North Korea 2018

Written by  //  November 12, 2018  //  Geopolitics, North Korea  //  Comments Off on North Korea 2018

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North Korea 2017
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12 November
In North Korea, Missile Bases Suggest a Great Deception
(NYT) North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images, a network long known to American intelligence agencies but left undiscussed as President Trump claims to have neutralized the North’s nuclear threat.
The satellite images suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception: It has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads.
The revelation of the bases comes as Mr. Trump’s signature piece of diplomacy, based on his meeting exactly five months ago with Mr. Kim, appears in peril. Publicly, Mr. Trump remains relentlessly optimistic, to the point that he said at a campaign rally that he and Mr. Kim, one of the world’s most brutal dictators, “fell in love.” But last week, talks with the North hit another snag, as it declared that it would not send its chief negotiator to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York to plan the next summit meeting.

3 September
Simon Tisdall: Trump is dangerous again as his Kim Jong-un ‘breakthrough’ turns sour
Faced by the collapse of his only diplomatic ‘achievement’ and worried about support at home, the president could go rogue
(The Guardian) The implosion of Trump’s deceptive Korean “breakthrough” risks some dreadful consequences. One is the sabotaging of separate, commendable efforts by Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, to restore bilateral trust and cooperation. American bungling has thrown into question Moon’s planned visit to Pyongyang this month – and has certainly rendered it more difficult. Another key ally, Japan, has no illusions, dismissing Trump’s big triumph as a flop. North Korea continued to pose a “serious and imminent” threat, Tokyo has declared.
Trump’s over-reaching, and subsequent reneging, is likely to enrage the Pyongyang regime, where hardliners are already crying betrayal. Kim himself may feel humiliated by Trump’s failure to fulfil dangled promises about a peace treaty or formal diplomatic recognition. The result could be a redoubling of the north’s efforts to build weapons of mass destruction and a rapid reigniting of regional military tensions. …
The deleterious impact of the “Trump effect” on other international hotspots can be seen in Palestine, where his funding cuts and tilt towards Israel over Jerusalem have rendered the peace process moribund. It is evident in Syria, too, where Russia’s bombers, unbelievably, have been given free rein; and in Iran, the undeserving target of unrestrained, highly provocative (and arguably illegal) American economic warfare.

28 August
Trump and Kim clash, via tweets and the state media
(NYT via Straits Times) – North Korean state media criticised the United States over the weekend for “extremely provocative and dangerous military moves” in Pacific waters and warned that the diplomacy forged between the two countries’ leaders during their Singapore summit in June could be in jeopardy.
The belligerent articles were the first official comments from North Korea since a frustrated President Donald Trump announced on Friday (Aug 24) that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was cancelling his most recent plan to travel to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
Mr Trump’s announcement, made in a series of tweets, was the first acknowledgement by the US President that the diplomatic process with North Korea had stalled.

30 July
US intelligence agencies determine that North Korea is constructing new missiles: report
U.S. intelligence agencies indicate North Korea is building new missiles, officials told The Washington Post on Monday, weeks after President Trump declared the nation is “no longer a Nuclear Treat.”
Satellite images taken in recent weeks appear to show that at least one and possibly two liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are being worked on at a large research facility in Sanumdong, outside of the capital of Pyongyang.
This is the same facility where the country first produced intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S., the newspaper noted.

21 July
In private, Trump vents frustration over lack of progress on North Korea
(WaPost) Diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled follow-up meetings, demanded more money and failed to maintain basic communications, even as the once-isolated regime’s engagements with China and South Korea flourish.
Meanwhile, a missile-engine testing facility that Trump said would be destroyed remains intact, and U.S. intelligence officials say Pyongyang is working to conceal key aspects of its nuclear program.
Officials say Trump has been captivated by the nuclear talks, asking staffers for daily updates on the status of the negotiations. His frustration with the lack of progress has been coupled with irritation about the media coverage of the joint statement he signed on June 12 in Singapore, a document that contains no timeline or specifics on denuclearization but has reduced tensions between the two countries.

19 July
Trump Is in Denial About North Korea
By Kent Harrington
US President Donald Trump’s insistence that negotiations with North Korea are “going well” is directly contradicted by US intelligence findings about the country’s nuclear program. Trump needs to put substance ahead of spectacle – and US allies ahead of his own fragile ego – before it is too late.
(Project Syndicate) North Korea specialists have long been skeptical that Kim would ever give up his nuclear arsenal, and recent evidence supports their judgment. Reports citing US intelligence officials indicate that the North is pressing ahead with its nuclear-weapons program, by ramping up missile and enriched-uranium production and concealing the size of its nuclear inventory.
…  it remains to be seen how [Trump] will respond to intelligence reports about the North’s duplicity. At any rate, now that the US has shared its intelligence with Japan, South Korea, and other allies, political leaders and military officials in those countries have reason to be anxious. For Japan and South Korea, in particular, the contradictions between Trump’s rhetoric and his own intelligence services’ findings are becoming a source of serious concern.

7-8 July
(The Atlantic) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to North Korea didn’t make much headway toward stopping the country’s nuclear program. Pompeo called his conversations with Kim Jong Un “productive,” while North Korea called the United States’ demand for denuclearization “gangsterlike.” Soon, Uri Friedman writes, the two countries will come to a moment of truth about whether that goal is really achievable.
America and North Korea Are Having Two Different Conversations
One country’s “productive” talks are another’s “gangsterlike” demands.
What the North Koreans mean by “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” as Friedman explained, is “proof of denuclearization in South Korea [from which the U.S. withdrew tactical nuclear weapons under George H.W. Bush] … [and] no more deployment of American nuclear-capable vessels and aircrafts during training exercises with South Korean forces.” The South may currently be nuclear-free, but the North Koreans don’t believe that, and as Friedman notes, the U.S. “still has multiple ways to launch a nuclear attack against North Korea, and the North Koreans know it.” The North Koreans may also consider the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea, and an end to the U.S.-South Korean alliance, to be encompassed in this notion of “denuclearization.”
In a more typical diplomatic process, the gap-closing on issues such as this would have been undertaken by lower-level officials prior to a summit. Indeed this is a key reason no U.S.-North Korea summit had taken place before Trump—previous administrations had assessed that the sides remained too far apart on the core issues to warrant the risk of such a high-profile failure. If Trump’s gamble was that the unprecedented nature of the summit itself was enough to shock the North Korean system into real movement, there’s no public indication yet that it worked.
North Korea calls U.S. attitude toward talks ‘regrettable,’ rejecting Pompeo’s claim meetings were ‘productive’
(WaPost) In a sharp signal that denuclearization negotiations with North Korea will be drawn out and difficult, Pyongyang on Saturday lambasted the U.S. stance as regrettable, gangster-like and cancerous, directly contradicting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s rosy assessment that his two days of talks had been “productive.”
A harsh statement from an unnamed spokesman for the Foreign Ministry was carried on the state-run Korea Central News Agency just hours after Pompeo left Pyongyang on Saturday and told reporters that significant progress had been made “in every element” of what he characterized as “good-faith negotiations.” Pyongyang crushed that appraisal, saying the United States had betrayed the spirit of the June 12 Singapore summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

4 July
U.S. softens North Korea approach as Pompeo prepares for more nuclear talks
(Reuters) U.S. officials have since been trying to flesh out an agreement critics say is short on substance and map a route to a deal that might live up to Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the summit outcome.
But U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there had been no sign of a breakthrough and little progress toward even defining the keys terms of any agreement.
What has been seen instead is an apparent softening in the Trump administration’s approach, in spite of what U.S. officials say are intelligence assessments saying that North Korea is continuing to deceive Washington about its weapons programs.

2 July
No One Knows What Kim Jong Un Promised Trump
North Korea is reportedly continuing nuclear work. But it’s not clear that’s a violation of what it agreed to in Singapore.
(The Atlantic) Recent reports said U.S. intelligence agencies suspect that North Korea has, according to NBC News, “increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites;” has also, 38 North adds, made “improvements to the infrastructure at … Yongbyon,” the plutonium-production reactor; and, The Washington Post reports, is “considering ways to conceal the number of weapons it has and secret production facilities.” Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported that North Korea was expanding a facility to build solid-fuel ballistic missiles, even as Kim was meeting with his South Korean counterpart in April and preparing for his meeting with Trump in June.
Trump and Kim first met one-on-one, with their translators, and then met with their top aides. No one else really knows what denuclearization commitments were made in that room, beyond the public joint statement in which North Korea “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” If it was further specified in conversation how and when exactly this “work” would take place, and what exactly it would mean to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula in contrast to just the North giving up its nukes, that is not currently public. It’s possible that the joint communique the two sides signed meant different things to each side.
Intelligence officials cited by the Post went further, assessing that North Korea “does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile, and instead is considering ways to conceal the number of weapons it has and secret production facilities.” This would fit a historical pattern, since past attempts at talking to North Korea over its nuclear program—in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama eras—all ultimately failed. One reason has been that the U.S. and North Korea understand “denuclearization” differently. For the U.S., the word means that North Korea gets rid of its nuclear weapons. But for North Korea, Evans Revere, a former top U.S. official for East Asia, wrote for the Brookings Institution, the word means something else

30 June
US reportedly has ‘unequivocal evidence’ that North Korea is ‘trying to deceive’ Trump with secret sites and nuclear-fuel production

16 June
The Singapore Summit’s Uncertain Legacy
Richard N. Haass
Donald Trump’s depiction of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a great success that solved the nuclear problem could make it tougher to maintain international support for the economic sanctions that are still needed to pressure Kim. Weakening the prospect of achieving one’s goals is not the mark of a strong negotiator.
(Project Syndicate) The nuclear threat posed by North Korea remains undiminished. The joint statement issued by the two leaders was as brief – just 391 words – as it was vague.
The statement was far more about aspirations than accomplishments. North Korea committed only “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Missing was any definition of what denuclearization might entail, a timeline for implementation, or a reference to how any actions would be verified. Other issues related to nuclear weapons, including ballistic missiles, were not even mentioned. Thus far, at least, the agreement with North Korea compares unfavorably to the Iran nuclear deal that Trump denounced – and then renounced a month before meeting Kim. …
The danger, of course, is that subsequent negotiations will fail, for all these reasons, to bring about the complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea that the US has said must happen soon. Trump would likely then accuse Kim of betraying his trust.
In that case, the US would have three options. It could accept less than full denuclearization, an outcome that Trump and his top aides have said they would reject. It could impose even stricter sanctions, to which China and Russia are unlikely to sign up. Or it could reintroduce the threat of military force, which South Korea, in particular, would resist.

13 June
North Korea Says It Won Major Concessions From Trump in Singapore
(NYT) A day after its leader’s historic talks with President Trump, North Korea wasted no time on Wednesday spinning the results in its favor, claiming it had won major concessions from the United States.
(WaPost) Fact-checking President Trump’s claims about the North Korea deal
“Chairman Kim and I just signed a joint statement which he reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula…. We signed a very, very comprehensive document.”
North Korea has a long history of making agreements and then not living up to its obligations.
The document signed by Trump and Kim was not “very comprehensive” but remarkably vague, leaving it open to interpretation and debate, compared to previous documents signed by North Korea. The statement said North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) committed to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The phrase is not defined and “toward” is rather weak. In the past, North Korea viewed “denuclearization” to mean the United States removing the nuclear umbrella it provides to Japan and South Korea; there is no indication its definition has changed.
Donald Trump Actually Seems to Believe He Denuclearized North Korea
The president claims the nuclear threat is gone, but that’s not what he achieved in Singapore.
(The Atlantic) It’s one thing for Trump to declare the summit a victory despite its modest results. But it’s quite another thing to pretend to have solved a threat decades in the making with a few handshakes and a 403-word statement. One has to imagine that, in Pyongyang right now, Kim Jong Un and his advisers are pulling up Trump’s Twitter feed. Fresh off a meeting in which they committed to nothing concrete and the president of the United States implicitly acknowledged North Korea as a nuclear-weapons power by noting their “very powerful nuclear weapons” at a press conference, they might be marveling at Trump’s boasts and asking themselves, “Is that all it took?”

12 June
Around the halls: Brookings experts react to the Trump-Kim Jong-un summit in Singapore
Eleven Brookings experts share their initial assessments of the agreements Trump and Kim made, the winners and losers of the summit, and the prospects for continued diplomacy and the ultimate goal of denuclearization in North Korea.
Daniel Russel: A Historic Breakthrough or a Historic Blunder in Singapore?
Kim Jong Un May Have Outwitted Trump at the Summit
(Foreign Affairs) The rebooting of U.S.–North Korean negotiations to at least include the nuclear issue is a good thing, but it essentially takes the United States back to square one of a process that North Korea has skillfully manipulated in the past to buy time and extract concessions. What’s not so good is this: not only did Trump put the cart before the horse in starting the process with a summit and thus squandering U.S. leverage, but he then proceeded to “buy the same horse,” as then U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates memorably put it nearly a decade ago, by front-loading concessions in exchange for mere promises.
Winner takes all – Sentosa Summit was a win-win for one
President Donald Trump made an effort to overcome the hurdles that led to the Singapore Summit between him and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong Un. But the meeting’s big winner wasn’t Trump – it was Kim.
By C Uday Bhaskar
The substantive take-away for Chairman Kim is the Trump assurance that “the United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations.”
Global respect, no threat to the Kim regime and a security assurance from the USA – all achieved in a day! The DPRK has reason to be more than satisfied.
The more measured responses from the USA and its allies that will follow may tell a different story. For now, this is a win-win outcome – but both wins are in the Korean peninsula and the Panmunjom Declaration
Nicholas Kristof: Trump Was Outfoxed in Singapore
Of all the things that could have gone badly wrong in a Trump administration, a “bloody nose” strike on North Korea leading to a nuclear war was perhaps the most terrifying. For now at least, Trump seems to have been snookered into the same kind of deeply frustrating diplomatic process with North Korea that he has complained about, but that is far better than war.

Trump and Kim Jong Un just struck a deal. Here’s what it means and what comes next.
(Vox) An expert explains who gained from the Trump-Kim deal and why.
Vipin Narang, professor of political science at MIT and an expert on US-North Korea relations:
The value of the summit for both Kim and Trump was to have the summit.
In terms of the substance of the agreement, it is weaker or on par with agreements struck between North Korea and the US since 1993. They merely promised to “work toward” the goal of denuclearization, which is about as vague and meaningless as it gets. And in a lot of ways, Kim ends up the winner, because he has extracted a freeze on US-South Korean military exercises as long as the dialogue continues, and as long as North Korea continues to freeze its development of nukes.
But it’s important to stipulate that North Korea is probably at a point in its technical development cycle where it can afford to suspend full-blown missile testing, in which case Kim emerges as the big winner. He gets to sit down as an equal to the US president, commit to nothing, and, for the short term, drive a wedge between the US and South Korea.

9 June
Jennifer Rubin: After Trump’s G-7 summit fiasco, be afraid
(WaPost) Trump is now so desperate to show he’s “right” — a master negotiator who breaks every precedent — that it is becoming more and more likely the summit will deliver plenty of glad-handing but no concrete moves toward denuclearization. …  none of Trump’s predecessors were dim-witted enough to give the ghoulish dictator of North Korea a public-relations triumph. Oh, and they managed not to get into fights with Canada.

7 June
Trump and Bolton spurn top-level North Korea planning
After two months on the job, Trump’s new national security adviser has not called a single top-level National Security Council meeting on North Korea.
(Politico) … since Trump agreed on a whim to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on March 8, the White House’s summit planning has been unstructured, according to a half-dozen administration officials. Trump himself has driven the preparation almost exclusively on his own, consulting little with his national security team outside of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

4 June
Editor’s Note:
Much can still go wrong around the upcoming Trump-Kim Jong-un summit. The risks of war are higher now than before the drive to the summit. But diplomacy can still succeed, argues Bruce Jones. This piece originally appeared in the Nikkei Asian Review
Despite summit diplomacy, Korea war risks have risen
(Brookings) The risks of war are higher now than before the drive to the summit. But diplomacy can still succeed, if Trump allows Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his team to drive the strategy, and allows Pompeo and Bolton to wield the Trump personality as a negotiating lever. On North Korea, we have seen disciplined Trump, unpredictable Trump, and petulant Trump. If Pompeo, Bolton and Mattis can do enough to reassure South Korea and Japan; if Trump himself maintains his relationships with Xi; and if the team plays their unwieldly and tempestuous president cleverly, this is the one arena where the “mad man” theory of the presidency can produce results. If it fails now, we are well on our way to war.

Commentary: From inside North Korea, clues about Kim’s agenda
By Katharine H.S. Moon
(Reuters) Since the beginning of 2018, when Kim began his active campaign to portray his regime as a serious international player and hypothetically cooperative partner, analysts and commentators have been obsessed with whether Kim is sincere or staging an elaborate hoax. No one can know what Pyongyang’s “real” intentions are. But we can look inside the North Korean society for clues.
Monday’s reports that Pyongyang has shuffled top military leaders before the Singapore summit gives us hints about possible power politics within North Korea and the complexity of managing domestic and foreign policy for the Kim regime. Without doubt, the military’s blessings and support are essential to any plans for even minimal denuclearization or significant efforts at warming up relations with Seoul, Washington, Beijing (and possibly Tokyo in the near future). …
If denuclearization were to progress, how would scientists and technicians feel after having been lauded and feted as indispensable to the DPRK’s existence? Recent lessons from the disintegration of the Soviet Union provide some answers. When Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons after signing the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, its massive missile factory, Yuzhmash, lost thousands of workers. Many reportedly went to North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan to work in the nuclear industry; some stole and sold missile parts illegally.  Preventing nuclear proliferation via “loose scientists,” not just “loose nukes,” must be integrated into any North Korean denuclearization strategy.

Deep in the Pentagon, a secret AI program to find hidden nuclear missiles
Long before U.S. and North Korea started planning for a summit on June 12, a source told Reuters the Pentagon was secretly developing a North-Korea focused pilot project to identify mobile missiles using AI – an effort that has not been previously reported.

2 June
Trump Veers to a Korea Plan That Echoes Failures of the Past
(NYT News analysis) … as Mr. Trump announced Friday that his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un was back on, there were moments when he echoed Bill Clinton in his failed effort to settle another North Korea crisis nearly a quarter century ago. Rather than sticking with the demand that North Korea disarm immediately, Mr. Trump opened the door to a prolonged freeze on the North’s existing nuclear capability, with vague declarations that disarmament will follow.

1 June
The U.S. is trying to find a discreet way to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel during the summit
(WaPost) The prideful but cash-poor pariah state requires that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: the Fullerton, a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River, where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night. [See Fullerton Hotel]
When it comes to paying for lodging at North Korea’s preferred five-star luxury hotel, the United States is open to covering the costs, the two people said, but it’s mindful that Pyongyang may view a U.S. payment as insulting. As a result, U.S. planners are considering asking the host country of Singapore to pay for the North Korean delegation’s bill.

29 May
Here is what a deal between N. Korea and Trump might look like
What would be a good outcome that stays within the bounds of plausibility, asks Gwynne Dyer.
Kim has already unilaterally suspended both nuclear weapons testing and further ballistic missile flight tests in order to attract Trump to the table, but he must come up with some other concessions to get the rest of what he wants. How about a deal that commits him to reduce North Korea’s army to the same size as South Korea’s, and an agreement by both sides to move their artillery at least 50 km back from the inter-Korean border?
That sort of deal would save Kim a lot of money without exposing him to any serious risk: it’s his secret police, not the army, that keeps his population in line. South Korea would still have no credible ability to attack the North, and Kim’s own ability to threaten Seoul with a “sea of fire” would evaporate because he would first have to move his artillery back to the border area along roads totally exposed to U.S. and South Korean air power.

27 May
U.S. officials meet with North Koreans despite uncertainty surrounding Trump-Kim summit
(WaPost) Sung Kim, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and former nuclear negotiator with the North, has been called in from his post as envoy to the Philippines to lead the preparations, according to a person ­familiar with the arrangements.
The talks are focused on what would be the substance of a potential summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un — the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Most analysts say it is extremely unlikely that North Korea will surrender its nuclear weapons.

21 – 25 May
(The Atlantic) Summit Saved? Just a day after he suddenly canceled his planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump responded warmly to a conciliatory statement from Kim, suggesting the summit could still take place as planned. The back-and-forth between the two leaders suggests a mutual attempt to prove that the other party wants the meeting more. National Security Adviser John Bolton is also shaping Trump’s strategy—perhaps for the worse.

(Quartz) Pyongyang responded with uncharacteristic restraint to Trump’s cancellation letter.  North Korea expressed “great regret” and said it was still open to talks. It added that it had “hoped that what is called ‘Trump formula’ would help clear both sides of their worries.”

Trump cancels nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

(WaPost) President Trump on Thursday canceled a planned summit next month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” from the rogue nation in a letter explaining his abrupt decision.
“I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump said to Kim in a letter released by the White House on Thursday morning.
A close aide to Kim unleashed a torrent of invective against the Trump administration Thursday morning, calling Vice President Pence a “political dummy” for remarks he made Monday in a television interview that referred to the downfall of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
Among Kim Jong Un’s worries about a summit in Singapore: a coup back home
Kim worries that a trip so far from Pyongyang could expose him to a military coup or other attempts to unseat him back home, according to the Washington Post, which cites people familiar with the deliberations
Trump’s not sure his North Korea summit will happen: “You never know about deals”
(Quartz) Donald Trump cast further doubt on his upcoming summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un today, telling reporters, “it may not work out.”
Can the ‘dealmaker’ president deliver on North Korea?
(AP) — Weeks before his planned North Korea summit, President Donald Trump is staring down a dealmaker’s worst nightmare: overpromising and under-delivering.
Going into the North Korea meeting, senior administration officials say, the president has been almost singularly focused on the pageantry of the summit —including the suspenseful roll-out of details. He has not been deeply engaged in briefing materials on North Korea’s nuclear program, said three people with knowledge of the White House efforts.
Trump Grappling With Risks of Proceeding With North Korea Meeting
(NYT) President Trump, increasingly concerned that his summit meeting in Singapore next month with North Korea’s leader could turn into a political embarrassment, has begun pressing his aides and allies about whether he should take the risk of proceeding with a historic meeting that he had leapt into accepting, according to administration and foreign officials.
Mr. Trump was both surprised and angered by a statement issued on Wednesday by the North’s chief nuclear negotiator, who declared that the country would never trade away its nuclear weapons capability in exchange for economic aid, administration officials said. The statement, while a highly familiar tactic by the North, represented a jarring shift in tone after weeks of conciliatory gestures.
Mr. Trump’s aides have grown concerned that the president — who has said that “everyone thinks” he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts — has signaled that he wants the summit meeting too much. The aides also worry that Mr. Kim, sensing the president’s eagerness, is prepared to offer assurances that will fade over time.
Moreover, Mr. Trump’s decision this month to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal raises the stakes for the North Korea negotiation.
The aides are also concerned about what kind of grasp Mr. Trump has on the details of the North Korea program, and what he must insist upon as the key components of denuclearization. Mr. Moon and his aides reported that Mr. Kim seemed highly conversant with all elements of the program when the two men met, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made similar comments about Mr. Kim, based on his two meetings with him in Pyongyang, the North’s capital.
Why Trump’s North Korea summit is going off the rails, explained by an expert
“Trump is loathed here.”
(Vox) The truth is that the United States and North Korea have long expected diametrically opposed outcomes from the talks — with the US wanting North Korea to give up its nukes and North Korea demanding recognition as a legitimate nuclear power. But neither side was willing to confront the reality of the situation. We’ve just been stumbling toward negotiations with no clear sense of how this yawning gulf could be resolved.
How did we get here? Robert E. Kelly, a professor at South Korea’s Pusan National University, gave a really clear explanation in a series of Monday morning tweets: It’s all because of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
… He made a deep and concerted effort to try to broker negotiations between Trump and Kim to defuse the tension, and part of his strategy was making grandiose promises about what talks could accomplish — even floating the possibility that Trump could win a Nobel Prize to entice him to the table.
The problem, as Kelly points out, is that this was always a kind of shell game: Moon could never change the fact that the US and North Korea want fundamentally different things.

24 May
In the latest edition of David vs. David, David Jones discusses the enigma posed by North Korea and the actors (and their desires) in anticipation of the 12 June (or whenever) session between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. In All Eyes Still on Korean Peninsula David Kilgour advocates A Helsinki approach, no nukes in exchange for trade favors from the West, and support for Korean reintegration, as the best way forward.

17 May
(The Alantic) Peace May End an Alliance: Chung In Moon, a special advisor to the South Korean president, said that South Korea may eventually like to see its alliance with the U.S. dissolve in an exclusive interview with Uri Friedman. Moon said that if North Korea agrees to dismantle their nuclear weapons to secure a peace treaty with South Korea and the U.S., the alliance between the latter two is unnecessary; however, he still supports the continued presence of American forces in South Korea if such an accord is adopted, David Frum writes that in order for the Trump administration to retain respect, they may just have pretend negotiations are still on track.

Perception and Misperception on the Korean Peninsula
How Unwanted Wars Begin
(Foreign Affairs May/June issue) North Korea has all but completed its quest for nuclear weapons. It has demonstrated its ability to produce boosted-fission bombs and may be able to make fusion ones, as well. It can likely miniaturize them to fit atop a missile. And it will soon be able to deliver this payload to the continental United States. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has declared his country’s nuclear deterrent complete and, despite his willingness to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, is unlikely to give it up. Yet Washington continues to demand that Pyongyang relinquish the nuclear weapons it already has, and the Trump administration has pledged that the North Korean regime will never acquire a nuclear missile that can hit the United States. The result is a new, more dangerous phase in the U.S.–North Korean relationship: a high-stakes nuclear standoff.

12 May
Donald Trump to meet Kim Jong Un in Singapore: What you need to know about the historic summit
(Straits Times) Experts said “neutrality” was the keyword behind the venue choice, as it could offer a comfortable environment for the summit without both leaders stepping on each other’s “home turf”.
“Singapore is the best alternative option for both nations because it has maintained close diplomatic ties to the US and has also established relations with North Korea with a North Korean embassy on its soil,” Dr Shin Beom Chul, a senior fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies, said.
Mr Shin said the North would have preferred other countries that were on the shortlist such as China, Russia, and Mongolia, but the US would have minded their positions as global rivals or as an unfamiliar third party.
Malaysia was likely ruled out due to the allegations that Mr Kim had ordered the murder of his half brother there, while Indonesia lacks the necessary infrastructure, according to the Seoul-based expert.
North Korea’s nuclear test site to be dismantled within weeks
The dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site will take place between May 23-25, North Korean state media says.
(Al Jazeera) It will involve the removal of all research buildings, observation facilities and security posts.
“The Nuclear Weapon Institute and other concerned institutions are taking technical measures for dismantling the northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK [The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] in order to ensure transparency of discontinuance of the nuclear test,” KCNA said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to close the site during a landmark summit last month with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but experts have warned verifying any dismantling may prove difficult.

8 – 9 May
Moon, Abe discuss N. Korea’s denuclearization
(WaPost) China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to work together to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and on a three-way and regional free trade agreements.
North Korea’s Kim wants to talk to Trump about mutual nuclear issues, says Chinese media
(WaPost) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to talk to President Trump about “phased and synchronous measures” to deal with their nuclear standoff, Chinese state media reported Tuesday after Kim made his second visit to China in as many months.
This wording, coupled with Kim’s desire to “eventually achieve denuclearization and lasting peace on the peninsula,” will ring alarm bells in Washington as it reinforces suspicions that the North Korean leader will ask Trump to take simultaneous steps to reduce tensions
Abe reiterated Japan’s position that it would normalize ties with North Korea only if the latter took concrete steps toward abandoning its nuclear and missile programs and resolved the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents.
A Japanese official said the leaders agreed to work toward both a free trade pact among themselves and the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with Southeast Asian nations.
Kim’s Second Surprise Visit to China Heightens Diplomatic Drama
(NYT) The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, flew to Dalian on Monday, where he held long rounds of discussions with Chinese officials, attended a formal banquet, and took a stroll on a beachfront sidewalk with China’s president, Xi Jinping. The pageantry was shown at length on China’s state-run evening television news, with the two men looking like friends, if rather stiff ones.
The Chinese leader appeared intent on showing that the frayed relationship with North Korea was now repaired, and that China was as important to resolving the problems of North Korea’s nuclear weapons as the United States. President Trump … tweeted hours after the meeting in Dalian that he expected to talk shortly on the phone with Mr. Xi about North Korea, as well as trade.

1 May
Christopher Hill: What to Expect From the Trump-Kim Summit
(Project Syndicate) Since the April 27 summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un, US President Donald Trump has sought, unsurprisingly, to portray himself as the mastermind behind inter-Korean diplomacy. But, despite the rays of hope emanating from the peninsula, Trump may come to regret having taken center stage, especially as his own summit with Kim draws closer.
… the emotional Moon-Kim meeting in Panmunjom, the “peace village” on the border of the two Koreas, poses an enormous challenge for Trump, who wants a big, showy display of his own deal-making magic, so that he can tell the world, “Now you see the crisis; now you don’t.” Unfortunately, North Korea’s desire for nuclear weapons cannot simply be conjured away.
At best, a Trump-Kim summit will produce more vague formulations of what might be possible through further talks. For a preview of just how vague and imprecise such diplomatic pronouncements can be, consider Moon and Kim’s joint statement from their bilateral summit, in which they claim to share the dream of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
But on the question of whether North Korea will return to the status of a non-nuclear state and rejoin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Kim will demur. …
At any rate, to prove that he is not being played “like a fiddle,” Trump will need to carry out several tasks simultaneously. For the sake of public opinion in South Korea, he will have to chart a course between upholding the spirit of the inter-Korean summit and not giving in on sanctions relief. He also must not do anything to weaken the US’s alliances with South Korea and Japan, which will require him to maintain close contact with both Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe throughout the process, lest either leader feels ignored or undermined.

30 April
South Korea’s president wants a Nobel Peace Prize for Trump for putting pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
(Salon) Much as it may pain liberals to admit it, Trump will indeed have achieved something historic if he is able to bring about a lasting and meaningful peace between North and South Korea.
… At the same time, the task is nowhere near complete. And as Salon learned when it spoke with North Korea policy experts from both parties earlier this month, Trump will have his work cut out for him when he meets with Kim Jong-un at some point in the next few weeks.
“Previous administrations have been through this cycle of escalation and negotiations in the past, and it hasn’t produced any significant change in the trajectory of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction or its missile programs,” Jamie Fly, a North Korea expert who served as foreign policy adviser to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio during the 2016 presidential campaign, told Salon earlier this month.
(The Atlantic) The Two Koreas: Last week’s historic meeting between the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in follows a period during which Kim has evaded all diplomatic efforts. His sudden pivot toward greater engagement could indicate that he’s attempting to manipulate the world. Meanwhile, South Koreans are attempting to spread Christian messages across the northern border through an illicit radio station. And a new documentary follows a South Korean violinist’s attempt to stage a peace concert at the demilitarized zone.

28 April
North Korea’s reformer?
(Quartz) Prior to yesterday’s landmark Korea summit, Kim Jong-un announced that North Korea would stop launching missiles and halt its reactor tests, instead shifting its focus to economic growth. Amid all the talk of denuclearization, that line went broadly unnoticed.
If Kim is serious about building North Korea’s economy, Deng Xiaoping would be the most telling example. If Kim was to attempt to follow in Deng’s footsteps, he would have to embark on a system of massive economic change like the so-called Four Modernizations, a huge undertaking to transform China’s agriculture, science, and technology sectors to put the country on par with the West. Deng gave power to individuals, not knowing whether it would work, to “cross the river by feeling the stones.”
North Korea is still a command economy, and a war economy at that. It has an annual GDP of around $1,700 per person, roughly a tenth of China’s. Any attempts to integrate it into the world’s economy would be even more risky than what China tried.
Following Deng’s reforms would also involve doing what North Korea’s leadership has never done: admit it can be wrong. Almost immediately on taking power in 1977, Deng allowed the criticism of the Cultural Revolution and the disastrous Great Leap Forward, famously saying that Mao was “70% right and 30% wrong.”
North Korea has an analogous disaster— the Arduous March, a state-induced famine in the 1990s that killed up to 10% of the population (paywall). But it’s impossible to imagine Kim repeating that phrase, or ever allowing anyone to blame his father for that nightmare in public.
How Trump can build on historic Korean summit. After this week’s meeting between leaders from South and North Korea, Michael O’Hanlon offers cautious optimism for peace on the peninsula as well as some guiding parameters for a final deal on denuclearization as President Trump prepares for his turn to meet with Kim Jong-un.

27 April
North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms
(NYT) The leaders of North and South Korea agreed on Friday to work to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, within the year, pursue talks with the United States to declare an official end to the Korean War, which ravaged the peninsula from 1950 to 1953. At a historic summit meeting, the first time a North Korean leader had ever set foot in the South, the leaders vowed to negotiate a treaty to replace a truce that has kept an uneasy peace on the divided Korean Peninsula for more than six decades. A peace treaty has been one of the incentives North Korea has demanded in return for dismantling its nuclear program.
(The Atlantic) Peace on the Peninsula? At a summit on the south side of the border dividing their two countries, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in made a historic pledge not only to officially end the Korean War by the end of this year, but also to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula. Here are the diplomatic challenges they’ll need to overcome. After President Trump’s many controversial statements about North Korea’s nuclear program, does the promise of a Korean peace treaty mean that he’s achieved a major foreign-policy success or that he’s falling into a familiar trap for U.S. leaders? David Graham lays out the case on either side.

26 April
This Could Be The Real Reason Why North Korea Stopped Its Nuclear Missile Tests
(Forbes) While it is unclear whether this is a political move in preparation for meeting with the United States president Donald Trump, recent evidence suggests the country may have been forced to halt testing.
A recent study by a group of geologists discovered that the mountain used by North Korea for its nuclear bomb testing has collapsed as a result of the explosions. The collapsed mountain is raising concerns about radioactive fallout, which could make its way into China.
Scientists from the University of Science and Technology of China believe this could be the true reason North Korean President Kim Jong-un announced the halt of their nuclear testing program.

23 April
An Unpredictable Trump and a Risk-Prone Kim Mean High Stakes and Mismatched Expectations
(NYT) As if to underscore the growing uncertainty over how talks will proceed and what they will produce — the opposite of standard procedure, in which months of pre-negotiations align expectations and telegraph the response to victory or failure — both sides already appear to misunderstand one another on basic terms
The countries are already treating the meeting less as the start of a long and difficult process, in which both would need to make painful compromises for narrow gains, but as the culmination of what each seems to see as its glorious triumph over the other.
But those two imagined victories are mutually exclusive and, barring a drastic strategic shift by either country, categorically unacceptable to the other side

20 – 21 April
North Korea says it will suspend nuclear and missile tests, shut down test site
Trump welcomes “big progress,” but analysts doubt that North Korea will be true to its word.
(WaPost) The surprising announcement comes just six days before Kim is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a precursor to a historic summit between Kim and President Trump. The U.S. president is set to meet Kim at the end of May or beginning of June, although a location has not yet been set.
Both Moon and Trump have been saying that North Korea is now willing to “denuclearize,” a term that means different things to the two sides. Suspicious factory underscores challenge of verifying North Korea’s nuclear promises

27 March
Live lobster, French wine and entertainers. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, met secretly with President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing. The surprise discussions came weeks before planned summit meetings with American and South Korean leaders. It was Mr. Kim’s first trip outside North Korea since taking power six years ago, and adds another layer of complexity to the rush of diplomacy around North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Kim’s trip was confirmed this morning, only after he left Beijing on the same armored train that stirred rumors when it arrived mysteriously in the Chinese capital on Monday. (Both Mr. Kim’s father and grandfather, the North’s former leaders, used similar ultraluxury trains.)
If the North is reaching out to China, it may be trying to soothe strained relations ahead of a possible summit meeting with President Trump. For Mr. Trump, the diplomatic hurdles are only getting higher: A new North Korean reactor appears to be coming online.

14 March
Brookings: Something’s not right about the Trump-Kim summit. Kim Jong-un’s sudden willingness to discuss denuclearization with President Trump defies the North Korean dictator’s last six years of behavior. As a result, former CIA analyst Jung Pak argues we may have a false or incomplete understanding of how this proposed meeting came to be.
“… President Trump and others in his administration seem confident that in a potential summit with Kim, the United States will be in a position of strength and that the president, with his deal-making skills and charisma, will be able to achieve North Korean denuclearization, an elusive goal for the presidents who came before him. I suspect that Kim also will approach a possible summit thinking that he is in the driver’s seat. And when these two leaders come together, armed with false assumptions about the other side’s intentions, and combined with their respective desire for quick results, reluctance to back down when confronted, and personal ownership of the issue, we could very well face a combustible situation that would be difficult to fix.”

9 March
Quartz: Donald Trump agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un. It would be the first time a sitting US president has met with a North Korean leader. South Korean officials, speaking at the White House, said the meeting would take place by May. They added that Kim had agreed to halt nuclear and missile tests and was committed to denuclearization.
The Economist: Responses to the news that President Donald Trump wants to meet with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, can be put in three groups. Some deplore Mr Trump as the worst man to negotiate with the ruthless North Korean regime. Some see the announcement as proof of the potency of his tough-cum-crazy foreign policy. And others, in the middle, say that as an intelligence-gathering mission the summit could be useful
The AtlanticSurprising Summit: If President Trump follows through on the promise to meet with Kim Jong Un, which South Korea announced Thursday night, the meeting between a sitting U.S. president and North Korea’s leader will be unprecedented. But as former Defense Secretary Bill Perry can attest, plenty of history suggests that a denuclearization agreement will be hard to come by. One of the terms Kim might propose is a full withdrawal of American troops from the Korean peninsula, which would likely come at great cost to the U.S.—but Trump might be tempted to accept it.
LA Times: There’s no question that Trump considers the North Korean invitation to a summit meeting a personal triumph.  Credit or blame, whichever history assigns, Trump surely will get: Virtually no one else in his administration even knew the announcement was coming, let alone was prepared for it. At the State Department and the White House’s National Security Council, the ranks of Korea experts have thinned with retirements and other departures. Trump’s first choice as ambassador to Seoul, Victor Cha, a respected Korea expert, was derailed in late January after he disagreed with a policy that, at the time, appeared to be drifting toward a possible preemptive U.S. attack on North Korean nuclear sites.
By contrast, the North Koreans appear, at least from the outside, to have followed a carefully plotted course in which they successfully tested nuclear warheads and the missiles that could deliver them and now will receive a one-on-one meeting with a U.S. president — a goal the Kim dynasty has pursued for decades. Nearly two decades ago, then-President Clinton and his aides pondered whether to meet with Kim Jong-Il, the father of the current North Korean leader. By then, they had negotiated with the North for more than five years, carefully building the foundations of a nuclear agreement.
A U.S.-North Korea summit: What could possibly go wrong?
By Evans J.R. Revere
(Brookings) The U.S. president is walking into a risky, even dangerous situation, with a deeply uncertain outcome. He could be walking into a trap.

7 March
Talking’s Tough: How should Donald Trump’s administration approach North Korea’s reported offer to negotiate on its nuclear program? This week’s breakthrough might be merely an attempt to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, although that could be all the more reason to give direct diplomacy a try. If that happens, the president may have to resist the impulse to demand a full rollback of the program. Strategy aside, the diminished staff at the State Department leaves an immediate practical question: Who would lead the negotiations?

Kim Jong Un is suddenly talking about peace. Here’s why.
(WaPost) With the announcement of a summit between North and South Korean leaders as a possible prelude to talks with the Trump administration, Kim has maneuvered within view of a victory his forefathers only dreamed of: membership in the world community, on North Korea’s terms. Many things can still go wrong. But his path forward seems pretty clear.

6 March
(The Atlantic) A Big Step Forward? Not only did North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, host South Korean officials in Pyongyang, he also indicated that he might be willing to negotiate with the U.S. about ending his country’s nuclear program, according to South Korea. If confirmed, this could be a sign that President Trump’s bellicose rhetoric toward North Korea has worked—or it could mean that Kim is trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.
The New York Times is equally skeptical: A Korean breakthrough or more of the same?  North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said that his country was willing to begin talks with the United States on giving up its nuclear weapons — at least according to South Korean officials. President Trump welcomed the “possible progress,” but he and others were cautious. After all, negotiations with North Korea have led only to dashed hopes for the last quarter-century.

24 February
(Quartz) Aside from providing the usual entertainment, the games this year served another purpose: They gave the world a breather from worrying about North Korea.
But, sadly, there’s little reason to think the saber-rattling and weapons tests won’t resume. North Korea, judging by past behavior, is overdue to launch at least four missile tests in the first quarter of this year.
The Trump administration yesterday announced its largest sanctions package yet against the rogue nation. Next month, the US and South Korea will announce the dates of military exercises that were delayed out of respect for the Olympics. Either of those announcements could give Pyongyang another excuse to act—last September it threatened to detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.
Or, its weapons tests could be timed more randomly, to keep the world on its toes. Either way, the Trump administration will respond with stony faces and fiery rhetoric, even as its North Korea policy remains incoherent
North Korea did use the occasion of the Olympics to invite South Korean president Moon Jae-in to a summit. Such trips are rare, but not unprecedented. …  Such a summit could be the best thing to come out of these Olympics, and lead to future plans for talks or cooperation that could reduce future provocations.
Until that happens though, the Kim regime will be busily improving its missile and nuclear technology, with the ability to obliterate US cities very much in mind. And we’ll be back to stressing out about the next unpredictable move from either side.—Steve Mollman

23 February
Pyeongchang 2018: The Olympics that lived up to the Olympic ideal (or did they?)
(The National Post) Professor Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korea expert at Tufts University: “For the 2018 Olympics to be remembered as a pivotal point in the advent of genuine peace in the Korean peninsula, two things need to happen before the year’s end: First, Kim Jong Un dies unexpectedly in a coup, illness or accident,” he says.
“Second, whoever assumes power in a post-Kim world makes the strategic decision to seek help from and, in due course merge with, the incomparably richer, freer and more legitimate South.”

20 February
Pence was set to meet with North Korean officials during the Olympics before last-minute cancellation
(WaPost) 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 Feb. 10, less than two hours before Pence and his team were to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting, according to Pence’s office.

Study reveals North Korean cyber-espionage has reached new heights
Spying unit is widening its operations into aerospace and defence industries, according to US security firm
FireEye, a US private security company that tracks cyber-attackers around the world, has identified a North Korean group, which it names APT37 (Reaper) and which it says is using malware to infiltrate computer networks.
The report suggests the group has been active since 2012, but has now graduated to the level of an advanced persistent threat.
Until now, the group has substantially focused its cyber-espionage efforts on South Korea, but FireEye outlines evidence that it “has expanded its operations in both scope and sophistication”.
“We assess with high confidence that this activity is carried out on behalf of the North Korean government,” the report says.
The group’s cyber operation is now said to be targeting Japan, Vietnam and the Middle East and is attempting to steal secrets from companies and organisations involved in the chemical, electronics, manufacturing, aerospace, automotive and healthcare industries.

17 February
(Brookings) The Korean calm won’t last. Despite a perceived warming of North-South relations during the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, things are about to get very complicated on the Korean peninsula. For that reason, Jung Pak argues the United States needs a special envoy to North Korea now more than ever

13 February
Kim Yo-jong and North Korea’s secret weapon
(BBC) It turns out North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un doesn’t need to fire off a missile to get the world’s attention. He has a number of far more powerful weapons in his arsenal: his female envoys.
And on this latest so-called charm offensive, he saved the best for last. His sister.
Kim Yo-jong mesmerised South Korean audiences. As she strode into the presidential palace carrying a handwritten note from her brother, every detail was scrutinised live on television. Her sparkly top, how she wore her hair, each small gesture. The news networks even decided to discuss her freckles, rather than mention that she is on a US blacklist for human rights abuses.
You could almost feel the ripple of excitement as she walked into the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Necks craned and mobile phones were held aloft to catch a glimpse.

10 February
Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics
(CNN) With a smile, a handshake and a warm message in South Korea’s presidential guest book, Kim Yo Jong has struck a chord with the public just one day into the PyeongChang Games.
“I hope Pyongyang and Seoul get closer in our people’s hearts and move forward the future of prosperous unification,” she said in her guest book message, referring to the capitals of North and South Korea.
Seen by some as her brother’s answer to American first daughter Ivanka Trump, Kim, 30, is not only a powerful member of Kim Jong Un’s kitchen cabinet but also a foil to the perception of North Korea as antiquated and militaristic.

17 January
North and South Korea agreed to have their athletes march together under a “unified Korea” flag at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics next month. The nations will also field a joint women’s ice hockey team.The moves are “the most dramatic gesture of reconciliation between the two nations in a decade,” said our Korea correspondent.

9 January
(Quartz) North and South Korea held breakthrough talks. Delegates from the two countries met for the first time since December 2015 in the border village of Panmunjom. North Korea said it would send a delegation of senior officials and athletes to the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, while South Korea proposed a reunion next month for families divided by the Korean War.
(The Atlantic) The Korean Peninsula: North Korea announced it will be sending a team to the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea after the two countries held their first talks in two years. The gesture could ease the way for further negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but the historical success of conducting diplomacy through sports has been mixed. Meanwhile in the White House, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster has been arguing that the U.S. must stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons at any cost, even if that means war. Here’s what’s shaped his thinking.

4 January
At last, some good news on North Korea
(WaPost Editorial) It is heartening that Mr. Kim coupled his latest threats with an offer to open a dialogue with South Korea — an opening quickly seized by the South’s president, Moon Jae-in. On Wednesday a hotline between the two governments was reopened for the first time in nearly two years, and face-to-face talks could begin next week. There are plenty of risks in this diplomacy and little chance that it will lead to a permanent solution to the crisis caused by the Kim regime’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons. But it should be welcomed as a chance to reduce tensions and prevent a slide toward war. … the Trump administration is wrong to treat the new dialogue skeptically, as the State Department did this week, or to reject anything short of maximal results, as did U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who said “we won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea.”
(The Atlantic) The ‘Nuclear Button’: President Trump responded to Kim Jong Un’s boast of North Korea’s nuclear program with a tweet that declared, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his.” While America’s nuclear launch codes are actually contained in a briefcase, Trump’s tweet summed up American strategists’ long-held theory of nuclear deterrence. Yet Twitter—a platform that encourages glib and impulsive comments—adds an extra element of volatility to the delicate balance that deterrence requires. The president’s comments could lead South Korea to decide that China is a more reliable ally. They could even, writes Eliot A. Cohen, be a sign of impending war.
Donald Trump and North Korea: Big Button, Small President
(The New Yorker) For seventy years, North Korea has baited America with threats of mayhem, and, for seventy years, American Presidents, with rare exceptions, understood that squabbling with a pariah state whose economy is smaller than that of Rhode Island would diminish their own stature and America’s standing. Trump, by contrast, summoned the world’s attention and then sawed himself off at the knees. … In the short term, Trump’s taunts will almost certainly compel North Korea to respond in words or actions. …
Trump’s announcement about his button also provided an unexpected boost to North Korea’s strategy against the United States. In his New Year’s Day speech, Kim sought to drive a wedge between Washington and its partners, including Beijing and Seoul. He did so by offering to hold talks with South Korea about potential North Korean participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics. As expected, Seoul accepted that offer, cheered on by Beijing, over the protests of Washington, which is seeking to isolate North Korea as much as possible. By heightening the tension at the moment that Seoul and Beijing are trying to resolve it, Trump succeeded only in isolating himself.

2 January
Kim Jong Un’s choice of a Western-style suit may indicate a desire to change his image
(Business Insider) When Kim Jong Un announced he was open to dialogue with South Korea about the upcoming Winter Olympics during his New Year’s Day address, some experts were more focused on Kim’s attire.
During the televised speech, the North Korean leader did away with his normal button-up tunic and instead wore a Western-style light-grey suit, matching tie, and tortoise-shell-patterned glasses. He also ditched a lapel pin he nearly always wears above his heart, depicting his predecessors Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
The outfit was likely selected to portray a “softer, more relaxed image” according to Reuters.

America’s UN ambassador dismisses proposed North-South Korea talks
Nikki Haley distances US from Seoul’s plan to hold cross-border talks
Haley’s remarks in clear contrast to state department’s cautious stance
(The Guardian) The US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has distanced the Trump administration from proposed contacts between North and South Korea, saying it would not take any talks seriously if Pyongyang did not abandon its nuclear arsenal.
Haley’s dismissive assessment of planned high-level talks between Seoul and Pyongyang, was in clear contrast with the state department’s more cautious response – the latest example of Haley taking an independent line on foreign policy issues from the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
The White House and the state department denied that – in offering to send a delegation to South Korea for the Winter Olympics in February – the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had succeeding in driving a wedge between South Korea and the US.
South Korea Proposes Border Talks With North Korea After Kim’s Overture
(NYT) South Korea on Tuesday responded to an overture from the North and proposed holding high-level talks between the countries on their border next week. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had suggested on Monday 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.
Cho Myoung-gyon, the South’s point man on the North, proposed that the Korean governments hold their meeting next Tuesday in Panmunjom, a village straddling the border north of Seoul, the South Korean capital.

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