participation, such as its delegation’s travel route, accommodation and security issues, should be discussed at follow-up meetings. If the land route across the heavily guarded border is chosen, there will have to be consultation between the military authorities of the two Koreas. North Korea re-opened a military hotline with the South, a move aimed at facilitating discussions on this issue. Pyongyang did not elaborate on who would lead the “high-level” delegation, but experts here think the team may include political heavyweights such as Choe Ryong-hae, the de facto No. 2 official in the North. Choe is blacklisted by South Korea’s unilateral sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. Seoul’s punitive actions do not cover travel bans, but it could prove controversial if North Korean officials on the blacklist come to the South. Apparently mindful of such criticism, Seoul’s foreign ministry said that the government may consider temporarily easing sanctions against the North, if needed, to enable North Korean officials to visit the South next month. But South Korea’s proposal to arrange reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War in February was not included in the press statement. The failure to agree on holding reunions for divided families indicates how far apart the two sides stand on the issue. Seoul is placing priority in resolving the problem of separated families, as more aging Koreans have passed away without being able to meet with their kin on the opposite side of the tense border. About 55 percent of an estimated 131,260 South Koreans on the waiting list for reunion have already died. Data showed that 62 percent of South Koreans hoping for reunions are aged over 80. The last reunion event was held in October 2015. Pyongyang has suggested conditions that could politicize the issue. In exchange for the reunions, it is demanding Seoul return 12 female North Korean workers who worked at a restaurant in China and defected to South Korea en masse in 2016. The South rejects the North’s claim, saying that they defected of their own free will. North Korea accepted Seoul’s January 5 dialogue offer after the South and the United States agreed to postpone their military drills until after the Olympics. It also reopened a long-disconnected border hotline. “This meeting takes on significance in terms of restoring and developing inter-Korean ties. The two sides shared the need to upgrade our ties based on mutual respect,” Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, the South’s chief delegate, told pool reporters at the truce village. “South-North ties took their first step. As they have been strained for a long time, there are a lot tasks to do,” he added. (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap, “N.K. Agrees to Hold Military Talks, Send Olympic Delegation to South,” January 9, 2018) “The North said that they will send a high-level delegation, including Olympic committee representatives, athletes, a cheering squad, an art performance group, spectators, Taekwondo demonstrators and press,” Chun Hae-sung, vice minister of unification, told reporters at the Panmunjom truce village on the border between the two Koreas. The talks took place in the “Peace House,” a building on the southern side, which resulted in the unusual sight of a northern delegation stepping over the concrete curb that marks the border. “I hope that the two Koreas can hold talks with a sincere and genuine attitude,” Ri Son Kwon, the North’s chief representative, said at the start of the talks, according to South Korean pool reports from inside the room. “Just as water continues to flow below thick frozen ice, people’s strong desires for these talks and improved inter-Korean relations cannot be stopped or frozen,” he said. (Yoonjung Seo and Anna Fifield, “North Korea Agree to Send Athletes to Winter Olympics, South Says,” Washington Post, January 9, 2018)

Joint Press Statement: “High-level inter-Korean talks were held at Panmunjom on Tuesday. At the talks, the two sides earnestly discussed the matter of the North Korean delegation’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games, and issues surrounding improving inter-Korean relations in accordance with the hopes and expectations of the Korean people, and agreed to the following: 1. South and North agreed to actively collaborate for the success of the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games, which will serve as an opportunity to raise the Korean people’s status. In relation to this, the North decided to send a high-level delegation, Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, cheering squad, cultural performance troupe, taekwondo demonstration group, observation delegation and press corps to the Pyeongchang Games. The two sides agreed to hold working-level talks regarding matters concerning the North sending an advance party to assess the sites, and the North’s participation in Winter Games, and to negotiate the schedule by exchanging written statements. 2. The South and North agreed to collaborate in facilitating reconciliation and unity by easing military tensions, and to establish a peaceful environment. The South and North agreed on the need to ease military tensions and hold military talks to resolve the issue. The South and North agreed to facilitate contact, exchange and cooperation in diverse fields to establish reconciliation and unity of the people. 3. The South and the North respect the inter-Korean declarations and have decided to resolve the issues raised in inter-Korean relations through dialogue and negotiations, as parties directly involved in the matters surrounding the Korean Peninsula. For these reasons, both parties decided to hold meetings in respective areas with a high-level South-North meeting to improve inter-Korean ties.” (Choi He-suk, “Joint Press Statement of High-Level Inter-Korean Talks,” Korea Herald, January 9, 2018)

South Korea announced it will not seek to renegotiate the 2015 landmark deal with Japan on the “comfort women” issue but at the same time indirectly urged Japan to extend a fresh “voluntary, heart-felt apology” for the victims forced to work at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. The announcement immediately drew strong protests from Tokyo. Under the 2015 deal, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already expressed “his most sincere apologies and remorse” to all the former comfort women and Japan provided ¥1 billion to South Korean fund for victims, although Tokyo has denied any legal responsibility for compensation. Today Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul plans to create its own fund worth ¥1 billion for former comfort women. Seoul will also discuss what to do with the ¥1 billion provided by the Japanese government, Kang said. “It cannot be denied that the 2015 deal was an official agreement reached between the governments of each country, and our government will not demand renegotiation,” Kang said, according to the Yonhap news agency. “We still expect Japan to accept the truth in accordance with universally accepted standards and keep making efforts to recover their dignity and heal the wounds in their minds,” she said. What victims want is a fresh “voluntary and heart-felt apology,” Kang was also quoted as saying. Later, Foreign Minister Kono Taro told reporters: “It’s totally unacceptable that South Korea demands Japan carry out more measures, even though the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement confirmed a final and irreversible resolution.” Kono also said that South Korea must stick with the 2015 agreement to further promote the bilateral ties among the two nations, as Tokyo and Seoul are key partners in coping with the North Korean threat. Kono added that Japan will ask the South Korean government to clarify why it is setting aside its own fund and to give details of today’s talks between Seoul and Pyongyang was inaugurated last May. Prior to Seoul’s announcement on the comfort women accord, Chief Cabinet Secretary SugaYoshihide reasserted Tokyo’s stance that it has “no intention of changing the deal even by a millimeter,” forestalling any possible calls from the South Korean government for renegotiation or any additional requests. Noting the deal was hammered out after negotiation between foreign ministers and then confirmed by top leaders of the two nations as “final and irreversible,” Suga said Tokyo remains adamant that the deal should be “implemented steadily” and urged Seoul to act accordingly “as soon as possible.” After taking office, President Moon Jae-in ordered a task force re-examine the process that led to the agreement, saying the majority of the South Korean public did not approve of it. In December, the task force under Kang said in a report that the previous government of Park Geun-hye failed to sufficiently consult former comfort women before agreeing to the deal. Moon also criticized the deal as seriously flawed. Kimura Kan, a political science professor and Korean affairs expert at Kobe University, said Seoul’s latest decision appears to have been worked out “desperately” as the South Korean government tried unsuccessfully to impose any clear-cut requests on Japan. “In a nutshell, they couldn’t really do anything,” Kan said, adding that Seoul, despite initial reports, ended up not announcing the unilateral return of the ¥ 1 billion yen provided by Tokyo under the 2015 deal. Kang’s comment that Japan should “voluntarily” accept the facts of what happened in accordance with “universally accepted standards” essentially means Seoul failed to demand an outright apology from Tokyo, the professor said. Seoul’s softer-than-expected rhetoric, Kan said, underlines its desire to minimize the danger of its ties with the United States being compromised as it deals with its fragile diplomacy with Washington and Pyongyang. Amid soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula, “Seoul’s biggest priority is to maintain a good relationship with the U.S.,” Kan said. “Seoul knows Abe and Trump are on good terms, and that Abe may even have the biggest influence over Trump among world leaders. So it makes sense they didn’t want to antagonize Abe,” Kan said, adding that taking the high road will also help Seoul maintain its international reputation. Despite its decision not to seek a renegotiation, Seoul’s latest announcement will still be taken as running counter to the “final and irreversible” nature of the 2015 pact, further intensifying a sense of “Korea fatigue” in the Japanese government and potentially doing harm to bilateral relations in the long run, the professor said. “‘Give me a break’ is probably the sentiment of the Japanese government,” Kan said, adding that today’s development could have a negative impact on Abe’s decision over whether to attend the Winter Olympics in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang. (Kikuchi Daisuke and Osaki Tomohiro, “South Korea Will Not Seek Renegotiation of ‘Comfort Women’ Deal with Japan,” Japan Times, January 9, 2018)


1/10/18:
President Donald Trump told his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in he is open to talking with North Korea, the South’s presidential office said after the two leaders spoke by telephone. “Both heads of state forecast the current inter-Korean talks could naturally lead to talks between the United States and North Korea for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and agreed to negotiate closely on the progression of inter-Korean talks,” the statement said. “President Trump said the United States is open to talks should North Korea want them, as long as the circumstances and timing are right.” The South Korean statement also quoted Trump as saying that an article in the Wall Street Journal saying that he was contemplating a military strike against North Korea was “completely wrong.” “He went on to say that there will be no military action as long as talks between the two Koreas are ongoing,” it said. Trump also said he would send Vice President Mike Pence to head the U.S. delegation to the Pyeongchang games to be held in South Korea next month. (Reuters, “Trump Says Open to Talks with North Korea: Seoul Statement,” January 10, 2018)

Trump: “I just spoke to President Moon. He’s very thankful for what we’ve done. They’re having talks with North Korea. We’ll see how that happens. He felt that the original — that the initial talk was extremely good. Had a lot of good comment. Rex was on the phone, and Nikki has been totally briefed. But we had a very, very good conversation, and we’ll see where it goes. He’s very thankful for what we’ve done. It was so reported today that we were the ones — without our attitude, that would have never happened. Who knows where it leads. Hopefully, it will lead to success for the world — not just for our country, but for the world. And we’ll be seeing over the next number of weeks and months what happens.” (White House, Office of the Spokesman, Remarks by President Donald J. Trump on His Call with President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea,” January 10, 2018)

White House Statement: “President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea. President Moon briefed President Trump on the outcomes of the discussions between North and South Korea on January 9 and thanked President Trump for his influential leadership in making the talks possible. The two leaders underscored the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea. President Trump expressed his openness to holding talks between the United States and North Korea at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances. President Trump told President Moon that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.” (White House, Office of the Spokesman, Readout of President Donald J. Trump’s Call with President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea,” January 10, 2018)

President Moon Jae-in said that South Korea will approach the North Korean nuclear issue with both engagement and pressure, and that cooperation with the US has been critical in inter-Korean relations. “The purpose of sanctions and pressure is to bring North Korea to dialogue, (but) it cannot be said that dialogue is the only solution,” Moon said at the New Year’s press conference held at the Blue House. While Seoul will engage the North and endeavor to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, international sanctions will continue should Pyongyang carry out another provocation or show lack of sincerity, he added. “(South Korea) also cannot avoid using both means. (The government) is open to all dialogue, including summit talks if it is deemed beneficial to inter-Korean relations, but talks for the sake of talks cannot be the goal.” Saying that South Korea and the US have a common understanding on security issues, and both face North Korean missile and nuclear threats, Moon highlighted the importance of the Seoul-Washington alliance and cooperation. “South Korea and the US have been working together closely in responding to the North Korean nuclear issue,” Moon said, adding that yesterday’s inter-Korean talks may have been the result of US-led international pressure. The South Korean president went on to stress that Seoul and Washington fully agree on resolving the issue through peaceful means. He also stressed that the allies have no differences regarding Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile provocations. In addition, Moon thanked President Donald Trump for playing a “very big” role in bringing about inter-Korean talks. Regarding measures taken by previous South Korean administrations, he said that they cannot be rescinded unilaterally by Seoul, but he believes that the “two-track” approach will create a cycle of positive feedback. “Improving relations with the North cannot be separated from resolving the North Korean nuclear issue,” Moon said. He added that improvements in inter-Korean relations will help to resolve the nuclear problem and that inter-Korean relations will be improved by progress in resolving the nuclear issue. “What we can do for the time being is induce the North to engage in denuclearization talks, through dialogue aimed at improving inter-Korean relations. If such outcome is achieved, (the) Kaesong complex and Kumgangsan tour issues will be considered within that framework.” A joint South-North statement released after inter-Korean talks Tuesday stated that the two Koreas will resolve related matters by themselves. However, Moon said that he would increase cooperation with the countries concerned. “I will do my best to make this year a new start for peace on the Korean Peninsula. In the process, I will cooperate more closely with related countries, including our ally, the US, China and Japan, and the rest of the international community,” Moon said. “I stress once again; the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a process toward peace and a goal at the same time. The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which was declared by the two Koreas, is our fundamental position that can never be compromised.” (Choi He-suk, “’Dialogue and Pressure’ in Dealing with NK: Moon,” Korea Herald, January 10, 2018)

Vorontsov: “In mid-November 2017, I spent several days in Pyongyang talking to DPRK foreign ministry officials about the prospects of war between North Korea and the United States. These were sobering discussions. All of my interlocutors made it clear that while North Korea does not want war, it will not hide from it either. These officials feared that the US was already trying to shape the battlefield for a military operation against the North, and that South Koreans do not seem to have grasped the reality that the Trump administration is set on a course for preventive war. However, Pyongyang is extremely serious about this scenario and is not bluffing when it says that “only one question remains: when will war break out?” In this respect, our counterparts emphasized that “our soldiers have long been sleeping without removing their boots.” During my visit, I heard nothing to suggest that North Korea is prepared, at this time, to be the first to accept the Russian and Chinese proposal for a freeze on its missile and nuclear tests in return for American agreement to freeze its joint military exercises with South Korea. The North Koreans insisted their sovereignty be respected and rejected any preconditions. Although my North Korean interlocutors acknowledged that the Korean Peninsula was sliding toward war, they reaffirmed the country’s commitment to achieving nuclear parity with the United States. Moreover, according to experts from the DPRK Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace, the United States is not just expanding the scale of regular and irregular military exercises along North Korea’s perimeter, but also introducing fundamentally new elements designed to achieve specific operational goals in the event of a large-scale conflict between North Korea and the United States. Indeed, North Koreans see the US-ROK exercises as anything but routine; to the contrary, there was a sense among them that the Pentagon has launched the contact reconnaissance phase of a military operation it is planning to undertake on the peninsula. They noted that the geographical features of the Korean Peninsula provide no opportunity for the gradual, methodical buildup of troops to create a superior strike force—as was the case before the US attacked Iraq—and that North Korea would immediately notice such actions and naturally regard them as a casus belli. In their eyes, the Pentagon is rehearsing elements of a coordinated military operation one step at a time. The three aircraft carrier strike groups that are operating in Korea’s East Sea, as well as many other operations, were not just a show of force. The same is true, they argued, about the latest US-South Korean air exercise Vigilant Ace, which involved 230 aircraft and a large number of varied types of stealth aircraft. The deployment for the first time of so many stealth airplanes looks especially ominous from the North Korean perspective against the backdrop of recent US-ROK exercises practicing decapitation strikes against Kim Jong Un in a first strike using ground, naval, air and special operations forces. These, and many other new elements that have appeared in drills over the past several months, have elicited growing concern that different elements of a combined arms operation against North Korea are being methodically rehearsed and that “zero hour,” as they put it, is not too far away. In my conversations in Pyongyang, senior North Korean Foreign Ministry officials did not conceal their surprise that Seoul failed to see the huge gap in threat perceptions between American and South Korean societies. The North Koreans see growing signs, reflecting President Donald Trump’s “America First” principle that the United States is prepared to accept the terrible loss of lives that would result from a large-scale military conflict with North Korea. In contrast, South Korean public opinion continues to believe that president Trump would never start a war in Korea—and that the tension, crisis-like atmosphere, and belligerent rhetoric are all posturing. North Korean diplomats expressed surprise that a substantial part of the South Korean elite have missed many indications, reflected in polling data, that a majority of Americans now believe that the US cannot allow North Korea to acquire a missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the US mainland and that Pyongyang would order such a strike as soon as it had this capability. North Korean diplomats stressed that this is a misperception. As one opined, “it would be suicidal to attack the USA first and especially with nuclear weapons. We understand that it would be the last day of our country.” These officials were truly baffled that a majority of the South Korean population does not seem to have grasped the reality that the Trump administration, despite the risks, is inching ever closer to a preventive strike on North Korea. Pyongyang, they maintained, is under no such illusions. North Korean experts reiterated that they are striving to reach some kind “nuclear parity” with the US, but not in order to use it in an unprovoked first strike against the American mainland. When we expressed doubt regarding the North Korean ability to achieve this parity, their rather uncertain explanations led us to believe they, more accurately, have some kind of “specific asymmetrical” nuclear parity in mind. Finally they told us: “We are diplomats, not military guys. Only our leader knows the issue in full.” They expressed bewilderment over why the political establishment in the US is unwilling to ask itself a very simple question: even if North Korea does develop the capability to target the continental US with nuclear weapons, why would it launch such weapons if it would result in the destruction of North Korea? These weapons are being developed to preserve the survival of North Korea. In short, sooner rather than later, it would benefit both sides to establish a US-DPRK dialogue that would allow Pyongyang to clarify its real intentions and reach consensus with the US on a plan to resolve the nuclear issue. As is well-known, the new year has started off with some important positive changes to the North-South Korean relationship, but the analysis of these significant and encouraging events on the Inter-Korean agenda is subject of a separate article. How they will affect the overall US-DPRK relationship is yet to be seen.” (Alexander Vorontsov, “Is the US Preparing for Preventive War? Views from North Korea,” 38North, January 10, 2017)


1/11/18:
The U.S. Air Force has sent three B-2 nuclear-capable stealth bombers to Andersen Air Force Base on the island territory of Guam amid cooling tensions with North Korea. Around 200 airmen from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri were recently deployed to Andersen in support of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Bomber Assurance and Deterrence mission. “During this short-term deployment, the B-2s will conduct local and regional training sorties and will integrate capabilities with key regional partners, ensuring bomber crews maintain a high state of readiness and crew proficiency,” the U.S. Pacific Air Forces said on its website. The U.S. Strategic Command regularly rotates bombers through the Indo-Pacific region to conduct Pacific Command-led air operations, “providing leaders with deterrent options to maintain regional stability,” the Pacific Air Forces said. It was unclear how long the powerful stealth bombers would be deployed to Guam, a strategically important base amid Pyongyang’s tests of increasingly powerful missiles and nuclear bombs. (Jesse Johnson, “U.S. Deploys Three Powerful B-2 Stealth Bombers to Guam amid Cooling Tensions on Korean Peninsula,” Japan Times, January 11, 2018)

“I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un,” President Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview little more than a week after boasting that he has a bigger nuclear button than Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. “I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised.” Trump declined to say whether he had directly spoken with his North Korean counterpart. “I’m not saying I have or haven’t,” he said. Trump said that his shifting commentary about the North Korean leader was part of a broader strategy. “You’ll see that a lot with me,” Trump said, referring to the difference between his friendly tone toward Kim and his previous tweets calling him a “maniac” and a “short and fat” person. “And then all of the sudden somebody’s my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You could give me 30. I’m a very flexible person.” Trump said he expected that North Korea’s effort to talk with South Korea is an attempt to drive a wedge between the South Koreans and the United States. He said that probably was their motivation, and he suggested that he should know. “The difference is I’m president, other people aren’t,” Trump said. “And I know more about wedges than any human being that’s lived.” (Michael D. Shear, “Trump Boasts of a ‘Very Good Relationship’ with North Korean Leader,” New York Times, January 11, 2018)

Trump: “You always have to have flexibility. As an example, we’ve been much tougher on China, but not nearly as tough as I would be, but they are helping us a lot with North Korea. And you see in North Korea what’s happening with North Korea all of a sudden. China’s been helping us a lot, so you can veer a little bit differently, but for the most part everything I’ve said I’ve done. … WSJ: And you mentioned the link between China and North Korea. We talked about that a little bit the last time we were in here. Trump: Right. WSJ: Is that—does that link still exist for you? Do you feel like China’s been helpful enough … (CROSSTALK) Trump: Not helpful enough, but they’ve been very helpful. Let’s put it this way, they’ve done more for me than they ever have for any American president. They still haven’t done enough. But they’ve done more for me than they have, by far, for any—I have a very good relationship with President Xi. I like him. He likes me. We have a great chemistry together. He’s—China has done far more for us than they ever have for any American president. With that being said, it’s not enough. They have to do more. … For instance, at the very beginning, you know Obama felt—President Obama felt it was his biggest problem is North Korea. He said that openly. He said that to me, but he said that openly. It is a big problem, and they should not have left me with that problem. That should have been a problem that was solved by Obama, or Bush, or Clinton or anybody, because the longer it went, the worse, the more difficult the problem got. This should not have been a problem left on my desk, but it is, and I get things solved. And one way or the other, that problem is going to be solved. China has been helping us, and I appreciate the help, but they can do much more. WSJ: Are you worried, Mr. President, that sending—delaying military exercises on the peninsula for the Olympics sends the wrong message to the North? Trump: Say it again? WSJ: Are you concerned that delaying military exercises on the Korean Peninsula for the Olympics sends the wrong message to the North Koreans, that you’re in some way bending to them? Trump: You’re the first one that’s asked that question. No, I don’t think anybody thinks that I’m bending. I think that people that, if anything, I’m being too tough. No, I think it’s inappropriate to have the Olympics, have millions of people going to the Olympics hopefully, have North Korea going to the Olympics, and we’re having exercises on the beach. No, I think that it doesn’t—I think it sends a good message to North Korea, not a bad message. I think it would be totally inappropriate to do that during the Olympics. WSJ: You think North Korea is trying to drive a wedge between the two countries, between you and President Moon? Trump: I’ll let you know in—within the next 12 months, OK, Mike? WSJ: Sure. Trump: I will let you know. But if I were them I would try. But the difference is I’m president; other people aren’t. And I know more about wedges than any human being that’s ever lived, but I’ll let you know. But I’ll tell you, you know, when you talk about driving a wedge, we also have a thing called trade. And South Korea—brilliantly makes—we have a trade deficit with South Korea of $31 billion a year. That’s a pretty strong bargaining chip to me. With that being said, President Xi has been extremely generous with what he’s said, I like him a lot. I have a great relationship with him, as you know I have a great relationship with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. I have relationships with people; I think you people are surprised. WSJ: Just to be clear, you haven’t spoken to the North Korean leader, I mean when you say a relationship with Korea— Trump: I don’t want to comment on it—I don’t want to comment, I’m not saying I have or I haven’t. But I just don’t— WSJ: Some people would see your tweets, which are sometimes combative towards Kim Jong Un … Trump: Sure, you see that a lot with me and then all of a sudden somebody’s my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You give me 30. I’m a very flexible person. … (Wall Street Journal, Transcript of Donald Trump Interview, January 11, 2018)

Ignatius: “Sometimes diplomacy is the art of going in two directions at once, and the Trump administration seems to have chosen that sweet spot of ambiguity, for now, in managing its continuing confrontation with North Korea. President Trump has paused his “Little Rocket Man” rhetoric and his boasts about the size of his own nuclear button. He’s insisting this week that talk of a U.S. military strike (which he had encouraged) is “completely wrong” and is calling for discussions with North Korea “under the right circumstances.” A fragile detente seems to have begun. North Korea hasn’t tested weapons in more than a month and is talking to South Korea. North Korean athletes and spectators will attend the Pyeongchang Olympics next month. The United States has postponed joint military exercises with South Korea until after the last gold medal is awarded. Call it speed-skater diplomacy, if you like, but the table for negotiations has at least been set.

Trump administration diplomacy is like the oft-quoted description of New England weather: If you don’t like it, wait awhile. But at least through late February, we’re likely to experience a thaw on the Korean Peninsula, and it’s interesting to explore what it means. … The problem with this Olympic peace parade is that nothing has really been resolved. Once the games have ended, all the same problems will continue to exist. If the United States resumes military exercises, North Korea may go back to testing missiles and bombs. “We have avoided escalation of tension,” said one U.S. official, but in several months, “we’re back to square one.” Ideally, the next step would be direct talks between the United States and North Korea. A senior State Department official told me he hopes face-to-face meetings will start before the Olympics end; the United States will characterize the goal as eventual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang may offer a different formula, but Washington probably won’t care so long as the other side shows up. There’s no sign yet that it will, however. The State Department official explained that the conversation with Pyongyang can “start at the edges,” with each country describing how it sees the future, and then “work toward the center,” meaning denuclearization. “The Olympics themselves might be the perimeter” from which talks start, says the official. Trump argues that his nuclear brinkmanship over the past year has worked. … Who has blinked here? It’s hard to argue that it’s Kim. The mutual stand-down for the Olympics looks very much like the “freeze for freeze” approach that Russia and China were recommending last year, although U.S. officials resist the characterization. For all Trump’s bluster and self-congratulation, the past month’s diplomacy really has been a Korean show, with Kim and Moon both showing considerable finesse. Kim gave his New Year’s Day speech with the confidence of a member of the nuclear club, but he was also deferential toward Seoul. Moon responded avidly, but he also kept faith with Washington by stressing that diplomacy must eventually encompass denuclearization. … Tillerson will meet in Canada next week with diplomats from countries that sent troops to fight the Korean conflict nearly 70 years ago. The gathering is meant to signal global solidarity and resolve. But it will also highlight the failure of the U.S.-led coalition, so far, to stop North Korea from becoming a de facto nuclear power. A pause for the Olympics, and then, alas, the crisis resumes.” (David Ignatius, “The Korean Crisis Will Resume — after the Olympics,” Washington Post, January 12, 2018)

Hook: “The Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability in the Korean Peninsula will be held in Vancouver on January 16th. The United States and Canada are convening the meeting to demonstrate international commitment to diplomatic solutions to the escalating threat posed by DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The ministerial — the goal of the ministerial is to provide a practical mechanism — mechanisms to exert continued pressure on the Kim regime while demonstrating that diplomatic options remain open and viable. The invitation list is largely based on countries who are UN Command sending states, which are the countries that sent combat support and/or humanitarian aid to support the Republic of Korea during the Korean War. There is growing evidence that our maximum pressure campaign is being felt in North Korea. They are feeling the strain. And we believe that this pressure campaign remains the best avenue to force change in Kim Jong-un’s behavior and to get him to the negotiating table for meaningful discussions. Among the issues we will be discussing is how the international community can thwart North Korean efforts to evade UN sanctions through smuggling. … One of the things that we’re looking that — we hope that the UN can list some of these vessels for port entry bans, and we think that that will demonstrate seriousness of purpose if we can start having more of these vessels listed so that we can then — they can be banned from entering other ports.” (DoS Briefing, Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook, January 11, 2018)

Choe Ryong-hae, 68, vice chairman of the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), appears to have become the director of the organization and guidance department that oversees the party’s operation and surveillance, according to data provided by the Ministry of Unification. A chief of the organization and guidance department is in charge of overseeing personnel policy at the WPK. The ministry said that Jong Kyong-thaek is leading North Korea’s spy agency, the Ministry of State Security. He replaced Kim Won-hong, who is said to have been punished after a party inspection. Shin Ryong-man has become the head of Office 39, known as the WPK’s special unit managing Kim Jong-un’s secret funds. The ministry said that North Korea’s state agency in charge of inter-Korean affairs is placed under the North’s cabinet. In June 2016, North Korea upgraded the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country to a state apparatus from an offshoot of the WPK. The agency’s head is Ri Son-gwon, who led North Korea’s five-member delegation to South and North Korea’s high-level talks held two days ago. (Yonhap, “N. Korean Official Choe Ryong-hae Apparently Leading Ruling Party’s Key Department,” January 11, 2018)

Pabian, Bermudez, Liu: “Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site indicates that the North Portal, where the last five nuclear tests were conducted, remains dormant and that tunnel excavation has been stepped up at the West Portal. Throughout December 2017, mining carts and personnel were consistently present around the West Portal and there was significant expansion of the spoil pile. On December 28, there were also a large number of personnel (~100 to 200) observed in seven different formations whose purpose is unknown in the Southern Support Area. These activities underscore North Korea’s continued efforts to maintain the Punggye-ri site’s potential for future nuclear testing.” (Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Jack Liu, “Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Significant Tunneling Underway at West Portal,” 38North, January 11, 2018)

Website Uriminzokkiri said South Korea should “permanently halt” its annual military drills with the US, which South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his US counterpart Donald Trump agreed to temporarily postpone until after the Winter Olympics. “Inter-Korean talks and war drill can never be incompatible,” Uriminzokkiri said in its commentary. “It’s nothing but an attempt to bring disaster and misfortune to our people.” Rodong Sinmun has demanded South Korea stop its efforts to have US strategic assets deployed on the peninsula, such as strategic bombers and nuclear aircraft carriers. “If the South Korean authorities really want detente and peace, they should first stop all the efforts to bringing in US nuclear equipment and conducts exercise for nuclear warfare with foreign forces,” the newspaper said in a commentary. (Yeo Jun-suk, “North Korea’s State Media Demands ‘Complete Cessation’ of Allied Military Drills,” Korea Herald, January 12, 2018)


1/12/18:
The U.S. Air Force is going ahead with two long-planned flight tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles next month despite efforts to damp tensions over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and encourage fragile talks with South Korea. “There are two launches currently scheduled for February that have been scheduled for three to five years” to test the reliability and accuracy of the Minuteman III missiles, according to Captain Anastasia Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Global Strike Command, which manages ICBMs and long-range bombers. Schmidt said the potential range of dates for tests “are typically not released this far in advance.” (Anthony Capaccio, “U.S. Sticks to ICBM Test-Flight despite North Korean Tensions,” Bloomberg News, January 12, 2018)


1/13/18:
For 38 harrowing minutes, residents and tourists in Hawaii were left to believe that missiles were streaming across the sky toward the Pacific island chain after an erroneous alert this morning by the state’s emergency management agency. “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii,” warned an 8:07 a.m. message transmitted across the state’s cellphone networks. “Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” Only after an inexplicable delay by the state agency — during which residents scrambled to seek shelter and contact relatives — was a subsequent message sent describing the missile warning as a “false alarm.” The frightening mistake, which Gov. David Ige (D) later attributed to a state employee’s errant push of a button, prompted outrage and calls for an investigation into how such an error could occur and take so long to correct. The episode underscored the already heightened level of anxiety at the western edge of the United States amid mounting tensions with North Korea over its nuclear arsenal and the menacing social media exchanges between President Trump and its leader, Kim Jong Un. The false alert prompted U.S. military officials to scan systems that monitor missile launches; they determined almost instantly that there was no threat. But officials described confusion over whether or how the military should correct a state-issued alert. At the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which tracks the skies for threats to the United States, U.S. troops manning the watch floor confirmed within minutes that there were no missiles bearing down on Hawaii. That information was quickly relayed to state officials, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Nawrocki, a spokesman for the command. But Hawaii struggled to issue a comprehensive correction. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency transmitted its first “no missile threat” message within 12 minutes of the mistaken alert, but that revision went out only on the agency’s Twitter account. It wasn’t until 8:45 a.m. that the agency was able to issue a stand-down message across the same cellphone and cable television networks that had spread the initial, erroneous warning. By that time, officials from Hawaii including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) had taken it upon themselves to distribute stand-down messages on social media. “What happened today is totally inexcusable,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D) said in a posting on his Twitter account. “The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.” Deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters said Trump had been briefed on the false missile warning in Hawaii. She added that it was “purely a state exercise.” Officials in Hawaii did not characterize the errant alarm as part of any drill or exercise. (Amy B. Wang, Dan Lamothe, and Greg Miller, “Missile Scare Alarms Hawaii,” Washington Post, January 14, 2018, p. A-1)

Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels have been patrolling international waters off the Korean Peninsula since late last year to thwart attempts by North Korea to evade international sanctions, government sources said. Their primary task is to foil efforts by North Korea to acquire refined petroleum products from foreign cargo carriers in the Yellow Sea as well as the Sea of Japan. The mission is purely aimed at “warning and monitoring” activities in waters surrounding North Korea, the sources added. The MSDF vessels are not authorized to forcibly inspect suspect ships. It is the first involvement by MSDF vessels in efforts to bolster the effectiveness of U.N. sanctions. China is strongly opposed to MSDF vessels operating in the Yellow Sea that rings its eastern coastline, but the Japanese government decided the patrols were necessary to ensure that the embargo remains watertight. The MSDF monitors the movement of foreign ships and share that information with the United States, the sources said. In the Sea of Japan, the SDF and the U.S. military patrol together, each in an assigned area. (Doi Takateru, “MSDF Patrolling Yellow Sea to Stop Smuggling to North Korea,” Asahi Shimbun, January 13, 2018)


1/15/18:
KCNA: “Working-level talks between the north and the south of Korea for the dispatch of the north side’s art troupe were held at the Thongil House in Panmunjom on Monday. Present there were members of the north side’s delegation led by Kwon Hyok Bong, department director of the Ministry of Culture, and members of the south side’s delegation with Ri U Song, section head of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, as its chief delegate. At the talks both sides had a sincere discussion on the practical matters related to the performances by the north side’s art troupe to be dispatched to the south side’s area with the 23rd Winter Olympics as an occasion and adopted a joint press release. According to the release, the north side will dispatch its art troupe comprised of more than 140 members to the south side and give its performances in Kangrung and Seoul. Various technical matters for performances will be smoothly settled through consultation with the south side. Reflected in the joint press release is the content that the north side will send a field survey delegation as early as possible and the south side will ensure the safety and convenience of the north side’s art troupe to the maximum, and other working matters will be discussed in the way of exchanging documents through Panmunjom liaison channel.” (KCNA, “Inter-Korean Working-Level Talks Held,” January 15, 2018)

A meeting of states that backed South Korea in the Korean war will look at ways to better implement sanctions to push North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, officials said, even as the North and South explore detente ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics. Foreign ministers and senior officials from 20 nations will hold a full-day meeting in Vancouver tomorrow, hosted by the United States and Canada, looking to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on North Korea to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States, a program that has raised fears of a new war. Canadian and U.S. officials say the meeting will discuss ways to ensure implementation of wide-ranging U.N. sanctions, including steps agreed last month to further limit Pyongyang’s access to refined petroleum products, crude oil and industrial goods. Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, said last week that participants, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, would probe how to boost maritime security around North Korea and options to interdict ships carrying prohibited goods in violation of sanctions. China and Russia, which backed the North in the war but have since agreed to U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang, will not be attending. China has reacted angrily to the Vancouver meeting as an example of “Cold War” thinking. China’s state media said Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, stressed that a hard-earned alleviation of tensions must continue. “Maintaining international unity on the issue is extremely important,” Xi said. China was ready to work with the United States to resolve the issue in an appropriate way, state broadcaster CCTV quoted the Chinese leader as saying. China’s special envoy for North Korea Kong Xuanyou, speaking in an interview with Phoenix Television on Monday, urged the United States to seize the opportunity to seek direct talks with North Korea. China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said the Vancouver meeting reflected Washington’s desire to “highlight its dominant role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and cripple the clout of China and Russia.” “But the meeting will likely accomplish little,” it said in an editorial. U.S. officials say hawks in the Trump administration remain pessimistic that the North-South contacts will lead anywhere. Even so, debate within the U.S. administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site, has lost momentum ahead of the Olympics, the officials said. Scott Snyder, director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at Washington’s Council on Foreign Relations, said that if Pyongyang felt tougher sanctions constituted a blockade, it might interpret them as an act of war. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who will be in Vancouver, said the international community had to stand united. “Sanctions are biting but we need to maintain diplomatic pressure on Kim Jong Un’s regime,” he said in a statement. (David Ljunggren and David Brunnstrom, “Vancouver Meeting Focuses on Sanctions as Koreas Explore Détente,” Reuters, January 15, 2018)


1/16/18:
Mattis: “I will be there simply to give the military situation and then I will depart, leaving the conference in the hands of our secretary of state and the foreign ministers. I just want to emphasis this, because this shows that this effort right now is firmly in the diplomatic realm. That is where we are working it. That is then President Trump’s direction. … And the whole point is this in the diplomatic realm as far as how we’re trying to address the issue. Certainly our diplomats are — are backed up by our military options. … They’re trying to further align the coordination coming in now and intensify the international campaign of economic pressure on DPRK. It is a global problem requiring a global solution. And, the — our efforts — our international efforts appear to be having some effect. You’re aware that for the first time now in many, many months over years we are now having negotiations, even if they’re starting with the — with the Olympics. They’re still some reason to see the diplomatic initiatives are starting to go in the right direction. It’s too early to make a statement about that — an all-encompassing statement about that. But the fact is there are negotiations going on — (inaudible). … Q: Secretary Mattis, what would you hope would come out of this meeting in Vancouver — (inaudible)? SEC. MATTIS: It’s a good question. What’s the outcome, you know. First of all, it’s expanding the number of nations that are sitting down now and looking at how we reinforce the diplomatic overtures and the diplomatic initiatives. So a lot of this is just — (inaudible) — one another, answering questions, and making certain that we replace uncertainty with certainty, so they know — everybody knows where we’re going as we go forward. As you’re aware, we’ve got the ROK, Republic of Korea, forces — (inaudible) — less than 30,000 of U.S. forces there. They’re under the U.N. rubric of years ago that is a compliance demand of international — (inaudible). And part of this — (inaudible) — as everyone knows, how do we fit into this, if the diplomatic option does not work, then obviously the whole point is to reinforce the diplomatic option to show that there are military options should there be a DPRK attack. (inaudible) Q: What’s — what’s the uncertainty, sir — what’s the uncertainty about — you say we’re replacing uncertainty with certainty. What is the uncertainty about? MATTIS: Well, the certainty with uncertainty will show them that there are military options. But — (inaudible) — within the framework of strengthening the diplomats’ hands. That is what we want to have come out of this, let the diplomats know that they are backed up by the force of arms. And part of this — (inaudible) — as everyone knows, how do we fit into this, if the diplomatic option does not work, then obviously the whole point is to reinforce the diplomatic option to show that there are military options should there be a DPRK attack. … Q: And when you walk out of this meeting, if there is some kind of event or something that could — this meeting leads to some kind of further discussion or some kind of a — (inaudible) — situation, how ready are you to do that — (inaudible) — North Koreans or the South Koreans? MATTIS: We’re going to continue the dialogue. How ready are we to continue the dialogue? Secretary Tillerson, through the diplomatic channels, has laid out how we could move forward like this. And, again, that’s where we can give the hand to the diplomats. I can’t give you a thorough answer, but all along this has been guiding towards some kind of freezing of the programs, both ballistic missile tests and nuclear tests, and moving this back into discussions for that verifiable nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Remember, we have moved our weapons — our weapons out of there many years ago. So there’s only one nation — when China said they want a nuclear-free peninsula, when Russia, U.K., France, ROK, Republic of Korea, Japan, United States said we want a nuclear-free peninsula, there’s only nation that could start that negotiation, and that’s DPRK. That’s the reason for economic sanctions and the diplomatic isolation you see going on. And the force going that way. We would be ready to do it. Q: (inaudible) — current talks between the North and the South relieve some of the pressure? MATTIS: The current talks about the Olympics — (inaudible). I think they’re a positive indicator. I don’t think they relieve any of the U.N. sanctions. I don’t think it’s — we have sufficient data to say what this indicates as far as the way forward by the Kim regime. We don’t know where — (inaudible) — don’t have enough data. But I think it is a positive indicator. We just don’t know where or how far it goes. Does it have traction? Will it go a long ways or will it go no further than this? I don’t know. … ). Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, real quick back to the North Koreans — (inaudible) — being interested in talking with the South. Do you feel like Kim is sincere about this or is this — MATTIS: I don’t know, JJ. I can’t — we don’t have enough data yet to know what’s in his mind. Our problem is not with the North Korean people. Our problem is with Kim and his regime. But that is the regime in power that we must deal with. And I believe it is impossible to say right now, after the years of provocations, if this one indicator is sufficient data point. (Inaudible). Your question really goes to the heart of the issue.” (DoD, Media Availability with Secretary Mattis en Route to Vancouver, Canada, January 16, 2018)

Twenty nations pledged to ensure that U.N. sanctions already in place were fully implemented and the participants said in a joint statement they agreed “to consider and take steps to impose unilateral sanctions and further diplomatic actions that go beyond those required by U.N. Security Council resolutions.” They gave no details. They also vowed to support renewed dialogue between the two Koreas “in hopes that it leads to sustained easing of tensions” and agreed that a diplomatic solution to the crisis was both essential and possible. The United States and Canada co-hosted the day-long meeting in Vancouver of countries that backed South Korea during the 1950-53 Korea War. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “It is time to talk, but they have to take the step to say they want to talk.” He warned Pyongyang, “Our approach is, in terms of having North Korea chose the correct step, is to present them with what is the best option — talks are the best option; that when they look at the military situation, that’s not a good outcome for them it could trigger a military response if it did not choose negotiations.” Tillerson brushed off a question about such a “bloody nose” strike, telling a closing news conference: “I’m a not going to comment on issues that have yet to be decided among the National Security Council or the president.” However, he said the threat posed by North Korea was growing. “We all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation … We have to recognize that the threat is growing and if North Korea does not chose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option,” Tillerson said. U.S. officials have reported a debate within the Trump administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site. U.S. officials say discussion of a military strike option has lost some momentum since North and South Korea held formal talks for the first time in two years this month and Pyongyang said it would send athletes to the Winter Olympics that South Korea will host next month. Japanese Foreign Minister Kono Taro said in Vancouver that the world should not be naive about North Korea’s “charm offensive” in engaging in talks with the South. “It is not the time to ease pressure, or to reward North Korea,” he said. “The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working.” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said she hoped the dialogue would continue well beyond the Olympics, but stressed that existing sanctions must be applied more rigorously. Tillerson said North Korea must not be allowed “to drive a wedge” through allied resolve or solidarity and reiterated Washington’s rejection of a Chinese-Russian proposal for the United States and South Korea to freeze military exercises in return for a freeze in North Korea’s weapons programs. A senior State Department official said U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefed the Vancouver participants over dinner on Monday and stressed the U.S. preference for a diplomatic solution, while keeping a military option on the table. “It was a chance to raise people’s confidence that we have thought through this, that we definitely prefer a diplomatic solution,” the official said. (David Brunnstrom and David Ljunggren, “Nations to Consider More Sanctions; U.S. Warns on Military Options,” Reuters, January 16, 2018)

Tillerson: “ … The goal of the maximum pressure campaign is and always has been to move North Korea towards credible negotiations on denuclearization. And our diplomatic talks have always been backed up by a strong and resolute military option. Today, however, we had constructive discussions about how to push our diplomatic efforts forward and prepare for the prospects of talks. But productive negotiations require a credible negotiating partner. North Korea has not yet shown themselves to be that credible partner. The United States has always been open to clear messages that North Korea — and we have sent clear messages to North Korea that we are ready for serious negotiations. North Koreans know our channels are open, and they know where to find us. But a sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior is necessary — is a necessary indicator of whether the regime is truly ready to pursue a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the security threat that it has created. Our nations must remain united on sustaining pressure until North Korea takes concrete steps toward and ultimately reaches denuclearization. … MODERATOR: Next question, Barbara Plett Usher, BBC. Q: Mr. Tillerson, you’ve made quite clear that you want this issue solved through diplomacy backed up by strong resolute options, as you just said. There are many reports of talk in the White House about the option of a limited military strike, a so-called “bloody nose” that would send a message to North Korea rather than start a war. Do you think that’s a bad idea?And in a related question, if I may, sir, the question that’s in the minds of many Americans especially after the false missile alert at the weekend, do Americans need to be worried about a possible war with Korea? And sorry, one more: Could you just clarify briefly the confusion over the past week, or the question, I should say, of whether the President has communicated through a direct channel to the North Korean leader? Thank you. TILLERSON: Well, I’m not going to comment on issues that have yet to be decided among the National Security Council or the President, so I have no comment on the, quote, “bloody nose,” as you named it. With respect to whether Americans should be concerned about a war with North Korea, I think it’s — we all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation. As North Korea has continued to make significant advances in both its nuclear weapons, the lethality of those weapons as demonstrated by their last thermonuclear test as well as the continued progress they’ve made in their intercontinental ballistic missile systems, we have to recognize that that threat is growing. And if North Korea is not — does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option. I think our approach is, in terms of having North Korea choose the correct step, is to present them with that is the best option, that talks are the best option, that when they look at the — a military situation, that’s not a good outcome for them. When they look at the economic impact of ever-growing sanctions and the pressure campaign, there is no — there is no end to that. And I think for North Korea and the regime, what we hope they are able to realize is the situation only gets worse. It gets worse with each step they take, it gets worse with time. And that is not working to their objectives of wanting to be secure. They are not more secure. They are becoming less secure. They certainly are not more economically prosperous. They’re becoming less prosperous. And we do think that that message is beginning to — I don’t want to say resonate with them, but there is a realization with them that the rest of the world is quite resolute in this stand we’re taking that we will never accept them as a nuclear power. And so it’s time to talk, but they have to take the step that says they want to talk. And your last question was around? Q: Whether or not the President has direct communications with the North — TILLERSON: Well, again, there’s just certain elements of this situation that I’m not going to comment upon. I don’t think it’s useful to comment because we’re at — relative to your prior question, we’re at a very tenuous stage in terms of how far North Korea has taken their program and what we can do to convince them to take an alternative path. And so I — when we get into who’s talking to who and what was said, if we want that to be made known or made public, we will announce it.” (DoS, Remarks, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at a Press Availability, Vancouver, January 16, 2018)

Japan’s public broadcaster mistakenly sent an alert that warned citizens of a North Korean missile launch and urging them to seek immediate shelter, then minutes later corrected it, days after a similar error in Hawaii. NHK television issued the message on its internet and mobile news sites as well as on Twitter, saying, “North Korea appears to have fired a missile.” It added that a government warning had been issued: “The government: Seek shelter inside buildings and basements.” NHK said the mistake was the result of an error by a staff member who was operating the alert system for online news, but did not elaborate. NHK deleted the tweet and text warning after several minutes, issued a correction and apologized several times on air and on other formats. “The flash was a mistake,” NHK said. “We are very sorry.” (Associated Press, “Japan Public TV Sends Mistaken North Korea Missile Alert,” January 16, 2018)


1/17/18:
South and North Korea agreed to field a joint women’s ice hockey team for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and march together under a “unified Korea” flag at the opening ceremony. The North will also send a 230-member cheering squad and a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team to the South, according to a joint statement issued after a working-level meeting at the border village of Panmunjom. The North’s delegation will use a western land route, marking the opening of the cross-border road for the first time since February 2016, when a joint industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong was shut down. The two sides also agreed to hold a joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang on the North Korean east coast before the opening of the February 9-25 Olympics and to conduct joint training of skiers at Masikryong Ski Resort in the North. As for the Paralympics scheduled for March 9-18, the North promised to send a 150-member delegation including athletes and cheerleaders. The outcome is expected to be discussed at the International Olympic Committee’s meeting with officials from the Koreas slated for Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland. Earlier today, President Moon Jae-in hailed North Korea’s participation as a chance to improve long-stalled ties. “I believe it will be a great opportunity to thaw the South-North Korea relationship that is frozen solid,” Moon said during a meeting with Olympic athletes. Moon hopes that better inter-Korean relations will pave the way for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and for broader dialogue between the United States and the North. The South’s government is carefully reviewing ways to greet the North’s Olympic delegation in a way that does not violate multilayered sanctions on the communist regime. Under U.N. sanctions, the South can’t offer cash directly to the North when it supports delegates’ accommodation expenses. Sea travel could be in violation of South Korea’s unilateral sanctions that ban the entry to South Korea of any vessel that has sailed to North Korea within the past 12 months. It is highly likely that North Koreans would travel to the South by land. The North asked the South two days ago to allow its art troupe to cross the border via Panmunjom for concerts during the Olympics. Another sticking point is the North’s possible inclusion in its delegation of high-ranking officials blacklisted by U.N. sanctions or by Seoul’s unilateral punitive actions. (Yonhap, “Koreas to Field Joint Women’s Hockey Team, March Together at Opening Ceremony,” January 17, 2018)

KCNA: “Working-level talks between the north and the south of Korea for the north side’s participation in the 23rd Winter Olympics and Paralympics were held at the “house of peace” in the south side portion of Panmunjom on Wednesday, under the agreement of the north-south high-level talks. Present there were a delegation of the north side led by Jon Jong Su, vice-chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country of the DPRK, and a delegation of the south side with Chon Hae Song, vice-minister of Unification, as its chief delegate. At the talks both sides thrashed out the practical matters arising in the successful holding of the Winter Olympics and adopted a joint press release. The joint press release dealt with the scales and action programs of the north side’s National Olympic Committee delegation, sports team, cheer group, Taekwon-do demonstration group and press corps to take part in the 23rd Winter Olympics, the south side’s offer of conveniences for them and the dispatch of an advance team for field survey. Matters related to the International Olympic Committee will be settled by both sides in cooperation with the Committee, according to the joint press release. It also mentioned the practical matters on joint training of north-south ski runners and north-south joint cultural event to be held at the Masikryong Ski Resort and in Mt Kumgang from late January to early February. Both sides will agree in the way of exchange of documents on such other practical matters as dispatch of the north side’s Paralympic Committee delegation, sports team, cheer group, art troupe and press corps to the Winter Paralympics, the joint press release said. (KCNA, “Inter-Korean Working-Level Talks,” January 17, 2018)

President Donald Trump complained that Russia was helping North Korea to evade international sanctions, signaling frustration with a country he had hoped to forge friendly relations with after his 2016 election win. “Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump said during a 53-minute Oval Office interview with Reuters. He [President Vladimir Putin] can do a lot. But unfortunately we don’t have a relationship — I think it’s too bad, but unfortunately we don’t have much of a relationship with Russia, and in some cases it’s probable that what China takes back, Russia gives. So the net result is not as good as it could be.” He added, “What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.” “I spoke with President Xi (Jinping) the other day, who I have a great chemistry with, I have a great relationship with. They’re doing a lot … But they can do more. Ninety-three percent of the trade goes through China.” The president cast doubt on whether talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be useful. In the past he has not ruled out direct talks with Kim. “I’d sit down, but I‘m not sure that sitting down will solve the problem. They’ve talked for 25 years and they’ve taken advantage of our presidents, of our previous presidents.” He blamed his three immediate predecessors, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, for failing to resolve the crisis and, a day after his doctor gave him a perfect score on a cognitive test, suggested he had the mental acuity to solve it. “I guess they all realized they’re going to have to leave it to a president that scored the highest on tests,” he joked. He declined to comment when asked whether he had engaged in any communications at all with Kim, “No, I just don’t want to say as to whether or not we’ve had communication. But, but we will see how that plays out. OK? And hopefully it can be done in a peaceful way but it’s very possible that it can’t.” Asked whether North Korea could hit the U.S. with a missile, he said, “I don’t think — they’re not there yet, but they’re close. And they get closer every day. And again, this is a problem that should have been handled over the last 25 years before they were this close or before they did have a capability.” Asked whether he thought the United States needs more missile defense systems, he said, “Yes, yes I do. We’re ordering more missile defense and we’re ordering more missile offense also. We have been very depleted as a nation and I would love to spend money on other things but I‘m also a person of great common sense.” Trump said he welcomed talks between North and South Korea over the Winter Olympics to be held in the South next month and said this could be an initial phase in helping defuse the crisis. Asked whether the United States has been considering a limited, pre-emptive attack to show the North that the United States means business, he said, “Well, again I don’t want to say what options I want to consider. I just don’t think we should be talking about options to the media.” Asked what his reaction would be to new North Korean missile tests, he said, “I don’t like talking about things like that. We’re playing a very, very hard game of poker and you don’t want to reveal your hand.” (Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton, and Jeff Mason, “Trump Accuses Russia of Helping North Korea Evade Sanctions; Says U.S. Needs More Missile Defense” and “Key Quotes from Reuters Interview with Trump,” Reuters, January 17, 2018)

North and South Korea reached an agreement for their athletes to march together under one flag at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics next month, a powerful gesture of reconciliation that further complicates President Trump’s strategy for dealing with the nuclear-armed regime of Kim Jong-un. South Korea, the host of the games, said it hoped a partnership in sports could contribute to a political thaw after years of high tensions on the Korean Peninsula. For the White House, however, the budding détente scrambles its strategy of pressuring the North, with sanctions and threats of military action, to give up its nuclear arsenal. This latest gesture of unity, the most dramatic in a decade, could add to fears in Washington that Pyongyang is making progress on a more far-reaching agenda. White House officials warn that Kim’s ultimate goal is to evict American troops from the Korean Peninsula and to reunify the two Koreas under a single flag. They have cited that long-held goal to buttress their argument that Kim cannot be deterred peacefully as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. While a onetime Olympics ceremony is hardly a step toward reunification, the image of athletes marching behind a “unified Korea” flag is a symbolic manifestation of what worries Trump’s aides. And the prospect of crowds from North and South Korea cheering together would be a striking contrast to the threats of war from Trump. The White House this week welcomed the announcement but played down its significance, noting that it was not the first time that athletes from the two Koreas had competed together. “Let’s hope that the experience gives the North Korean athletes a small taste of freedom and that it rubs off,” said Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “North Korean propaganda is in a category all its own,” he added. “It is not surprising that North Korea is sending more cheerleaders and musicians than athletes.” That emphasis on propaganda, other officials said, was in keeping with North Korea’s longer-term goal of reunification. The Olympic agreement could bolster President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who has been pushing for dialogue with the North. “This will be a great opportunity to thaw the frozen relations,” he said during a visit to the training camp for South Korean athletes. “If we unify our team with the North’s, it won’t necessarily improve our team’s strength very much,” Moon said. “It will even require extra efforts to build up teamwork with the North Korean players. But if the two Koreas unify their teams and play a great match together, that itself will be long remembered as a historic moment.” Few expected that the breakthrough in sports diplomacy would lead to a broader relaxation of the decades-old standoff over the North’s nuclear weapon programs. But it provided a welcome reprieve for South Koreans who have grown alarmed and weary over the tensions and relentless talk of war. (Choe Sang-hun and Mark Landler, “Olympic Détente Upends Strategy on North Korea,” New York Times, January 18, 2018, p. A-1)


1/18/18:
The U.S. has canceled a plan for a 7,800-ton Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarine to dock at Busan for refueling on today to avoid fresh tensions with North Korea. A government official said Seoul told Washington that the submarine had better not enter the naval operations base. Instead it suggested that the sub should dock in Jinhae, but the U.S. military declined and abandoned the port call entirely. The U.S. Navy has been operating 13 Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines since 2004. The newest type of the U.S. Navy’s attack subs, they are armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles and MK-48 torpedoes. They can also be used in counterterrorism operations because they have smaller submersibles for commando infiltration missions. (Yoon Hyung-jun, “U.S. Nuke Sub Kept out of Busan for Fear of Agitating N. Korea,” Chosun Ilbo, January 18, 2018)

Joseph Yun: “Hani: Will Secretary Tillerson’s plan to visit to Pyongyang still be effective if NK stops so-called provocations during a certain period? It seems that a 60-day period [of North Korea refraining from provocation] is no longer a precondition. Could you confirm that? Yun: I think what you have to understand is that Secretary Tillerson has always stated that we are open to credible dialogue. And what form that credible dialogue takes, we don’t know. We really believe that it is up to the North Korean side to suggest how a dialogue could be credible. So fundamentally, I believe that now the North Korean side has to respond. Hani: Is the “60 days condition” still in effect? Yun: There has never been a “60 day condition.” What has been a condition is that North Korea should say we are stopping testing because we want a dialogue. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s sixty days or ninety days or whatever. They need to say that they want to have a dialogue, and for that reason they are stopping testing nuclear and missile devices. Hani: If North Korea announces that it will stop nuclear and missile testing, could Secretary Tillerson meet with the North Koreans? Yun: Well, it’s something that we have to think about seriously, but that would be a good first step. Hani: Is the “New York channel” still working well? Is this being used to notify North Korea of US intentions? Yun: We correspond regularly via the New York channel. The New York channel is a message center. So, I’m sure what we tell the channel gets to Pyongyang. So this is working fine. I’m not prepared to go into what we’ve discussed. Hani: There are concerns the tensions might re-escalate if there is no tangible solution to the nuclear issue after the Pyeongchang Olympics conclude. Do you have any plan to keep the momentum that has resulted from recent inter-Korean dialogue and North Korea’s participation in the Olympics? Yun: We have stated clearly that we are open to serious dialogue, and so it would be nice if North Korea responded meaningfully to our offer, which is a standing offer out there. So like you, I hope something can be worked out so they come to the table for serious and credible dialogue. Hani: There is an argument that in order to keep the current momentum, the US-ROK joint exercises need to be scaled down or modified. Is that something the US is prepared to consider? Yun: Again, we’re not going to reveal what we’re going to do and what we will not do. So it is tough to answer those questions. But I think everyone has made it clear that freeze-for-freeze is not acceptable for the US. Hani: Would the US accept South Korea sending a special envoy to North Korea in order to make a breakthrough regarding the nuclear issue? Yun: Why wouldn’t the US accept it if there is a breakthrough and North Korea decided that all of a sudden, “You know what? You’re right. The special envoy from South Korea is right; we’re going to get rid of our nuclear weapons.” That’d be great. That would be fantastic. But is that going to happen? I don’t think so. I think it’ll be tough. Hani: Secretary James Mattis indicated while en route to Vancouver that the current focus is freezing the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile tests. This seems to be an implication that the first goal of US side is to freeze the testing. Is that a fair inference? Yun: I think everyone realizes that this will be a long process. and everyone also acknowledges that step one could be freezing nuclear missile test. But it has to be step by step, and I think everyone knows the steps clearly. You start from a freeze, then you stop development, and then you send in inspectors, and you begin what we call disabling and then dismantling and finally denuclearization. I think everyone understands these steps, and also acknowledges that the very first step is a freeze, yes. Hani: Is that realistic? Yun: Yes. Hani: It’s realistic to think that North Korea will give up its nuclear program through a diplomatic approach? Yun: Of course, I believe that. I think it’s going to take a lot of effort and time. I do believe that they will eventually denuclearize as many countries have done, including Ukraine, South Africa, and so on. (Yi Yong-in, “U.S. Special Representative on North Korea Policy: ‘We Have a Standing Offer for Dialogue,” Hankyore, January 19, 2018)


1/19/18:
At a National Security Council meeting, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him. After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’” (Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “On the Edge in Trump’s West Wing,” Washington Post, September 5, 2018, p.A-1)

Woodward: “In several secure phone conversations with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Trump had intensified his criticism of the KORUS trade agreement between the two countries. He would not let go of the $18 billion trade deficit and the $3.5 billion expense of stationing 28,500 U.S. troops. The refrain was jeopardizing relations with Moon, whom he disliked. … Trump told Moon he wanted to send a 180-day termination letter and destroy the trade relationship. You guys are ripping us off. He wanted the trade and security issues separated. I’m doing giving you guys free money! Moon replied that trade and security were intertwined. We want to work with you, the South Korean president said. He was conciliatory. … We want to come to an understanding. Trump was amped up. You’ve got to pay for the THAAD anti-ballistic missile system. Why do we need to have any of our anti-ballistic missile system there? He belittled the KORUS trade agreement, South Korea and its new president. Kelly, McMaster, Tillerson, and Mattis joked darkly that it was inexplicable that the president was voicing more ire at South Korea than our adversaries — China, Russia, Iran, Syria, and North Korea. The senior White House staff and national security team were appalled. They didn’t know what the president might say or do. This was an important relationship, especially at that moment. They had to shut this down. There was a consensus that something needed to be done before Moon decided he’ had enough. McMaster set up a National Security Council meeting in the Situation Room for January 19, 2018. The meeting was billed as a discussion of issue related to South Korea among the president and his principals — Tillerson, Mattis, Kelly, McMaster, Dunford, Cohn. Trump got right to the point. ‘What do we get by maintaining a massive military presence in the Korean Peninsula?’ he asked, returning to his obsession with the money and the troops. … Mattis and General Dunford once more explained that the benefit was immense. We get a stable democracy in a part of the world where we really need it, Mattis said. … Trump had been informed about the edge the Special Access Program intelligence operations gave the United States in detecting a North Korean missile launch — seven seconds versus 15 minutes from Alaska. There was also an offensive cyberattack capability. It had mixed results sabotaging North Korean missiles before or after launch. Mattis showed signs he was tired of the disparaging of the military and intelligence capability. And of Trump’s unwillingness to comprehend their significance. ‘We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,’ Mattis said. He was calm but stark. It was a breathtaking statement, a challenge to the president, suggesting he was risking nuclear war. … One person present said Mattis’s message was clear: Stop fucking around with this. … Mattis was not finished. ‘We have the ability to defend the homeland with forward deployment’ of the 28,500 troops. He was reluctant to mention the Special Access Programs in such a large meeting. Mattis explained, without the intelligence capability and the troops, the risk of war would vastly increase. The means of defending South Korea and Japan would be decreased. If there was a war without these assets, ‘the only option left is the nuclear option. We can’t achieve the same deterrent effect’ in any other way. ‘And we can’t do it as cost effectively.’ The arrangement with South Korea was one of the great national security bargains of all time. Mattis tried to speak the president’s language of cost/benefit analysis. ‘But we’re losing so much money in trade with South Korea, China and others,’ Trump countered. ‘I’d rather be spending money on our own country.’ The United States was subsidizing others with the trade imbalances. ‘Other countries,’ Trump went on, ‘who’ve agreed to do security things with us only do it because they’re taking so much of our money.’ They were almost stealing from us. ‘Forward-positioned troops provide the least costly means of achieving our security objectives, and withdrawal would lead our allies to lose all confidence in us.’ [Joint Chiefs of Staff] Chairman Dunford jumped in, seconding all these points with some passion. ‘We’re spending massive amounts for very rich countries who aren’t burden sharing,’ Trump said, hammering his point. … Tillerson … turned back to the main issue: the value of forward deployment. ‘It’s the best model. The global system. Joining together in trade and geopolitics leads to good security outcomes.’ Dunford again supported his argument. ‘Our forward-deployed cost in South Korea is roughly $2 billion. South Korea reimburses us for nearly $800 million of that. We don’t seek reimbursement for the cost of our troops’ such as their pay. The chairman also said that other countries were paying the U.S. an annual subsidy for activities we would engage in anyway for our own protection. ‘We’re getting $4 billion a year subsidy in our efforts to protect the homeland,’ Dunford said. ‘I think we could be so rich,’ Trump said, if we weren’t so stupid. We’re being played [as] suckers, especially NATO.’ … The president left. Among the principals, there was exasperation with these questions. Why are we having to do this constantly? When is he going to learn. They didn’t believe they were having these conversations and had to justify their reasoning. Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth or sixth grader.’” (Woodward, Fear, pp. 304-8)

Gary Cohn, then Trump’s top economic adviser and former president of Goldman Sachs, is described as having swiped from the president’s desk in the Oval Office a letter from Trump addressed to South Korean President Moon Jae-in terminating the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) last September. In a White House National Security Council meeting on January 19 of this year, Trump asked the point of maintaining a massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula. Mattis and Dunford briefed Trump on the benefits of the alliance with South Korea, a stable democracy and the 11th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $1.5 trillion, the same as Russia’s. This meeting, arranged by McMaster, came after Trump was described as having badgered South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whom he disliked, in phone conversations threatening to terminate the Korea-U.S. FTA and criticizing the trade deficit and the cost of stationing 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea. At one point, Mattis told the president, “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III.” He was said to have explained that without the intelligence capability and the forward deployment of the U.S. troops, the risk of war would vastly increase, and without such assets, the “only option left is the nuclear option.” (Sarah Kim, “’Fear’ Shows How Close Korea Came to War,” JoongAng Ilbo, September 14, 2018)

Sigal: “Ever since North Korea’s Kim Jong Un accepted South Korea’s invitation to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the two countries have been moving at a speed skater’s pace to ease tensions. It’s a moment of real opportunity — but it’s also a fragile one, because any relaxation of tensions in Korea won’t be sustained unless Washington resumes negotiations with Pyongyang. President Trump shows signs he may do just that. “I would love to see them take it beyond the Olympics,” he told reporters at Camp David on Jan. 6. “And at the appropriate time, we’ll get involved.” He reiterated that four days later in a telephone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In the weeks after North Korea’s surprise Olympics move, Washington and Seoul postponed joint military exercises scheduled to begin in February, and the Koreas have restored a military hotline, agreed to march together at the opening ceremony, field a joint women’s hockey team, and allow a large contingent of cheerleaders and a pop orchestra travel south across the Demilitarized Zone that has divided them since the Korean War. Observers were too quick to dismiss Kim’s move as a charm offensive or a ploy to sow division in allied ranks. But some of us who have spent years dealing with North Korea see this opening as the North’s latest attempt to ease tensions — not just with South Korea, but also with the United States. Amid contradictory messages from the Trump administration, a senior State Department official hinted that time may come sooner than many expect. They told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius last week that face-to-face meetings could start before the Olympics end. The conversation with Pyongyang can “start at the edges,” with each country describing how it sees the future, and then “work toward the center,” meaning denuclearization was no longer a precondition but an eventual goal. “The Olympics themselves might be the perimeter” from which talks start, they said. Demanding that Pyongyang suspend nuclear tests without getting anything in return has only delayed diplomatic give-and-take, enabling it to add to its nuclear capacity and boost its bargaining leverage in the meantime. How long will it take for sanctions to compel North Korea to accept talks on U.S. terms? How many ICBM and nuclear tests will it conduct and how many nuclear weapons and ICBMs will it make in the meantime? Pressure without negotiations has never worked in the past with Pyongyang. There’s no reason to think it will now — and getting China to toughen sanctions won’t help. Understanding Pyongyang’s strategy, as well as Beijing’s place in it, is the starting point for understanding this. Korea’s history with China has been fraught for centuries, and North Korean-Chinese tensions are hardly new. During the Cold War, Kim Il Sung played China off against the Soviet Union to maintain freedom of maneuver. In 1988, anticipating the Soviet Union’s collapse, he reached out to the United States, South Korea and Japan in order to avoid overdependence on China. As China has grown stronger, that need became more compelling. Forcing North Korea’s lifelong foes to become friends has been the Kims’ aim ever since. From Pyongyang’s viewpoint, that aim was the basis of the 1994 Agreed Framework, committing Washington to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations” — in plain English, end hostility. That aim was also the essence of the September 2005 Six-Party Joint Statement in which Washington and Pyongyang pledged to “respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize their relations” as well as to “negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” For Washington, suspension of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs was the point of these agreements, which succeeded for years in shuttering the North’s production of fissile material and stopping test-launches of longer-range missiles. Both agreements collapsed, however, when Washington did little to implement its commitment to improve relations and Pyongyang reneged on denuclearization. Pyongyang’s desire for an end to enmity could yield much more leverage for Washington than more stringent sanctions. By contrast, nothing provokes Pyongyang more than cooperation between Washington and Beijing. Far from becoming more pliable, on four occasions when China and the United States cooperated in the U.N. Security Council to impose tougher sanctions — in 2006, 2009, 2013, and this fall — North Korea responded by conducting nuclear tests in an effort to drive them apart. Is easing tensions with Washington still Kim’s strategy? The only way to find out for sure is to resume negotiations. Reciprocity is needed to get the North Korea to suspend missile and nuclear tests. It doesn’t mean postponing or cancelling joint exercises with South Korea, but their size and operating tempo can be adjusted, especially by suspending deployment of nuclear assets like flights of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers into Korean airspace. Kim Jong Un himself hinted at that more acceptable version of a freeze for a freeze in his New Year’s Day address. South Korea, he said, “should discontinue all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces.” North Korea’s party newspaper Rodong Sinmun made that explicit on January 11, “If the South Korean authorities really want detente and peace, they should first stop all the efforts to bringing in U.S. nuclear equipment and conducts exercise for nuclear warfare with foreign forces.” The odds of persuading North Korea to go beyond another temporary suspension to stop generating fissile material and dismantle its nuclear and missile programs are slim unless Washington and Seoul move toward political and economic normalization, undertake a peace process to end the Korean War, and negotiate regional security arrangements. Eliminating its weapons could only be possible after the North is convinced a fundamentally new relationship is firmly in place, which would take years. A policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” can only succeed if nuclear diplomacy is soon resumed and the North’s security needs are satisfied. Amid all the chatter about war-war in the news, the Administration seems to be moving to try jaw-jaw. Let’s hope that works.” (Leon V. Sigal, “North Korea Is Reaching Out. Will Trump Play Ball?” Buzzfeed, January 19, 2018)


1/21/18:
A North Korean delegation arrived in Gangnueng, an eastern city, to check the venues for its proposed art performances at next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The trip came amid brisk inter-Korean contact on the North’s participation in the Olympic Games to open in three weeks. The seven-member team is led by Hyon Song-wol, head of the North’s Samjiyon Orchestra and director of the Moranbong Band, the country’s well-known all-female musical group, reportedly created at the order of Kim Jong-un. Known as one of the most influential women in the North, she is rumored to be an ex-girlfriend of Kim. Earlier in the day, the North’s delegation crossed the land border via the Gyeongui Line, becoming the first North Koreans to travel to the South since the shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in early 2016. Several South Korean officials greeted the North Koreans at the customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) office at Dorasan Station, just south of the border. The two Koreas will exchange visits of working-level officials later this week to continue consultations on issues related to the North’s participation in the Olympics and the ensuing Paralympics. A dozen South Korean officials are scheduled to make a three-day visit starting January 23 to the Mount Kumgang area and Masikryong Ski Resort in the North’s eastern area. The North accepted the South’s offer to send the advance team as part of its plan to stage a joint cultural event in the Mount Kumgang region, according to the Ministry of Unification. Their skiers will train together at the ski compound as well. The North also informed the South of a plan to dispatch an eight-member delegation, led by Yun Yong-bok, a deputy director general at its sports ministry, on January 25, it added. Yun traveled to South Korea in 2014 for such an inspection before the North joined the Incheon Asian Games. The North’s team wants to look around Olympic facilities, such as stadiums, lodgings and the press center for three days. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the North will send 22 athletes to the Pyeongchang Games in three sports — skating, skiing and ice hockey. The IOC also confirmed that two nations will also march together behind a single flag at the opening ceremony and field a unified women’s hockey team in what it described as a “milestone.” (Lee Chi-dong, “N. Korea Delegation in S. Korea to Inspect Concert Venues,” Yonhap, January 21, 2018)


1/23/18:
CPRK statement: “A breakthrough was made in the improvement of the north-south ties and there is a warm wind for reconciliation thanks to the DPRK’s sincere efforts, to be warmly welcomed by the whole Korean nation and the world. But the puppet conservative forces have gone beyond a tolerance limit in their ill intention to chill the atmosphere for the improved north-south ties and ruin the great event of the nation, shocking the public at home and abroad. A hideous provocative act, openly perpetrated in downtown Seoul in broad daylight on Jan 22, clearly proved that the wild act of the group of traitors challenging the trend of the national history toward the improvement of the north-south ties and reunification has reached the extremes. Timed to coincide with the arrival of our field survey delegation for dispatch of an art troupe in Seoul that day, coteries of the “Korean Patriotic Party” flocked to the plaza of Seoul Railways Station where they held a press interview and viciously slandered the DPRK’s participation in the Olympics. They went on the rampage, torching a portrait symbolizing the dignity of the DPRK supreme leadership and a DPRK flag, not content with talking hoarse that “Pyeongchang Olympics is about to change into Pyongyang Olympics for promoting the north’s social system and making the north’s nuclear weapons a fait accompli” and “dispatch of the north’s cheering group and joint training at the Masikryong Ski Resort are an attempt to bring to naught the sweats and efforts exerted by inhabitants in Kangwon Province and Pyeongchang”. This is a never-to-be-condoned hideous crime as it is an intolerable mockery of the sincerity and efforts being made by the DPRK for the improvement of the north-south relations and a deliberate political provocation to turn the Olympics into a theatre for escalating confrontation between the north and the south. Far from making a deep bow to the fellow countrymen for their sincere efforts for the successful Olympics, the conservative group resorted to all sorts of slandering and committed such shuddering acts in the eyes of the delegation of the DPRK. They are a despicable group of gangsters in human form. The conservative forces who had been pushed into the cesspool of history being severely punished by history for their acts of treachery under the armpit of Lee Myung Bak and Park Geun Hye, are now going on the rampage, making hideous provocations. This is a shame to the nation. It is deplorable that due to a handful of betes noires, our efforts and the desire of all Koreans to make the Olympics a great auspicious event common to the nation are being mocked and dark clouds lay low over the prospect of the Olympics. The puppet conservative forces are human rejects devoid of appearance as human beings, to say nothing of elementary etiquette and manners toward the fellow countrymen, and dregs of history that would do only harm to the nation if they are allowed to go at large. It is quite natural that the south Koreans from all walks of life raise their voices calling for throwing overboard those rubbish so that they would not give off stinking smell any more, being concerned that such acts omen new trouble in the north-south relations. What should not be overlooked is the south Korean authorities’ behavior of conniving at such serious politically-motivated provocation. As we truly hoped for the Olympics becoming a theater for promoting trust and reconciliation between the north and the south, we repeatedly advised and warned them so as to keep any acts that may incite mistrust and confrontation between the fellow countrymen and get on the nerves of the dialogue partner from being occurred. Even though they watched the reckless confrontation moves committed by the conservatives, the south Korean authorities have taken a non-committal stand, reading the faces of those conservatives who are no more than living corpses, while talking about “freedom of expression” and only asking them to “restrain”. No wonder, the situation is turning out to be worse, far from being brought under control. This is little short of egging the conservative group on to foster such acts so that they go on the rampage. The criminal acts committed by the conservative forces with no fear of divine punishment have now greatly enraged the people of the DPRK. We will never tolerate hideous acts of the conservative hooligans who insulted the sacred dignity and symbol of the DPRK, and the dishonest behavior of the south Korean authorities who connived at such acts, and we cannot but take a serious consideration of our follow-up measures regarding the Winter Olympics. The south Korean authorities have to apologize before the nation for the political provocation, severely punish those involved in the crime and take a prompt measure to prevent the recurrence of such acts. If the north-south agreement and schedules for the DPRK’s participation in the Olympics are cancelled due to the confrontational act of the conservative riff-raffs keen on spouting vituperation and committing provocative acts against the fellow countrymen, the blame will wholly rest with the conservative group and the south Korean authorities. We value the north-south ties but have no intention to continue to show good faith and magnanimity even while seeing the confrontational fanatics dare challenge the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and its sacred symbol. We will closely follow the future attitude of the south Korean authorities concerning the recent hideous crime.” (KCNA, “We Will Never Pardon S. Korean Conservative Forces’ Shuddering Hideous Crime against Dignity of DPRK,” January 23, 2018)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that North Korea is moving “ever closer” to putting Americans at risk and that he believes leader Kim Jong Un won’t rest until he’s able to threaten multiple nuclear attacks against the U.S. at the same time. “North Korea is ever closer to being able to hold America at risk.” Pompeo said at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington. “I want everyone to understand that we are working diligently to make sure that a year from now I can still tell you that they are several months away from having that capacity.” Speaking after one year on the job, Pompeo also said the CIA believes Kim would not only use nuclear weapons to stay in power, but to threaten to reunify the divided Korean Peninsula under his totalitarian regime. The quest for reunification is disputed by some North Korean experts who see Kim’s nuclear program as primarily a means of retaining power and don’t think he would threaten or forcibly try to take over South Korea. Pompeo said North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has developed at a “very rapid clip,” but that Kim is hoping for an arsenal of nuclear weapons — “not one, not a showpiece, not something to drive on a parade route.” He wants the ability to deliver nuclear weapons from multiple missiles fired simultaneously. “That increases the risk to America,” Pompeo said. Despite his warning, Pompeo doesn’t think a North Korean attack on the United States is imminent. He said the Trump administration is “laser-focused” on achieving a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff. “The American people should know we are working to prepare a series of options to make sure we can deliver a range of things so that the president will have the full sweep of possibilities,” he said. “The president is intent on delivering the solution through diplomatic means.” He wouldn’t address the question of whether there are military options available to the U.S. that don’t risk an escalation into nuclear war with North Korea. “There is much effort all across the U.S. government to ensure that Americans don’t have to feel at risk,” Pompeo said. “We saw what happened in Hawaii. It is an imperative — an American, national imperative — that we as an intelligence agency deliver the information to our senior leaders such that they can resolve this issue in a way that works for the American people.” (Associated Press, “CIA: North Korea Moving ‘Ever Closer’ to Putting U.S. at Risk,” January 23, 2018) The president’s long-term mission is to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, Mike Pompeo said. But in the near- to medium-term, he suggested, the administration would consider it a victory to accomplish something far more modest: stopping North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program from progressing, rather than rolling it back. The North is “a handful of months” away from “being able to hold America at risk” with a long-range, nuclear-tipped missile, he observed, noting that he had made the same estimate several months ago. “We are working diligently to make sure that, a year from now, I can still tell you they are several months away from having that capacity.” Pompeo also added two notable caveats to Trump’s “It won’t happen!” vow. The first was that the president is intent on preventing North Korea from developing an arsenal of long-range nuclear weapons. This is different from a posture that insists on preventing the successful test-firing of a single weapon, which is the one Trump seemed to embrace in his tweet. “The logical next step would be [for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] to develop an arsenal of weapons. Not one, not a showpiece … but rather the capacity to deliver [nuclear weapons] from multiple firings of these missiles simultaneously. And that increases the risk to America, and that’s the very mission set that President Trump has directed the government to figure out a way to make sure it never occurs.” The second caveat was that the administration is determined to deny North Korea reliable long-range nuclear weapons. “Can they reliably deliver the pain which Kim Jong Un wants to be able to deliver against the United States of America?” Pompeo asked. “It’s one thing to be able to say ‘Yes it’s possible you could if everything went right’—‘if the missile flew in the right direction and we got lucky, we could do it’—as opposed to certainty.” “This is the core of deterrence theory: You have to be certain that what you aim to deliver will actually be successful. At the very least you need to make sure your adversary believes that it is certain,” Pompeo continued. “That’s what Kim Jong Un is driving for. He is trying to put in our mind the reality that he can deliver that pain to the United States of America. And our mission is to make the day that he can do that as far off as possible.” Pompeo said that while the CIA assesses Kim Jong Un to be a “rational actor,” the agency is concerned that Kim “may not be getting really good, accurate information” about how serious the United States is about countering North Korea’s nuclear program. “It is not a healthy thing to be a senior leader and bring bad news to Kim Jong Un,” he joked. “Tell someone you’re going to do that and try to get life insurance. So we’re taking the real-world actions that we think will make unmistakable to Kim Jong Un that we are intent on denuclearization. We are counting on the fact that he’ll see it. We’re confident that he will.” And even if Kim is a rational leader who could be deterred from using his nukes, failing to end North Korea’s weapons program could result in a nuclear-arms race in the region, with the North sharing its nuclear technology with other countries or groups, and Kim Jong Un using his newfound clout for “coercive” purposes. We do believe that Kim Jong Un, given these tool sets, would use them for things besides simply regime protection,” Pompeo explained. “And that is to put pressure on what is his ultimate goal, which is reunification of the peninsula under his authority.” (Uri Friedman, “Trump’s Red Line on North Korea Gets Fuzzier,” The Atlantic January 23, 2018


1/24/18:
The Trump administration unfurled new sanctions targeting North Korea and its weapons program, underscoring the aggressive approach that President Trump has promised to take against the government of Kim Jong-un. The new sanctions, released by the Treasury Department, target North Korean and Chinese trading companies, North Korean ships and North Korea’s ministry of oil. They also hit North Korean representatives in China and Russia who are members of the Workers’ Party of Korea and who have helped North Korea transfer chemicals and equipment used for weapons production. “Treasury continues to systematically target individuals and entities financing the Kim regime and its weapons programs, including officials complicit in North Korean sanctions evasion schemes,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in a statement. Mnuchin said that, in accord with United Nations Security Council resolutions, he also is calling on Russia and China to expel anyone working in their countries on behalf of North Korea’s financial networks. This week, Sigal Mandelker, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, traveled to Asia to hold talks with officials in Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul about ways to combat North Korea’s illicit financing and money laundering practices. During a stop in Hong Kong on Wednesday, she urged the Chinese to do more to crack down on shell companies that North Koreans set up in other countries and use to evade sanctions. In testimony before Congress last week, Ms. Mandelker noted that North Korea has been using cover representatives and front companies to hide and transfer funds that finance its weapons program. Sanctions experts have suggested that the United States faces limited options targeting North Korea’s illicit financing schemes because of the broad swath of sanctions that already have been imposed on the isolated Asian nation. The designation on Wednesday of two Chinese trading companies, Beijing Chengxing Trading Co. Ltd. and Dandong Jinxiang Trade Co., Ltd., signals that the Treasury Department is looking more broadly for ways to squeeze North Korea. “The Chinese trading companies that were targeted are the most interesting,” said Mike Casey, a sanctions expert at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis International. “Even though the U.S. hasn’t been able to get a ton of direct economic pressure on North Korea, it certainly hasn’t given up on exerting indirect economic pressure on North Korea.” The sanctions enable the United States to freeze the assets of the people or businesses that are designated and blocks Americans from doing business with them. Today, Japan said that a military plane had spotted a North Korean tanker and a Dominican-registered tanker side by side in the East China Sea on Saturday, apparently transferring cargo. Yasutoshi Nishimura, the deputy chief cabinet secretary, on Thursday called that a sign that fuel sanctions were working, in that the North had been forced to go outside normal methods to obtain fuel. (Alan Rappeport, “U.S. Orders New Batch of Sanctions on Kim,” New York Times, January 25, 2018, p. A-9)

“The US is prepared to engage in dialogue with the North. I think this is the best time for North Korea [to engage in dialogue with the US],” a senior official at South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that dialogue is possible if [North Korea] refrains from additional provocations to some extent, and President Donald Trump has recently signed on as well. [The US] has never said that kind of thing before,” the official said during a meeting with reporters this afternoon. “The US always used to impose preconditions [for dialogue] that complicated things. But now they’re saying they want to meet for dialogue, which means that it’s better to meet now,” the official added. “When I asked people about it on a visit to the US, they told me that [Tillerson’s remarks] were still valid. When [Tillerson] said we could talk about the weather, he meant we could get together and talk about everything, including what [North Korea’s] concerns are and what form the deliberations should take,” the official explained. “I think that North Korea coming to Pyeongchang to take part [in the Winter Olympics] is a message about relaxing tensions. They’re not likely to commit a provocation while they’re down here. Once things cool down and [tensions] are eased, the mood will be set for dialogue as well.” Along with the importance of North Korea-US dialogue for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, the official also emphasized that the South Korean government must be ensured a seat at the table when those talks resume. “We are engaging in dialogue with North Korea out of the belief that inter-Korean dialogue should serve as the impetus toward North Korea-US talks and other talks toward denuclearization and resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. It’s clear that South Korean participation must be guaranteed [in future deliberations],” the official said. Americans have also been emphasizing the importance of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue through diplomacy. “The president is intent on delivering this solution [to the North Korean nuclear issue] through diplomatic means. It is the focus. It has been uniformly that for 365 days. It remains so today,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said during a lecture hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank, yesterday. (Noh Ji-won, Kim Ji-eun, and Yi Yong-in, “’Now Is the Best Time’ for U.S.-North Korea Negotiations, Says S.K. Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Hankyore, January 25, 2018)


1/25/18:
North Korea shipped coal to Russia last year which was then delivered to South Korea and Japan in a likely violation of U.N. sanctions, three Western European intelligence sources said. The U.N. Security Council banned North Korean exports of coal last August 5. But the secretive Communist state has at least three times since then shipped coal to the Russian ports of Nakhodka and Kholmsk, where it was unloaded at docks and reloaded onto ships that took it to South Korea or Japan, the sources said. A Western shipping source said separately that some of the cargoes reached Japan and South Korea in October last year. A U.S. security source also confirmed the coal trade via Russia and said it was continuing. “Russia’s port of Nakhodka is becoming a transshipping hub for North Korean coal,” said one of the European security sources, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of international diplomacy around North Korea. Russia’s mission to the United Nations informed the Security Council sanctions committee on November 3 that Moscow was complying with the sanctions. “Russia does not buy coal from North Korea and is not a transit point for coal deliveries to third countries,” Interfax news agency on January 26 quoted an unidentified official at Russia’s embassy to North Korea as saying. Two lawyers who specialize in sanctions law told Reuters it appeared the transactions violated U.N. sanctions. Reuters could not independently verify whether the coal unloaded at the Russian docks was the same coal that was then shipped to South Korea and Japan. Reuters also was unable to ascertain whether the owners of the vessels that sailed from Russia to South Korea and Japan knew the origin of the coal. The U.S. Treasury yesterday put the owner of one of the ships, the UAL Ji Bong 6, under sanctions for delivering North Korean coal to Kholmsk on September 5. It was unclear which companies profited from the coal shipments. Asked about the shipments identified by Reuters, Matthew Oresman, a partner with law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who advises companies on sanctions, said: “Based on these facts, there appears to be a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution by the parties involved.” “Also those involved in arranging, financing, and carrying out the shipments could likely face U.S. sanctions,” he said. Asked about the shipments, a U.S. State Department spokesman said: “It’s clear that Russia needs to do more. All U.N. member states, including Russia, are required to implement sanctions resolutions in good faith and we expect them all to do so.” Two separate routes for the coal were identified by the Western security sources. The first used vessels from North Korea via Nakhodka, about 85 km (53 miles) east of the Russian city of Vladivostok. One vessel that used this route was the Palau-flagged Jian Fu which Russian port control documents show delivered 17,415 tonnes of coal after sailing from Nampo in North Korea on August 3 and docking at berth no. 4 run by LLC Port Livadiya in Nakhodka. It left the port on August 18. The vessel had turned off its tracking transmitter from July 24 to August 2, when it was in open seas, according to publicly available ship tracking data. Under maritime conventions, this is acceptable practice at the discretion of the ship’s captain, but means the vessel could not be tracked publicly. Another ship arrived at the same berth — No. 4 — on August 16, loaded 20,500 tonnes of coal and headed to the South Korean port of Ulsan in Aug. 24, according to Russian port control documents. Reuters was unable to reach the operator of the Jian Fu, which was listed in shipping directories as the China-based Sunrise Ship Management. The Nakhodka-based transport agent of the Jian Fu did not respond to written and telephone requests for comment. LLC Port Livadiya did not respond to a written request for comment. The second route took coal via Kholmsk on the Russian Pacific island of Sakhalin, north of Japan. At least two North Korean vessels unloaded coal at a dock in Kholmsk port in August and September after arriving from the ports of Wonsan and Taean in North Korea, Russian port control data and ship tracking data showed. The Rung Ra 2 docked in Kholmsk three times between August 1 and September 12, unloading a total of 15,542 tonnes of coal, while the Ul Ji Bong 6 unloaded a total of 10,068 tonnes of coal on two separate port calls — on August 3 and between September 1 and 8, according to the official Russian Information System for State Port Control. The coal did not pass Russian customs because of the UN sanctions taking effect, but was then loaded at the same dock onto Chinese-operated vessels. Those vessels stated their destination in Russian port control documents as North Korea, according to a source in Sakhalin port administration who spoke on condition of anonymity. Reuters has seen the port control documents which state the destination of the coal as North Korea. But the vessels that loaded the North Korean coal sailed instead for the ports of Pohang and Incheon in South Korea, ship tracking data showed. Asked about the shipments, a South Korean foreign ministry official said: “Our government is monitoring any sanctions-evading activities by North Korea. We’re working closely with the international community for the implementation of the sanctions.” The official declined to say whether the ministry was aware of the shipments reported by Reuters. “The Chinese have cracked down on coal exports from North Korea so the smuggling route has developed and Russia is the transit point for coal,” one of the European security sources said. (Guy Faulconbridge, Jonathan Saul, and Polina Nikolskaya, “Despite Sanctions, North Exported Coal to South and Japan via Russia — Intelligence Sources,” Reuters, January 25, 2018)

“The nuclear issue has to be solved through negotiations and diplomatic endeavors. This idea of a military solution is unacceptable,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at a news briefing on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I’m assured that anything the U.S. administration does on this front is done in close consultation with us,” Kang said. She declined to comment if Washington had given Seoul clear assurance but added: “This is our fate that is at stake. Any option that is to be taken on the Korean peninsula cannot be implemented without us going along.” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who will represent the United States at the Olympics, said on January 23 he would seek to counter what he described as an effort by North Korea to “hijack” the Games with a propaganda campaign. Seoul has rejected that criticism, saying the Olympics will help defuse tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. “This is an opportunity for engagement and a peaceful engagement around the Olympic Games, and we just need to make the best of it,” Kang said in the interview today. But she cautioned that sustained improvement in bilateral ties cannot take place apart from the nuclear issue: “There have to be advances on this front as well.” Kang said she was “very disappointed” with the U.S. government’s decision this week to impose steep tariffs on washing machines imported from South Korea, but said that the trade dispute should not affect a “very strong security alliance” between the two countries. “The period of non-engagement with North Korea has been too long,” Kang said, hoping that discussions “will create the momentum for dialogue on the North Korean nuclear issue as well.” Seoul had proposed a delay in the drills during the Olympics based on the “spirit of the Olympic Games,” Kang said, but declined to elaborate on whether the South would resume the drills after the event. “We’re on the same page on all fronts [with the United States],” she said. “So we will see how the next two months will unfold.” (Soyoung Kim, “South Korean Minister Says Military Option ‘Unacceptable’ on North Korea Crisis,” Reuters, January 25, 2018)

North Korea’s participation in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opens up a window of opportunity to resume long-suspended talks to discuss the country’s denuclearization, former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday. “There’s actually a very tiny window open,” Ban said in a press seminar. He added he thought the Pyeongchang Olympics could be “very successful” in opening up denuclearization talks with North Korea. “(The question is) how to expand this window to lead to actual, meaningful talks. I agree [with some diplomats in the U.S. and South Korea] that this is the best time for talks with the North,” the former South Korean foreign minister also noted. “Without any talks to follow Pyeongchang, the crisis of last year will be repeated. Talks must be started,” he said. “The small window could be wide open depending on how we do.” Military talks between the two Koreas could be one of the options for such talks following the Olympics, Ban said, referring to the countries’ recent agreement in principle to hold dialogue between their militaries. “If it does not take place as agreed, another bout of problems or North Korea’s miscalculation or defiant provocations could follow,” he stated. (Yonhap, “N. Korea’s Olympic Participation Opens up ‘Tiny’ Window for Denuclearization Talks: Ban Ki-moon,” January 25, 2018)

North Korean hockey players and an advance team of sports officials crossed the border to South Korea early today to prepare for their country’s participation in next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Twenty-three North Koreans arrived in the South via the Kaesong route. Among them were a 15-member delegation of 12 women’s ice hockey players with their coach Pak Chol-ho and two support staff, which swiftly left for the national training center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province. The athletes will enter practice sessions with their South Korean counterparts to form a unified women’s ice hockey team for the upcoming games. The players met the South Korean team and coach Sarah Murray in Jincheon after arriving at the training center around 12:30 p.m. They were warmly greeted with a six-minute welcoming ceremony, where the South Korean athletes presented the North Korean players bouquets of flowers. The North agreed to send 22 athletes to compete in women’s ice hockey, figure skating, short track speed skating, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing at the February 9-25 Winter Games. The decision, approved by the International Olympics Committee, spawned out of a series of inter-Korean meetings held after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed willingness to dispatch a delegation to the Winter Games. South Korea currently has 23 players on its entry, but Murray must now add at least three players from North Korea to her roster of 22 players — 20 skaters and two goaltenders. Meanwhile, a South Korean advance team is set to return home from a three-day trip to North Korea. They inspected venues suggested for a joint cultural event and ski training such as Kumkangsan Resort and Masikryong Ski Resort. The North Korean hockey team’s visit comes as South Korean society remains divided over the idea of a unified team. Critics say the South Korean team could be burdened by North Korean players and their chances of success have become slimmer. According to a survey by Korea Research released today 58.7 percent of the respondents disagreed with the idea of the unified team, citing “unfairness for South Korean national players who lost their spot at the games.” Those who agreed with the move came in at 37.7 percent, saying it could contribute to an improvement in inter-Korean ties. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party criticized the liberal Moon administration as having allowed North Korea to steal the limelight at the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics by putting too much emphasis on the North’s participation. “We cannot help but ask once again whether this is the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics or the Pyongyang Olympics,” Rep. Kim Sung-tae, the party’s floor leader, said during a party meeting. Today’s visit also comes as the United States reaffirmed its stance of sticking to further pressure in dealing with North Korea, by imposing a fresh round of sanctions against the rogue regime. Today, North Korea sent a rare announcement addressed to “all Koreans at home and abroad,” saying they should make a “breakthrough” for unification without the help of other countries, via its state media. Some US officials have expressed worries the North may be trying to drive a wedge in the South Korea-US alliance by making a rare gesture of friendliness. (Jung Min-kyung & Joint Press Corp, “N.K. Hockey Players Join S. Korean Team for Training,” Korea Herald, January 25, 2018)

President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating has dipped below 60% for the first time since he took office, a recent opinion poll shows. On January 22–24, Real Meter surveyed Moon’s approval rating among 1,509 adult South Korean men and women nationwide (±2.5 percentage point margin of error with a 95% confidence level). The results showed 59.8% of respondents rating Moon’s governance performance as “good,” the polling outfit reported on January 25. The number was down 6.2 percentage points from 66% the week before — indicating a steep slide. It was also down 10.8% from two weeks prior. A January 19 Gallup Korea survey for the third week of January also Moon’s approval rating at 67%, a six-percentage point drop from the week before. (Seong Yeon-cheol and Hong So-jin, “President Moon’s Approval Rating Drops below 60% for First Time since Inauguration,” January 27, 2018)


1/26/18:
South Korea and the United States plan to resume their delayed joint military exercises after the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics, the defense ministry said. “The exact date and size of the planned joint exercises cannot be disclosed, but they will be carried out after the close of the Olympics,” Choi Hyun-soo, spokeswoman for the Ministry of National Defense, said in a press briefing. Another ministry official added that the joint exercises will be business as usual, indicating that the size of the exercises will be the same as before. Asked whether this year’s joint exercises would be the same as previous drills, the spokeswoman responded affirmatively. Another ministry official, however, added that the exact scale has not been determined. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S. to Conduct Exercises ‘Normally’ after Olympics: Seoul,” January 26, 2018)


1/28/18:
The last time South Korea hosted an Olympics, in 1988, the North not only refused to take part, it blew up a South Korean airliner ten months before the Games. Yet South Koreans at the time expressed hope that the two Koreas, divided by the Cold War, could one day become a single nation again. Now, as the South prepares to host its second Games next month, the Koreas are cooperating in unheard-of ways, including their first joint Olympic team, in women’s ice hockey. But South Koreans, especially younger ones, are far less interested in reconciliation, to say nothing of reunification. Experts and recent surveys describe a profound shift in attitudes in South Korea, where reuniting the peninsula, and the Korean people, was long held as a sacrosanct goal. These days, younger South Koreans in particular are far more likely to see the idea of reintegrating their prosperous capitalist democracy with the impoverished, totalitarian North as unrealistic and undesirable. Young Koreans say they are more concerned about pressing domestic issues — like unemployment, and whether they can live as well as their parents did — than the enormously costly, complex and hypothetical task of reunifying with the North. A survey last year by the government-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul found that far more South Koreans in their 20s now oppose reunification — 71.2 percent — than support it. Across the population, support has dropped to 57.8 percent from 69.3 percent just four years ago. “Especially men in their 20s, about half of them, consider North Korea an outright enemy,” said Kim Ji-yoon, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul who has been tracking attitudes toward reunification. “To young South Koreans, North Korea is someone they don’t want anything to do with.” Polling experts say that South Korean men in their 20s often get more hawkish after they finish their mandatory military service. The skepticism was apparent this month, when the two Koreas set aside their disputes over the North’s nuclear weapons and missile programs and agreed to field a joint team in the Winter Games in the town of Pyeongchang, and to march together in the opening ceremony on February 9. In the past, such gestures triggered waves of pro-unification sentiment, as in 2000, when North and South Korean athletes marched together at the Games in Sydney, Australia. (They competed separately.) The administration of President Moon Jae-in, a progressive who has long supported inter-Korean unity, hoped this latest rapprochement would create similarly warm feelings. Instead, a survey found that more than 72 percent of South Korean adults overall — and more than 82 percent of those in their 20s and 30s — were not enthusiastic about the hockey team. More than 54,000 people signed a petition opposing it, and many expressed anger that some South Korean players would cede their positions to North Koreans. “I am taken aback,” said Kim Sung-hwan, a former South Korean foreign minister. “Young people seem to think of North Korea as strangers who barge into their party bringing with them nothing but empty spoons.” Such pushback would have been expected from conservatives, who have long been suspicious of efforts to engage the North. But younger South Koreans tend to be politically progressive and supportive of Moon on other issues. Analysts say a key turning point in attitudes toward the North came in 2010, when a South Korean naval ship was sunk by an apparent North Korean torpedo attack, killing 46 sailors, and North Korea launched a rocket barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people, including two civilians. These were formative events for young South Koreans, these analysts say. Reunification is a personal matter for Moon, 65, who was born in a refugee camp after his parents fled their native North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. “If Korea reunified, the first thing I would do is to take my mother’s hand and visit her hometown,” he said during last year’s election campaign. The assumption that the South and North belong together is shared by many South Korean conservatives, though from a very different point of view. They tend to call for the South liberating the North from the Kim family’s rule, by force if necessary. Younger South Koreans don’t share the pain caused by the peninsula’s divide, or the inclination to see North Koreans as long-lost brethren. Last year’s survey by the unification institute found that while more than 47 percent of respondents in their 60s and older said the two Koreas must reunify “because they belong to the same nation,” less than 21 percent of respondents in their 20s said so. (Choe Sang-hun, “The Olympic Spirit Unites Korea, But Reunification’s Flame Fades,” New York Times, January 29, 2018, p. A-1)


1/29/18:
North Korea’s armed forces have scaled back their annual winter military exercises this year, U.S. officials said, a development they believe reflects growing pressure from international sanctions on the isolated nation’s economy and its military preparedness. The North Korean maneuvers, which typically run from December through March, were slow in getting started and are less extensive than usual, according to American officials familiar with intelligence reports and experts outside the government. One possibility is that restrictions on shipments of oil and refined petroleum products to North Korea imposed by the United Nations have led the country, which has one of the world’s largest standing armies, to conserve fuel by cutting back on ground and air training exercises. “Where this will have an effect is on ground force readiness,” said Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a military analyst for 38 North. “Military units have to train to maintain their proficiency.” The reduction in the North Korean winter exercises comes amid other signs of strain on the country’s military. “We are seeing defections happening in areas where we don’t generally see them, for example crossing the DMZ,” said Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the top U.S. commander in South Korea. “We’re seeing some increase in executions, mostly against political officers who are in military units, for corruption,” the general said. He said the moves “are really about trying to clamp down as much as possible on something that might be deteriorating and keeping it from deteriorating too quickly.” Senior South Korean officials and foreign diplomats in Pyongyang say they have yet to see indicators of instability in everyday life inside the country, but point to signs of stress. North Korean laborers are being sent home in large numbers from overseas work postings, for example, crimping the country’s supply of hard currency and leading to fluctuations in the exchange rate, they say. In addition, propaganda directed at the North Korean public also points to anxiety about the likely impact of sanctions. Kim in his New Year speech this month acknowledged that the economy faced “unprecedented impediments” in 2017. North Korea’s armed forces have long had to contend with tight budgets and antiquated hardware. A declassified 2015 report by the U.S. Army on North Korea’s military noted that “the amount of time spent on larger exercises pales in comparison to most Western militaries.” The exercise cutbacks this year are likely to further diminish the ability of the North Korean military to synchronize large-scale maneuvers involving multiple armor, artillery and aviation units, while slowing the training of new conscripts. (Michael R. Gordon and Jonathan Cheng, “North Korea, Under Sanctions Strain, Dials back Military Exercises,” Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2018)

North Korea has canceled a joint cultural performance with South Korea scheduled for February 4 blaming South Korean media for encouraging “insulting” public sentiment regarding the North, South Korea’s unification ministry said. The North said it had no choice but to call off the performance, which was to be held in the North Korean territory of Mount Kumgang, as South Korean media continued to insult what Pyongyang called “sincere” measures regarding the Winter Olympics Seoul will host next month, the ministry said. (Christine Kim, “North Korea Cancels Joint Performance with South Korea, Blames South Media: Seoul,” January 29, 2018)

The U.S. is stepping up pressure on African states to cut longstanding military and diplomatic ties with North Korea as part of its push to squeeze the funding of Kim Jong Un’s nuclear missile program. U.S. officials want African countries to expel North Korean workers and diplomats, alleging that Pyongyang’s 13 embassies on the continent double up as “profit making centers.” Washington says Pyongyang is using its military co-operation and arms deals with African states to obtain precious foreign currency. It also accuses some of the several thousand North Koreans believed to be living in Africa, including diplomats, of trafficking wildlife parts, such as rhino horn, another relatively easy source of foreign currency. U.S. officials estimate that Pyongyang makes at least $100m through the supply of arms, military training, construction contracts and smuggling. Peter Pham, head of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center in Washington, said that, although it might seem like “chump change”, it was “a fairly significant sum to the regime given the overall squeeze on its finances.” It was roughly 3-5 per cent of Pyongyang’s total annual foreign exchange earnings, he said. Last September, a UN panel of experts identified 11 African countries — Angola, Benin, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe — as having suspected military ties to Pyongyang. Some African countries, including Sudan, which the US lists as a sponsor of terrorism, have responded to Washington’s demands in an effort to curry favor and extract concessions. Last October, after Khartoum committed itself to downgrading North Korea ties, the US eased some sanctions. Namibia also initiated steps to cut military ties. Eleven African countries identified by UN experts’ panel as having suspected military ties to Pyongyang but other countries, say experts, are either resisting or quietly ignoring US pressure. “There are things that African states can get from North Korea that they’re not going to get from anywhere else,” said Daragh Neville, an expert on Africa-North Korea ties at Chatham House, a UK think-tank. North Koreans were among the few countries able to maintain and upgrade Soviet-era military equipment cheaply, he said. Eritrea, an isolated state in the Horn of Africa, has refused to supply information to the UN on its North Korean links. Other countries, including Mozambique, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where North Koreans are said to help train Joseph Kabila’s presidential guard, have taken a more ambiguous approach. Some have said they will co-operate but have been slow to provide information, let alone act, according to officials. Even some of supposed US allies, including South Africa, where Pyongyang has an embassy and which the US considers a hub of North Korea’s arms trade, have been slow to respond to Washington’s demands. “South Africa has not given us a clear answer” on its policy, said Robert Scott, the state department’s acting deputy assistant secretary for Africa. Many African states, including Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, have maintained close ties with North Korea since the cold war, when Pyongyang offered material and ideological support to black liberation movements. In Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, for example, one of the main thoroughfares is named after Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. Construction company Mansudae Overseas Projects Group, which is subject to sanctions by both the US and UN, has erected dozens of monuments and buildings across Africa, including Namibia’s state house and official presidential residence in Windhoek. US officials believe Mansudae continues to employ North Korean laborers throughout the continent. Since September, when President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13810, the US has been able to threaten any individual or company with a ban on business in the US if they deal with North Korea, ratcheting up the pressure. Grant Harris, an adviser on Africa to Barack Obama as president, said Washington needed to offer economic and security incentives, as well as threats, if governments were to “discard longstanding ties with North Korea.” Trump has alienated some African leaders with his comment on “shithole” countries. Neville of Chatham House said African states had more to gain and less to lose than others from dealing with Pyongyang. “The threat of North Korea is to the US, Japan and South Korea,” he said. “It’s not threatening to bomb Kinshasa or Addis.” (David Pilling, Adrienne Klasa, and Katrina Manson, “US Raises Pressure on Africa to Sever Ties with North Korea,” Financial Times, January 30, 2018, p. 4)


1/30/18:
The White House’s original choice for U.S. ambassador to South Korea is no longer expected to be nominated after he privately expressed disagreement in late December with the Trump administration’s North Korea policy, according to people familiar with the matter. Victor D. Cha, an academic who served in the George W. Bush administration, raised his concerns with National Security Council officials over their consideration of a limited strike on the North aimed at sending a message without sparking a wider war — a risky concept known as a “bloody nose” strategy. Cha also objected to the administration’s threats to tear up a bilateral trade deal with Seoul that President Trump has called unfair to American companies. The administration last week imposed new tariffs on imports of washing machines and solar energy panels, a move criticized by the South Korean government. The White House had spent months conducting a security and financial background check on Cha, and U.S. officials formally notified Seoul in December of Trump’s intent to send his nomination to the Senate. South Korean officials quickly signed off on Cha, a formal process in international affairs known as “Agrément.” (David Nakamura and Anne Gearan, “Disagreement on North Korea Policy Derails White House Choice for Ambassador to South Korea,” Washington Post, January 30, 2018)

President Trump sketched out an ominous view of America’s international role, emphasizing adversaries over allies, threats over opportunities, and a world to be pacified rather than elevated. But the president saved his longest foreign policy passage, and strongest words, for North Korea, whose “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons,” he said, “could very soon threaten our homeland.” “We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening,” he said. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.” Trump did not, as he has before, issue specific threats of a military strike on the North. But he outlined an unrelenting case for what he called the North Korean government’s “depraved character,” echoing a speech he delivered to the South Korean National Assembly in Seoul in November. Hours before the speech, the president’s Korea policy was buffeted by the administration’s decision to abandon a long-delayed plan to nominate a prominent Korea scholar, Victor D. Cha, as its ambassador to Seoul. Cha, 57, had voiced opposition to the administration’s threat to carry out a preventive military strike against North Korea, said two people with knowledge of the decision. He had already undergone an extensive vetting process, and his name had been submitted for approval to the South Korean government — normally an indication that the background check was complete. Officials in Seoul had already signed off on the ambassadorship; Cha is a Republican who identifies as a hawk on North Korea. But friends said he told Pentagon and other administration officials his concerns about ordering a pre-emptive, or preventive, military strike on North Korea before it had the capacity to fire a nuclear-armed missile at the United States. Administration officials, particularly the White House national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, have raised the prospect of such a strike — sometimes called the “bloody nose” strategy — though they emphasize they would prefer to solve the confrontation with Pyongyang through diplomacy. Cha has also publicly voiced the high cost to both Washington and Seoul of ripping up the Korea Free Trade Agreement, as Trump has threatened to do, unless the South Koreans agree to renegotiate the deal. In his speech, Trump made no mention of the Winter Olympic Games. Nor did he mention a budding détente between North and South Korea, which have agreed to march their teams into the opening ceremony under a single flag and to field a unified women’s ice hockey team. (Mark Landler, “A Foreign Policy Shaped by Adversaries,” New York Times, January 31, 2018, p. A-15)

Trump: “As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries. … But no regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea. North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening. Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position. We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies. Otto Warmbier was a hardworking student at the University of Virginia. On his way to study abroad in Asia, Otto joined a tour to North Korea. At its conclusion, this wonderful young man was arrested and charged with crimes against the state. After a shameful trial, the dictatorship sentenced Otto to 15 years of hard labor, before returning him to America last June — horribly injured and on the verge of death. He passed away just days after his return. Otto’s Parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, are with us tonight — along with Otto’s brother and sister, Austin and Greta. You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all. Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve. Finally, we are joined by one more witness to the ominous nature of this regime. His name is Mr. Ji Seong-ho. In 1996, Seong-ho was a starving boy in North Korea. One day, he tried to steal coal from a railroad car to barter for a few scraps of food. In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs. He then endured multiple amputations without anything to dull the pain. His brother and sister gave what little food they had to help him recover and ate dirt themselves — permanently stunting their own growth. Later, he was tortured by North Korean authorities after returning from a brief visit to China. His tormentors wanted to know if he had met any Christians. He had — and he resolved to be free. Seong-ho traveled thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape, and was tortured to death. Today he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears the most — the truth. Today he has a new leg, but Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those crutches as a reminder of how far you have come. Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all. Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.” (President Donald J. Trump, State of the Union Address, January 30, 2018)

Cha: “North Korea, if not stopped, will build an arsenal with multiple nuclear missiles meant to threaten the U.S. homeland and blackmail us into abandoning our allies in Asia. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will sell these weapons to state and non-state actors, and he will inspire other rogue actors who want to undermine the U.S.-backed postwar order. These are real and unprecedented threats. But the answer is not, as some Trump administration officials have suggested, a preventive military strike. Instead, there is a forceful military option available that can address the threat without escalating into a war that would likely kill tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans. When I was under consideration for a position in this administration, I shared some of these views. Some may argue that U.S. casualties and even a wider war on the Korean Peninsula are risks worth taking, given what is at stake. But a strike (even a large one) would only delay North Korea’s missile-building and nuclear programs, which are buried in deep, unknown places impenetrable to bunker-busting bombs. A strike also would not stem the threat of proliferation but rather exacerbate it, turning what might be a North Korean moneymaking endeavor into a vengeful effort intended to equip other bad actors against us. I empathize with the hope, espoused by some Trump officials, that a military strike would shock Pyongyang into appreciating U.S. strength, after years of inaction, and force the regime to the denuclearization negotiating table. I also hope that if North Korea did retaliate militarily, the United States could control the escalation ladder to minimize collateral damage and prevent a collapse of financial markets. In either event, the rationale is that a strike that demonstrates U.S. resolve to pursue “all options” is necessary to give the mercurial Kim a “bloody nose.” Otherwise he will remain undeterred in his nuclear ambitions. Yet, there is a point at which hope must give in to logic. If we believe that Kim is undeterrable without such a strike, how can we also believe that a strike will deter him from responding in kind? And if Kim is unpredictable, impulsive and bordering on irrational, how can we control the escalation ladder, which is premised on an adversary’s rational understanding of signals and deterrence? Some have argued the risks are still worth taking because it’s better that people die “over there” than “over here.” On any given day, there are 230,000 Americans in South Korea and 90,000 or so in Japan. Given that an evacuation of so many citizens would be virtually impossible under a rain of North Korean artillery and missiles (potentially laced with biochemical weapons), these Americans would most likely have to hunker down until the war was over. While our population in Japan might be protected by U.S. missile defenses, the U.S. population in South Korea, let alone millions of South Koreans, has no similar active defenses against a barrage of North Korean artillery (aside from counterfire artillery). To be clear: The president would be putting at risk an American population the size of a medium-size U.S. city — Pittsburgh, say, or Cincinnati — on the assumption that a crazy and undeterrable dictator will be rationally cowed by a demonstration of U.S. kinetic power. An alternative coercive strategy involves enhanced and sustained U.S., regional and global pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize. This strategy is likely to deliver the same potential benefits as a limited strike, along with other advantages, without the self-destructive costs. There are four elements to this coercive strategy. First, the Trump administration must continue to strengthen the coalition of U.N. member states it has mustered in its thus far highly successful sanctions campaign. Second, the United States must significantly up-gun its alliances with Japan and South Korea with integrated missile defense, intelligence-sharing and anti-submarine warfare and strike capabilities to convey to North Korea that an attack on one is an attack on all. Third, the United States must build a maritime coalition around North Korea involving rings of South Korean, Japanese and broader U.S. assets to intercept any nuclear missiles or technologies leaving the country. China and Russia should be prepared to face the consequences if they allow North Korean proliferation across their borders. Lastly, the United States must continue to prepare military options. Force will be necessary to deal with North Korea if it attacks first, but not through a preventive strike that could start a nuclear war. In the land of lousy options, no strategy is perfect, but some are better than others. This strategy gets us out of crisis-management mode. It constitutes decisive action, not previously attempted, by President Trump. And it demonstrates resolve to other bad actors that threats to the United States will be countered. Such a strategy would assuredly deplete Pyongyang’s hard currency, deter it from rash action, strengthen our alliances in Asia for the next generation and increase the costs to those who continue to subsidize Pyongyang. A sustained and long-term competitive strategy such as this plays to U.S. strengths, exploits our adversary’s weaknesses and does not risk hundreds of thousands of American lives.” (Victor Cha, “Giving North Korean a “Bloody Nose’ Carries a Huge Risk to Americans,” Washington Post, January 30, 2018)

An estimated 60,000 children face potential starvation in North Korea, where international sanctions are exacerbating the situation by slowing aid deliveries, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said. Under United Nations Security Council resolutions, humanitarian supplies or operations are exempt from sanctions, Omar Abdi, UNICEF deputy executive director, said. “But what happens is that of course the banks, the companies that provide goods or ship goods are very careful. They don’t want to take any risk of later on being associated (with) breaking the sanctions,” Abdi told a news briefing. “That is what makes it more difficult for us to bring things. So it takes a little bit longer, especially in getting money into the country. But also in shipping goods to DPRK. There are not many shipping lines that operate in that area,” he said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Sanctions on fuel have been tightened, making it re scarcer and more expensive, Abdi added. “We are projecting that at some point during the year 60,000 children will become severely malnourished. This is the malnutrition that potentially can lead to death. It’s protein and calorie malnutrition,” said Manuel Fontaine, director of UNICEF emergency programs worldwide. “So the trend is worrying, it’s not getting any better.” In all, 200,000 North Korean children suffer from acute malnutrition, including 60,000 with the most severe form that can be lethal, according to UNICEF. UNICEF had projected 60,000 children would suffer severe acute malnutrition last year, and reached 39,000 of them with therapeutic feeding, spokesman Christophe Boulierac said. “Diarrhea related to poor sanitation and hygiene and acute malnutrition remains a leading cause of death among young children,” it said in today’s appeal to donors that gave no toll. UNICEF is seeking $16.5 million this year to provide nutrition, health and water to North Koreans but faces “operational challenges” due to the tense political context and “unintended consequences” of sanctions, it said. It cited “disruptions to banking channels, delays in clearing relief items at entry ports, difficulty securing suppliers and a 160 percent increase in fuel prices”. “It’s a very close, and tightly monitored intervention which is purely humanitarian in its essence,” Fontaine said. (Stephanie Nebehay, “60,000 North Korean Children May Starve, Sanctions Slow Aid — UNICEF, Reuters, January 30, 2018)

Chinese foreign policy debates are seldom lively, which is just the way the ruling Communist party wants to keep them. Polemics are few, articles and lectures are full of sleep-inducing slogans and official orthodoxy. But a curious exception to this apparently placid consensus has taken place as a debate roils China’s expert community over what to do about North Korea, its increasingly wayward, nuclear-armed neighbor. Over the past several months, policy journals have run articles questioning the official line, while scholars at top universities have been unafraid to publish previously heretical views — in western journals, no less. They have even taken to social media to argue. “There has been a sea change in the debate regarding how China should handle the North Korea crisis,” says Yawei Liu, director of the China Program at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. “A year ago, or two years ago, there was no such debate.” The window of openness seems to exist only for experts. Many users of Wechat, the country’s largest social network, report the Chinese characters for “North Korea” are frequently censored if used in large groups. The mainstream press is similarly muzzled. But academics and even officials have been allowed greater freedom to express themselves. “North Korea is a very unique area; the government does not allow such open debate in many other areas,” says Shen Dingli, a professor of American studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. The debate, he says, demonstrates that China’s policy of seeking to “de-nuclearize” North Korea while shielding the regime from harsher sanctions at the UN has been shown to be wrong since Pyongyang began testing nuclear weapons in 2003. “Since 2003, everyone knows China’s policy towards North Korea has not succeeded,” says Shen. “The reason these views are allowed is a virtual admission that our current policy is dead, so now they seek fresh ideas.” This has produced some memorable public polemics. China’s foreign policy community is still reeling from a social media slugfest last September between Jia Qingguo, dean of the Peking University School of International Studies, and Zhu Zhihua, vice-president of the Zhejiang Association of International Relations. Zhu accused Jia of in effect conspiring with Washington when he advocated “contingency planning” with the U.S. in the event of a war with North Korea. “When war becomes a real possibility, China must be prepared. And, with this in mind, China must be more willing to consider talks with concerned countries on contingency plans,” Jia wrote in an article. Zhu accused Jia of treason in a social media post, saying: “A military attack is the next step.” Jia responded that Zhu was a “career public security officer” who had put words in his mouth. Zhu then replied that Jia’s U.S. education — he has a PhD from Cornell University — had “brainwashed” him. “That debate became very vicious,” says Liu of the Carter Center. A decade earlier this would not have happened. As recently as 2013, Deng Yuwen was suspended as deputy editor of Study Times, the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist party of China, after publishing an article in the Financial Times calling for Beijing to give up on Pyongyang altogether. The only thing that is clear is that no one agrees with the current policy Shen Dingli, a professor of American studies at Fudan University in Shanghai But today the plurality of opinion in the expert community appears to reflect what is happening behind the government’s closed doors, where nationalists, conservatives and liberals are similarly divided. The debate, which the North Korea hawks appear to be winning, has tracked a steady shift in government policy towards supporting tougher sanctions and even, as Jia suggested, contingency planning with the U.S. “I couldn’t imagine two years ago that China could go this far,” says Zhu Feng, director of the Institute of International Studies at Nanjing University, who has argued in the US journal Foreign Affairs for tougher sanctions on North Korea. He says he faced a backlash from colleagues, but not the government. “I have friends in the foreign ministry who told me they share my views,” he says. On the other side of the ideological fence are those who advocate accepting North Korea into the nuclear club. “We should simply accept reality. We accept India as a nuclear weapons state, we accept Pakistan, so why not North Korea?” says Shen. One Chinese analyst, referring to Mao Zedong’s policy of encouraging freedom of expression in the 1950s, says: “The government has let a hundred flowers bloom” on North Korea. He notes, however, that Mao eventually swung the axe on those who had stuck their necks out too far. How long the current openness will last is hard to say, says Shen. “The only thing that is clear is that no one agrees with the current policy.” (Charles Clover, “China Loosens Reins on N. Korea Polemics,” Financial Times, January 30, 2018, p. 3)

In a letter sent to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres circulated today, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho urged Guterres to exert efforts to halt the US’ deployment of military equipment and upcoming military maneuvers. “I express my expectation that you pay a serious attention to the U.S. deployment of nuclear war equipment and its maneuvers to provoke a nuclear war which will undermine the improvement of inter-Korean relations and the easing of tensions,” Ri said. Criticizing the U.S. military pressure as a “primary factor” for worsening ties between the two Koreas, Ri asked the UN Security Council to take up “the issue of welcoming the process of improved inter-Korean relations and discouraging the neighboring countries from disturbing the process.” (Yeo Jun-suk, “NK Chief Diplomat Urges UN Chief to Stop U.S. Military Maneuvers,” Korea Herald, February 2, 2018)

Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. military could “get at most of his infrastructure” when asked about Kim’s nuclear missile program, but he declined to specify the percentage of North Korean missiles U.S. forces could destroy. His comments indicate that the United States possesses enough information to target not only North Korea’s missiles but also the support facilities that allow a launch in a potential attack on the United States. “Remember, missile infrastructure is not just the missiles,” Selva said at a roundtable with journalists in Washington. “If you’re the poor sergeant that has to go out and launch the missile, and I blow up your barracks, you’re not available to go do your job.” North Korea has not yet successfully tested all the components necessary to show the world it possesses an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to a target in the U.S. mainland, Selva said. Kim’s tests have shown that his missiles can travel far enough to reach the United States and maneuver stably in the right direction, according to Selva. But the North Korean leader has yet to demonstrate a “terminal guidance system” that allows for the specific targeting of the missile and a “reentry vehicle” capable of withstanding the stress and shock that comes with carrying a nuclear warhead back through the Earth’s atmosphere to a target, the general said. Selva did not rule out that North Korea already possesses those technologies but said the country has not demonstrated them. “It is possible, although I think unlikely, that he has found a way to do the test without us knowing,” Selva said. “But I can’t envision what that test would look like, where he would be convinced that he has those components at a reliable-enough level of performance to declare that he’s ready.” Asked about the possibility of pursuing a “freeze for freeze,” Selva said the decision was up to the U.S. officials leading diplomacy with North Korea. “I’m not in charge of the diplomatic effort,” Selva said. But he added that the current situation — in which North Korea has not yet crossed the finish line in its quest — presented “an opening to have that conversation.” Selva declined to rule out the possibility of a preemptive strike on North Korea’s weapons facilities but suggested that preemption is not generally how the U.S. has approached nuclear-armed adversaries. “We don’t do preemption,” Selva said. “Our method of warfare: If they launch one, then game on. But preemption is not something we do as a matter of course.” (Paul Sonne, “U.S. Can Destroy Most of N. Korea’s Nuclear Missile Infrastructure, Top General says,” Washington Post, January 30, 2018) North Korea’s nuclear program has made strides in recent months but the country has not yet demonstrated all the components of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), including a survivable re-entry vehicle, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Air Force General Paul Selva’s remarks confirmed an assessment by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in December that North Korea’s ICBM did not pose an imminent threat to the United States. “What he has not demonstrated yet are the fusing and targeting technologies and survivable re-entry vehicle,” Selva said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “It is possible he has them, so we have to place the bet that he might have them, but he hasn’t demonstrated them,” Selva, the second highest-ranking U.S. military official, added. Selva said that if conflict were to break out, it was unlikely the United States would be able to get an early indication of North Korean launches. “It is very unlikely that in a tactical situation, we would get any of the indications and warning that would precede a launch other than if we got lucky and saw the movement of the launch mechanism to the launch platform,” Selva said. He said that by using mobile erected launchers, the warning time for the United States had decreased from up to an hour to about a dozen minutes. Selva added he was confident that if required the United States would be able to destroy “most” of North Korea’s nuclear missile infrastructure. He declined to say what percentage of North Korean missiles the United States would be able to hit. (Idrees Ali, “U.S. General Says North Korea Not Demonstrated All Components of ICBM,” Reuters, January 30, 2018)


1/31/18:
An American interceptor missile missed its target in a test off the Hawaiian coast, Defense Department officials said, renewing concerns of how the United States will defend itself in the event of a missile attack by North Korea or another adversary. Mark Wright, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, confirmed “a live-fire missile flight test” from Kauai of the interceptor, an SM-3 Block IIA missile that is being developed by the Raytheon Company. He did not confirm that the test had failed. But two Defense Department officials, speaking on grounds of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the test’s failure, said that the missile missed hitting the incoming dummy missile. It was the second failure over the past year of a test of the SM-3, known as the standard missile; the last one was in June. (Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Test of a Missile Interceptor Fails Off the Coast of Hawaii, Officials Say,” New York Times, February 1, 2018 , p. A-10)


2/1/18:
The White House has grown frustrated in recent weeks by what it considers the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide President Trump with options for a military strike against North Korea, according to officials, the latest sign of a deepening split in the administration over how to confront the nuclear-armed regime of Kim Jong-un. The national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, believes that for Trump’s warnings to North Korea to be credible, the United States must have well-developed military plans, according to those officials. But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act. The tensions bubbled to the surface this week with the disclosure that the White House had abandoned plans to nominate a prominent Korea expert, Victor D. Cha, as ambassador to South Korea. Cha suggested that he was sidelined because he warned administration officials against a “preventive” military strike, which, he later wrote, could spiral “into a war that would likely kill tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans.” But the divisions go back months, officials said. When North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in July that experts concluded was capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States, the National Security Council convened a conference call that included Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. After General McMaster left the room, Mattis and Tillerson continued to speak, not realizing that other participants were still on the line. The officials familiar with the matter overheard them complaining about a series of meetings that the National Security Council had set up to consider options for North Korea — signs, Tillerson said, that it was becoming overly aggressive. For now, the frustration at the White House appears to be limited to senior officials rather than Trump himself. But the president has shown impatience with his military leaders on other issues, notably the debate over whether to deploy additional American troops to Afghanistan. As they examine the most effective way of giving credibility to Trump’s threat of “fire and fury,” officials are considering the feasibility of a preventive strike that could include disabling a missile on the launch pad or destroying North Korea’s entire nuclear infrastructure. American officials are also said to be considering covert means of disabling the nuclear and missile programs. While General McMaster also favors a diplomatic solution to the impasse, officials said, he emphasizes to colleagues that past efforts to negotiate with North Korea have forced the United States to make unacceptable concessions. The Pentagon has a different view. Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., argue forcefully for using diplomacy. They have repeatedly warned, in meetings and on video conference calls, that there are few, if any, military options that would not provoke retaliation from North Korea, according to officials at the Defense Department. Representatives of Mattis and Dunford denied that they have slow-walked options to the White House. Even the most limited strike, the so-called bloody nose option, risks what one Defense Department official called an unacceptably high number of casualties. Cha, writing in The Washington Post, said the premise of such a strike — that it would jolt Kim into recognizing that the United States was serious, and draw him back to the bargaining table — was flawed. “If we believe that Kim is undeterrable without such a strike, how can we also believe that a strike will deter him from responding in kind?” Cha wrote. “And if Kim is unpredictable, impulsive and bordering on irrational, how can we control the escalation ladder, which is premised on an adversary’s rational understanding of signals and deterrence?” Friends said Cha pressed that case in meetings at the Pentagon, the United States Pacific Command, the State Department and the National Security Council. He passed along articles critical of preventive military action by two colleagues: John J. Hamre, the president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Michael J. Green, a senior fellow at the center who worked in the George W. Bush administration, as did Cha. Green warned against a preventive strike in testimony on Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said there appeared to be little support for it, even among normally hawkish Republicans like Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. Even the White House has struggled to send a consistent message. In the week after Trump issued his threat to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea, Stephen K. Bannon, then his chief strategist, told a progressive journalist, “There’s no military solution. Forget it.” “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons,” he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Bannon’s bluntness angered other White House officials and hastened his exit from the White House. But there is evidence that General McMaster shares those concerns. Asked by a reporter in August whether there was any military option that would not put Seoul in North Korea’s cross hairs, he paused briefly, then said, “No.” With as many as 8,000 artillery pieces and rocket launchers positioned along its border with the South, North Korea could rain up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack. While that arsenal is of limited range and could be destroyed in days, North Korea would still have time to cause widespread destruction. In a rare appearance last year on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” Mattis warned that war with North Korea would be “catastrophic” — “probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.” That does not mean the military has not begun preparing for that possibility. At multiple Army bases across the country this month, more than 1000 reserve officers are practicing how to set up so-called mobilization centers, which move reservists overseas in a hurry. But as the military gears up, State Department officials say the United States has far from exhausted its nonmilitary options for pressuring Pyongyang. It could, for example, push to expel North Korea from the United Nations or interdict ships that it suspects are violating sanctions against the government. Neither Tillerson nor Mattis has broken with the White House on the issue of a preventive strike. That is because for now, they still view it as a useful tool in deterring North Korea, according to people briefed by the administration. More important, they continue to be confident that, despite their anxieties, cooler heads with eventually prevail. (Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, “Split Grows over Alternatives for Strike against North Korea,” New York Times, February 2, 2018, p. A-1)

Joseph Yun, special envoy on North Korea, said all options remained on the table for solving the nuclear standoff with the reclusive country but that he did not think the military option was close. “Our policy is very much for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis. We’ve said over and over again that what we want to see is dialogue,” Yun told reporters in Tokyo. “Having said that, we also have said that all options are on the table and by all options, it has to include military options,” he said. “I don’t believe we are close to it.” Yun welcomed the North-South dialogue and said he hoped it was a sign of things to come, but he said that any talks with Washington would have to “be about steps North Korea would take toward denuclearization.” (Nick Macfie, “U.S. Special Envoy on North Korea Says War Is Still an Option, But We’re Not Yet Close to Fighting,” Reuters, February 1, 2018) With questions swirling about Trump’s commitment to diplomacy, Yun said “there should be no confusion that the U.S. is completely committed to peacefully resolving” the crisis. “We’ve said many, many times over and over again diplomacy is very much preferred — way more preferred — than any other option,” Yun said. But he noted that this went beyond merely talking, and also included what he called “peaceful pressure.” Asked if denuclearization was a prerequisite for even starting talks with North Korea, Yun reiterated Washington’s long-held stance. “We should all face the reality, which is that these talks, if there are engagement and talks, have to be about denuclearization, they have to be about steps that North Korea would take toward denuclearization,” he said. “That is the basis for any real engagement with North Korea.” Yun also played down earlier statements that an extended lull in missile tests could lead to dialogue between the two countries. “North Korea stopping nuclear and missile tests would be a great first step,” he said. But “I don’t think it’s so important, sixty days, 90 days, 30 days. Diplomacy is not conducted with smoke signals,” Yun said. North Korea “has to tell us” when they are suspending missile or nuclear tests for the purpose of opening diplomatic channels. “So for them to go through a period of time without telling us, that’s … meaningless,” Yun said. “Communication channels are open, so there’s no problem in telling us their intent. That’s the key,” he added. (Jesse Johnson, “Top U.S. Envoy Says U.S. Not Close to Taking Military Action against North Korea,” Japan Times, February 1, 2018)

Collins and Frantz: “One person who had an inside look at [A.Q.] Khan’s network was Benazir Bhutto. Sitting in her living room in late 2003 during her exile in Dubai, the former two-time Pakistani prime minister (who was assassinated in 2007) recounted to the authors how she learned of Khan’s role in Iran’s nuclear program and how she became an unwitting midwife to his relationship with North Korea. As Bhutto recalled it, she was on an official trip to Tehran in late 1989, her second year as prime minister, when Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani took her aside during a state dinner. He explained that the military leaders of their two countries had agreed to a defense pact that included Pakistan’s help with nuclear weapons technology. Bhutto said she was blindsided. (U.S. intelligence reports from that period concluded that the military had shut her out of its nuclear weapons program.) Bhutto said she summoned General Mirza Aslam Beg, the head of the Pakistani armed forces, to her office when she returned to Islamabad. He denied any knowledge of an agreement or a transfer of nuclear capabilities. Bhutto told us she was certain he was lying but was too weak politically to challenge the military. She took a half measure, ordering that no nuclear scientist be permitted to travel outside Pakistan without her approval, an order confirmed by one of her aides at the time. By the late 1970s, the United States and other governments were aware of Pakistan’s nuclear efforts and Khan’s progress in enriching uranium. Bhutto was right to feel vulnerable—she was ousted as prime minister less than a year later. By then, Khan had traveled to Iran to lay the groundwork for the country’s first uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. While the precise dates are unclear, subsequent investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and others found that Khan’s first contact with Iran occurred in 1987 and that by the late 1980s Khan and his network were supplying nuclear technology to Iran’s fledgling program. Before the end of the decade, Khan had sent Iran over 2,000 components and assemblies for centrifuges to enrich uranium—a flow that continued until the mid-1990s. Khan’s network started with a handful of companies in Switzerland and Germany willing to exploit lax export controls. He also developed strong ties to engineers and other experts in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Eventually he was producing components in factories in Malaysia and South Africa and maintained a shipping hub in Dubai. During the 1990s, however, Khan’s smuggling operation remained under the radar of the United States, which was focused on the possibility of Russia providing nuclear secrets to Iran. In 1993, Bhutto became prime minister a second time. Within weeks, Khan was on her doorstep. In our interview, Bhutto recalled Khan asking her to make a side trip to North Korea during her state visit to China in 1994. She claimed he said he wanted help with “this nuclear thing.” When Bhutto asked what he meant, Khan said that he wanted North Korean expertise for a missile he was developing to carry a nuclear payload. Bhutto wanted to improve her standing with Pakistan’s military, so she agreed. “I thought the military would be very happy with me and would stop trying to destabilize my government,” she told us. The former prime minister maintained in our interviews that Pakistan paid for the designs for North Korea’s Nodong missile. She said she had ruled out providing nuclear technology to North Korea. Her testimony, however, was contradicted by Khan himself. During the mid-1990s, U.S. intelligence observed Khan making 13 trips to North Korea, often with shipments aboard Pakistani military aircraft. And in his 2004 confession, Khan admitted that he transferred nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea, though he later retracted his statement. For North Korea, Khan’s assistance arrived at a critical moment. Like Pakistan, North Korea focused initially on processing plutonium from its two civilian reactors into fissile material for weapons. … Khan provided North Korea with an alternate path to nuclear weapons. Unlike a reactor, centrifuges are small and can be concealed in underground facilities and tunnels inside mountains (something at which the North Koreans are quite skilled). These centrifuges allowed North Korea to continue developing a secret stockpile of fissile material despite the Agreed Framework and UN sanctions. Although North Korea has conducted multiple nuclear tests in recent years, international monitoring has not determined whether the fissile material comes from plutonium or HEU. But in 2010, the North Koreans surprised the world by inviting Siegfried Hecker, a leading U.S. nuclear expert, to visit a previously unknown installation holding 2,000 centrifuges. The North Koreans claimed the centrifuges were for low-grade enrichment to power a new reactor to produce electricity. But Hecker wrote that the facilities “could be readily converted to produce highly enriched uranium bomb fuel.” (Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz, “The Long Shadow of A.Q. Khan,” Foreign Affairs, January31, 2018)


2/2/18:
Trump: “Before we start, I just had a phone call with the President of South Korea, President Moon, and they are in dialogue, at least as it concerns the Olympics. And that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. And we had a great call. I also spoke to Prime Minister Abe of Japan, and we also had a very good call. So it’s a very tricky situation. We’re going to find out how it goes. But we think the Olympics will go very nicely. And after that, who knows. We’ll find out. We’re going to find out pretty soon, I suspect. So I spoke to President Moon, spoke to Prime Minister Abe. And they were both very good calls, both concerning — essentially concerning North Korea. … Q (Inaudible) North Korea by having this meeting today? THE PRESIDENT: I don’t think so. These are just great people that have suffered incredibly. There are many, many others like them that have suffered so much, and they were here and I said, let’s tell your story very quickly. We have others in a different room, as I told you, that are really petrified to be here. Petrified. So, it’s tough stuff. It’s tough stuff. Q Mr. President, do you believe there’s more the United States can do to help North Korean defectors? THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’re doing a lot. We’ve done more than — I mean, we have many administrations that should have acted on this a long time ago when it wasn’t that this kind of a — when we weren’t in this kind of a position. You know, we ran out of road — you know the expression. The road really ended. They could’ve done it 12 years ago. They could have done it 20 years ago. They could’ve done it four years ago and two years ago. We have no road left. So we’ll see what happens. But, in the meantime, we’ll get through the Olympics and maybe something good can come out of the Olympics. Who knows. Thank you very much everybody.” (White House, Office of the Spokesman, Remarks by President Trump in Meeting with North Korean Defectors, February 2, 2018)

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo will ask the United States and South Korea to conduct a planned joint military drill after the Pyeongchang Olympics without scaling it down in order to keep pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile development, a Japanese government source has said. The matter will be discussed when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meets with Abe in Tokyo before heading to the opening ceremony of the games, and they are expected to agree on the need to conduct the drill as normal, the source said. Abe has been calling on the international community to maximize pressure on Pyongyang and reject dialogue unless the reclusive state ends provocations and shows actions toward denuclearization. (Kyodo, “Abe to U.S. and South Korea: Don’t Scale down Military Drill,” Japan Times, February 4, 2018) Prime Minister Abe Shinzo will ask South Korean President Moon Jae-in for support in evacuating Japanese citizens if a contingency breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, government sources said. The decision reflects Japan’s concern that escalating tensions could lead to a military clash between Washington and Pyongyang, possibly after the Winter Games conclude in Pyeongchang, the sources said. Abe will pay a two-day visit to South Korea and hold talks with Moon on the sidelines of the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang on February 9. It is unclear how Moon might respond. The two are expected to meet for 45 minutes in a hotel near the venue. Abe plans to explain why he feels an evacuation plan is urgently needed and to propose the start of working-level negotiations possibly involving the United States and other countries, the sources said. The Foreign Ministry estimates roughly 38,000 Japanese were residing in South Korea as of October 2016. “For the safety of the Japanese people, I will firmly request South Korea’s cooperation,” Abe told the Upper House budget committee two days ago. Tokyo has studied emergency plans to send chartered planes to Seoul and other cities and transport Japanese by land to the southern port city of Busan, where ships would take them to the Japanese mainland via the island of Tsushima in Nagasaki Prefecture. Many in the government believe that Self-Defense Force destroyers and aircraft, as well as the U.S. military, would be needed to transport large numbers of Japanese. Tokyo has told Seoul it would like to discuss the possibility of dispatching SDF personnel to South Korea for evacuations. Abe has said other possible topics include trilateral cooperation with the United States to rein in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and the 2015 agreement with South Korea on the “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels. (Kyodo, Associated Press, Reuters, “Abe to Ask Moon for Evac Support in Case of Emergency on Korean Peninsula,” Japan Times, February 3, 2018) Progressive South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet with his conservative Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, for talks at the Winter Olympics site on February 9, the day of the Opening Ceremonies. Until last week, it wasn’t even clear that Abe would attend. But the Trump administration intervened to ask him to go — not least because Vice President Pence will be traveling from Tokyo to Pyeongchang for the Opening Ceremonies. The White House “strongly urged” Abe to attend the ceremonies, a senior Japanese government official told the conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper. Together, Abe and Pence will be able to send “a strong message to South Korea” not to be too conciliatory toward North Korea and also to abide by their bilateral agreements, the paper reported. This has sparked talk in Tokyo that Abe and Pence are going to Pyeongchang to “gang up” on Moon, who favors closer relations with North Korea as a way to bring Kim Jong Un’s regime in from the cold. Despite his efforts to include North Korea in the Olympics, Moon has publicly said he supports the “maximum pressure” approach espoused by the Trump and Abe administrations. (Anna Fifield, “Wounds Still Fresh between South Korea, Japan,” Washington Post, February 2, 2018, p. A-10)

North Korea is flouting sanctions by exporting coal, iron, steel and other banned commodities, earning nearly $200 million in revenue last year, a UN report said. A UN panel of experts also found evidence of military cooperation by North Korea to develop Syria’s chemical weapons programs and to provide Myanmar with ballistic missiles. North Korea “continued to export almost all the commodities prohibited in the resolutions, generating nearly $200 million in revenue between January and September 2017,” said the report by the experts seen by AFP. Coal shipments were delivered to China, Malaysia, South Korea, Russia and Vietnam by ships using “a combination of multiple evasion techniques, routes and deceptive tactics,” said the report. Syria and Myanmar are continuing cooperation with North Korea’s KOMID corporation, the country’s main arms exporter, which is on a UN sanctions blacklist, the report said. The panel uncovered more than 40 previously unreported shipments from North Korea between 2012 and 2017 to front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies Research Council, also known as CERS, a key institute for Syria’s chemical program. The investigations reveal “substantial new evidence” concerning Pyongyang’s military cooperation with Damascus, including at least three visits by North Korean technicians to Syria in 2016. A visit by a North Korean technical delegation in August 2016 involved the “transfer of special resistance valves and thermometers known for use in chemical weapons programs,” said the report. A member-state that was not named told the panel that North Korean “technicians continue to operate at chemical weapons and missile facilities at Barzei, Adra and Hama” in Syria, said the report. Syria however told the panel that there were no North Korean technicians in its territory and that the only experts it was hosting from the country were involved in sports. A member-state, which was not named, also notified the panel that Myanmar had received “ballistic missile systems from (North Korea) in addition to a range of conventional weapons, including multiple rocket launches and surface-to air missiles”. North Korean diplomats, in particular trade representatives, continue to provide logistical support for arms sales and help organize exchanges for military technicians, it said. While sanctions have been significantly broadened, this “expansion of the regime is yet to be matched by the requisite political will” to implement the measures, the experts said. (Carole Landry, “North Korea Flouts Sanctions, Earning $200 Million from Banned Exports: UN,” AFP, February 3, 2018)

NPR Briefing: “DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE SHANAHAN: … The NPR also makes recommendations to keep our deterrent effective for our world today: namely, lowering the yield of some existing submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads and bringing back nuclear sea-based — launched cruise missiles, a capability our nation had for decades. Neither recommendation requires developing new nuclear warheads. Neither will increase the size of our nuclear stockpile. They break no treaty. They align with our non-proliferation commitments. They strengthen American deterrence. Some will say any additional capability, no matter how measured, increases the chance of using one of these weapons. On the contrary, it is the exact opposite. The NPR states, and I quote, “the United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme — in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners.” The NPR clarifies long-standing policy that extreme circumstances could include significant nonnuclear strategic attacks. This clarification is stabilizing. It lowers the risk of nuclear use by anyone. The United States does not want to use nuclear weapons. We do want to maintain an effective deterrent to keep Americans and our allies and partners safe and secure. … UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS SHANNON: … We know that other unfriendly regimes and enemies of our country put our lives at risk by pursuing nuclear weapons. North Korea continues its illicit nuclear weapons program and missile capabilities. Iran retains the technological capability to develop a nuclear weapon within one year of deciding to do so. The potential threat of non-state actors getting their hands on a nuclear weapon remains at the front of all of our minds. Nuclear terrorism is still a major threat in this century, and one we must work to mitigate at every opportunity.

Because of the dangerous world we live in and our unwavering commitment to our allies, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review focuses on strengthening extended deterrence. The United States has formal extended deterrence commitments that assure European, Asian and Pacific allies of our commitment to use nuclear force to protect them, if necessary. Ongoing, close collaboration with allies and partners is essential to deterring or defeating the common threats we face. This collaboration includes sustained dialogues and joint military exercises.

But we also realize that every ally and partner faces a different threat environment. We will continue to work with them to tailor our assurance strategies in ways that are most effective for their specific situation. But let me be clear: The United States is committed to our allies under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Our extended deterrence commitments are unwavering. We have the ability and will to fulfill them. Potential adversaries should not doubt our resolve. In addition, as the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review makes clear, the United States will hold accountable any state or non-state actor that supports terrorist efforts to obtain or employ a nuclear weapon.

Important to this deterrence is maintaining our capabilities so that the United States can respond decisively across the full spectrum of potential nuclear and non-nuclear scenarios. But, as this NPR makes clear, the United States will only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners. The NPR also states that, and I quote, “the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.” … Finally, this review also affirms that the United States will not resume nuclear explosive testing unless we find it necessary to ensure the stability and effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal. … MODERATOR: Michael Gordon from the Wall Street Journal. Q: For — a question for the DOD and DOE reps: The report is very explicit that you would contemplate the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances, which could include significant non-nuclear strategic attack. This is stated, and the section reports made very explicit — and also that you would contemplate the use of weapons, if there was a terrorist nuclear attack, against those that enabled it. The way this is being read is that the U.S. is prepared to use nuclear weapons if there’s a cyberattack that would affect the population or do great damage to the infrastructure of our allies or of the United States. Is that the message you intended to send? Because that’s how everyone’s interpreting it. And could you please also give us the projected total dollar amount of this modernization for DOD and DOE? There are a lot of figures in here, but the dollar amount for this modernization isn’t included. SEC. ROOD: With respect to U.S. nuclear declaratory policy of the United States, as articulated in this Nuclear Posture Review, is constant with that of the past. Again, it is that the United States would employ nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, allies and partners. Now the part of the declaratory policy that you are referring to is the circumstances under which the United States would contemplate the use of nuclear weapons, or what constituted extreme circumstances. And I think in that area, the context of an attack that does not involve nuclear weapons initially would be very important to take into account. It’s been long-standing U.S. policy to maintain some ambiguity around the circumstances under which we would consider the use of nuclear weapons in response to a strategic, non-nuclear attack on the United States, and this NPR is explicit in saying, it is in our interests, it is part of reinforcing deterrence to maintain some ambiguity in those circumstances. With respect to cyber or other forms of attack, I think the context in which an attack occurred against the United States or allies would be very important. As we sit here today, it’s easy to dissect one action being disconnected from that in other fields, other domains. Whether that be air, sea, on land, or whether you would contemplate a hypothetical situation involving deployment of other forms of weapons of mass destruction, which are not nuclear weapons, such as biological weapons. And so I think what this NPR strives to do is to say, in the context of a non-nuclear attack on the United States or our allies that was strategic in nature, that imposed substantial impacts to our infrastructure, to our people, then we would consider that context in evaluating the appropriate response, perhaps to include nuclear weapons. … . Q: Tony Bertuca from Inside Defense. Going to the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, could you talk a little bit about the rationale for bringing that program back, how much that will cost, when that’s expected to come online and what — again, the rationale for bringing the program back?

SEC. ROOD: In the security environment that’s discussed in the Nuclear Posture Review, one of the things that has been concerning is that, over the last 20 years, we’ve seen the growth of the role of nuclear weapons in some potential adversaries’ doctrine, as well as growth in capabilities and planned growth over that time period. And so what was discussed in terms of the rationale in the NPR is that its overriding purpose — the overriding purpose of our nuclear arsenal is deterrence and to assure allies and, as I mentioned, to hedge against uncertainty and, if necessary, provide a credible response capability. Within that, we’ve become concerned that we need a more flexible set of capabilities to — in order to have tailored deterrence. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to deterrence, as you know, and we’re not deterring a single person in a single circumstance. And so, therefore, a more flexible set of capabilities that is survivable, that is credible and can be tailored to the circumstances to maintain deterrence is the rationale behind looking at that capability.

Now, as mentioned, there are two supplementary capabilities that the NPR discusses. One, we’ve already discussed — the submarine-launched ballistic missile. You’re talking about a submarine-launched cruise missile. In that regard, what the NPR talks about is that we will begin a study of the appropriate way to pursue that and the specifics around the program in that area. And so, at this time, I can’t quote you a specific time frame and dollar figure, because of the stage of that activity. But it’s one of the supplementary capabilities that we think is very important to pursue, both due to the survivability of submarine-launched cruise missiles, the flexibility that that type of platform provides. And again, here, this would involve use of low-yield nuclear weapons. Low-yield nuclear weapons have been in the U.S. arsenal for decades. The difference here would be — and, as you pointed out, they — we formerly, in the United States, had the capability to fire cruise missiles from submarines armed with nuclear weapons. This would be to look at that capability again. … Q: Thanks. Patrick Tucker with Defense One. So the question of what constitutes extreme circumstances is, I think, what has some folks hung up, especially in the context of a cyber-physical attack on U.S. infrastructure. The National Academies has published a study on the possible effects of a cyber-physical attack on U.S. infrastructure, and the worst case scenario that they’ve come up with is a service disruption possibly lasting weeks. So the question is, is that sort of eventuality — a limited service disruption possibly lasting weeks — is that the sort of extreme circumstance that might possibly provoke a nuclear response? And, if not, if you’re working with a different worst case scenario for a cyber-physical attack on U.S. infrastructure, potentially much greater than that, can you — can you speak to that a little bit? SEC. ROOD: Sure. You know, starting at the top, the declaratory policy of the United States that we would consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances — the language on that that you will find in this Nuclear Posture Review is identical to what you will have found: that the United States would employ nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances, to defend the vital interests of the United States, allies and partners. That — those words that I just spoke are the same as that appeared in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review released by President Obama’s administration. So, in that sense, there is no difference in the declaratory policy. With respect to what constitutes extreme circumstances and the provision of other things, again, I think the context in which that occurs is important, and hypothetical examples of a cyberattack or biological weapons attack — I think what’s very important is there’s no automaticity in this policy as to how the United States would respond. We would consider the circumstances under which that occurred. We would consider the context around that and the effects on the United States and our allies before determining what the appropriate response would be, whether that involved nuclear weapons, or purely non-nuclear weapons. And so the difficulty with answering hypothetical questions is it’s very hard to know what the circumstances surrounding that would be. For example, in the hypotheticals you cited, would that also involve the employment of biological weapons against the U.S. population or allies? Would it involve the use of chemical weapons against our people? Would it involve a conventional attack in other parts of the world? The context in which an attack occurred on the United States or allies would be how we would evaluate the appropriate response. But I want to point — make one additional point that I forgot. I think it’s very important, implied in your question, to address one thing. There is no lowering of the nuclear threshold in this Nuclear Posture Review. That threshold remains at an incredibly high level. There has been no diminution to that. And this document is explicit in stating there is nothing in this approach that is — that will lower the nuclear threshold. Indeed, the capabilities and the type of approach that we’re pursuing is intended to raise the nuclear threshold by making the type of punishment that we could employ against an attack on the United States so high that it would not be countenanced by an adversary. MODERATOR: Jeff Schogol Q: Thank you. On that theme, you had mentioned the Russian dogma of “escalate to de-escalate.” They seem to feel that they can escape nuclear retaliation if they use low-yield nuclear weapons. I just want to make clear, is it — is U.S. policy that, if the United States or if one of its allies is attacked by a nuclear weapon, regardless of the yield, there will be a nuclear response? SEC. ROOD: There — U.S. nuclear doctrine has never involved automaticity in terms of response, and there is no automaticity in this current document. Our declaratory policy would be that we would consider the use of nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances. … MODERATOR: Ryan Browne from CNN. Q: Thank you. Just two quick ones: First, on North Korea, is the last one was in 2010 — obviously, North Korea’s made a lot of strides in its nuclear program, and you list 11 fielded or in-development nuclear delivery systems for North Korea. What, in this review, is kind of specifically tailored to North Korea, or focused on the North Korean threat? And I know we — you’ve mentioned briefing Russia on this. Was China also briefed on this review? SEC. ROOD: With respect to North Korea, the capabilities in the nuclear triad that exist today, as well as the recapitalization that’s discussed in the report, and some of these supplementary capabilities — all of those things, in various circumstances, would have applicability in the type of hypothetical scenarios that we worry about with North Korea. Unfortunately, some of the — our concerns that we used to have a few years ago have become, quite frankly, not so hypothetical anymore, in terms of the threat that we face. And so I think, whether it’s with North Korea and demonstrating that we have a range of options, that we have flexible options, that these are credible and can be employed, when necessary, I think, is very important to reinforcing deterrence. Certainly wouldn’t want that regime or others to wrongly conclude that there’s a lack of resolve on our part, should they threaten the use of nuclear weapons or use nuclear weapons against the United States. So I think, in this circumstance, having this more flexible set of capabilities that we can tailor to the circumstances, whether it be with North Korea or another, to reinforce that deterrence — and this is a much more challenging activity than 20 years ago or more — we’ve really got to watch out for that. And it’s not just with North Korea. Others are similarly concerning to us.

SEC. FREIDT: And we did brief China. (CROSSTALK) SEC. ROOD: Yes. Go ahead and take that. SEC. FREIDT: And we did — we did brief China. Q: Also today, or … SEC. FREIDT: No, and with China, I would say we’ve long sought to have dialog with China to — specifically to discuss and enhance our understanding of nuclear weapon issues, to help manage the risk of miscalculation, misperceptions. So, yep, we briefed them this morning. MODERATOR: (inaudible) Q: Yeah, yeah. Thank you very much. On North Korea nuclear issues, recently, in North Korea, Kim Jong-un said that the nuclear button is on his table, toward the United States. What is the United States doing to prevent North Korea’s nuclear attack? And what is the U.S.’s final destination of all this? SEC. ROOD: Well, certainly, the Nuclear Posture Review talks about one of its aims, deterring North Korean nuclear attack. And, on that, we’re very explicit that, clearly, these capabilities are intended to deter North Korea from a nuclear attack in the United States or our allies. Another element of our deterrent posture with North Korea is the ballistic missile defense system that the United States employs. One of the things that it does is it reduces the likelihood that North Korea would contemplate or use a ballistic missile to attack the United States, knowing that we have a capability to defeat that. And, if North Korea would, in a hypothetical, launch a ballistic missile tipped with a nuclear weapon at the United States, that we intercepted, it’s not the sort of thing that we would say, “Well, that’s the end of the story. Let’s go back to the way things were before.” That kind of attack on the United States or our allies that we defeated is something that we would regard extremely seriously, for obvious reasons. And so ballistic missile defenses that are credible and effective are very important as part of our deterrent equation, both for the United States, as well as for our friends and allies around the world. And that’s why you’ve seen us, over the years, in the United States Defense Department, not only deploy some of these capabilities on the home territory of our allies, where they host them, but also have our forces that are deployed there increasingly have those capabilities. Because the connection between our allies’ security in an attack with shorter-range missiles, and that against the United States homeland, are increasingly being driven together. And we have to have an integrated set of capabilities, which is what we’re pursuing, and we’ve requested money from the Congress both last year — you will see that again in our budget proposal this year to the Congress — for substantial funds for our ballistic missile defense system. Our nuclear capabilities are also very important in that deterrence equation: how we message, how we talk about the circumstances is also part of our messaging to North Korea. And you’ll see some passages in the NPR speak directly to North Korea about our thinking in that regard.” (DoD, News Briefing on the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review byPatrick Shanahan, Deputy Secretary of Defense; Dan Brouillette, United States Deputy Secretary of Energy; Thomas Shannon, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; John Rood, Under Secretary of Defense For Policy; Anita Freidt, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, U.S. State Department; Steve Erhart, Acting Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator, February 2, 2018)


2/?/18:
Woodward: “The pressure campaign was effectively put on hold while the 2018 Winter Olympics were held in South Korea from February 9 to 25. … General Dunford [Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman] learned that the Air Force had planned some research and design tests of its nuclear-capable ballistic missiles from California into the Pacific Ocean, scheduled right before and after the Olympics. They were the kind of tests that the United States pressuring North Korea to stop. They were provocative. He stepped in and the Air Force held off on the tests.” (Woodward, Fear, p. 308)


2/4/18:
DPRK FoMin spokesperson’s “answer to a question put by KCNA on February 4, as regards “State of the Union Address” made by Trump. In the “State of the Union Address”, Trump described last year as a year fully recorded with “incredible progress and extraordinary success”- the year during which he pushed the American society and the world into disturbance through his reckless words and deeds as well as aggression moves dumbfounding the world public. This is indeed the height of Trump-style arrogance, arbitrariness and self-conceit. The whole world is deeply concerned, seeing as an omen of new disaster the Address of Trump who asserted “America First” and “unmatched power” based on nuclear weapons while forcing other countries to submit themselves to the U.S. chauvinistic interest. Trump also insisted upon the “maximum pressure” against our country, viciously slandering our most superior people-centered social system. However, it is no less than screams of Trump terrified at the power of the DPRK that has achieved the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force and rapidly emerged as the strategic state recognized by the world, and it is purely a nasty perversity aimed to disturb the advance of inter-Korean relations. Trump even reveals his sinister intention to do something against us by relying on strength while talking about “American resolve.” Our self-reliant defense capability with the nuclear force as its backbone will, however, completely deter Trump and his lackeys from showing off on the Korean peninsula. If Trump does not get rid of his anachronistic and dogmatic way of thinking, it will only bring about the consequence of further endangering security and future of the United States.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Blasts Trump,” February 4, 2018)

North Korean factory workers and restaurant staff have been returning from China in droves since the United Nations ordered member states to send laborers home last year. North Korean “ghost ships” containing dead, or almost-dead, fishermen have been washing up on the shores of Japan after the country’s seafood industry was sanctioned, too. And even Kim Jong Un has admitted that the American-led “maximum pressure” campaign is hurting his country’s economy. The “life-threatening sanctions and blockade” were causing “difficult living conditions,” the North Korean leader said in a New Year’s address that repeatedly emphasized self-sufficiency. But the campaign to squeeze Kim and his cronies into denuclearization talks could already be having a tangible — and, from the perspective of Washington, undesirable — effect. “The sanctions will set back what has been basically a positive process — the development of markets,” said one regular visitor to Pyongyang. This will make it harder for money to flow within the private economy and as markets contract it will also make it harder for isolated North Koreans to get information from the outside world, said the visitor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing access to North Korea. The international sanctions imposed at the end of last year in response to North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launches and nuclear test were designed to cut off key revenue earners for the regime. Together, the minerals, garment and seafood industries — all now sanctioned — accounted for about one-third of the country’s $3 billion annual export revenue. The tens of thousands of North Koreans working abroad for the regime, a practice now also banned, had been bringing in an estimated $500 million a year for Kim’s coffers. “This will have a big impact,” said Ro Hui-chang, who was in charge of North Korean construction workers in Russia until he defected in 2014. Even after international financial sanctions were imposed on North Korea, Ro said that he would hand-carry $1 million a month on flights back to Pyongyang. “Construction work is good because it doesn’t require any investment” on North Korea’s part, he said. “You just send the workers and they’re ready to start building and making money the very next day.” The regime has been unable to feed the populace. As a result, the state has tolerated an increasing amount of market activity, allowing people to trade and earn their own livings to buy the food that the state can no longer provide. This trend has accelerated in the six years that Kim has been in power, with as much as half of the population now relying on markets instead of on the regime for their subsistence. With this increased economic independence have come other freedoms. Markets have become places for selling pirated films smuggled in from the outside world and for trading gossip, both of which help belie the regime propaganda that North Korea is a “paradise on earth.” Money earned through the markets sometimes is used to bribe guards and officials so North Koreans can travel or make more money, including through illicit activities — dealing in crystal meth, for instance, even to police officers, or renting out apartments by the hour during the daytime to young couples. This market economy has been the biggest force for change in modern North Korea. But it could now be under threat. “The sanctions place the massive numbers of ordinary people working in these industries at risk for loss of income,” said Kee Park, a Korean American neurosurgeon who travels to Pyongyang every year to perform surgeries. “The loss of income limits their ability to purchase food in the market to supplement [rations] as well as the economic opportunities.” In state-run industries such as garment manufacturing and fishing, the regime pockets much of the profits, but investors in the country say that people who work in such export-oriented industries were earning more than those in purely domestic businesses. As for those working abroad, while the regime keeps two-thirds of their wages, the laborers earn up to $100 a month, an astronomical sum compared with the single-digit salaries they would earn at home. These earnings have increased the amount of money in the private economy and have helped lessen reliance on the regime. “When industries are harmed by sanctions, there are also wage earners who are harmed because they’re out of work and have to go try to find work elsewhere,” said Andray Abrahamian, a fellow at the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has visited North Korea dozens of times as a business consultant. “So in that sense, there are consumers that are losing their power to consume.” But Cho Bong-hyun, a North Korea expert in the Industrial Bank of Korea’s Economic Research Institute in Seoul, thinks sanctions could have the opposite effect. By introducing more stress into the economy, they could encourage more adaptation from the regime and more entrepreneurialism from the people. (Anna Fifield, “Sanctions Imperil the Freedom Some N. Koreans Have Tasted,” Washington Post, February 5, 2018, p. A-8)


2/5/18:
When North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un suggested in a New Year address that his country might be open to participating in the Winter Olympics, South Korea’s president and top aides quickly convened to craft a friendly response. U.S. officials, however, weren’t included in those consultations and, to their consternation, were notified just hours before Seoul announced its proposal to Pyongyang for negotiations. North Korea’s surprise outreach and South Korea’s opening to its northern rival have stirred tensions between Seoul and Washington — despite professed unity in public statements — as the allies work to present a common front in dealing with Pyongyang, according to senior U.S. and South Korean officials. “We’re good today, but there are lots of policy tests that we have to manage in the days ahead and then after the Olympics,” said one official familiar with the diplomatic process. “It’s a challenging road.” Differences were on public display last week when President Donald Trump, in his first State of the Union address, reiterated a call for tough sanctions on North Korea, while omitting mention of the inter-Korean talks and their most prominent outcome: Athletes from both Koreas will march under one flag when the Winter Olympics open in South Korea. The two allies drew starkly different conclusions from Kim’s January 1 speech, according to people familiar with the matter. At the White House, officials were struck by the bellicose talk from Kim, who ordered the mass production of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and called for reunification of the Korean Peninsula, saying he would pursue “the final victory of the revolution.” By contrast, in the South Korean presidential Blue House, Moon and his advisers were encouraged by Kim’s openness to participating in the Olympics and discounted what they considered formulaic tough talk from the North. Seoul’s subsequent outreach to Pyongyang, cutting the U.S. out of the decision-making process, left U.S. officials particularly frustrated because of Moon’s repeated demands last year that the U.S. seek his consent before taking any pre-emptive military action against North Korea. Diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, which sits across the street from South Korea’s ministries of Foreign Affairs and Unification, expressed their displeasure to their South Korean counterparts, according to people familiar with the matter. South Korean officials told the Americans that the immediacy of the coming Winter Olympics left them little choice but to act quickly in response to Kim’s speech, those people said. In an effort to chart a path forward, the U.S. and South Korea have taken steps to protect their alliance — moves that also have been marked by strains. Trump spoke with Moon by phone on January 4, and the two agreed to postpone joint annual military exercises until after the end of the Winter Paralympics on March 18. But U.S. officials were still rankled by the fact that Moon had in December publicly presented the idea of a delay as a South Korean request awaiting U.S. agreement. U.S. officials said they had actually anticipated the request and quickly signaled their willingness to Seoul. As the divide threatened to widen, Moon in a January 10 press conference acknowledged a policy gap with the U.S., and sought to ease the strain by giving Trump credit for creating the opening for the inter-Korean dialogue … Trump thanked Moon for the compliment in a follow-up phone call — the second of two between the leaders in January. Then, in an unannounced mid-January meeting in San Francisco, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, emphasized to his South Korean and Japanese counterparts the importance of keeping up pressure on North Korea, according to people familiar with the matter. McMaster said it was necessary to proceed with exercises and maintain unity in the face of Pyongyang’s attempts to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its Asian allies, the people said. Seeking to keep relations on track, the U.S. canceled a planned February port visit to South Korea by an attack submarine, the U.S.S. Texas, to assure Seoul that Washington wouldn’t upset the atmosphere for inter-Korean detente, these people said. The U.S. also gave South Korea a last-minute sanctions waiver on January 31 to send athletes to a North Korean ski resort for joint training — part of the two Koreas’ Olympics agreement. Easing U.S. concerns, Seoul agreed with Washington to proceed with the joint exercises as originally envisioned after the Paralympics. However, the U.S. could ratchet up or down public statements on these exercises, depending on the status of the inter-Korean dialogue and North Korea’s actions. Chatter in Washington that some Trump administration officials are considering a limited “bloody nose” strike on North Korea, together with the withdrawal last week of Victor Cha to fill the yearlong vacancy as U.S. ambassador to Seoul, has also led to confusion and frustration inside South Korea’s government, according to people familiar with the matter. “This city was once completely destroyed. No Korean is interested in seeing that happen again — period,” said an official at South Korea’s Blue House. If there is war, the official said, “The cost will have to be borne by us.” (Jonathan Cheng and Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. and South Korea Struggle for Unity on Eve of Olympics,” Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2018, p. A-1)

A group of Democratic senators is warning President Trump that he lacks the “legal authority” to carry out a preemptive strike on North Korea, amid questions over whether the White House is considering a risky “bloody nose” attack. In a letter to be sent to Trump on Monday, the 18 senators said they are “deeply concerned about the potential consequences of a preemptive military strike on North Korea and the risks of miscalculation and retaliation.” They emphasized that it is an “enormous gamble” to believe that such an action, even if it were modest in scope, would not provoke an escalation. “Moreover, without congressional authority, a preventative or preemptive U.S. military strike would lack either a constitutional basis or legal authority,” the senators wrote in the letter organized by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Congressional aides said the letter was prompted by the circumstances surrounding the sudden derailment of the White House’s original choice for ambassador to South Korea, a post that has remained vacant since Trump took office. “We ask that you provide a clear reasoning and justification for his removal from consideration,” the senators wrote. The others who signed the letter are: Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Christopher A. Coons (Del.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Catherine Cortez Matso (Nev.), Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.). (David Nakamura, “Democratic Senators: Trump Lacks ‘Legal Authority’ for Preemptive ‘Bloody Nose’ Strike on North Korea,” Washington Post, February 5, 2018)

Vice President Pence departs today for a five-day trip to Japan and South Korea, a visit to Asia intended to focus almost entirely on rallying allies to ratchet up their pressure on Kim Jong Un’s repressive regime, as well as directly pressing North Korea to stop its nuclear ambitions. The trip, White House officials said, has two main goals. “The first one is that we are seeing unprecedented cooperation from the international community from the maximum pressure strategy targeting North Korea,” said Jarrod Agen, Pence’s communications director. “The vice president will deliver a message that the maximum pressure strategy is only going to intensify.” The second goal is to ensure that the Olympics don’t turn into an opportunity for North Korea to burnish its image on the world stage. In January, North and South Korea agreed to try to resolve their tensions through dialogue, marking the first negotiations between the two countries since 2015 and frustrating some in the Trump administration as it attempts to take an even more hard-line stance against the regime. “We’re not going to let the North Korea propaganda machine hijack the messaging of the Olympics,” Agen said. “The vice president will remind the world that anything the North Koreans do during the Olympics is a charade to disguise the reality of the oppression inside North Korea.” (Ashley Parker, “Pence Leaves for Asia, Focused on Increasing Pressure on North Korea,” Washington Post, February 5, 2018)

In a message sent last night via a cross-border communication channel, North Korea told South Korea that it would send a high-level delegation from February 9-11, the South’s Unification Ministry said. It said the North’s delegation includes Kim Yong-nam and three other officials but gave no further details. Serving as president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim has often been described as the North’s nominal head of state because he receives visiting foreign leaders, approves the credentials of ambassadors and represents North Korea on state visits abroad. The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae welcomed Kim’s visit, saying it showed the North’s willingness to improve inter-Korean ties because Kim is the highest-level North Korean official to visit South Korea since the inauguration of Moon Jae-in. “We believe North Korea showed its sincere and earnest efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and make the Pyeongchang Olympics successful,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said during a press briefing. The spokesperson also left open the possibility that Kim would meet with South Korea’s President Moon, saying the presidential office is preparing for a “communication opportunity” and its staff is discussing the level and agenda of the potential talks. (Yeo Jun-suk, “Kim Yong-nam: Ceremonial Leader of Reclusive Regime,” Korea Herald, February 5, 2018)

North Korea has appointed a senior defense official to lead the military’s powerful General Political Bureau after dismissing its former head following an inspection, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said in a parliamentary briefing. Kim Jong-gak, a vice chief of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, was picked as the director of the bureau, while Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Won-hong, its former head and vice chief, respectively, have been dismissed. The NIS also reported that the chances are high that the North will unveil an assortment of its missiles during a military parade reportedly scheduled for February 8, according to Rep. Kang Seok-ho of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, who attended the briefing. “The North’s party Organization and Guidance Department had led an inspection in the bureau for three months from October,” an NIS official was quoted by Kang as saying. “As a result of the inspection, Hwang was dismissed from the bureau chief post, and he is presumed to be currently taking ideological education at a high-level party school.” In November, the NIS told the assembly that the North conducted the rare inspection into the bureau due to its “impure attitude” for the first time in two decades. The bureau is seen as an influential military institution, as it controls the crucial personnel management of other defense establishments. During today’s briefing, the NIS restated that Tunnel 3 of the North’s Punggye-ri test site in its northeast is available for another test. “Tunnel 2 has been left unattended since the sixth nuclear test (in September), while excavation work is under way at Tunnel 4,” the NIS said. “Tunnel 3 is ready for a test at any time.” It noted, too, that the North’s five-mega-watt nuclear reactor in its main Yongbyon nuclear facility is in normal operation at the moment. “The reactor has been operating for two years. So we are watching for the possibility of reprocessing (spent fuel rods),” the NIS was quoted by Rep. Lee Wan-young of the main opposition party, as saying. Also at the briefing, the NIS said the North has been trying to hack into the South’s cryptocurrency exchange to steal virtual money. “Last year, (the North) stole passwords of members of the local cryptocurrency exchange by sending hacking emails to them,” the agency said. “The exchange has lost cyber money worth tens of billions of won.” (Yonhap, “N. Korea Appoints Top Defense Official to Lead Its Military’s General Political Bureau,” February 5, 2018)


2/6/18:
U.S. launches Trident SLBM off California coast.

Vice President Mike Pence on Monday did not rule out contact with North Korean officials when he attends the Winter Olympics in South Korea this week, saying, “I have not requested a meeting, but we’ll see what happens.” Speaking to reporters in Alaska during a stopover on his way to Japan and South Korea, Pence reiterated the administration’s stance that “all options are on the table” in confronting North Korea about its nuclear weapons and missile programs. He said part of the purpose of his visit was to tell “the truth about North Korea at every stop.” “We’re traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn’t use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime,” he said, calling it “a regime that oppresses its own people, a regime that threatens nations around the world, a regime that continues its headlong rush to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.” He added: “President Trump has said he always believes in talking, but I haven’t requested any meeting. But we’ll see what happens.” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson made strikingly similar remarks yesterday during a visit to Peru. “With respect to the vice president’s trip to the Olympics and whether or not there would be an opportunity for any kind of a meeting with North Korea, I think we’ll just see,” Tillerson said. But Pence’s potentially conciliatory comments came as North Korea used its state news media to issue a series of caustic, personal attacks on Trump and his State of the Union speech last week, in which he assailed the North’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons.” KCNA warned the United States against taking such military action: “Dolt-like Trump should know that his backbone would be broken, to say nothing of ‘bloody nose,’ and the empire of America would go to the hell and the short history of the U.S. would end forever, the moment he destroys even a single blade of grass on this land. Rodong Sinmun, said the State of the Union address showed that Trump was “a lunatic.” (Gerry Mullany, “Pence Doesn’t Rule out Meeting North Koreans at Olympics,” New York Times, February 6, 2018)

Pence: “Q Mr. Vice President, Elise Labott with CNN. Thank you. Today in Peru, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked about whether there might be any talks with the U.S. delegation and the North Korean delegation. And this morning, we were told by the White House, “No.” Secretary Tillerson said, “We’ll see.” He was really noncommittal. I mean, he has favored diplomacy. There has been a relative period of calm from North Korea that this administration has been looking for. Do you envision any communication with North Korea, even if not yourself on this trip? And if not, how do you see this, kind of — you know, North Korea coming to the Olympics and this relative period of calm moving diplomacy forward? Thank you. PENCE: Well, first and foremost, President Trump asked me to travel to the region for several reasons. Number one, to strengthen the relationship between the United States and our allies in Japan and South Korea. We’ll be meeting in the coming days with Prime Minister Abe, with President Moon, and we’ll be talking about the strength of our alliance. And I look forward to reinforcing the important priority that President Trump and the United States places on the relationship with these two nations. Secondly, we’ll collectively be reiterating our commitment, between the United States, Japan, South Korea, and a broad range of allies and partners around the world to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions. All options are on the table. But we will reiterate this week — standing beside Prime Minister Abe, standing beside President Moon — the solidarity of all these nations, and nations around the world, to continue to bring maximum pressure on an increasing basis on the rogue regime in North Korea to achieve the global objective of a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Lastly, I’m traveling to the Olympics with my wife and with our delegation certainly to cheer on American athletes, but also, quite frankly, we’re traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn’t use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime. A regime that oppresses its own people. A regime that threatens nations around the world. A regime that continues its headlong rush to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and use those to threaten its neighbors and even threaten the United States of America. We’ll be telling the truth about North Korea at every stop. We’ll be ensuring that whatever cooperation that’s existing between North and South Korea today on Olympic teams does not cloud the reality of a regime that must continue to be isolated by the world community, and it must be brought to a place where it ends its provocations, it ends its development and possession of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile weapons. With regard to any interaction with the North Korean delegation, I have not requested a meeting, but we’ll see what happens. President Trump has — Q Are you saying that, if an opportunity presented itself, sir, that you might avail yourself to, at least, greet any North Korean official that’s there and — PENCE: Well, let me say, President Trump has said he always believes in talking, but I haven’t requested any meetings. But we’ll see what happens. But my message — whatever the setting, whoever is present — will be the same. And that is that North Korea must once and for all abandon its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile ambitions. And it must accede to the wishes not only of nations across the region and the United States, but nations across the world, to really abandon those ambitions and enter the family of nations. North Korea can have a better future than the militaristic path and the path of provocation and confrontation that it’s on. Better for its own people, better for the region, and better for peace. … Q Yeah, (inaudible.) Last time you made this trip to Japan, North Korea launched a ballistic missile. Are you seeing any indications at this time of — or, it seems to be, there may be a cooling off or some sort of rapprochement between the North and the South. Are you seeing any indications of any provocations from the North around the Games? And if not, why not? PENCE: Well, we know that the North is planning a major military parade, I think, the day before the Olympic Games, which sends a very different message than the message of cooperation and friendship that they’re projecting to much of the world. I’ll be visiting with our forces in Japan. I’m here at Elmendorf Air Force Base, and we’re simply going to communicate a message of American strength and a message of American resolve. And not just American resolve, because I’ve traveled throughout the region — in Japan, and in South Korea. We will be expressing the resolve of nations, allies, partners across the region and across the world that the time has come for North Korea to once and for all abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, to set aside those programs and embrace a better future. It is an urgent message. It’s a message that I’ll be delivering in every setting that I’m given an opportunity. The world needs to hear, again and again, the truth about what North Korea is today, the oppression of its people, the disregard of human rights, the threats and provocations across the region and across the world that come from its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions. But the world also needs to hear that, if they will choose a different path, there’s a better future for the people of North Korea and the people of the Korean Peninsula with a nuclear-free future.” (White House, Press Gaggle by Vice President Pence, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Anchorage, February 6, 2018)


2/7/18:
Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong will come to South Korea as part a high-level delegation for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the Ministry of Unification said Wednesday. Headed by its ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam, the 22-member delegation also includes Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. The move will likely put South Korea in a tricky position, as both Kim and Choe are subject to sanctions imposed on North Korea. Kim, the younger sister of leader Kim and vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, is under the US’ unilateral sanctions. Choe Hwi is on the US as well as the UN sanctions list that includes a travel ban. How the North’s high-level delegation will travel to the South is also a matter of concern, as taking a ferry or flight could violate sanctions against the communist state imposed by the UN, the US or South Korea. There are speculations that Pyongyang’s high-level delegation will travel to Seoul by Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-owned carrier, which would be in violation of US sanctions. A sanction was placed against Air Koryo in December for its links to weapons proliferation and foreign currency earnings for the reclusive regime. “For Kim, who is 91 years old, it would be too tough to travel by land. He will probably visit South Korea by air,” former South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said in a radio interview yesterday. Seoul’s Foreign Ministry maintains that it will not stoke any controversy with regards to sanctions, saying it is closely coordinating with the US and the international community on the matter. The sanctions against North Korea were already temporarily lifted in two cases to facilitate Pyongyang’s participation in the Olympics. South Korean athletes flew to the North’s Masikryong Ski Resort for joint ski training on a chartered Asiana Airlines plane after the US agreed to make an exception regarding sanctions. Current US sanctions on North Korea prohibit airplanes from landing on American territories within 180 days of taking off from North Korea. North Korea’s 140-member art troupe took the ferry Mangyongbong-92 to South Korea and is using it as accommodation here, which is in violation of South Korea’s sanctions imposed on May 24, 2010, to punish the North’s sinking of a South Korean warship. The sanctions ban inter-Korean exchanges and North Korean ships from making a port call in the South. (Ock Hyun-ju, “N.K. Leader’s Sister Kim Yo-jong to Come to S. Korea This Week,” Korea Herald, February 7, 2018) North Korea has requested South Korea provide additional fuel for its vessel currently docked in the South, as it serves as accommodation for its art troupe visiting the South, Seoul‘s Ministry of Unification said, in a move likely to present the South with complications linked to international sanctions. North Korea’s Mangyongbong-92, serving as both means of transportation and accommodation for the 140-member Samjiyon art troupe has been docked at the South Korean eastern port of Mukho since its arrival yesterday. “The North has asked the South to provide fuel (for the ship). The government is currently reviewing the request,” Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman, told a press briefing. (Jung Min-kyung, “N.K. Asks S. Korea to Provide Fuel for Ship That Transported Art Troupe,” Korea Herald, February 7, 2018)

Vice President Pence said the Trump administration plans to roll out its harshest sanctions yet against North Korea during a news conference in Japan. “I’m announcing that the United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever — and we will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs once and for all,” Pence said, speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence. (Ashley Parker and Anna Fifield, “North Korea to Face Harshest U.S. Sanctions Ever, Pence Vows,” Washington Post, February 7, 2018)


2/8/18:
Jo Yong Sam, department director general of the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK, answer to a question put by KCNA “as regards the fact that U.S. authorities say this or that over the issue of contact between the DPRK’s delegation participating in the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics and the U.S. vice-president: On Tuesday a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State told a reporter over the possible contact between the DPRK’s delegation participating in the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics and the U.S. vice-president that the U.S. evidently has no plan to contact with the DPRK during and after the Olympics. U.S. Vice-President Pence, too, said that he didn’t press for any contact with the DPRK’s delegation and asked the south Korean authorities to fix a schedule not to encounter the delegation. And he claimed that they would see what is happening. This is the height of sarcasm. We have never begged for dialogue with the U.S. nor in the future, too. Explicitly speaking, we have no intention to meet with the U.S. side during the stay in south Korea. Our delegation’s visit to south Korea is only to take part in the Olympics and hail its successful holding. We are not going to use such sports festival as the Winter Olympics as a political lever. There is no need to do so. The U.S. had better act with discretion, well aware that its imprudent word and deeds will only show itself in a more awkward position.” (KCNA, “DPRK Delegation Has No Intention to Meet U.S. Side,” February 8, 2018)

A day before the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, North Korea held a military parade in Pyongyang, with intercontinental ballistic missiles displayed in the presence of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. ICBM-class Hwasong-14 and -15 missiles — which were successfully test-fired last year — were shown alongside Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles and Pukkuksong-2, solid-fuel medium-range ballistic missiles, according to footage of the parade, which the South Korean military said it believed started at 11:30 a.m. Some 13,000 soldiers are thought to have participated in the military event at Kim Il-sung Square in central Pyongyang. Troops marched in formation while Kim Jong-un watched from a balcony alongside his wife Ri-Sol-ju, who made a rare appearance at the public event. “Invasive forces cannot infringe upon or harass the republic’s sacred dignity and autonomy even by 0.001 millimeters,” said Kim, describing the parade as an opportunity to show North Korea’s emergence as the “world’s military power.” (Yeo Jun-suk, “ICBM Shown at N.K. Military Parade,” Korea Herald, February 8, 2018)

Elleman: “North Korea’s much anticipated military parade on February 8, the 70th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, was smaller in scale than previous parades, but offered some insights into the North’s growing WMD program. While no new long-range ballistic missiles were unveiled, there was one new solid-fuel, short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) on parade. The size and external features of the new SRBM suggests that it is based on the Russian Iskander (9K720) ballistic missile, though it also shares many features found on South Korea’s Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile. Additionally, this new missile does appear to be slightly larger than North Korea’s existing solid-fuel, short-range missile system—the Toksa (SS-21)—so would presumably have a longer range, making it roughly equivalent to the Iskander or Hyunmoo-2 systems. Without further details it is impossible to determine its performance characteristics or origins. It is notable, however, that the missiles seen in the parade have data-cable covers that run alongside the exterior surface and extend well into what is believed to be the warhead section, which makes little sense. The cables are used to transmit instructions from the guidance unit (located at the top of the motor, but below of the warhead section) to the steering mechanisms at the back end of the missile. The cables on an Iskander are much shorter, terminating where one would expect it to, at the guidance unit. The new missiles are carried in pairs atop four-axle trucks, which are unlike those that support the Russian Iskander. Of the long-range ballistic missiles displayed, there were four Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) carried on their nine-axle transporter-erector-launchers (TELs). The two-stage, liquid-fuel Hwasong-15 has only been flight tested once, but is assessed to be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to any target within the continental United States. Additional tests are needed to establish the Hwasong-15’s performance, reliability, and accuracy. North Korea has also yet to demonstrate that it can fashion a warhead that can survive the extreme heat and vibrations of re-entry into the atmosphere. It is curious that only four Hwasong-15 TELs were on display. North Korea imported six WS-51200 vehicles from China, transforming each of them into a TEL. To carry the giant Hwasong-15, engineers had to add an extra axle, for a total of nine. Perhaps North Korea’s remaining two WS-51200 platforms have yet to be modified to carry this large missile. Regardless, it appears for now that North Korea has a shortage of TELs, a conclusion that is reinforced by the fact that the three Hwasong-14 missiles were conveyed on tractor-trailers, not TELs. Also on display were six Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), each carried on six-axle TELs, and six solid-fuel Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missiles. The Hwasong-12 can reach targets as far as Guam and has been flight tested six times, the first three tests failed and the last two test launches overflew Japan before crashing into the Pacific Ocean. It may already be deployed to military units, though more development and validation testing are needed to quantify its reliability and accuracy, details that may be less important to the Kim regime. The Pukguksong-2 has been test fired just two times. Interestingly, the parade did not include the TELs carrying large launch canisters that were unveiled last year, nor did it feature the KN-08, KN-14, Musudan, Nodong, or any of North Korea’s many Scud-variants. The absence of the Musudan, which failed seven of its first eight launch attempts, suggests that the design has been shelved for now. The missing KN-08 and KN-14, which are presumed to be powered by the same Isyaev 4D10 engine used by Musudan, is not entirely surprising given the technical challenges posed by this more sophisticated Russian engine.” (Michael Elleman, “North Korea’s Military Day Parade: One New Missile Unveiled,” 38North, February 8, 2018)

The North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang includes an apparatchik who has been blacklisted by the UN Security Council. Sports official Choe Hwi (64) was blacklisted in June last year for his role in directing propaganda. Choe is the eldest son of former Construction Minister Choe Jae-ha, a close aide to regime founder Kim Il-sung. North Korean officials on the blacklist have had their overseas assets frozen and been banned from traveling to any UN member state. If South Korea welcomes him it will be in direct breach of the sanctions. “The matter is under discussion because we can get an exemption from the UNSC Sanctions Committee,” a Foreign Ministry official here said. Kim Yo-jong is on a separate U.S. sanctions list, which the Treasury Department issued last January over the North’s human rights abuse. The department says the Workers Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, where she has worked as a vice director, is restricting information and brainwashing North Korean people. Ri Son-gwon is also not blacklisted, but he is thought to be the right-hand man of Kim Yong-chol, the director of the United Front Department, who masterminded the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March 2010. (Ahn Jun-yong, “Blacklisted Apparatchik on N. Korean Olympic Delegation,” Chosun Ilbo, February 8, 2018)


2/9/18:
KCNA: “Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un made a congratulatory speech at the military parade for celebrating the 70th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). In his speech he said February 8 when President Kim Il Sung founded the KPA, regular revolutionary armed forces, is a historic day of great significance in building the revolutionary armed forces and accomplishing the revolutionary cause of Juche, like April 25 when the President founded the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army (KPRA). The KPA is the revolutionary army which inherited the traditions of the anti-Japanese struggle with the indomitable revolutionary spirit, rich fighting experience and superb tactics of the KPRA, he said. Thanks to the foundation of the Juche-based regular army, the DPRK has proudly emerged the most dignified people’s country with its own strong military guarantee from the first days of its birth and it could defeat the imperialist aggression forces boasting of being “the strongest” in the world and achieve the great victory in the Fatherland Liberation War, he added. … The People’s Army should remain intensely loyal to the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). It should be the first death-defying corps and the first lifeguards defending the Central Committee of the WPK with arms, entrusting its destiny to the WPK. Under the present situation in which the U.S. and its vassal forces make a fuss around the Korean Peninsula, the People’s Army should keep high alert and step up combat preparations. And thus it should restrain the aggressors from violating or making a mockery of the dignity and sovereignty of our inviolable country even 0.001 mm. The People’s Army should establish blade-like military discipline and more thoroughly take on the appearance as befits the regular army. It should do things, big and small, for the sake of the people and regard devoting true feelings to them with utmost sincerity as its revolutionary army spirit. Stating that as long as there exists imperialism on the earth and the U.S. pursues hostile policy toward the DPRK, the mission of the People’s Army, a powerful treasured sword for the protection of the country and people and peace, can never be changed, he said the final victory is in store for the WPK and the people that take a grip on arms of revolution. He stressed that the DPRK would be powerful and prosperous forever as long as there is the KPA boundlessly faithful to the leadership of the WPK.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong Un Makes Congratulatory Speech at Military Parade,” February 9, 2018)

Vice President Mike Pence avoided encountering North Korea’s ceremonial leader Kim Young-nam during a reception dinner ahead of the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, underscoring chilly relations between Washington and Pyongyang. The two neither faced each other nor shook hands. Pence, who arrived at the reception late, left the venue after a five-minute stay, according to pool reports. Unlike Pence, Abe shook hands with the North’s titular head and chatted briefly with him. The details of their conversation were unknown. (Yonhap, “Pence Avoids Encountering Nominal N. Korean Head of State,” February 9, 2018) North Korea must “put denuclearization on the table and take concrete steps with the world community to dismantle, permanently and irreversibly, their nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Pence said after a meeting with Moon. “Then, and only then, will the world community consider negotiating and making changes in the sanctions regime that’s placed on them today.” Abe Shinzo, prime minister of Japan, asked Moon to hold the exercises soon after the Games end, but Moon told Abe not to meddle in South Korea’s “sovereignty and internal affairs,” South Korean officials said. “Kim Jong-un has no intention of giving up his nuclear weapons,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a former presidential secretary for security strategy and now a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “With his summit proposal, he seeks to incite friction between Seoul and Washington by widening their policy gap.” Moon cannot rush for a summit meeting given Washington’s deep misgivings and because “South Koreans are not as enthused about another summit meeting with North Korea as they used to,” Cheon added. A senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, Cheong Seong-chang, agreed that Kim’s latest overtures were aimed at easing its isolation and the impact of sanctions. But South Korea also needed to ease tensions, especially given Trump’s threat to take a military option, he said. “It will not be wise for President Moon to reject dialogue with the North and do nothing but stick to sanctions for the sake of the alliance with the United States,” Cheong said. “South Korea will suffer the most if miscalculation or hostility drives the North and the United States into an armed clash.” The main political opposition, the conservative Liberty Korea Party, warned that Moon was duped by the North’s “false peace offensives.” Moon’s governing Democratic Party heartily welcomed the prospect of an inter-Korean summit meeting. A party spokeswoman, Kim Hyo-eun, went so far as to call for the reopening of a joint factory park in Kaesong. (Choe Sang-hun, “Invitation to South Korea May Undercut the U.S.,” New York Times, February 11, 2018, p. A-1)

The North rescinded its request that the South refuel the Mangyongbong-92, and the ferry will return home February 10, Seoul’s unification ministry said. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Rescinds Fuel request for Ferry,” February 9, 2018)


2/10/18:
Rogin: “Despite the mutual chilliness between U.S. and North Korean officials in South Korea last week, behind the scenes real progress was made toward a new diplomatic opening that could result in direct talks without preconditions between Washington and Pyongyang. This window of opportunity was born out of a new understanding reached between the White House and the president of South Korea. Vice President Pence, in an interview aboard Air Force Two on the way home from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, told me that in his two substantive conversations with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during his trip, the United States and South Korea agreed on terms for further engagement with North Korea — first by the South Koreans and potentially with the United States soon thereafter. The frame for the still-nascent diplomatic path forward is this: The United States and its allies will not stop imposing steep and escalating costs on the Kim Jong Un regime until it takes clear steps toward denuclearization. But the Trump administration is now willing to sit down and talk with the regime while that pressure campaign is ongoing. Pence called it “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time.” That’s an important change from the previous U.S. position, which was to build maximum pressure until Pyongyang made real concessions and only then to engage directly with the regime. “The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence said. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.” Pence and Moon worked this out during their bilateral meeting [February 8] at the Blue House and their joint viewing of speed skating heats in Pyeongchang on [this] evening. Pence conferred with President Trump every day he was in Asia. Before these meetings, the Trump and Moon administrations were not aligned on whether Seoul’s new engagement with Pyongyang should continue after the Olympics end. That dissonance showed just before their first meeting, when Moon said he wanted Olympic engagement to lead to real negotiations while Pence talked only about the pressure track. But inside the meeting, there was a breakthrough. Pence told Moon the international community must not repeat the mistakes of the past by giving North Korea concessions in exchange for talking. Pence asked Moon for his idea of how this engagement could be different. Moon assured Pence he would tell the North Koreans clearly that they would not get economic or diplomatic benefits for just talking — only for taking concrete steps toward denuclearization. Based on that assurance, Pence felt confident he could endorse post-Olympic engagement with Pyongyang. “I think it is different from the last 20 years,” Pence said. I asked him what exact steps Pyongyang would have to take to get real sanctions relief. “I don’t know,” he said. “That’s why you have to have talks.” The initial move the United States wants is for North Korea to put denuclearization on the table and take steps toward it, though that is not a condition for preliminary talks. That may be a bridge too far for the Kim regime, which is adamant that the international community accept its nuclear status. Pyongyang is also sure to want concessions from Washington, such as a delay in U.S.-South Korean military exercises, a non-starter for the alliance. There are other spoilers that could torpedo the new opening. In Tokyo, Pence announced new sanctions on North Korea that he promised would be the toughest ever, due to be unveiled soon. In response, the Kim regime may resume testing its nuclear and missile programs, as it has done after past Olympic detentes. That would halt the diplomatic progress in its tracks. Moon is working hard to prevent that from happening. He is entertaining a North Korean offer to visit Pyongyang. He is also urging the North Koreans to sit down with the United States at the earliest opportunity. “Moon told me at the skating rink that he told [the North Koreans], ‘You’ve got to talk to the Americans,’ ” Pence said. The idea of “talks about talks” is not new. In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has raised the idea multiple times. Trump himself has said he sees nothing wrong with talking with the North Koreans per se. Moving from that to substantive negotiations would still be extremely difficult. But to make any real progress, talking is the first necessary step. The White House’s endorsement of the concept of initial talks without preconditions is hugely significant. It provides a real fix to the break between Washington and Seoul. It also increases the chances the United States and North Korea will soon begin a process that represents the best hope of preventing a devastating international conflict.” (Josh Rogin, “Pence: We’re Ready to Talk to North Korea,” Washington Post, February 12, 2018, p. A-16) The Trump administration, scrambling to avoid a rift with an ally, has told South Korea it is open to holding preliminary talks with North Korea, according to two senior administration officials and a spokesman for the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. The decision was a victory for South Korea. “The United States, too, looks positively at South-North Korean dialogue and has expressed its willingness to start dialogue with the North,” Moon said on February 12, according to his spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom. American officials were more guarded, saying they were open to talks but not a full-fledged negotiation. The United States, they said, would reiterate its demands that North Korea make concessions and did not plan to offer any in return. As of now, there are no plans to cancel or further delay joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea, scheduled for after the Olympic Games. Agreeing to talks before the North Koreans have demonstrated a willingness to dismantle their weapons program would be a subtle but potentially significant shift in Washington’s approach — and a win for Moon. “President Moon and I reflected last night on the need to do something fundamentally different,” Pence told reporters on February 9 after meeting with the South Korean leader. The allies, he said, would demand “at the outset of any new dialogue or negotiations” that North Korea “put denuclearization on the table and take concrete steps with the world community to dismantle, permanently and irreversibly, their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” “Then, and only then, will the world community consider negotiating and making changes in the sanctions regime that’s placed on them today,” Pence said. (Mark Landler and Choe Sang-Hun, “U.S. Shifts on Holding Discussions with Kim,” New York Times, February 14, 2018, p. A-7)

Vice President Pence departed for a five-day, two country swing through Asia earlier this month having agreed to a secret meeting with North Korean officials while in South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. But on Saturday February 10, less than two hours before Pence and his team were set to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, the regime’s nominal head of state, the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting, according to Pence’s office. The North Korean decision to withdraw from the meeting came after Pence had used his trip to denounce their nuclear ambitions and announce the “toughest and most aggressive” sanctions against the regime yet, while also taking steps to further solidify the U.S. alliance with both Japan and South Korea. It also came as Kim Jong Un, through his sister, invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang to begin talks “soon” — a development that would likely cause consternation in Washington, where the Trump administration has been leading a campaign to put “maximum pressure” on the Kim regime to give up its nuclear program. Moon said through a spokesman that he would try to make it happen. Pence’s actions and rhetoric in the lead up to the Olympics contrasted with the image of progress being promoted by the South Koreans, who would also have been eager to involve the United States in direct talks with the North. The vice president’s office promoted his trip as an effort to combat what it said was North Korea’s plan to use the Winter Games for propaganda purposes and portrayed the cancellation of the meeting as evidence his mission was a success. “North Korea dangled a meeting in hopes of the Vice President softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda during the Olympics,” said Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff, while also pointing to the specific events Pence held to highlight human rights abuses by Pyongyang. “North Korea would have strongly preferred the vice president not use the world stage to call attention to those absolute facts or to display our strong alliance with those committed to the maximum pressure campaign. But as we’ve said from day one about the trip: this administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics.” The vice president’s office said the North Koreans expressed their dissatisfaction with Pence’s announcement of new sanctions as well as his meeting with North Korean defectors when canceling the meeting. The meeting — which Pence had coyly teased en route to Asia, saying “We’ll see what happens” — was two weeks in the making, and started when the Central Intelligence Agency first got word that the North Koreans wanted to meet with Pence when he was on the Korean Peninsula, according to a senior White House official. A second official said the initiative for the meeting came from South Korea, which acted as an intermediary between the two sides to set up the meeting. Though Pence had agreed to the North Korean invitation before he departed for Asia on Monday February 5, no details were set until the vice president arrived in Seoul on Thursday February 8, according to the White House official. The two sides agreed to meet at South Korea’s Blue House early that Saturday afternoon, the official said. No South Korean officials were scheduled to attend, but the Blue House was to serve as a neutral meeting place, which could also accommodate the security demands of both sides. Pence, a representative from the National Security Council, a representative from the intelligence community and Ayers were planning to attend from the U.S. side. The North Korean side was expected to include Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam, as well as a possible third official. Within the White House, discussions of the possible meeting were kept to a small group of senior administration officials and the plan was finalized the Friday before the vice president left during an Oval Office meeting with President Trump, Pence, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Ayers. CIA Director Mike Pompeo called in by phone, while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were also part of the ongoing discussions. The president and vice president were in agreement on the goal of the meeting: Pence would privately meet with the North Koreans not to open any negotiations with Kim’s regime, but to deliver the administration’s tough stance against North Korea face-to-face, two White House officials said. The administration also took it as a sign of the North Korean’s seriousness that Kim sent his younger sister to South Korea, making her the first member of the Kim family to visit the South since the Korean War. “The president’s view was that they need to understand that what our policy is publicly and what we are saying publicly is actually what we mean,” a senior White House official said, explaining Trump’s decision to greenlight the possibility of a Pence meeting with the North Koreans. White House officials said Trump and Pence had viewed the meeting as a continuation of the administration’s maximum pressure campaign against North Korea, as well as in line with the message Pence had delivered, publicly and privately, all trip. The talks between Pence and the North Koreans, had they happened, were not intended to serve as any sort of de-escalation of the administration’s stance against North Korea, a senior White House official said. Pence used his trip to the region to further underscore the administration’s combative stance. At the Olympic opening ceremony, Pence sat in South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s VIP box along with Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — with Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam sitting almost directly behind him. Pence studiously ignored the North Koreans all evening and photos of the uncomfortable tableau prompted public headlines and private speculation about who, exactly, had won the propaganda war. That Friday, before heading to the Olympics, Pence visited the Cheonan Memorial, a tribute to 46 South Korean sailors who were killed in 2010 by a North Korean torpedo, and he met with four North Korean defectors, urging them to share their stories before the assembled media. He also invited Fred Warmbier — father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died last year after North Korea detained him for 17 months for stealing a propaganda poster, then sent him home in a coma — to attend the Opening Ceremony as his guest. It was all part of Pence’s effort to cast himself as a warrior against North Korea’s propaganda. Pence seemed to make a point of ignoring the North Koreans at the Opening Ceremony, both at a VIP reception and in Moon’s VIP box. The vice president also only stood to cheer for the U.S. athletes when they marched out, staying seated when the North and South entered the Olympic Stadium together under a united Korean flag. The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency unleashed a torrent of vitriol against the Vice President February 17. “Pence must know that his frantic acts of abusing the sacred Olympics for confrontational ruckus are as foolish and stupid an act as sweeping the sea with a broom,” the agency said in a report. “If Pence wants to avoid experiencing a hot agony of shame on the stage of the Olympics, he had better stop behaving imprudently and clearly learn about how ardently the compatriots of the north and the south of Korea wish to reunify the country … and quietly disappear,” the report continued. Pence’s stony demeanor and ramrod straight posture at the Opening Ceremony earned snarky reviews in the Korean media, with some grousing that he had snubbed the North Koreans and even disrespected the Olympic Games. The vice president’s team saw it differently. Communications Director Jarrod Agen tweeted a laudatory review of Pence’s evening: “VP stands and cheers for U.S. athletes. VP hangs out with U.S. athletes instead of dining with Kim regime. VP does not applaud N. Korea or exchange pleasantries w/ the most oppressive regime on earth.” Another member of Pence’s staff explained the vice president’s public behavior with, “I don’t think you talk geopolitics over speed skating.” In fact, at that very moment, Pence was still planning to talk geopolitics with the North Koreans the next day, reiterating his week-long public message in private with Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam. On the morning of Saturday February 10, the North Koreans sent word to Pence’s team that the meeting was still on — but they didn’t like his rhetoric, a senior administration said. (Ashley Parker, “N. Koreans, Pence Were to Have Met in S. Korea,” Washington Post, February 21, 2018, p. A-1) At the time, Trump administration officials explained that they would have been open to a meeting with their North Korean counterparts, but only if Pence delivered a tough message and only if it occurred away from TV cameras. What they did not disclose then was that they believed both of those conditions had been met for an encounter already scheduled to occur. “The vice president was ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs,” State Department spokesperson Heather. Nauert said on February 20. (Gardiner Harris and Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Backed Out of Meeting with Pence at Olympics, U.S. Says,” New York Times, February 21, 2018, p. A-5)

North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-un has asked South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang at the “earliest date” possible for what will be a third inter-Korean summit, Kim’s sister told the South Korean leader Saturday. The invitation was delivered in a meeting between Moon and the North Korean leader’s sister, Yo-jong. Kim Yo-jong was earlier considered part of a high-level North Korean delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, but Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said she was here as a special envoy of the North Korean leader. “While delivering a letter from Kim Jong-un, chairman of the State Affairs Commission, which stated willingness to improve South-North Korea relations, special envoy Kim Yo-jong orally delivered Chairman Kim Jong-un’s invitation (for Moon) to visit the North at a time convenient to him, saying he is willing to meet President Moon Jae-in at the earliest date possible,” the spokeswoman told a press briefing. During the meeting, Kim Yo-jong sought to encourage Moon to visit Pyongyang. “I wish I can see you in Pyongyang at an early date. If you meet Chairman Kim Jong-un and exchange views on many issues, the North-South relationship may quickly improve as if yesterday would seem a far distant past,” she told the South Korean leader, according to a Cheong Wa Dae official. “I hope the president will put a footprint in history that will be long remembered by the future generation by playing a leading role in opening a new era of unification,” she added, according to the official. Moon stressed the need for the communist North to resume dialogue with the United States. “An early resumption of dialogue between the United States and the North is needed also for the development of the South-North Korean relationship,” he said, according to his spokesman. Kim Yo-jong is the only member of the North’s ruling family to have visited the South since the end of the war. (Byun Duk-kun, “N. Korean Leader Proposes Inter-Korean Summit with Moon,” February 10, 2018) “Kim Yo-jong delivered Kim Jong-un’s letter to Moon, and conveyed (Kim Jong-un’s) message that he is open to meeting Moon in the near future,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said. “(Kim Yo-jong asked Moon) to visit Pyongyang at a time convenient to him. President Moon responded by saying that the two sides should work on establishing the right conditions to realize the meeting.” The Cheong Wa Dae spokesman also said the two sides discussed issues regarding inter-Korean relations under a “friendly atmosphere.” “President Moon said that US-North Korea talks should be held in the near future to improve inter-Korean relations, and asked the North to take a proactive approach to the matter,” Kim Eui-kyeom said. (Choi He-suk, “N.K. Leader Kim Invites Moon to Pyongyang,” Korea Herald, February 10, 2018) Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the North Korean leader, delivered Kim Jong-un’s letter and a verbal invitation to Moon on behalf of her brother during a three-hour meeting at the presidential residence in Seoul on October 10, according to the Blue House. “I am willing to meet with President Moon in the near future,” Kim Yo-jong quoted Kim Jong-un as saying, according to presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom. “I request you visit North Korea at your earliest convenience.” According to the spokesman, Moon replied, “Let’s create the conditions and hold the summit.” Moon was quoted by his spokesman as saying, “For the sake of advancing relations between the two Koreas, it is imperative for the North and the United States to talk soon.” Asked if direct talks between the North and United States are the “conditions” that Moon cited for the summit, the official said the Pyongyang-Washington issue is an important factor to improve inter-Korean ties. “The two axles must spin together to make wheels move,” he said. According to the aide, Moon made no direct mention of the North’s nuclear arms program during the meeting. (Ser Myo-ja, “Kim Jong-un Invites Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang,” JoongAng Ilbo, February 10, 2018) Im Jong-seok, a prominent student democracy activist who is now chief of staff of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In 1989, then a 22-year-old South Korean student caused an uproar when she sneaked into North Korea and was filmed advocating for unification and meeting then leader Kim Il Sung. The unauthorized visit was orchestrated by Im. Nearly 30 years on, the 51-year-old Im is now playing a pivotal role in an inter-Korean detente fostered by the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, officials and experts say. After North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a surprise invitation for Moon to visit Pyongyang last week, Im is now being floated as a possible special envoy to North Korea to discuss the proposal. But for critics in the South, Im is at the center of concern that Seoul may prioritize cross-border rapprochement over an air-tight alliance with the United States. South Korea’s intelligence service chief Suh Hoon and Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon are among the other candidates under consideration, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Officials, however, said they are leaning more toward Suh or Cho, given conservative criticism of Im. “I know there are many names being mentioned, but Suh is an expert and would be the best choice,” said Chung Se-hyun, a former unification minister, who regularly advises Moon on inter-Korean affairs. “In inter-Korean relations, it is critical to understand the North’s language, their way of talking and the country’s inner workings.” Suh led a series of talks in the run up to two inter-Korean summits, first in 2000 and then 2007. Suh, as a top spy official, and Moon, then chief of staff to President Roh Moo-hyun, were instrumental in setting up the 2007 meeting. (Hyonhee Shin, “Moon’s Chief of Staff Takes Center Stage in Inter-Korean Détente,” Reuters, February 15, 2018)

KCNA: “The DPRK high-level delegation led by Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, met with south Korean President Moon Jae In at Chongwadae on Saturday after attending the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics. Moon Jae In warmly greeted the DPRK delegation at the main lobby of Chongwadae, exchanging greetings with it, and had photo sessions with Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong respectively. Then Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong had a warm talk with Moon Jae In on the first floor of Chongwadae. Moon Jae In said at the talk that the current visit of the delegation of the north side created a spark of improving the inter-Korean relations and ensuring peace on the Korean peninsula and that he extends his heartfelt thanks to Chairman Kim Jong Un for providing today’s significant occasion. Kim Yong Nam congratulated Moon Jae In on the successful opening of the Winter Olympics and expressed gratitude to him for sitting together with them while dealing with a great event. At the talk, Kim Yo Jong, first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, upon authorization of Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the Party, state and army of the DPRK, courteously handed over his personal letter to President Moon Jae In and verbally conveyed his intention. President Moon Jae In expressed deep thanks to Chairman Kim Jong Un for taking a special step of making the high-level delegation of the north side participate in the Olympics and sending his personal letter and verbal greetings, and asked for certainly conveying his gratitude to Chairman Kim Jong Un. After delivery of the personal letter, the DPRK delegation had a frank and candid talk with the south side over the issue of improving the north-south relations. President Moon Jae In expressed the will to take one step after another for the common prosperity of the south and the north in close cooperation with each other, saying that the inter-Korean relations should be mended by the parties concerned at any cost as indicated by Chairman Kim Jong Un in his New Year Address. Kim Yong Nam said that even unexpected difficulties and ordeals could be surely overcome and the future of reunification brought earlier when having a firm will and taking courage and determination to usher in a new heyday of inter-Korean relations. The talk proceeded in a sincere and cordial atmosphere. Present there were Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, and Im Jong Sok, presidential chief of staff of Chongwadae, Jong Ui Yong, chief of the State Security Office, Jo Myong Gyun, minister of Unification, and So Hun, director of the National Intelligence Service. On the same day Moon Jae In hosted a luncheon at Chongwadae in honor of the DPRK delegation. Present there were all members of the DPRK delegation and participants of the south side in the talk and leading persons concerned at the National Intelligence Service and the State Security Office. A welcoming address was made at the luncheon which proceeded in a cordial atmosphere. At the end of the luncheon, there was a photo session with all members of the DPRK high-level delegation at Moon Jae In’s request. That day Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong made entries in the visitor’s book of Chongwadae.” (KCNA, “DPRK High-Level Delegations Meets S. Korean President,” February 11, 2018)

“South Korea might run off ahead on a course of dialogue,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said in the wake of talks in Seoul between South Korean President Moon Jae In and a high-level North Korean delegation sent to attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics the day prior. Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori told reporters in Saga Prefecture, southwestern Japan, that dialogue between the two Koreas must be “based on the premise that North Korea will change its basic nuclear and missile policies.” Officials in Tokyo suspect North Korea is trying to chip away at the united front of the United States and its East Asian allies as international sanctions bite the hermit country. The Abe administration is in favor of maintaining the diplomatic and economic pressure campaign regardless of the thaw between the two Koreas over the Olympics, arguing that yielding to dialogue on North Korea’s terms would mean effectively accepting it as a nuclear power. “North Korea seems to have no intention of abandoning its nuclear [program],” a Japanese government official said. “It’s clear to see that Kim Jong Un’s agenda is to get a dialogue offensive under way,” a Japanese government source said. “By sending the sister to South Korea and seeking a visit by the president, North Korea is probably trying to give the impression that it’s taking the lead on dialogue,” another source close to the government said. According to a diplomatic source, some in the Abe administration “would not oppose the very idea of talks” between Moon and Kim “if they would entail [Moon] pressing North Korea to denuclearize.” But most, a source close to the prime minister’s office said, feel that “dialogue is meaningless unless North Korea says it will abandon nuclear weapons in a verifiable and irreversible manner.” (Kyodo, “Japan Gov’t Worried S. Korea Moving toward Talks with North,” February 10, 2018) “In the past, both Japan and South Korea have gone along with conciliatory policies proposed by North Korea, but the only result has been to allow North Korea to continue with its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development programs,” Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori told reporters in Saga Prefecture. “It is inconceivable that Moon would visit North Korea when Pyongyang has shown no signs of specific action toward denuclearization,” said a high-ranking Japanese Foreign Ministry official. According to sources knowledgeable about Japan-U.S. ties, immediately after Abe met with Moon on February 9, U.S. officials requested and were granted a hurriedly called meeting between Abe and Vice President Mike Pence, who was also in Pyeongchang to take in the Opening Ceremony. That meeting was held on top of a February 7 meeting in Tokyo between Abe and Pence. Moreover, the two further discussed what steps could be taken by Japan and the United States during the drive to a reception hosted by Moon. Pence invited Abe to ride with him to the reception site, sources said. “There will be a need for Japan and the United States to work closely to continue to remind South Korea that it should not move any closer toward North Korea,” a Japanese government source said. (Matsui Nozomi, “Tokyo Takes Exception to Conciliatory Tone of Two Koreas,” Asahi Shimbun, February 11, 2018)


2/13/18:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left open the door to dialogue with North Korea, saying it will be up to Pyongyang to decide when they are ready. Tillerson was speaking at a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo, where he was asked whether he sees the start of a diplomatic process with North Korea. “As to the vice president’s comments about potentially having talks and whether it’s the start of a diplomatic process, I think it’s too early to judge,” Tillerson said. “As we’ve said for some time, it’s really up to the North Koreans to decide when they’re ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way.” North Korea knows “what has to be on the table for conversations,” he said, apparently referring to a denuclearization commitment. “We’ve said for some time that I think it’s important that we have — we’re going to need to have some discussions that precede any form of negotiation to determine whether the parties are, in fact, ready to engage in something this meaningful, in order for us to then put together the construct of a negotiation,” the top US diplomat said. “So we’ll just have to wait and see.” (Yonhap, “Tillerson: Up to N. Korea to Choose Talks with U.S.,” February 13, 2018)

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, Monday met members of the DPRK high-level delegation which visited the south side’s area to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics. Present at the meeting were the members of the delegation including Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yo Jong, first vice department director of the WPK Central Committee, Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, and suite members. On hand were Vice-Chairman Kim Yong Chol and Vice Department Director Jo Yong Won of the C.C., WPK. Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un highly appreciated the efforts of the members of the delegation and suite members, shaking their hands one by one and listened to the detailed report by them. Kim Yong Nam made a detailed report on the activities of the delegation including its participation in the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics and visit to Chongwadae. Kim Yo Jong, who conducted her activities at the special instruction of the respected Supreme Leader, made a detailed report on her contacts with the south side’s high-level figures including President Moon Jae In and the south side’s intention and movement of the U.S. side and others which she grasped through her activities. After receiving the delegation’s report, Kim Jong Un expressed satisfaction over it. And he said that impressive was the south side which specially prioritized the visit of the members of the DPRK side who took part in the Winter Olympics including the high-level delegation and has made all its sincere efforts for their convenience and activities, and expressed his gratitude for it. Saying it is important to continue making good results by further livening up the warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue created by the strong desire and common will of the north and the south with the Winter Olympics as a momentum, he set forth in detail the future orientation of the improvement of the north-south relations and gave important instructions to the relevant field to take practical measures for it. He had a photo session with the members of the delegation.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong Un Meets DPRK High-Level delegation,” February 13, 2018)

Institute for Disarmament and Peace of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK director-general’s statement “over the fact that the United States and Japan, taken aback by stirring atmosphere of improvement and reconciliation in the inter-Korean relations, are running amuck to put whatever obstacles on this development. … The U.S. and Japan incited confrontation and hostility towards the DPRK at the opening ceremony of the current Winter Olympics where the whole world has extended warm congratulations in delight and joy to the north and the south of Korea for being one. … The reckless moves of the U.S. and Japan constitute an open challenge to our sincere efforts for improving the inter-Korean relations and creating peaceful climate on the Koran peninsula as well as to the world public aspiring to the regional and global peace and stability. Whenever the north and the south of Korea were engaged in talks to improve their relations, which led to the heightened atmosphere for national reunification, the U.S. and Japan did never fail to create huge obstacles by conducting such deliberate aggressive maneuvers as the large-scale joint military exercises. The above facts demonstrate once again that the U.S. and Japan are the very culprits of destroying peace, aggravating situation and obstructing national reunification on the Korean peninsula. If the U.S. and Japanese reactionaries continue to move in a self-centered manner against our national aspirations for peace and reunification and the international support to it, they will gain only isolation. The U.S and Japan should bear in mind that their vicious words and actions will only reveal their sinister and crafty intentions and invite international opposition and denunciation, and they would be well advised to stop their imprudent and reckless actions.” (KCNA, “U.S. and Japan Flayed for Hampering Improvement of Inter-Korean Relations,” February 13, 2018)

The U.S. director of national intelligence warned, “Decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this.” North Korea presents “a potentially existential” threat to the United States and is likely to conduct more weapons tests this year, Dan Coats said at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual hearing on “Worldwide Threats.” Coats said North Korea’s repeated statements that nuclear weapons were the basis for its survival suggest government leaders there “do not intend to negotiate them away.” “In the wake of accelerated missile testing since 2016, North Korea is likely to press ahead with more tests in 2018, and its Foreign Minister said that Kim (Jong Un) may be considering conducting an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean,” he said. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein asked whether U.S. intelligence has looked into what it might take to bring North Korea to the negotiating table, but Pompeo declined to discuss the subject during a public hearing. Feinstein said she had participated in a classified briefing recently on North Korea and described it as “difficult and harsh.” (Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu, “U.S. Intelligence Chief Says North Korea ‘Decision Time’ Is Near,” Reuters, February 13, 2018)


2/14/18:
Vice President Mike Pence drew the line between talks and negotiations with North Korea, saying President Donald Trump “believes in” the former. In an interview with Axios, Pence said Trump “always believes in talking (with North Korea), but talking is not negotiating.” His remark appears to leave open the possibility of a preliminary dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang that would set the tone for any future negotiations over the communist regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Still, Pence said nothing will change until the North abandons its nuclear ambitions, and the U.S. and the international community will “consider any change in posture” only when the regime “completely, verifiably and completely” discards its missile programs. The U.S. has led a “maximum pressure” campaign to increase economic and diplomatic sanctions on North Korea until the regime comes forward to discuss its denuclearization. Pence led the U.S. delegation to the opening ceremony last week, where he was seated directly in front of the North Korean leader’s sister, Kim Yo-jong. “I didn’t avoid the dictator’s sister, but I did ignore her,” Pence told Axios. “I didn’t believe it was proper for the USA to give her any attention in that forum.” He also called the North “the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet,” which is “nothing short of a prison state.” Pence warned the North of U.S. military capabilities. “The United States has viable military options to deal with the threat of nuclear and ballistic missiles from North Korea,” he said. “We want to exhaust every opportunity to make sure North Korea understands our intentions and the seriousness of the USA and our allies.” (Yonhap, Pence Draws Line between Talks, Negotiations with N. Korea,” February 14, 2018) The National Security Council (NSC) said the U.S. was “willing to engage North Korea” to emphasize its position that the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was non-negotiable. While stating the U.S. was open to talks with Pyongyang, it made clear it would also maintain pressure on the regime to give up its nuclear weapons. “The maximum pressure campaign will intensify until the North Korean regime denuclearizes,” an NSC official was quoted as saying by Yonhap. “We are in close contact with the Republic of Korea about our unified response to North Korea including the need to maintain maximum pressure to achieve a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.” The U.S. State Department echoed the view on simultaneous “maximum pressure and engagement” in a February 13 briefing. It said preliminary talks, or “talks for talks” with Pyongyang, were possible. (Kim Jae-kyung and Kim Bo-eun, “U.S. May Talk to North Korea,” Korea Times, February 14, 2018)

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to keep up pressure on North Korea until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear and missile programs, Japan’s foreign ministry said. The two leaders confirmed in phone talks tonight that there would be “no meaningful dialogue” unless North Korea agreed on “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” the ministry said in its statement. “Dialogue for the sake of dialogue would be meaningless,” Abe told reporters after the phone talks. (Reuters, “Japan’s Abe, Trump Agree to Keep up Pressure on North Korea,” February 14, 2018)

The South Korean government decided to use the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund to cover the cost of the North Koreans’ stay in the South during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the Ministry of Unification said. The Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Committee under the ministry said it approved about 2.86 billion won ($2.64 million). This is to cover costs of the North Korean cheering squad, the art troupe and the taekwondo demonstration team. The government will pay the money to the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympics and Paralympics, the Korean Sports and Olympic Committee, World Taekwondo, and other relevant bodies that hosted events involving the North Korean delegation. “The funding is in accordance with the inter-Korean agreements on Jan. 9 and 17, under which Seoul promised to provide conveniences for the North Korean delegates,” the ministry said. “Given the international economic sanctions against the North, we will closely consult with international society.” The fund, set up in 1990, is committed to back up effective inter-Korean exchanges, including reunions of divided families, humanitarian relief and support for joint economic initiatives. Separately, another review committee under the ministry approved spending of 27 million won for two North Korean delegations that came before the Olympics to check the facilities for the art troupe and athletes. Meanwhile, Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung had closed-door meetings with envoys from neighboring countries to explain the developments following the high-level North Korean delegates’ recent visit to the South, including North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong. Today, Chun had talks with Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong and acting U.S. Ambassador Marc Knapper in separate meetings. He told them about the delegates’ messages, including Kim Jong-un’s offer to have a summit soon with President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang. Chun also asked for the countries’ cooperation in improving inter-Korean relations and peacefully resolving the issue of the North’s nuclear and missile programs. (Choi Ha-young, “Government Approves $2.5 Million for North Koreans’ Stay,” Korea Times, February 14, 2018)


2/15/18:
The United States doesn’t have a “bloody nose” strategy for North Korea, senators of both parties and a Trump administration official said, rejecting claims the U.S. wants to strike the North’s nuclear program in a way that avoids an all-out war. The harmonized message could quell speculation that President Donald Trump is contemplating limited military action to demonstrate U.S. resolve toward North Korea without provoking a wider conflict. Such a strategy would be widely seen as dangerous given the North’s capability to inflict a devastating retaliation on U.S. ally South Korea. A senior White House official, at a briefing yesterday, told lawmakers no such approach has been adopted, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and James Risch, R-Idaho, said at a Senate hearing today. An administration official who was testifying confirmed their accounts. The White House had “made it very clear there is no bloody nose strategy for a strike against North Korea,” Shaheen told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was considering the nomination of Susan Thornton, Trump’s choice to be the top diplomat for East Asia. “We were told clearly by administration people about as high up as it gets that there is no such thing as a ‘bloody nose’ strategy, that they’ve never talked about, they’ve never considered it, they’ve never used that term, and it’s not something that that people ought to be talking about,” Risch said. (Matthew Pennington, “U.S. Denies Plan for ‘Bloody Nose’ Strike on North Korea,” Associated Press, February 15, 2018) Asked by Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen if the Trump administration had no “bloody nose” strategy, Susan Thornton, assistant secretary for East Asia, replied: “That is my understanding, senator, yes.” U.S. officials have told Reuters and other media that Trump and his advisers have discussed the possibility of a limited strike on North Korea that would neither knock out its program nor overthrow leader Kim Jong Un’s government. Two U.S. senators, a Democrat and Republican, who spoke at Thornton’s confirmation hearing for the post of assistant secretary for East Asia, said they and other senators had been told by senior White House officials yesterday that there was no such strategy. Republican Senator James Risch said the lawmakers had been told “by administration people, about as high up as it gets, that there is no such thing as a ‘bloody nose strategy.’” Risch added that the officials said they had never considered it or talked about it. Thornton said Washington was open to talks with Pyongyang but that North Korean denuclearization would be the only issue. “Our preference is to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through a diplomatic settlement, but we will reach this goal one way or another,” Thornton said. (David Brunnstrom and Patricia Zengerle, “No ‘Bloody Nose’ Strategy for North Korea: U.S. Official, Senators,” Reuters, February 15, 2018)

An official at the White House National Security Council said in an e-mail interview with Dong-A Ilbo that Washington was willing to engage North Korea in order to emphasize its position that the “complete and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is not negotiable.” The official also stressed that Washington would strengthen its “maximum pressure” until the North Korean regime abandons its nuclear program. The response suggests that while Washington will continue the maximum pressure campaign, it would also be possible to hold dialogue with the North to achieve the goal. Asked if there would be any change in Washington’s position on a military option against the North, the official said that both the military and non-military options are on the table, adding that the United States will take all measures necessary to defend itself and its allies and respond to any North Korean provocation. The U.S. Department of State officially admitted the possibility to expand the dialogue phase. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a regular news briefing on February 12 that Pence had said “maximum pressure and engagement can be done at the same time.” She stressed that Pence had said, “The maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.” (Gi-Jae Han and Jeong-Hun Park, “U.S. Hints at Dialogue with N. Korea for Denuclearization,” Dong-A Ilbo, February 15, 2018)

The powerful intercontinental missile, dubbed Hwasong-15, tested by North Korea late last year is “highly likely” to have been built with foreign blueprints or parts, according to a new technical analysis by U.S. and German experts that describes multiple similarities between Pyongyang’s new missile and ones built by the Soviet Union decades ago. The foreign assistance — the precise nature of which is still unclear — could explain why North Korea apparently was able to skip the months and even years of preliminary testing normally associated with any advanced new missile system, the report says. Intelligence agencies have long believed that North Korea incorporated Soviet designs in many of its missiles, including a submarine-launched ballistic missile successfully tested in 2016. But experts have been mystified over North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s rapid gains in long-range missile technology, including back-to-back successful tests of two different ICBMS last year. The new report builds an elaborate, if partly circumstantial, case linking North Korea’s newest missile to Soviet designs dating as far back as the mid-1960s. The evidence includes striking similarities between the Hwasong-15 and a family of Soviet-era missiles, including one that was developed by Russian engineers but abandoned before production began, according to the report prepared for Jane’s Intelligence Review, a British-based journal that focuses on international security threats. A draft of the report was provided to the Washington Post. “It is highly likely that North Korea made use of external knowledge, technology, or hardware, in the development of the Hwasong-15 ICBM,” states the report, authored by Markus Schiller, a Munich-based space technology analyst, and Nick Hansen, an imagery specialist with a 47-year career with U.S. intelligence community. Based on new computer modeling and enhanced images of the North Korean missile, the researchers concluded that the foreign support “was derived from the Soviet-era ballistic missile program,” though it is unclear exactly when or how the transfer took place, the report says. The researchers found, for example, that the North Korean missile’s size and shape echo those of the UR-100, a two-stage solid-fuel missile built by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, with a few differences. Its engine shares the same distinctive dual-nozzle configuration as the Soviet-made RD-250 missile engine first built in 1965, and appears to use the same potent fuel mixture — a high-energy liquid propellant that only recently came into use in North Korea. The similarities appear to implicate the former Soviet Union as the original source of the technology, and not China or Iran, as some analysts have speculated, the researchers said. “By any dimension, this looks Soviet to me, not Chinese,” Schiller said in an interview via Skype. While the similarities with the UR-100 are striking, the authors posit that the Hwasong-15 may actually be a clone of a different Soviet-era missile that was never brought into full production. That missile, the R-37, was developed as part of a competition between two rival missile-design bureaus as the Soviet Union searched for an answer to the Minuteman ICBM developed by the United States in the 1960s. The UR-100 won the competition, and the R-37—which was similar in size and shape and apparently used the RD-250 engine—was canceled. Though acknowledging he has no proof, Schiller believes the Hwasong-15 may have been assembled from actual parts of the R-37, or a similar Soviet-era missile that was stolen or sold on the black market. Otherwise, he says, it is difficult to explain how the North Koreans were able to field their new ICBM so quickly, apparently skipping the extensive testing normally associated with a new missile design. U.S. intelligence officials have expressed skepticism about previous claims that North Korea’s newest missiles are foreign imports. A Defense Department statement last August asserted that North Korea “is not reliant on the imports of engines,” but rather possesses the “ability to produce the engines themselves.” U.S. agencies have not ruled out the possibility that missile-engine designs from Russia were passed to North Korea, perhaps by former Soviet scientists who traveled to Pyongyang to work as consultants in the 1990s. Schiller says it is possible that missile secrets were passed to North Korea in the form of blueprints and scientific expertise. But he says he personally believes that missile parts were included in the exchange. “If you look at any other missile program, you usually see hundreds of static engine tests,” Schiller said. “With this one, we didn’t see hundreds. We saw one or two.”

Yet, despite the dearth of known tests, the North Koreans were sufficiently confident of their new missile that they arranged for the maiden launch to occur “in a field, in the middle of the night, with what appeared to be a military crew, in approximately four hours,” Schiller writes in the report. Schiller also noted that, since the November 28 launch, no other Hwasong-15s have been observed publicly. The only exceptions were four purported missiles that were hauled through central Pyongyang in a military parade earlier this month. Parade missiles, Schiller said, are “nearly always fake.” (Joby Warrick, “Did Kim Jong Un’s ‘Historic’ Missile Get a Boost from Old Soviet Weapons” Washington Post, February 16, 2018)

With talk of a “bloody nose” strike against North Korea being debated in Washington, public attention has focused on conventional military preparations for a U.S. attack on Pyongyang. Less noticed, but possibly even more telling, is the surge in recent months of intelligence resources. Senior officials have made no secret of the fact that the administration is ramping up its intelligence capabilities to focus on the Korean Peninsula, but six sources familiar with U.S. planning described a nearly unprecedented scramble inside the agencies responsible for spying and cyber warfare. In fact, the initial strike against the North Korean regime could be digital rather than physical, according to two former intelligence officials with knowledge of the preparations. “The first shot will be cyber,” one of the former officials said. As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un flaunts his nation’s strides in missile development, the U.S. government for the past six months has covertly begun laying the groundwork for possible cyberattacks on North Korea in countries including South Korea and Japan. This process involves installing fiber cables as bridges into the region and setting up remote bases and listening posts, where hackers may attempt to gain access to a North Korean internet that’s largely walled off from external connections. Preparations for a cyberattack reflect a larger issue: America’s spies are pivoting the magnifying glass, funneling much of the weight of billions of dollars in technical infrastructure and trained professionals toward Pyongyang, current and former intelligence officials told Foreign Policy. “The national technical focus is being switched,” one former intelligence official with knowledge of the developments told FP. There are “wholesale” shifts worth billions of dollars redirecting signals intelligence, overhead imagery, geospatial intelligence, and other technical capabilities, toward Pyongyang. Regional analysts are also getting reassigned. “If you’re an Africa analyst, you’re fucked,” the former official said. The preparations, according to those sources, include military intelligence analysts on reserve status being called back into service to focus on North Korea. Military and intelligence contractors have posted a number of job announcements in recent months seeking analysts with Korean-language skills, including positions to identify and recruit human intelligence sources. In November 2017, rumors flew around the halls at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, that the agency would also be surging analysts of all disciplines to work at the brand-new Korea Mission Center, established in May of that year, a symbol of serious potential for military action, one former intelligence official told FP. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has publicly confirmed that he’s funneling workers there. “The Administration has made North Korea a top priority, and the CIA established its Korea Mission Center to harness the full resources, capabilities, and authorities of the Agency to address the threat posed by Kim Jong Un and his regime,” CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu wrote in an email. “We shift resources as appropriate to tackle our most pressing challenges.” The Defense Intelligence Agency had an “oh, shit” moment after the holidays, another source described to FP, when contingency planning to shift resources toward East Asia kicked off in earnest. Some experts working on areas such as counterterrorism and counter-narcotics are suddenly getting new assignments, or fear they soon might, and are being told to shift their gaze to the Korean Peninsula instead, yet another source indicated. The Defense Clandestine Service, an espionage wing of the DIA, has ratcheted up its presence in the region. The government is working on “putting the elite of the elite on the peninsula to collect and respond,” a separate former military intelligence official told FP. Pivoting to high-priority regions to serve the military is the DIA’s calling, said an agency spokesman, James Kudla. “DIA has the unique role of ensuring warfighters, defense planners and national policy makers understand foreign military capabilities and operational environments so they can prevent or decisively win wars,” he wrote in an email to FP. Former intelligence officials told FP, there is concern that the laser focus on North Korea could come at the expense of other hot spots, such as Syria or Iran. “How does that leave us vulnerable?” one military intelligence source asked. The defense budget passed by Congress ultimately doesn’t end up matching the areas where the United States is spending the most, and resources aren’t unlimited. “We have what we have.” The CIA described the concern about limited resources as misplaced. “The CIA is no stranger to tackling multiple priorities and executing its mission aggressively. We are always mindful of our obligation to keep America safe from threats from all over the world,” wrote Liu, the agency spokesman. Joseph DeTrani, the former associate director of national intelligence and mission manager for North Korea, said the intelligence community’s focus on North Korea has ebbed and flowed over the years. “I think we surged slightly a little more in 1999, when we confronted them with the uranium enrichment program,” he said. In 2017, North Korea made rapid progress in developing advanced missiles — testing more than 20, though not all were successful. Kim Jong Un is a showman when it comes to missile testing, according to DeTrani. “[The North Koreans] want us to know they have these missile and nuclear capabilities,” he added. DeTrani, who served as U.S. special envoy at the six-party talks with North Korea between 2003 and 2006, said the Donald Trump administration is making the regime and its nuclear program “very clearly priority No. 1.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed the increasing focus on North Korea but declined to provide specifics. (Earlier this month, the office posted an announcement seeking a Korea director to, in part, “oversee and monitor efforts to assess the state of collection, analysis, intelligence operations, and resource gaps” in the region.) “North Korea has long been a very high priority for the Intelligence Community,” Timothy Barrett, a spokesman for the office, wrote in a statement to FP. “Given this challenge and the high policy focus on this topic, the Intelligence Community has added priority, focus, and resources to our North Korea efforts over the past several years,” he continued. “We continue to make adjustments to our North Korea-focused resources as the situation warrants.” The CIA has been particularly vocal on its Korea focus. In January, Pompeo told an audience at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington that supporting the U.S. “pressure campaign” on North Korea was “the kind of task that the CIA was designed for.” While Pompeo would not go into detail about missions in East Asia, he noted that the CIA was helping support sanctions efforts to create economic pressure and was “working to prepare a series of options” in case diplomacy fails. One of those options, a former intelligence official with knowledge of recent planning told FP, could be targeting North Korea’s heavy use of cryptocurrency. “Now they have a reason to hack Bitcoin,” the former official said. The source predicted that a massive attack on the bitcoin exchanges could be a “shot across the bow.” U.S. Cyber Command, which conducts offensive digital operations, declined to comment on its plans, or any options that may have been presented. “One of U.S. Cyber Command’s key responsibilities is to generate a full-spectrum of integrated military cyberspace options for policymakers and supported commanders,” Masao Doi, a spokesman for the command, wrote in an email to FP. North Korea relies to some extent on cryptocurrency to evade international sanctions, and Pyongyang has also been actively targeting South Korea’s Bitcoin exchanges, according to Priscilla Moriuchi, who until last year led the National Security Agency’s East Asia and Pacific cyber threats office. Moriuchi, who now works for Recorded Future, a private digital intelligence firm, said she was able to identify several specific thefts of thousands of bitcoin and other forms of digital currency. But because not all exchanges report theft and it’s hard to attribute every attack, “it’s difficult to identify how many coins North Korea has at any one time,” she said. Just from the thefts Moriuchi was able to identify, North Korea could have made between $15 million and $200 million, depending on when it cashed the digital coins in for real currency. “It’s evident that North Korea is evading sanctions,” she said. “It could be a substantial source of revenue — we just don’t know when they’re cashing out.” Moriuchi said hacking North Korea’s cryptocurrency reserves or planning some other intelligence operation around them could prove tricky, since it’s difficult to track the individual users and the long trail from mining to stealing to laundering the reserves into cash. But keeping digital currency and operations in mind could be an important middle ground between physical military strikes and harsh rhetoric. The United States needs to “find different levers” to contain North Korea, since sanctions alone aren’t enough to stop Kim Jong Un from continuing missile development. “Cryptocurrencies could give us a different lever,” Moriuchi said. (Jenna McLaughlin, “All Eyes on North Korea,” Foreign Policy, February 15, 2018)


2/18/18:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reiterated the United States’ willingness to engage North Korea diplomatically, saying he is listening for Pyongyang to tell him if it is ready to talk. “That’s who we will have to work with to achieve this diplomatically,” Tillerson said in an interview with CBS-TV released today. “What we have to determine now is: are we even ready to start? Are they ready to start?” the top American diplomat noted. “If they’re not, we’ll just keep the pressure campaign underway, and we will increase that pressure.” Tillerson said his job as the chief diplomat is to ensure North Koreans know the U.S. keeps its channels open, urging the North to come to the negotiating table. “I am listening for you to tell me if you are ready to talk,” he said. Washington is using “large sticks” rather than carrots to convince North Korea to come to the negotiating table, the secretary said as well, pledging that he will continue his efforts to solve the North Korean nuclear problem diplomatically. “I’m gonna use all the time available to me. Our diplomatic efforts will continue until that first bomb drops,” he said. “My job is to never have a reason for the first bomb to drop.” (Yonhap, “Tillerson Says He Is Listening for N.K. to Tell Him It Is Ready to Talk,” February 19, 2018)

Tillerson interview: “Margaret Brennan: In his New Year’s Day speech Kim Jong Un said the entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range. That’s gotta make you nervous. Rex Tillerson: It does make us nervous. It — it also — it also stiffens our resolve. That kind of a threat to the American people by a regime like this is not acceptable. And the president’s meeting his responsibilities as commander in chief of asking our military, Secretary Mattis at the Defense Department, to ensure we are prepared for anything. Brennan: And those military options are there in case you fail. Tillerson: In case I fail. I say to my Chinese counterpart, “You and I fail these people get to fight. That’s not what we want.” Brennan: But you are willing to work with and potentially negotiate with Kim Jong Un. Tillerson: Well, that’s who we will have to work with to achieve this diplomatically. What we have to determine now is, are we even ready to start? Are they ready to start? And if they’re not, we’ll just keep the pressure campaign underway and we will increase that pressure. And we are doing that every month. There are new sanctions rolled out. The world wants North Korea to change. Brennan: Well, there’s some questions about how badly China wants them to change. You’ve really needed their help to put economic pressure on Kim Jong Un. What reassurances have you given to China so that they actually follow through? Tillerson: What I think — we got a common understanding with China is that North Korea represents a serious threat to China as well. And we’ve been very clear with them that they are going to have an important role to play once we get to the negotiating table. Brennan: So I — I hear you saying there — these wouldn’t be one on one talks. China would be at the table. Tillerson: Early on they might be one on one discussions for the U.S. first and North Korea to determine is there a reason to begin to put the construct for negotiations in place. Brennan: What is the carrot that you’re dangling for North Korea to convince them to talk? Tillerson: We’re not using a carrot to convince them to talk. We’re using large sticks. And that is what they need to understand. This pressure campaign is putting — is having its bite on North Korea, its revenue streams. It’s having a bite on its military programs. Brennan: But to say full denuclearization, why would they agree to give up something they’ve already got that they think is an insurance policy? Tillerson: Because it buys them nothing. It buys them more of being the hermit kingdom, isolated, isolated from the world diplomatically, isolated from the world economically. Brennan: Senator Bob Corker, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee said “Every one of us should pray Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis are successful over the course of the next eight to ten months, diplomatically, or our nation is going to be facing one of the greatest military decisions that we face.” Eight to ten months. That’s how much time you have to get this done? Tillerson: I’m gonna use all the time available to me our diplomatic efforts will continue until that first bomb drops. My job is to never have a reason for the first bomb to drop And we don’t know precisely how much time is left on the clock. Brennan: You seem to have convinced the president that diplomacy is the way to go on this. But it wasn’t always so clear. Back in October, you said you were working to get a dialogue going with the North Koreans and the president tweeted, “Rex, stop wasting your time trying to negotiate with little rocket man.” Have you asked him not to call him little rocket man? Is that a diplomatic term? Tillerson: The president’s going to — the president’s gonna communicate the way he communicates. My job as chief diplomat is to ensure that the North Koreans know we keep our channels open, I’m listening. I’m not sending a lotta messages back ’cause there’s nothing to say to them at this point. So I’m listening for you to tell me you’re ready to talk. Brennan: How will you know? Tillerson: They will tell me. They will tell me. Brennan: That explicitly? Tillerson: We — we receive messages from them And I think it will be very explicit as to how we want to have that first conversation. … (Margaret Brennan, “Rex Tillerson Opens up in Rare Wide-Ranging Interview, CBS “Sixty Minutes,” February 18, 2018)

When the North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik took to the ice this week, cheerleaders chanting their names stowed the unified Korean flags they had waved at other events here at the Pyeongchang Olympics and whipped out their national flag. After that unmistakable outburst of patriotic fervor, it was all the more incongruous when the pair began skating to a distinctly Western song: “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles, in a cover by Jeff Beck. “I have no clue how they chose it,” said Bruno Marcotte, a prominent French Canadian coach. He worked with the pair, who placed 13th, for eight weeks last summer in Montreal and said their North Korean coach had selected the song. “I think the fact that everybody was, like, ‘Huh?’ makes it even more special.” The musical choice seemed to belie the assumption that North Koreans, citizens of the most isolated country on earth, are cut off from knowledge of the outside world by the restrictions imposed by their autocratic leader, Kim Jong-un. With 22 athletes and an entourage of around 500 cheerleaders, arts performers, journalists and security minders here at the Winter Games, the North Koreans have been subjected to endless scrutiny about what they are seeing here, and whether it is, well, blowing their minds. More broadly, analysts and officials wonder if engaging with the outside world could have a political effect back home. The subtext of some of the curiosity is whether the North Koreans, exposed to glimpses of popular culture or the higher standard of living in the South, might be tempted to defect, as athletes from other Communist countries have done at previous Olympic Games. No North Korean athletes have defected during an Olympics, although one defected in 1991 during a world judo championship in Spain. Some analysts theorize that exposure to the outside world could eventually drive change back home. “It might be better to think that an information inflow will slowly alter the preferences of North Koreans by inevitably poking holes in the ideology,” said Robert E. Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea. “Over time, this should change the regime and make it easier to deal. That’s the hope anyway.” Some American officials espouse a version of this view. “Our sense is the more North Koreans that come here and can see how successful the South has been, the better,” Marc Knapper, the deputy chief of mission at the United States Embassy in Seoul, said during a news conference before the Games. “Maybe they’ll discover what good things accrue when they decide to rejoin the international community and make the right decisions,” Knapper added. Yet even North Korea watchers who support greater athletic and cultural exchanges say none of it will slow down the country’s nuclear ambitions. “Of course they will proceed with their nuclear program,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “Nothing can be done, short of a military invasion, to reverse it. The best we can hope for is to achieve some kind of freeze.” Critics say countries hosting North Koreans become susceptible to propaganda designed to soften the North’s image. They point to the regime’s charm offensive at the Olympics, including a visit by Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister. “While North Korea, the target of engagement, remains a menacing nuclear state, the outsiders have become beholden to the enchanting possibility of their efforts bearing fruit one day,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a professor of Korean studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Those who promote more engagement with the North say change will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. “North Koreans, including North Korean officials, will see they are lagging very behind the world,” Lankov said. “Some of them will say, ‘Let’s overthrow the government,’ but many more will say, ‘Let’s change our policy a bit.’” It is not even clear how much the North’s athletes and supporters have seen or heard while at the Games. The dozen female players on the joint ice hockey team sleep in separate dorms and ride a separate bus from their South Korean teammates. The North Korean cheerleaders and journalists are staying in a remote resort in Inje County, at least a 90-minute drive from many of the Olympic venues. The cheerleaders are not even allowed to slip to the bathroom on their own, and minders from the North Korean delegation, as well as South Korean police officers, are constantly monitoring them, the athletes and performers. “Leaving North Korea is even harder than leaving the mafia,” said Sue Mi Terry, Korea chairwoman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Would-be defectors “know their entire family, extended relatives, friends will get executed or rounded up and sent to labor camps,” she said. What’s more, she said, the athletes and cheerleaders at the Olympics are “carefully handpicked and vetted North Koreans, children of the elite ruling class” who have decent living standards. “Why risk bringing serious harm to your loved ones when you are living a pretty good life?” Terry said. Analysts say it is also presumptuous to assume any North Korean who goes abroad would immediately want to move. “If you use the analogy of someone coming from the Midwest or a small town and you go to New York for a weekend, and there’s all of a sudden all of this stuff — a lot of people that I know from quieter cities tend to get very overwhelmed,” said Jenny Town, assistant director of the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Defectors say those who have been abroad are likely to receive some kind of ideological “re-education” session upon returning home. Still, some experts say exposure to the outside world may ultimately undermine the regime’s efforts to keep citizens in line. Ideological education “can’t take away people’s thoughts after they experience what it’s like in a democratic society,” said Kang Dong-wan, professor of North Korean culture and politics at Dong-A University in Busan, South Korea. “Wouldn’t the cheerleaders and the athletes wonder why they are being controlled while other South Koreans in the crowd sitting right next to them are cheering naturally and moving about freely?” Some spectators riveted by the North’s synchronized cheerleaders acknowledged it was likely some actually wanted to go back. “Many South Koreans worked abroad after the Korean War, when things were tough for South Korea,” said Kim Myo-jong, 34, an orthopedic surgeon in the stands for the pairs skating short program. “But instead of staying abroad because it was easier to make money there, they decided to return to help South Korea’s development. Maybe the North Korean elites who have outside exposure might feel the same.” (Mokoto Rich, “Isolated Nation Could Feel Winds of Change,” New York Times, February 18, 2018, p. SP-10)


2/19/18:
Pabian, Bermudez, Liu: “Commercial satellite imagery from 2017 through February 11, 2018 indicates steady progress has been made towards the operationalization of the (100 MWth/30 MWe) Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Having been under construction since 2010, the ELWR seems to be nearing operational status based on improvements made over the past year, including new provisions for a more consistent cooling water supply, installation of internal equipment and the connection of the reactor to the local electrical grid. The latest imagery from February 11 shows the ELWR is externally complete, while the two adjacent construction support yards now appear relatively quiet as opposed to mid-2017 when equipment was actively being transferred from the yards into the reactor dome. … The 2017 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards report noted indications of an increase in activities in the ELWR’s construction yard consistent with the fabrication of certain reactor components. Based on satellite imagery alone, it is difficult to identify what these specific “reactor components” were, however, significant movement of equipment was observed over the past year at the two construction support yards (primary and secondary) presumably in preparation for installation in the reactor. … Although satellite imagery indicated the ELWR’s electrical switchyard was completed by May 2016, footings for the key transmission tower were first noted in March 2017. A 3-phase transmission line was later strung between that newly erected tower and another located to the east across the Kuryrong River through a newly tree-cleared path to connect with an existing north-south transmission line that serves the Radiochemical Laboratory and the Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP).” (Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Jack Liu, “Progress at North Korea’s Experimental Light-Water Reaction at Yongbyon,” 38North, February 19, 2018)


2/20/18:
Rodong Sinmun commentary: “The Trump group is spouting rubbish that if the DPRK’s nuclear issue is not settled through diplomatic way, it cannot but take a military option, while clamoring for “possibility of dialogue” with the DPRK. This is an open threat to mount a military attack if the DPRK does not respond to the denuclearization negotiations. It is foolhardy for the U.S. to try to threaten the DPRK with such nonsense and it is nothing but a reckless act ignorant of the faith, will and pluck of Juche Korea. The DPRK is a self-defensive nuclear power no one can dare provoke, and we are not afraid of sanctions and pressure as we are exploring our future under the banner of self-reliance and self-development. We are ready for both dialogue and war. If the U.S. attacks the DPRK, it will not be safe in face of a stern punishment by the Korean army and people. Recently the trump group is advising the Americans to leave last messages if they want to travel Korea. They had better pay heed to our warning, not making such nonsensical rubbish. If the U.S. dare provokes a war, there will never be a man left who would keep last messages and bury the coffins. This is our answer. The U.S. has to stop going ill-mannered, clearly understanding who its rival is.” (KCNA, “Rodong Sinmun Warns U.S. to Understand Its Rival,” February 20, 2018)

North Korea is quietly expanding both the scope and sophistication of its cyber weaponry, laying the groundwork for more devastating attacks, according to a new report published today. It appears that North Korea has also been using previously unknown holes in the Internet to carry out cyberespionage — the kind of activity that could easily metamorphose into full-scale attacks, according to a report from FireEye, a California-based cybersecurity company. “Our concern is that this could be used for a disruptive attack rather than a classic espionage mission, which we already know that the North Koreans are regularly carrying out,” said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis for FireEye. FireEye said it has “high confidence” that a cyberespionage group it has identified as APT37 is responsible for a number of attacks, not just in South Korea but also in Japan, Vietnam and the Middle East. These include “zero-day vulnerability” attacks in which hackers find and exploit flaws in software before the developers have had an opportunity to create patches to fix them. “It’s like your security system is a big wall, but someone knows that there’s a hole somewhere in that wall and can crawl through it,” Hultquist said. “It’s fairly rare.” It’s also a sign of sophistication, as hackers are able to obtain access and defeat mature security programs, he said. The APT37 group appears to have been operating under the radar, exploiting holes in South Korean cybersecurity since 2012 to covertly gather intelligence on issues of concern for the North Korean regime: the government, military, media and human rights groups among them. These targets, combined with the times of day that attacks happen, strongly point to North Korea, FireEye said. Last year, however, APT37 appeared to have targeted a Japanese entity involved in imposing sanctions on North Korea, a Vietnamese company and one in the Middle East. FireEye did not name any of the targets for legal reasons, but its description of the attack on the company in the Middle East perfectly describes Orascom, an Egyptian telecommunications company that had started a cellphone company in North Korea, only to have almost all its profits retained by the regime. In addition to expanding its geographical reach, APT37 also appears to be targeting a wider range of industries, including chemicals, electronics, manufacturing, aerospace, automotive and health-care entities, the report said. While the damage is currently much lower than that caused by the huge cyberattacks blamed on North Korea, it suggests the regime is looking for new ways to launch stealthy attacks when it wants to. The Worldwide Threat Assessment published by the U.S. intelligence community last week forecast that the potential for surprise cyberattacks would increase over the next year. Intelligence agencies expect North Korea to use cyber-operations to gather intelligence or launch attacks on South Korea and the United States. “Pyongyang probably has a number of techniques and tools it can use to achieve a range of offensive effects with little or no warning, including distributed denial of service attacks, data deletion, and deployment of ransomware,” the assessment said. Hultquist said APT37 was just the kind of tool North Korea could use for a surprise attack, partly because it has been operating at a relatively low level. “Lazarus and the other actors that are well known all started as espionage. That’s the classic story again and again,” he said. He added that the Kim regime does not seem to care about consequences. “North Korea has flouted global norms and taboos,” Hultquist said. “They are not necessarily concerned about retribution. They have adopted this criminal MO which flies in the face of just about any kind of international norm.” (Anna Fifield, “North Korea Poised to Launch New Cyberattacks, report Says,” Washington Post, February 20, 2018)

For the past several years, humanitarian groups and nongovernmental organizations have combed commercial satellite imagery in North Korea, looking for evidence of human rights abuses, such as mass graves. Now, some will have access to satellite photos and analysis from an American spy agency. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which maps the earth’s surface with data from drones, satellites, and other airborne craft, will provide raw imagery, expert review, and the use of an already developed digital app and publishing platform to several nonprofit organizations and think tanks. These first partnerships will focus on North Korea, Chris Rasmussen, a longtime military intelligence analyst and data expert with NGA, told Foreign Policy in an interview. The NGA maps everything from coastline data to the far reaches of the Arctic; some of that imagery and those maps are already public. But rarely does the U.S. government share imagery of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s isolated regime, let alone an intelligence agency’s analysis of sites there. The decision to work with NGOs to highlight the human rights abuses by the regime in Pyongyang comes at a critical time. The Trump administration has charted a confrontational course with Kim over his nuclear program, and the intelligence community has ramped up its focus on the country. Highlighting Pyongyang’s human rights abuses is also part of the Trump administration’s larger strategy toward North Korea. Rasmussen said he and his coworkers, and their future partners in the public sector, are “motivated by public service to produce original research on high-priority strategic and humanitarian intelligence issues.” Rasmussen declined to mention which specific partners NGA would be working with, saying the agreements have not been formalized yet. Rasmussen recently presented the program, many months in the works, to the Intelligence Community Transparency Council, which was created after Edward Snowden’s leaks in 2013. While NGA declined to describe specifics about what issues it would be helping outside organizations to study, there are numerous human rights concerns in North Korea. Having NGA’s assistance will give this kind of work a major boost, going beyond traditional contracting partnerships to something public and sharing information without requiring onerous security clearances or secrecy, Rasmussen explained, without mentioning specific issues NGA will help examine. The intelligence community often publishes declassified historical information, but that can take years. Doing something with current imagery is something new. No government assets, like imagery from government satellites, will be used initially, which means the pictures for now will be limited to the commercial imagery NGA purchases — but even those could be beneficial to outside groups. “I want to see this turn into the CIA World Factbook of high-quality authoritative original research on intelligence. I want to see this turn into the CIA World Factbook of high-quality authoritative original research on intelligence,” Rasmussen said. He called the opportunity to put NGA’s skills on the humanitarian problems of the world and create detailed, original reports about these issues with NGOs and think tanks “incredibly exciting.” Scott Edwards, a senior advisor at Amnesty International, said the group has a blanket prohibition on working with governments, based on the possibility that critics could argue the research is somehow tainted. However, when smaller organizations agree to partner with NGA and publish information on human rights abuses, Amnesty International would applaud them. “Any shining of a light on a human rights abuse is a good thing,” Edwards told FP. “I’d be remiss to critique any other NGOs for innovative ways of getting to findings of fact,” he said. He cautioned, however, that Amnesty would seek to verify that analysis based on its own independent assessment of the imagery. Amnesty would look to purchase the imagery and replicate the analysis ourselves, to make sure the findings of fact can’t be dismissed … as a ploy by the U.S. government,” he said. Scott Stevens, the administrative director of the Transitional Justice Working Group, based in Seoul, found the possibility of partnership with the U.S. government appealing, though fraught with a few potential concerns. “High resolution satellite imagery for specific locations is expensive,” he wrote in an email to FP. “With higher resolution imagery, we could take a closer look at the suspected human rights crime scenes we’ve identified. Better imagery might mean better analysis.” However, Stevens said there’s danger in revealing the location of the sites to anyone outside the organization, even if the intelligence community does keep information very safe and secure. “Revealing which sites we have identified to date would give those opposed to our work a short list of priorities for any clearing operations. I would assume that the NGA’s security protocols are strong, but there is always a risk in transferring information outside of our organization’s security environment.” The group would have to balance existing privacy agreements it has with defectors whose information they receive, particularly if working with NGA required signing any additional agreements. It would also take a lot of work to incorporate new information into their workflow, Stevens explained. Rasmussen stressed that NGA won’t be writing any of the reports; the organizations NGA partners with will maintain full editorial independence over the issues they cover, he said. This isn’t Rasmussen’s first push to open up the intelligence world. At NGA, Rasmussen pushed for software that would allow intelligence community employees to view unclassified summaries of reports on their smartphones, rather than having to be at their desk in a secured facility. That effort turned into Tearline, a smartphone application for government employees, now available in the Apple app store and the Google Play store. He also headed up the Pathfinder project, which has been focused on acquiring more open-source intelligence from public companies, pushing NGA to do more unclassified analysis. New reports from NGA’s partners on North Korea will be available in multiple locations, including the public Tearline smartphone application and website, where a preview page is already available, and most likely on a new website from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence called the Public’s Daily Brief, a riff on the President’s Daily Brief, the high-level intelligence report the president has received almost every day since 1946. NGA is in a unique position, according to Rasmussen. The CIA and National Security Agency can’t publish intercepted communications or human source reporting. But NGA has access to a massive repository of satellite imagery that isn’t all classified and could serve the public, not just the intelligence community. “The targets aren’t flagged as sensitive,” Rasmussen said. Rasmussen was a part of the process to update the classification policies, an effort he said “paved the pathway” for projects like the partnership to monitor the North Korean humanitarian issues. This kind of collaboration has never been done before with an intelligence agency … at least that I’m aware of,” Rasmussen said. As for future projects in other areas of the world? Rasmussen is hopeful. “If we get a million downloads, it’s going to make it easier for me to say, let’s expand to other areas,” he said. (Jenna McLaughlin, “U.S. Spies to Partner with Human Rights Groups to Keep an Eye on North Korea,” Foreign Policy, February 21, 2018)


2/22/18:
North Korea said that a high-ranking official, who many in the South believe orchestrated a deadly attack in 2010, would lead a delegation to the Winter Olympics closing ceremony in the South, another sign the two Koreas are trying to work out a road map toward improving ties. The North’s delegation will be led by Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee. The eight-member delegation will start a three-day trip on February 25 that will include attending the closing ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korean officials said. Also scheduled to attend Sunday’s closing ceremony is President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who will lead the American delegation. United States officials said Ms. Trump had no plans to meet anyone representing the North. Kim Yong-chol, a former head of the North’s main intelligence agency, now leads a Workers’ Party department in charge of relations with South Korea. He was widely believed to have helped engineer the sinking of a South Korean naval ship in 2010, which killed 46 sailors. Kim had been on sanctions lists in both South Korea and the United States for his alleged involvement in the North’s military provocations and nuclear weapons development. South Korea is talking with Washington to clear Kim’s trip to the Olympics, said Noh Kyu-duk, a spokesman for the South Korean foreign ministry. Still, the South Korean government said it would allow Kim to lead the delegation across the border. “We expect the high-level delegation’s participation in the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics to help advance the process of settling peace on the Korean Peninsula including the improvement of inter-Korean relations and denuclearization,” the Unification Ministry, a South Korean government agency, said in a statement. “Against this backdrop, from this standpoint, we will accept the visit of North Korea’s high-level delegation to the South.” Kim Yong-chol is expected to meet with Moon to discuss the details of a potential summit meeting. Kim Yong-chol is a familiar figure to South Korean negotiators. In 2014, Kim, who is also a military general, led a delegation to discuss ending hostilities after North and South Korean soldiers exchanged fire across the border. In 2010, when two North Korean agents were caught in the South while on a mission to assassinate a high-ranking defector from the North, they said they were dispatched by Kim’s General Bureau of Reconnaissance, the North’s main spy agency, South Korean officials said. The spies told South Korean authorities that Kim personally assigned them to the assassination mission, throwing them a dinner party before they left for the South. (Choe Sang-hun, “Former Spymaster to Lead North Korea’s Olympics Ceremony Delegation,” New York Times, February 22, 2018)


2/23/18:
Saying it was imposing its largest package of sanctions against North Korea, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned one person, 27 companies and 28 ships, according to a statement on the U.S. Treasury Department’s website. The actions block assets held by the firms in the United States and prohibit U.S. citizens from dealing with them. The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced the measures, which are designed to disrupt North Korean shipping and trading companies and vessels and to further isolate Pyongyang. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement the sanctions against the ships would help prevent Kim’s government from conducting ”evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters.” The ships are located, registered or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama and Comoros, Treasury said. Those targeted included a Taiwanese passport holder and mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore shipping and energy firms. “We imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before,” Trump said in an address to a conservative activist group in Washington. “And … hopefully something positive can happen, we will see.” The United States has led an international campaign to tighten sanctions on North Korea to force it to give up its development of weapons and missiles program. “The president is clearly frustrated and rightly so over the efforts that have failed in the past and also over the uptick in testing and the advances we’ve seen in the North Korean program,” a senior administration official said at a background briefing for reporters. At another briefing in Washington, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stood next to enlarged photos he said showed December 2017 images that revealed ship-to-ship transfers of fuel and other products destined for North Korea in an attempt to evade sanctions. “This is very impactful. We’re going to do everything to stop these ship-to-ship transfers,” Mnuchin said. Washington “also issued an advisory alerting the public to the significant sanctions risks to those continuing to enable shipments of goods to and from North Korea.” The new U.S. sanctions were announced while Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is visiting South Korea. She had dinner with Moon after a closed-door meeting with the president. At a dinner with Moon at Seoul’s presidential Blue House, she said the purpose was also to “reaffirm our commitment to our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized.” Moon said North Korea’s participation in the Olympics had “led to lowering of tensions on the peninsula and an improvement in inter-Korean relations” and were thanks to President Trump’s “strong support for inter-Korean dialogue.” Moon, cited by his spokesman, Yoon Young-chan, said at a news conference South Korea cannot acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear state and talks with the North on denuclearization and improving inter-Korean relations must go hand in hand. He said close cooperation between the United States and South Korea is important for the talks. Moon made the comments to Ivanka Trump. Her visit to South Korea coincides with that of a sanctioned North Korean official, Kim Yong Chol, blamed for the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors. His delegation will attend the closing ceremony and also meet Moon. The Blue House has said there are no official opportunities for U.S. and North Korean officials to meet. South Korea’s decision yesterday to allow in Kim Yong Chol, currently sanctioned by the United States and South Korea, sparked protest from family members of the dead sailors and opposition parties. (Christine Kim and Steve Holland, “U.S. Imposes More North Korea Sanctions; Targets Ships, Firms,” Reuters, February 22, 2018) “If we can make a deal, it will be a great thing,” Trump said at a news conference with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia. “And if we can’t, something will have to happen.” “If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go Phase 2,” he said, alluding to the threat of military action. “Phase 2 may be a very rough thing — may be very, very unfortunate for the world.” The timing of the announcement was striking, coming just a few hours after South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, played host at a dinner for Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is leading the American delegation to the closing ceremony of the Games. Mnuchin said Ms. Trump discussed the sanctions with Moon before their dinner. In the past, the United States has gone after ships suspected of transporting missiles and nuclear proliferation material. But stopping vessels suspected of carrying commercial goods, experts said, would be a major step up in the pressure campaign against Pyongyang. “That goes into the realm of an economic blockade,” said Abraham M. Denmark, a former Pentagon official who is now the director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “It would be moving beyond proliferation and going after things that sustain North Korea’s economic lifeline.” Such a move, he predicted, will meet resistance from China and Russia. Those countries thwarted an effort in December by the administration to put a provision into the latest United Nations Security Council resolution on North Korea that would permit countries to hail and board North Korean ships in international waters. A senior administration official said the United States had raised concerns about smuggling with Russia and had previously designated Russian entities with links to North Korea. “Whether they’re Russian ships, whether they’re Chinese ships — we don’t care whose ships they are,” Mnuchin said. “If we have intelligence that people are doing things, we will put sanctions on them.” As Mnuchin spoke in the White House briefing room, large boards behind him showed satellite images of a ship-to-ship transfer in December involving a North Korean and a Panamanian vessel. The identity of the North Korean ship had been masked with a Chinese name and home port. The American military has begun contingency planning to stop and board suspect vessels bound for North Korea. But it is a perilous undertaking. Navy or Marine warships would deploy small boats carrying troops who are trained in what the Pentagon calls visit, board, search and seizure operations. Once aboard, military officials said, the search party would have two options: sweep the ship and turn it back over to its crew or, if ordered by their commanders, seize it. The military, however, has options short of boarding, officials said. It could track suspect vessels, by sea or with P-3 or P-8 surveillance planes, until they make port. The United States or its allies could then call on that nation to inspect the ship’s cargo to determine whether it violated existing United Nations sanctions. Evan S. Medeiros, an Asia director in the National Security Council during the Obama administration, said, “The administration is walking right up to the line of what’s permissible under international law to aggressively increase the pressure on North Korea.”(Mark Landler, “Trump Imposes More Sanctions on Pyongyang,” New York Times, February 24, 2018)

The Trump administration and key Asian allies are preparing to expand interceptions of ships suspected of violating sanctions on North Korea, a plan that could include deploying U.S. Coast Guard forces to stop and search vessels in Asia-Pacific waters, senior U.S. officials said. Washington has been talking to regional partners, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore, about coordinating a stepped-up crackdown that would go further than ever before in an attempt to squeeze Pyongyang’s use of seagoing trade to feed its nuclear missile program, several officials told Reuters. While suspect ships have been intercepted before, the emerging strategy would expand the scope of such operations but stop short of imposing a naval blockade on North Korea. Pyongyang has warned it would consider a blockade an act of war. The strategy calls for closer tracking and possible seizure of ships suspected of carrying banned weapons components and other prohibited cargo to or from North Korea, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Depending on the scale of the campaign, the United States could consider beefing up the naval and air power of its Pacific Command, they said. “There is no doubt we all have to do more, short of direct military action, to show (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un we mean business,” said a senior administration official. The White House declined official comment. The effort could target vessels on the high seas or in the territorial waters of countries that choose to cooperate. It was unclear, however, to what extent the campaign might extend beyond Asia. The initiative, which is being developed, would be fraught with challenges that could risk triggering North Korean retaliation and dividing the international community. China and Russia, which have blocked U.S. efforts at the United Nations to win approval for use of force in North Korea interdiction operations, are likely to oppose new actions if they see the United States as overstepping. A Chinese official said such steps should only be taken under United Nations auspices. China’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement to Reuters, said they did not know anything about the plan, but that in principle China believes U.N. resolutions on North Korea should be fully and thoroughly implemented. “At the same time, we hope relevant countries act in accordance with Security Council resolutions and international law,” it added, without elaborating. But Washington is expected to start gradually ratcheting up such operations soon even if discussions with allies have not been completed, according to the senior U.S. official. U.S. experts are developing legal arguments for doing more to stop sanctions-busting vessels, citing the last U.N. Security Council resolution which they say opened the door by calling on states to inspect suspect ships on the high seas or in their waters. Washington is also drawing up rules of engagement aimed at avoiding armed confrontation at sea, the officials said. A Japanese ruling party lawmaker briefed by the government said discussions with the United States were focused on the need for stepped up cooperation on surveillance and information-sharing between Washington, Tokyo and Seoul regarding ship-to-ship transfers suspected of violating sanctions, and on the need to notify authorities in ports of origin. The lawmaker as well as a Japanese defense ministry official involved in policy planning said that under current U.N. sanctions, the agreement of the flag state and ship captain was necessary to conduct inspections on the high seas. “I think it is unlikely that the U.N. will strengthen the sanctions so that inspections on high seas are possible without agreement,” the Japanese defense official said. “From the viewpoint of the country in question, that would be an act of war,” he said, referring to North Korea. Some U.S. officials believe the risk could be minimized if Coast Guard cutters, which carry less firepower and technically engage in law-enforcement missions, are used in certain cases rather than warships. The Coast Guard declined to address whether it might deploy ships to the Asia-Pacific region but acknowledged its ties to countries there. “Future ship deployments would depend on U.S. foreign policy objectives and the operational availability of our assets,” said spokesman Lieutenant Commander Dave French. A senior South Korean government official said there had been discussions over “intensified maritime interdictions,” including at a foreign ministers’ meeting in Vancouver last month where U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pressed counterparts on the issue. “We are discussing with various countries including the U.S. and South Korea how to fully implement the sanctions, but I have not heard talk of creating a framework or a coalition,” said the Japanese defense ministry official involved in policy planning. Japan’s foreign ministry, in reply to a question from Reuters, repeated Tokyo’s call for “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang. The ministry declined to comment on specific discussions with other countries, but said Japan continued its “close collaboration with the U.S., ROK (South Korea) and the international community including China and Russia to secure the effectiveness of U.N. Security Council Resolutions” to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The Trump administration has also sought greater cooperation from Southeast Asian countries, which may have little military capability to assist but are seen as sources of intelligence on ship movements, U.S. officials said. “The more partners we have, the more resources we have to dedicate to the effort,” said Chris Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation. He declined to talk about discussions with specific countries. Washington is especially interested in detecting of ship-to-ship transfers at sea of banned goods, something North Korea has increasingly resorted to as vessels have faced greater scrutiny of their cargo in Asian ports, the officials said. Reuters reported in December that Russian tankers had supplied fuel to North Korea at sea in a violation of sanctions. Washington also said at the time it had evidence that vessels from several countries, including China, had engaged in shipping oil products and coal. China denied the allegation. U.S. interception of ships close to Chinese waters is something likely to be avoided, in favor of informing Chinese authorities of banned cargo onboard and asking them do the inspection, one official said. “It’s probably impossible to stop everything, but you can raise the cost to North Korea,” said David Shear, former deputy secretary of defense for Asia under President Barack Obama. (Matt Spetalnick, Phil Stewart, and David Brunnstrom, “U.S. Prepares High-Seas Crackdown on North Korea Sanctions Evaders — Sources,” Reuters, February 23, 2018)


2/25/18:
North Korea has “ample intentions” to hold talks with the U.S., Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, told President Moon Jae-in, according to Cheong Wa Dae. Moon had held an hour-long meeting with, in Pyeongchang ahead of the closing ceremony of the Olympics, according to the presidential office. “President Moon pointed out that US-North Korea dialogue must be held at an early date even for an improvement in the South-North Korea relationship and the fundamental resolution of Korean Peninsula issues,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said of the meeting. “The North Korean delegation too agreed that North Korea-US relations must develop along with the South-North Korea relationship, while noting (the North) has enough intention to hold North Korea-US dialogue,” he added. Speculation mounted over possible interaction between officials from the US and North Korea on the sidelines of the Olympics, as it was revealed that North Korea had included one of its top officials dealing with North Korea-US relations in its delegation for the closing of the Olympics. The eight-member delegation crossed the inter-Korean border today for a three-day visit. Among the delegation is Choe Kang-il, deputy director-general for North American affairs at the North’s Foreign Ministry, the Unification Ministry confirmed. Choe has represented North Korea’s position on nuclear weapons, handled the country’s relations with the US and recently met with former US officials at a security-related forum in Switzerland in September last year, according to news reports. Accompanying Trump was Allison Hooker, the National Security Council official in charge of Korean affairs, fueling speculation that some kind of meeting might be in the works behind the scenes. Hooker, a former East Asia and Pacific affairs analyst with the US State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, accompanied James Clapper, then-director of national intelligence, to North Korea in 2014 to secure the release of two Americans detained by the reclusive regime. North Korea and the US, however, had each dismissed the possibility of any interaction between their officials. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of the US delegates and the White House spokesperson, told reporters during a press briefing Saturday in Pyeongchang that the US officials have “no planned meetings or interactions with North Korea.” KCNA quoted the North’s Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee as saying, “We will never have face-to-face talks with them even after 100 years or 200 years.” The Trump administration two days ago announced what it called the “heaviest sanctions ever” placed on Pyongyang. In response, Pyongyang blasted Washington for heightening the possibility of “confrontation and war” on the Korean Peninsula. “Like we have said repeatedly, we would consider any restrictions on us as an act of war, and we will not stop the US if it really has the guts to confront us in a ‘rough’ manner,” the state-run KCNA news agency quoted the North’s Foreign Ministry statement as saying. (Ock Hyun-ju, “Chief Delegate Says N.K. Willing to Hold Talks with U.S.,” Korea Herald, February 25, 2018)

DPRK FoMin spokesman’s statement: “Respected Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un affirmed his will in his New Year Address to make strenuous efforts to improve inter-Korean relations, create a peaceful environment on the Korean peninsula and ensure a successful holding of Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Thanks to our supreme leadership’s noble love for the nation and strong determination for peace, long-awaited inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation have been realized and the Olympics took place successfully by the inter-Korean collaboration. However, on the eve of closing of the Olympics, United States is running amok to bring another dark cloud of confrontation and war over the Korean peninsula by announcing enormous sanctions against the DPRK. Trump has announced new sanctions, the core of which is to completely block the DPRK’s maritime trade with other countries, and he openly threatened us by making wild remarks that if the said sanctions do not work, “very rough phase 2” will be operated. Trump group’s attempt itself to threaten us by such sanctions or wild remarks only reveals its ignorance about us. We came to possess nuclear weapons, the treasured sword of justice, in order to defend ourselves from such threats from the United States. As we have stated on numerous occasions, we will consider any type of blockade an act of war against us, and if U.S. has indeed the guts to confront us in “rough” manner, we will not necessarily take the trouble to stop it. If U.S. ignores all of our sincere efforts for improving inter-Korean relations and for preserving peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, as desired by the nation, and doggedly persists instead in provocation against us, we will have a tight grip on U.S. and deal with it with our own way of counteraction, no matter how rough and hysterical the U.S. moves are. If tension on the Korean peninsula escalates into a brink of war due to the U.S. reckless actions, all the catastrophic consequences resulting therefrom will be borne by the United States.” (KCNA, “U.S. Hit for Bringing Clouds of War to Hang over Korean Peninsula,” February 25, 2018)

South Korean conservatives staged an overnight sit-in at a border crossing to try to prevent the North Korean official from entering the country. Kim is widely accused of masterminding two deadly attacks in 2010: a torpedo attack on the Cheonan naval corvette, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, and the shelling of an island, which killed four people. But their efforts were stymied: The delegation crossed Sunday morning using a military road, attending the meeting with Moon and then the Closing Ceremonies. Speculation about secret talks mounted when Choe Kang Il, deputy director of the U.S. affairs division in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, arrived with the group of traveling North Korean officials. Choe has taken part in talks with former U.S. officials in recent years, including at a security-related forum in Switzerland last September. There, he delivered a strong message: that North Korea’s nuclear weapons were not up for discussion. His attendance surprised analysts, because his role has nothing to do with either sports or ­inter-Korean relations. Meanwhile, traveling with Trump was Allison Hooker, the Korea director on the National Security Council and a key player in the White House’s policy on North Korea. Her name was not on the White House’s list for the delegation. Some analysts said that a meeting between Hooker and Choe would be a good way to start easing the tensions that have risen over the past year, as North Korea has fired missiles and conducted a nuclear test, and the Trump administration has threatened military action in response. “There is no reason for Allison Hooker to come, nor is there any reason for Choe Kang Il to be here,” said John Delury, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul. “They’re both superfluous to the Olympic ceremonies and to ­inter-Korean relations.” They would, however, be the right officials to meet and have a “preliminary discussion,” Delury said. “They could and they should do this.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is traveling in South Korea with Trump and Hooker, said before the Closing Ceremonies that no meetings were scheduled. But afterward, in a statement released by the White House, she said the Trump administration “is committed to achieving the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” She added: “There is a brighter path available for North Korea if it chooses denuclearization. We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization. In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.” (Anna Fifield, “As Winter Games Close, North Korea Says It Is Willing to Talks to the U.S., According to Seoul,” Washington Post, February 25, 2018)


2/26/18:
Kim Yong-chol, the North’s point man on South Korea, said that the reclusive state is willing to hold talks with the United States, according to an official from Seoul’s presidential office. The remarks from Kim came in a meeting with Chung Eui-yong, chief of South Korea’s National Security Council and the top security advisor to President Moon Jae-in. “Kim said the door remains open for dialogue with the United States. He said the North has also repeatedly expressed such a stance,” a ranking Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters. The U.S. seemed to remain cautious, with White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders saying Washington will first see if Kim’s remarks represented the North’s first step toward denuclearization. Moon has repeatedly stressed the need to continue fostering the recent rapprochement between the two Koreas, so they may soon lead to a resumption of international negotiations on ending the North’s nuclear ambition. He insists such efforts will first require direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea. “The United States needs to lower its bar for dialogue and North too must show its willingness to denuclearize. It is important so that the U.S. and North Korea may sit down face to face,” Moon said while meeting Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong at his office in Seoul earlier in the day. Kim underscored the importance of support and cooperation from the United States, as well as China, Japan and Russia, to get the denuclearization dialogue moving forward again, according to the Cheong Wa Dae official. During his meeting with the North Korean official, Chung said the Moon Jae-in government has made efforts to improve ties with state neighbors and such efforts have contributed to paving the way for peace on the Korean Peninsula. “I appreciate such efforts by President Moon,” Kim said in response. When questioned if the North has any intention to discuss denuclearization during talks with the U.S., Kim said dismantling is the endpoint of denuclearization but there can be many ways of starting the process. He, however, didn’t specify what the “many ways” are, according to the Cheong Wa Dae official. (Yonhap, “N.K. Delegate Reiterates Door Open for Dialogue with U.S.: Cheong Wa Dae,” February 26, 2018)

A classified military exercise last week examined how American troops would mobilize and strike if ordered into a potential war on the Korean Peninsula, even as diplomatic overtures between the North and the Trump administration continue. The war planning, known as a “tabletop exercise,” was held over several days in Hawaii. It included Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, and Gen. Tony Thomas, the head of Special Operations Command. They looked at a number of pitfalls that could hamper an American assault on North Korea’s well-entrenched military. Among them was the Pentagon’s limited ability to evacuate injured troops from the Korean Peninsula daily — a problem more acute if the North retaliated with chemical weapons, according to more than a half-dozen military and Defense Department officials familiar with the exercise. Large numbers of surveillance aircraft would have to be moved from the Middle East and Africa to the Pacific to support ground troops. Planners also looked at how American forces stationed in South Korea and Japan would be involved. Commanders who attended the exercise in Hawaii were told that roughly 10,000 Americans could be wounded in combat in the opening days alone. And the number of civilian casualties, the generals were told, would likely be in the thousands or even hundreds of thousands. The potential human costs of a war were so high that, at one point during the exercise, General Milley remarked that “the brutality of this will be beyond the experience of any living soldier,” according to officials who were involved. So, too, would be the sheer logistical enterprise of moving thousands of American soldiers and equipment to the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, senior military officials worry that after 17 years in Afghanistan and Iraq, American troops have become far more used to counterinsurgency fighting than a land war against a state, as an attack on North Korea would likely bring. But Mattis also has ordered top Pentagon leaders to be ready for any possible military action against North Korea. Already, ammunition has been pre-staged in the Pacific region for ground units. And Trump’s words — “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” he said in an August post on Twitter — have left senior officers and rank-and-file troops convinced that they need to accelerate their contingency planning. A White House decision to attack is almost wholly dependent on cooperation from South Korea — not only in committing its troops or other assets to the battle but also accepting the risk of widespread bloodshed on its civilian population if the North fires back. Pentagon officials said they did not want to disrupt any chance for a negotiated resolution. Mattis and other senior military leaders fear that a stray incident could spark a sudden conflict with the North. Of particular concern is the “ladder of escalation” — a chain of actions prompted by the shooting down of a North Korean or American jet, or sinking of a ship of which Mattis and other Pentagon leaders could quickly lose control. Harsh new sanctions that the Trump administration announced last week are a prime example. The economic penalties target 28 ships that are registered in China and seven other countries, and intend to further cut off North Korea’s imports of oil and exports of coal. But by going after the shipments, the United States is edging closer to the imposition of an economic blockade on the North. That, Defense Department officials say, could easily spark an incident that could escalate. Trump recently referred to another type of incident that American officials fear could spark a war. During a speech in Seoul last year, he brought up North Korea’s 1969 downing an American spy plane that had been flying over the Sea of Japan. All 31 Americans aboard were killed in the attack by two North Korean MiGs. At the time, President Richard M. Nixon chose not to retaliate. It is unclear if Trump would follow the same course; in bringing up the episode last year, he warned, “Do not underestimate us, and do not try us.” The Hawaii planning exercise looked at a wide range of military capabilities and missions. They included: ■ How many conventional and Special Operations forces could be deployed, in phases, to target North Korean nuclear sites. ■ Whether the Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions could be charged with fighting in tunnels. ■ Exhaustive plans to take down North Korea’s integrated air defenses, allowing American manned and unmanned aircraft into the reclusive country. ■ Plans for the morbid but necessary details of personnel recovery plans, such as if pilots are shot down, and the evacuation of the dead and wounded. In a meeting today in “the Tank” — a secured space in the Pentagon where the Joint Chiefs of Staff discuss top-secret issues — General Milley told senior military leaders about the exercise but did not outline details of the war plans, officials said. The Army holds around eight tabletop exercises every year for different countries and scenarios. In April, a larger meeting is being planned between Mattis and the global combatant commanders. It is one of the periodic meetings that Mattis has with the top military brass, but is expected to heavily focus on North Korea. Special Operations forces have been briefed on some details of a plan that is separate but related to a potential strike on North Korea, officials said. However, Special Operations forces have yet to change course from their current operations. Although the planning is continuing apace, a military operation against North Korea has yet to be given a formal name. Special Operations units, however, have already been assigned to specific task forces with names such as Trident and Falcon. (Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Advances Military Plans for North Korea,” New York Times, March 1, 2018, p. A-11)


2/27/18:
The State Department’s top diplomat in charge of North Korea policy is retiring at the end of the week. Joseph Yun, who is in his early 60s, told CNN: “It was completely my decision to retire at this time.” He said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accepted his resignation “with regret.” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Yun, who joined the Foreign Service in 1985, decided to leave for personal reasons. “We are sorry to see him retire, but our diplomatic efforts regarding North Korea will continue based on our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) until it agrees to begin credible talks toward a denuclearized Korean peninsula,” Nauert said. Yun’s abrupt departure raises questions and adds to uncertainty over US President Donald Trump’s North Korea policy as ally South Korea engages in talks with the North for the first time in years. The veteran diplomat had a reputation as a proponent of dialogue when it comes to dealing with North Korea. (Eliana Lee and Joshua Berlinger, “U.S.’ Top Diplomat Announces Surprise Retirement,” CNN, February 27, 2018)

Japan has softened its stance on talks with North Korea and now plans to take part in informal meetings that do not include substantive negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program, government sources have said. The shift puts Japan in line with the United States, which tried to organize high-level talks with North Korea earlier this month on the sidelines of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. The administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has repeatedly said that no meaningful dialogue can be held with the North until it takes concrete steps toward scrapping its nuclear arms program. But the position now is that such a commitment would not be required to hold talks in which the parties merely exchange greetings or repeat their existing positions on issues, the sources said. Japan will continue to refuse to take part in any dialogue that would recognize North Korea as a nuclear power, the sources added. “North Korea will play the nuclear card in its favor (if we enter into those negotiations). The United States won’t engage in that kind of discussion either,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said in Tokyo. The policy shift is the result of coordination between Tokyo and Washington. According to a diplomatic source, the two governments confirmed earlier this month that they will not engage in “dialogue” with North Korea but could accept a “chat.” At that time, the United States was attempting to set up a meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, while both were visiting South Korea for the Pyeongchang Games. Pence was reportedly planning to convey Washington’s intention to keep up pressure on the isolated country. “If the United States and North Korea go into negotiations (on their own), Japan will be left out of the loop and the abduction issue could be abandoned,” a source close to North Korea-Japan relations said. In a hint at the shift, Abe shook hands and briefly exchanged words with North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, at a reception dinner ahead of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony earlier this month. “Japan believes it is important to directly communicate our thoughts to North Korea,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, the government’s top spokesman, said today. But according to the Foreign Ministry official, there are “no plans at the present time” for further interactions between Tokyo and Pyongyang. In Washington today, President Donald Trump weighed in on the prospect of talks with the North. “They want to talk. And we want to talk also, only under the right conditions. Otherwise, we’re not talking,” Trump told a meeting of U.S. governors at the White House in Washington. “We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “That’s my attitude: We’ll see what happens. But something has to be done.” (Kyodo, “Japan Softens Stance on Prospect of ‘Chat’ with North Korea, Sources Say,” Japan Times, February 27, 2018)

North Korea has been shipping supplies to the Syrian government that could be used in the production of chemical weapons, United Nations experts contend. The supplies from North Korea include acid-resistant tiles, valves and thermometers, according to a report by United Nations investigators. North Korean missile technicians have also been spotted working at known chemical weapons and missile facilities inside Syria, according to the report, which was written by a panel of experts who looked at North Korea’s compliance with United Nations sanctions. The report highlights the potential danger posed by any such trade between Syria and North Korea, which could allow Syria to maintain its chemical weapons while also providing North Korea with cash for its nuclear and missile programs. The possible chemical weapons components were part of at least 40 previously unreported shipments by North Korea to Syria between 2012 and 2017 of prohibited ballistic missile parts and materials that could be used for both military and civilian purposes, according to the report, which has not been publicly released but which was reviewed by the New York Times. Though experts who viewed the report said the evidence it cited did not prove definitively that there was current, continuing collaboration between North Korea and Syria on chemical weapons, they said it did provide the most detailed account to date of efforts to circumvent sanctions intended to curtail the military advancement of both countries. William Newcomb, who was chairman of the United Nations panel of experts on North Korea from 2011 to 2014, called the report “an important breakthrough.” Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, there have been suspicions that North Korea was providing equipment and expertise to maintain the chemical weapons program of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Those suspicions were not assuaged when in 2013 Syria signed onto the Chemical Weapons Convention and claimed to give up its chemical weapons stocks. “We knew stuff was going on,” Newcomb said. “We really wanted to up the game on chemical weapons programs, and we just weren’t able to get what we needed to do so.” The report, which is more than 200 pages long, includes copies of contracts between North Korean and Syrian companies as well as bills of lading indicating the types of materials shipped. Much information was provided by unidentified United Nations member states. The military-related cooperation, if confirmed, indicates major shortcomings in the international effort to isolate both countries. The shipments would have eluded detection even though both nations are subject to highly restrictive sanctions, and are under the intense scrutiny of American and other spy services. North Korea’s relationship with Syria takes up one section of the report, which also documents the many ways the government of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has tried to circumvent sanctions. It describes how North Korea uses a complex web of shell companies and sympathetic foreign citizens to gain access to international financing, employs sophisticated cyber operations to steal military secrets and enlists its own diplomats in smuggling operations. It also criticizes Russia and China for failing to do enough to enforce sanctions on items like oil, coal and luxury goods. The sanctions, it says, have yet to be matched “by the requisite political will, international coordination, prioritization and resource allocation necessary to drive effective implementation.” The report gives fresh details of a military relationship between North Korea and Syria that goes back decades. In 2015, Syria honored that assistance by opening a monument and park in Damascus dedicated to North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the current leader. The unveiling ceremony, held as Syria’s civil war raged, featured North Korean and Syrian dignitaries, military officials and a marching band. North Korea has provided training and support for Syria’s chemical weapons program since at least the 1990s, according to a forthcoming book by Bruce Bechtol, a former Korea analyst at the United States Defense Intelligence Agency who is now a professor at Angelo State University in Texas. The book also describes an accident in 2007 in which several Syrian technicians, along with North Korean and Iranian advisers, were killed in the explosion of a warhead filled with sarin gas and the extremely toxic nerve agent VX. The relationship with Syria “has been a boon for the North Korean military-industrial complex,” Bechtol said in an interview. The United Nations report says the cooperation continued during Syria’s civil war, despite international sanctions. Crucial evidence of that was found in January 2017, when two ships carrying acid-resistant tiles, commonly used in the construction of chemical weapons factories, were interdicted at sea en route to Damascus, the report said. Those shipments were among five deliveries agreed to in a contract between a government-owned company in Syria and the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp., a North Korean company involved in arms exports, according to the report. It based those findings at least in part on copies of contracts provided by the shipping company, identified as Cheng Tong Trading Co. Ltd., based in China. The report said the three other shipments had been sent between November 3 and December 12, 2016. The report did not say which country interdicted the two January tile shipments or whether the other three shipments were delivered to Damascus. The contract stipulated that the materials were to be delivered to the Metallic Manufacturing Factory, a company run by the Syrian government that was penalized by the United States Treasury Department last year for its involvement in Syria’s weapons industry. Several months earlier, in August 2016, a delegation of North Korean missile technicians visited Syria, at which point there was a transfer of “special resistance valves and thermometers known for use in chemical weapons,” the report said, without elaborating. An unidentified United Nations member country told the report’s authors that North Korean missile technicians worked at Syrian chemical weapons and missile facilities in Barzeh, Adra and Hama. In 2013, after the Obama administration threatened military action in response to a sarin gas attack on the rebel enclave of Ghouta that some experts estimated killed 1,400 people, Assad agreed to destroy his stockpile and join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which comprises 192 countries that are to have dismantled their chemical weapons programs. But Western officials and nonproliferation experts have long suspected that Assad retains some chemical weapons. So far this year, according to diplomats and witnesses, several chlorine gas attacks have occurred in rebel-held areas in Ghouta, Idlib and Afrin. A separate United Nations panel also said Assad’s forces were responsible for a sarin gas attack on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun last April that killed at least 83 people and sickened roughly 300. Mallory Stewart, a former State Department official who was involved in the Obama administration’s efforts to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program, said that there were always concerns that the Assad government had not listed all of its chemical weapons stockpile on its declared inventory of what it gave up. The report, she says, “confirms everything we’ve been saying.” “Certainly what we tried to do in the last administration is dismantle the entire chemical weapons program,” Ms. Stewart said, “which we know they never did.” Establishing the origins of such weapons has been difficult. In November, Russia used its Security Council veto to end the work of an independent panel investigating chemical weapons used in the Syrian conflict. The Joint Investigative Mechanism, as it was known, had found that both the Syrian government and Islamic State militants had used chemical weapons in the war, though Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations labeled the panel’s reporting “a joke.” (Michael Schwirtz, “U.N. Links North Korea to Syria’s Chemical Weapons Program,” New York Times, February 27, 2018)

No phrase is more closely associated with the Trump administration’s North Korea strategy than “bloody nose.” The two words, captured in news articles and cited by people close to the administration, have quickly become shorthand for all manner of preemptive strikes designed to demonstrate American resolve and prevent Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons that can hit the United States. There’s just one problem: Trump administration officials have insisted repeatedly — in classified briefings to Congress and in public testimony — that they’ve never said it, don’t like it and would never support it. “The phrase has never, ever been uttered by anyone in the White House,” said a senior administration official involved in Asia policy. Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) echoed those sentiments last week at an international security conference in Munich: “There is no bloody nose policy. Nobody knows where it came from.” And yet the White House can’t shake it. The evocative phrase echoes the punchy, macho language President Trump has employed to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea and taunt its leader Kim Jong Un as “Little Rocket Man” on Twitter. The president has made clear from his first days in office that neutralizing the North Korea threat is his top national security priority. More recently the idea of a “bloody nose strike” has sparked worries in Washington and Seoul that a war may be imminent — even as the North Koreans on February 25 indicated that they were open to talks with the Trump administration. Foreign diplomats and Beltway analysts are comparing notes from meetings with senior Trump officials to figure out how serious the White House is about an attack. On February 23, Trump probably added to their fears. “If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go to phase 2,” the president said ominously at a news conference with Australia’s prime minister. “Phase 2 may be a very rough thing. It may be very, very unfortunate for the world.” In a sign of the White House’s conflicting opinions on North Korea, White House aides privately express frustration that the bloody nose phrase has caught on so widely and so quickly. Such talk “should have petered out,” the administration official said. The White House, he cautioned, does “not want to give the impression of a gathering snowball toward [military] conflict.” Theories abound to explain the phrase’s staying power. Some foreign policy experts insist that the White House denials are simply disingenuous. “They are playing semantics here,” said Thomas Wright, a foreign relations analyst at the Brookings Institution. Even as the Trump administration denies a pinprick strike designed to bloody North Korea’s nose, Wright said, it still seems to view preventive military strikes on the country’s nuclear program — and the catastrophic response from Pyongyang that might ensue — as a legitimate option. Others said that the Trump administration’s strategy, which it describes as “maximum pressure and engagement,” is so murky that it is barely distinguishable from those of previous presidents. “The administration is trying to pretend that it’s different,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “If you take them at their word … [all] you are left with is this bellicose language stuff.” “Bloody nose” seems to better capture what’s going on in Trump’s head than the actual words of senior administration officials. The phrase is on its way to joining the pantheon of other memorable foreign policy idioms that have set expectations for military action and — for better or worse — come to define presidential policies. Senior Trump administration officials were so bothered by the “bloody nose” phrase earlier this year that they set out to trace its origins. The first usage seems to have been in the headline of a December 20 article in the Daily Telegraph. The idea, according to one former U.S. official cited in the Telegraph article, was to “punch the North Koreans in the nose” to get Kim’s attention. Around the same time foreign policy experts in Washington were growing increasingly alarmed at the prospect of a preventive U.S. strike. In a scathing two-page memo to colleagues, John J. Hamre, a former top Pentagon official and president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported that a senior Trump administration official told him, “We are running out of time on North Korea.” Hamre, who had worked on the North Korea problem during the Clinton administration, insisted that such talk was reckless. “We are talking like frightened little rabbits, afraid of the lone wolf in the forest,” he wrote. “Everyone in Washington should just calm down.” Six days later, H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, warned publicly that new sanctions imposed on the North “might be our last best chance to avoid military conflict.” Confusion about the Trump administration’s precise policy and exactly what constitutes a “bloody nose strike” added to the uncertainty. In Washington, the phrase initially referred to a discrete and targeted attack designed to send a message that the United States was serious, rather than destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. By contrast, a much larger “preventive strike” would seek to set back or cripple the program. Either option could provoke a war, anger Beijing or shred the United States’ relationships with its closest allies in Seoul and Tokyo, who have made it clear that they view the risk of a North Korean counterattack as too great. “If they are going to use force, then they really need to explain what they are going to do and why they think it will work,” Wright said. “It’s really weird that they are not discussing it.” The lack of public discussion could be a sign that the administration’s talk of military action is a bluff. Those who think the administration is seriously considering a “bloody nose” or preventive strike point to the dropping in January of Victor Cha, a former George W. Bush administration official, as the presumptive nominee to be U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

Cha had reportedly expressed private opposition to White House officials over the idea of a strike. Unable to shake the “bloody nose” label, a frustrated McMaster has jokingly told aides to get to work on a “stubbed toe” strategy to complement existing plans. (David Nakamura and Greg Jaffe, “White House Writes off ‘Bloody Nose,’” Washington Post, February 27, 2018, p. A-8)


2/28/18:
Choe Son Hui, formerly the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) director of the North American department, has been promoted to a vice-ministerial position, according to a diplomatic note circulated to officials in Pyongyang last week. In reports confirmed to NK News by multiple sources this week, the news will see Choe — a diplomat with extensive experience negotiating on nuclear issues — take a senior foreign ministry position amid hints that Pyongyang may be interested in talks with Washington D.C. The daughter of former DPRK Premier Choe Yong Rim, she previously served as an interpreter for North Korean delegations to nuclear negotiations since the 1990s and through the Six-Party Talks in 2003-9. Amid high tensions last year over North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing — and a war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un — Choe notably often struck a more diplomatic tone. And last May saw her fly to Norway for track 1.5 talks with former U.S. diplomats, telling press in Oslo that Pyongyang would talk to Washington “if conditions are there.” Later in the year she traveled to Moscow to meet with Oleg Burmistrov, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Ambassador-at-Large, who she had previously met with in Pyongyang. There are believed to be six vice-ministerial positions in North Korea’s foreign ministry, with the most senior being held by first vice-foreign minister Kim Gye Gwan. Informed sources said that they had been told by North Korean officials that Choe’s promotion would see her replace current vice-minister Han Song Ryol — whose promotion to the position had initially made room for Choe to become director of the North American department — as head of the ministry’s North America portfolio. Han, who will remain a vice minister, is now solely responsible for European affairs. (Oliver Hotham, “Choe Son Hui Promoted to Vice-Minister at DPRK Foreign Ministry: Sources,” NKNews, February 28, 2018)

The government launched a rocket carrying an optical reconnaissance satellite that will look for signs of missile launches and other things at military and other facilities in North Korea. The government is placing increased importance on space-based monitoring systems amid the heightened threat stemming from North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. The satellite was put into orbit as planned after the rocket — the H-2A Launch Vehicle No. 38 — blasted off from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture at 1:34 p.m. It is the first launch of a reconnaissance satellite since March 2017 and the seventh in total. Three of those are optical satellites that use cameras, and four are radar satellites that use reflected electrical waves. Ultimately, the government intends to create a 10-satellite system comprising four optical and four radar satellites, and two that would transmit and receive data. This would give the government the ability to reliably photograph any spot on Earth multiple times per day. The domestically produced H-2A rocket is a workhorse, having had 32 consecutive successful launches, which equates to a success rate of 97.4 percent. “I can’t disclose the details because this would reveal our capabilities,” Kinomura Kenichi, head of the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, said at a press conference after the launch. The government believes revealing specifics about the satellite’s abilities would have a major impact on national defense. According to materials released by the government, its reconnaissance satellites orbit the Earth at altitudes ranging from several hundred to 1,000 kilometers. Commercial satellites have resolutions of up to several dozen centimeters — enough to recognize the movements of people and vehicles. Intelligence satellites are thought to have at least that level of resolution. The main role of the reconnaissance satellites is to monitor military and other facilities in North Korea, which is continuing with its nuclear and missile development. According to several government sources, satellites have captured signs of impending launches before North Korean ballistic missiles were fired. The signs included missiles being transported, installed on launch platforms and fueled. A figure thought to be Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, was even observed traveling to observe a launch. These images are defense secrets and carefully managed by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, which shares them with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the defense minister and relevant entities. “The more eyes we have, the better our surveillance net is,” a senior government official said about the latest launch. North Korea has recently taken steps to avoid satellite surveillance, such as covering its operations and using movable launch pads. Only being able to take infrequent photographs makes it difficult to track the movements of launch pads. “We can’t call our surveillance system sufficient,” a senior Cabinet Secretariat official said. The latest launch brings the number of Japan’s reconnaissance satellites to seven. Rather than strengthening the surveillance system, the goal is to maintain a four-satellite system that can obtain more than a single image per day. This is because three of the seven satellites have surpassed their five-year limits and will soon cease to operate. The government’s 2015 basic plan for space set a goal of building a 10-satellite system. That target, however, was vague, only saying “by fiscal 2025 or later.” The government’s space-related initial budget is about ¥300 billion per year, of which about ¥60 billion goes toward reconnaissance satellites. This is much less than the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s annual budget of about ¥2 trillion. “It’s difficult to secure enough funding,” a senior Defense Ministry official said. A reconnaissance satellite took images of the January eruption of Mt. Kusatsushirane. The government published the images, modified for reasons such as reducing their resolution, on the Cabinet Secretariat website. The government hopes to win public understanding of the satellite launches by expanding their activities beyond national security. The government has started researching sensor technology, but it is said that an early warning satellite would require at least ¥1 trillion for operations and other costs. Hiroaki Fukue, former commander of the Air Defense Command of the Air Self-Defense Force, said, “Instead of cutting other defense budgets, the priority should be working with the United States.” To fill the holes in its reconnaissance satellite capabilities, the Defense Ministry is working toward using images obtained from commercial satellites and technology that detects radio waves emitted by missiles. “It’s important to have a comprehensive, integrated surveillance system that includes not only satellites, but radio waves, information from allied nations, human intelligence and other sources,” a senior Self-Defense Forces official said. (Tanikawa Kojiro and Ikeda Keita, “Satellite to Keep Tabs on N. Korea,” Yomiuri Shimbun, February 28, 2018)


3/1/18:
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea told President Trump that he planned to send a special envoy to North Korea as part of his effort to broker talks between the United States and the North on ending its nuclear weapons program. President Moon’s office said he talked with Trump on the phone today to discuss joint strategies, based upon the discussions Moon and his aides have held with senior North Korean officials who visited the South last month to attend the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics in Pyeongchang. “The two heads of state agreed to keep the momentum in South-North Korean dialogue and continue efforts to use it to lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Moon’s office said in a statement. “To that end, President Moon notified President Trump that his government will soon send a special envoy to the North to confirm the discussions it has held with the high-level North Korean delegates.” (Choe Sang-hun, “South Korea Says It Will Send Envoy to the North,” New York Times, March 2, 2018, p. A-7)

DPRK FoMin Institute for American Studies Policy Research director’s press statement: “On February 23, the Trump group announced that the United States would enforce sanctions against 56 designations in total — 27 shipping and trading companies, 28 vessels and 1 individual — of the DPRK and other countries combined, under the pretext of prohibiting so-called sanctions evasion practices and illegal means used to facilitate ship-to-ship transfer of coal and fuel, and it ridiculously trumpeted that this would be “the largest sanctions ever imposed on the DPRK.” The anti-DPRK sanctions and pressure by the Trump group can be described as “harshest” ever seen in history in light of its vicious and reactionary nature. The frequency of sanctions and the non-exhaustive list of sanctions designations speak themselves. According to the initial estimation, the Trump group, since in office, announced sanctions 12 times through Treasury Department and State Department targeting 65 individuals, 56 entities and 45 vessels of the DPRK, and 32 entities, 12 individuals and 9 vessels of other countries allegedly involved in transactions with the DPRK; 219 designations in total. Compared with previous U.S. administrations, the Obama administration announced 217 sanctions designations on 28 occasions during 8 years in office, and the Bush administration 11 designations on 2 occasions during 8 years in office. The U.S. secretary of Treasury has gone so mad at imposing “sanctions” on our country that he even boasted recently that half of over 450 rounds of sanctions enforced against Pyongyang since 2005 were enacted last year. The vicious nature of sanctions is vividly manifested in an indiscriminate expansion of its scope. On February 18, 2016, the Obama administration cooked up “North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act 2016” and, under the pretext of cutting off flow of revenue for program of nuclear weapons and rockets, sanctioned entities of our Party and power authority and enforced the ban on our normal economic and trading transactions in the areas of, inter alia, earth and stone, transportation, mining, energy and finance, driven by the preposterous fabrications about sort of development and proliferation of WMD, cyber-attack, human rights abuse, drug trafficking, counterfeiting and money laundering. It even sanctioned the entities and individuals of other countries involved in transactions with the DPRK. However, the Trump administration, not satisfied with the above, unveiled “Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act” on August 2, 2017 and thus, openly exposed its heinous intention to expand the scope of sanctions to all legitimate areas of economy and trade, aimed at completely cutting off source of revenue in foreign currency and stifling us economically. These facts clearly exhibit the magnitude and height of the Trump group’s desperate attempt to isolate and stifle us economically and to disintegrate our socialist system chosen by our people. The international society has now again eye-witnessed the viciousness and unfairness of sanctions pursued by the Trump group. The unilateral sanctions imposed by the Trump group, pursuant to its domestic law, upon the DPRK and other countries involved in transactions with the former constitute a wanton infringement upon sovereignty and an open violation of the universally recognized international laws which underline that in no case can a sovereign state be an object of jurisdiction of other countries. Referring to the latest “unilateral sanctions” announced by the Trump group, the neighboring countries including China and Russia and even the American press are expressing increased apprehension and denunciation, arguing that the Trump group is again driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war by resorting to sanctions and pressure, without having clear strategy on the DPRK. Trump is attempting to frighten us by making wild remarks that if the latest sanctions, the core of which is to completely block the DPRK’s maritime transactions with other countries, do not work, “very rough phase 2” will be operated. But such wild remarks of the Trump group would not work on us, and we have prepared our own formula to counter it. It is really miserable to see that the Trump group clings frenziedly to the sanctions and pressure, still harboring an illusion that they would work on us. The U.S. should bear in mind that if America becomes more desperate, it will only make stronger our faith and determination to rise high on the strength of self-development. The U.S. should be well advised to squarely look at the strategic position of our state with their eyes wide-open and contemplate now what will be a strategic and wise choice to better serve the America’s interests.” (KCNA, “Statement of Policy Research Director at Institute for American Studies of DPRK Foreign Ministry,” March 1, 2018)


3/2/18:
The latest U.S. intelligence assessment about North Korea’s nuclear ballistic missile program judges that Kim Jong Un’s regime has continued to make progress on improving the guidance of their missiles that would allow them to hit specific targets, according to an administration official with knowledge of the assessment. Some of the progress has been made during a relative thaw in tensions around the Winter Olympics which ended last weekend in South Korea. The official did point out that the regime is still struggling with the technical challenge of ensuring a warhead can re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. This latest assessment is part an effort to continue to calculate what improvements North Korea might have been able to quietly achieve since November, when it last launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. The U.S. believes the North Koreans have been working to improve their rocket engines, mobile missile launchers, and nuclear warhead production. A key unknown is to what extent North Korea may be able to go into large scale production of missile components rather than just the individual test missiles launched so far. (Barbara Starr, “U.S. Official Says North Korea Is Making Progress on Missile Guidance,” CNN, March 2, 2018)

China delayed a U.S. request for a United Nations Security Council committee to blacklist 33 ships, 27 shipping companies, and a Taiwan man for violating international sanctions on North Korea, diplomats said on Friday. The United States submitted the request a week ago, a move it says is “aimed at shutting down North Korea’s illicit maritime smuggling activities to obtain oil and sell coal.” (Michelle Nichols, “At U.N., China Delays U.S. Bid to Blacklist Ships, Companies over North Korea,” Reuters, March 2, 2018)

Washington said the North Korean government had used chemical weapons in violation of international laws in a notice posted on the U.S. government’s Federal Register. The notice was added by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, though it did not give further details on how Washington had arrived at the conclusion. “The United States Government has determined that the Government of North Korea has used chemical weapons in violation of international law or lethal chemical weapons against its own nationals.” the notice reads. The notice also included five sanctions which would typically accompany such an announcement, including cutting foreign and financial aid, ending military support and export restrictions on sensitive goods. But the sanctions are likely symbolic as the U.S. has already imposed much stricter measures on North Korea via a succession of Presidential Executive Orders and Department of Treasury designations. (Leo Byrnes, “State Department Says N. Korea Has Used Chemical Weapons,” NKNews, March 2, 2018)

The Trump administration is working on an expanded U.S. missile defense policy that would address certain threats from Russia and China, departing from a previous strategy that focused nearly exclusively on rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran. The new policy will still call for bolstered technology against rogue states, with a particular focus on weapons to intercept North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s missiles. But it will also mention the need to consider missile threats from Russia and China, according to people familiar with the review. The document remains in a draft form and could change before its tentative release late this month. The Pentagon so far sees “anything in the regional context as fair game,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy hasn’t been finalized. U.S. generals are advocating extensive investments in sensor technology. The first step toward better defenses, they say, would be to know in advance when the faster, more nimble missiles are coming. Above all, the new policy is likely to focus heavily on ways to defend the United States against North Korea that go beyond the silo-based interceptors the U.S. military currently operates. One possibility is what’s known as “left of launch” or “missile defeat”— military parlance for destroying a missile before it takes off. To successfully attack a mobile missile before launch, though, the U.S. military would need sufficient intelligence and sensors to track the target and convey its location, in addition to weapons that could eliminate the missile quickly. The Pentagon will also elaborate on possible ways to intercept North Korean missiles in their “boost phase,” or during their ascent. The primary options include shooting them with interceptors fastened to drones or fighter jets, zapping them with solid-state lasers or striking them from weapons in space. Each option comes with technological challenges the Pentagon has yet to solve.

A number of lawmakers have been pressing the Pentagon to deploy ground-based interceptors at a new missile site closer to the East Coast — which theoretically would allow the military to take a second shot at a missile coming from North Korea and a first shot at a missile from Iran. The military has put three bases in New York, Ohio and Michigan on the shortlist to house the theoretical new site. Congress has asked the Pentagon to select among the three within 60 days of releasing the new policy. (Paul Sonne, “Shift in Missile Defense Policy,” Washington Post, March 3, 2018, p. A-1)

For months, the Trump administration had considered cutting off North Korea’s access to world banking by cracking down on Chinese banks believed to have enabled the regime to conduct international transactions.

Some influential members of Congress have urged a move against major Chinese banks, arguing that it would compel the Chinese to escalate their efforts to detect and block financial transactions made by the North Korean regime. The ability of the regime to conduct international banking and access foreign currency is considered essential to the financing of its weapons programs. The danger is that punishing a major Chinese bank could not only anger China but also run the risk of precipitating worldwide financial woes. Some of the Chinese banks are among the world’s largest — bigger than the U.S. banks deemed “too big to fail” — and damaging them with sanctions could have far-reaching effects on the world economy. “They’re in a bind,” said Peter Harrell, a former State Department official who worked on sanctions in the Obama administration and is an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security. “I have been sympathetic to the strategy the Trump administration has taken over the last year. They have needed to move carefully. There could be economic reverberations. But I think they’re to the point where they need to push China harder.” Some influential Democrats and Republicans agree. The chair and a member of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee sent a letter to the administration in August with the names of 12 large Chinese banks that, according to a Justice Department filing, had provided bank accounts for a company conducting illicit trade with North Korea. “We must target major Chinese banks doing business with North Korea, such as China Merchants Bank and even big state-owned banks like the Agricultural Bank of China,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) said in September. “China’s biggest banks, even state-owned banks, still do business in North Korea. That’s got to end completely.” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), the co-author of the letter to the administration, also urged action. “The national security people at Treasury there are ready to go — they have aggressive sanctions ready to go against major Chinese banks,” Sherman said this week. In a statement, the Treasury Department, which imposes such sanctions, said: “The U.S. is committed to relentlessly identifying and designating entities who help North Korea evade sanctions, regardless of the country where the individual, entity, or vessel is located, including those associated with China and Russia.” While it is not known which foreign financial institutions may be under review by the United States, investigations by the Justice Department, the United Nations and prosecutors in Singapore have reported that several Chinese banks have provided services to North Korean front companies. Those foreign bank accounts are essential to the regime because they enable it to make international deals and gain access to foreign currency. Much of North Korea’s trade is conducted in dollars and other foreign currencies because their suppliers do not want North Korean won. So far, however, efforts to cut off North Korea’s access to foreign banks have foundered, in large part because banks around the world have failed to screen out the North Korean front companies. Countries “were found to be exerting insufficient scrutiny on the activities of DPRK bank representatives resident in, or moving through, their territory,” according to an upcoming U.N. report. The existing financial sanctions against North Korea, it says, are “systematically” being undermined. Punishing a major Chinese bank to encourage heightened vigilance, however, could backfire on the United States, some say. The failure of a large Chinese bank could have the same kind of tumultuous economic consequences that the failure of Lehman Brothers, the investment bank, had during the Great Recession. “The implosion of one of the world’s largest financial institutions would send shock waves through the international financial system and trigger large and unpredictable fallout,” former acting treasury secretary Adam Szubin told Congress last year. The result, as some see it, is a dangerous stalemate. “For 20 years, we’ve had the same policy toward North Korea, and during that time, they’ve gotten to a position of being able to destroy all of Los Angeles,” Sherman said. Yet “Wall Street is dead-set opposed to calling into question our trade relationship with China.” Administration officials have said they are focused on banking that benefits the regime — whether in China or anywhere else. Banks in Europe and elsewhere also have allowed North Koreans to conduct banking, according to U.N. reports. Kim Jong Un “still has access to the international financial system because he has North Korean brokers and agents operating with impunity, brazenly, abroad in foreign jurisdictions,” Assistant Treasury Secretary Marshall Billingslea testified in September. “That has to stop, and so that is our next step.” Two months later, Billingslea said the Treasury Department had urged heightened vigilance at Chinese banks near the North Korean border. “We have a lot of concerns, and we continue to investigate,” Billingslea said. And last month, Mnuchin said “I assure you, we are reviewing information as it associates with banks that are doing illicit activities.” (Paul Whoriskey, “Trump Administration Weighed Sanctions against Major Banks Tied to North Korea,” Washington Post, March 3, 2018)


3/3/18:
President Donald Trump said late today that “we will be meeting” with North Korea during a speech at the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, indicating that negotiations about a potential dialogue between the two countries continue to advance. “I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un, I just won’t. As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that’s his problem not mine,” Trump told the more than 600 attendees during his 35-minute address at the Renaissance Washington Hotel on Saturday. “By the way a couple days ago they said we would like to talk, and I said, so would we, but you have to de-nuke, you have to de-nuke. So let’s see what happens … Maybe positive things are happening, I hope that’s true … We will be meeting and we’ll see if anything positive happens.” The White House did not immediately respond to a query as to whether the president was joking or not. (Brent D. Griffiths, “Trump Pokes Fun — and Makes News — at Gridiron Dinner,” Politico, March 4, 2018)


3/4/18:
President Moon Jae-in named his special envoy to North Korea as speculations rise over his plans for facilitating US-North Korea talks. Moon named National Security Council chief Chung Eui-yong as his special envoy to North Korea. Chung is to lead a five-member delegation that leaves for Pyongyang on a two-day schedule tomorrow. Along with Chung, Suh Hoon, chief of the National Intelligence Service, Vice Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung, senior National Intelligence Service Director Kim Sang-gyun, and Yun Kun-young, a Cheong Wa Dae official, are to visit the North as part of the delegation. The high-level officials are also to be accompanied by five working-level officials, Cheong Wa Dae said. “The special envoy delegation will stay in Pyongyang for two days, and hold discussions on establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula and improving inter-Korean relations with high-level North Korean officials,” said Yoon Young-chan, senior secretary for public relations. According to Yoon, the South Korean delegation is to leave for North Korean on a chartered flight that is to take the West Sea route into North Korea. Yoon added that the special envoy’s planned visit to the North is a response to Kim Yo-jong’s visit to the South last month. (Choi He-suk, “Moon Taps National Security Adviser to Head Delegation to N.K.,” Korea Herald, March 4, 2018)

DPRK FoMin spokesperson answer to a question put by KCNA on March 3 “as regards the attitude of the United States taken after we have stated our intention for DPRK-U.S. dialogue: Recently, with regard to the DPRK-U.S. dialogue, the U.S. is taking preposterous action by continuing to trumpet an insistence that it will not have dialogue unless a right condition is met and that it will keep watching if we have intention to abandon nuclear weapons and missiles and so on. The U.S., that was terrified at the rapid development of our nuclear force and has continued to knock the door of dialogue, now feigns an indifference and advances this or that precondition. Not being content with it, it insists that it will have dialogue only for making the DPRK abandon nuclear weapons and persist in “maximum pressure” until complete denuclearization is realized. This is really more than ridiculous. Thanks to our noble love for the nation and great determination to terminate confrontation with fellow countrymen and achieve peace on the Korean peninsula, the north and the south together have ensured successful holding of Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and are now opening a new chapter of reconciliation and cooperation. Out of the desire of our nation and international society aspiring after peace, we have clarified our position that a dialogue with the U.S. will be possible. It is the consistent and principled position of the DPRK to resolve issues in a diplomatic and peaceful way through dialogue and negotiation. The dialogue we desire is the one designed to discuss and resolve the issues of mutual concern on an equal footing between states. In decades-long history of the DPRK-U.S. talks, there had been no case at all where we sat with the U.S. on any precondition, and this will be the case in future, too. The U.S. attitude shown after we clarified our intention for DPRK-U.S. dialogue compels us to only think that the U.S. is not interested in resuming the DPRK-U.S. dialogue. We have intention to resolve issues in a diplomatic and peaceful way through dialogue and negotiation, but we will neither beg for dialogue nor evade the military option claimed by the U.S. We have full capability and will to confront any option favored by the U.S. Whether peace desired by our nation and the rest of the world settles on the Korean peninsula or a situation that no one desires is developed in the vicious cycle of confrontation depends entirely on the attitude of the U.S. The U.S. should not misjudge our intention for dialogue.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman on DPRK-U.S. Dialogue,” March 3, 2018)

On an island in the Suez Canal, a towering AK-47 rifle, its muzzle and bayonet pointed skyward, symbolizes one of Egypt’s most enduring alliances. Decades ago, North Korea presented it to Egypt to commemorate the 1973 war against Israel, when North Korean pilots fought and died on the Egyptian side. But now the statue has come to signify another aspect of Egypt’s ties to North Korea: a furtive trade in illegal weapons that has upset President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s otherwise cozy relationship with the United States, set off a painful cut in military aid and drawn unremitting scrutiny from United Nations inspectors. Egypt has purchased North Korean weapons and allowed North Korean diplomats to use their Cairo embassy as a base for military sales across the region, American and United Nations officials say. Those transactions earned vital hard cash for North Korea, but they violated international sanctions and drew the ire of Egypt’s main military patron, the United States, which cut or suspended $291 million in military aid in August. Tensions may bubble up again in the coming weeks with the publication of a United Nations report that contains new information about the cargo of a rusty North Korean freighter intercepted off the coast of Egypt in 2016. The ship was carrying 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades worth an estimated $26 million. The report, due to be released this month, identifies the customer for the weapons as an arm of the Arab Organization for Industrialization, Egypt’s main state weapons conglomerate. Sisi heads the committee that oversees the group. Egypt has previously denied being the intended recipient of the weapons, or breaching international sanctions. In response to questions about the United Nations finding, the State Information Service said this past week: “The relevant Egyptian authorities have undertaken all the necessary measures in relation to the North Korean ship in full transparency and under the supervision” of United Nations officials. After the Trump administration slashed aid last summer, Egyptian officials said they were cutting military ties to North Korea, reducing the size of its Cairo embassy and monitoring the activities of North Korean diplomats. The relationship with North Korea is “limited to representation, and there is almost no existing economic or other areas of cooperation,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said at a news conference with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in Cairo last month. But that diplomatic representation, in an embassy that doubles as a regional arms dealership, is the problem, American officials have said. In addition, Washington worries that North Korea, a longtime supplier of ballistic missile technology to Egypt, is still supplying missile parts, said Andrea Berger, a North Korea specialist at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “Ballistic missile customers are the most concerning of North Korea’s partners and deserve the highest attention,” she said. “Egypt is one of those.” North Korea’s largest embassy in the Middle East, an elegant, three-story Victorian building with a rusty brass plate over the entrance, sits on a leafy street on an island in the Nile. Like those of many North Korean outposts, the duties of the Cairo embassy extend well beyond diplomacy. In Africa especially, North Korean diplomats have engaged in a wide variety of ruses and schemes to earn hard currency, United Nations investigators say. In South Africa and Mozambique, North Korean diplomats have been implicated in rhino poaching. In Namibia, North Koreans built giant statues and a munitions factory. In Angola, they trained the presidential guard in martial arts. In Egypt, their business is weapons. United Nations inspectors and North Korean defectors say the Cairo embassy has become a bustling arms bazaar for covert sales of North Korean missiles and cut-price Soviet-era military hardware across a band of North Africa and the Middle East. Shielded by diplomatic cover and front companies, North Korean officials have traveled to Sudan, which was then subject to an international trade embargo, to sell satellite-guided missiles, according to records obtained by the United Nations. Others flew to Syria, where North Korea has supplied items that could be used in the production of chemical weapons. Inside the embassy, arms dealing goes right to the top. In November 2016, the United States and the United Nations sanctioned the ambassador, Pak Chun-il, describing him as an agent of North Korea’s largest arms company, the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation. At least five other North Korean officials based in Egypt, employed by state security or various arms fronts, have been sanctioned. One of them, Kim Song-chol, traveled to Khartoum in 2013 as part of a $6.8 million deal for the sale of 180 missiles and missile parts to Sudan. According to this year’s sanctions report, Kim and another sanctioned official based in Cairo, Son Jong-hyok, continue to deal with Sudan’s state-controlled Military Industrial Corporation. “An arms dealer with a diplomatic passport is still an arms dealer,” Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council in 2016. For weeks in the summer of 2016, American intelligence had covertly tracked the Jie Shun, the ship filled with rocket-propelled grenades that has become a focus of Cairo’s ties to North Korea. As it neared the Suez Canal in August, according to a Western diplomat familiar with the case, the Americans warned the Egyptians it might be carrying contraband, effectively forcing them to intervene. The seizure was the largest interdiction of munitions since sanctions were imposed on North Korea in 2006 — a significant victory in the international effort, including an arms embargo and export restrictions, to force Kim Jong-un to abandon his nuclear weapons program. For the next three months, with the Jie Shun impounded at Ain Sokhna port, a diplomatic tug-of-war played out. The Americans wanted to send officials to inspect the dilapidated freighter and its illicit cargo. North Korea sent a diplomat to negotiate its release. The Egyptians refused both demands, but in November 2016 agreed to allow United Nations inspectors to board the ship. But by then, valuable information about the identity of the customer for the rockets, which had been hidden under mounds of iron ore, was missing. The North Korean crew had been sent home, which meant the inspectors could not interview them. But one piece of evidence remained, in the form of a name stenciled on the rocket crates: “Al Sakr Factory for Developed Industries (AOI),” Egypt’s principal missile research and development company and a subsidiary of its sprawling state weapons conglomerate, the Arab Organization for Industrialization. Mohamed Abdulrahman, the chairman of Al Sakr, did not respond to emailed questions about the shipment. In its statement, Egypt’s State Information Service said the measures taken by the country were “praised” by the United Nations’ sanctions committee, “which reiterated that the way Egypt dealt with this case is a model to be followed in similar situations.” The Jie Shun shipment pointed to an established smuggling route and an entrenched military-to-military trading relationship that American officials say has long been a conduit for ballistic missile technology. In the late 1990s, American officials worried that Egypt was trying to buy North Korea’s Nodong missile system, which has a range of about 800 miles. “We were sending démarches to the Egyptians to say, ‘Knock it off — we’re sending you hundreds of F-16s, and you don’t need that North Korean crap,’” said Sirrs, who was based in Cairo at the time and now lectures at the University of Montana. It is unclear if Egypt ever acquired the Nodong missiles. In 2013, a shipment of spare parts for Scud-B missiles, which have a shorter range than the Nodong, was intercepted in transit as it was shipped by air from the North Korean Embassy in Beijing to a military-controlled company in Cairo. The missile components had been labeled parts for fish-processing machinery. Egypt denied that the military company had ordered the Scud parts. Such missiles could strike Israel from deep inside Egyptian territory. They could also reach Ethiopia, with which Egypt has a simmering dispute over a new dam on the Nile. Egypt’s relationship with North Korea runs deep. President Hosni Mubarak was regularly feted in Pyongyang before his ouster in 2011. An Egyptian tycoon, Naguib Sawiris, built North Korea’s main cellphone network and invested in a bank there. Along with the AK-47 monument on the Suez Canal, North Korea built a large war museum in Cairo that is frequently visited by Egyptian schoolchildren. Egypt’s military leaders are reluctant to cut those ties and lose access to Soviet-era weapons and ballistic missile systems, analysts say, a posture bolstered by their reflexive distaste for appearing to bow to American pressure. They may feel that, based on past experience, American criticism will eventually abate. “They think they can evade the consequences,” said Andrew Miller of the Project on Middle East Democracy, who until last year worked on Egypt at the State Department. “That they are continuing to stonewall and obfuscate and pursue this course of action indicates they think they can get away with it, and whatever price will be imposed on them will be bearable.” At the North Korean Embassy in Cairo, now under a new ambassador, business continues as usual. North Korean state media has said little about the ambassador, Ma Tong-hui, other than to note that his previous post was as head of a little-known government body in Pyongyang called the Disarmament and Peace Institute. (Declan Walsh, “Sales of North Korean Weapons in Cairo Anger the U.S.,” New York Times, March 4, 2018, p. A-11)

The rusting seaport called Kholmsk is one of the sleepiest harbors in Russia’s Far East, a place that sees more full moons than coal ships in a typical year. Yet for a few weeks late last summer, this tiny port was chockablock with vessels hauling outlawed North Korean coal. At least four ships of different flags showed up in August and September to dump North Korean anthracite onto a pile near the harbor’s southern tip, maritime records show. Then, six other ships arrived to pick up coal from the same spot and deliver it to foreign markets. Between the voyages, the harbor was witness to a kind of magic trick: Illicit North Korean coal was transformed into Russian coal, which can be legally sold anywhere. Some of it ended up in the most unexpected of places: South Korea and Japan, two of Pyongyang’s main rivals. “They literally ‘laundered’ the coal,” said a Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe new details from a confidential U.N. investigation of the incident. “It’s the same tactic criminals use to launder ill-gotten cash.” Independent analysts say the movement of coal through Russia’s Kholmsk port last year was remarkable, because of the timing — it came just as the U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions on the sale of North Korean coal — and because of the ruse’s elaborate, multilayered deceptions. “It’s a shell game that constantly changes,” said David Thompson, a North Korea specialist and senior analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a nonprofit organization in Washington that tracks illicit networks. In the case of the Kholmsk affair, he said, “you’re looking at adaptation taking place in real time.” Despite decades of economic isolation, North Korea nearly always finds a way to get what it needs, because there are always companies willing to take the risk, said Andrea Berger, a London-based specialist in proliferation networks and export controls with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. “We spend so much of our time trying to put obstacles in the way of North Korea, and in making the obstacles higher and wider,” Berger said, “but the North Koreans are simply very practiced at getting around whatever we put in their path.” How North Korea managed to launder its coal in Russia — and then sell it to two of its biggest adversaries — is essentially a tale of two ships. The Togolese-flagged Yu Yuan and the Panamanian-flagged Sky Angel, both Chinese owned, were among two separate sets of cargo vessels that passed in and out of Kholmsk harbor in late summer and early fall of last year, carrying coal that at least partly originated in North Korean mines. A chronology of the operation was pieced together by researchers from the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, using a data system supplied by Windward, a private company that analyzes ship-tracking data collected by satellites and at ports around the world. The essential narrative also is contained in a confidential report by the United Nations Panel of Experts, a technical committee appointed by the world body to investigate alleged sanctions-busting activity. The draft of the U.N. report, due for release this month, was reviewed by the Washington Post. Before last summer, there is no record of recent visits to Kholmsk by any of the ships involved. Indeed, no North Korean cargo vessels of any kind are known to have docked there since at least 2015. The interest in the obscure port appears to have begun in early August, just as the U.N. Security Council was meeting to consider new sanctions punishing North Korea after its July test of a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the United States. U.N. sanctions banning all exports of North Korean coal were formally approved Aug. 5. That week, two North Korean-flagged ships entered Kholmsk to deposit coal in an outdoor bin near the harbor entrance, according to maritime records and the U.N report. There would be seven such voyages over the following month by four different ships, three North Korean and the Chinese-owned Yu Yuan, which arrived Sept. 9. The 305-foot-long Yu Yuan is managed by Rich Mountain Trading and is owned by Maple Source Shipping, both based in China. Both companies use the same office suite as Chang An Shipping, which was among the Chinese companies listed in the North Korean sanctions announced by the Trump administration last month. Company officials in China did not respond to requests for comment delivered by email and text message. While the Yu Yuan is Chinese-owned, it sailed under the flag of the West African nation of Togo. There is no record of any connection to Togo among the ship’s owners or managers. Analysts say the Yu Yuan’s operators appear to have adopted the common practice of registering the vessel under a “flag of convenience,” which in some cases allows ship owners to enjoy advantages in taxes, fees and labor rules. Commercial shipping data obtained by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies — commonly known by its acronym C4ADS — show the Yu Yuan leaving northeast China’s Wangjia Bay in early August and traveling around the Korean Peninsula into the Sea of Japan. Then, on August 6, as the vessel was steaming north along the South Korean coast, its transponder signal appears to vanish from the maritime record. There is no indication of its whereabouts until August 17, when its transponder signal reappears at Nahodka, a port about 100 miles from Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East, the data shows. The temporary silencing of the transponder is a common practice among North Korean-flagged vessels moving sensitive cargoes. Indeed, at least two of the other ships that visited Kholmsk in August and September also appear to have stopped broadcasting their signals for several days before arriving at the Russian port, maritime records show. What the Yu Yuan was doing during those 11 days — and what cargo it carried — might have remained a mystery, except that a satellite photographed the vessel in mid-August. The image, provided to U.N. investigators and included in their confidential report, shows the Yu Yuan docked at the coal terminal in the port city of Wonsan on North Korea’s east coast. The evidence from the photograph is buttressed by a second source: Harbor master records from port authorities in Nahodka. The Russian-language documents, also obtained by C4ADS, record the arrival of the Yu Yuan, a vessel reported to have traveled from Wonsan with a cargo of coal. The Yu Yuan did not discharge its cargo in Nahodka. In fact, it did not enter the harbor but remained anchored just beyond the sea wall, the Russian port documents show. A common practice among contraband runners is to linger outside a port terminal for several days — sometimes called “loitering” — to throw investigators off their trail, said Thompson, the C4ADS analyst. While the Yu Yuan crew’s intentions can’t be deduced from the maritime record, anyone examining the ship’s movements might conclude that the Yu Yuan had docked at Nahodka and perhaps received its cargo there. Neither was true. “It sat anchored outside Nahodka for three days,” said Thompson, citing the Russian records. Then it left, he said, “headed for Kholmsk.” The rest of the Yu Yuan’s voyage was relatively straightforward. On September 2, transponder records show, the cargo vessel arrived in Kholmsk, a town of 30,000 people on Sakhalin island. A second satellite photo shows the Yu Yuan berthed at Kholmsk’s coal terminal. Port records would later reveal that the Yu Yuan reduced its draft — a measure of a ship’s weight determined by how low it sits in the water — by about 10 feet, indicating an offloading of cargo at the Russian port. Its decks were empty, documents show, when the ship briefly returned to Nahodka a few days later to pick up a load of timber before resuming its southward trek along the Korean Peninsula. Separately, on September 21, just over two weeks after the Yu Yuan’s visit, the cargo ship Sky Angel arrived at Kholmsk and docked at the same coal terminal, maritime records show. The Sky Angel left Kholmsk harbor on September 26 after reporting to harbor officials an increase in its draft almost identical to the reduction in the Yu Yuan’s — about 10 feet. On October 2, it discharged its coal at Incheon, South Korea’s bustling harbor a few miles west of the capital city of Seoul. A customs certificate shown to the Washington Post states only that the coal originated in Kholmsk. The pattern was repeated by five other ships that picked up coal from Kholmsk between August and October and delivered it to South Korea or, in one instance, to Rumoi, Japan. None of the ships had previously visited Kholmsk in at least two years, shipping records show. Investigators say the Sky Angel broke no laws in hauling coal from a Russian port to Incheon, although South Korean officials might have viewed the transaction differently if they had known of the coal’s true origins. “You could argue that some of the coal at the Kholmsk terminal was of Russian origin,” said the Western diplomat briefed on the evidence, “but once you’re dumping North Korean coal into that pile, does it make a difference? Especially if you’re dropping off a scoop of North Korean coal and then picking up an equivalent scoop a few days later?” Shipping records shed no light on what is perhaps the biggest remaining mystery: whether, and how, the transactions were coordinated. Who, or what, caused so many ships to converge on an obscure port in Russia around the same time, to move a few thousand tons of coal that could no longer be sold legitimately on the open market?

“Who is facilitating the transactions? How high up does it go?” said Thompson, the North Korea analyst. “What is without doubt is the fact that this is North Korean coal and that obfuscation tactics are being used to get around very specific restrictions.” “The most egregious thing,” he added, “is that in spite of everything we’re doing, the coal ends up in the very places that would least want to have it.” (Joby Warrick, “North Korea Foils Sanctions with Shell Game at Sea,” Washington Post, March 4, 2018, p. A-1)


3/5/18:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s special envoys, who are visiting Pyongyang on a mission to broker denuclearization talks between the North and the United States, Seoul’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said. “Chairman Kim Jong-un is currently hosting a dinner for the special envoys,” Kim Eui-kyeom, a Cheong Wa Dae spokesman, told a press briefing. It was the first time the reclusive North Korean leader had met South Korean officials. The delegation, headed by the chief of the presidential National Security Office, Chung Eui-yong, was said to be carrying a letter from the South Korean president for the North Korean leader. (Yonhap, “N. Korean Leader Meets with S. Korean Envoys: Cheong Wa Dae,” March 5, 2018) South Korea seeks to persuade North Korea to resume denuclearization dialogue with the United States and the international community, the chief of a South Korean delegation to the North said of his mission, hours before the five-member team left for the reclusive state. “Most of all, I will deliver President Moon Jae-in’s sincere and firm resolve to maintain the dialogue and improvement in relations between the South and the North, which were fostered on the occasion of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula,” Chung Eui-yong told a press briefing just hours before his departure. “In addition, I plan to hold in-depth discussions on various ways to continue talks between not only the South and the North, but also the North and the United States and the international community,” Chung said. (Yonhap, “Moon’s Envoy Says Trip Aimed at Facilitating U.S.-N.K. Denuclearization Talks,” March 5, 2018)

UN Panel of Experts Report: “The Hwasong-12 and the first stage of the Hwasong-14 appear to be powered by the same liquid-fuel engine with four auxiliary engines tested on 18 March 2017 at the Sohae engine test pad (figure III). Kim Jong Un again supervised the test, which was described as that of a new “high-thrust engine.” Given the unreliability of the Hwasong-10 engine, this new engine was a step-change in allowing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to rapidly achieve a reliable intermediate-range ballistic missile and intercontinental ballistic missile capability. According to a Member State, this engine could have been derived from the Soviet-era RD-250, a twin-combustion chamber engine. The RD-250 was designed by the “Scientific and Production Association Energomash” (now in the Russian Federation), which in 1965 transferred the design documentation required for serial production to the Yuzhnoye State Design Office and the Yuzhmash Production Association (both now in Ukraine). Ukraine confirmed to the Panel that it was highly likely that the engine of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea contained separate components of this engine and used the same propellant components (nitrogen tetroxide or NTO and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine or UDMH). According to information provided to the Panel by the United States of America, “the U.S. Intelligence Community has publicly stated that ‘We have intelligence to suggest that North Korea is not reliant on imports of engines. Instead we judge they have the ability to produce the engines themselves.’” Ukraine informed the Panel that all RD-250 engines suitable for flight use were delivered to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and, later, the Russian Federation as part of missiles or launch vehicles. The production of RD-250 engines ceased in 1991 and the production line was dismantled in 1994. Ukraine stated that Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash had “never undertaken attempts, signed contracts or entered into relationship with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Ukraine also informed the Panel that “design, manufacturing and other documentation for production of missile technology and components is reliably stored in specially equipped premises.” According to Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash experts, it is “impossible to modernize or create a new engine based on the existing one within two years without design and technological support.” Franz Klintzevich, first Deputy Chair of the Defense and Security Committee of the Federation Council, Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, asserted that “the cooperation between the Ukrainian specialists and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had been ongoing for years.” The Panel contacted the Russian Federation to request support for this claim along with the names and passport information of the individuals involved, but did not receive a reply. For its part, Ukraine informed the Panel that “it was continuously tracking employees of aerospace industry companies travelling abroad.” … The Panel investigated more than 30 cases of exports of coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to at least four Member States in South-East Asia, including several cases that involved the trans-shipment of coal via Russian Far Eastern ports. In so doing, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea made use of a combination of multiple evasion techniques, routes and deceptive shipping tactics, including manipulation of the Automatic Identification System, loitering, voyage deviations and fraudulent documentation. The Panel also investigated cases of ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products in violation of paragraphs 11 and 14 of resolution 2375 (2017) and found that the network behind the vessels was primarily based in Taiwan Province of China while the affiliated companies were registered in the Marshall Islands and the British Virgin Islands, with ships flagged in Dominica, Hong Kong, China, Panama and Sierra Leone. The Panel is also investigating several multinational oil companies for their roles in the supply chain of petroleum products transferred to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea exported a total of $62,184,815 in iron and steel (HS code 72) between January and September 2017 to the following countries: Barbados, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Chile, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, India, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines and the Russian Federation. All exports after 4 September 2017 violated paragraph 8 of resolution 2371 (2017), while those before 4 September 2017 violated paragraph 26 of resolution 2321 (2016) unless an exemption was made under paragraph 26 (c) of the same resolution. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea exported a total of $10,005,909 in iron and steel products (HS code 73) to China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ghana, India, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, the Philippines, the Russian Federation and Thailand between January and September 2017. All exports prior to 4 September 2017 constituted a violation of paragraph 26 of resolution 2321 (2016) unless an exemption was made under paragraph 26 (c). All exports thereafter constituted violations of paragraph 8 of resolution 2371 (2017). The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea exported a total of $373,926 in copper (HS code 74) to India and Mexico between January and September 2017 in violation of paragraph 28 of resolution 2321 (2016). The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea exported $100,197 and 545,742 kg of copper, including copper ores and concentrates (2,603) in January and February 2017 to China in violation of paragraph 28 of resolution 2321 (2016). No imports were reported between March and September 2017. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea exported a total of $526,018 in zinc (HS 79) to India in January 2017 in violation of paragraph 28 of resolution 2321 (2016). No imports were reported between February and September 2017. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea exported a total of $680,697 and 2,415 metric tons of zinc ore to China between January and March 2017 in violation of paragraph 28 of resolution 2321 (2016). No imports were reported between April and September 2017. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea exported a total of $42,000 in nickel in January 2017 to China in violation of paragraph 28 of resolution 2321 (2016). No imports were reported between February and September 2017. According to Member State reports to the Committee, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea exported a total of $ 413,555,897.24 in coal (HS code 2701) between January and September 2017, which exceeded by $12,685,879.24 the cap of $400,870,018 specified in paragraph 26 (b) of resolution 2321 (2016). However, the section below includes at least 15 cases of deliveries of coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea prior to 5 August 2017 that were not reported to the Committee as required by the resolutions. In addition to the above, the Panel investigated more than 30 shipments of coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea between January and November 2017 to ports, including in China, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and Viet Nam. Detailed information on all of the shipments is contained in two tables (see annex 5-1). The tables are broken down into the coal shipments delivered between January and 4 August 2017 and those delivered after 5 August 2017, the date on which resolution 2371 (2017), which introduced a full coal ban, was adopted (see annex 5-2). With regard to the table of shipments to China, Malaysia, the Russian Federation and Viet Nam prior to 5 August 2017, the contents of only one shipment were reported to the Committee, by Malaysia. All of the other shipments violated paragraph 26 of resolution 2321 (2016) requiring Member States to report them. In the majority of cases, this was due to the fact that falsified paperwork accompanying the coal claimed its origin as countries other than the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. For that reason, the above calculations of coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which has been exported in excess of the cap, do not present a complete picture. All of the shipments listed in the table as having been delivered after the adoption of resolution 2371 (2017) to China, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and Viet Nam would constitute a violation of the resolutions, if confirmed. While the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea also attempted to make a delivery to Thailand in March, the contract was cancelled and the vessel Tai An subsequently rerouted to Vung Tau, Viet Nam. In multiple cases, accompanying paperwork indicated origins other than the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including the Russian Federation and China. … The network of foreign traders responsible for violations of the coal ban operates through numerous front companies registered in multiple jurisdictions, some of which the Panel has previously investigated. Front companies are registered in Australia, the British Virgin Islands, the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Seychelles and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, while they are physically based in different countries and areas, including Australia, the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan Province of China and Singapore. Maison Trading Ltd, which shipped at least four consignments … is a front company for Dandong Chengtai Trading Co., Ltd (a.k.a. Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Material Co., Ltd), prosecuted by a Member State for money-laundering. Brigt Australia, an Australian-registered property developer, was contracted to ship coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to Viet Nam. While the shipping documents claimed Nakhodka as the origin, the vessel never docked there (confirmed by the Russian Federation). According to Australia, it is investigating the company and its director, Livia Wang. Another shipper of coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to Viet Nam, a Swedish company, falsely listed the Russian Federation as the origin. The origin was also falsely certified by a company based in Taiwan Province of China. In investigating the above-mentioned coal shipments, the Panel found extensive use of a combination of multiple evasion tactics, including indirect routes, detours, loitering, false documentation, trans-shipment through third countries and manipulation of Automatic Identification System signals and destinations/estimated times of arrival, as well as changes to the class, length and draft of the vessels. These are used to obfuscate actual routes, conceal port calls and give the impression that the coal was loaded in ports other than in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The consistency and similarity of the tactics suggest that they are part of a centralized strategy on the part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to evade the commodities ban, especially given that they were also employed in the case of the designated Jie Shun. Route detours almost always involved manipulating Automatic Identification System transmissions while loading coal in ports of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea before rejoining the original route and reactivating the Automatic Identification System in time for delivery. For example, the Fijian-flagged Zhi Kun 7 deviated from its stated destination, Posyet, Russian Federation, on 9 April 2017, turning off its Automatic Identification System to load coal in Wonsan, then rejoining its original voyage, reactivating the Automatic Identification System and entering Nakhodka port on 14 April (figure VII). While in Nakhodka until 17 May, the vessel changed its identity on 11 May 2017 before discharging its coal on 19 May. On its return voyage, the vessel loaded again in Chongjin on 28 May, using the same route deviation tactic, delivering the coal to Nanjing on 7 June 2017. An example of an almost two-week voyage deviation was the delivery of coal by the Petrel 8 to Bayuquan, with a Nakhodka decoy port visit. On 19 July 2017, as it was sailing east out of Bayuquan, it indicated a Nakhodka destination. En route, it switched off its Automatic Identification System and made a deviation to load coal in Taean (near Nampo) on 26 July. Then it rejoined its voyage on 27 July, switched on its Automatic Identification System, sailing on to Nakhodka, docking for a day without discharging its coal, ostensibly to create the impression that the coal’s origin was the Russian Federation. It then sailed back to Bayuquan to unload the coal. While deviating to Songnim (near Nampo) to load coal on 7 August 2017, the Orient Shenyu switched off its Automatic Identification System for eight days before sailing to Lianyungang, where it loitered near the port to claim Chinese origin prior to heading to Cam Pha, Viet Nam, to unload on 26 August. … Vessels also changed their identities mid-route by adopting new names, flags and call signs. The Xin Guang Hai transmitted a false International Maritime Organization (IMO) number and altered name while carrying coal from Songnim on 31 August 2017 for delivery in Hai Phong, Viet Nam, on 19 September 2017. The vessel also transmitted a false draft change to feign loading in Hong Kong and changed its IMO number and name en route. The Hua Fu shipped coal from Nampo to Cam Pha and also often changed call signs, and the Xin Sheng Hai and the Glory Hope 6 frequently changed length and class. The East Glory 7 changed its class from “cargo” to “fishing” prior to discharging coal from Nampo in Guangzhou on 16 August 2017. The Panel’s investigations showed extensive evidence of false cargo documentation. Although authentic verification documents and stamps accompanied numerous contracts, bills of lading, certificates and warranties of origin, many vessels never visited the ports in question. For example, while the Kai Xiang documents indicated loading in Vladivostok on 28 July and Nakhodka on 31 August 2017, the vessel never visited that port. Furthermore, satellite imagery shows it loading in Nampo on 31 August 2017. Similarly, the Hua Fu documents claimed the origin as Lianyungang, China; however, the vessel never visited that port on 6 September 2017, having loaded the coal in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea while its Automatic Identification system was off from 2 to 7 September. The Bai Mei 8 crew list shows the crew joining in Nampo where the coal was loaded and not Nakhodka as claimed. … In addition to the Great Spring trans-shipment of coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea discharged by the Sun Union on 28 June 2017 in Nakhodka, the Panel noted the adoption by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea of a new route to a port rarely visited previously, Kholmsk, Russian Federation, following the adoption of resolution 2371 (2017). Tracking data show at least four vessels, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea-flagged Ul Ji Bong 6, Rung Ra 2 and Un Bong 2 and the Togo-flagged Yu Yuan, calling at Kholmsk. According to a Member State, they were transporting coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Panel noted several vessels arriving at the same berth at the coal terminal within a few days based on data available on maritime databases, often indicating an increase in draft upon departure. Shortly after this coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was discharged, some vessels berthed at the same terminal, suggesting that, as was the case with the Great Spring and the Hua Fu, the coal might have been trans-shipped using false origin documents. According to open sources, authorities at Rizhao port and Qingdao port in China announced bans in early August 2017 on all imports of Russian coal based on concerns that coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was being mixed with Russian cargoes. … According to a Member State, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been using at least three areas for ship-to-ship transfers: waters off the port of Wonsan; Nampo; and international waters between the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea. The first two tankers that the Panel investigated, the Hong Kong-flagged Lighthouse Winmore and the Panama-flagged Billions No. 18, transferred marine diesel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea-flagged tankers, the Sam Jong 2 and the Rye Song Gang 1, respectively, on 19 October 2017. Both tankers sailed from Yeosu, Republic of Korea, and switched off their Automatic Identification System a few days before and after the transfers, in a pattern described above with regard to vessels picking up coal from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Both vessels sailed southwards for transfers, but not to the port of Taichung, Taiwan Province of China, the stated port of destination, instead returning to Yeosu. The Republic of Korea detained the Lighthouse Winmore for investigation on 24 November 2017. A third case involved the ship-to-ship transfer by the Sierra Leone-flagged tanker Jin Hye (IMO No. 8518572) to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea-flagged tanker Chon Ma San (IMO No. 8660313) in the East China Sea on or about 5 December 2017. The Chon Ma San disguised its identity by painting the names “Whale” and “Freetown (Sierra Leone)” over the original name and port of registration and changing the “3”s to “8”s in the IMO number on the superstructure (8660313 to 8660818). The flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the funnel was also painted over with white paint. A fourth vessel involved in a ship-to-ship transfer with a tanker from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was the Panama-flagged tanker Koti (IMO No. 9417115), also currently detained by the Republic of Korea for investigation. In a pattern very similar to the transfers by the Lighthouse Winmore and the Billions No. 18 on 19 October 2017, the Koti departed Yeosu and selectively used its Automatic Identification System for four days and again for five days from 30 November 2017. On 20 January 2018, another ship-to-ship transfer took place between the designated tanker of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Rye Song Gang 1 and the Dominica-flagged Yuk Tung (IMO No. 9030591) in the high seas of the East China Sea. The vessel’s Automatic Identification System had been switched off since its departure from Keelung, Taiwan Province of China, on 2 January. Its owner is Yuk Tung Energy Inc., registered in the Cook Islands, its operator Yuk Tung Energy Pte Ltd, based in Singapore, and its primary business crude oil wholesale. The fact that this transfer took place in the dark shows that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is adapting its evasion tactics (figure XIII). Subsequent to its designation, the tanker disguised its identity, repainting its funnel and mast and changing its name to “Song Hae.” The Lighthouse Winmore was chartered the month before the ship-to-ship transfers by the Marshall Islands company Oceanic Enterprise Ltd via a Singapore-based broker. Its sole director and shareholder is Shih-Hsien Chen (also known as “Sunny Chen”), a national of Taiwan Province of China (annex 16). The Yingjen Fishery Company communicated administrative and logistical arrangements to the owner via the broker, while the Billions Bunker Group Corporation issued operational instructions to the captain. The intention to use the vessel for ship-to-ship transfers was evidenced in the charterer’s procurement of three large fenders for the duration of the charter. Chen also embedded a company representative with the vessel’s crew. Shih-Hsien Chen is the sole shareholder, owner and operator of two ships and the companies that own them, the tanker Billions No. 18 and Bunker’s Taiwan Group Corporation (British Virgin Islands), as well as the tanker Billions No. 88 and the Billions Bunker Group Corporation (Marshall Islands), which has also engaged in ship-to-ship transfer to an as yet unidentified tanker. The Panel notes that the owner/operator of the Lighthouse Winmore, Lighthouse Ship Management (also involved in ship-to-ship transfers), was previously known as the similar-sounding Billion Great International Group Ltd (see annex 18), suggesting a link to Chen’s companies. In addition, two of Chen’s tankers, the Lighthouse Winmore and the Golden Rich, utilize the same document of compliance holder and International Safety Management manager, Vanguard Shipping Safety Management Consultant Co. Ltd, which is the owner and operator of the other tanker engaging in ship-to-ship transfers, the Jin Hye. The Panel continues to investigate Shih-Hsien Chen’s central role in transfers of petroleum products to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which shows the continuation of its reliance on trusted foreign nationals in its illicit activities. … The bills of lading for the petroleum products embarked by both the Lighthouse Winmore (14, 094 metric tons of marine gasoil (gasoil)) and the Billions No. 18 (7,954 metric tons of gasoil (diesel)) prior to the transfer on 19 October 2017 show the multinational company, Trafigura Pte. Ltd, as the shipper, Global Commodities Consultants Ltd as the consignee and the port of Taichung as the destination (which was fabricated). Global Commodities is registered in Hong Kong, but the registered address (12B Wilkinson Road, Singapore, 436759) matches that of the Singaporean company, Global SGP Pte Ltd. (Unique Entity No. 201222231W), both of which share the same director and sole shareholder. Further, all email communications for shipments onboard Shih-Hsien Chen’s vessels came from Global SGP and not Global Commodities Consultants (see annexes 21–22). The Panel continues to investigate other multinational oil companies for their possible roles in the supply chain of petroleum products transferred to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Oceanic Enterprise prepaid Global SGP for the two shipments delivered free onboard (FOB) to the vessels ($4,564,942.80 and $8,510,097.75) through bank transfers to the supplier, with which it had a contract. In addition to these two transfers by the Billions No. 18 and the Lighthouse Winmore, Oceanic had planned another nine shipments with the same two vessels plus another of Shih-Hsien Chen’s vessels, the Sky Ace 1 (as part of the contract) (figure XVI), which according to the plan for the shipments (see annexes 22–25) totaled 95,000 metric tons (with an estimated value of about $65 million according to the rate used for the first two transfers to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). In addition, Chen requested green dye supplement for the fuel, a common practice for supplies for fishing vessels. Singapore informed the Panel that its authorities were checking the companies related to the transactions. … The Panel continued its investigation into the MKP headquarters in Malaysia as well as the network of its affiliated firms both in Malaysia and around the world. These investigations have so far revealed evasion and breaches of a wide array of sanctions provisions as follows: (a) The involvement of a national of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (and Reconnaissance General Bureau operative), Han Hun Il, in the establishment and operation of numerous companies within the MKP Group of Companies constitutes a violation of the prohibition on joint ventures; (b) The company’s links to designated entities, including Mansudae Overseas Projects, the Reconnaissance General Bureau and the Ocean Maritime Management Company; (c) Links between MKP and financial institutions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including the designated Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation and possibly the International Consortium Bank in Pyongyang; (d) Use of diplomats of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in business facilitation; (e) Potential violations of the prohibition on the provision of public or private support for trade with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; (f) Involvement in the provision of security services; (g) Use by MKP of aliases and trading names that obscure the company’s identity; its reliance on a semi-devolved corporate model when operating outside of Malaysia; and its use of foreign facilitators as country directors to create plausible deniability of the control relationship between Han Hun Il and the Reconnaissance General Bureau and MKP-linked companies. According to a Member State, Han Hun Il, a.k.a. Edward Han, was dispatched to Malaysia in 1995 as a representative of the Mansudae Overseas Project before establishing the MKP Group of Companies jointly with the Malaysian national, Yong Kok Yeap, in 1996. According to a Member State, when Han’s tenure abroad was set to expire in 2006, the National Defense Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea agreed to extend permission for him to remain abroad as a Reconnaissance General Bureau “operative.” MKP has, at one time or another, operated at least 13 companies in Malaysia, of which 10 were still listed as “existing” in corporate registries as at 15 December 2017. Han Hun Il remains a director of seven of these companies, although MKP indicated to the Panel that it intends to remove him. Regarding his geographic location, MKP informed the Panel on 4 October 2017 that “Edward Han is now not in Malaysia,” yet declined to provide information on his travel, work visas or copies of passports. A Member State informed the Panel that Han Hun Il had travelled to other South-East Asian countries in 2016, including the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in October. At the time of writing, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic had not responded to the Panel’s enquiry. MKP has developed an extensive and sophisticated network spanning several continents and multiple industry sectors, including information technology, construction, mining, coal trading, security, transport and construction, with at least 15 affiliated companies in four countries. The Panel was able to document many of the company’s activities in Africa and Hong Kong, but not those publicly claimed by MKP on its various websites, which include 18 African countries, 6 Middle Eastern States and a range of countries representing all regions of the world. … Corporate registry documents for MKP overseas affiliates indicate that the firm and its directors have devolved some control over those entities, while preserving the use of the MKP brand. These ownership and control patterns indicate that MKP foreign national partners are given discretion to determine where, how and with whom MKP deals. In Zambia, where MKP has at least 12 affiliate firms, an Algerian national, Mohamed Yazid Merzouk, has played the central organizational role, while a small number of Zambian nationals have served as directors. While Zambia has not yet replied to the Panel’s letters, in the reply by MKP of 4 October 2017, Yong Kok Yeap claimed that “MKP (Zambia) and the Zambian operations were/are run by Yazid Merzouk independently of MKP in Malaysia.” Yet, Yazid Merzouk appears extensively in MKP marketing materials as well as in Zambian corporate paperwork alongside several directors of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including for MKP Holdings and MKP TMS Hospital (see annexes 74–78 and 80–81). He is also a majority owner of MKP Irehab in Zambia, which Yong Kok Yeap acknowledges “is affiliated” with MKP Malaysia. … In 2011, MKP purchased a stake in Commercial Capital Corporation Limited, a bank in Zambia. According to Yong Kok Yeap, “MKP (Zambia) had a minority shareholding (about 10-20 per cent) in Commercial Capital Corporation Limited. While Yong claims that Commercial Capital Corporation Limited has since shut down, corporate registry documentation suggests that the company remains active. The MKP website also advertises its involvement with the Pyongyang-based International Consortium Bank. MKP now denies any involvement with that institution and claims that any evidence suggesting it, including its own advertisements for the institution on its official website, is fabricated. These claims contradict available open-source evidence. Information for Hi‑Fund International Bank, which MKP acknowledges is an alias for the International Consortium Bank, has been present on the MKP website since at least 2009 under “services”. The Panel also notes an indirect link between MKP and the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation through the purchase of coal from the Democratic People’s Republic in Korea in Malaysia. By his own admission, Yong Kok Yeap directs EKB Building Limitada in Angola alongside Angola’s former Deputy Attorney General. Lloyd Chingambo, a shareholder and financier of MKP-Lloyd’s in Zambia, is the Chairman of Zambia’s National Economic Advisory Council and sits on the board of major national banks (see annex 83). An MKP Security Systems Zambia shareholder is the former Minister of Defense of the country. Such relationships help to create new business opportunities, generate sources of financing and facilitate wider access to local decision-makers while also potentially deterring host governments from taking enforcement action. The way in which MKP established an office in South Africa demonstrates some of the methods it uses to set up overseas operations, including reliance on embassy officials of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to make introductions and facilitate relationships and the use of falsified documents to fulfil partners’ due diligence requirements. In this case, the latter of these practices led the South African partner of MKP, Mr. X, to break off all relations with MKP Malaysia. Han Hun II and Yong Kok Yeap were introduced to the local partner, Mr. X, in Johannesburg in 2008 by the Ambassador of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to South Africa and the commercial trade attaché. Han Hun Il and Yong Kok Yeap presented themselves as businessmen in the construction industry and invited Mr. X to MKP offices in Kuala Lumpur that year, where he was made Chief Executive Officer of MKP Builders and offered 50 per cent of all future profits. The “partnership” signed on 17 September 2009 gave him the mandate to execute business and “forward” project contracts to MKP Malaysia, which would serve as the construction and financing company. When Mr. X requested full audited company financial statements and an advance payment guarantee from Han Hun Il and Yong Kok Yeap, MKP sent him the financial statement of a Hong Kong-based company with which MKP had close relations, WLS Holdings Limited (HK), and a scanned bank guarantee from a major Malaysian bank of $5 million dated 28 July 2010. Unable to confirm the guarantee, Mr. X travelled to Malaysia along with a client from Rwanda to verify the authenticity of the guarantee at the bank’s headquarters. Interactions with the bank indicated that the documents had been falsified. As a result, Mr. X severed all ties with MKP Malaysia but continued to use the company name (with no apparent reputational costs). The Ugandan and Zambian branches of MKP have undertaken numerous construction projects, many of which are linked to government financing (see annexes 91–92). MKP’s letter to the Panel directly referenced construction or artist contracts in Angola, Malaysia, Uganda and Zambia. Uganda awarded several contracts to MKP and, as recently as in September 2017, was soliciting $200 million in investment for a “MKP Holdings Ltd” project at the Moroto Marble Mine in Kasimeri-Moroto municipality. Uganda has not responded to the Panel’s enquiries. The Panel reiterates that Member States are prohibited from providing public or private financing for trade activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In addition to its mining activities, MKP also owns and operates at least three companies in Uganda: “MKP Capital Bernard Co. Limited”, “MKP Builders San Bhd” and “NH-MKP Builders Ltd.” Corporate records show that MKP Capital’s ownership is split between two Ugandan individuals; and “Edward Han” and “Young Kyong Kin” are listed on the paperwork only as “Korean”. MKP Builders San Bhd is likely a branch of one of MKP’s Malaysian companies by the same name, owned by Han Hun Il and Yong Kok Yeap. Furthermore, both MKP Capital and MKP Builders trade in Uganda under the name of “Vidas Engineering Services Company Limited”, registered as a separate entity in Uganda. Vidas has received at least four contracts (one complete, three in progress) from the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment to develop the water and sanitation systems in Ugandan cities, projects that have received funding from international development agencies, which might constitute a violation of the prohibition on the provision of public or private support for trade with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Furthermore, regarding a 2011 project that the Government of Uganda awarded MKP to build housing units, local media reported that MKP took approximately $5.2 million in advance payment and then abandoned the project. The Panel investigated the activities of Omega MKP Security Systems Zambia, which provides private security services in the country. Omega stated to the Panel that the relationship was established after the director of MKP Security Systems Zambia approached it with a proposal to set up a joint venture. This director stated that the company was seeking a strategic partner who could “fund and equip” it for security-related activities, particularly in relation to a project in which MKP Security Systems had been involved with the Government of Zambia to remotely monitor and secure the borders. According to Omega, it agreed to establish a new company with the directors of MKP Security Systems serving in their personal capacities. Omega also stated that it met Yazid Merzouk only once in 2013. The Panel notes that a photo appearing to show senior Omega staff with Yazid Merzouk has been on the MKP website since at least 3 January 2012. In its response to the Panel, MKP Malaysia characterized the relationship differently, noting that Omega MKP is a “joint venture with Omega” and asserting that Yazid Merzouk manages these activities in Zambia. Discrepancies between the accounts of these parties point to the utility of the semi-devolved and personality-driven corporate structure of MKP in reducing transparency and creating plausible deniability regarding the involvement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in, and/or benefit from, any part of the business.” (U.N., Report of the Panel of Experts Pursuant to Resolution 1874 (2009), S2018/171, March 5, 2018)


3/5-6/18:
South Korea and North Korea have agreed to hold a summit of their leaders late next month, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s top security adviser said March 6 on the outcome of his trip to the communist North. Chung Eui-yong said the third inter-Korean summit, between Moon and the North’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-un, will be held at the Peace House, a South Korean facility in the joint security area of Panmunjom located just south of the inter-Korean border. The summit, if held, would mark the first time a North Korean leader has stepped on South Korean soil since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The surprise announcement followed Chung’s two-day trip to Pyongyang as Moon’s special envoy. While in the North Korean capital, Chung and four other South Korean envoys held an unprecedented meeting with the reclusive North Korean leader. “The South and the North have agreed to set up a hotline between their leaders to allow close consultations and a reduction of military tension, while also agreeing to hold the first phone conversation before the third South-North summit,” Chung told a press briefing. North Korea has also restated its commitment to rid itself of nuclear weapons, according to Chung. “The North side clearly affirmed its commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and said it would have no reason to possess nuclear weapons should the safety of its regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed,” he said. The North also expressed its willingness to hold “candid” talks with the United States on ways to realize the denuclearization of the peninsula and normalize the countries’ bilateral ties. Chung said the North Korean leader has agreed to put the denuclearization issue on the dialogue table with the U.S. without any conditions. “Chairman Kim said the denuclearization issue may be discussed as an agenda for the North-U.S. dialogue,” he told reporters. “What we must especially pay attention to is the fact that (he) has clearly stated that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was an instruction of his predecessor and that there has been no change to such an instruction.” Chung said the North has also promised to suspend all military provocations, including nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, as long the U.S.-North Korea talks are progress. “In addition, the North promised not to use not only nuclear weapons but also conventional weapons against the South,” he added. Demonstrating the apparent thaw in inter-Korean ties, the North has invited a South Korean taekwondo demonstration team and an art performance team to perform in Pyongyang. The visit, if made, will reciprocate earlier trips to South Korea by their North Korean counterparts during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games held Feb. 9-25. Moon’s envoys to North Korea included Suh Hoon, head of the country’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service. Chung said he and Suh will soon visit Washington to explain the outcome of their North Korea trip. After their return from the U.S., Chung will visit China and Russia and Suh Japan. The four countries are members of the so-called six-party denuclearization talks, which also involve the two Koreas. The talks have been stalled since late 2008. (Byun Duk-kun, “Koreas to Hold Third Summit in Late April, Firmly Agree to Denuclearize,” Yonhap, March 6, 2018) North Korea’s state TV broadcaster on March 6 unveiled footage of leader Kim Jong-un’s meeting and dinner with a delegation of South Korean special envoys a day earlier. The North’s leader held “openhearted” talks with the South’s envoys over “important and sensitive” issues to bring peace and security to the Korean Peninsula, according to the Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station. (Yonhap, “N. Korea TV Airs Footage of Kim’s Meeting with S. Korean Envoys,” March 6, 2018) The five envoys attended a meeting and dinner hosted by North Korean leader Kim for four hours and 12 minutes starting from 6 p.m. on March 5. After further talks with North Korean officials, the delegation returned to Seoul at 5:58 p.m. March 6 and briefed Moon about its trip. Chung, then, held a media conference to announce the outcome of his visit. According to Kim Eui-kyeom, Moon’s spokesman, the meeting and dinner hosted by Kim took place in his office at the headquarters of the North Korean Workers’ Party. “It is the first time that South Korean officials visited the Workers’ Party headquarters,” he said. Kim attended the meeting with two close aides: his younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who serves as the first vice director of the Central Committee within the Workers’ Party, and Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. Following the meeting, the envoys and the three North Korean leaders attended a dinner, where more members of Pyongyang’s power elite were gathered. Kim Jong-un’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, attended as well as Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, Maeng Kyong-il, deputy director of the United Front Department and Kim Chang-son, chief secretary to the North Korean leader. (Ser Myo-ja, “North Agrees to Talks with U.S.,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 6, 2018) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised dismantlement of his country’s nuclear weapons program — not merely a freeze — when he met with South Korean envoys last week in Pyongyang, multiple government sources told JoongAng Ilbo on March 11. “Kim expressed willingness for denuclearization, which includes not only a nuclear freeze but also dismantlement,” said one source familiar with the talks. “Now is the moment where we have to wait and see if the North will actually start the process of dismantling its nuclear program.” Kim’s message of denuclearization was also briefed to the Trump administration, another government source said. “The briefing to the White House included Kim’s promise that he was willing to commit to the denuclearization that the United States wants,” the source said. Diplomatic ties with the United States before the end of this year,” another South Korean government source said. “If the North-U.S. summit takes place in May, there will be astounding changes in the geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula.” (Ser Myo-ja, “Kim Is Willing to Dismantle Nukes,” Seoul Says,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 11, 2018)

Following is an unofficial translation of the statement issued by South Korea’s special envoys to the North on their return from a two-day visit to Pyongyang, during which they met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. 1. The two Koreas agreed to convene the third inter-Korean summit at the Peace House of Panmunjom in late April. To achieve this, the two parties agreed to hold working-level consultations. 2. In order to ease military confrontation and foster further consultation, the two Koreas agreed to establish a hotline between the two countries’ heads of state. 3. North Korea showed its resolve for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The North also made clear that there is no reason for them to possess nuclear weapons as long as military threats to the North are eliminated and the regime’s security is guaranteed. 4. North Korea expressed its willingness to begin earnest negotiations with the US to discuss denuclearization issues and normalize North Korea-US relations. 5. North Korea made clear it will not resume strategic provocations such as additional nuclear tests or ballistic missile tests while the dialogue continues. 6. In order to sustain a reconciliatory and cooperative mood following Pyeongchang Olympics, North Korea invited a South Korean taekwondo demonstration team and art troupe to Pyongyang. (Yeo Jun-suk, “Text of Special Envoy’s Statement after N.K. Trip,” March 6, 2018)

KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, received the members of a delegation of special envoy of the south Korean president who arrived in Pyongyang on Monday [March 5]. Present there were Jong Ui Yong, chief of the State Security Office of Chongwadae who is special envoy of President Moon Jae In; So Hun, director of the National Intelligence Service; Chon Hae Song, vice-minister of Unification; Kim Sang Gyun, vice-director of the National Intelligence Service; and Yun Kon Yong, chief of the State Affairs Office of Chongwadae. Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the WPK, and Kim Yo Jong, first vice department director of the Central Committee of the WPK were on hand. Shaking hands of the special envoy and his party one by one, respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un warmly welcomed them to Pyongyang. Jong Ui Yong courteously conveyed a personal letter of President Moon Jae In to the Supreme Leader. The members of the special envoy delegation presented gratitude to the Supreme Leader for having dispatched high-level delegations and various large-scale delegations with the 23rd Winter Olympics as a momentum to ensure its successful holding. Expressing thanks for this, Kim Jong Un said it is natural to share the joy over an auspicious event of fellow countrymen of the same blood and help them. The recent Winter Olympics served as a very important occasion in displaying the stamina and prestige of our nation and providing a good atmosphere of reconciliation, unity and dialogue between the north and the south, he added. Then he had an openhearted talk with the south side’s special envoy delegation over the matters arising in actively improving the north-south relations and ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. He repeatedly clarified that it is our consistent and principled stand and his fixed will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world. After being told about President Moon Jae In’s intention for a summit by the special envoy of the south side, the Supreme Leader exchanged views and reached a satisfactory agreement. He gave an important instruction to the relevant field to rapidly take practical steps for it. He also had an exchange of in-depth views on the issues for easing the acute military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange between the north and the south. The talk proceeded in a compatriotic and sincere atmosphere. Kim Jong Un had a photo session with the members of the delegation.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong Un Meets Delegation of Special Envoy of S. Korean President,” March 6, 2018)

President Donald Trump said there is “possible progress” in talks with North Korea after the regime floated its willingness to give up its nuclear weapons. “Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!” (Yonhap, “Trump Sees ‘Possible Progress’ in Talks with N. Korea,” March 6, 2018)

The Japanese government appeared bewildered by the just-announced agreement between the two Koreas to hold a summit in late April, as it had warned against easing pressure on North Korea amid a diplomatic thaw with South Korea. “We must carefully assess whether this will lead North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile development programs … There is no need to ease pressure until it is confirmed that North Korea is going to change its policies,” Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori said. Tokyo is concerned that Pyongyang may be buying time to further develop its nuclear weapons. “We have an impression that things are moving quite enthusiastically,” a government official said, apparently stunned by the growing conciliatory mood after numerous missile tests and other provocations. “We don’t know if it’s real,” a source close to Japan-South Korea relations said, referring to Seoul’s announcement that North Korea has also voiced a readiness to hold talks with the United States about denuclearization. The South Korean government said it will send to Japan Suh Hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, to explain the outcome of the talks. Earlier today, the Japanese government said it was confident South Korea remains committed to putting pressure on its northern neighbor over its nuclear program. Asked if South Korea’s commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea is wavering due to its priority on dialogue with the North, Foreign Minister Kono Taro said that is not the case. “Japan, the United States and South Korea are in close alignment with each other, so there is no such thing,” Kono told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. “North Korea is desperately trying to use ‘smile diplomacy’ because sanctions are taking effect,” Kono said. The head of a group of families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago called on the Japanese government to use the latest development as a “chance” to resolve the abduction issue. “We are hoping for the early return of the victims by any means no matter what the situation may be,” said 79-year-old Iizuka Shigeo, whose younger sister Taguchi Yaeko was kidnapped in 1978 at age 22. “We want the government to make efforts so that the abduction issue will be included in the agendas to be discussed during the inter-Korean summit,” he said. The Japanese government officially lists 17 citizens as having been abducted by North Korean agents and suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances of Japanese nationals. (Kyodo, “Japan Perplexed over Agreement on Inter-Korean Summit,” March 6, 2018)

Two top U.S. intelligence chiefs expressed skepticism of North Korea’s offer to hold talks with the U.S. to end the regime’s nuclear program and suspend missile testing. “All efforts in the past have failed and have simply bought North Korea time to achieve what they want to achieve,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “Maybe this is a breakthrough. I seriously doubt it.” U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, who is the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s proposition was “kind of a show-me.” In his opening remarks at the Senate on Tuesday, Ashley said the North Korean leader “shows no interest in walking away from his nuclear or ballistic missile programs.” He added that Kim has “pressed his nation down a path to develop nuclear weapons and deliver them with ballistic missiles that can reach South Korea, Japan, Guam and the United States.” Ashley said he believes that “additional missile launches — from short range to intercontinental range — are a near certainty” as are further nuclear tests. In addition, North Korea may have a stockpile of chemical agents, such as “nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents.” (Amanda Macias, “Top U.S. Intelligence Officials Are Skeptical of North Korea’s Offer to Talk about Its Nuclear Weapons Program,” CNBC, March 6, 2018)


3/6/18:
PRESIDENT TRUMP: … “The United States is also grateful to Sweden for advocating for Americans detained in North Korea. I particularly want to thank the Swedish government for its assistance in securing the release of American college student Otto Warmbier last year. Terrible, tragic event. We continue to pray for Otto’s parents, Fred and Cindy — two terrific people — over the tragic death of their son. And we remain determined to achieve a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And there’s been a lot of news on that today. Hopefully, it’s positive. Hopefully, it will lead to a very positive result. … PRIME MINISTER LÖFVEN: Okay. Tina, TT News Agency. Q So, Mr. President, thank you for hosting us. You mentioned that Sweden has helped the United States with North Korea. How do you see your collaboration in the future to create a future of a peaceful Korean Peninsula? How do you see Sweden’s role there? How do you both view the collaboration? And as a follow-up to that, if I may — Mr. President, I know that you follow the development in Sweden closely, especially when it comes to immigration politics. Now that you’ve spent some time with our Prime Minister, how do you view Sweden in general? What is your take? And also, on our immigration politics? Thank you. … What about the collaboration on North Korea? PRESIDENT TRUMP: We’ve been working on North Korea. Sweden has somewhat of a relationship with North Korea. We’ve been working with North Korea. As I said, Otto was really brought home, unfortunately in very poor condition, but Otto was brought home largely with the help of Sweden. They’re terrific — terrific people. People from Sweden, the Swedish people, are fantastic people. I have many friends in New York and Washington from Sweden, and they are fantastic people. Thank you. Q And, Mr. Prime Minister, how do you view Sweden and North Korea and the U.S.? PRIME MINISTER LÖFVEN: We have to find a dialogue. I know it’s not easy, but that’s the way it has to be. It’s a very dangerous situation, and we need all to be very concerned about the development of nuclear weapons. But we must look at the Peninsula, the region, the world, and this has to do with world peace or something else. So the key actors is obviously the two countries, South and North Korea, as well as the United States and other big countries. They’re the key actors. We’ve said that we can provide — we can be a channel or do whatever we can to see that the dialogue is smooth. Not being naïve. It’s not up to us to solve this problem, but we can definitely, with our long presence on the Peninsula — both in South and North. We have an embassy in Pyongyang, for example. We’ve had that since 1973. So with that relation with North Korea, I believe that they trust us. We are a non-aligning country, and — on military, non-aligning country. And I think if we can — if the President decides, the key actors decide if they want us to help out, we’ll be there. PRESIDENT TRUMP: They really have been terrific. Really terrific. Saagar Enjeti, Daily Caller. Please, Saagar. Q .Thank you, Mr. President. Since it’s my first time before you, I thought you might indulge me with two questions. First, sir, do you believe that North Korea’s recent willingness to talk is sincere, or is it an effort to buy time for their nuclear program? And to what do you owe this recent openness to talk? PRESIDENT TRUMP: Me. No, I think that — (laughter). Nobody got that. (Laughter.) I think that they are sincere, but I think they’re sincere also because the sanctions and what we’re doing with respect to North Korea, including, you know, the great help that we’ve been given from China. And they can do more, but I think they’ve done more than, certainly, they’ve ever done for our country before. So China has been a big help. I think that’s been a factor. But the sanctions have been very, very strong and very biting. And we don’t want that to happen. So I really believe they are sincere. I hope they’re sincere. We’re going to soon find out. … ” (White House, Office of the Spokesman, Remarks by President Trump with Prime Minister Lofven of Sweden in Joint Press Conference,” March 6, 2018)

John Bolton meets with President Trump in the Oval Office: “We started off talking about North Korea, and I explained I thought Kim Jong Un was trying to buy time to finish the relatively few (albeit critical) tasks still necessary to achieve a deliverable nuclear-weapons capability. That meant that Kim Jong Un now especially feared military force; he knew economic sanctions alone wouldn’t prevent him from reaching that goal. I wasn’t quite sure Trump got the point, but I also raised reports of North Korea’s selling chemical-weapons equipment and precursor chemicals to Syria, likely financed by Iran. If true, this linkage could be pivotal for both North Korea and Iran, showing just how dangerous Pyongyang was: now selling chemical weapons, soon enough selling nuclear weapons. I urged him to use this argument to justify both exiting the Iran nuclear deal and taking a harder line on North Korea. Kelly agreed and urged me to keep pounding away in public, which I assured him I would.” (John Bolton, The Room Where It Happened (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), pp. 28-29)


3/7/18:
President Moon Jae-in expressed hope for the start of U.S.-North Korea dialogue, insisting that the North’s recent offer to freeze its nuclear and missile activities have created the right conditions for at least what he called “preliminary” talks on the resumption of denuclearization talks. “Right now, there is nothing that has been settled. We only believe that at least the United States’ conditions for selective talks, preliminary talks, have been met based on our consultations so far with the U.S.,” the president said while meeting with the leaders of five political parties at his office Cheong Wa Dae. (Yonhap, “Moon Says Conditions Now Right for U.S.-DPRK Talks,” March 7, 2018)

Japan plans to work with the United States and South Korea to push for inspections of North Korean nuclear facilities to verify the North’s intentions to denuclearize, sources close to the matter said. According to the sources, Japan wants to push for North Korea to let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency into its nuclear facilities, primarily the Yongbyon nuclear complex around 100 kilometers north of Pyongyang. “Inspections of the Yongbyon facility are essential in verifying North Korea’s denuclearization,” a source said. The U.N. nuclear watchdog has not had direct access to North Korean facilities since its inspectors were expelled in 2009. The call for the inspectors reflects Japan’s dissatisfaction with North Korea’s agreement to merely freeze its nuclear and missile tests. “It reads as if the development (of the weapons) will continue,” a Foreign Ministry source said. (Kyodo, “Japan to Seek Int’l Verification of N. Korean Nuclear Pledge,” March 7, 2018)


3/8/18:
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have agreed to meet by May to discuss the denuclearization of the regime, South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters at the White House. “President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.” Kim said he is “committed to denuclearization” and will “refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests,” said Chung, who led a five-member presidential delegation to a meeting with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang on March 5. Chung said he expressed to Trump in their meeting earlier in the day South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s “personal gratitude” for his leadership on the North Korea issue. “His leadership and his maximum pressure policy together with international solidarity brought us to this juncture,” Chung said. “President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.” North Korea has in the past demanded the abolition of joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises that it sees as dress rehearsals for an invasion and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South. “(Kim) understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue,” Chung said. “The Republic of Korea, the United States and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete action.” (Yonhap, “Trump, Kim Agree to Meet by May: Seoul Envoy,” March 8, 2018) In a dramatic shift in geopolitics, U.S. President Donald Trump accepted an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to meet for talks about denuclearization, and a summit will be held by May. Trump was said to have immediately agreed to meeting with Kim when Chung raised Kim’s invitation. “The hidden card was Kim Jong-un saying he wanted to meet in person with President Trump,” a Blue House official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Rather than exploratory or preliminary talks, it indicates he wants to meet and arrive on a settlement right away.” (Sarah Kim, “Trump, Kim to Hold Summit by May,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 10, 2018)

The president expressed his optimism about the meeting in a post on Twitter, saying that Kim had “talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze.” “Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time,” Trump added. “Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!” For Trump, a meeting with Kim is a breathtaking gamble. No sitting American president has ever met a North Korean leader, and Trump himself has repeatedly vowed that he would not commit the error of his predecessors by being drawn into a protracted negotiation in which North Korea extracted concessions from the United States but held on to key elements of its nuclear program. Behind the scenes, events unfolded even more haphazardly. Trump was not scheduled to meet Chung until tomorrow, but when he heard that the envoy was in the West Wing seeing other officials, the president summoned him to the Oval Office, according to a senior administration official. Trump, the official said, then asked Chung to tell him about his meeting with Kim. When Chung said that the North Korean leader had expressed a desire to meet Trump, the president immediately said he would do it, and directed Chung to announce it to the White House press corps. Chung, nonplused, said he first needed approval from President Moon, who quickly granted it in a phone call. Trump later called Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of Japan, and the two discussed coordinating diplomatic efforts. Trump also plans to call President Xi Jinping of China. By day’s end, dazed White House officials were discussing whether Trump would invite Kim to come to the United States. That seemed entirely likely, the senior administration official said, though American officials doubt the North Korean leader would accept. Embarking on a high-level negotiation will pose a stiff challenge to the administration. People briefed by the administration said it had done little planning for how a negotiation with the North would unfold. The State Department’s chief North Korea negotiator, Joseph Yun, recently announced his departure from the Foreign Service. The White House also scotched a plan to nominate another experienced negotiator, Victor Cha, as ambassador to Seoul. North Korea, by contrast, appears to have planned its diplomatic overture methodically, starting with Kim’s conciliatory message toward the South in his New Year’s Day address, and continuing through the North’s charm offensive during the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. The South Korean envoys said they were carrying additional messages from North Korea, but an American official said that the envoys did not deliver a letter from Kim. In South Korea, people greeted the news of a meeting between Kim and Trump with relief. South Koreans had nervously watched the peninsula edge toward the brink of a possible military conflict last year. “We hope that these developments will become an important turning point for realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and firmly establishing peace there,” Lee Yu-jin, a government spokeswoman, said March 9. (Mark Landler, “North Korea Asks for Direct Talks, and Trump Agrees,” New York Times, March 9, 2018, p. A-1)

ROK National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong: “Good evening. Today, I had the privilege of briefing President Trump on my recent visit to Pyongyang, North Korea. I’d like to thank President Trump, the vice president, and his wonderful national security team, including my close friend, Gen. McMaster. I explained to President Trump that his leadership and his maximum pressure policy, together with international solidarity, brought us to this juncture. I expressed President Moon Jae-in’s personal gratitude for President Trump’s leadership. I told President Trump that, in our meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is committed to denuclearization. Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests. He understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue. And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible. President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization. The Republic of Korea, along with the United States, Japan and our many partners around the world remain fully and resolutely committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Along with President Trump, we are optimistic about continuing a diplomatic process to test the possibility of a peaceful resolution. The Republic of Korea, the United States, and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions.” (UPI, “Full Remarks: South Korean Envoy Announces Trump to Meet with Kim,” March 8, 2018)

White House statement: “President Donald J. Trump spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan to discuss the situation in North Korea and to continue the close coordination between our two countries. President Trump and Prime Minister Abe assessed that the maximum pressure policy, together with international solidarity, brought us to this critical juncture. The leaders affirmed their strong intention to continue close trilateral coordination with South Korea to maintain pressure and enforce international sanctions until such point that North Korea takes tangible steps toward complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization. President Trump expressed his hope that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s invitation signals his desire to give the North Korean people a brighter future.” (White House Office of the Press, Readout of President Donald J. Trump’s Call with Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of Japan,” March 8, 2018)

Senior Administration Official: “Today, he was briefed by President Moon’s — a couple of national security officials — his National Security Advisor Chung Eui-Yong and his Intelligence Director Suh Hoon — who came into the Oval, gave a briefing to the President, as well as several Cabinet officials — General McMaster, Secretary Mattis, Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan, Chief of Staff General Kelly, Director Dan Coats, and CIA Deputy Director Gina Haskell … and conveyed a message from Kim Jong-un to the President. Part of that message was a commitment to denuclearize. It also was a commitment to refrain from testing nuclear weapons or missiles. And it was also an indication — oh, and I would also add that Kim Jong-un had made clear that he understands that routine defensive exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue — or something that will continue. And he conveyed that he wants to meet with President Trump as quickly as possible. And so President Trump has agreed to accept an invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un in a matter of a couple of months. And the exact timing and place is still to be determined. … Q Hi, I’m Dave Nakamura with the Washington Post. A couple quick things. There’s never been a face-to-face meeting or even phone call, I believe, between sitting leaders of the two countries. Why not start with meetings at a lower level? And what gives you the confidence that this is not — you even, I think, mentioned in a call the other day — something that could be less than advertised? And you’re already, sort of, agreeing without maybe — as you said, there’s not even a written letter. Isn’t that somewhat risky? And then the other thing I’m wondering is also — have you gotten any sense that there would be any talk about the North Koreans showing some goodwill by releasing the other Americans who are being held there, given the President’s clear interest in detainees, including Otto Warmbier? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks, Dave, for the question. You know, President Trump was elected in part because he is willing to do — take approaches very, very different from past approaches and past Presidents. That couldn’t be better exemplified than it is in his North Korea policy. Literally, going back to 1992, the United States has engaged in direct talks at low levels with the North Koreans, and I think that history speaks for itself. In the case we have right now is — what we have now is an invitation from the leader of North Korea. As President Moon expressed, he believes that we’re at this juncture precisely because of the approach that President Trump has taken with maximum pressure. President Trump made his reputation on making deals. Kim Jong-un is the one person who is able to make decisions under their authoritarian — uniquely authoritarian — or totalitarian system. And so it made sense to accept an invitation to meet with the one person who can actually make decisions instead of repeating the, sort of, long slog of the past. Okay, we’ve got to cut there.” (White House Office of the Press, Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on North Korea Announcement, March 8, 2018)

After President Trump signed an order imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, nations vied for exemptions. South Korea made an impassioned appeal to the American secretary of defense and national security adviser, reminding them of its role trying to defang North Korea. The envoys urged Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, to intervene for the sake of the alliance, said Kim Eui-kyeom, the spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Whether the appeals will work is an open question. Despite South Korea’s critical role in defusing tensions with North Korea, the Trump administration has claimed the country is a conduit for Chinese steel evading anti-dumping rules — a practice known as transshipping. South Korean officials have argued that only 2.4 percent of steel exported to the United States in 2016 used Chinese material. Seoul is badly in need of a free pass for its steel industry. The country accounts for almost 10 percent of United States steel imports and stands to suffer the most from tariffs. That highlights a problem with Trump’s protectionist thrust: Most of the producers hurt are friends, or at least thought they were. American allies were particularly floored by Trump’s justification for the tariffs. He invoked a provision of W.T.O. rules that allows countries to impose trade restrictions in the interest of national security. “How India or any other country could be a threat to the U.S. within the steel industry, I don’t know,” said Shivramkrishnan Hariharan, the commercial director of Essar Steel, a large steel manufacturer based in Mumbai. The national security argument seemed even weaker when applied to South Korea or European countries that have formal military alliances with the United States. While foreign officials said they hoped to use diplomacy to win exemptions to the steel and aluminum tariffs, they also reserved the right to get nasty. The European Union, South Korea and others said they would file complaints with the W.T.O., which under international treaties has the power to resolve trade disputes. (Jack Ewing, “Threats, Pleas and a Golf Great: Nations’ Tactics for Tariff Relief,” New York Times, March 10, 2018, p. A-1)

A group of 11 nations — including major United States allies like Japan, Canada and Australia — signed a broad trade deal in Chile’s capital, Santiago, that challenges Trump’s view of trade as a zero-sum game filled with winners and losers. Covering 500 million people on either side of the Pacific Ocean, the pact represents a new vision for global trade on the day the United States imposes steel and aluminum tariffs on even some of its closest friends. Trump withdrew the United States from an earlier version of the agreement, then known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a year ago as one of his first acts in office. “Globally, there has been an increasing level of uncertainty, given the adoption of policies and measures by some key players that question the principles that have contributed to generating prosperity for our peoples,” President Michelle Bachelet of Chile said in a speech shortly before the pact was signed. “We need to stay on the course of globalization, yet learning from our past mistakes.” In its original incarnation as the TPP, the accord was conceived as a counterweight to China, whose vast economy was drawing other Asian countries closer despite its state-driven model and steep trade barriers. Not only does the pact lower trade barriers, it could also prod Beijing to make changes to enjoy the same benefits. When President Obama was advocating the deal, he said that “America should call the shots” instead of China. Now, signatories are opening the door for China to join. Heraldo Muñoz, Chile’s foreign minister, told reporters this afternoon that Chinese officials had been weighing the possibility of signing on. “This will be open to anyone who accepts its components,” Muñoz said. “It’s not an agreement against anyone. It’s in favor of open trade.” The new agreement — known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — drops tariffs drastically and establishes sweeping new trade rules in markets that represent about a seventh of the world’s economy. It opens more markets to free trade in agricultural products and digital services around the region. While American beef faces 38.5 percent tariffs in Japan, for example, beef from Australia, New Zealand and Canada will not. Other members include Mexico, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Brunei. The deal will go into effect as soon as the legislative bodies of at least three signers ratify it. How long that will take is unclear. China, which has discussed forming its own regional trade pact, has been more positive about the new deal since the United States pulled out. It sent a high-level delegation a year ago to Viña del Mar, Chile, where the pact’s members sought to regroup after the United States’ withdrawal. Experts said China could feel the pull if still more countries joined. The pact is also built around fostering trade in sophisticated manufactured goods and high-tech products, and China now produces many of those in abundance. Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said on Thursday that the government hoped free-trade agreements in the region would play “a constructive role in their respective fields in resisting trade protectionism and building an open world economy.” The new version of the TPP does not pack the same punch as the earlier iteration. With the United States, the agreement would have represented 40 percent of the world’s economy, giving its provisions added heft. In an interview at the World Economic Forum earlier this year, Trump said, “If we did a substantially better deal, I would be open to TPP.” Steven Mnuchin, the United States Treasury secretary, said he had held discussions about the prospect of rekindling American membership in the pact, though at a congressional hearing in February, he said it was not a priority. The Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington estimates that if five other places — Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand — joined the partnership, the annual increase to global income would total $449 billion by 2030, almost as much as it would have been if the United States were included. In the deal signed on Thursday, only 22 of more than 600 original provisions have been suspended, relating to intellectual property protection and a grab bag of other issues, several of which had been pushed by the United States. Umemoto Kazuyoshi, Japan’s chief negotiator for the partnership, said that if the United States decided to re-enter the deal, those provisions could be reinstated. (Ernesto Londoño and Motoko, “Allies Sign Sweeping Pacific Trade Accord in a Challenge to Trump,” New York Times, March 9, 2018, p. A-10)

Summoned to the Oval Office on the spur of the moment, the South Korean envoy found himself face to face with President Trump one afternoon last week at what he thought might be a hinge moment in history. Chung Eui-yong had come to the White House bearing an invitation. But he opened with flattery, which diplomats have discovered is a key to approaching the volatile American leader. “We could come this far thanks to a great degree to President Trump,” Chung said. “We highly appreciate this fact.” Then he got to the point: The United States, South Korea and their allies should not repeat their “past mistakes,” but South Korea believed that North Korea’s mercurial leader, Kim Jong-un, was “frank and sincere” when he said he wanted to talk with the Americans about giving up his nuclear program. Kim, he added, had told the South Koreans that if Trump would join him in an unprecedented summit meeting, the two could produce a historic breakthrough. Trump accepted on the spot, stunning not only Chung and the other high-level South Koreans who were with him, but also the phalanx of American officials who were gathered in the Oval Office. His advisers had assumed the president would take more time to discuss such a decision with them first. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, both expressed caution. If you go ahead with this, they told Trump, there will be risks and downsides. Trump brushed them off. I get it, I get it, he said. The story of how this came about, assembled through interviews with officials and analysts from the United States, South Korea, Japan and China, is a case study in international relations in the Trump era. A president with no prior foreign policy experience takes on a festering conflict that has vexed the world for years with a blend of impulse and improvisation, and with no certain outcome. One moment, he is hurling playground insults and threatening nuclear war, the next he is offering the validation of a presidential meeting. For the opening ceremony, on February 9, Kim sent his sister, Kim Yo-jong, while Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence. The vice president was told of a possible meeting with North Korean officials at the Games if he would tone down his message, not talk about sanctions, not meet with defectors and not bring along Fred Warmbier, whose son, Otto, an American student, died soon after being released from captivity in North Korea. Pence opted to do all of those anyway to show resolve, and the North Koreans canceled the meeting at the last minute. Taking the hardline position he believed the president wanted him to take, a grim-faced Pence refused to stand for the entry of the joint Korean team that included athletes from both North and South and made a point of refusing to greet Kim’s sister, who was just 10 feet away. Pence’s failure to stand was taken as an insult to Moon and the South Korean public, undercutting the vice president’s intent to show solidarity with an ally. Moon had been determined to bring the Americans and North Koreans together, to the irritation of the American delegation, which believed that he was deliberately trying to stage-manage an encounter they considered awkward and inappropriate. Moon, by contrast, hosted Ms. Kim for a lavish luncheon at the presidential Blue House, and she surprised him with a letter from her brother. She told Moon that her brother wanted to convene a summit meeting at an early date. The two spent nearly three hours together, with Moon doing most of the talking. He said that he really wanted to meet Kim and improve ties, but that there was a limit to how far he could go without progress in dismantling the North’s nuclear program. He urged North Korea to talk to the Americans and said they needed to hurry so as not to lose the rare momentum from the spirit of the Olympics visits. After the unfortunate optics from Pence’s visit and what some viewed as a missed opportunity, Trump sent his daughter, Ivanka Trump, to the closing ceremony of the Games. She had dinner with Moon at the Blue House and briefed him on new sanctions her father would impose on North Korea, then made a public statement to reporters reaffirming the American strategy of “maximum pressure.” Briefed by Pence’s staff, Ms. Trump and her team were “incredibly forceful,” as one official put it, in going over the seating plan for the box and the timing and sequencing of arrivals to avoid any surprises. Ms. Trump proffered a smiling, more open image that went over better in South Korea. She stood for the South Korean athletes, who this time entered the stadium separately from their compatriots from the North, and posed for photographs with famous Korean pop stars. But she too made a point of sending a message; for her guest in the box, she brought Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of American forces in South Korea. When she attended a curling event, Ms. Trump’s team received word that the North Koreans were on their way in what the Americans thought was an effort to make a scene or prompt her to leave in an embarrassing spectacle. Ms. Trump decided to stay, and the North Koreans in the end did not come. With the Olympics over, Moon sent two trusted aides on a two-day trip to Pyongyang: Chung, his national security adviser, and Suh Hoon, his National Intelligence Service director. Flying north, they knew that they were meeting Kim but not when. After landing in Pyongyang, they were taken to a riverside guesthouse where they found their rooms equipped with the internet and access to foreign television channels, including CNN. They could even surf South Korean websites, a rare privilege in the totalitarian state. As soon as they unpacked, Kim Yong-chol, a general who heads inter-Korean relations, showed up and said that they were meeting Kim that evening. Black limousines took the South Koreans to Azalea Hall in the ruling Workers’ Party headquarters, Kim’s workplace. They found Kim and his sister waiting to greet them with broad smiles. Chung and Suh were the first South Koreans to set foot inside the party headquarters since the Korean War. Chung had barely launched into his talking points when Kim said “I know” and “I understand you.” Then he laid out his proposal: talks with the United States on denuclearizing his country; a suspension of nuclear and missile tests during the talks; and his understanding that the United States and South Korea must proceed with annual joint military exercises. The South Koreans found Kim to be an extremely confident leader. He was closely following foreign news media, knew how he was depicted, and even joked about it. He had studied Moon’s speeches and overtures toward the North. He even joked about his missile launches. “I was sorry to hear that President Moon Jae-in had to convene his National Security Council meetings early in the morning because of our missile launchings,” he told the South Koreans. “Now, he won’t lose his early morning sleep any more.” Kim agreed to open a direct hotline to Moon. “Now if working-level talks are deadlocked and if our officials act like arrogant blockheads, President Moon can just call me directly and the problem will be solved,” he said. And, he added, he was eager to hold a summit meeting with his South Korean counterpart. The South Koreans suggested Pyongyang, Seoul and Panmunjom as possible sites and asked Kim to choose. Kim said he would come to the Peace House, a South Korean building inside Panmunjom. The meeting and dinner, complete with wines and traditional Korean liquor, lasted from 6 p.m. to 10:12 p.m. with much laughter and bonhomie. After returning to Seoul on March 6, the South Korean officials briefed Moon and then South Korean reporters. After his news conference, Chung called General McMaster and told him that he was carrying a message from Kim to Trump. Only several people at the Blue House knew that the message included a proposal for a meeting with Trump. Chung and Suh flew to Washington, arriving on the morning of March 8. By the afternoon, they were at the White House, meeting separately with General McMaster and Gina Haspel, the deputy C.I.A. director. The four then got together and were soon joined by other American officials, including Pence, Mattis, Dan Coats, the national intelligence director, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff. Joined by their ambassador to Washington, the South Korean visitors were not supposed to meet with Trump until the next day, but when he heard they were in the building, he called them to the Oval Office. Kim’s invitation to meet was not a complete surprise to Trump’s team. An American official said they had learned about it from intelligence agencies, so that morning, before the arrival of the South Koreans, Trump talked by phone with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who was traveling in Africa, about the possibility. What he did not tell Tillerson was that he would accept. Trump was eager enough, however, that once he said yes, they discussed a meeting as early as next month. The South Koreans suggested it would be better to wait until after Moon’s summit meeting with Kim in April, which led to a target of May. Not only did Trump surprise the South Koreans by accepting immediately, he even suggested that they make the public announcement right there and then at the White House. A stunned Chung retreated to General McMaster’s office to draft a statement in collaboration with the Americans. Then, using a secure telephone line, he called Moon early in the morning in Seoul to get his approval. Elated, Trump stuck his head into the White House briefing room to tell reporters there would be an important announcement soon, something he had never done before. Some of the president’s advisers objected to the idea of a foreign official making a statement from the White House lectern, so they had him do it instead on the White House driveway, where visitors typically speak with reporters. Still, it was highly unusual for a foreign official to announce an American president’s decision in a major international situation. Trump’s quick decision caught many off guard, including Tillerson and American allies. Congressional leaders and top officials at the Pentagon and the State Department learned what was happening from news reports. The fact that it came on the same day that the president slapped stiff new tariffs on imported steel that would hit South Korea and Japan hard indicated how hasty and unplanned it was. While Chung headed to the driveway, Trump hurriedly called Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of Japan to let him know. Abe has worked assiduously to cultivate a close relationship with Trump and taken a hard line on North Korea, but he was left out of the loop, a fact that stung. “I have an impression that the Japanese are not quite well informed,” said Mine Yoshiki, head of a previous Japanese delegation seeking normalized relations with North Korea. “What we have been told is awfully out of tune, I should say.” Trump did not reach President Xi Jinping of China until the next morning “President Xi told me he appreciates that the U.S. is working to solve the problem diplomatically rather than going with the ominous alternative,” the president wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “China continues to be helpful!” But in response to Trump’s planned meeting, China is engaged in what some call “exclusion anxiety,” [?] worried about being shut out. China would like the meeting to be held in Beijing, where six-nation talks were held with North Korea during President George W. Bush’s administration, but Chinese analysts doubt Kim would agree. To his advisers, Trump has said he is impressed that Kim at such a young age has outmaneuvered almost everyone, but he has added that the North Korean leader is a wild card. Of course, so is he. Trump vacillates between confidence and fatalism when it comes to North Korea. For the moment, he is optimistic. “North Korea has not conducted a Missile Test since November 28, 2017 and has promised not to do so through our meetings,” he wrote on Twitter on March 10. “I believe they will honor that commitment!” (Peter Baker and Choe Sang-Hun, “With Snap ‘Yes,’ Trump Rolls Dice On North Korea,” New York Times, March 11, 2018, p. A-1)

Washington’s top diplomat Rex Tillerson, who is in Ethiopia on his first-ever Africa tour, said, “I think as President Trump has indicated, (there are) potentially positive signals coming from North Korea by way of their intra-Korean dialogue with South Korea.” But “in terms of direct talks … we’re a long way from negotiations, we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” he told journalists. He said a first step would be “talks about talks” to see if “conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations.” (“U.S. ‘a Long Way’ from Negotiations with N. Korea: Tillerson,” AFP, March 8, 2018)

At a dinner hosted by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a delegation from the South this week, a bespectacled official leaned forward to talk to a grinning Kim — a scene captured in a photograph displayed prominently in the North’s largest newspaper. That man, Suh Hoon, is South Korea’s top spy, tasked with running espionage operations targeting the North and analyzing intelligence on potential threats. For years he has also played a central role in behind-the-scenes diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang and its autocratic Kim dynasty. The 63-year-old career intelligence officer was instrumental in back-channel contacts that led to the two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007. In both those cases, Suh met extensively with Kim’s father, North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jong Il. Suh — who is set to travel to Washington to brief U.S. officials on his visit to the North and Kim’s assertions that he is open to disarmament talks — has supported engagement with Pyongyang, while at the same time expressing deep doubts about the North’s trustworthiness and intentions. He is also a vocal supporter of Seoul’s alliance with Washington, and told South Korean lawmakers last year that the country should flatly reject any calls by North Korea to remove U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula — even if North Korea promises to dismantle its nuclear programs. Intelligence officers have long played a key role as go-betweens with the North. In 1972, South Korea’s president sent his spy chief on a secret mission to Pyongyang, resulting in the first joint inter-Korean communiqué. Suh, born just months after the cease-fire that halted the Korean War in 1953, has spent much of his adult life focused on the rival regime to the North. He joined his country’s intelligence agency in 1979 and for the next 28 years worked his way up the ranks. In July 1997, he became the first South Korean official to be sent to live in the North, as part of efforts to construct light-water reactors in the North following a 1994 deal between Pyongyang and Washington to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program. For the next two years, Suh lived in Sinpo, a city on North Korea’s east coast. Dealing with his North Korean interlocutors was difficult, he recalled in a 2008 book. “Even small things like the freedom to walk over to a local restaurant, walking by the beachfront near where I stayed and taking care of minor traffic incidents all needed to be negotiated with the North Koreans,” he wrote. “These negotiations were never easy.” He gained more experience in following years, working to arrange summit meetings between the two sides — a process that involved spending time with North Korea’s previous leader, Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un. “Kim Jong Il was fond of Suh,” said Chung Dong-young, a former unification minister and current lawmaker who traveled to the North with Suh in 2005. In that meeting, aimed at persuading North Korea to return to denuclearization talks, Chung said he, Suh, and Kim Jong Il spent five hours together. “Suh is likely to have a lot of small talk he can make with Kim Jong Un. And talking about Kim Jong Un’s father is likely to lighten the mood,” Chung said. In 2008, Suh wrote a doctoral dissertation on the aims of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons programs, arguing that they were aimed ultimately at letting Pyongyang strike some kind of security deal with Washington. “The North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons cannot persist as an eternal strategy,” Suh wrote in his dissertation, which was later published as a book. “Eventually, such a foreign policy will become an institutional constraint limiting North Korea’s growth.” (Jonathan Cheng and Andrew Jeong, “Seoul’s Top Spy Has Played Key Role in Outreach Efforts,” Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2018)


3/9/18:
A day after President Trump accepted an invitation to meet Kim Jong-un of North Korea, the White House began planning a high-level diplomatic encounter so risky and seemingly far-fetched that some of Trump’s aides believe it will never happen. The administration is already deliberating over the logistics and location of the meeting, with a senior State Department diplomat noting that the most obvious venue is the Peace House, a conference building in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. But several officials said that the United States still needed to establish direct contact with North Korea to verify the message from Kim that was conveyed by South Korean envoys to Trump yesterday. They warned that Kim could change his mind or break the promises he made about halting nuclear and missile tests during talks. “The United States has made zero concessions, but North Korea has made some promises,” said the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “This meeting won’t take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea.” The White House later clarified that Sanders was not adding new preconditions to the meeting, but merely emphasizing the consequences if Kim conducted tests or interfered with joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea that are scheduled to begin at the end of March. Tonight, Trump tweeted that “the deal with North Korea is very much in the making,” and that it would be, “if completed, a very good one for the World.” “Time and place to be determined,” he said. The White House’s muddled message highlighted the confusion sowed by Trump’s on-the-spot decision to meet Kim. At the State Department, where some diplomats quietly applauded Trump’s gamble, there was a fear that more hawkish aides in the White House might throw up further hurdles to the meeting. The White House, they said, has invested more in sanctions and military options than in diplomacy. Officials there have in the past expressed frustration about what they viewed as the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide options for a military strike on the North. With all the potential traps and internal misgivings, some officials said they believed the chances of a meeting between the two leaders actually happening were less than 50 percent. Trump’s decision stunned allies and his own advisers, not least Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who was caught unaware while traveling in Africa when the president accepted Kim’s invitation. “This was the most forward-leaning report that we’ve have had in terms of Kim Jong-un’s — not just willingness — but his strong desire for talks,” Tillerson said. “What changed was his posture in a fairly dramatic way that, in all honesty, came as a little bit of a surprise to us.” Tillerson’s lack of involvement in the announcement underscored how marginalized the State Department has become in North Korea policy. Other State Department officials insisted that Tillerson had not been singled out; Trump blindsided all of his advisers. And the secretary, speaking to reporters in Djibouti, argued that Trump’s decision was not the bolt from the blue that it seemed. “This is something that he’s had on his mind for quite some time, so it was not a surprise in any way,” Tillerson said. “He’s expressed it openly before about his willingness to meet with Kim Jong-un.” Privately, however, Trump sounded muted rather than buoyant, according to a person familiar with a round of calls he made Thursday evening to solicit feedback about his surprise move. While the president told people he liked the concept of a once-in-a-lifetime breakthrough, the person said, he struck a less boisterous note than he usually does publicly when he places a bet on himself. But in the past 24 hours, the president has told confidants that he felt vindicated by his decision to accept the invitation for a meeting, suggesting his approach has led to a potential new path. Some advisers in the room with Trump and the South Korean envoys — including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster — expressed concerns about a meeting, according to a senior official. But nobody vocally opposed it. Trump also had to mollify a rattled ally, Japan, which got no advance notice of his decision. In a call, the president reassured Prime Minister Abe Shinzo Abe that the United States would not ease its pressure campaign on North Korea. Abe, officials said, asked for a meeting with him. Trump’s call this morning with President Xi Jinping of China was more relaxed. The Chinese have long called for direct talks between the United States and North Korea. American officials said they expected that Xi would offer Beijing as a venue for the meeting. The location is one of a number of unresolved issues, including the size and composition of the delegations and the agenda. Some officials said Trump and Kim would set a broad framework for the talks, and leave the actual negotiating to subsequent sessions with lower-level officials. Even the logistical issues might require a couple of preliminary meetings, they said. (Mark Landler, “Administration Tackles Hurdles of a Kim Meeting,” New York Times, March 10, 2018, p. A-1)

White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders: “Q Sarah, does the President think that Kim Jong-un is sincere about talking about denuclearization? MS. SANDERS: The President is hopeful that we can make some continued progress. Look, what we know is that the maximum pressure campaign has clearly been effective. We know that it has put a tremendous amount of pressure on North Korea. And they have made some major promises. They’ve made promises to denuclearize. They’ve made promises to stop nuclear and missile testing. And they’ve recognized that regular military exercises between the U.S. and its ally, South Korea, will continue. The maximum pressure campaign, we’re not letting up. We’re not going to step back or make any changes to that. We’re going to continue in that effort, and we’re not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea. Q But does he think that Kim Jong-un can be trusted as a negotiating partner? MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re not in the negotiation right now. We’ve accepted the invitation to talk, based on them following through with concrete actions on the promises that they’ve made. … Q Sarah, why did the President accept this invitation without any preconditions? For example, without demanding that the North Koreans release the three Americans that are being held there. MS. SANDERS: Look, that’s something that we’re going to continue advocating for and pushing for. But let’s not forget that the North Koreans did promise something: They’ve promised to denuclearize, they’ve promised to stop nuclear and missile testing, and they’ve recognized that we’re going to continue in our military exercises. Let’s be very clear: The United States has made zero concessions. But North Korea has made some promises. And, again, this meeting won’t take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea. Q And I wanted to follow up on that because you just said that now. Do you think that a two-month time period is enough time to make sure that they will actually fulfill those promises? He said he wants to do it by May. MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re working on the determination of the time. But let’s not be lost in the fact that this didn’t happen overnight. This maximum pressure campaign and this process has been ongoing since the President first took office. For the first time in a long time, the United States is actually having conversations from a position of strength, not a position of weakness, like the one that North Korea finds itself in due to the maximum pressure campaign. Q Does that mean it might not be May? MS. SANDERS: Again, we haven’t set a time or a location. Those things have yet to be determined. Q Sarah, you said they promised to denuclearize. Did they promise to denuclearize or did they promise to talk about denuclearizing? MS. SANDERS: The understanding, the message from the South Korean delegation is that they would denuclearize. And that is what our ultimate goal has always been, and that will have to be part of the actions that we see them take. … . Q Thank you, Sarah. Just two questions, Sarah, clarifying what you’ve said from the podium. Is there a possibility that these talks with North Korea, with Kim Jong-un, may not happen? MS. SANDERS: Look, they’ve got to follow through on the promises that they’ve made, and we want to see concrete and verifiable action on that front. Q So it’s possible that could not happen? MS. SANDERS: I mean, there are a lot of things possible. I’m not going to sit here and walk through every hypothetical that could exist in the world. But I can tell you that the President has accepted that invitation on the basis that we have concrete and verifiable steps.” (White House Daily Briefing, March 9, 2018)

The U.S. president trumpeted during a March 9 phone call with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he had “good news.” It was anything but. The U.S. leader’s announcement of a planned historic summit meeting by the end of May with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un caught Japan off-guard and dismayed. “It never occurred to us that such a decision would be made at this time,” said a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official, describing the shockwaves reverberating in Tokyo. The sudden shift in direction by Donald Trump—from belligerent taunts to dialogue—triggered concern in Japan that it could be kept away from the table on negotiations on the denuclearization of North Korea. Although he was reeling from the ace card played by Trump, Abe went on to tell reporters that the two countries were 100 percent together on the issue. Japanese government officials shared the concern of their U.S. counterparts that “dialogue for dialogue’s sake was meaningless.” While Abe administration officials felt that dialogue between the United States and North Korea would eventually have to happen, based on their take of Washington’s end goal, they never expected direct talks would be in the cards without first consulting Tokyo. Japan had argued that North Korea must take specific steps, such as allowing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, before any dialogue or negotiations could be held. Many officials painted a bleak picture of what the sudden change in direction by Trump meant. “The decision was made totally over Japan’s head,” said a former defense minister. “Japan has been left out of the picture.” While dialogue between the United States and North Korea is welcome if it leads to an avoidance of a military confrontation, Japan fears being left as the odd man out because it has been among the most vocal proponents of the highest levels of pressure on Pyongyang. Abe himself cited the “national threat” emanating from North Korea as one of the reasons for calling a snap Lower House election last October. The Abe administration’s national security policy could also be called into question by the abrupt change orchestrated by Trump. For one thing, the planned deployment of the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system was primarily designed to respond to the military threat from North Korea. There are other potential concerns looming for Japan, given a high-ranking Defense Ministry official’s view that “It is inconceivable North Korea would ever abandon any nuclear weapons it got its hands on.” For Japan, another key concern is that Washington and Pyongyang may reach an agreement on intercontinental ballistic missiles but not include North Korea’s other ballistic projectiles that clearly have Japan within range. For those reasons, Abe is expected to make a pitch to Trump during their next meeting to not move too quickly toward a more conciliatory tone with North Korea. But, as the latest decision shows, it will never be easy to predict what effect any advice or warning will have on the U.S. president. (Matsu Nozomi Matsui and Sonoda Koji, “Japan Shocked to Be Left out in the Cold by Trump on North Korea,” Asahi Shimbun, March 10, 2018)

Sigal: “Donald Trump’s acceptance of an invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un is being treated like another abrupt and risky turnaround by an impulsive president. But critics need to recognize that far from being a reward handed to Kim, this meeting gives new momentum to negotiations. And on the perilous road of confrontation that the United States and North Korea have hurtled down since Trump took office, negotiations are the only off ramp. However risky a summit may be, it poses much less risk than stumbling into war. The mere prospect of a meeting removes that risk for the foreseeable future, which is a major relief for South Korea, whose president deserves credit for his steadfast engagement of the North despite carping from his critics. The Trump administration is insisting that its campaign of maximum pressure was what brought North Korea to the negotiating table, but there was one other move by the president that was at least as important: his willingness to drop all preconditions for talks. Instead, he accepted a promise from Kim to halt nuclear and missile tests — and won’t meet if that promise is not kept. That willingness to drop preconditions has shocked many observers, who are today reacting to the news by saying the president has foolishly granted a meeting without extracting anything meaningful in return. But this reaction is a reminder of how little attention has been paid to Trump’s oft-expressed desire to negotiate with the North Korean leader, which came up frequently during and after his presidential campaign. The media mostly overlooked this, and was instead preoccupied with the back-and-forth insults between Trump and Kim and the talk of war — which the North dismissed as mere bluff. Instead, North Korean diplomats paid close attention to his repeated references to negotiating, and began sending signals of their own. Most visibly, the country’s easing of tensions with the South in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics — and its participation in those games — were seen by some of us who watch the region closely as a sign that the regime wanted to reach out. Today, we are seeing the results. The top priority of this meeting must be sustaining Kim’s promised temporary suspension of nuclear and missile testing “while dialogue continues,” and extending it to fissile material production. A commitment by the United Stated to end enmity and reconcile with the North could open the way — a pledge Washington has made in the past but failed to follow up, leading past deals to collapse. Yet getting this done — and pulling off the necessary and difficult verification of any commitment to suspend nuclear work — will take the kind of experienced negotiators that the seriously understaffed Trump administration currently lacks. The top US diplomat in charge of North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, had been skillfully talking to the North Koreans for the past year until he abruptly retired in late February. Persuading him to reverse his resignation should be a high priority. Both countries could improve the atmosphere for talks by making relatively simple gestures — North Korea could resume the search for the remains of U.S. troops missing in action from the Korean War, or release Americans being held in its prisons, while the U.S. could send even a token amount of humanitarian aid through the World Food Program. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could get things moving by meeting with his North Korean counterpart. Just as Trump has often expressed an interest in talks, Kim Jong Un’s willingness to meet with the US president is also not a new development, and neither are the outlines of what Kim may be willing to negotiate over. In his New Year’s Day speech he hinted that by nuclear testing could stop now that North Korea has the rudiments of an ICBM and a thermonuclear weapon. He also called on South Korea to end “nuclear war exercises” with the United States, implying that the joint military exercises could continue if nuclear assets were excluded. This week, he told the South Korean envoys he saw “no reason” for his country to maintain a nuclear arsenal “as long as military threats to the North are eliminated and the regime’s security is guaranteed.” That is a tall order to fill, and it will take years for the US and its allies to convince Kim Jong Un that his regime is safe from outside threats. But now is the time to get started and test if he really means what he says.” (Leon V. Sigal, “Meeting with Kim Jong Un Is Risky But Not As Risky as War,” Buzzfeed, March 9, 2018)


3/10/18:
Trump signaled tonight in Pittsburgh that he’s uncertain what is to come. “Who know what’s going to happen?” he said, speaking at campaign rally for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone. “I may leave fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal in the world.” Trump also addressed the potential talks with two tweets this afternoon saying in the first that he had discussed the potential meeting with North Korea “at length” with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “President Xi told me he appreciates that the U.S. is working to solve the problem diplomatically rather than going with the ominous alternative,” Trump wrote. “China continues to be helpful!” Trump noted in a second tweet that North Korea has not conducted a missile test since Nov. 28, and has “promised not to do so through our meetings.” Trump believes North Korea will honor that commitment, he wrote. (Dan Lamothe, “Defense Secretary Says Questions on North Korea Should Be Handled by State Department,” Washington Post, March 11, 2018)

President Trump claimed to have the backing of the leaders of China and Japan for his high-risk plan to hold a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. In postings to his Twitter account, Trump said that his decision to agree to a meeting with Kim — which caught Asian capitals, and many in his own administration, by surprise — was being viewed as a positive step by leaders who watched nervously as U.S.-North Korea tensions escalated. Trump said that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had “spoken at length” about the planned but so far unscheduled summit, and that Xi had said he “appreciates that the U.S. is working to solve the problem diplomatically rather than going with the ominous alternative. China continues to be helpful!” Less than an hour later, Trump tweeted that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was “very enthusiastic about talks with North Korea.” (Greg Miller, “Trump Tweets Claims of Support by China and Japan for Summit with Kim Jong Un,” Washington Post, March 10, 2018) Trump signaled tonight in Pittsburgh that he’s uncertain what is to come. “Who know what’s going to happen?” he said, speaking at campaign rally for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone. “I may leave fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal in the world.” Trump also addressed the potential talks with two tweets Saturday afternoon, saying in the first that he had discussed the potential meeting with North Korea “at length” with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “President Xi told me he appreciates that the U.S. is working to solve the problem diplomatically rather than going with the ominous alternative,” Trump wrote. “China continues to be helpful!” Trump noted in a second tweet that North Korea has not conducted a missile test since November 28, and has “promised not to do so through our meetings.” Trump believes North Korea will honor that commitment, he wrote. Defense Secretary Mattis, asked about the military aspects of the discussions, declined to answer. “If I was on your side of the cabin, I would be doing the same thing,” Mattis told a reporter on his plane asking the question. “But what I want you to understand right now is that every word is going to be … parsed apart across different cultures, and at different times of the day, and in different contexts.” (Dan Lamothe, “Defense Secretary Says Questions about Meeting between U.S., North Korea Should Be Handled by State Department,” Washington Post, March 10, 2018) At the rally, the president expressed confidence that Kim would keep his promise to suspend missile tests. “They’re not going to send missiles up and I believe that, I really do,” Trump said. “I think they want to do something. I think they want to make peace.” Riffing off the incredulity of the latest developments, Trump continued, “A lot of people thought we were going to go to war and then all of a sudden they come and say ‘We’re going to have a meeting and there’s no more missiles going off and they want to denuclearize.’ Nobody had heard that. But they said they are thinking about that.” (Ser Myo-ja, “Kim Is Willing to Dismantle Nukes,” Seoul Says,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 11, 2018)

Max Fisher: “President Trump has accepted North Korea’s invitation for direct talks with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to be held by May. It’s a big deal, but you’re probably wondering how big of a deal, what it means and how to think about it. It’s impossible to say for sure. But here are seven things I’ve learned in the past few years from covering North Korea, diplomacy and, more recently, the Trump administration’s unusual approach to foreign policy. 1. Short-term, it reduces the risk of war. Even just preparing for talks changes North Korean and American incentives in ways that make us all less likely to be obliterated in a fiery nuclear inferno. That’s good! The biggest risk was probably always an accident or miscalculation that slid into unintended war, or maybe a unilateral American strike that escalated out of control. This more or less takes those scenarios off the table. Both sides now have reason to reduce rather than increase tensions, to read one another’s actions as peaceful rather than hostile, and to preserve the diplomatic efforts in which both have invested political capital. Still, that only lasts until the talks themselves. 2. Mismatched signals may have set up the talks to fail. Usually, before high-level talks like these, both sides spend a long time telegraphing their expected outcomes. Such signals serve as public commitments, both to the other side of the negotiation and to citizens back home. It’s a way for both sides to test one another’s demands and offers, reducing the risk of surprise or embarrassment. That is not really how things have proceeded with the United States and North Korea. Trump has already committed to granting North Korea one of its most desired concessions: a high-level meeting between the heads of state. In exchange, North Korea has not publicly committed to anything. It has, quite cannily, channeled its public communications through South Korea, making it easier to renege. Further, Trump has declared “denuclearization” as his minimal acceptable outcome for talks, making it harder for him to accept a more modest (but more achievable!) outcome and costlier for him to walk away. The table is now set in such a way that virtually any outcome is a win for North Korea, but only a very narrow and difficult range of outcomes will save the United States from an embarrassing failure. The North Koreans can walk away more freely, while the Americans will be more desperate to come home with some sort of win. It’s a formulation that puts the Americans at significant disadvantage before talks even begin. 3. The sides do not agree on the point of talking. It’s worth belaboring the costs of skipping the usual process of mutual public signaling. South Korean officials have said that. Kim is willing to enter talks for “denuclearization” — there’s that word again — which is perhaps why Trump seems to believe this will happen. But Duyeon Kim, a Seoul-based analyst, writes in a column in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that “denuclearization” means vastly different things to the United States and North Korea. Americans understand the word as describing North Korea’s full nuclear disarmament, which is very difficult to imagine happening. But North Koreans, she writes, tend to mean it as a kind of mutual and incremental disarmament in which the United States also gives up weapons. Normally, the United States and North Korea would have issued months, even years, of public statements on their goals for direct talks, to clear all this up. But, again, the Americans have made splashy public commitments while letting the North Koreans get by without doing the same. 4. The Trump administration has gotten the process backward. It’s practically an axiom of international diplomacy that you only bring heads of state together at the very end of talks, after lower-level officials have done the dirty work. Negotiators need to be free to back down from demands. Or to contradict themselves. Or to play good cop, bad cop. Or to walk away. Lower-level officials can lose face or sacrifice credibility for the sake of talks. Heads of state are much too constrained. Robert E. Kelly, a professor at South Korea’s Pusan National University, wrote on Twitter that, in a more typical process, “there would be a series of concessions and counter-concessions building trust and credibility over time (likely years) eventually rising to a serious discussion of denuclearization.” Instead, the Trump administration is jumping straight to the last step. There is little obvious gain in skipping over a process that is intended to lock North Korea into public commitments, test what is achievable and ensure maximum American leverage and flexibility. There is potentially significant downside, though. Victor Cha, a well-respected North Korea expert, warns in a New York Times Op-Ed essay, “Failed negotiations at the summit level leave all parties with no other recourse for diplomacy.” 5. The State Department is in a shambles. Wouldn’t this be a good moment to have an American ambassador to South Korea? Or an undersecretary of state for arms control and international security? Both posts are empty. The desk for assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs is occupied by a respected but interim official who has clashed with the White House. Her boss, the undersecretary for political affairs, is retiring. Trump lacks the institutional support and assistance that more experienced presidents found essential. There will be fewer high-level diplomats to run parallel talks, fewer midlevel officials to assist and brief the president, fewer analysts to feel out North Korean intentions and capabilities. This is why the emerging conventional wisdom among analysts, as summed up by The Economist, is that “Mr. Trump — a man who boasts about his television ratings, and who is bored by briefings and scornful of foreign alliances — could end up being played like a gold-plated violin.” Everything could turn on the president’s personality. Trump’s headstrong personalization of North Korea policy may be the most significant aspect of all this. It means that talks and their outcome will be determined, to an unprecedented degree, by Trump’s personal biases and impulses. By his mood at the time of talks. By his particular style of negotiation. Kelly expressed concern over Trump’s “chaotic management style, erratic, moody personality and chronic staffing problems.” He added, “That’s not ideology talking. I am a registered Republican and worked once for a G.O.P. congressman.” Trump’s negotiating record as president, mostly focused on domestic legislative matters, is instructive. He has tended to oscillate unpredictably between policies, throwing talks over the budget or health care into chaos. He has set members of his own party against one another, weakening their position against Democrats. And he has offered the Democrats sweeping concessions on a whim, to the surprise of his party. When legislative efforts have stalled, Trump has at times lashed out. In domestic politics, that can mean publicly denigrating his target or pressuring them to resign. In a heavily militarized standoff between nuclear powers, the stakes would be higher. “If Trump gets all valedictory over simple willingness to talk, he may also tack hard in the other direction when hopes are dashed,” Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, wrote on Twitter. 7. North Korea has already achieved a symbolic victory. For North Korea, high-level talks are a big win in their own right. Kim seeks to transform his country from a rogue pariah into an established nuclear power, a peer to the United States, a player on the international stage. That wins Kim international acknowledgment and heightened status, as well as significant domestic credibility. “Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons,” Jeffrey Lewis, a Korea expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, wrote on Twitter. “Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.” That’s been a North Korean priority since the 1990s. Trump is granting Kim that victory, thereby surrendering one of the United States’ last remaining opportunities to extract something from North Korea, without getting anything demonstrable in return. North Korea is likely to enter talks with other goals, and the United States does wield other leverage, so it could yet come to something. But with this concession granted and the two parties not even sure of one another’s positions on other matters, that may be the end of it.” (Max Fisher, “Just How Big a Deal Is the Plan to Meet?” The Interpreter, New York Times, March 10, 2018, p. A-6)


3/13/18:
President Trump ousted his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, extending a shake-up of his administration, 14 months into his tumultuous presidency, and potentially transforming the nation’s economic and foreign policy. Trump announced he would replace Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director and former Tea Party congressman, who forged a close relationship with the president and is viewed as being more in sync with Trump’s America First credo. Tillerson learned he had been fired this morning when a top aide showed him a tweet from Trump announcing the change, according to a senior State Department official. But he had gotten an oblique warning of what was coming on March 9 from the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, who called to tell him to cut short a trip to Africa and advised him “you may get a tweet.” It was an abrupt end — after months of speculation — to a rocky tenure for a former oil executive who never meshed with the president who hired him. Tillerson clashed repeatedly with the White House staff and broke publicly with Trump on issues ranging from the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the American response to Russia’s cyber aggression. “We were not really thinking the same,” Trump told reporters at the White House. He added: “Really, it was a different mind-set, a different thinking.” Trump announced his decision on Twitter. At the State Department this afternoon, Tillerson said the president had called him from Air Force One just after noon — more than three hours after Trump had tweeted the news of his firing to his 49 million followers — to inform him personally of the dismissal. Tillerson said he planned to immediately step aside from his post, turning over all responsibilities by the end of the day to John J. Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state. During a short statement in a briefing room packed with reporters, Tillerson said he would end his service at midnight on March 31, but was encouraging his policy planning team and undersecretaries and assistant secretaries “to remain in their posts and continue in our mission at the State Department.” He took no questions and left the briefing room. The firing of Tillerson caught even the White House staff by surprise. Just the day before, a White House spokesman berated a reporter for suggesting there was any kind of split between Tillerson and the White House because of disparate comments on Russian responsibility for a poison attack in Britain. But a senior administration official said that Trump decided to replace Tillerson now to have a new team in place before upcoming talks with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader he plans to meet by May. The president also wanted a new chief diplomat for various ongoing trade negotiations. The White House’s purge extended to Tillerson’s inner circle. The undersecretary of state for public affairs, Steve Goldstein, was fired, and the status was unclear of Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, and his deputy chief of staff, Christine Ciccone. At the C.I.A., Pompeo will be replaced by the current deputy director, Gina Haspel, who will be the first woman to head the spy agency. Both she and Pompeo would need confirmation by the Senate to take the positions. Trump said Pompeo “has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernizing our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community.” “I have gotten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture,” the president continued, in a written statement distributed by the White House. “He will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Pompeo, a former congressman, has become a favorite of Trump’s, impressing the president with his engaging approach during morning intelligence briefings. But he also, at times, has been at odds with the president — including agreeing with a C.I.A. assessment about Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. Early enthusiasm for bringing a business sensibility to the State Department faded fast, as Tillerson seemed overwhelmed by the diplomatic challenges before him and isolated by career foreign service officers whom he often froze out of the most important debates. His profound disagreements with the president on policy appeared to be his undoing: Tillerson wanted to remain part of the Paris climate accord; Trump decided to leave it. Tillerson supported the continuation of the Iran nuclear deal; Trump loathed the deal as “an embarrassment to the United States.” And Tillerson believed in dialogue to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, but Trump repeatedly threatened military options. While other cabinet officers made their goals plain, Tillerson never set clear diplomatic priorities other than to pursue Trump’s slogan of “America First,” a term he never really defined. In an odd admission more than eight months into the job, Tillerson told employees in September that his top priority was to make the State Department more efficient. Yet he never fully addressed what diplomats should be doing with that greater efficiency. Congress rebelled, declining to endorse his suggested 30 percent cuts in the State Department’s budget. But the message of his tenure seemed clear: At a moment when money was being poured into the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, diplomacy seemed less valued than at any time in recent American history. The turning point for Tillerson came when NBC News reported that he had called the president a “moron,” leading him to take the extraordinary step of holding a news conference to affirm his support for Trump and insist that he had never considered resigning. During a trip to Beijing in September, Tillerson told reporters that he already had “a couple, three” lines into North Korea to get communication started with the United States. Trump erupted the next morning, and denigrated the effort on Twitter by saying Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” “Save your energy Rex,” he added, “we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump later said he wished his secretary of state were tougher. The Chinese were left to wonder why Trump sent an emissary whose message the president did not believe in. Part of the reason for Trump’s eruption then was that Tillerson’s suggestion of secret talks with North Korea surprised President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who called the White House to complain, according to people with knowledge of the exchange. That Tillerson failed to take into account Seoul’s possible reaction was one of several embarrassing stumbles, arising from his own inexperience and decision to insulate himself from the department’s diplomatic corps. Tillerson had some successes, including the growing international isolation of North Korea and improved ties between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. But he is likely to go down as among the least successful secretaries of state in history, and one big reason was his poor management of his relationship with Trump. Once the head of the Boy Scouts of America, Tillerson was outraged when the president spoke to the Boy Scouts in July and turned it into a political event. When Trump declined to denounce white nationalists who paraded in Charlottesville in August, Tillerson made it clear that Trump “speaks for himself.” But perhaps the most puzzling part of Tillerson’s tenure was his poor oversight of the State Department. As a former top business executive, his managerial skills were thought to be his chief asset. But he failed to quickly pick a trusted team of leaders, left many critical departments without direction and all but paralyzed crucial decision making in the department. He rarely sat for comprehensive briefings with many of his top diplomats and often failed to consult the State Department’s experts on countries before visiting. Foreign diplomats — starting with the British and the French — said Tillerson neither returned phone calls nor, with much advance warning, set up meetings with his counterparts. Strategic dialogues with many nations, including nuclear weapons powers like Pakistan, were ended without explanation. The State Department’s policymaking process devolved into conversations between Tillerson and a lone top aide, neither of whom had much experience or knowledge about many of the countries they discussed. Tillerson became so isolated that even top administration officials like Pompeo and allies like Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state whose recommendation was crucial to his selection, had trouble penetrating a phalanx of staff to speak to him directly. “The relationship between top management and the bulk of the State Department was toxic,” said Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, a former senior diplomat and fellow at the Washington Institute who once worked with Tillerson. “And that was a total mystery because the people at the State Department would work for the devil if he is advancing American interests, which Tillerson was.” (Peter Baker, Gardiner Harris, and Mark Landler, “Trump Fires Rex Tillerson and Will Replace Him with Mike Pompeo,” New York Times, March 13, 2018) The move would also put Pompeo, who has been immersed in the details of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, in a central role in running the negotiations with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator whom Trump has said he will meet by May. For all the criticisms of Tillerson — and there were many, particularly in the State Department as he moved to slash its size — he was considered a restraining influence on Trump. Pompeo, in contrast, has been an enthusiastic defender of the president’s policies, to the point that many senior current and former C.I.A. officials worried that he was far too political for the job. In his public comments — including his dubious contention on March 12 that Trump has done more to constrain North Korea than any other president — Pompeo seemed to know that he would probably soon switch from giving the president his daily intelligence brief to carrying out Trump’s blunt America First vision worldwide. “We’ve had a very good chemistry right from the beginning,” Trump told reporters at the White House this morning. Tillerson and Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, had run something of a tag team to keep the president in check, finding common ground on policies from the Middle East to East Asia before stepping into the Situation Room. One senior administration official who often sat in the backbenches of those meetings last week described Trump’s growing frustration at being hemmed in by his two principal national security cabinet members. That seems particularly true on Iran, and Trump singled out that issue today as he was preparing to leave for California. He said he and Tillerson “disagree on things.” “When you look at the Iran deal — I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was O.K.,” the president said. “I wanted to either break it or do something. And he felt a little bit differently.” It was clear in recent months that Tillerson and Trump were barely talking. The frequent dinners the chief diplomat shared with the president last spring, when the two men were forming their views of how to approach the world, had ended. Pompeo’s rise will solve one central problem in American diplomacy over the past year: When Tillerson spoke, few thought he was speaking on behalf of the president. “It creates the possibility that someone who is up to speed with the issues, and has a comfortable working relationship with the president, is now in the chair,” said Richard Haass, who served several Republicans and Democrats in senior State Department and National Security Council positions. America’s interlocutors will now believe the secretary of state “is speaking with the power and backing of the president.” Perhaps the biggest unknown in the ascension of Pompeo is how it will affect any negotiations with North Korea. He has warned many times, since last summer, that Kim is “a few months” away from acquiring the ability to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon. That is based on a calculation of how long it will take the North to solve the final problems of designing a warhead that can survive re-entry into the atmosphere atop an intercontinental missile. Pompeo has also been in charge of an active covert campaign against the North, which he has alluded to elliptically on several occasions. The question now is whether that covert effort — believed to include sabotage of North Korea’s supply chain and renewed cyberattacks on its missile and nuclear programs — will buy Trump enough time, and leverage, to make a negotiation work. No agency has been more skeptical about the chances of Kim’s giving up his arsenal than the C.I.A. itself, under Pompeo. In a presentation last fall at George Washington University, one of the agency’s top Korea analysts said that in the C.I.A.’s view, no amount of sanctions pressure would persuade Kim that it was worth giving up the weapons that he believes are his only defense from having his country overrun by the United States and its allies. Associates of Pompeo say he shares that view — which suggests that while he may soon be running the North Korea negotiations, his expectations of success are limited. In retrospect, today’s shift could explain some comments Pompeo made over the weekend. In interviews on Fox and CBS, he said he had spent part of the weekend reviewing the C.I.A.’s internal history of American negotiations with North Korea for the past quarter-century. That would have been an odd way for a C.I.A. director to spend his reading time; it makes a lot of sense for a future secretary of state. (David E. Sanger, “Pompeo and Trump Share a Worldview, And Some Are Worried,” New York Times, March 14, 2018, p. A-13)

Gen. Vincent Brooks will leave his post as commander of United States Forces Korea (USFK) as early as this summer, according to various Korean government sources. “Brooks has expressed his plans to quit his post as commander of the Combined Forces Command in July or August,” one government source told JoongAng Ilbo. “However, he has not officially informed the Korean Ministry of National Defense or military authorities yet.” Past USFK commanders who served for just two years were generally transferred to another four-star general post. It has been customary for chiefs of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command who served a three-year term to retire from the military afterward. As a commander, Brooks is considered to be understanding of Korea’s positions and worked well with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Brooks previously served under Mattis when the Pentagon chief served as commander of United States Central Command from 2010 to 2013, and Brooks is known to be trusted by Mattis. The government source said, “Brooks did not reveal the reason for leaving the post but it seems to be because of personal reasons.” The Korean Ministry of National Defense and military officials expected Brooks to stay in his post longer and are perplexed, especially as he is considered a commander who understands Korea very well. A successor to Brooks has yet to be decided. (Lee Chul-jae and Sarah Kim, “Brooks Will Step down as USFK Chief: Gov’t Sources,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 15, 2018)

The government plans to explore the possibility of a summit between Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as it considers adopting a new way of dealing with Pyongyang, government sources said. The decision came after Abe and other officials were briefed by Suh Hoon, one of the South Korean envoys who spoke with Kim in breakthrough talks in Pyongyang last week. While the Abe administration has long advocated a cautious stance in holding dialogue with North Korea, it now anticipates there is a fresh chance to make progress toward resolving the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, the sources said. “If we’re to resolve the abduction issue, direct dialogue with the top —Kim Jong Un — is essential,” a source at Abe’s office said. A high-ranking government official also expressed expectations for a Tokyo-Pyongyang summit. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs will be discussed at a U.S.-North Korea summit, the official said, adding, “Japan and North Korea can discuss (at a summit) the abduction issue and the normalization of bilateral ties.” Abe plans to visit the United States early next month and meet Trump to coordinate their North Korea policies ahead of what will be the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. “In the event that we do hold (a summit with North Korea), we will need to watch the actions of both the United States and South Korea, and look for an effective time,” a government source said. “Everything starts from here on,” a senior Foreign Ministry official told reporters. The Foreign Ministry already has its eyes on the resumption of dialogue with North Korea, having decided on a plan to spread the message that Japan is aiming to normalize ties with the North, not just demand an end to its nuclear and missile development and a resolution to the abduction issue. The Abe administration has described North Korea as having taken advantage of previous frameworks for dialogue in order to buy time to further develop its weapons. But the South Korean president’s office said in a statement Tuesday that Abe told Suh, director of the country’s National Intelligence Service, he does not think North Korea will merely use the upcoming summits for that purpose. (Kyodo, “Japan to Explore Possibility of Summit with North Korean Leader, Sources Say,” Japan Times, March 13, 2018)

Over the past decades, the US and North Korea have accused each other of violating previous accords since what is known as the first nuclear crisis in 1993 when North Korea threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. A case in point was North Korea’s failure to honor the 1994 “Agreed Framework,” under which the North committed to freezing its illicit plutonium weapons program in exchange for light-water nuclear reactors, heavy fuel and normalized relations with the U.S. Robert Gallucci, who served as the chief US negotiator of the Agreed Framework during the Clinton administration, said that while North Korea stuck to the deal with regards to plutonium, it had secretly engaged in uranium enrichment after receiving transfers from Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan. “They cheated, and we caught them,” Gallucci said in an interview with CNBC on March 10. “From their perspective, they weren’t cheating, they were hedging, and we failed to normalize relations with them, which was a key to that deal in 1994.” “I was under the impression that Kim Jong-un wants to draw up the major blueprints for all the issues that block its relations with South Korea and the U.S.,” Suh Hoon, head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency, told Chosun Ilbo on his way to Washington after meeting with Kim on May 5. Those “stumbling blocks” include North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. During his six years in power, Kim has seen his country make significant progress in missile technology and vowed to massively produce missile capable of reaching the US mainland. When he served as a university professor before becoming the spy agency’s chief, Suh suspected that Kim’s decision to walk away from the leap day deal stemmed from the fact that the young leader needed to appease hawkish generals as he had not yet consolidated his power. “Given that this is a leadership meeting, it’s fair to assume that they will be productive, at least in an agreement on issues related to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and on security assurances for North Korea,” DeTrani told the Korea Herald. For DeTrani, the successful model for the US-North Korea talks is the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement, under which North Korea agreed a to complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear programs, in return for security assurances and other deliverables. But the skepticism persists that the meeting may end up the same way as the previous failed negotiations as North Korea has continued to use the end of the US’ “hostile policy” as a condition for giving up its nuclear and missile programs. “The prospective meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un will be the same,” Gary Samore, who negotiated with North Korea during the Clinton administration and served as President Barack Obama’s arms-control coordinator, told the Korea Herald. “Previous negotiations failed because North Korea has a very strong determination to possess nuclear weapons and the United States lacks sufficient pressure or inducements to persuade North Korea to give them up.” (Yeo Jun-suk, “Failure of Past Deals Hangs over N.K. Talks,” Korea Herald, March 14, 2018)


3/14/18:
Trump: “ … And then you hear about the free traders, because I’m a free trader, but I’m like, I want to be a smart trader, I want to be a fair trader. It’s so unfair what’s happened to our country, and I don’t know, the politicians have lost their way. In some cases like South Korea you know they’re making a fortune. Well we backed them many years ago. But we never trade — you know when they became rich we never changed the deal. So we were backing, backing, backing. And no politician ever changed the deal. Now we have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them. So we lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens. Think I’ve done a good job with that one. That’s sort of interesting. People are saying, oh, his rhetoric is terrible. He’s going to go — well, the rhetoric from last 30 years hasn’t been so good. It was called appeasement. Please don’t do anything. Obama, let’s not talk about that. In the meantime, he’s making nuclear weapons. He had a test, they had a test of a nuclear weapon about a year ago, and it registered as an 8.6. Now, you heard of that, on the Richter scale, right? So they said, man, there was an earthquake. Eight point six someplace in Asia. Where was it? Oh it was in North Korea. It wasn’t — it was a nuclear test, and it shifted a mountain — it was a real mountain. This isn’t like a little, you know, ten-foot deal. It’s not a hill. And it actually shifted. That’s the power. So they’re all saying, his rhetoric is terrible and so tough. Little Rocket Man, you know all this stuff. It’s so terrible. He’s going to get us into a war. Well, you know what’s going to get us into a war is weakness. [Applause.] [Unintelligible.] Massive sanctions on North Korea. Massive, like nobody’s ever been sanctioned. And in all fairness, China has really helped at the border. They could help more, but they’ve done more for us than they’ve done for any president, that I can tell you. So here’s a funny subject — everybody’s saying, oh, he’s going to get us in trouble, in trouble. Then three weeks ago, you hear, we’d love to go to the Olympics and participate. Everybody’s like, what? Where did that come from? So they participate in the Olympics, that’s nice. Then the delegation comes over from South Korea and they just left North Korea, and they said Mr. President, Kim Jong Un would love to meet with you. And he will not do any testing and he will not do missile launches, and he would love to meet with you. I said really? Well. That’s good. I said how did that happen. And he said well, you’re having an impact. They go out to the press, and the press is there, they were — you never saw so many reporters. Because they heard there was a big announcement on North Korea. So the worst, like CNN, you know, fake news? Erin Burnett said this make him a great president. [Applause.] Right? She said it. She’ll probably lose her job. But she actually said that — this could make him a great president. Even the worst — for two hours, three hours they couldn’t believe. They said, did you hear what ha — they’re looking at each other. Can you believe? Where did this come from, after 25, 30 years, where did this come from? You believe what just come from after 25 30 years from And then it happened. A day later, “Obama could have done that, too.” Obama could not have done it. [“No way,” crowd replies.] It’s really, you know, it’s really sad. Now, it was almost, you had to smile, because it’s so out of control. But what I heard — and I woke up the next morning and said, finally I’m getting some great stuff — because got things, the taxes, the this, they were — a lot of stuff. … Reporters. Professionals. The ones you see hating all the time. I say, this is the most incredible thing, we’ve never seen anything like it. But by the time you woke up the next morning, they had a new line: Anybody could’ve done it. Obama could have met. Bush could have met. I don’t know how many Bush fans are in here. But Bush could have — [Laughter.] But they couldn’t have met. Because nobody would’ve done what I did to set the table. And this suffering, I don’t want them to suffer. But they’re suffering. Lack of food, lack of everything. Nobody would’ve done that. So you see the narrative change, because now they’re saying it will take at least two months to be able to negotiate. And so these are the people who say you will take two months to be able to negotiate. He shouldn’t go there. And the greatest line is, President Trump has agreed to meet — these are people who say I can’t believe it. Unbelievable. This is great news. This is the biggest thing that’s happened in 40 years. The next day: President Trump has conceded a meeting with Kim Jong Un. Because he has met, he has already given them a victory because he’s agreed to meet. I mean [unintelligible] media, right? [Applause.] The greatest is when, you know, you’re watching them, and these are the people who were so afraid it was going to be — and then they say, and they say it was incredible and then they get back and their bosses tell them what to say. But they say maybe he’s not the one to negotiate. He’s got, he’s got very little knowledge of the Korean peninsula, and maybe he’s not the one. Maybe we should send in the people that have been playing games and didn’t know what the hell they’ve been doing for 25 years. [Applause.] [Unintelligible.] What we’re finding there, and I don’t know if you are now, is, it’s a beautiful young, beautiful couple that everybody thinks is a star, and he is a star, and I don’t know how the press treats you. [Unintelligible.] [Laughter.] Enjoy it while you can. The better you do, the worse they’ll [unintelligible.] And I tell this Korea story because it was, it was somewhat of a miracle. It’s actually far ahead of schedule. And you know, you hear that we’re making a major concession by agreeing to the meeting, you know, it’s the craziest thing. But go back a couple of weeks earlier and listen to what — they were petrified. [Unintelligible.] They were afraid of being blown up. Then all of a sudden they say let’s not meet.” (Josh Dawsey and Greg Barber, “Transcript of Trump’s Remarks at Fundraiser in Missouri on March 14,” Washington Post, March 15, 2018)


3/15/18:
The White House has created a working group to prepare for the landmark meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea. But Trump’s sudden ousting on Tuesday of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson could delay critical elements of the planning until the Senate confirms his successor, Mike Pompeo. Few officials expect Pompeo’s arrival at the State Department to derail the meeting itself, as long as the president and Kim remain committed to it. But Tillerson’s departure deprives the White House of the person most experienced in efforts to reach out to North Korea. Pompeo will not be able to establish contact with the South Korean foreign minister, let alone his North Korean counterpart, until the Senate approves his nomination — a process that officials on Capitol Hill said could take several weeks. The White House has not yet even completed the paperwork to begin that process, the officials said. Adding to the confusion is the lack of official confirmation of a meeting from North Korea. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, traveled to New York on March 12 to brief members of the United Nations Security Council about the president’s decision to meet with Kim. General McMaster said the invitation vindicated the president’s strategy of imposing “maximum pressure” on the North. But he also counseled caution, according to a person who heard him speak, laying out the possible hurdles and reaffirming that the sanctions needed to be kept in place. Matthew Pottinger, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asia, offered the diplomats a litany of reasons previous negotiations with North Korea had failed. Even inside the White House, some officials express regret that Victor Cha was blocked. Among those now under consideration for the post, according to a person briefed by the White House, are two retired generals who commanded troops in South Korea: Walter L. Sharp and James D. Thurman. With no ambassador in place and the State Department in flux, Pottinger and his staff are handling much of the preparations for the meeting. But the National Security Council is itself on edge, amid persistent rumors that General McMaster might soon depart. Even in a hawkish administration, Pompeo’s statements about North Korea have been hardline. Last summer, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, he came as close as any official in calling for the removal of Kim. “The thing that is the most dangerous about it is the character who holds the control over” North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, Pompeo said. “From the administration’s perspective, the most important thing we can do is separate those two. Right?” he continued. “Separate capacity and someone who might well have intent, and break those two apart.” Pompeo’s C.I.A. background could help him assess the authenticity of the North Korean offer. But with no diplomatic experience, he will not be able to offer Trump much advice on how to handle Kim or how to approach a complex negotiation. Given all those limitations, said Jeffrey A. Bader, a former Asia adviser to President Barack Obama, Trump should consider appointing a special negotiator to take charge after his initial meeting with Kim. “They got two months to pull this together,” Bader said. “They don’t have language from the horse’s mouth on North Korea’s offer, don’t have clarity on a plausible U.S. objective, don’t have a venue, don’t have a date — and they’ve got no experienced negotiator.”(Mark Landler, “Cabinet Changes Could Delay Kim Meeting,” New York Times, March 15, 2018, p. A-11)

North Korea’s foreign minister flew to Sweden, amid speculation that the country could be used as a venue for hammering out details of the planned talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, or could be the site of the talks themselves. Ri was seen at the Beijing airport with Choe Kang-il, the deputy director general for North American affairs at the North Korean Foreign Ministry, Yonhap reported. Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, said on March 10 that he was willing to host a meeting between Trump and Kim. “If we can help in any way, we will do it,” Löfven said at a news conference. During Ri’s two-day trip to Stockholm, he will meet with Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s foreign minister, the Swedish government said in a statement. The newspaper Dagens Nyheter said the talks would not include American or South Korean officials, but added that the United States and South Korea had been involved in preparations for the talks with Ri. Ri’s trip to Sweden came as South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, traveled to Washington today to meet with State Department officials with the aim of keeping a Trump-Kim meeting on track. “It is necessary to maintain close coordination at various levels in making preparations for critical diplomatic events going forward,” Ms. Kang said, alluding to relations between Washington and Seoul. Kang was originally supposed to meet with Tillerson, but will instead meet with John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, who is now serving as acting secretary. (Gerry Mullaney, “North Korean Envoy in Sweden amid Planning for Trump-Kim Meeting,” New York Times, March 15, 2018)

Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson struggled for months to secure the nomination of the State Department’s top Asia official, who hawks have accused of being too soft on China. Now that Tillerson is leaving, many inside the administration and in Congress want his potential successor, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, to choose a new nominee to lead U.S. diplomacy in Asia. Foreign service officer Susan Thornton has been serving as the assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs for more than a year — a position with broad influence over U.S. relationships with 31 Asian governments — and she has been under attack inside the administration the entire time. Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon told the American Prospect that Thornton was too weak on China, and that he was working to prevent her nomination. “I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton out at State,” he said last August. But he ended up getting fired first.

On Air Force One in November, on the way back from President Trump’s trip to Asia, Tillerson personally persuaded Trump to approve Thornton’s nomination. The White House announced the nomination in December, and Tillerson’s staff said the move was an affirmation of the value of professional diplomats. But now that that Tillerson is out, Thornton’s detractors want Pompeo to pull her nomination and choose someone else. “I will not be supporting the nomination of Susan Thornton,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told me. “During her time at the State Department, she has undermined our strategic allies like Taiwan and downplayed China’s human rights abuses and its export of authoritarianism, favoring smooth bilateral relations with Beijing over ‎a relationship grounded in reciprocity and reality.” Rubio is expected to place a hold on Thornton’s nomination if and when it his approved by the committee. It would not scuttle the nomination outright, but it could delay it long enough for Pompeo to take over at Foggy Bottom and make his own evaluation. “I am hopeful that once Mike Pompeo is confirmed he will ask the President to nominate someone who understands the long-term threat posed by China,” Rubio said. The Florida senator is not alone in his concerns. Several Republican congressional aides and Trump administration officials told me that Thornton, despite being an experienced foreign service officer, is a bad fit on an Asia team that is increasingly hawkish on China. Additionally, Thornton and Mark Lambert, the director for Korea policy at the State Department, have taken over the North Korea portfolio following the retirement of Joseph Yun. Since Pompeo could have a key role in preparing for a potential Trump summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he may want his own choice to help manage that effort. Throughout the early days of the administration’s review of China policy and the National Security Strategy process, Thornton was seen as prioritizing continuity in U.S.-China relations over challenging Beijing’s increasingly aggressive behavior around the world. “On every tactical question of consequence on Asia since the inauguration, Susan has been opposed to taking serious action to counter Chinese economic and political aggression,” a senior White House official told me. Thornton and her defenders dispute this characterization, though the State Department declined to comment for this article. This dynamic was on display during her February confirmation hearing, during which Rubio pressed her on some specific instances. (Josh Rogin, “Without Tillerson’s Protection a Top State Department Nominee Is in Trouble,” Washington Post, March 15, 2018)


3/16/18:
White House statement: “President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea to discuss ongoing efforts to prepare for their upcoming engagements with North Korea. Both leaders affirmed the importance of learning from the mistakes of the past, and pledged continued, close coordination to maintain maximum pressure on the North Korean regime. The two leaders agreed that concrete actions, not words, will be the key to achieving permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and President Trump reiterated his intention to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by the end of May. The two leaders expressed cautious optimism over recent developments and emphasized that a brighter future is available for North Korea, if it chooses the correct path.” (White House, Office of the Spokesman, Readout of President Donald J. Trump’s Call with President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea, March 16, 2018)

The Central Intelligence Agency has emerged as the primary player in President Trump’s audacious diplomatic opening to North Korea, several officials said, conducting back-channel communications and taking a major role in planning Trump’s coming meeting with Kim Jong-un, the country’s ruler. The White House’s decision to use intelligence, rather than diplomatic, channels in communicating with the North Koreans speaks to the influence of Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director whom Trump chose this week to replace Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. It also reflects the State Department’s diminished role in preparing for the riskiest encounter between an American president and a foreign leader in many years. Pompeo, these officials said, has already been dealing with North Korean representatives through a channel that runs between the C.I.A. and its North Korean counterpart, the Reconnaissance General Bureau. And he has been in close touch with the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, who American officials said brokered Kim’s invitation to Trump. Pompeo’s deep involvement, officials said, helps explain the timing of Tillerson’s ouster. Pompeo, a hawkish former Army officer and Republican congressman who has spoken about the possibility of regime change in North Korea, is viewed as more skeptical about engaging with Kim. It is not clear whether he advised the president in advance of his decision to accept the invitation to talk. But he is an astute reader of Trump’s preferences, and even before his nomination as secretary of state had become a vocal defender of the meeting. “President Trump isn’t doing this for theater,” he said last week on Fox News. “He’s going to solve a problem.” Administration officials declined on Friday to say whether Washington had established direct communication with Pyongyang. Asked the same question earlier in the week, they said there had not yet been contact. A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment on the agency’s role, referring questions to the White House. Officials said Suh, the South Korean spy chief, laid the groundwork for Kim’s invitation in negotiations and a subsequent meeting in Pyongyang with Kim Yong-chol, a powerful general who heads inter-Korean relations and used to run North Korea’s intelligence service. Suh was one of two South Korean envoys who visited the White House last week to brief Trump on their meeting with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang a few days earlier. Now that Pompeo has been promoted, officials said, the use of the intelligence channel is mostly a convenience. But he still needs to be confirmed by the Senate, a process that could take several weeks. By continuing to work through the C.I.A. channel, he can be involved in the planning while he awaits his move to the State Department. Some officials expressed concern about the C.I.A.’s taking the lead in orchestrating a leader-to-leader meeting — work that would normally be the province of the State Department. The intelligence officials on the North Korean side, they said, are unsavory figures, not least Kim Yong-chol himself, who is accused of masterminding the torpedo attack that sank a South Korean Navy ship in 2010, killing 46 sailors, and a deadly artillery attack on a South Korean island. Still, some diplomats said they were not concerned about the C.I.A.’s role, as long as the meeting did not get derailed. The National Security Council has assembled a working group, composed of officials from several agencies, to strategize ahead of the meeting. The group met for the first time this week, and one official said the White House was determined to include people who brought a range of views on North Korea. It is not the first time, officials noted, that intelligence agents have been involved in sensitive diplomacy with North Korea. In 2014, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, traveled secretly to North Korea to negotiate the release of two Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller. He got the Americans out, but said afterward that the North Koreans were crestfallen that he did not bring with him an American proposal for a broader diplomatic breakthrough. (Mark Landler, “Spies, Not Diplomats, Take Lead Role in Planning Trump’s Kim Meeting,” New York Times, March 17, 2018, p. A-10)

The government gathered a team to prepare for the North-South Korea summit just forty days ahead, and the topic of interest is now on the summit agenda. In particular, the problem is how the government will reflect previous agreements between the two Koreas including the agreement to promote the declaration of the termination of hostilities and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the current new environment ahead of the first ever summit between North Korea and the United States. Cheong Wa Dae is urging the preparation team to focus on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a permanent peace system, and the joint prosperity of the two Koreas, which President Moon Jae-in presented in a meeting with his senior secretaries and advisors last week. In other words, preparations for the inter-Korean summit will also be made within this range. Among the president’s advisory group, voices argue that the October 4 inter-Korean summit declaration from 2007 is important in preparing for the April summit for it was the last agreement between the leaders of the two Koreas. The October 4 Declaration states that “We share the view that we must end the armistice and establish a permanent peace system, and we have agreed to cooperate to have the three or four leaders of states directly involved meet in the Korean peninsula and promote the declaration of the end of war.” The leaders of South Korea and the U.S. also discussed the declaration of the end of war. However, this was never realized. North Korea wanted to declare the end of war first and sign a peace agreement later, but the George W. Bush administration opposed, and the six-party talks faltered. Nevertheless, this issue is likely to be addressed again at the upcoming summit. The Moon Jae-in government is determined to overcome the limits of the October 4 Declaration, which does not directly mention the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Thus, the government is expected to link the declaration of the termination of hostilities and the peace system with the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Denuclearization is ultimately a matter between North Korea and the U.S. Thus it is likely to greatly affect and be affected by the preparations for the North Korea-U.S. summit following the inter-Korean summit. Experts argue that how the government handles the peace agreement following the declaration of the end of war with the denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula will be the key. Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies said, “In order to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and establish a peace system, North Korea may, for instance, claim that they will blast or dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and the Punggyeri nuclear test site and dismantle the strategic forces overseeing the inter-continental ballistic missiles.” He added, “In this case, South Korea and the U.S. will have to thoroughly review what they can give North Korea in order to recognize North Korea as a common state and guarantee the security of its regime.” In addition to denuclearization and the peace system, economic cooperation for the joint prosperity of the two Koreas may also be included in the agenda for the inter-Korean summit. However, given that the U.S. administration continues to stress maximum pressure and sanctions, the two Koreas are likely to mention this issue in a declaration on a similar level to that in 2007 rather than reach a concrete agreement. (Sohn Jemin, “Discussions on the Declaration of the End of the War, Will It Include Denuclearization,” Kyunghyang Sinmun, March 16, 2018)

The United Nations detailed how North Korea gets around international sanctions designed to hobble the government and its nuclear weapons program. President Trump, after accepting an invitation last week to meet personally this spring with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said that sanctions would remain in place during any talks. But the United Nations report shows just how difficult it is for governments to police North Korea and how widespread illicit trade with it is. The experts who compiled the report detailed violations across several countries, including Bulgaria, China, Germany, India, Myanmar, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Tanzania and Uganda. One of the more eyebrow-raising examples described: Between January and June of last year, India exported $514,823 in diamonds to North Korea, along with other precious metals and stones. Other luxury goods that have made it to North Korea: sparkling wine and spirits from Germany, wine and vermouth from Italy, and perfume and cosmetics from Bulgaria. A Singapore-based company has been stocking department stores in Pyongyang, the capital, with luxury items from Japan and Europe. North Koreans have mastered “how to smuggle sanctioned items,” said Jay Song, a senior lecturer in Korean studies at the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne in Australia. “Ironically, however, these trades, legal and illegal, grow the North Korean middle class, who then grow grievances against the authorities. They are also highly corrupt.” According to the panel, North Korea generated nearly $200 million between January and September 2017 by exporting “almost all the commodities prohibited in the resolutions.” Its largest export was coal; the report concluded that North Korea exported $413.6 million in coal in that time frame — $12.7 million above the United Nations cap. North Korea also sold $62.1 million in iron and steel, exports that violated sanctions. Using front companies, manipulations of automated signals that radar systems use to detect global shipments, and ship-to-ship transfers in the middle of the night, North Korea was able to “give the impression that the coal was loaded in ports other than in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the report said. Still, “We’re really forcing the North Koreans to jump through hoops,” said Andrea Berger, a senior research associate and senior program manager at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey. “North Koreans are literally physically concealing the identity of ships at night and doing ship-to-ship transfers,” she said. “That’s not something you do unless you have to.” North Korean firms and individuals, utilizing front companies and working with foreign citizens, have opened bank accounts around the world. The report said some of the country’s banks “maintain a network of overseas representatives who continue to move freely across borders to undertake transactions in multiple countries and to establish residences abroad.” The experts found that many banks do not scrutinize account holders closely enough. It cited a “major European bank” that failed to verify answers that a representative of the Korea Daesong Bank gave to a questionnaire to screen for money laundering and ignored the fact that the account applicant appeared in a financial-crimes database. As previously reported, the experts contend that North Korea has shipped supplies to the Syrian government that could be used in the production of chemical weapons. The report also detailed sales of ballistic missile systems, multiple rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles to Myanmar. The report detailed an incident in which the North sent a drone toward a military facility in Seongju, South Korea, and snapped 555 photographs. The drone crashed because of an engine malfunction and was recovered by South Korean intelligence. The report also indicated that some of the email accounts of the United Nations experts had been hacked or that the North had tried to hack their accounts. “If anything, the sanctions are making it more lucrative for these intermediaries,” said John Nilsson-Wright, a senior research fellow at the London-based Chatham House at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, because North Korea will pay a higher price to circumvent the sanctions. A North Korean gallery in the fashionable 798 Art District in Beijing was closed by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce in January. The Mansudae Art Studio, run by the North Korean state agency responsible for art, sold oil paintings of beaming factory workers, bronze sculptures in the social realism style and tourist kitsch like postage stamps and currency. In a prestigious spot across from a branch of the top-drawer Pace Gallery, the gallery showed paintings with price tags of $20,000 and up. The United Nations report said it operated as a joint venture between North Korea and a Chinese partner, and for that reason the Chinese government had agreed to close it. (Motoko Rich, “As North Korea Eludes Sanctions, Wine and Diamonds Flow In and Coal Flows Out,” New York Times, March 17, 2018, p. A09)


3/17/18:
North Korea has threatened Japan over Tokyo’s policy of heaping pressure on its nuclear-armed neighbor, saying it “may not get a ticket for Pyongyang” if it continues, remarks that come just days after Japanese government sources said the country is exploring the possibility of a summit between Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “Now is a high time that Japan meditated over its policy toward the DPRK, facing up to the trend of the times for itself,” KCNA said in a commentary late Saturday, using the country’s formal name. “We have already warned that the Japanese reactionaries may not get a ticket for Pyongyang if they go ill-natured without discretion. It would be wise for them to stop useless struggling and follow the trend of the times, before it is too late,” it added. A Kyodo News report last week quoting an unnamed high-ranking official at Abe’s office, said the government believes “direct dialogue with the top — Mr. Kim Jong Un — is essential” if Tokyo is to achieve Abe’s goal of retrieving Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. The apparent shift would represent a drastic break from the prime minister’s long-held position that more pressure is needed to force Pyongyang to the negotiating table. It was unclear if the timing of his revised tack was due to fears of being marginalized on the North Korean issue or if an ongoing document-tampering scandal that has re-emerged to threaten his grip on power had played a role in the change. While the Abe administration — a leading supporter of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Pyongyang — has insisted it remains in lockstep with the White House on North Korea, it has increasingly found itself on the outside looking in amid the thaw in intra-Korean ties and summit agreements. Today’s KCNA commentary lambasted Japan, saying it had “zealously” urged close cooperation among the three on the North Korean nuclear issue, but “faced only serious concern over estrangement.” It added, “Still now, the Japanese reactionaries are making a shrill cry demanding ‘sanctions and pressure on the DPRK,’ indicative of their extreme uneasiness over their frustration.” (Jesse Johnson, “North Korea Says Japan ‘May Not Get a Ticket for Pyongyang’ If Pressure Policy Continues,” Japan Times, March 17, 2018)

With the resumption of talks with North Korea not in sight, Japan has stepped up diplomacy with the United States and South Korea to push for the resolution of Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. Tokyo’s lobbying of Washington and Seoul to take up the abduction issue during their leaders’ planned meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reflects Japan’s concern that the issue may get sidelined as the summits appear to be primarily focused on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But such concern may have eased somewhat after Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono indicated he has won support from senior U.S. and South Korean officials he met in Washington, partly because the two countries also fret about North Korea’s human rights situation. Speaking after talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence today, Kono said, “We agreed that Japan and the United States will continue to closely cooperate in resolving the abduction issue.” (Ko Hirano, “Human Rights Concerns Bind U.S., S. Korea, Japan over N. Korea Abductions,” Kyodo, March 18, 2018)


3/15-17/18:
The two sides “discussed opportunities and challenges for continued diplomatic efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict,” according to a statement issued by the Swedish Foreign Ministry at the end of three days of talks between Ri Yong-ho, the North’s foreign minister, and his Swedish counterpart, Margot Wallstrom. The statement added: “Sweden underlined the need for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arms and missiles program in line with several Security Council resolutions.” In one sign of easing relations, this year’s joint South Korean-American military exercises are expected to be shorter in duration and deploy fewer military assets. Yonhap reported yesterday that the exercises will last only a month instead of two, and that B1bombers and aircraft carriers would not take part, as they have in the past. The talks in Stockholm also touched on Sweden’s role in North Korea as a diplomatic stand-in for the United States, Canada and Australia, which do not have a presence there. Sweden provides so-called protective consular services for those countries, including meeting with citizens imprisoned there. Other topics included humanitarian conditions in North Korea, sanctions, regional cooperation and security issues for South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States, according to the Swedish ministry. In addition to his talks with the foreign minister, Ri met with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven yesterday morning. Ri arrived in Sweden on the 15th for the talks, which had been long planned but gained widespread attention after Trump accepted Kim’s summit invitation. Lofven said this month that he was willing to host a meeting between Trump and Kim. “If we can help in any way, we will do it,” he said at a news conference, noting that Sweden has had an embassy in Pyongyang since the 1970s. Niklas Swanstrom, the director of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, a Swedish research group, said if the upcoming talks were to be held in a foreign country, then Sweden or Switzerland could be an option, but he added that it was more likely they would take place in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. “The DMZ is more likely, as Mr. Kim has not traveled outside the country since he took power,” Swanstrom said. Yesterday, in a short statement to journalists, Wallstrom said, “We are glad that we can have this meeting.” She added: “But we are not naïve in any way. We do not think that we can solve this issue. It is up to the parties to solve it. If we can use our contacts in the best way, then we will do that.” (Christina Anderson, “North Korea-Sweden Talks Focus on ‘Peaceful Solution’ to Nuclear Conflict,” New York Times, March 17, 2018)


3/18/18:
The Blue House said March 19 that Chung Eui-yong, head of the National Security Office, met with U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Japanese National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi March 17 and 18 in San Francisco. Kim Eui-kyeom, the Blue House spokesman, said the three countries’ security advisers held consultations on the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The spokesman said they “shared the importance of not repeating past failures and agreed to continue close cooperation in the upcoming several weeks.” The talks between Chung, McMaster and Yachi come just two months after a trilateral meeting held over January 13 and 14 in San Francisco to discuss North Korea’s movements ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February. The meeting over the weekend marked the first such trilateral talks since the inter-Korean summit was agreed upon last month. “The discussions in San Francisco were mostly concentrated on consultations between South Korea and the United States,” a senior aide to President Moon said. “Furthermore, they shared the understanding that in a situation in which the South-North and North Korea-U.S. summits are to be held consecutively in April and May, their success is very important for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula as well as Northeast Asia, and they discussed in depth how to closely cooperate between South Korea and the United States to this end.” Chung also shared the results of President Moon’s special envoy consultations with China, Japan and Russia over the past week, the aide said. South Korea has been increasing its diplomatic activity ahead of the landmark summits. From March 15 to 17, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha was in Washington to meet with John Sullivan, the acting U.S. secretary of state, and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who was visiting the United States, to discuss the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the upcoming summits. “He’s given his word,” Kang said in a pre-recorded interview for today’s broadcast of CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” when asked about North Korean leader Kim’s actual commitment to denuclearization. “The significance of his word is quite weighty in the sense that this is the first time that the words came directly from the North Korean supreme leader himself, and that has never been done before.” She said President Trump’s readiness to accept a summit invitation from Kim, which caught everyone by “surprise,” clearly demonstrates his “determination to resolve this issue once and for all,” something “hugely appreciated by the South Korean public.” “We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock,” Kang said. “We give them the benefit of the doubt, and the time that he would need to come out with some public messaging.” She pointed out that the engagement was “very significant in itself,” especially since the North Korean leader has expressed willingness to come south of the demilitarized zone to the truce village of Panmunjom for the inter-Korean summit in April, which would be the third of its kind. (Sarah Kim, “Security Meeting Focuses on Upcoming Summit,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 20, 2018)


3/19/18:
Bolton: “RFA: What do you think of President Trump’s decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un? Bolton: Well it’s obviously an unprecedented development and a very daring move, I think, on the part of President Trump. The real issue is whether the regime in North Korea, after talking for 25 years about its nuclear weapons program and committing on numerous occasions to give up that program, really is prepared to have a serious conversation or whether they’re simply buying time to perfect the last stages of the nuclear weapons program and their ballistic missile program. So my hope is that President Trump can have a serious conversation with them about what the real objective should be which is denuclearizing North Korea, and if they’re not prepared to have that kind of serious discussion, it could actually be a very short meeting. RFA: You sound still skeptical about North Korea’s intentions in talking with President Trump. Do you expect the summit to be successful? Bolton: I don’t know that the North Koreans ever really expected that President Trump would accept the offer of a summit meeting and it’s been some time now since the president’s decision was announced. We’ve heard nothing publicly from North Korea. Now, maybe it’s just an anomaly and perhaps the talks will go forward, but I think the positive aspect that we could see here is it’s a way to cut through six months twelve months of preliminary negotiations. Let’s have this conversation by May or even before that and let’s see how serious North Korea really is. They’ve made commitments they’ve violated repeatedly in the past 25 years. I am skeptical that they’re serious. I think they were trying to buy time but they’ve made the offer, the president has accepted, let’s get on with it. … RFA: That meeting (with Trump) was a day before the agreement to hold a U.S.-North Korea summit was announced. Has there been any change in your views since then? Bolton: The fact of North Korean interest in negotiations was made clear when they accepted South Korea’s invitation to show up for the Winter Olympics. I think it was a mistake to understand that as anything other than North Korean propaganda, but it was clear then they were seeking an opportunity to distract attention from just how close they were to a capability to hit targets in North America with thermo-nuclear weapons. I think the pattern that North Korea has followed for decades — the same pattern that Iran followed — is that it used negotiations to camouflage their on-going nuclear and ballistic missile efforts. I think we should not fall for that ploy again. I think we should insist that if this meeting is going to take place, it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago: how to pack up their nuclear weapons program and take it to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is where the Libyan nuclear program. If it’s anything other than a conversation about how to do that, then I think it shows it’s just camouflage for North Korea to continue working toward its long-sought objective of deliverable nuclear weapons. … RFA: What is your advice to President Trump ahead of the talks with North Korea? Bolton: I think he’s very familiar with the history of North Korea’s duplicity on this subject. I don’t think he has any illusions about this regime. I don’t think he wants to waste a lot of time talking to them without the prospect of success. You know there a lot of considerations here but I believe that it could become very clear very early in this meeting whether North Korea is serious or not or whether they’re just playing games, and so I think it’s important if the president sees that they’re just looking for a way to waste time, that he make the point that he’s not there to waste time and that we expect real denuclearization, not talks about talks about denuclearization, but concretely how we’re going to eliminate their program as quickly as possible. So if the meeting takes place, we’ll see if that’s the path that they follow. RFA: What should the U.S. be prepared to offer North Korea in exchange for denuclearization? Economic aid? A peace treaty? Bolton: I don’t think we should offer them economic aid. That happened in the context of the Agreed Framework, where they took the heavy oil shipments and yet did not dismantle their nuclear program. There’s no way we should give North Korea a peace treaty. They’re lucky to have a meeting with the president of the United States. I think if they want economic progress for the people of North Korea, they should the end the charade of a divided peninsula. They should ask for reunification with South Korea. That’s the best way to aid the people of North Korea. RFA: If negotiations are not successful, there are concerns that the U.S. will turn to the option of military action. As one who has argued for military action, what is your proposed course of action in the event of failed talks? Bolton: Let me be very clear. I don’t favor military action to eliminate the North Korean nuclear program. Nobody wants to see that happen, but I also believe that it’s a mistake to leave North Korea with nuclear weapons. And yet they are very close to achieving that objective. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford said last summer that he thought it was unimaginable to leave North Korea with nuclear weapons. That’s the way I feel, too. We we’ve had 25 years of efforts at carrots and sticks with North Korea. They have played the West and the United States like a violin, and they’ve used that time to make considerable progress toward the objective of deliverable nuclear weapons. So President Trump has unattractive options in front of him, because he’s inherited 25 years of failure, so that he doesn’t have much time. Somebody said, you know, we can’t kick the can down the road any further because there isn’t any road left. RFA: Experts who talk with North Korea say there is not enough time to prepare for summit talks with North Korea. What do you think? Bolton: We have plenty of experts. The kind of expert we need really is less about North Korea, and more about nuclear weapons. I think we’ve got plenty of time. I think it’s a mistake to treat this like a normal summit meeting, with months and months of preparation by lower-level people. We know what the subject is here, at least from the US point of view: It’s North Korea eliminating, dismantling its nuclear weapons program and, as I say, we’d be happy to store the program in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. That’s what the conversation ought to be about. If it’s about anything else, it’s a waste of time. RFA: What are your thoughts about the inter-Korea summit talks scheduled for April and do you have any advice for South Korea ahead of this meeting? I think the people of South Korea are very divided about how to treat North Korea. Many obviously support the current government in South Korea, but many others are deeply distrustful of anything the government of North Korea says. So I think everybody in South Korea, for their own peace and security, has to be very dubious about North Korea’s commitment to anything that it says. And so that that is a word of caution to the government of South Korea before they agree to anything with North Korea. Using military action to solve the North Korean nuclear issue is on the table but it presents many problems and the South Korean government is against this. Do you see military action as part of the solution to the North Korean problem? Nobody wants to use military force, but I think sensible people don’t want to see this bizarre regime in North Korea with nuclear weapons, not only because of the threat they pose but the threat that those weapons would be sold to others all around the world. So military action is very dangerous, but I think it’s more dangerous if North Korea has a nuclear capability.” (Jung Min Noh, “Interview: Trump-Kim Talks to Be ‘a Very Short Meeting’ If Pyongyang Won’t Discuss Denuclearization,” Radio Free Asia, March 23, 2018)

The South Korean Army plans to deploy surface-to-surface missiles in a newly created counter-artillery brigade by October, with the aim of destroying North Korea’s hardened long-range artillery sites near the Demilitarized Zone, should conflict erupt on the Korean Peninsula. The plan is part of South Korea‘s defense reform for developing an offensive operations scheme, a defense source said. The tactical missiles are developed locally. “The Ministry of National Defense has approved a plan to create an artillery brigade under a ground forces operations command to be inaugurated in October. The plan is to be reported to President Moon Jae-in next month as part of the ‘Defense Reform 2.0’ policy,” the source said. “The brigade’s mission is fairly focused on destroying North Korea’s long-range guns more rapidly and effectively, should conflict arise.” The three-year development of the GPS-guided Korea Tactical Surface-to-Surface Missile was completed last year. Hanwha Corporation, a precision-guided missile maker, led the development in partnership with the state-funded Agency for Defense Development, or ADD. The missile, dubbed “artillery killer,” has a range of more than 120 kilometers and can hit targets with a 2-meter accuracy, according to ADD and Hanwha officials. Four missiles can be launched almost simultaneously from a fixed launch pad. The missiles can penetrate bunkers and hardened, dug-in targets several meters underground. “North Korea’s long-range artillery systems deployed along the border pose significant threats to the security of the capital area of South Korea,” said retired Lt. Gen. Shin Won-sik, a former operational director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The counter-artillery brigade is expected to play a key role in neutralizing the North’s long-range artillery fire power, as the new surface-to-surface missile is capable of destroy the hideout of artillery forces.” The artillery brigade is also to operate the Chunmoo Multiple Launch Rocket System, which can fire three types of ammunition: 130mm non-guided rockets; 227mm non-guided rockets; and 239mm guided rockets. The ranges of the rockets are 36 kilometers, 80 kilometers and 160 kilometers, respectively. According to the 2016 Defense White Paper, North Korea has some 8,600 towed and self-propelled artillery, as well as 5,500 multiple-launch rockets. Seventy percent of them were deployed near the border. North Korea has forward-deployed 340 long-range guns that can fire 15,000 rounds per hour at Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan area. (Jeff Jeong, “South Korea to Deploy Artillery Killer’ to Destroy North Korean Bunkers,” Defense News, March 19, 2018)


3/20/18:
KCNA commentary titled “Truth Must Not Be Distorted with Sheer Sophism”: “Thanks to the proactive measure and peace-loving proposal made by the DPRK, dramatic atmosphere for reconciliation has been created in relations between the north and the south of Korea and there has been a sign of change also in the DPRK-U.S. relations. At this time, the dishonest forces in the U.S. and Japan and the conservative group of south Korea are peddling groundless stories distorting the truth in a bid to mislead public opinion, the commentary said, citing facts.

Incumbent and former officials and experts of the U.S. have become vocal, claiming that “north Korea took a change-about attitude even though the U.S. did not make any concession”, “Trump’s high-intensity sanctions and pressure strategy proves effective” and “it is a sign that north Korea has reached a limit beyond which it can no longer sustain itself”, in an attempt to meet their own interests. The Abe group, which is left alone as a result of the unexpected sudden change in the situation of the Korean peninsula, claims that “north Korea’s dialogue and peace offensive is a result of the sustained pressure put by the international community” and “hasty dialogue would mean being taken in by north Korea’s strategy of gaining time” and that “sanctions should never be slackened under any circumstances.” In the meantime, the conservatives of south Korea including the “Liberal Korea Party”, conservative media and self-professed experts are reeling off invective that “it is a trite method for the north to opt for dialogue whenever it finds itself in a fix”, “it is camouflaged peace offensive” and “it is aimed to make a crack in south Korea-U.S. alliance and to seek lift of sanctions.” The great change in the north-south relations is not an accidental one but a noble fruition made thanks to the DPRK’s proactive measure, warm compatriotism and will for defending peace. Such an event as today could be possible as the DPRK’s dignity has remarkably risen and it has strong might. Such rubbish as “result of sanctions and pressure” and sort of “limit” spread by the hostile forces is just as meaningless as a dog barking at the moon. The economy of the DPRK is rising, not sitting down as claimed by the riff-raffs, and is being put on a Juche and modern basis. Sci-tech achievements and models have been created in different parts of the country, promising the bright future for the improvement of the people’s living standard.

It is by no means accidental that the public at home and abroad are unanimously commenting that the dialogue peace offensive of the DPRK is an expression of self-confidence as it has acquired everything it desires. It is really an expression of small-mindedness for the riff-raffs to spoil the atmosphere and say this or that even before the parties concerned are given a chance to study the inner thoughts of the other side and are seated at a negotiating table. We do like to remind that it is time for all to approach everything with prudence with self-control and patience. The fault-finders have to face up to the unanimous demand of the public at home and abroad for the improvement of the north-south relations and for peace on the Korean peninsula and stop the mean act of distorting truth.” (KCNA, “KCNA Blasts Dishonest Forces’ Distortion of Truth,” March 20, 2018)

South Korean and American military authorities officially announced that the joint military exercises that had been delayed because of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will begin on April 1 and last for just over one month on a reduced timeline. “We have decided to hold the Foal Eagle exercises for four weeks, beginning on April 1, and the Key Resolve exercises for two weeks, beginning in mid-April,” said senior officials from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff and the ROK-US Combined Forces Command during a joint press conference on Mar. 20. Foal Eagle is a field training exercises that the South Korean and American militaries hold each spring, while Key Resolve is a command post exercise that is carried out through computer simulations. When asked about the number of troops who would be participating in the exercises, the officials said, “From the US, there will be 11,500 troops participating in Foal Eagle and 12,200 troops participating in Key Resolve. That’s a similar scale to previous years.” According to the officials, the Ssangyong, or Double Dragon, landing exercises that are held as part of Foal Eagle will take place between Mar. 1 and 8, involving one regiment from the South Korean military and one brigade from the US military. The regiment reportedly consists of a little over 2,000 soldiers, while the brigade is composed of between 4,000 and 5,000 troops. Though Foal Eagle was originally supposed to last two months, from April to May, it was eventually decided to shorten it to the single month of April. And though US aircraft carriers have participated in previous exercises, including the USS John C. Stennis in 2016 and the USS Carl Vinson in 2017, apparently no aircraft carriers will be taking part this time. Downscaling the exercises in this manner is apparently designed to communicate the U.S. and South Korea’s willingness to adjust the scale of military activity in line with the recent movement toward dialogue on the Korean Peninsula. The explanation provided by a senior military official was that “South Korea and the U.S. made this decision in consideration of the schedules of the participating troops.” Officials also explained that the South Korean military was taking the lead in planning the exercises, running the opposition force and debriefing this year, just as it did last year, in order to improve its joint operational capabilities. On the morning of March 20, South Korean and American military officials had the UN Command’s Military Armistice Commission notify North Korea of the content and schedule of the exercises. “The duty officer with the UN Military Armistice Commission read the content of the exercises over a megaphone in front of the military demarcation line at Panmunjom, and the North Korean troops made a recording of that,” said a senior military official. (Park Byong-su, “Joint South Korea-U.S. Exercises to Begin April 1,” Hankyore, March 20, 2018) The South Korean military and U.S. Pentagon issued differing statements regarding the duration of their upcoming joint military exercises, raising suspicions of an attempt by Seoul to contain possible fallout from the resumption of the drills. According to the Ministry of National Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff, the postponed joint military exercises will start on April 1, with the field-training Foal Eagle exercise that is to be halved in length from two months to one followed about three weeks later by the computer-based Key Resolve exercise. The Pentagon and Combined Forces Command in Seoul, however, stressed that the upcoming drills would be held at the same scale and duration as previous iterations, with no mention that the length of the Foal Eagle exercise would be halved. “The exercises include all services and are of the same scale, scope and duration as previous years,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman. “Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are annual exercises that are the culmination of many months of planning.” The US-led Combined Forces Command, which oversees the annual drills with the JCS, also said in a press release Tuesday that the upcoming exercises would take place at a scale “similar to that of the previous years.” The differences in the statements by the two countries’ militaries appear to suggest the South Korean military wants to keep the exercise as low-key as possible. During a closed-door briefing with reporters, a JCS official said the military had consulted with the US on scaling back the exercise to one month. A decision was made to sustain the peaceful mood following the Pyeongchang Olympics, the official added. However, the official left open the possibility that the exercise schedule could be adjusted depending on consultations between the allies’ militaries, hinting that the Foal Eagle exercise could be longer than a single month. “There can be flexibility to the exercise schedule as the drill proceeds. … We have US military augmentee coming all the way from the US mainland and it will take time for them to come back,” another JCS official said. “Our combined exercises are defense-oriented and there is no reason for North Korea to view them as a provocation,” Pentagon spokesperson Logan said. “While we will not discuss specifics, the defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed. The purpose of the training is to enhance the (South Korea-US) alliance‘s ability to defend (South Korea) and enhance CFC’s interoperability and readiness.” The number of US troops participating in the exercises is expected to be similar to that of last year. According to the Pentagon, 23,700 US forces will participate, with 12,200 for the Key Resolve exercise and 11,500 for the Foal Eagle exercise. Last year’s drills — considered the largest-ever in scope and scale with the participation of US strategic assets — involved about 23,000 US troops, with 13,000 for Key Resolve and 10,000 for Foal Eagle, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The South Korean and US militaries refused to reveal the U.S. military assets to be deployed during the exercise. During the 2017 exercise, the USS Carl Vinson nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was deployed along with the stealth fighter F-35B. The respective militaries said the North Korean military was notified of the resumption of the military exercise through the United Nations Command. The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission will observe the exercises to confirm their compliance with the armistice agreement, they said. (Yeo Jun-suk, “S. Korea, U.S. Issue Different Statements on Resumption of Joint Drills,” Korea Herald, March 20, 2018)

Even if President Donald Trump is able to reach an agreement with Kim Jong Un, with North Korea promising to freeze or even dismantle its nuclear program, there will always be uncertainty about possible cheating. Just ask Israel, which, despite having one of the world’s most competent and aggressive intelligence services—the Mossad—nearly missed the fact that North Korea was helping build a nuclear reactor in next-door Syria, a country long viewed by Israel as a dangerous threat. The CIA missed it, too, and now, 11 years after Israeli air force jets bombed the clandestine Syrian facility, Israel’s military censor is finally lifting the veil of secrecy and permitting locally based reporters to publish interviews with participants in the operation for the first time. We spoke with dozens of former cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as well as military and intelligence chiefs and commanders and even some of the pilots who took part in the operation. The code name for the Sept. 6, 2007, raid, conducted near the remote desert city of Deir ez-Zur: “Outside the Box.” Before today, Israel has never officially acknowledged its existence. Years later, Israeli spooks are still raising bitter questions about the CIA’s intelligence failure. Former Mossad director Tamir Pardo asked in an interview with us: “Where were the Americans? North Korea is a highly important target for them. And it still isn’t clear whether [Syrian President Bashar] Assad was running the nuclear project, or was it the North Koreans?” The former spy chief added that he has some doubts that Syria was going to keep the plutonium, or perhaps it was going to be shipped to North Korea as a supply of which the West would be unaware. “This is a resounding failure by the Americans,” Pardo said. Pardo’s questions raise another: If one of the best intelligence communities in the world, and certainly the most formidable in the Middle East, could be fooled by North Koreans and Syrians, what might the CIA be missing? That could be true in Korea, in Iran, or almost anywhere on Earth. The Israeli air force raid on a secluded, unmarked building in northeastern Syria took place—a few minutes after midnight between the 5th and 6th of September. To attack deep in enemy territory is easy, but Israel’s American-made F-15 and F-16 jets enjoyed protection by sophisticated electronic jamming that blinded Syria’s air defenses, and they had no trouble dropping tons of explosives on the target and confirming visually that it had been flattened. (Photos, many provided by Israeli intelligence, were released by the CIA to Congress—and immediately leaked to the media in Washington.) The Syrian facility was almost identical to the Yongbyon nuclear complex in North Korea that produced plutonium for nuclear bombs, according to Israeli intelligence officials, and it was only weeks away from beginning to produce highly radioactive materials. Olmert, who later resigned amid accusations of corruption, which eventually after being indicted by a court landed him in prison for 18 months, told us it was one of his most important and difficult decisions. Even his nemesis, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said in an interview: “Olmert deserves full credit for the brazen decision.” Lifting the veil of secrecy also reveals an ego battle for credit between Israel’s two largest intelligence agencies. “The exposure of the reactor is one of the great achievements of Military Intelligence [the agency known by its Hebrew acronym, Aman] in particular, and of Israeli intelligence in general,” said Brig. Gen. Shalom Dror, who in 2007 was a major in charge of Aman’s research on Syria. Yet Pardo, who was deputy director of the Mossad at the time (and from 2011 through 2015 the spy agency’s chief), differs: “For years, Syria built a nuclear reactor under our noses, and we did not know about it for years. It was not built on the dark side of the moon, but in a neighboring country where we always thought we know almost everything.” Israel’s highest-ranking general at the time, chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, recalled receiving reports on many Arab countries from Aman and the Mossad, but none linked the words “Syria” and “nuclear” in any serious way. “Sure, suspicions arose, but there was no proof,” continued Ashkenazi, who has since retired. “And in intelligence work, there were a lot of suspicions. Syrian nuclear was not a subject considered to be important.” Ram Ben-Barak, senior man in the Mossad for many years who was then head of one of its operations, told us: “Anyone who says that he knew that Syria was building a nuclear reactor either doesn’t know or isn’t telling the truth. When we brought the information, it was a complete surprise. Until then, the assessment was maybe yes, maybe no—that perhaps they were planning a nuclear project by the route of enriching uranium, and perhaps a reactor to produce plutonium. In short, we didn’t know at all what to look for.” The fact that there was any attention paid to the possibility of a secret Syrian program at all was the result of a trauma suffered by Israeli intelligence near the end of 2003. Libya’s dictator, the late Col. Moammar Gadhafi, publicly admitted he had a nuclear weapons program. Western governments quickly discovered that the know-how and materials had been sold to the Libyans by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, who later became a freelancer and made a fortune as a nuclear trafficker. Israel’s spy chiefs winced as they admitted they had made an error comparable to the 1973 war, when the Jewish state was taken by surprise by its neighbor’s armies on Yom Kippur. Israeli intelligence had not completely ignored Khan. They had strong evidence that he helped Iran launch its military, unacknowledged, nuclear ambitions. But they did not realize that his sales efforts had succeeded elsewhere. Shabtai Shavit, who was the director of the Mossad in the 1990s, told us a few years ago that Israeli intelligence knew about Khan’s travels in the Middle East—hawking his wares—but did not understand how the Pakistani engineer could provide a quick and relatively easy kit for starting the route toward a nuclear arsenal. “If we had understood, I would have recommended that he be assassinated,” Shavit said, “and that would have been one of the few times that eliminating a person could have changed history.” After the revelation that Gadhafi’s Libya was dangerously advanced in its nuclear work, Israel’s military intelligence chiefs ordered that every scrap of evidence that had been collected—but filed away without much analysis—be looked at again. Aman found reports of Khan’s visits to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria. Because the first two countries were friends of the United States, it seemed highly unlikely they would pursue nuclear weapons. The agency doubled its focus on Syria, where Assad had come to power in 2000 by default when his father died—because his elder brother, groomed for leadership, had perished in a car crash. “I had to explain to my people why I insisted on concerning ourselves with Syria,” said a research head in the agency, retired Brig. Gen. Eli Ben-Meir, because the top topics at that time had been Iran and its proxy force in Lebanon, Hezbollah. Israel fought a war against the Lebanese Shiite militia in the summer of 2006 that was notably frightening due to the constant rain of rockets from Lebanon that compelled almost a million Israelis to descend to shelters or move temporarily to southern Israel. Ben-Meir told us there were clues in Israel’s deep and constant monitoring of Syria. Ships arrived from Asia with no apparent purpose. Trucks moved toward the east. Israel’s intelligence liaisons asked friendly services, including the CIA, if they had noticed anything of a nuclear nature in Syria. The answer was negative. Pardo’s boss at the time, Meir Dagan (who was director of the Mossad from 2002 to 2011 and died two years ago) joined chief of staff Ashkenazi in asking Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for an extra budget specifically to look for a nuclear project in Syria. Aman’s renowned Unit 8200 greatly increased its monitoring of all Syrian communications. Ibrahim Othman, director of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission, was considered to be the man who had to know the secrets. He became a high-priority target for Israeli intelligence. As reported elsewhere, Mossad’s operatives broke into rooms where he stayed in Europe, including an apartment Othman maintained in Vienna, near the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency—and found a gold mine. Othman had left a digital device and all its data was sucked out and sent to Israeli intelligence laboratories. Surprisingly, because no one believed any vital information had been obtained, deciphering it was not a priority. The data was waiting on the laboratory’s shelves a few days until it was finally deciphered. “My intelligence officer entered my room,” recalls Ben Barak, “and showed me the photos taken from the phone.” He added, smiling, “Sometimes intelligence operations need luck.” The photos from Othman’s device showed him in the company of some North Korean scientists and most importantly were shot inside the structure, which clearly revealed it was a nuclear reactor to produce plutonium. The photos were the “smoking gun”—the ultimate evidence to corroborate Israel’s suspicions. The information was rushed to Prime Minister Olmert, who approached President Bush to ask him if the U.S. would do something about it. Bush said no, explaining that U.S. forces were fully engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan and that he didn’t want to open a third front. Nevertheless, Bush didn’t say anything about an Israeli raid. For Olmert, that was all he needed. He interpreted Bush’s silence as a green light and instructed Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi to prepare an airstrike. After the raid, Israel kept silent—and so did Assad. Syria didn’t want to admit it had violated its international commitments. Israel, for its part, figured out that if it said nothing in public, Assad would swallow his pride and not retaliate. Privately, Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and intelligence contacted or met their allies in the West—the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany—and in the Arab world (Egypt and Jordan) to share with them the information behind the raid. Olmert also called Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Israel’s calculation that Syria would not strike back proved correct, and the world seemed relieved that someone had removed a potentially serious threat to peace. But to remove Iran’s or North Korean nuclear threats will be a much more difficult task if President Trump decides to exercise the much-trumpeted military option. (Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, “Inside Israel’s Raid on Syria’s Nuclear Reactor,” Politico, March 20, 2018)


3/21/18:
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said that he and President Trump could sit down for a three-way summit meeting with Kim Jong-un if their individual meetings with the North Korean leader on denuclearizing his country proceed well in the coming weeks. “The North Korea-United States summit, which will follow the inter-Korean summit, will itself be a momentous event in world history,” Moon said at a meeting of ROK officials. “Depending on where the meeting takes place, it will look even more dramatic, and depending on progress, there can be a three-way summit among South and North Korea and the United States.” Moon indicated that his government is working on what analysts have called a “grand bargain” in which it hopes to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons in return for economic incentives and security guarantees. He said that the negotiations must aim for “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the permanent peace regime there, the normalization of relations between North Korea and the United States, and improvement of South-North Korean ties, and economic cooperation between the North and the United States or among the two Koreas and the United States.” He also instructed his officials to consult with the United States. Yesterday, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, reported no immediate deal on the release of the Americans. “We would love to have our American citizens brought home — a huge priority for this administration — but as far as we’re concerned there’s nothing underway,” she said. (Choe Sang-hun, “South Korea’s Leader Floats 3-Way Talks with Trump and Kim Jong Un,” New York Times, March 21, 2018)

Finland’s Foreign Ministry described the “track 1.5” meetings between North Korean diplomats and South Korean and American former officials and academics in Helsinki, which concluded today, as “constructive” and “positive.” Some 18 delegates from the three countries kicked off meetings with a dinner in Helsinki March 19 and then held a semi-official conference over the next two days at Konigstedt Manor, a Finnish government-owned building often used for negotiations and accommodating state guests. The Finnish Foreign Ministry in a statement said the participants from the United States, North Korea and South Korea took part in meetings over Tuesday and Wednesday for a conference on Northeast Asian issues, with observers from the United Nations and Europe. “This meeting was one of a series of academic sessions over many years that have explored approaches to building confidence and reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” Kimmo Lahdevirta, director general of the Finnish Foreign Ministry’s Department for the Americas and Asia, told reporters after the conference ended. He added, “The participants had a constructive exchange of views in a positive atmosphere.” The ministry also said in a statement that the conference “was planned well in advance of recent promising developments related to the Korean situation.” It added that the participants in the conference expressed their appreciation to the Finnish Foreign Ministry for hosting the conference. South Korean participants indicated that the meeting included discussions on a wide range of issues encompassing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, along with the planned inter-Korean and North-U.S. summits. They have also indicated that the delegates developed a consensus during the talks on the need to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the necessity for the upcoming summits to be successful.

Choe Kang-il, a senior diplomat handling North American affairs in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, who led Pyongyang’s delegation in Finland, flew from Helsinki to Beijing Capital International Airport Thursday, accompanied by several aides. When asked about the talks, Choe, the North’s point man on U.S. issues, told reporters, “Everything was announced in Helsinki, so just look at that.” Then he immediately headed to the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. The U.S. delegation included two former ambassadors to Seoul, Kathleen Stephens and Thomas Hubbard, as well as Korea experts with government backgrounds, such as Robert Carlin, former chief of the Northeast Asia division in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and Karl Eikenberry, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and director of the U.S.-Asia Security Initiative at Stanford University. The South Korean delegation also included former diplomats such as Shin Kak-soo, a former ambassador to Japan and former vice foreign minister, and Shin Jung-seung, a former ambassador to China, as well as Baek Jong-chun, a national security adviser under President Roh Moo-hyun. In Seoul, Tero Varjoranta, deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), held closed-door talks with South Korea’s top nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, the special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs. Varjoranta, who serves as the head of the IAEA Department of Safeguards, conveyed that the agency will actively contribute to the process of denuclearization on the peninsula. Today, after meeting with diplomats in Seoul, he said that the IAEA is “ready to resume monitoring verification activities” in North Korea as soon as the political environment allows it to. (Sarah Kim, “’Track 1.5’Helsinki Talks Deemed ‘Constructive,’” JoongAng Ilbo, March 21, 2018, p. 1)

North Korea shares a border with three countries — South Korea, China and Russia. The one with Russia is just 11 miles, following the Tumen River and its estuary in the far northeast. There is one lone crossing, dubbed the “Friendship Bridge.” It opened in 1959 and offers the two nations a fairly basic rail connection. This week, amid a period of relative calm on the oft-tense Korean Peninsula, Russian representatives traveled to North Korea to discuss an idea: They should open another bridge. Though the planning appears to be at a preliminary stage, it may show that Russia and North Korea are looking toward a trading future beyond sanctions and military tensions. The two nations have long suggested a crossing that would allow vehicles to go between them without a lengthy detour through China. And today, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East announced in a statement that the two sides would create a working group on a new crossing. “There are 23 automobile checkpoints between [North Korea] and China, and not one with Russia,” the ministry quoted Ro Tu Chol, a North Korean minister, as saying during the meeting. “Currently, when importing goods from [Russia’s far east], they do not come across the border with Russia, but through China. This greatly extends the path.” Ro suggested expanding the existing bridge, according to the statement. The Russian representative at the meeting, Alexander Galushka, the minister for the development of the Russia’s far east, suggested building a semi-permanent bridge of pontoons. The Russia-North Korea summit caught the attention of NK News, which reported that the two nations would “push ahead” with the new border crossing. Anthony Rinna, an analyst on Russian foreign policy in East Asia for Sino-NK, told the North Korea-watching publication that the new border crossing could be used to “alleviate any unforeseen problems, such as logistical or technical glitches that may undermine North Korea’s rail links.” The proposed bridge may be more noteworthy for its symbolic value than economic worth, said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and co-editor of North Korean Economy Watch. Trade between Russia and North Korea is insignificant, Katzeff Silberstein added, largely because of multilateral sanctions imposed by the United Nations, but “there also seems to be a belief that in the longer run, trade will pick back up again.” Artyom Lukin, a professor of international politics at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, said it was clear that trade between Russia’s far east and North Korea has been hit considerably in the past two years. He said that the railway bridge had once been important for transporting Siberian coal to the North Korean port of Rajin in the city of Rason, where Moscow owns a terminal. “From this terminal, the coal is sent for export to Asian countries, mostly China,” Lukin wrote in an email. “At least, this was the case prior to introduction of tough sanctions on [North Korea] in the latter part of 2017.” For the time being, Lukin said, it’s hard to imagine Russian backers investing in a bridge. “The North Koreans will expect Russia to provide the funding,” he said. “However, no Russian investor, private or state-owned, will commit to the project unless the political risks related to North Korea subside considerably.” (Adam Taylor, “Russia Wants to Build a Bridge to North Korea. Literally” Washington Post, March 24, 2018)


3/22/18:
President Trump named John R. Bolton, a hardline former American ambassador to the United Nations, as his third national security adviser, continuing a shake-up that creates one of the most hawkish national security teams of any White House in recent history. Bolton will replace Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the battle-tested Army officer who was tapped last year to stabilize a turbulent foreign policy operation but who never developed a comfortable relationship with the president. The move, which was sudden but not unexpected, signals a more confrontational approach in American foreign policy at a time when Trump faces mounting challenges, including from Iran and North Korea. Bolton, an outspoken advocate of military action who served in the George W. Bush administration, has called for action against Iran and North Korea. In an interview on Thursday on Fox News, soon after his appointment was announced in a presidential tweet, he declined to say whether Trump should go through with a planned meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. General McMaster will retire from the military, ending a career that included senior commands in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had discussed his departure with Trump for several weeks, White House officials said, but decided to speed it up because questions about his status were casting a shadow over his exchanges with foreign officials. Trump, the White House officials said, also wanted to fill out his national security team before his meeting with Kim, which is scheduled to occur by the end of May. Bolton, who will take office April 9, has met regularly with Trump to discuss foreign policy. Though he has been on a list of candidates for the post since the beginning of the administration, officials said Trump has hesitated, in part because of his negative reaction to Bolton’s walrus-style mustache. Today, however, Trump summoned him to the Oval Office to discuss the job. Hours later, Bolton was on Fox, where he has been an analyst, for a pre-scheduled interview, in which he confessed surprise at how quickly Trump announced the appointment. “This hasn’t sunk in,” he said. In his interview on Fox News, Bolton declined to discuss his views on Iran, Russia or North Korea, though he acknowledged his positions were hardly a mystery after years of writing and speaking. He described the job of national security adviser as making sure that the bureaucracy did not impede the decisions of the president. Officials said that General McMaster’s departure was a mutual decision and amicable, with little of the recrimination that marked Tillerson’s exit. They said it was not related to a leak on March 20 of briefing materials for Trump’s phone call with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, which infuriated the president and did not help General McMaster’s case. Bolton complained on Fox News that “a munchkin in the executive branch” was responsible for the leak and called it “completely unacceptable.’’ Trump issued a statement that coincided with his tweet. “H. R. McMaster has served his country with distinction for more than 30 years,” the statement said. “He has won many battles and his bravery and toughness are legendary. General McMaster’s leadership of the National Security Council staff has helped my administration accomplish great things to bolster America’s national security.” General McMaster said in a telephone interview today that his departure had been under discussion for weeks, and, “really, the only issue that had been left open is timing.” He would have preferred to stay in the West Wing until the summer, but the timing was dictated by “what was best for him and the country,” he said, referring to the president. White House officials said the Army sounded out General McMaster, who is a three-star general, about four-star commands after he left the White House, but he declined them. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has had a contentious relationship with General McMaster, and it was not clear what role he played. Democrats greeted the news about Bolton with deep alarm. “The person who will be first in first out of the Oval Office on national security matters passionately believes the U.S. should launch pre-emptive war against both Iran and North Korea with no authorization from Congress,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut. “My God.” Republicans, however, expressed satisfaction. “Selecting John Bolton as national security adviser is good news for America’s allies and bad news for America’s enemies,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “He has a firm understanding of the threats we face from North Korea, Iran and radical Islam.” Inside the National Security Council on Thursday night, one person described the mood among career officials as somber, with offices largely empty by 9 p.m., unusually early for an agency renowned for its round-the-clock work schedule. General McMaster struggled for months to impose order not only on a fractious national security team but on a president who resisted the sort of discipline customary in the military. Although General McMaster has been a maverick voice at times during a long military career, the Washington foreign policy establishment had hoped he would keep the president from making rash decisions. Yet the president and the general, who had never met before Trump interviewed General McMaster for the post, had little chemistry from the start, and often clashed behind the scenes. General McMaster’s didactic style and preference for order made him an uncomfortable fit with a president whose style is looser, and who has little patience for the detail and nuance of complex national security issues. They had differed on policy, as well, with General McMaster cautioning against ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran without a strategy for what would come next, and tangling with Trump over the strategy for American forces in Afghanistan. Their tensions seeped into public view in February, when General McMaster said at a security conference in Munich that the evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was beyond dispute. The statement drew a swift rebuke from Trump, who vented his anger on Twitter. “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” Trump wrote, using his campaign nickname for Hillary Clinton. “Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!” General McMaster also had a difficult relationship with the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, people close to the White House said. Kelly, they said, prevailed in easing out General McMaster but failed to prevent Trump from hiring Bolton, whom they said Kelly fears will behave like a cabinet official rather than a staff member. General McMaster’s position at the White House had been seen as precarious for months, and he had become the target of a concerted campaign by hardline activists outside the administration who accused him of undermining the president’s agenda and pushed for his ouster, even creating a social media effort branded with a #FireMcMaster hashtag. Last summer, Trump balked at a plan General McMaster presented to bolster the presence of United States forces in Afghanistan, although the president ultimately embraced a strategy that would require thousands more American troops. General McMaster had been among the most hardline administration officials in his approach to North Korea, publicly raising the specter of a “preventive war” against the North. He was among those who expressed concerns about Trump’s abrupt decision this month to meet Kim, according to a senior official. (Mark Landler and Maggie Huberman, “Trump Chooses Hawk for 3rd Security Adviser as Shake-Up Continues,” New York Times, March 23, 2018, p. A-1) When President Trump suddenly announced two weeks ago that he would meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, John R. Bolton suggested a pithy strategy for how the meeting should proceed. It should “be a fairly brief session where Trump says: ‘Tell me you have begun total denuclearization, because we’re not going to have protracted negotiations. You can tell me right now or we’ll start thinking of something else,’” Bolton, the hardline former diplomat, said on a radio program the next day. He made no secret of what the “something else” should be: a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, which he wrote last month would be a “perfectly legitimate” response to what he views as an imminent threat. Bolton’s ascension to national security adviser, replacing Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, creates the most radically aggressive foreign policy team around the American president in modern memory. The anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq invasion was yesterday. Many who were involved in that decision have since begun to acknowledge the flaws — not only the reliance on what turned out to be false intelligence, but false assumptions about how quickly peace and prosperity would come to Iraq. Bolton continues to assert that it was the right decision and was among those who insisted, in the run-up to the war, that Saddam Hussein was on the brink of getting weapons of mass destruction. His initial instinct was to use force. In North Korea’s case, there is no debate: The country has conducted six nuclear tests, and has demonstrated that its missiles are within striking distance of American cities. If his argument for pre-emptive strikes was convincing to Bush, he can make a far more persuasive case to Trump. (David E. Sanger, “Volatile Problems Ahead for a Team of Hard-Line Advisers,” New York Times, March 23, 2018, p. A-18) A senior Blue House official said Seoul was planning to carry out “various deep negotiations” with Bolton to resolve Korea Peninsular issues, and did not give out the customary response that it “welcomed” Trump’s personnel decision. “We’re aware that he’s trusted by President Trump,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. On speculation that Bolton may try to sabotage Seoul’s efforts to bring Trump and Kim together, the official said it “isn’t important” how Bolton thought about the Trump-Kim summit before he was tapped, and that what mattered was the fact that Trump was showing the “will” to meet the North Korean leader. The reaction of Bolton’s South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong, head of the National Security Office in the Blue House, was “not bad,” said the Blue House source. Bolton, who served as American ambassador to the UN from 2005 to 2006, was directly involved in the drafting of UN Security Council resolution 1718, which followed Pyongyang’s first nuclear test in October 2006. “The North Korean ambassador at that time left the conference room in defiance of the resolution,” recalled a South Korean diplomatic source, who asked not to be named. “I remember Ambassador Bolton pointing his finger at the empty seat with rage, yelling North Korea should be expelled from the UN. It truly was a menacing scene unlikely to occur again in the history of the UN Security Council.” In 2003, Bolton was involved in the six-party North Korean denuclearization talks as a member of the American delegation, according to diplomatic sources with knowledge of the series of talks. One time, he described North Korean society as “hell” and called then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il a tyrant. The North called him a “human scum” and “vampire,” saying he was unqualified to join the six-party talks. Bolton eventually left the delegation, said the sources. (Lee Sung-eun and Yoo Jee-hye, “Trump Picks Hard-Liner as His Security Adviser,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 24, 2018, p. 1) President Trump has been one of the most rhetorically bellicose commanders in chief in modern American history. He’s bragged about the size of his “nuclear button,” repeatedly threatened military action and used playground taunts to demean the United States’ adversaries. But in the first 15 months of his presidency, Trump has been cautious when it comes to actually using military power and putting U.S. forces in harm’s way. The last two weeks could mark a major turning point in his presidency. In selecting John Bolton as his new national security adviser and Mike Pompeo as his secretary of state, Trump has elevated two of the most consistently hawkish Republicans in Washington. Now, the question is how these two advisers will change a president with few, if any, fixed views on foreign policy. Bolton has been a fervent advocate for using U.S. military power to prevent rogue regimes, such as Iran and North Korea, from acquiring and proliferating nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. “He is unabashed about this,” said Mark Groombridge, a former top adviser to Bolton at the State Department and United Nations. “He has no problems with the doctrine of preemption and feels the greatest threat that the United States faces is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” Trump was initially drawn to Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, whom he dismissed today as national security adviser, for his reputation as a warrior in Iraq and Afghanistan. But McMaster’s methodical and academic style grated on the president, who often complained that he couldn’t stand being around him. Bolton and Pompeo are much more of a stylistic match. “Trump likes the pugnacious, tough-guy style, and they reinforce it,” said Eliot Cohen, a former Bush administration official and Trump critic. They are also far more savvy bureaucratic operators than McMaster, who had never served in Washington and often tried to wear Trump down rather than woo him. The challenge for Bolton and Pompeo will be persuading Trump to support their aggressive plans. McMaster pressed the Pentagon for military options to strike targets in Iran. But his entreaties were routinely rebuffed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, said U.S. officials. “Mattis has been daggers drawn with H.R. on everything,” said a person close to both men who requested anonymity to discuss the issue. In most of these disputes, Trump either backed Mattis or did not weigh in with his feuding advisers, the person said. In Afghanistan, McMaster took a similarly tough line, pressing Trump to agree, against his own instincts, to double the size of U.S. forces to 15,000 troops and back a strategy that relies heavily on the United States’ ability to improve Afghanistan’s inefficient and corrupt government. But Trump never seemed to buy into the new strategy and resented McMaster for pushing it on him, U.S. officials said. Pentagon officials have said that they feel under intense pressure to show progress on the battlefield this year before Trump pulls the plug. In approaching North Korea, Bolton has suggested that Trump should demand that Kim Jong Un denuclearize and allow international arms inspectors unfettered access to the country — an outcome most Korea experts say is highly unlikely. Absent a total North Korean capitulation, Bolton is likely to press Trump to reject lesser concessions such as a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear program, said those who have worked with him. “John hates the word ‘freeze,’ ” Groombridge said. “Hates it.” At the White House, Bolton is likely to reinforce Trump’s “America First” view of the world. The president and his new national security adviser share a long-standing animus toward any treaties, international laws or alliances that limit the United States’ freedom to act on the world stage. Bolton has also shown he knows how to influence Trump. Even when he was frozen out of a White House job at the start of the administration, Bolton managed to gain access to the president.

For a brief period after White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly took over, Bolton was completely blocked from the Oval Office. But the ban didn’t last for long. Bolton won back his contact by drafting a plan to help Trump get out of the Iran deal at the same time that the president’s advisers were encouraging him to stay in it. As national security adviser, Bolton’s former colleagues said, he would make accessing Trump his top priority. His model: Henry Kissinger. “John always said that he admired Kissinger,” Groombridge recalled. “His model is very much an imperial-style National Security Council.” (Greg Jaffe, “The Hawkish Views of Bolton and Pompeo Could Mark a Turning Point for Trump,” Washington Post, March 25, 2018) Former ambassador to the UN John Bolton, spoke about North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on Fox News Channel’s ‘Sunday Morning Futures’: Bolton: The only diplomatic option left is to end the North Korean regime by effectively having the South take it over. You’ve got to argue with China—Trish Regan, Fox: That’s not really diplomatic!

Bolton: That is their problem, not ours. Anybody who thinks more diplomacy with North Korea, more sanctions, whether against North Korea, or an effort to apply sanctions against China, is just giving North Korea more time to increase its nuclear arsenal … and put us, South Korea, and Japan in more jeopardy. We have fooled around with North Korea for 25 years, and fooling around some more is just going to make matters worse.” (Tim Hains, “John Bolton: ‘Only Diplomatic Option Left Is to End the Regime in North Korea,” RealClearPolitics, September 3, 2017)

President Trump imposed tariffs on as much as $60 billion worth of Chinese goods to combat the rising threat from a nation that the White House has called “an economic enemy.” The measures are Trump’s strongest trade action yet against a country that he says is responsible for thousands of lost American jobs and billions in lost revenues. Financial markets plunged on fears of a potential trade war between the world’s two largest economies, with the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropping by 2.5 percent. The White House said it was taking action in retaliation for China’s use of pressure and intimidation to obtain American technology and trade secrets. The measures include a significant change in Trump’s looming steel and aluminum tariffs that would aim them primarily at China. After Trump announced the moves, China’s Ministry of Commerce said that it was proposing tariffs of its own on 128 products from the United States, like nuts, wine and pork, that it valued at about $3 billion. China urged the Trump administration to resolve differences through dialogue to “avoid damage to the broader picture of Chinese-U.S. cooperation.” The president’s actions fulfill his frequent campaign pledge to demand fairer trade deals with nations around the globe and to retaliate against trading partners if the United States does not secure better agreements. “We have one particular problem,” the president said before signing an order that will impose tariffs on hundreds of Chinese products, from shoes and clothing to consumer electronics. “We have a tremendous intellectual property theft situation going on.” (Mark Landler and Jim Tankersley, “U.S. Imposes Tariffs on $60 Billion Worth of Chinese Goods,” New York Times, March 23, 2018, p. A-1)

Tokyo has asked North Korea through diplomatic channels for a summit between Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kyodo News reported. Tokyo wants to discuss how to implement a 2002 agreement signed by then-Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and find solutions to abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s abduction and the nuclear issue. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary SugaYoshihide neither confirmed nor denied the report. “We have been exchanging views with North Korea through the use of our Beijing embassy channel as well as through government-to-government bilateral negotiations,” he said, adding there have been “various opportunities and means” to approach North Korea. (Kim Soo-hye, “Japan Asks N. Korea for Summit,” Chosun Ilbo, March 23, 2018)

North Korea’s parliament plans to convene a session April 11, KCNA said, amid attention over whether the North will send messages targeting South Korea and the United States ahead of its planned summits with them. The SPA holds a plenary session every April to deal with budgets, cabinet overhaul and other issues. Hundreds of deputies attend the meeting. Focus will be placed on whether the North will express a potential change of its stance toward the country’s nuclear weapons program. At a parliamentary meeting in April 2012, the North stipulated in the preamble of its Constitution that the country is a nuclear state. The following year, the SPA adopted a law codifying its possession of nuclear weapons for self-defense and consolidating its status as a nuclear weapons state. At last year’s session, the North revived a parliamentary foreign affairs commission for the first time in 19 years, a move seen as aimed at improving its external relations amid tough international sanctions. South Korea’s unification ministry said this year’s parliamentary meeting is expected to approve a budget plan and discuss personnel reshuffle as it did last year. “The North is expected to conduct a personnel shakeup in a follow-up on the decision by the WPK’s central committee’s plenary session in October 2017,” the ministry said. (Yonhap, “N.K.’s Parliament to Hold Meeting in April before Inter-Korean Summit,” March 22, 2018)


3/23/18:
Pabian, Bermudez, and Liu: “Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site from mid-March 2018 suggests that there has been a significant slowdown in tunneling and a reduced presence of related personnel at the site when compared to just two weeks earlier. During this same time period, high-level talks between North and South Korea moved forward, including Pyongyang’s proposal for a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Imagery from early March had shown signs of continued tunneling excavations at the West Portal, including mining carts and significant amounts of new spoil deposits. Large groups of personnel were also noted in the open support areas serving the nuclear test site’s Command Center. However, imagery from March 17 showed no evidence of tunneling operations or the presence of any personnel or vehicles at any of the support areas including those near the Command Center. This is an important development given efforts to establish high-level meetings between the United States, South Korea and North Korea. However, whether this is just a temporary development or whether it will continue over time is unclear.” (Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Jack Liu, “North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Significant Slowdown in Tunneling,” 38North, March 23, 2018)

The United States Forces Korea (USFK) plans to hold its first-ever mass evacuation exercise to the U.S. during the upcoming joint military drills with South Korea next month, according to reports. The USFK has held the evacuation exercises, called Focused Passage, twice a year to brace for any worst-case military scenarios. But this is the first time some volunteers of USFK families and noncombatant troops will fly to the U.S. mainland, overseas media said. For this year, the evacuation rehearsal is scheduled from April 16 to 20. The drills will come as part of this year’s joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. President Moon Jae-in has also taken advantage of Kim’s rare signal for dialogue by mediating talks between Washington and Pyongyang. U.S. President Donald Trump also accepted Kim’s gesture for dialogue, with both sides expected to meet sometime in May. Under the peace momentum, Seoul and Washington reached a consensus over keeping the upcoming drills low-key without any strategic weapons — such as nuclear submarines. (Lee Min-hyung, “USFK Mulls Mass Evacuation Exercises during Joint Drills with S. Korea,” Korea Times, March 23, 2018)

For Japan, the hits just keep on coming. Only last week, Tokyo was scrambling to recover after being caught flat-footed by President Trump’s abrupt acceptance of an invitation to meet Kim Jong-un personally to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program. Today, officials in Japan awoke to the news that it was the largest American ally to be left off a list of countries temporarily exempted from stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports by the Trump administration. The omission of Japan, the largest foreign supplier to be so excluded, was especially pointed. Australia, Brazil, Mexico and even South Korea, which is engaged with the United States in tense renegotiations of a free-trade pact, appeared on the list. The move also seemed a personal snub of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who has courted Trump through rounds of golf, frequent telephone calls and lavish steak meals. “It’s really kind of almost tragicomic,” said Nakano Koichi, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo and frequent critic of the Japanese leader. “Abe was being really sycophantic in trying to please Trump, and at a certain point, quite recently, he was talked about as the closest friend that Trump has. And it all turns out that that wasn’t good for anything when it comes to furthering the national interests of Japan.” But for anyone who has been paying attention, there have been hints all along that in matters of trade, Tokyo should regard Trump as much “frenemy” as friend. During the presidential campaign, he seemed to harbor three-decades-old perceptions of Japan, chastising it for “crushing” the United States in trade, invoking the specter of the 1980s and the height of the trade wars between the two countries. After he was elected, he threatened to impose a “big border tax” on Toyota if it built a new auto plant in Mexico. In niggling comments during a visit to Tokyo last fall, Trump told Japanese executives to “try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over,” ignoring the fact that Japanese carmakers build nearly four million vehicles in plants in the United States annually, more than twice the number the industry ships from Japan. “They knew that this was a president who had pretty well-established views when it came to how he thought about Japan and the economic relationship with the U.S.,” said Tobias Harris, a vice president and Japan analyst at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy based in New York. When announcing $60 billion in tariffs against China yesterday, Trump directed a sugarcoated barb against Japan and Abe. “I’ll talk to Prime Minister Abe of Japan and others — great guy, friend of mine — and there will be a little smile on their face,” Trump said. “And the smile is, ‘I can’t believe we’ve been able to take advantage of the United States for so long.’ So those days are over.” In any case, the tariffs are unlikely to hurt Japan’s economy that much. The country’s steel exports to the United States represent just 5 percent of its total steel exports, and it produces very little aluminum. (Motoko, Rich, “Misreading Trump: Ally Japan Is Spurned on Tariff Exemptions,” New York Times, March 23, 2018)


3/24/18:
North Korea has accepted South Korea’s proposal to hold high-level talks on March 29 to discuss the date and agenda items for an inter-Korean summit slated for late April, the Ministry of Unification said. Two days ago, Seoul notified Pyongyang via a border communication channel of its proposal for talks March 29 on the northern side of the border truce village of Panmunjom, saying the South’s three-member delegation will be led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon. “North Korea delivered its agreement via the border communication channel today, saying it will send a three-member delegation headed by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for Peaceful Reunification,” said the ministry in a release. “The government will make full preparations for the inter-Korean summit through the March 29 talks,” it added. (Yonhap, “North Korea Agrees to High-Level Talks March 29: Ministry,” March 24, 2018)


3/25-28/18:
Kim Jong Un has made a surprise visit to Beijing on his first known trip outside North Korea since taking power in 2011, three people with knowledge of the visit said. Further details of the visit, including how long Kim would stay and who he would meet, were not immediately available. The people asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information. A special train may have carried Kim through the northeastern Chinese border city of Dandong, Japan’s Kyodo News said earlier. Nippon TV showed footage of a train arriving March 25 in Beijing that looked similar to one used by Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, to visit the Chinese capital shortly before his death in 2011. (Bloomberg, “Kim Jong Un Is Making a Surprise China Visit, Sources Say,” March 26, 2018) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to denuclearize and meet U.S. officials, China said on March 28 after an historic meeting with President Xi Jinping, who promised China would uphold its friendship with its isolated neighbor. KCNA made no mention of Kim’s pledge to denuclearize, or his meeting with President Donald Trump anticipated for some time in May. China’s Foreign Ministry cited Kim in a lengthy statement as telling Xi that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is starting to improve because North Korea has taken the initiative to ease tensions and put forward proposals for peace talks. “It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the Peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” Kim Jong Un said, according to the statement. North Korea is willing to talk with the United States and hold a summit between the two countries, he said. “The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” Kim said. State television showed pictures of the two men chatting amiably and Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, getting an equally warm welcome from Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan. China briefed Trump on Kim’s visit and the communication included a personal message from Xi to Trump, the White House said in a statement. “The United States remains in close contact with our allies South Korea and Japan. We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea,” the statement said. A top Chinese diplomat, Politburo member Yang Jiechi, will brief officials in Seoul on March 29, including President Moon Jae In, on Xi’s meeting with Kim, according to the presidential office in Seoul. Kim told a banquet hosted by Xi the visit was intended to “maintain our great friendship and continue and develop our bilateral ties at a time of rapid developments on the Korean Peninsula,” according to KCNA. Xi accepted an invitation “with pleasure” from Kim to visit North Korea, KCNA said. However, China’s statement made no mention of Xi accepting an invitation, saying only that Xi pledged to keep frequent contacts with Kim through the exchange of visits and sending special envoys and letters to each other. (Reuters, “Kim Makes No-Nukes Pledge to Xi as Meeting Confirmed,” Yomiuri Shimbun, March 28, 2018)

Xinhua: “At the invitation of General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee and President Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un, Chairman of the Korean Workers Party and Chairman of the State Council, paid an unofficial visit to China from March 25th to 28th. … Both leaders exchanged in-depth views on the international and Korean Peninsula situation. Xi Jinping pointed out that “since the beginning of this year, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has undergone positive changes. The DPRK has made important efforts to this end. We appreciate this. On the issue of the Peninsula, we insist on achieving the goal of denuclearization on the Peninsula, maintaining peace and stability on the Peninsula, and solving problems through dialogue and negotiation. We call on all parties to support the North and South sides of the Peninsula to improve relations and jointly make practical efforts to promote peace talks. China is willing to continue to play a constructive role on the issue of the Peninsula and work together with all parties including the DPRK to jointly promote the relaxation of the tension on the Peninsula.” Kim Jong-un said that “the current situation on the Korean Peninsula has begun to develop well. We took the initiative to take measures to ease tension and put forward proposals for peace dialogue.” In accordance with the wishes of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il, he is committed to achieving the denuclearization of the Peninsula. “This is our consistent position. We are determined to transform North-South relations into a relationship of reconciliation and cooperation. We will hold a North-South summit meeting and are willing to hold dialogues with the United States and hold summits between North Korea and the United States. If South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts in good faith, create a peaceful and stable atmosphere, and adopt periodic and simultaneous measures to achieve peace, the denuclearization of the Peninsula can be resolved. In this process, we hope to strengthen strategic communication with China to jointly maintain the momentum of consultation and dialogue and peace and stability on the Peninsula.” (Xinhua, “Xi Jinping Holds Talks with Kim Jong Un,” March 28, 2018)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered to give up his nuclear weapons during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing if Seoul and Washington take “phased” steps for peace and stability, according to Chinese media reports. “We voluntarily offered dialogue to the South and the United States, and have since taken appropriate steps to ease tension on the peninsula,” Kim was quoted as saying during the summit by China Central Television (CCTV) and Xinhua News Agency, March 28. Kim returned to Pyongyang the same day after a four-day visit to Beijing. “Once the U.S. and South Korea take phased and simultaneous measures in response to our peace efforts, the issue of denuclearization of the peninsula can be resolved,” the young dictator said. (Lee Min-hyung, “Kim Jong Un Offers Conditional Denuclearization,” Korea Times, March 28, 2018)

KCNA: “There were talks between Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, president of the People’s Republic of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission, at the Great Hall of the People on March 26. The supreme leaders of the two parties and two countries of the DPRK and the PRC exchanged views on important matters including the development of the DPRK-China friendly relations and the issue of handling the situation of the Korean peninsula. Kim Jong Un said that he was pleased to have the first significant meeting with Xi Jinping. He said that it is the fixed determination of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the government of the DPRK to carry forward the precious tradition of the DPRK-China friendship, provided and strengthened by the leaders of elder generations of the two countries, and put it on a new high stage as required by the developing era. He talked about the need to meet often Chinese comrades including Xi Jinping to further deepen friendship and strengthen the strategic communication and strategic and tactical cooperation so as to consolidate the unity and cooperation between the two countries. He voiced his expectation that the Chinese people would achieve shining successes in the cause of building modern and powerful socialist country in the new era and in the struggle to realize China’s dream of the great prosperity of the Chinese nation under the correct leadership of the Communist Party of China with Xi Jinping at the core. Xi Jinping warmly welcomed Kim Jong Un for visiting China as his maiden foreign trip. He stressed that it is the strategic option and unshakable will of the Chinese party and government to attach importance to and steadily carry forward and develop the Sino-DPRK friendship which the leaders of elder generations personally provided and nurtured with sincerity in the course of contributing to the victorious advance of the socialist cause, out of common ideal, faith and deep revolutionary friendship. The recent positive change observed in the situation of the Korean peninsula is a fruition of strategic decision made by Kim Jong Un and the efforts exerted by the party and government of the DPRK, he said. He expressed the conviction that under the leadership of Kim Jong Un the Workers’ Party of Korea would register fresh successes in steadily advancing along the socialist path, developing the economy and improving the standard of people’s living by guiding the Korean people. Kim Jong Un invited, on behalf of the party and government of the DPRK, Xi Jinping to make an official visit to the DPRK at a convenient time and the invitation was accepted with pleasure. Present at the talks from the DPRK side were Ri Su Yong and Kim Yong Chol, members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK and vice-chairmen of the WPK Central Committee, and Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK. Present from the PRC side were Wang Huning, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and member of the CPC Central Committee Secretariat, Ding Xuexiang, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, member of the CPC Central Committee Secretariat and director of the CPC Central Committee General Office, Huang Kunming, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, member of its Secretariat and head of its Publicity Department, Yang Jiechi, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, Wang Yi, state councilor and minister of Foreign Affairs, and Song Tao, head of the International Liaison Department of the CPC Central Committee.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong Un Has Talks with Xi Jinping,” March 28, 2018)

KCNA: “General Secretary Xi Jinping made a speech at a grand banquet arranged in welcome of the China visit by respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. He said that the visit by Chairman Kim Jong Un is the one of great significance at a special time, and it suffices to prove that Chairman Kim Jong Un and the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea attach utmost importance to the relations between the two parties and two countries of China and the DPRK. It is also of weighty significance in deepening the communication between the two sides, strengthening cooperation and promoting partnership, he added. He said the visit would make an important contribution to putting the relations between the two parties and two countries on a new stage and promoting the regional peace, stability and development at a new historical time. The traditional Sino-DPRK friendship was personally provided and cultivated with much effort by the leaders of elder generations of the two parties and two countries, he said. He noted that President Kim Il Sung visited China over 40 times in his lifetime, forging deep friendly feelings with the Chinese leaders of elder generation including Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. The traditional Sino-DPRK friendship is the unique one in the world that has been sealed in blood, and it provides the two parties and two peoples with happiness just as a luxuriant tree with deep roots and a never-drying spring, he pointed out. When General Secretary Kim Jong Il visited China in May 2010, he said that the DPRK-China friendship is a heritage provided and bequeathed down to us by the revolutionaries of elder generation and that it is our historic and strategic option and unshakable stand to value it generation after generation, Xi Jinping said. He said he had talks with Kim Jong Un in a friendly atmosphere. We reached a consensus that it is in the common interests of both sides and a strategic option common to both sides to carry forward and glorify the traditional Sino-DPRK friendship, he said, adding: We are convinced that no matter how the international and regional situations may change, both sides would take firm control of the general trend of the world development and the over-all phase of the development of Sino-DPRK relations, strengthen high-level visits, deepen strategic communication, and expand exchanges and cooperation, thereby providing the two countries and peoples with happiness. At present the Chinese party, government and people are striving and struggling to realize the “Two Centenary Goals” and the dream of China, i.e. great prosperity of the Chinese nation, under the strategic assignments set forth by the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China. Xi Jinping, said that the diligent and resourceful Korean people are making redoubled efforts to build a socialist economic power under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea headed by Chairman Kim Jong Un. He voiced firm support to the Korean comrades in their active efforts for defending the political stability and promoting the economic development and hoped that they would steadily make new greater successes in the cause of socialist construction in Korea, adding he is convinced of it.” (KCNA. “Xi Jinping’s Speech at Banquet,” March 29, 2018)

KCNA: “Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un made a speech at the grand banquet hosted by Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People. Kim Jong Un said that he made a visit to the People’s Republic of China like lightning with the sole desire to invariably maintain the long-standing historical tradition of great DPRK-China friendship, to live up to the revolutionary obligation and to creditably carry forward and develop the relations between the DPRK and the PRC generation after generation under the new situation prevailing on the Korean peninsula. He expressed his heartfelt gratitude to General Secretary Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan for devoting their time and according warm and cordial hospitality just as they would do for their own brothers and sisters, though being busy with the party and state affairs. He said that he was deeply moved by the sincerity and deep consideration shown by Xi Jinping and leading officials of the Chinese party and state so that the successful visit would be made in a short period after gladly accepting the proposal for the visit, and noted that he was very thankful for it. He warmly congratulated Xi Jinping on his election as president of the People’s Republic of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission of the PRC after the successful conclusion of “two conferences” following the grand 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China. It is quite natural that the capital of China was chosen for his maiden foreign trip, he noted, adding it is also a noble obligation of him who has to value the DPRK-China friendship as his own life and carry it forward generation after generation. The peoples of Korea and China, who have closely supported and cooperated by dedicating their blood and life to the protracted joint struggle, have clearly realized in their life experience that their destinies are inseparable and how valuable the peaceful environment and stability in the region are for the two countries, fraternal neighbors who are linked by the same river, and how costly it is to win and defend them, he added. He said that he together with Xi Jinping had an in-depth exchange of views on important matters including the development of the DPRK-China friendly relations and the urgent issue of handling the situation of the Korean peninsula and affirmed the shared will to consolidate the socialist systems in the two countries and provide the two peoples with happiness and future. He noted that it is the unshakable stand of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPRK government to develop on a new stage the DPRK-China friendly relationship which was forged in the sacred common struggle for the socialist cause and which has maintained its nature despite all tempests of history, true to the noble intention of the preceding leaders. The WPK and the people of the DPRK are rejoiced as over their own over the fact that the Chinese people have registered signal achievements in the cause of building a modern and powerful socialist country in the new era and the international prestige of China is rising as the days go by under the guidance of the Communist Party of China with General Secretary Xi Jinping at the core, he pointed out. Kim Jong Un sincerely hoped that the Chinese people would brilliantly carry out the tasks set forth by the 19th Congress of the CPC and achieve great prosperity of China under the guidance of General Secretary Xi Jinping.” (KCNA, “Kim Jong Un’s Speech at Banquet,” March 29, 2018)


3/26/18:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Tokyo has been communicating with Pyongyang through “various means” on the possibility of meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while also voicing a positive note about the prospects of opening a three-way dialogue involving Washington. Abe’s remarks during an Upper House Budget Committee session came on the heels of recent media reports saying Tokyo had conveyed to Pyongyang Abe’s willingness to hold talks with Kim, in the hope of making headway on the long-stalled abduction issue concerning Japanese taken by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s. “We have been communicating with North Korea through various means, including using embassy channels in Beijing, but I will refrain from revealing any further details,” Abe said in a carefully crafted response to a question about a potential Abe-Kim meeting by Ichita Yamamoto, a member of the prime minister’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. (Osaki Tomohiro, “Abe Says He’s in Contact with North about Meeting Kim, Suggests in Diet He’d Be Open to Trilateral Summit with U.S.,” Japan Times, March 26, 2018)

The Trump administration says trade sanctions are undermining the North Korean economy and that the financial squeeze has compelled Kim Jong Un to negotiate. “There’s no question these sanctions are working and that’s what brought them to the table,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. But information about the North Korean economy is scarce at best. It has never published reliable economic figures. And amid the statistical blackout, there are some signs the country has remained stable, according to specialists working from commercial satellite photography, reports gathered at great risk from people in North Korea, and other sources.

The value of the North Korean currency, the won, has been steady, according to those reports. So, too, the prices for basics such as rice and corn. The price of gasoline spiked in the fall, but it has been falling in recent months. New construction projects continued to pop up, as least through January, according to satellite photography; the lights at night in Pyongyang and the border with China appeared relatively brighter, although the country as a whole was growing less so. “There’s certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence that growth is, if not positive, at least flat,” said Daniel Ahn, who in February left his post leading the Office of the Chief Economist at the U.S. State Department, where he studied the economic effects of sanctions. Few doubt that the sanctions have shrunk North Korea’s trade with the rest of the world, particularly over the past nine months. What remains unclear, though, is how much that reduction has constrained the country’s economy. What the sanctions appear to have achieved is a huge cut in North Korea’s exports — its sales to the rest of the world, mainly China. Exports from North Korea plunged from about $240 million a month in 2016 to less than $50 million a month by the end of last year, according to IHS Markit Global Trade Atlas. Anecdotal accounts from traders in Chinese cities bordering North Korea back up those figures, too. They say that North Korean factories are closing for lack of Chinese customers. “I do believe a major reason why they’re having this meeting is because the economic sanctions have a very big impact on both their economy and their ability to get pieces of material and other things they need for their weapons program,” Mnuchin said. What those trade losses have meant for the overall North Korean economy is unclear, however, because while economists expect to see a downturn, they have seen few signs of it. “The sanctions have to be creating havoc for the regime,” said William B. Brown, an economist who grew up in South Korea and who has worked in the analytical arm of the CIA, the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and the National Intelligence Council. “All those coal and textile workers who were producing for export — what are they doing now?” Brown, who now teaches Chinese and Korean economics at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, said he’s been expecting that the North Korean economy — what little we know of it — would begin reflecting that havoc. “But,” he said, “we’re not seeing it yet.” To understand an economy, economists often bring to bear huge data sets. But when it comes to North Korea, they must rely on shreds of information. One measure of the information scarcity is that the most widely used economic indicators from North Korea may be the price estimates produced on a shoestring budget by the Daily NK, a website run out of an office in Seoul. Roughly once or so a month, reporters at the Daily NK confer via cellphone with a network of sources in three North Korean cities. The reporters, some of them defectors, poll their sources back home on a handful of very basic questions: What is the price of rice? Of corn? Of gasoline? What is the exchange rate? And despite the sanctions, the exchange rate for the North Korean won has remained stable for more than three years — about 8,000 won per dollar — a remarkable equilibrium given the growing trade deficit. “The single greatest mystery in the North Korean economy is the stability of the won,” Marcus Noland said. It is a mystery because, among other things, the kind of trade deficit that North Korea is running — it is importing much more than it is exporting — normally would depress the value of the won. So what’s keeping the value up? Economists propose a number of possibilities. It could be that the government is propping up the won, spending reserves of foreign currency to bid it up. Or the regime could be expanding its illicit businesses, such as cyber-crime and counterfeiting, to fill in the official trade deficit. Or it could be that the growing tolerance for markets and private investment in North Korea is providing the kind of upward boost necessary to keep the economy aloft. We just don’t know,” Noland said. Gas prices spiked in the fall, more than tripling in price to 24,000 won per kilogram. That fluctuation was quickly seen as evidence that the sanctions, which limit sales of refined petroleum products to North Korea, were having an effect. But in recent months, that price, too, has fallen back, though not all the way, to about 12,000 won per kilogram. As a result, analysts who have been waiting years for signs that the sanctions are “biting” are still mostly waiting. The central bank of South Korea, which publishes an annual estimate of the size of the North Korean economy based on scraps of public data as well as national intelligence, said that the North Korean economy grew 4 percent in 2016 — more than either the U.S. or South Korean economies. Through 2016, it had grown four of the past five years. Its estimate for 2017 is expected in July. “While estimates vary widely, the South Korean central bank says the North Korean economy has grown. … I, too, think the direction is likely positive,” said Ahn, who is a professorial lecturer at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Some satellite photography leads to similar conclusions. Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins SAIS, spends much of his days analyzing satellite photographs of North Korea, looking for new construction or other signs of economic activity, such as smoke from a factory. He said that the pace of major building projects tapered last year but that big projects are still going up, including a coastal tourist resort, and the economy does not appear to be shrinking. “I look at satellite imagery every day. I have the largest nongovernmental database of North Korean factories,” said Melvin, noting that his review runs up only through June 2017. “And from the satellite imagery, I cannot point to anything that says this factory was closed since the sanctions have been adopted.”Ahn’s analysis of nighttime images of North Korea, by contrast, offers mixed results. Ahn has conducted an analysis of satellite photography at night, comparing the brightness of North Korean cities over time. The measurement of brightness can be difficult because of cloud cover and the reflection of moonlight from the Earth’s surface, but economists often use it as a measure of economic activity. Ahn said the results suggest that the country as a whole has dimmed over time, though some key areas, such as Pyongyang and the border with China, have brightened relatively speaking. “At a broad level, the images of North Korea are getting darker, but parts are getting brighter,” Ahn said. One explanation, Ahn said, is that “the regime is shifting what limited resources it has toward its own elites in those areas to ensure it remains in power.” It might just be a matter of timing. It wasn’t until March 2016 that the sanctions began to target, in a general way, the North Korean economy. Until that point, the U.N. sanctions against North Korea were largely “targeted” — that is, they were aimed at specific individuals, firms or military items directly related to the regime. But since then, the sanctions have been broader in scope, targeting exports of North Korean coal, textiles and seafood, some of the country’s most important sources of revenue. Last year, the trade statistics began to reflect those measures, particularly after China enforced the sanctions more rigorously. North Korean exports dropped steeply. (The trade figures are about the only detailed economic figures we have from North Korea, and they are available because North Korea’s trade partners publish them, not North Korea.) Anecdotally, at least, that drop in trade has created hardship. “Multiple sources have told us that a common phrase circulating throughout the country is: ‘Those who were eating three meals a day are down to two, and those previously eating two meals have only one,’ ” the Daily NK representatives said by email. Reports like that, as well as last year’s decline in North Korean exports, have renewed hopes that the sanctions are working and putting pressure on Kim. “Maybe Kim, now reaching out to Seoul and Washington, is all the evidence we need,” Brown said. (Peter Whoriskey, “Trump Says Sanctions Are Hurting the North Korean Economy. But in Some Ways It Seems Stable,” Washington Post, March 26, 2018)

South Korea plans to simultaneously seek to provide a security guarantee for North Korea and make the North give up nuclear weapons when the two Koreas hold a summit, Seoul’s spy agency said. The National Intelligence Service (NIS) briefed lawmakers. “We are not to hold talks on the premise of the security guarantee for the North’s regime,” the spy agency was quoted as saying by lawmakers on the parliamentary intelligence committee. “There will be simultaneous pursuit of giving the North what it wants and making it abandon nuclear weapons.” The NIS told lawmakers that North Korea has a firm resolve for dialogue and a willingness for denuclearization. “North Korea hopes to be recognized as a real, normal state,” a lawmaker said, citing the briefing from the NIS. (Yonhap, “Seoul to Seek Both Security Guarantee for N.K., Denuclearization: Spy Agency,” March 26, 2018)

Ning Fukui, a veteran diplomat is set to take over as China’s deputy special representative for Korean affairs, amid plans for North Korea to hold talks with both South Korea and the United States, sources said. Ning, who served as ambassador to South Korea from 2006-08, and was involved in the four- and six-party talks in the 1990s and 2000s, is expected to work under Kong Xuanyou, China’s special envoy to Pyongyang and vice-foreign minister on North Korean affairs, the diplomatic sources said. While Ning’s appointment has yet to be formally announced, he started work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this month, one of the sources said. (Laura Zhou, “Chinese Diplomat Gets Key Role on North Korea Issues as Beijing Fights to Remain Relevant,” South China Morning Post, March 26, 2018)

ROK Statement: “Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong announced on March 26 that Korea and the U.S. reached an agreement on amending their six-year old free trade agreement (Korea-U.S. FTA) and on exempting Korea from U.S. steel tariffs. He made the comment during a press briefing held at the government complex in Seoul. Trade Minister Kim said both sides reached an agreement in principle on FTA amendments. He stressed to the press that there will be no further opening of agricultural markets and no changes to the tariffs that had already been lifted. Under the updated agreement, Korea will allow the U.S. to extend its 25 percent tariff on imports of Korean pickup trucks by additional 20 years to 2041. The tariff was originally scheduled to expire in 2021. Korea will also allow U.S. automakers selling fewer than 50,000 units per year in Korea to be exempt from Korean safety standards as long as they meet U.S. safety standards, up from 25,000 vehicles previously. Regarding the steel tariff issue, Trade Minister Kim said that the U.S. agreed to exempt Korea from steel tariffs imposed under Section 232 of the U.S. Trade Expansion Act and that Korea agreed to receive a quota of about 2.68 million tons of steel exports annually. This is equivalent to about 70 percent of the annual average Korean steel exports to the U.S. between 2015 and 2017.” (ROK Ministry of Trade, Industry and Commerce Statement, March 26, 2018)


3/27/18:
If President Trump actually meets Kim Jong-un in the next few months — an encounter that many American officials still doubt will come to pass — his challenge will be much larger than merely persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Trump must also get Pyongyang to give up the factories, reactors and nuclear-enrichment facilities that produce the nuclear fuel needed to build more weapons — even as new satellite evidence suggests that a new North Korean reactor that appears to be coming online now, after years of construction, according to analysts. It sits in the Yongbyon nuclear complex. North Korea insists the reactor is intended to produce electricity for civilian use. But the new reactor can also make plutonium, one of the main fuels used in nuclear arms. It can thus supplement the output of the aging, existing facilities at Yongbyon. The new reactor could be a central issue in the Trump-Kim talks, if the goal, as the United States insists, is complete denuclearization. Even if Kim agrees to a freeze on nuclear and missile testing, he would still be able to accumulate more bomb fuel for a larger arsenal as long as the negotiations dragged on. But if the talks fail, or simply drag on, the reactor could also be part of the justification for military action — at least if the past arguments of Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser, John R. Bolton, prevail. In March 2015, just before the Iran deal was struck, Bolton argued in a New York Times op-ed that neither negotiations nor sanctions would stop Iran from bolstering its nuclear and weapons programs. “The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required,” Bolton wrote. “Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.” Before and after the announcement of Bolton’s appointment last week, the National Security Council did not respond to several requests for comment on the evidence that North Korea’s new reactor is being started up. The image of the North Korean reactor from February 25 shows what look like emissions from a smokestack. That suggests that preliminary testing may have begun at the new reactor, according to a report by Jane’s Intelligence Review and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. The plant is called the experimental light water reactor. It has the potential to make 25 to 30 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a small town. The plant could also potentially produce about 20 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium each year, according to the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that tracks nuclear weapons. This would be more than four times the amount made annually by the North’s only other large reactor, which has long supplied the country with plutonium for its nuclear arsenal. Imagery analysts at Stanford found that activity around the new reactor increased significantly in 2017, suggesting that the North has been rushing toward its full operation. Throughout 2017, analysts observed what appeared to be major work to complete a river cooling system, shown below, for the new reactor. Analysts also found some evidence that could support North Korea’s assertion that the new reactor would be used for power generation. Satellite images appeared to show that power lines and a transmission tower had been erected around the site. “There are a number of objects that have been put in place that lead me and a number of experts to the conclusion that this might be used for production of electricity,” said Allison Puccioni of the Stanford team. She cautioned against assuming that North Korea sees the reactor as a way to make more fuel for nuclear weapons. In 2010, satellite imagery showed signs that the North was beginning construction of a new reactor. By 2013, the exterior of the new reactor appeared to be completed, and activity around it was relatively stagnant after that, according to the Stanford group. Siegfried Hecker, with two other nuclear engineering experts, wrote in the Korea Observer in 2016 that North Korea was still developing the technology needed to start the reactor. Over roughly the same period, the country began taking steps to get its old reactor running again, despite earlier promises to abandon the plant. In a satellite image from January 17, 2018, steam is visible from the existing five-megawatt reactor’s turbine building, and hot water appears to be melting snow at a discharge pipe. The evidence suggests that the reactor could again be in active use. “The five-megawatt reactor has been in continuous operation more or less for the entirety of 2017,” said Puccioni, who has been studying satellite imagery of Yongbyon for almost a decade. Yet the issue is not insurmountable. The usual approach is to rely on inspectors who ensure that no spent reactor fuel gets mined for plutonium. The International Atomic Energy Agency did so before at Yongbyon, before its inspectors were expelled, and could surely do so again. Trump administration officials say the denuclearization inspections, however, would have to cover the entire country, because there are suspected undeclared uranium enrichment facilities outside of Yongbyon. Private analysts say they plan to keep monitoring Yongbyon for clues about when the new reactor becomes fully operational and if it is, in fact, producing new fuel for the North’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons. (K.K. Rebecca, William J. Broad, and David E. Sanger, “Why a New Nuclear Plant Could Upset Any Talks with North Korea,” New York Times, March 28, 2018, p. A-9)

Pabian, Bermudez, and Liu: “In a March 27, 2018, New York Times (NYT) article entitled, “North Korea Is Firing up a Reactor. Why That Could Upset Trump’s Talks with Kim.” the authors conclude that North Korea’s Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) is now in the process of starting up. Although the article draws heavily from an earlier article by Jane’s Intelligence Review which is generally consistent with our own reporting, the NYT article went too far in suggesting that the reactor is beginning operations. In the absence of other corroborating data, that conclusion is premature at best and is likely wrong. Commercial satellite imagery from February 25, 2018 shows what could be a small wisp of some type of vapor emanating from the elevated ventilation stack that serves the ELWR. There are serious doubts as to whether this is actually vapor; it may simply be a ground feature of a lighter color associated with the driveway. But even if it is vapor, a ventilation stack is not intended for the removal of any operations exhaust, steam or smoke. Rather, it is designed to provide a mechanism to allow small releases of filtered, radioactive gases that accumulate in the reactor halls and for pressure relief to prevent containment failure due to internal gas pressure in the event of an accident. The Jane’s authors originally suggested this apparent emission—if it is an emission—could be evidence of “pre-operations testing.” However, such a visible emission could just be evidence that the North Koreans were testing part of the ventilation or emergency overpressure gaseous relief system, which is a reasonable course of action but does not necessarily mean that the next step will be to start operations. In doing so, the North Koreans could have exposed the pressure relief valve to a source of high pressure inert gas leading to the apparent wisp emission. Moreover, the NYT mislabeling of this ventilation stack as a “smokestack” creates further unnecessary confusion over the operational status of the ELWR. In reality, any emission from the ventilation stack serving the reactor is only indicative of testing of the emergency ventilation systems and not a signature of “firing up the reactor” as the title suggests. In fact, any “smoke” from a ventilation stack that serves a nuclear reactor would only suggest that the reactor is on fire. If commercial satellite imagery from February 25 does actually show a wispy emission of some kind from the reactor ventilation stack—and again there are serious doubts that it does—it is most likely part of a checkout procedure for the ventilation system. However, no emission from the stack can be construed as indicative of startup operations as that is not the purpose of a ventilation stack. Rather, such an emission should only be interpreted as evidence of ongoing checkout preparations, moving the ELWR closer to operations at some as yet indeterminable time in the future.” (Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Jack Liu, “Not So Fast: A Closer Look at What’s Going on with North Korea’ Experimental Light-Water Reactor,” 38North, March 29, 2018)

Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force underwent its biggest organizational shake-up, in the midst of a challenging security environment, with its command streamlined for flexible operations nationwide and the creation of amphibious forces tasked with defending remote islands. The launch of the Ground Component Command to provide unified command over regional armies and the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, Japan’s version of the U.S. Marines, came as Tokyo seeks to beef up its defenses against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and China’s maritime assertiveness. “We are expecting more situations in which the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces have to work together to rapidly respond at a nationwide level against ballistic missile launches, attacks on islands and major disasters,” Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori said at a press conference, emphasizing the role of the Ground Component Command in such occasions. A senior GSDF member said earlier that establishing a central command headquarters was a “deep desire” of the organization, which was established as part of the Self-Defense Forces in 1954. Unlike the air and maritime services, the GSDF had no central headquarters to control its units, which belong to five regional armies, each operating under commanding generals. Therefore, orders had to be issued to each regional army to mobilize its divisions and brigades. The GSDF’s command structure remained decentralized amid bitter memories of the Imperial Japanese Army’s intervention in politics and its role in wartime military aggression, some political experts say. Onodera asserted that civilian control over the military will be properly maintained “based on prewar lessons.” Headquartered at the GSDF’s Asaka base that straddles Tokyo and Saitama prefectures, the Ground Command Component will play the role of coordinator not only with other SDF units but also with the U.S. military. The GSDF’s first full-scale amphibious operations unit — the other highlight of the reorganization — was launched with around 2,100 members mainly drawn from the Western Army’s infantry regiment stationed at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. The GSDF amphibious brigade would be tasked with retaking Japanese islands, stretching southwest from Kyushu toward Taiwan, if they are illegally occupied. The isles include Miyako Island, which is about 210 kilometers from the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu. Chinese government vessels have repeatedly entered Japanese waters around the islands, creating tension. But the amphibious brigade still appears to be a fledgling unit, with the government yet to secure a permanent base for the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that will play a key role in the transportation of troops. The government plans to deploy 17 newly acquired U.S.-made V-22 Ospreys at Saga airport in southwestern Japan, with their delivery to Japan expected from around the fall. But the government has not won local consent and is not in a situation to push through the plan due to a GSDF helicopter crash in Saga Prefecture in February. The Ground Component Command is headed by Lt. Gen. Kobayashi Shigeru, who formerly led the GSDF’s Central Readiness Force, and the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade is led by Maj. Gen. Aoki Shinichi, former deputy chief of staff of the Western Army. (Kyodo, “Japan GSDF Undergoes Biggest Shakeup amid N. Korea, China Tensions,” March 27, 2018)

Sigal: ““North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the United States,” President-elect Donald Trump tweeted a day after Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Day speech last year. “It won’t happen.” Now the North Korean leader has made Trump’s pledge possible. He has stopped testing just short of demonstrating a reliable thermonuclear weapon and an ICBM with a reentry vehicle capable of delivering it. If President Trump is prepared to negotiate in earnest and live up to his commitments, he might make his wish come true—but not if he heeds advice to confront Kim at the summit with an ultimatum to disarm or else. John Bolton may offer that advice in the mistaken belief that brandishing sanctions and threatening war gives Trump leverage, but Kim retains far greater leverage by resuming tests. Kim may also be willing to commit to denuclearize and even take some steps to disarm if Trump commits to end enmity and take reciprocal steps in that direction. An end to US enmity remains Kim Jong Un’s aim just as it was his grandfather’s and father’s for the past thirty years. Throughout the Cold War, Kim Il Sung had played China off against the Soviet Union to maintain his freedom of maneuver. In 1988, anticipating the Soviet Union’s collapse, he reached out to improve relations with the United States, South Korea and Japan fundamentally in order to avoid overdependence on China. That has been the Kims’ aim ever since. From Pyongyang’s vantage point, that aim was the basis of the 1994 Agreed Framework, which committed Washington to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations,” or, in plain English, to end enmity. That was also the essence of the September 2005 Six Party Joint Statement which bound Washington and Pyongyang to “respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize their relations subject to their respective bilateral policies” as well as to “negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” For Washington, the point of these agreements was the suspension of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. For nearly a decade, the Agreed Framework shuttered the North’s production of fissile material and stopped the test-launches of medium and longer-range missiles and did so again from 2007 to 2009. Both agreements collapsed, however, when Washington did little to implement its commitment to improve relations and Pyongyang reneged on denuclearization. So-called experts ignore that history at their peril. … Instead of basing the approach to the summit on a gross misreading of the past, President Trump would do better to test whether or not Kim means what he says now.” (Leon V. Sigal, “Bad History Makes for Flawed Policy,” 38North, March 27, 2018)


2/28/18:
The White House declared itself “cautiously optimistic” that the planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place sometime in May, even as key details such as where Kim will meet with President Trump, and the parameters of their talks, remain undetermined. “We feel like things are moving in the right direction,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Amid debates about whether the Chinese move was good or bad for U.S. aims, administration officials ultimately decided to declare it a positive result of its “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea. The president said on Twitter early today that he had received a message from Chinese President Xi Jinping late Tuesday that the meeting with Kim “went very well and that KIM looks forward to his meeting with me.” A State Department spokesman said that the “personal message” from Xi was conveyed as part of a briefing the White House received from the Chinese government after the visit. It remained unclear whether the administration has received a direct confirmation from North Korea about the proposed Trump-Kim summit. As far as the administration is concerned, State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said, the messages conveyed by Seoul and Beijing are enough confirmation to begin planning. “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said he is committed to denuclearization, pledged to refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests, and understands routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea [South Korea] and the United States will continue,” Higgins said. “Kim also expressed his desire to meet with President Trump as soon as possible. In light of this, President Trump has accepted Kim Jong Un’s offer to meet in person.” Trump’s national security staff, with his newly designated national security adviser and secretary of state not yet in place, has held a series of discussions on the upcoming summit, but senior officials said even the most basic questions have not been answered. No decision has been made among a number of options for the location of the meeting, including the Peace House in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, or countries such as Sweden that maintain diplomatic relations with both North Korea and the United States. While some experts have suggested Beijing, a senior administration official said that was likely to be unacceptable to the White House because the location is “a major espionage risk, for starters.” Official U.S. visitors to China assume that their conversations, movements and private meetings are monitored, and that all of their bags are thoroughly searched. Another question is whether there will be what the official called “senior-level engagement” between the two governments before the summit. “I can’t rule it out. The president and [Kim] are not going to hash out” details of their meeting “over the phone,” said the official, who spoke about closed-door planning. Bolton, who served as the head of arms-control policy at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, wrote in a 2007 book, “The DPRK will gladly ‘engage’ with us, accept our concessions, and then violate its own commitments. . . . Ironically, North Korea’s policies have often been more sensible than our own, where the hope of the High Minded seems always to triumph over contrary experience.” Trump seemed to take the opposite tack early today. “For years and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility,” he said in another tweet. “Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!” Bolton has acknowledged that he “has his own views and has been outspoken” in his writing and on television as a commentator for Fox News, the senior official said. “He has also said that as national security adviser he will put those views aside and make himself an arbiter of options” placed before the president by his senior national security advisers. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has advocated diplomacy with North Korea, told reporters Tuesday that he had “no reservations, no concerns at all” over Bolton. “Last time I checked, he’s an American, and I can work with an American,” Mattis said. Xi’s decision to meet with Kim was seen by some experts as an effort to take control of the situation as North Korea’s main economic and diplomatic partner, as well as a reaction to Trump’s lack of consultation before agreeing to meet Kim, and to last week’s announcement of new U.S. trade penalties against China. “Panicked is too strong a word, but they seemed concerned or very wary ever since Thursday,” when Trump signed the memorandum authorizing $60 billion in new intellectual property tariffs against China, said Michael Pillsbury, a China scholar at the Hudson Institute and a defense adviser on East Asia during the George H.W. Bush administration. “They had been assured by various friends that these things wouldn’t happen.” The “Trump people,” Pillsbury said, “were upset they didn’t get advance consultation from Xi.” His advice to them, he said, was to consider it “a big breakthrough for you. . . . It’s China stepping up to the plate.”

Another reason “the Chinese jumped,” said Robert Carlin, a former U.S. intelligence officer and State Department adviser on North Korea negotiations, “was because they had the feeling Kim was deliberately cutting them out­ . . . with his moves toward South Korea and the United States.” Carlin also suggested that Kim wanted to meet with Xi because “he needs to have his flanks covered. He needs to know that the Chinese are not going to do something to sell him out, which they did once before,” he said, citing an earlier episode in the long, convoluted history of negotiations over the future of the Korean Peninsula. (Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan, “White House Declares Optimism on Kim Summit,” Washington Post, March 29, 2018, p. A-1)


3/29/18:
The leaders of South and North Korea will meet on April 27 for the first inter-Korean summit since 2007, officials from both countries agreed today in a high-level meeting. A joint press statement released by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said that a working-level meeting between the two countries discussing protocol, security and press coverage for the summit will be held next Wednesday on South Korea’s side of Panmunjom, which straddles the border. A working-level meeting discussing telecommunication systems used during the summit will be held separately, with a date and venue to be announced later. South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who led a three-member delegation to the latest high-level talks, said another high-level meeting between the two Koreas could be held next month “if necessary” to further discuss key agenda items for the summit. Asked by reporters whether the agenda was discussed with North Korea today, Cho said both sides “thoroughly” talked over the matter, but agreed to discuss specific details later. In principle, Pyongyang’s agenda was “not too different” from that of Seoul, Cho continued, and the two leaders will basically talk about denuclearizing and establishing a “peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula, and improving South-North ties. The high-level meeting Thursday was held in Tongilgak, a North Korean-controlled building in Panmunjom, to iron out specifics for the upcoming South-North summit, which both countries previously agreed to hold in Peace House, a South Korean-controlled building in Panmunjom. The inter-Korean summit will be South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s first face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the third summit of its kind between two Korean leaders after 2000 and 2007. Subsequently, Kim is expected to meet U.S. President Donald Trump for what will be the first-ever summit between the two countries, though the date and venue have yet to be determined. South Korean interlocutors who participated in the high-level dialogue included Unification Minister Cho, Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung and Yoon Young-chan, senior presidential secretary for public affairs.

The North was represented by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee of the Peaceful Reunification of the Country of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a cabinet-level agency overlooking relations with the South; Jon Jong-su, vice chairman of the same committee; and Kim Myong-il, a director-level official from the committee. “There’s only a month left before the North-South summit,” Ri said in closing remarks, according to pool reports, “and during this short period, there are many things to discuss at the working-level. But if both sides keep deeply aware of the historic significance and importance of the summit meeting, and work hard with prudence and a cooperative attitude, we will be able to discuss and resolve every issue swiftly and smoothly.” (Lee Sung-eun and Joint Press Corps, “Third Inter-Korean Summit Set for April 27,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 30, 2018)

President Donald Trump abruptly threatened to put the implementation of the recently-revised free trade agreement with South Korea on hold to use it as leverage to strike a deal with North Korea. “We’ve redone it, and it’s going to level the playing field on steel and cars and trucks coming into this country,” Trump reportedly said in a speech in Richfield, Ohio. “I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea,” Trump added. “You know why? Because it’s a very strong card and I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly.” Trump’s remarks came just a day after a joint statement by United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and South Korea’s Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong announced that a deal had been clinched. The statement said the two countries “have reached an agreement in principle on the general terms of amendments and modifications” of the FTA. In the preliminary agreement reached over months of negotiations, South Korea and the United States decided to raise the number of U.S. cars imported into South Korea that don’t have to comply with domestic safety regulations from an original 25,000 to 50,000. The two countries also decided to extend a U.S. tariff on South Korean pickup truck exports by an additional 20 years to 2041. In conjunction with the amendments to the FTA, the United States agreed to exempt South Korea from new steel tariffs. South Korea agreed to a quota on its steel exports to the United States of 70 percent of the amount exported from 2015 to 2017.

The statement by Trump came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in an interview with Fox News March 25 that the new agreement would be signed soon, calling the deal a “win-win.” The president himself called it a “great deal for American and [South] Korean workers” on his Twitter page after the details were announced by the U.S. trade representative. “We are actually in the process of figuring out what exactly President Trump meant by what he said because it was very abrupt,” a high-ranking official from the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy who was directly involved in the renegotiation of the FTA told JoongAng Daily March 30. “It’s very confusing and nothing’s been officially confirmed yet.” (Choi Hyung-jo, “Trump Threatens to Delay Renegotiated FTA until Deal Is Made with North Korea,” JoongAng Ilbo, March 30, 2018) South Korea settled disputes with the Trump administration over steel tariffs and the revision of a free-trade agreement this week. With those stumbling blocks cleared, it hoped the two governments could focus on the more pressing crisis of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. As it turned out, South Korea was celebrating too early. Today, President Trump said he might postpone finalizing the trade agreement with South Korea, which he had earlier described as “a wonderful deal with a wonderful ally,” until he secured a deal in denuclearizing North Korea. “You know why?” he said. “Because it’s a very strong card.” By tying a trade deal with South Korea to progress in denuclearizing North Korea, Trump is showing how little direct leverage Washington has over the isolated, nuclear-armed North just as South Korea and the United States prepare for talks with Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader. Instead, analysts say, Trump has been left to exert leverage on South Korea, which is taking the lead in orchestrating the talks, and the South’s president, Moon Jae-in. “Things are not going as Trump has wished for, so he is twisting South Korea’s arms so that Moon will work for the kind of results Washington wanted when he meets with Kim Jong-un,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, the South Korean capital. “Like the businessman he is, Trump is telling Moon, ‘I will pay you — when you produce the results.’ ” (Choe Sang-hun, “Trump, Lacking Leverage over North Korea, Aims at South,” New York Times, May 31, 2018, p. A-7)

Today marked two years since security-related laws came into force. How can Japan deal with North Korea, which has continued with its nuclear and missile development, and China, whose maritime advances are becoming increasingly assertive? In November 2017, a B-1 strategic bomber of the U.S. Air Force took off from Andersen Air Force Base in the U.S. territory of Guam and flew above the Pacific Ocean to airspace near the Kyushu region. There, F-15 fighter jets of the Air Self-Defense Force joined the B-1 bomber in mid-flight. As the B-1 flew toward the Korean Peninsula, the F-15s occasionally flew close to the bomber; at other times, they kept their distance while staying vigilant for suspicious aircraft that might approach the bomber. This was the first operation to protect U.S. aircraft conducted under the security-related laws. A B-1, which can fly from Guam to the Korean Peninsula in about two hours, can carry many precision-guided bombs. It is considered one of the main weapons that would be called into action in a contingency on the peninsula. The laws expanded the range of situations in which the SDF can use force to protect its own weapons and other items during peacetime — including the protection of foreign military forces conducting activities to defend Japan. This boosted the integration of Japan-U.S. operations. Based on the laws, the Maritime Self-Defense Force has, since last year, supplied fuel once or twice a month to U.S. Aegis-equipped vessels conducting warning and surveillance activities against North Korean ballistic missile launches. According to figures released by the Defense Ministry, Japan and the United States conducted joint exercises 62 times in fiscal 2017 — more than triple the 19 conducted in fiscal 2015, before the laws were enacted. In his policy speech delivered in January, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said the SDF had conducted a mission to protect a U.S. vessel and aircraft for the first time based on the laws. “An alliance that allows two nations to provide mutual aid will further deepen their ties,” he said. The government opted to introduce a missile defense system at the end of 2003. But in a mock drill in 2004, it failed. Under the drill’s scenario, North Korea fired 20 Rodong missiles, which have a range of about 1,300 kilometers, toward Kanto over an about 30-minute period. While 18 missiles were intercepted and another failed to launch from North Korea, the remaining projectile landed around Tokyo’s Ichigaya district where the Defense Agency — now the Defense Ministry — was located. The drill was conducted on the assumption that four Aegis-equipped destroyers from Japan and the United States had been deployed around the Sea of Japan and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missile interceptors had been deployed throughout the nation. “The drill was based on estimates for the future, so the result wouldn’t really change if the same drill was held again,” a government source revealed. Currently, four Aegis destroyers with missile defense capabilities have been deployed. One Aegis ship is said to be able to deal with two or so ballistic missiles at the same time. In the event of a “saturation attack” in which an overwhelming number of ballistic missiles are simultaneously fired, “It would be difficult to intercept all of them,” a senior Defense Ministry official said. The ministry is working to enhance the defense system. In fiscal 2020, it will possess a total of eight Aegis destroyers, including both renovated and newly built units. The ministry plans to deploy a land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense unit in Akita Prefecture and another in Yamaguchi Prefecture, with operations scheduled to begin around fiscal 2023. In addition to the North Korean threat, Japan is wary of China’s cruise missiles. The government is working on an integrated air-and-missile defense (IAMD) initiative to simultaneously respond to both cruise and ballistic missiles. However, improving a missile defense system has its limitations. To deal with North Korea, Japan must depend on the “extended deterrence” (see below) afforded by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The United States is obliged to defend Japan under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, but Japan is not obliged to reciprocate. Tokyo is only obliged to provide facilities and land for U.S. bases. Frustrations are smoldering in the United States over this unbalanced state of relations. “Japan needs to deepen cooperative relations with the United States based on the security-related legislation so that Washington thinks Tokyo is an indispensable partner,” a senior Defense Ministry official said. “That will lead to the United States more earnestly addressing Japan’s defense.” The government is looking into possessing a defensive aircraft carrier as the next step for Japan-U.S. cooperation. If the Izumo, an MSDF destroyer, has its deck remodeled, for example, F-35B fighter jets capable of short take-off and vertical landing can be operated from it. If the U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35B jets are refueled on the Izumo, that development would become “a symbol of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” a senior Defense Ministry official said. When asked about remodeling the Izumo into an aircraft carrier at the House of Councilors’ Budget Committee on March 2, Abe said, “To ensure the deterrent power thoroughly, conducting various research and study is our responsibility.” In a review of the National Defense Program Guidelines to be released at the end of this year, finding ways to best embody the Japan-U.S. alliance, including the possession of an aircraft carrier, is expected to be a major agenda item. (Yomiuri Shimbun, “Japan-U.S. Joint Operations Increase amid Regional Uncertainty,” March 30, 2018)


3/31/18:
China virtually halted exports of petroleum products, coal and other key raw materials to North Korea in the months leading to this week’s summit between Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The export freeze, which went further than existing UN sanctions, showed how China had recently raised pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear program. It suggested that despite Xi’s talk this week of a “profound revolutionary friendship”, China had actually been playing hard ball with its neighbor. “China has effectively turned off the petroleum taps flowing into North Korea,” said Alex Wolf of Aberdeen Standard Investments, who analyzed Chinese data. “The North Korean economy is under a great deal of pressure and this has undoubtedly contributed to North Korea’s change in policy.” Wolf said, “It is Chinese ‘maximum pressure’ that may be bringing a change in North Korean policy.” Official Chinese data showed that the monthly average of refined petroleum exports to North Korea in January and February was 175 tonnes, or 1.3 per cent of the monthly average of 13,553 tonnes shipped in the first half of last year. The reduction went far beyond the 89 per cent cut in petroleum product exports stipulated by UN sanctions. Chinese coal exports to North Korea also fell to zero in the three months to the end of February, after a monthly average of 8,627 tonnes in the first half of 2017. Exports of steel ran at a monthly average of 257 tonnes over the same period, down from a monthly average of 15,110 tonnes in the first half of 2017. Shipments of motor vehicles also dried up, with just one being exported in February, official Chinese data showed. Concerns over the accuracy of China’s statistics are common, but analysts stressed that such consistent and bold drops were unlikely to have been the result of official massaging by Beijing. (James Kynge, “China Froze Exports to North Korea in Run-Up to Kim’s Meeting with Xi,” Financial Times, March 31, 2018)

Considering the Self-Defense Forces’ exclusively defense-oriented policy, the Japanese government has so far refrained from possessing equipment capable of long-range attacks that could be regarded as attacks on enemy bases. For that reason, the SDF does not possess full-scale air-to-surface missiles. In terms of range, Japan’s air-to-ship missiles are shorter than China’s. A Defense Ministry senior official reflected the mounting sense of urgency, saying, “If an actual battle took place, the SDF would be put at an extreme disadvantage because of its shorter-range missiles.” The fiscal 2018 budget enacted March 28 included costs related to the introduction of three kinds of long-range cruise missiles, with a range of about 500 kilometers to 900 kilometers, including joint strike missiles (JSMs) that Air Self-Defense Force F-35A fighters are to carry. “It’s a change in defense policy,” a senior government official said emphatically. At a press conference on December 28, 2017, when the ministry decided to allocate the related costs, Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori repeatedly described the missiles to be introduced as “standoff missiles” — missiles that are capable of attacking targets outside the range of enemy fighters, meaning SDF fighters would not expose themselves to danger. Without explicitly saying so, Onodera apparently had Japan’s efforts to counter China’s long-range attack capability in mind. Japan’s current missile defense system would struggle to intercept all the missiles in a “saturation attack” — in which a large number of missiles are fired simultaneously — by North Korea. Missiles such as JSMs are capable of attacking inland parts of North Korea from over the Sea of Japan. By possessing such equipment, Japan also aims to enhance its deterrent against North Korea. An expert said, “It paves the way for Japan to possess the capability to attack enemy bases.” As a policy, Japan does not have the capability to attack enemy bases. Constitutionally, however, the government is in a position to allow the country to possess the ability. On March 20, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Research Commission of National Security compiled a summary of proposals concerning the National Defense Program Guidelines that the government will review at the end of this year. It included the need to discuss possessing the capability to attack enemy bases. However, there are cautious views even within the LDP. A party lawmaker heavily involved in national defense said, “It would be inappropriate to give an impression about a change of the character of the SDF while we’re trying to amend Article 9 of the Constitution.” Under such circumstances, the capability to attack enemy bases is unlikely to be included in the defense guidelines. Attacks on enemy bases would require large-scale equipment, including satellites to detect targets and electronic warfare equipment for obstructing enemy radars. It will be difficult for the SDF to fully establish the capability to attack enemy bases unless the capability is included in the new defense guidelines and the budget is expanded for that purpose. Nevertheless, a senior Defense Ministry official stressed the significance of introducing long-range cruise missiles. “If [they] cannot pose a threat to enemies, there is no point in possessing long-range cruise missiles. But if [the SDF] operates them in tandem with U.S. equipment, they could be used for enemy base attacks and enhance Japan’s deterrent,” the official said. (Yomiuri Shimbun, “Having Long-Range Missiles a Matter of Deterrence,” March 31, 2018)


4/1/18:
CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un today, Easter Sunday, accompanied by Andy Kim. Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee and former intelligence chief, geeted Pompeo. The four met. Kim Jong Un made four promises. He is willing to meet with President Trump. He intends to denuclearize. He will accept U.S.-South Korean military exercises. And he will abstain from testing. Kim told Pompeo, “We were very close” to war. The South Koreans told that you have intent to dennulearize, Pompeo said. Is that true? I’m a father, Kim said. I don’t want my kds to carry nuclear weapons on their backs the rest of their lives. So, yes. You told the South Koreans that you’re willing to meet with President Trump, Pompeo said, and you saw the president openly say he accepts the idea. So can we talk about setting up a working-level meeting to come up with the right agenda for the summit? Kim appeared to agree. The rest of the discussion focused on the four promises.Trump and Kim exchanged short letters coinciding with Pompeo’s trip. “Dear Chairman Kim,” Trump wrote. “Thank you for extending an invitation for us to meet. I would be glad to meet with you. I would like to convey my thanks as well for hosting Director Pompeo in Pyongyang. He has my total confidence. I look forward to working with you toward greater improvement in our relations and to mutually creating a better and safer future.” Kim began, “Dear Excellency, I’m prepared to cooperate with you in sincerity and dedication to accomplish a greater feat that no in the past has been able to achieve and that is unexpected by the whole world.” (Bob Woodward, Rage (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), pp. 98-100) Pompeo returned with the letter from Kim and Trump responded on April 3, “I agree with everything you said and have very little doubt that our meeting will be a momentous one for both our coutries and for the rest of the world.” (p. 106)

He clapped and he smiled, even posing for a group photo with a K-pop band. The appearance by Kim Jong-un at a concert by South Korean musicians in Pyongyang was all the more unusual because his authoritarian government has been struggling to stave off what it sees as an infiltration of the South’s pop culture among his isolated people. Kim shook the hands of members of South Korea’s most popular girl band, Red Velvet, which he and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, watched from a balcony. After watching Red Velvet perform, Kim reportedly pronounced the event a “gift for Pyongyang citizens.” It was the first time a North Korean leader watched a South Korean musical performance in the North’s capital. They were the first South Korean singers to perform in North Korea in more than a decade. Their visit reciprocated a North Korean art troupe’s performances in South Korea during its Winter Olympics in February. Their tunes are so infectious that the South Korean military has broadcast them across the border in a psychological war against North Korean soldiers. The North used to threaten to direct its artillery at the loudspeakers, warning of an “all-out war” if the South didn’t turn them off. South Korean officials said the North did not attempt to reject any of the South Korean song lineup or change the pop stars’ lyrics or risqué dance moves. (But apparently, even North Korea had a limit to how far it would go in accepting K-pop. South Korean officials said the North had rejected their suggestion that the global star Psy, the singer famous for his “Gangnam Style” hit, be included in the visit.) “Please tell President Moon how good this kind of exchange is. I know there has been attention to whether I will come and see Red Velvet,” Kim was quoted as telling South Korean officials. “I thank you for bringing this gift to Pyongyang citizens.” Kim Yerim, a Red Velvet member who is known as Yeri, was quoted as saying, “The audience clapped loudly and even sang along.” (Choe Sang-hun, “In Pivot From Hard Line on Pop Culture, North Korea’s Leader Claps for K-Pop,” New York Times, April 2, 2018, p. A-4) South Korean reporters visiting North Korea’s capital to cover a K-pop performance there received a surprise the next day: an unusually graceful apology from a senior North Korean official. The official, Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, visited the reporters’ hotel and apologized for their having been denied entry to a theater in Pyongyang, the capital, where the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, watched South Korean musicians perform last evening. “We invited you and we are obliged to guarantee free coverage,” Kim Yong-chol was quoted in the reporters’ dispatches from Pyongyang as saying. “On behalf of the North’s authorities, I offer an apology and ask for your understanding for the wrong committed.” (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Offers Regrets for Barring Media at Show,” New York Times, April 3, 2018, p. A-8)


4/2/18:
The Blue House said it wants three-way talks involving South and North Korea and the United States before having a four-way negotiation that also includes China, which was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Blue House made clear its intention to remain at the steering wheel on Korean affairs. A senior Blue House official told reporters today, “It is President Moon’s wish to have three-way talks following the upcoming Pyongyang-Washington summit,” said the official. In a phone call to President Trump on March 9, Xi proposed a four-way negotiation involving the two Koreas, China and the United States to settle a peace treaty between the two Koreas to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, according to Kyodo News yesterday. Moon Chung-in, special adviser to President Moon on security, foreign and inter-Korean affairs, echoed the Blue House’s reservation about the Libya framework in a speech delivered at Waseda University in Tokyo on March 31. “The process to denuclearize the North has no other option but to proceed in a gradual manner,” said Chung, adding Seoul and the international community should adopt a “give and take” approach in each phase of Pyongyang’s denuclearization. “If the North displays concrete signs of denuclearization, our government could ask the United Nations to roll back economic sanctions [on the North] along with China and the United States,” he said. (Kang Jin-kyu, “Three-Way Talks Are Next Round, Says Blue House,” JoongAng Ilbo, April 3, 2018)

On February17, Japan, the United States and others conducted a drill at the Utapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield in Thailand to practice procedures to protect Japanese living in the country. Since the security-related legislation came into force in March 2016, SDF personnel have been permitted to use arms to rescue Japanese living abroad. Until then, their activities were limited to transporting Japanese mainly using vehicles and airplanes. How to evacuate about 57,000 Japanese nationals, including tourists, and an estimated more than 200,000 Americans and others from South Korea is a pressing issue. The Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation (see below) stipulates that both countries cooperate in the evacuation of noncombatants. The Japanese government intends to evacuate Japanese citizens to shelters South Korea has designated across the country. If the situation is brought back under control within 72 hours or so after war has broken out, it plans to begin their repatriation. However, protecting Japanese nationals overseas based on the security-related legislation can be realized only when the country concerned agrees to accept the SDF deployment. While Tokyo is sounding Seoul out to see if it will accept the possibility of SDF activities in South Korea, Seoul has been rejecting the idea, stating the South Korean people are sensitive about the SDF for historical reasons. As the second-best policy, the Japanese government plans to share roles for evacuation with the United States. Under the plan, it is widely believed that U.S. forces based in South Korea will transport by land Japanese and U.S. civilians to southern parts of South Korea, then carry them from Busan Port to Tsushima Island in Nagasaki Prefecture on vessels of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and helicopters of the Ground Self-Defense Force, in cooperation with U.S. military vessels. They are to be evacuated there temporarily and then transported to Kyushu by MSDF. Although the South Korean side does not agree to the docking of MSDF vessels at South Korean ports, a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said, “Docking MSDF vessels alongside U.S. vessels at ports would be possible.” In early February, Sonoura Kentaro, a special adviser to the prime minister in charge of national security, visited the Kure Naval Base in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, to inspect the Shimokita, an Osumi-type transport vessel, and confirm its capacity. It is said that an Osumi-type vessel can carry about 2,000 people. It is likely the ship will be one of the main vessels to transport Japanese nationals in South Korea during an evacuation. “A plan to evacuate Japanese citizens is close to being compiled, but has yet to be completed. With inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea summit meetings set, it’s necessary to complete the plan while the situation on the Korean Peninsula remains calm,” said a source with links to the Japanese government. (Yomiuri Shimbun, “SDF Faces Obstacles in Evacuating Japanese Nationals from S. Korea,” April 2, 2018)


4/3/18:
China appreciates North Korea’s “important efforts” to ease tension on the Korean peninsula, Wang Yi, a State Councilor and China’s Foreign Minister, told North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, hours after he called on all sides to stay focused on talks. China’s Foreign Ministry gave only hours’ notice that Wang would meet Ri. Wang told Ri that Xi and Kim had reached an important consensus on achieving a peaceful resolution to the peninsula nuclear issue during Kim’s visit to Beijing. “China appreciates North Korea’s position working toward denuclearization of the peninsula and its important efforts to ease the situation on the peninsula, and supports meetings between the leaders of the North and South and between the North and the United States,” Wang said, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement. The ministry cited Ri as saying that North Korea would “maintain close strategic communications” with China on peninsula-related issues, and that the Kim-Xi meeting was an “important juncture” in the development of bilateral relations. North Korea’s official news agency KCNA had said that a delegation headed by Ri left today to meet other foreign ministers in Azerbaijan and to visit Russia, but made no mention of China. Earlier in the day, Wang said during a joint news briefing with visiting Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis that he hoped a planned meeting in May between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump would “increase mutual understanding.” “But historical experience tells us that at the moment of easing of the situation on the peninsula and as first light dawns on peace and dialogue, frequently all manner of disruptive factors emerge,” Wang said. “So we call on all sides to maintain focus, eliminate interference, and firmly follow the correct path of dialogue and negotiation.” Cassis said that he would discuss with Wang the role that Switzerland could play in the strategic meetings between Kim and “some important partners on the international level”, but he did not elaborate. (Michael Martina, “China Tells It Appreciates Its Efforts on Denuclearization,” Reuters, April 3, 2018)

Carlin: “In the current pre-meeting phase, it would make little sense for Pyongyang to lean too far forward in its public statements. Overall, although Pyongyang has not explicitly touched on the subject of a possible Kim-Trump summit through its state-sponsored media apparatus, North Korea has, since March 9, been adjusting and trimming its public posture in preparation for moving to engage the US should the two sides firm up plans for a date and venue. Furthermore, it is not unusual for DPRK media not to report a North Korean leader’s remarks on denuclearization in conversations with the Chinese—as happened recently with Kim’s remarks to Xi Jinping reported by Xinhua but not KCNA. This “silence,” as many pundits have labeled it, is not unusual. In fact, it is not even really “silence.” The North has been clearly signaling—both in what it has and what it hasn’t said—a very different posture than it did last year. For starters, Pyongyang has virtually stopped referring to its nuclear program over the past three weeks, ever since the visit to Washington by two ROK envoys who had just met with Kim Jong Un. At the same time, it has begun to open up space for a negotiating position to deal with the issue. A March 23 Rodong Sinmun article characterized sanctions as “the main contents of the US hostile policy.” That linkage raises the possibility that Pyongyang could deliberately portray movement on easing sanctions as a lessening of the U.S. “hostile policy.” In turn, since the North’s consistent position has been that its nuclear program was a result of U.S. hostile policy, any movement on the latter could give Pyongyang justification for movement on the former. Recently, Pyongyang has also significantly cut back what had been standard, frequent references to a US military threat. A March 25 Rodong Sinmun article criticizing the South Korean military for bolstering the ROK defense posture sounded the familiar theme that “dialogue and confrontation can never go together.” An article like this would normally have included complaints about the annual US-ROK exercises, set to begin only a week hence. However, in line with reports that Kim Jong Un told the ROK envoys that this year’s exercises would not be a problem, the article did not mention them. It also has so far made no reference to the April 1 start of the US-ROK Foal Eagle exercise. In fact, on the day the exercises started, Kim appeared at a concert by South Korean pop performers in Pyongyang. The last reference to the exercises in central North Korean media appeared on February 26. Although North Korean media have so far not explicitly referred to the possibility of a U.S.-DPRK summit, Pyongyang has pretty transparently addressed the subject. A March 20 KCNA commentary noted “there has been a sign of change” in the DPRK-U.S. relations. In an obvious reference to the possibility of talks, it criticized “small-minded” efforts to “spoil the atmosphere and say this or that even before the parties concerned are given a chance to study the inner thoughts of the other side and are seated at a negotiating table.” This is the time, the commentary emphasized, for “all to approach everything with prudence with self-control and patience.” Apart from central media, Pyongyang appears to be using the pro-DPRK newspaper in Japan, Choson Sinbo, to advance a positive line. On March 10, in an extremely quick reaction to the news of the South Korean envoys visit to Washington, the newspaper carried “analysis” by its long-time and well-connected correspondent in Pyongyang. The article was careful not to say that Kim had actually empowered the South Korean envoys to deliver an offer to the U.S. President, but rather that the envoys had “grasped” Kim’s “intent” and on hearing that, President Trump “expressed his intent” for a summit. The item did specifically note that Kim had said the North can refrain from conducting nuclear and ballistic rocket test launches. The item also referred, without elaboration, to Kim Jong Un having made a “big, resolute, decisive decision,” the sort of formulation frequently used to signify a major shift in policy. Playing to the US President’s claim that policies of previous administrations have all failed, the article predicted that Kim will “show the president—who claims to be ‘the master of deals’—the way to evade the repeated failures of his predecessors and will call for his decisive decision.” This “analysis” on March 10 was followed quickly with another mention of a possible U.S.-DPRK summit in a March 14 column in Choson Sinbo. The column painted the best outcome in terms of a “win-win strategy”—not a usual North Korean formulation. The column did not rule out having denuclearization on the agenda, though it used a tortured construction to make the point, noting that it would be “extremely foolish” for the President to think that in the talks he could seek “only” Korea’s denuclearization. The column implied that Pyongyang was aiming for a major realignment of the structure in Northeast Asia, noting “there is no eternal foe, and no eternal ally.” (Robert Carlin, “Reading North Korean Intent: The Importance of What Is and Is Not Said,” 38North, April 3, 2018)


4/4/18:
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may soon talk directly through a hotline between their offices. Seoul and Pyongyang officials will discuss the installation of the direct line during their working-level talks on Saturday at the northern side of Panmunjom truce village, JoongAng Ilbo reported. The two sides had agreed to establish a line between their leaders to hold consultations and reduce military tensions and to hold their first phone conversation before their summit on April 27. A Seoul presidential official explained that a communication line that currently runs through Panmunjom would be extended to Moon’s office to establish the hotline. The official added that Seoul may install a separate telephone for the cross-border line “for the sake of symbolic significance.” Prior to Saturday’s talks, Seoul and Pyongyang are set to hold working-level discussions to prepare for their leaders’ meeting. Seoul’s Unification Ministry said today that North Korea proposed the two Koreas postpone the session to tomorrow, a day later than originally scheduled. The North also notified Seoul that it will send a six-member delegation to the talks where the two sides will discuss protocol, security and media coverage of the summit. Pyongyang also suggested holding discussions on installing the hotline on March 7. The ministry said Seoul will accept the North’s proposal, adding that the South Korean government will make thorough preparations to ensure the summit is held successfully. (Jennie Oh, “South, North Korea to Arrange Direct Hotline between Leaders,” UPI, April 4, 2018)

Seoul’s top diplomat said that North Korea’s human rights record is unlikely to be discussed at this month’s summit, after Pyongyang denounced the South for supporting a fresh UN resolution against the North. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul maintains a “firm stance” against the “dire human rights situation” in the North but that the prospect of Moon discussing it with Kim this month was unlikely. “In order to enhance dialogue, the topics that both sides have agreed upon will be discussed,” Kang told reporters. “So to include it in the agenda of South-North dialogue, I think the government will need more preparation,” she said. Pyongyang’s state media condemned South Korea yesterday for its “dubious double dealing”, after Seoul welcomed a new United Nations resolution against North Korea’s human rights violations. Such action could jeopardize future dialogue, the North warned. “This is an open political provocation to the DPRK and an intolerable act of chilling the atmosphere for dialogue,” the North’s official KCNA agency said in a commentary, using North Korea’s official acronyms. It added: “Whom are they going to hold dialogue with and whom are they going to improve relations with while denying the dignity and social system of the dialogue partner?” (AFP, “N. Korea’s Human Rights Likely off Table at Korea Summit: Seoul,” April 4, 2018)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has received an invitation from Moscow to visit, US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats was quoted as saying by TASS. Cooperation among the members of one of the Korean Peninsula’s key axes — North Korea, China, and Russia — is tightening with simultaneous Russia visits by China’s diplomatic and defense leaders and successive visits to China and Russia by North Korea’s Foreign Minister. “We know that [Kim] went to China to hold talks with [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping]. We know that there is an invitation to go to Russia,” Coats was quoted by TASS as telling reporters in Washington today. Visiting Russia as a special envoy for Xi, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met individually for talks with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on April 5 to discuss an upcoming China visit by Putin and also affairs on the Korean Peninsula, TASS reported. Putin is expected to meet with Xi while visiting China in June to attend a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Qingdao. Also visiting Russia was Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, who met on April 3 with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu and attended the Moscow Conference on International Security today. On his choice of Russia as his first overseas destination since taking office on April 3, Wei said it was intended “so that the Americans will understand the close relationship between the Chinese and Russian militaries.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced today that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho was expected to visit Russia on April 9–11 for a foreign ministers’ meeting. (Kim Oi-hyun, “Kim Jong Un Reportedly Receives Invitation to Visit Moscow,” Hankyore, April 6, 2018)

Pabian, Bermudez, and Liu: “Commercial satellite imagery from March 30 indicates that North Korea may have shut down the 5 MWe (plutonium production) reactor for the time being. A major excavation project has also begun near the cooling water outfall, which, when coupled with recent efforts to dam the river below this point to create a reservoir, could indicate an attempt to provide a more steady flow of water into the facility. This would allow for the reactor to run more continuously and safely in the future. There is also new truck activity at the reactor, the purpose of which is unclear but could include maintenance or repairs, the movement of spent fuel rods to the Radiochemical Laboratory from the spent fuel storage pond, or the offloading of fresh fuel to the reactor. Despite the apparent reactor shutdown, there was no evidence (as of March 30) of plutonium reprocessing taking place at the Radiochemical Laboratory. However, this development should be monitored closely in the future. At the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR), work continues on an adjacent building that may be a laboratory or for engineering support, but there are no obvious signs that the reactor is approaching operational status. Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that the 5 MWe reactor may have been shut down since it was last observed in late February, given the lack of clearly visible steam plumes at the Generator Hall. Moreover, a major transformation is underway in the area where the reactor cooling water outfall is located, which involves a large excavation project along the riverbank. While it is still too early to tell the exact purpose of this work, given its location along the river and near the existing outfall, it could be related to the reactor’s secondary water-cooling system. Coupled with the recent addition of an earthen dam and sluiceway below this point creating a reservoir, the end result might be to alleviate previous concerns about the steady supply of water to the system due to seasonal variations in river flows. This would enable the reactor to operate on a more continuous basis in the future. Additionally, an unusual number of large vehicles were parked at the rear of the 5 MWe reactor. Among these vehicles, there are at least three large trucks, two of which appear to have a tank/cylinder/cask on their trailer beds. What may be a mobile crane covered with a tarp is located nearby. The purpose of these vehicles is unclear, but could be part of a new maintenance project, related to the transfer of spent fuel rods from the reactor’s adjacent spent fuel storage pond to move them from the facility to the Radiochemical Laboratory for reprocessing, or to deliver fresh fuel.” (Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Jack Liu, “North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Reactor Center: Major Activity at the Five Megawatt Reactor,” April 4, 2018) “At the Radiochemical Laboratory, there are no visible indicators that a new reprocessing campaign has started such as the nearby presence of specialized rail cars. Moreover, there is no smoke coming from the coal-fired Thermal Plant that provides steam to the Laboratory and no vapor emanating from the Laboratory’s cooling tower. Imagery shows only some truck movement in the motor pool since March 30, and a probable mobile crane near the receiving building near where a small object had previously been observed.” (Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Jack Liu, “North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center: Construction Proceeding Rapidly near Reactors; No Sign of Reprocessing,” 38North, April 6, 2018)


4/5/18:
North Korea’s top diplomat has said an atmosphere is emerging on the Korean Peninsula for inter-Korean reconciliation and trust-building and that a “breakthrough” for reunification could be made if the two Koreas closely cooperate, media reports showed. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho made the remarks during a ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Thursday (local time). “An atmosphere is emerging on the Korean Peninsula between North and South Korea,” Ri was quoted as saying. “Up until last year, the global community’s anxiety and concerns directed over the Korean Peninsula … has given way to applause of support and welcome.” Ri said the recent developments have proved that the two Koreas, if they cooperate, could improve inter-Korean relations, ease tensions and make a “breakthrough” for reunification free from outside intervention, the reports showed. (Yonhap, “N. Korean Diplomat Says Atmosphere of Reconciliation Emerging, Hopes for Breakthrough,” Korea Herald, April 6, 2018)


4/6/18:
Former President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years in prison and fined 18 billion won ($16.8 million), after a Seoul court found her guilty of 16 charges of corruption and power abuse.

“Park, in conspiring with Choi Seo-won, better known by her former name Choi Soon-sil, requested and received bribes worth over 23 billion won,” said Judge Kim Se-yoon of the Seoul Central District Court. “When a culprit receives a bribe worth more than 100 million won, he or she can be sentenced to life or to more than 10 years. Her fines were calculated based on the laws she has violated.” Of the 18 charges of corruption and power abuse the prosecution had levied against Park, who did not attend the sentencing, the court found her guilty of 16. They include forcing conglomerates to contribute 77.4 billion won to two non-profit foundations Choi controlled. The court said she is also guilty of receiving bribes worth 7.2 billion won from Samsung Group, though it cannot determine how much she kept for herself. Park was also found guilty of abusing her power by blacklisting artists and cultural figures critical of her administration and exercising undue influence in the appointment of civil servants. She was also found guilty of ordering an aide to leak government secrets to Choi. “Park abused the power given to her by the people of the country and conspired with Choi to demand bribes from companies and meddle in their business decisions,” Kim said. “She abused her power as the president and received 14 billion won worth of bribes from Samsung and Lotte, and requested 8.9 billion won from SK Group. “She additionally blacklisted cultural figures based on their political leanings,” Kim said. “When her crimes came into light one by one, it threw the country into confusion. She has to take heavy responsibility to make sure these misdeeds are not repeated.” Park’s verdict, which lasted nearly two hours, was broadcast, the first time that the verdict in a criminal case has been aired live in Korea. Though she filed an injunction requesting that only a section of the hearing be broadcast, the court dismissed it. The court earlier cited the public’s need to know about the high-profile case as the reason for allowing a live broadcast of the hearing. Park, impeached in December 2016 and formally removed from office in March 2017, was indicted last April on 18 charges of corruption and power abuse. Prosecutors in February recommended a punishment of 118.5 billion won in fines in addition to a 30-year prison term. In February, her confidante Choi was sentenced to 20 years in jail and fined 18 billion won in her trial for power abuse and bribery. (Esther Chung, “Former President Park Gets 24 Years in Prison,” JoongAng Ilbo, April 6, 2018)


4/7/18:
The United States and North Korea have been holding secret, direct talks to prepare for a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, a sign that planning for the highly anticipated meeting is progressing, several administration officials familiar with the discussions tell CNN. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and a team at the CIA have been working through intelligence back-channels to make preparations for the summit, the officials said. American and North Korean intelligence officials have spoken several times and have even met in a third country, with a focus on nailing down a location for the talks. Although the North Korean regime has not publicly declared its invitation by Kim Jong Un to meet with Trump, which was conveyed last month by a South Korean envoy, several officials say North Korea has since acknowledged Trump’s acceptance, and Pyongyang has reaffirmed Kim is willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The North Koreans are pushing to have the meeting in their capital, Pyongyang, the sources said, although it is unclear whether the White House would be willing to hold the talks there. The Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar has also been raised as a possible location, the sources said. The talks between intelligence officials are laying the groundwork for a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korea counterpart, the head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, in advance of the leaders’ summit. Once a location is agreed upon the officials said that the date will be set and the agenda discussed in greater detail. Officials said the decision to use the already existing intelligence channel was more a facet of Pompeo’s current status as CIA director as he awaits confirmation as secretary of state than a reflection of the content of the discussions. Pompeo is expected to begin the process of Senate confirmation in the next several weeks. One of Trump’s most trusted national security advisers, Pompeo has led efforts to prepare for the summit, which Trump has pressed his aides to organize. If he confirmed, he will assume oversight of the diplomatic preparations. As recently as this weekend, Trump told associates he was looking forward to the summit, which he agreed to on the spot when presented the invitation from Kim. The timeline, however, remains unknown. Officials said the current target is late May or even June. Trump is due to meet in two weeks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Abe is expected to come bearing a list of concerns about opening talks with Kim. The New York Times first reported last month that the CIA was taking the lead in preparing for the Trump-Kim summit. Officials said the participation of the North Koreans in the preparatory talks give them more confidence that Kim is serious about meeting. Until the talks between US and North Korean intelligence officials began in earnest, Trump and his aides have relied partly on the characterizations of the South Koreans, which have experienced a rapprochement since the Olympic games held in Pyeongchang in February that led to Kim’s historic invite to Trump. The Chinese have also provided a briefing to the White House after Kim and President Xi Jinping met in Beijing late last month. State Department officials continue to communicate with the North Koreans though their mission to the United Nations, discussions which are referred to as the “New York channel.” The talks with North Korea are informing coordination among government agencies which are preparing for the summit, an effort led by Matthew Pottinger, the top Asia official at the National Security Council. Incoming national security adviser John Bolton, who starts work at the White House on Monday, is expected to assume a large role in the planning for the talks, along with Pompeo. At the State Department, leading the diplomatic effort are acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton and deputy special representative for North Korean policy Marc Lambert, who speaks with North Korean officials through the “New York channel.” Their work includes scouting potential locations, coming up with names of US officials who can help staff the talks and pouring over records on previous negotiations with North Korea. They are also leading diplomacy with South Korea, as well as Japan, China and Russia. (Elise Labatt, Kevin Liptak, and Jenna McLaughlin, “Secret Direct Talks Underway between U.S., North Korea,” CNN, April 7, 2018) The CIA on May 10, 2017 launched a Korea Mission Center to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue, according to a press release.

“Creating the Korea Mission Center allows us to more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts against the serious threats to the United States and its allies emanating from North Korea,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “It also reflects the dynamism and agility that CIA brings to evolving national security challenges.” The CIA has been establishing mission centers since 2015 to effectively manage intelligence, but the Korea Mission Center is the first country-specific unit while the others are regional or mission-specific including the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and counterterrorism. The aim is “to harness the full resources, capabilities, and authorities of the agency in addressing the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea,” the press release added. The center “will work closely with the Intelligence Community and the entire U.S. national security community.” An intelligence source here said it will be headed by Andrew Kim, a leading Korean-American North Korea expert in the CIA who retired early this year. (Cho Yi-jun, “CIA Launches Korean Mission Center,” Chosun Ilbo, May 12, 2017)


4/8/18:
North Korea has confirmed directly to the Trump administration that it is willing to negotiate with the United States about potential denuclearization, administration officials said today, a signal that the two sides have opened communications ahead of a potential summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month. The message from Pyongyang offers the first reassurance that Kim is committed to meeting Trump. The U.S. president accepted an offer made in March on Kim’s behalf by South Korean emissaries during a meeting at the White House, but Pyongyang had not publicly commented. “The U.S. has confirmed that Kim Jong Un is willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said a senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. A second official also confirmed that representatives of North Korea had delivered a direct message to the United States, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. At the same time, U.S. officials cautioned that Pyongyang offered no details about its negotiating position and noted that North Korea has violated past agreements, during the George W. Bush administration, to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Foreign policy analysts warned that the Kim regime has long defined the concept of denuclearization differently than the United States has, seeking the removal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula and an agreement that the United States will no longer protect allies South Korea and Japan with its nuclear arsenal. Previous U.S. administrations have unilaterally rejected such demands. “It means the removal of the threat posed by us, not them,” said Evans Revere, an Asia analyst at Albright Stonebridge Group who was a high-ranking State Department official before retiring in 2007. “It’s been defined as this for us on many occasions. My conclusion is this is not new. Various outlets are describing this as a major breakthrough on North Korea’s commitment toward denuclearization. It’s no such thing.” Christopher R. Hill, a former State Department official who led the U.S. delegation in the “six-party talks” with the North during the Bush era, said the North Koreans are sophisticated negotiators who know what the United States wants. “The question is when and how and what they want in return for it,” Hill said. “If the notion is denuclearization where you take all the forces that threaten them off the Korean Peninsula, it’s not going to work. . . . If they have in mind the sorts of things on offer in 2005 — energy assistance, economic assistance, cross recognition of states, a peace treaty — we’re in business. But at this point, we just don’t know.” Trump administration officials declined to disclose how the North Koreans delivered their direct message. (David Nakamura, “North Korea Confirms It Is Ready to Negotiate,” Washington Post, April 9, 2018, p. A-1)

China has banned exports to North Korea of 32 “dual-use” items that can be applied in the development of weapons of mass destruction, the commerce ministry said. The list of items, which include radiation monitoring equipment and software that can be used to model fluid dynamics or neutrons, is in line with a UN Security Council resolution adopted in September to curb North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The ban also applies to items with potential dual use in the development of conventional weapons, according to a ministry statement published late today. (AFP, “China Bans Exports of ‘Dual Use’ Items to North Korea,” April 9, 2018)


4/9/18:
President Donald Trump speaking to reporters ahead of a Cabinet meeting on foreign policy at the White House, said, “We’ve been in touch with North Korea — we’ll be meeting with them sometime in May or early June.” The president added that a meeting “is being set up with North Korea,” confirming in person that preparations for a summit are in progress, in line with reports over the weekend of direct back-channels of communication being used by the two countries. “I think there’ll be great respect paid by both parties, and hopefully we’ll be able to make a deal on the de-nuking of North Korea,” he continued. “They’ve said so; we’ve said so. Hopefully, it will be a relationship that’s much different than it’s been for many, many years.” (Sarah Kim, “Trump Predicts ‘De-Nuking’ Deal Ahead,” JoongAng Ilbo, April 10, 2018)

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has acknowledged the prospect of talks with the US, state media reported in his first official mention of dialogue with Washington ahead of a planned summit with President Donald Trump. Today, Kim discussed the “the prospect of the DPRK-U.S. dialogue” with party officials, KCNA said, referring to the North by its official acronym. He delivered a report “on the development of the recent situation on the Korean peninsula”, including the separate summit with South Korea to be held later this month, it said. (Sunghee Hwang, “Kim Makes First Official Mention of U.S.-N. Korea Talks,” AFP, April 10, 2018)

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said that during his trip to the United States next week ahead of the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit he will ask President Donald Trump to seek the elimination of all North Korean missiles that could reach Japan. Getting rid of only intercontinental ballistic missiles, which North Korea says can reach the U.S. mainland, “has no meaning for Japan, so I want to tell the president that (North Korea) should also abandon short and intermediate-range missiles that put Japan within range,” Abe said during a parliamentary committee session. He also reiterated that he will ask Trump to raise the issue of North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese nationals with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “This is an important opportunity for me and President Trump to align our plans ahead of the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korean summits,” Abe said during the session. Abe said he will also impress upon Trump the need to maintain pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and missile development even as Pyongyang opens up to dialogue with other countries. “I want to confirm that we must not give North Korea a reprieve from sanctions or other rewards for merely agreeing to hold dialogue,” he said. Abe plans to visit the United States between April 17 and 20 and hold two days of talks with Trump. He said the visit will “clearly display both domestically and abroad that our countries have always been, and will always be, with each other 100 percent.” (Kyodo, “Abe to Ask Trump to Seek End of N. Korea Missile Threat to Japan,” April 9, 2018)


4/10/18:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accepted an invitation extended by Ri Yong Ho, his North Korean counterpart, to visit Pyongyang at some point in the future, an indication of the close ties that still exist between the two countries despite the international pressure on the regime of Kim Jong Un. Ri issued the invitation during talks in Moscow today, where Lavrov said in a press conference that Russia welcomes the “gradual normalization” of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, as well as plans for direct negotiations between North Korea and the United States to resolve longstanding security problems in the region. (Julian Ryall, “Lavrov-Ri Talks Show Depth of Russia-North Korea Ties,” Deutsche Welle, April 11, 2018)


4/11/18:
The United States and North Korea have been negotiating with “will and sincerity” over the details of the planned talks between President Trump and the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said. Trump said two days ago that American officials had been talking directly with the North Koreans to prepare for his meeting with Kim, which he said would probably take place in May or early June. Moon said the two sides were discussing where to hold the meeting, among other issues. ”I hear that the United States and North Korea are preparing for the summit with both will and sincerity, holding detailed negotiations over the time, venue and agenda,” Moon’s office quoted him as saying during a meeting with officials preparing for his own talks with Kim on April 27. “I am expecting the North Korea-United States summit to produce significant steps toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and establishing permanent peace here,” Moon said. According to former South Korean officials who have dealt with the North, it fears that any deal it signs with Washington could come to an end after a change in American administrations. So rather than surrender its nuclear facilities up front, it wants incremental steps, matched with corresponding incentives from the United States. For their part, American officials have said that North Korea has never been sincere in dealing with them, using negotiations to buy time while persisting in clandestine nuclear weapons development. Some hard-liners in Washington, like Trump’s new national security adviser, John R. Bolton, have demanded a quick dismantling of the North’s nuclear weapons program, suspecting that the North only wants to ease the tough international sanctions against it in exchange for a temporary, and deceptive, freezing of its nuclear program. South Korea hopes that North Korea and the United States will agree on a road map toward denuclearization and quickly implement key steps before. Trump’s term ends in January 2021, according to scholars advising Moon’s government. They said that a key challenge for Moon would be to persuade Kim and Trump to exchange key trust-building steps soon after they meet, like granting inspectors unfettered access to the North’s nuclear facilities and setting up liaison offices in each other’s capitals. ”We will have to make preparations for the South-North Korean summit meeting to serve as a guide for the North Korea-United States summit,” Moon said today. In a sign of warming relations between Pyongyang and Beijing, a senior Chinese diplomat, Song Tao, will bring an art troupe to North Korea this week, North Korean and Chinese state media reported today. The Chinese delegation will arrive in North Korea on March 13 to attend an international arts festival, the report said. (Choe Sang-hun, “U.S. and North Korea in ‘Detailed’ Talks on Trump-Kim Meeting,” New York Times, April 11, 2019)

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her Japanese counterpart Kono Taro stressed the importance of the upcoming summits involving Pyongyang in achieving the joint goal of denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula in bilateral talks held in Seoul. A Japanese foreign minister last visited the country in December 2015, and this marks Kono’s first trip to Seoul since he took the post as Tokyo’s top envoy last August. The two envoys, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasized building a future-oriented bilateral relationship along with joint coordination and communication among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington on how to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Kono emphasized that Tokyo seeks a resolution to the North Korean nuclear and missile problem and the issue of the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official in Seoul. He expressed Japan’s hope that the issue can be raised at the upcoming summits, which he said are a “turning point.” Kang was said to have replied that the “South Korean government has worked at and will continue to work toward humanitarian issues” such as the abduction issue, as well as that of reunions for families torn apart during the 1950-53 Korean War. She continued, “However, at the current stage, aside from the three general agenda items of denuclearization, establishment of peace and advancing of inter-Korean relations, we do not know what kind of detailed agenda will be put on the table at the summit.” Another diplomat who sat in on the discussions added that Kono called for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) and the “complete resolution to North Korean nuclear and missile problem.” Kono conveyed that Japan will “maintain pressure on North Korea until it shows its words as action on its commitment to denuclearize.” Kang, the official said, replied that “until there is actual progress in denuclearization, pressure and sanctions on the North will continue to be maintained.” She emphasized the importance of maintaining the “momentum for dialogue as North Korea has declared it will not conduct any provocations while talks are ongoing.” (Sarah Kim, “Japan’s Top Envoy Visits Korea after a Long Time,” JoongAng Ilbo, April 12, 2018)


4/12/18:
Bolton: “I met with my South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, Director of their National Security Office. In March, in the Oval, Chung had extended Kim’s invitation to meet to Trump, who accepted on the spur of the moment. Ironically, Chung later all but admitted that it was he who had suggested to Kim that he make the invitation in the first place! This whole diplomatic fandango was South Korea’s creation, relating more to its ‘unification’ agenda than serious strategy on Kim’s part or ours. The South’s understanding of our terms to denuclearize North Korea bore no relationship to fundamental US national interests, from my perspective. It was risky theatrics, in my view, not substance. I urged Chung to avoid discussing denuclearization at the upcoming April 27 North-South summit, to prevent Pyongyang from driving a wedge between South Korea, Japan, and the US, one of its favorite diplomatic strategies. I told Trump that we needed the closest possible coordination with Moon Jae-in to avoid North Korea’s engineering a split between Washington and Seoul. I wanted to preserve US–South Korean alignment, and avoid the headline ‘Trump rejects South Korea compromise,’ but he seemed unconcerned. Later in the morning, I met with my Japanese counterpart, Shotaro Yachi, who wanted me to hear their perspective as soon as possible. Tokyo’s view of the looming Trump-Kim meeting was 180 degrees from South Korea’s—in short, pretty much like my own. Yachi said they believed the North’s determination to get nuclear weapons was fixed, and that we were nearing the last chance for a peaceful solution. Japan wanted none of the ‘action for action’ formula that characterized Bush 43’s failed Six-Party Talks. ‘Action for action’ sounded reasonable, but it inevitably worked to benefit North Korea (or any proliferator) by front-loading economic benefits to the North but dragging out dismantling the nuclear program into the indefinite future. The marginal benefits to Pyongyang of even modest economic aid (or release from pain, like easing sanctions) was much greater than the marginal benefits to us of the step-by-step elimination of the nuclear program. Kim Jong Un knew this just as well as we did. At that point, Japan wanted dismantlement to begin immediately upon a Trump-Kim agreement and to take no longer than two years. I urged, however, based on the experience in Libya, that dismantlement should take only six to nine months. Yachi only smiled in response, but when Abe met Trump at Mar-a-Lago the following week, Abe asked for dismantlement to take six to nine months! Yachi also stressed North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens over many years, a powerfully emotional issue in Japan’s public opinion and a key element in Abe’s successful political career. At Mar-a-Lago and later, Trump committed to pursuing this issue and followed through faithfully in every subsequent encounter with Kim Jong Un.” (Bolton, The Room Where It Happened, pp. 70-71)

The Donald Trump administration is said to have begun to study incentives to be offered to North Korea at the upcoming summit with the North if Pyongyang takes concrete actions toward its denuclearization. The United States has been opposing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s call for “progressive and synchronous” denuclearization measures, emphasizing “unconditional denuclearization.” As Washington has verified Kim’s commitment to denuclearization once again during the ongoing working-level contact with the North, the Trump administration appears to be discussing detailed action plans that would prompt Pyongyang to take substantial action to denuclearize. According to multiple sources in the South Korean government, Washington is considering ways to achieve “partial normalization” of its relations with Pyongyang within this year if the Trump-Kim summit becomes successful. This suggests that as the North demanded that Washington provide a full guarantee of Pyongyang’s regime during the working-level contact, the Trump administration has started to study how it can ensure the guarantee. It is said that the Trump administration has offered to open liaison offices in Pyongyang and Washington, start humanitarian aid to the North, and establish embassies in both countries. However, the option of economic assistance, including easing sanctions on the North, is said to have been excluded for now. Reportedly, the U.S.-North Korea working-level contact, led by intelligence authorities of the two countries, is taking place in multiples places including Beijing, China and Sweden. (Shin

Jin-Woo, “U.S. Considers Opening Embassy, Liaison Office in DPRK,” Dong-A Ilbo, April 12, 2018)


4/13/18:
Mike Pompeo, the nominee for U.S. secretary of state, told his Senate confirmation hearing that the Trump administration does not plan to repeat the failures of past negotiations that provided Pyongyang with economic aid before its nuclear program was undone. “It is the intention of the president and the administration not to do that this time to make sure that before we provide rewards, we get the outcome permanently, irreversibly, that it is that we hope to achieve,” said Pompeo, who currently serves as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. “It is a tall order, but I am hopeful that President Trump can achieve that through sound diplomacy,” he said. He expressed confidence that the administration will come up with conditions for a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear issue. “No one is under any illusions we’ll reach a comprehensive agreement through the president’s meeting,” Pompeo said. “But to set up the conditions acceptable to each side, for the two leaders who will ultimately make the decision about whether such an agreement can be achieved and then set in place, I’m optimistic that the United States government can set the conditions for that appropriately.” Then Trump and Kim “can have that conversation” and “set us down the course of achieving the diplomatic outcome that America and the world so desperately need.” The nominee denied that he had ever advocated for regime change in the North. “My mission, and I’ve articulated my own personal views on this — we have a responsibility to achieve a condition where Kim Jong-un is unable to threaten the United States of America with a nuclear weapon,” he said. Pompeo said the U.S. may have to move “past diplomacy” if there were indications of a direct North Korean threat to the U.S. But he also agreed with a Democratic senator that the consequences would be “catastrophic” if the U.S. initiated an attack on the North. (Yonhap, “Pompeo Rules out Giving Rewards to N. Korea before Denuclearization,” April 13, 2018)

The United States has reportedly demanded that South Korea share the cost of deploying U.S. strategic assets around the Korean Peninsula during recent talks to renew their cost-sharing agreement for American troops stationed in South Korea. This is the first time that Washington publicly demands that South Korea share the deployment cost of strategic assets that are used to deter North Korea’s threats not only on South Korea but also on the U.S. mainland such as nuclear powered aircraft carriers, nuclear powered submarines, and strategic bombers. “The cost of strategic assets was mentioned by the U.S. side during the negotiation,” said a South Korean Foreign Ministry official today, referring to the second round of talks to conclude the 10th special defense agreement (SMA) held in the southern island of Jeju starting two days ago. “It is not that the United States demanded South Korea bear the entire cost of deploying strategic assets,” said the official. “The government stressed our basic stance that the agreement deals with how to share the upkeep cost of stationing the U.S. troops, not the cost of deploying strategic assets.” The two countries have also shown different views on the total cost of stationing U.S. forces in South Korea. The official said that there are “big differences to be ironed out” in the amount of money proposed by each side, but did not provide specific numbers. Seoul’s contribution is 960.2 billion won this year, but the United States is reportedly demanding South Korea pay up to twice what it currently contributes. (Shin Na-ri, “U.S. Demands S. Korea Share the Cost of Deploying Strategic Assets,” Dong-A Ilbo, April 13, 20180


4/14/18:
The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered a personal welcome to a senior envoy from Beijing, feting him and a visiting Chinese art troupe with a gala dinner, the North’s state-run news media reported on Sunday, as the estranged Communist allies continued efforts to mend ties. Kim exchanged “deep thoughts” on international issues of concern to North Korea and China and vowed to improve bilateral relations during the meeting today with the senior Chinese diplomat, Song Tao, KCNA reported. Kim’s friendly welcome also contrasted with the reception that Song received the last time he visited North Korea, as a special envoy of Xi in November. At that time, Kim refused to meet him and launched an intercontinental ballistic missile several days later. Kim “expressed satisfaction with improving ties between the two parties and nations,” KCNA said. “He voiced a need to elevate the traditional friendship to a new level of development meeting new demands of the times.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Chinese Envoy Is Embraced by a Warmer North Korea,” New York Times, April 16, 2018, p. A-7)


4/16/18:
The U.S. Forces Korea practices evacuating American civilians to the U.S. mainland today and tomorrow in preparation for a war on the Korean Peninsula. The USFK carries out the exercise twice a year, but normally volunteers are only taken to Japan rather than all the way to the U.S. Stars and Stripes first reported the change last month. The civilian volunteers will be transported to a U.S. military base in Japan first and then all the way to the U.S. mainland, a USFK source said. A military aircraft is on standby at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, and the USFK has selected about 100 volunteers, mostly families of service personnel. Normally the drill is carried out using computer simulations in South Korea, though in November 2016, right after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test, civilians were taken on a military transport plane to a U.S. base in Japan. But now North Korea’s missiles have a longer reach, civilians are taken further out of harm’s way. (Jun Hyun-suk, “USFK Practices Evacuating Civilians to American Mainland,” Chosun Ilbo, April 16, 2018)


4/17/18:
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, plans to formally announce his willingness to denuclearize his country when he meets with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea this month, an official from the South said. The statement is expected to be part of a joint declaration that the two leaders will adopt when they meet on April 27, said Moon’s chief of staff, Im Jong-seok. Negotiators from both Koreas have agreed on a rough framework for the joint declaration, he said. They are still discussing other aspects of the joint statement, such as whether the two Koreas would commit to holding summit meetings on a regular basis, Im said. South Korea is also trying to convince North Korea that Moon and Kim should hold a joint news conference at the end of their meeting in Panmunjom, the so-called truce village on the inter-Korean border. If necessary, Moon’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, and his spy chief, Suh Hoon, will visit the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, again to resolve any significant issues before the summit meeting, Im said. “Although the special envoys have already confirmed a willingness to denuclearize, it will make a difference if the two heads of state will meet and more clearly confirm it and make it a formal statement,”Im told reporters. More talks are needed to determine how specific the declaration would be about denuclearization, said Im, who is in charge of South Korean officials preparing for the summit meeting. But he said the joint statement would be broad and fairly “abstract,” because any substantial deal on the North’s nuclear weapons must be struck between Kim and President Trump. North Korean and United States officials have also been holding talks in preparation for their leaders’ meeting, during which American officials have said the North reaffirmed a willingness to discuss denuclearization. But it is still unclear what Kim would seek in return for abandoning nuclear arms, and whether those demands would be acceptable to Washington. When Kim met with President Xi Jinping of China late last month, he called for a “phased” and “synchronized” implementation of any denuclearization deal. Under such an approach, which North Korea has sought in past talks about its nuclear programs, the North would dismantle its program in stages, with each met by an incentive like an easing of international sanctions. Some American hard-liners reject such an approach, saying that the North has no real intention of giving up nuclear weapons and is only seeking relief from sanctions. John R. Bolton made that argument before Trump chose him last month as national security adviser. According to South Korean officials and analysts, Moon hopes for a “comprehensive deal,” in which Kim commits to dismantling his nuclear arsenal and Trump reciprocates with security guarantees for the North, including normalized ties and a peace treaty with Washington. “When our special envoys visited Pyongyang, the mood was not bad, and we understand that the North Koreans and the Americans are both engaged in sincere discussions, so we are optimistic about the inter-Korean summit,” Im said. “But we could face obstacles any time.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Kim Is Expected to Formally Put Nuclear Arms on the Table at Korea Talks,” New York Times, April 18, 2018, p. A-9)


4/18/18:
CIA Director Mike Pompeo made a top-secret visit to North Korea as an envoy for President Trump to meet with Kim Jong Un, and plans for a possible summit between the two leaders are underway, Trump confirmed today. The extraordinary meeting between one of Trump’s most trusted emissaries and the authoritarian head of a rogue state was part of an effort to lay the groundwork for direct talks between Trump and Kim about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The clandestine mission came late last month, soon after Pompeo was nominated to be secretary of state. The Pompeo mission was first reported yesterday by The Washington Post, citing two people with direct knowledge of the trip. Today, Trump acknowledged the outreach and said “a good relationship was formed” that could lead to a landmark meeting between the president and Kim. “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week,” Trump tweeted. “Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” Trump did not give further details of the talks, which took place over Easter weekend, according to the two people who first described the Pompeo trip to the Post. It was unclear why Trump referred to “last week” in his tweet. “I’m optimistic that the United States government can set the conditions for that appropriately so that the president and the North Korean leader can have that conversation [that] will set us down the course of achieving a diplomatic outcome that America so desperately — America and the world so desperately need,” Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week during his confirmation hearing. Speaking at his Mar-a-Lago resort yesterday, Trump appeared to allude to the extraordinary face-to-face meeting between Kim and Pompeo when he said the United States has had direct talks with North Korea “at very high levels.” The president didn’t elaborate at the time. About a week after Pompeo’s trip to North Korea, U.S. officials said that officials there had directly confirmed that Kim was willing to negotiate about potential denuclearization, according to administration officials, a sign that both sides had opened a new communications channel ahead of the summit meeting and that the administration believed North Korea was serious about holding a summit. “We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels with North Korea,” Trump said yesterday during a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. Opening a two-day summit with Abe, Trump took some credit for the rapid developments related to North Korea, whose nuclear and ballistic missile tests his administration has considered the gravest national security threat to the United States. Trump said that South Korean officials have “been very generous that without us, and without me in particular, I guess, they wouldn’t be discussing anything and the Olympics would have been a failure.” Seoul used the Winter Games, held in Pyeongchang in February, as a vehicle to reopen diplomatic talks with Pyongyang. “There’s a great chance to solve a world problem,” Trump said. “This is not a problem for the United States. This is not a problem for Japan or any other country. This is a problem for the world.” Hostilities in the Korean War, which involved the United States, ended 65 years ago, but a peace treaty was never signed. A top South Korean official was quoted yesterday as saying that a formal end to hostilities was on the agenda for the summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in next week in the demilitarized zone between the countries. “They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war,” Trump said. Yet such a deal would be complicated and would require direct U.S. participation and agreement. The United States signed the armistice agreement on South Korea’s behalf, and any peace treaty would have to be between the United States and North Korea. A big part of the reason a peace treaty has never been signed is because Pyongyang has long insisted that if one were attained, U.S. troops would no longer be required in South Korea, a demand the United States has rejected. [?]On Tuesday, Trump said the summit with Kim is likely to happen by early June if all goes well. He added a caveat: “It’s possible things won’t go well and we won’t have the meetings, and we’ll just continue to go on this very strong path we have taken.” Trump later said that five locations are under consideration to host the summit and that a decision would come soon. None of the locations was in the United States, Trump said later, in response to a question from a reporter. Administration officials are said to be looking at potential sites in Asia outside the Korean Peninsula, including Southeast Asia, and in Europe. Abe appeared delighted with the progress he made with Trump, including a pledge from the U.S. president to raise with Kim the issue of the unresolved cases of at least 13 Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s — an important domestic issue for Abe. (Shane Harris, Carol D. Leonnig, Greg Jaffe and David Nakamura, “CIA Director Pompeo Met with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un over Easter Weekend,” Washington Post, April 18, 2018)

Bolton: “At Mar-a-Lago, Abe spoke at length about North Korea’s nuclear program, stressing as had Yachi [Shotaro] in our earlier meeting in Washington, that we needed a truly effective agreement, unlike the Iran nuclear deal which Trump had so frequently criticized, and which the Obama Administration itself had emphasized was not even signed. Of course, Pyongyang was just as capable of lying about a signed as an unsigned document, but it might just trip them up. Abe also urged Japan’s long-standing positions that, in discussing ballistic missiles, we include short- and medium-range missiles (which could hit significant parts of Japan’s home islands) as well as ICBMs (which the North needed to hit the continental United States). Similarly, Japan also wanted to eliminate the North’s biological and chemical weapons, which I agreed should be part of any agreement with Pyongyang. Trump asked Abe what he thought of Kim’s recent visit to see Xi Jinping in China, and Abe said it reflected the impact of America’s implicit threat to use military force, and the cutoff, under international sanctions, of much of the oil flow from China. Abe emphasized that the US strike against Syria a few days before had sent a strong signal to North Korea and Russia. Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, had been frightened when Bush 43 included the North in the “Axis of Evil,” and military pressure was the best leverage on Pyongyang. I thought Abe’s convincing presentation would sway Trump, but the impact turned out to be limited. The Japanese had the same sense that Trump needed continual reminders, which explained why Abe conferred so frequently with Trump on North Korea throughout the Administration.” (Bolton, The Room Where It Happened, pp. 71-72)

President Trump declared that he would scrap a planned summit meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, or even walk out of the session while it was underway, if his diplomatic overture was not heading toward success. Trump continued to express optimism — verging on eagerness — about sitting down with the North’s reclusive leader. But as the momentum for a meeting grows in both Washington and East Asia, the president acknowledged that it was a perilous undertaking that could still end in failure. “If I think that it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we’re not going to go,” Trump said at a news conference at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, standing alongside Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. “If the meeting, when I’m there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.” He also did not demand any new concessions from North Korea beforehand, underscoring how determined he is to make history by convening with the leader of a country he threatened with war a few months ago. In preparing for the planned event, Trump’s decision to dispatch his C.I.A. director reflected the president’s trust in and comfort with Mike Pompeo, as well as how diplomats were sidelined in brokering what could be a landmark encounter. “Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed,” Trump said in an early morning Twitter post before he went golfing with Abe. “Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” Pompeo met with Kim on Easter Sunday [April 1], a senior official said, bringing along several aides from the C.I.A. — but nobody from the State Department or the White House. Some former administration officials expressed surprise that he returned from Pyongyang with no visible concessions, like the release of the three Americans detained in North Korea. Pompeo raised the issue, another official said, adding that the White House would continue to push for their release. Yesterday, Trump told reporters that the White House was looking at five potential locations. The White House has begun narrowing the list of options, a senior official said, eliminating sites like Pyongyang and the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, which could pose an optics problem for Trump. Meeting somewhere in the United States remains a possibility, though that could raise similar issues for Kim. The administration is studying several third countries — Singapore and Vietnam, in Asia; Sweden and Switzerland, in Europe — though all are far from North Korea, posing a challenge to Kim. Mongolia, which is closer to the North, is a long shot, the official said. Without a site, however, the White House has been unable to announce a date, though officials are sticking to Trump’s recent declaration that the meeting will be in late May or early June. Yesterday, Trump added to the mystery surrounding the visit by appearing to confirm that he had been in direct contact with Kim himself. He later clarified that while the talks were at “the highest levels,” he would “leave it a little bit short of that.” Pompeo’s involvement with North Korea predated Trump’s decision to meet Kim, several officials said. He has been dealing with North Korean representatives through a channel that runs between the C.I.A. and its North Korean counterpart, the Reconnaissance General Bureau. He also has been in close touch with the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, who American officials said brokered Kim’s invitation to Trump. Officials said Suh laid the groundwork for Kim’s invitation in negotiations and a subsequent meeting in Pyongyang with Kim Yong-chol, a powerful general who leads inter-Korean relations and used to run North Korea’s intelligence service. Suh was one of two South Korean envoys who visited the White House to brief Trump on their meeting with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang — which led to the president’s impromptu decision to accept Kim’s invitation. Pompeo has expressed extremely hawkish views about North Korea, suggesting over the summer that the United States should push for regime change. “It would be a great thing to denuclearize the peninsula, to get those weapons off of that, but the thing that is most dangerous about it is the character who holds the control over them today,” Pompeo said at the Aspen Security Forum. “So from the administration’s perspective, the most important thing we can do is separate those two.” Last week, Pompeo insisted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he had never advocated such change. “Just to be clear, my role as a diplomat is to make sure that we never get to a place where we have to confront the difficult situation in Korea that this country has been headed for now for a couple of decades,” he added. (Mark Landler, “President Warns He Could Depart Pyongyang Talks,” New York Times, April 19, 2018, p. A-1)

Trump: “As you know, I will be meeting with Kim Jong-un in the coming weeks to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Hopefully, that meeting will be a great success. And we’re looking forward to it. It would be a tremendous thing for North Korea and a tremendous thing for the world. So we will be doing everything possible to make it a worldwide success, not just for the United States or South Korea or North Korea or Japan, but for the entire world. We hope to see the day when the whole Korean Peninsula can live together in safety, prosperity, and peace. This is the destiny of the Korean people who deserve and have gone through so much over the years. We hope it all works out, and we’ll be trying very hard. … During my visit to Japan last fall, I met with Japanese families who endured the terrible heartbreak of having their loved ones abducted by the North Korean regime. We want to see these families reunited as soon as possible. And I know for a fact that it’s one of the truly most important things on Shinzo’s mind. We talk about it often. So important to you. And we’re going to do everything possible to have them brought back, and bring them back to Japan. I gave you that promise. … ABE: “The situation surrounding North Korea, due to the decisive decision by President Trump on the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit, is at a historical turning point. The past mistakes should never be repeated. On this point, President Trump and I were in full agreement. On the occasion of the 1994 framework agreement or the 2005 Six-Party Talks agreement, North Korea committed to abandon nuclear weapons development. But those promises were broken, and the effort of the international community to engage in dialogue were all entirely exploited to buy time to develop nuclear weapons and missiles. Based on such lessons learned, both the U.S. and Japan, together with the international community, we will demand that for all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles complete a verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles to North Korea. By envisioning multiple scenarios, we carefully thought out our policies and directions at a concrete and detailed level. Just because North Korea is responding to dialogue, there should be no reward. Maximum pressure should be maintained, and actual implementation of concrete actions towards denuclearization will be demanded. This firm policy has once again been completely shared between us. On this occasion, we also agree to continue our effort towards the earlier resolution of the top priority matter of abduction. Just now, President Trump, on this spot here, has mentioned that with the return of the abductees, maximum effort will be made. With a clear promise just made here, we are deeply encouraged, Donald. Half a year ago, when you visited our country, you listened intently to each and every family member of the abductees. You listened carefully and kindly said you would like to help. Your image on that occasion is indelibly etched in the eyes and minds of many of the Japanese people. Going forward, we wish to work closely with the United States and towards the immediate return of all abductees. We are determined to strengthen our approach vis-à-vis North Korea. North Korea has diligent workforce and is blessed with resources. If North Korea advances in the right direction, they can make their populations richer. If North Korea takes the right path under the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration, there could be a possible path to settle the unfortunate past and to normalize diplomatic relationship. For that to happen, a comprehensive resolution of multiple concerns — including abduction, nuclear, and missile — will be the fundamental precondition. Through the upcoming historic U.S.-North Korea summit, we certainly hope for a breakthrough in this situation. … Questions. Mark Landler? Mark. Q. … Mr. President, you sent your CIA Director to Pyongyang a couple of weeks ago, and he returned without three Americans who are being detained there, and also without any other visible signs of concessions the North Koreans had made to the United States in advance of your meeting with Mr. Kim. My question is: Do you intend or are you willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un if Americans are still being held in North Korea? And will you insist on other tangible concessions from the North Koreans in return for gestures like sending a potential future Secretary of State to North Korea? … TRUMP: Thank you, Mark, very much. The fact is that they do have three prisoners. We have been talking about them. We are negotiating now. We are doing our very best. As you know, they’ve been there a long time and it’s harsh treatment. We fought very hard to get Otto Warmbier back. And when we came back, he was in very, very bad condition. It was a very sad event. We are likewise fighting very diligently to get the three American citizens back. I think there’s a good chance of doing it. We’re having very good dialogue. We will keep you informed. But we are in there and we are working very hard on that. We have come a long way with North Korea. We were, as you know — and when I say “we”, for many years, they’ve been talking to North Korea and nothing has happened. This should have been taken care of by past administrations when they were not nearly so far along. But we put unbelievably powerful sanctions on, and many other things. I want to thank publicly President Xi of China, who has done more for us than he’s done for any other administration, or than any leader of China has done for any President or administration. He has clogged up the border, as you know, and he’s done it very, very powerfully. He would tell you himself that he never thought he would go to this extent, and I appreciate that very much. But it’s put a lot of pressure on. As you know, 93 percent of the goods coming into North Korea come in from China. And President Xi understands that this is a very important set of months that are lying ahead. He doesn’t want to see a Korea — North Korea, or any Korea — that has nuclear weapons either. So he’s also fighting for China when it comes to this. But he has been terrific. Can he be better? I always say yes, he can be better. I said, “President, you’ve been great. Can you be better? Yes.” But he’s been very good, and it’s had a big impact. And what we’ve done has had a big impact. So we’ve never been in a position like this with that regime, whether it’s father, grandfather, or son. And I hope to have a very successful meeting. If we don’t think it’s going to be successful, Mark, we won’t have it. We won’t have it. If I think that it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we’re not going to go. If the meeting, when I’m there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting, and we’ll continue what we’re doing or whatever it is that we’ll continue. But something will happen. So I like always remaining flexible, and we’ll remain flexible here. I’ve gotten it to this point. President Moon of South Korea was very generous when he said, if it weren’t for Donald Trump, the Olympics would have been a total failure. It was my involvement and the involvement of our great country that made the Olympics a very successful Olympics. If you look at ticket sales prior to what took place with respect to North Korea, it was going to be a big problem, and it turned out to be a very successful Olympics. So we’ve gotten us here, and I think we’re going to be successful. But if for any reason I feel we’re not, we end. Okay? Thank you, Mark. … Q (As interpreted.) I’m (inaudible). I’d like to ask a question about how to handle North Korean issues. Prime Minister Abe, the coordination for holding summits between the South Korea and North Korea, as well between the U.S. and North Korea, is underway. There is a concern in Japan that Japan may be left behind. So how are you going to proceed with dialogue with North Korea? President Trump, you talked about the abduction issue. Are you going to consider the nuclear weapons disarmament the same level as abduction issue? TRUMP: Well, maybe I’ll go first. Abduction is a very important issue for me because it’s very important to your Prime Minister. I will tell you that we were having dinner last night, and he started talking about abduction and how horrible it was. And his level of enthusiasm was unbelievable. And I said to him right then and there last night at the table, I said we will work very hard on that issue, and we will try and bring those folks back home. Very, very hard. ABE: (As interpreted.) Whether Japan will be left behind, that is not at all the case. In the last two days, together with President Trump, we have spoken about North Korea. There will be the inter-Korean talks, and a U.S.-North Korea summit is planned. We have gone into really in-depth discussion. About our policy and direction, we have reached agreement. Regarding the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit, we hope that it will lead to the resolution of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear missile, and of course, more than anything else, we hope it will be a historic summit that will lead to the resolution of abduction. And for that purpose, I have seriously and thoroughly discussed it with President Trump, and we have fully agreed about our direction going forward, in particular regarding abduction. As Donald has explained in our tête-à-tête, we have thoroughly discussed about this matter. Last year, the President met with the victims of the abduction, as well as the family members. And the families’ feelings have been strongly felt and understood by the President, and he has given a very encouraging comment that he would appeal towards the resolution. I highly appreciate this encouraging comment. This gives us huge courage — a very encouraging comment. And for the families of the abductees, again, this is a massively, powerfully encouraging comment. And, therefore, going forward between Japan and the U.S., or between the trilateral of Japan, U.S., and South Korea, we will cooperate closely and do our utmost to resolve the issues of North Korea, including abduction, nuclear, and missile. TRUMP: And we will be very loyal to Japan. Thank you. … ” (White House Office of the Press, Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Abe of Japan in Joint Press Conference, Mar-a-Lago, April 18, 2018)


4/19/18:
North Korea has dropped its demand that American troops be removed from South Korea as a condition for giving up its nuclear weapons, South Korea’s president said today in presenting the idea to the United States. But in Washington, the Trump administration privately dismissed the idea that it was a capitulation by the North because an American withdrawal from the South was never on the table. Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director whom President Trump secretly sent to Pyongyang two weeks ago to meet Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, did not ask him to take such a step, senior officials said. The move could increase pressure on the United States to support negotiations between North and South Korea on a peace treaty that would end the Korean War. While Trump gave those talks his blessing this week, officials said his ultimate goal is to force North Korea to relinquish its nuclear program. A peace treaty, they said, should be signed only after the North has given up its weapons. Analysts and former officials said the White House was right to be wary of Kim’s offer. They said it could drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea, which is deeply invested in bringing an end to the 68-year military conflict on the Korean Peninsula and will view Kim’s offer as an important step in that direction. “It’s a classic, deft North Korean maneuver, which puts us at a disadvantage and makes us look like bad guys if we reject it,” said Evan S. Medeiros, a former Asia adviser to President Barack Obama. “The North Koreans did not present any conditions that the United States could not accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops in South Korea,” Moon told newspaper publishers in Seoul. “They only talk about an end to hostilities against their country and about getting security guarantees,” Moon said. “It’s safe to say that the plans for dialogue between the North and the United States could proceed because that has been made clear.” Since the 1990s, however, North Korean officials have occasionally told the Americans and South Koreans that they could live with an American military presence if Washington signed a peace treaty and normalized ties with the North. Kim’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, sent a party secretary to the United States in 1992 to deliver that message. When South Korea’s president at the time, Kim Dae-jung, met with Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2000, the North Korean leader was quoted as saying that keeping American troops in Korea for “stability in Northeast Asia” even after a reunification was “not a bad idea, provided that the status and the role of U.S. troops be changed.” “It is desirable that U.S. troops stay as a peacekeeping force in Korea, instead of a hostile force against the North,” Kim Jong Il said, according to the book “Peacemaker,” by Lim Dong-won, who attended the 2000 inter-Korean summit meeting. Despite their suspicions about the younger Kim’s motives, American officials did not diminish the significance of his offer from a domestic standpoint. For decades, they said, the Kim family has survived by fueling a narrative of American aggression against the North. Declaring they could live with troops could undercut that narrative. To some extent, administration officials also need to manage Trump, who speaks often of the historic opportunity he has to settle one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. “We’ve never been in a position like this with that regime, whether it’s father, grandfather or son,” Trump said yesterday. “And I hope to have a very successful meeting.” Administration officials have been extremely circumspect about what Pompeo discussed with Kim during their meeting over Easter weekend. But he did raise the issue of three Americans detained in North Korea, and officials expressed cautious optimism that the United States was making progress in getting them out. Analysts said that even if North Korea accepted an American military presence in the South, it might demand that it be significantly reconfigured and reduced. In its 2016 statement, North Korea also demanded that the United States stop deploying long-range bombers, submarines and other “nuclear-strike capabilities” in and around South Korea if it wanted a nuclear-free peninsula, a condition that analysts said would doubtless please China. Today, Moon dismissed concerns that the United States might end up recognizing North Korea as a de facto nuclear power in return for a promise to freeze its nuclear and missile programs. “I don’t think there is any difference between the parties over what they mean by denuclearization,” Moon said. “North Korea is expressing a willingness to denuclearize completely.” In the separate South Korean and American summit meetings with Kim, Moon said there would be “no big difficulties” in reaching “broad agreements in principle.” North Korea, he said, would agree to denuclearize in return for normalized ties with the United States; aid to help rebuild its economy; and a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. The challenge, he said, is in working out a road map to such a deal. “As they say, the devil is in details,” Moon said. (Mark Landler and Choe Sang-hun, “An Olive Branch by North Korea Is Viewed Warily,” New York Times, April 20, 2018, p. A-1) Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, has removed a key obstacle to negotiations with Washington by no longer demanding that American troops be removed from South Korea as a condition for denuclearizing his country, the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, said. The change in stance, if officially confirmed by the North, could affect the United States’ long-term military plans in Northeast Asia and ease Washington’s reluctance to strike a deal with North Korea. “The North Koreans did not present any conditions that the United States could not accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops in South Korea,” Moon told newspaper publishers in Seoul. “They only talk about an end to hostilities against their country and about getting security guarantees,” he said. “It’s safe to say that the plans for dialogue between the North and the United States could proceed because that has been made clear.” But a retreat from that demand would not be entirely surprising, according to officials who have dealt with North Korea. Since the 1990s, North Korean officials have occasionally told the Americans and South Koreans that they could live with an American military presence in the South if Washington signed a peace treaty and normalized ties with the North. Kim’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, sent Kim Yong-soon, a party secretary, to the United States in 1992 to deliver that message. When South Korea’s president at the time, Kim Dae-jung, met with Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2000, the North Korean leader was quoted as saying that keeping American troops in Korea for “stability in Northeast Asia” even after a reunification was “not a bad idea, provided that the status and the role of U.S. troops be changed.” “It is desirable that U.S. troops stay as a peacekeeping force in Korea, instead of a hostile force against the North,” Kim Jong Il said, according to the book “Peacemaker,” by Lim Dong-won, who attended the 2000 inter-Korean summit meeting. At a forum organized this month by the Seoul-based website Newspim, Lim said that although North Korea had regularly demanded the withdrawal of American troops, it was important to differentiate its “propaganda policy” from its “real policy.” Lim, a former unification minister of South Korea, said he believed that the North could accept an American military presence and negotiate away its nuclear weapons if it was offered the right incentives. But analysts said that even if North Korea accepted an American military presence in the South, it might demand that it be significantly reconfigured and downsized. In its 2016 statement, North Korea also demanded that the United States stop deploying long-range bombers, submarines and other “nuclear-strike capabilities” in and around South Korea if it wanted a nuclear-free peninsula, a condition that analysts said would doubtless please China. Moon dismissed concerns that the United States might end up recognizing North Korea as a de facto nuclear power in return for a promise from it to freeze its nuclear and missile programs. “I don’t think there is any difference between the parties over what they mean by denuclearization,” Moon said. “North Korea is expressing a willingness to denuclearize completely.” In Seoul’s and Washington’s separate planned summit meetings with Kim, Moon said there would be “no big difficulties” in reaching “broad agreements in principle” in which North Korea would agree to denuclearize in return for normalized ties with the United States, international aid to help rebuild its economy and a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. The challenge is in working out a detailed road map to carry out such a deal, he said. Analysts and former negotiators said the countries would face extremely complicated negotiations on how to verify that North Korea was not cheating on its commitment to denuclearize, as it has been accused of in the past, and on when to provide security guarantees and other incentives. Past agreements to denuclearize North Korea all collapsed in disputes over how to verify a freeze of its nuclear activities. “As they say, the devil is in details,” Moon said. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Removes Major Obstacle to U.S. Negotiations, South Says,” New York Times, April 19, 2018)

Oleg Shcheka: “Chronic power shortages are one of North Korea’s major vulnerabilities. The country is extremely reliant on hydropower stations which, according to North Korean official sources, provide 56 percent of the national power-generating capacity. Hydropower output depends on precipitation and drops drastically in dry years. Developing nuclear energy has long seemed an obvious option for North Korea to bolster its energy security. Already for many decades the DPRK has been making efforts to build an atomic power industry, although the lack of funding and Pyongyang’s severely restricted access to the international market of civilian nuclear technologies have seriously hampered the its progress in this area. Still, the DPRK continues to pursue nuclear-power generation. In particular, progress is being made on the 100 megawatt-thermal Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) at the North’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, of which construction began in 2010. There might also be other, as yet undisclosed, nuclear facilities in development and under construction designed to combine civilian (power generation) and military (plutonium production) functions. … Part of the rationale for nuclear power plants may also be strategic—using them as a shield to deter possible attacks on the North. The United States and South Korea might have to think twice before conducting military strikes in the areas where North Korea’s active nuclear power plants would be located given how close they are to Seoul and other densely populated areas. Pyongyang’s newfound interest in jump starting nuclear energy projects is evidenced by the shift in priorities in the specialization of North Korean science interns sent to study in Russia. Before the late 2000s, mostly physicists came to Russia, including those who demonstrated their interest in nuclear physics. However, since the early 2010s, they were increasingly replaced by specialists in the fields of heat engineering, cooling systems and other areas of energy engineering required to build and operate nuclear power reactors. It should be noted that Russia has always maintained due diligence when admitting North Korean interns to science and technical departments in order to prevent any leaks of dual-use tech. Controls have been considerably strengthened since 2016, after the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions which made studies and research in proliferation-sensitive areas off limits to the DPRK citizens … .What kind of reactors can North Korea build for its nuclear power plants with the available technical and intellectual capabilities? Most probably it could build reactors similar to the Soviet RBMK-1000, a variety of light water graphite reactor—the same type as the reactor that exploded at Chernobyl. Such reactors are channel-type, heterogeneous, uranium-graphite (graphite and/or water are used as the moderators of neutrons), boiling-type on thermal neutrons, which use boiling water as a coolant in a single-circuit scheme and can produce saturated steam at a pressure of about 70 kgf/cm.² The creation of such an open-frame reactor is much easier for the DPRK compared to reactors using high-strength large-sized casings that require significant industrial production capacity. In addition, a casing puts limitations on overall dimensions. Absence of a casing allows for greater generating capacity of the power unit. Moreover, in an open-frame design, the fuel assemblies can be replaced without shutting down the reactor, which ensures an increase in the reactor power factor. However, such a simple design feature, together with the desire to crank up more power to generate electricity, inevitably leads to an increased risk of disasters associated with human errors as well as imperfect operation and protection systems. The most tragic example is the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, when the plant’s staff, running the reactor in an experimental mode, made gross errors while manipulating the graphite moderators of neutrons. The concern is that the North Koreans may attempt to launch nuclear power plants with substandard and poorly tested reactors. Doing so would keep with the North Korean tradition of sacrificing safety standards to accelerate construction of high-priority industrial facilities. Soviet technical specialists who assisted the DPRK in the 1960s repeatedly noted North Koreans’ willingness to cut corners in terms of safety standards for the sake of construction speed. Based on the political and economic realities of the DPRK, one can assume with a high degree of certainty that the North Koreans will try to wring out the maximum capacity from their nuclear reactors. However, even slight movements beyond safe operating parameters of an RBMK-type reactor can cause rapid irreversible consequences, namely destruction of the fuel assembly, deformation of the core’s graphite masonry, and injection of a significant amount of radioactive substances from the destroyed fuel assembly into the reactor space. If this happens, a brief increase in pressure may occur in a section of the gas circuit, which will result in large volumes of water flooding the reactor space. Its instantaneous evaporation will cause a sharp increase in pressure in the reactor space, which in turn will lead to extrusion of the reactor’s hydraulic locks and, as a consequence, release of the radioactive vapor-gas mixture from the reactor space into the atmosphere. In other words, rapidly increased pressure inside the construction will destroy it, and the radioactive elements in the vapor mixture will be thrown out. As a result, a huge territory could be contaminated with radioactive substances. Based on the reactor’s power generating capability, and depending on weather conditions, such as strength and direction of the wind, up to 100 million people in North and South Korea, the eastern provinces of China, in the south of Russia’s Far East and on the west coast of Japan could be exposed to mortal danger. While North Korea’s nuclear weapons program gets most of the international attention, implications of Pyongyang’s pursuit of civilian nuclear energy should be a concern, too. Indeed, just as already happened with the DPRK’s nuclear and missile program, which—unexpectedly to many—has made great strides in a relatively short time, it may not take very long for North Korea to launch power-generating nuclear reactors whose technical parameters may be far from the best standards of safety. Any search for solutions to the Korean nuclear crisis must take this concern into account as well. (Oleg Shcheka, “Should We Worry about a North Korean Chernobyl?” 38 North, April 19, 2018)


4/20/18:
North and South Korea installed a direct phone line between their leaders as they prepare for the first summit since 2007 — and the connection was great, the South’s presidential office said. South Korea’s presidential Blue House and North Korea’s State Affairs Commission tested the hot line for four minutes before South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un talk ahead of next week’s summit, the office said. “The call quality was very good and we felt like we got a call from our next-door neighbor,” South Korea’s director for the Government Situation Room, Youn Kun-young, told reporters. Moon will now be able to pick up his office phone to talk to Kim, instead of communicating through a hot line at the Joint Security Area in the border village of Panmunjom. (Heekyong Yang and Hyonhee Shin, “Person to Person: North and South Korea Get Neighborly with Direct Hot Line,” Reuters, April 20, 2018)

On a dark February night, the trucks unloaded their contraband near Hyesan, a North Korean town across a narrow river from China. As border guards looked the other way, workers used carts to pull the cargo of metal ore — tungsten, lead, zinc, copper and gold concentrates, all banned from export under United Nations sanctions — across the frozen river. By sunrise, all that was left were tire tracks and footprints across the river’s frozen surface. A North Korean witness told an acquaintance living in South Korea that ore, as well as other materials, was being smuggled into China at the crossing almost every night. He said smugglers also headed the other way, moving sugar, flour and 50-kilogram sacks of fertilizers into North Korea. There is growing evidence that tough new sanctions imposed on North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons and missile programs have begun to bite, and bite hard. Factories have closed because of a lack of raw materials, fishermen have deserted their boats and military units are resorting to charcoal-engine vehicles and even ox-driven carts for transport. But the elaborate efforts to smuggle goods in and out of North Korea are among the signs that the closed, secretive country is finding ways to cope. The North is also responding with patriotic appeals, with belt-tightening and by prioritizing the allocation of resources to the military and political elite. Despite shortages, exchange rates and key consumer prices are stable, and there is no sign of an approaching famine, according to recent visitors and N