North Korea 2019

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North Korea 2018

Kim Jong Un rides white horse on sacred mountain – and plans ‘great operation’
Experts speculated that the dictator’s trip up Mount Paektu could signal a major announcement, amid faltering nuclear diplomacy with the United States. Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with the NK Pro website based in Seoul, said Pyongyang’s coverage of Kim’s ride emphasized power and a hard line against concessions to the outside world.
(Wapo) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was shown riding a white horse in the snow on a sacred mountain, in several photographs released by state media Wednesday that experts said could presage a major announcement.
“His horseback march in Mount Paektu is a great event of weighty importance in the history of the Korean revolution,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.
In North Korea’s state mythology, Mount Paektu is supposed to be the spiritual home of the Kim dynasty and the birthplace of Kim Jong Un’s father.
Kim purportedly “climbed” the 9,000-foot peak in shiny black leather shoes in December 2017, about 10 days after launching the country’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile and less than a month before delivering a key speech that opened a diplomatic window for engagement with South Korea.

2 October
North Korea fired what may have been a submarine-launched ballistic missile from off its east coast, a day after it announced the resumption of talks with the United States on ending its nuclear program. If confirmed, it would be the most provocative test by North Korea since it started the talks with the United States in 2018. Analysts said it was likely a reminder by Pyongyang of the weapons capability it had been aggressively developing.

9 September
North Korea says it is willing to resume nuclear talks with U.S. in late September
(Reuters) – North Korea said on Monday it was willing to restart nuclear talks with the United States in late September, but warned that chances of a deal could end unless Washington takes a fresh approach.

14 August
By Robert Einhorn
US-DPRK negotiations: Time to pivot to an interim agreement
Editor’s Note: This report was first published at 38 North, a project of the Stimson Center. It is republished with permission.
(Brookings) If and when U.S.-North Korea working-level talks resume, as agreed by U.S. President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un at their brief June 30 meeting at the Demilitarized Zone, prospects for overcoming the current impasse will depend heavily on whether the Trump administration is now prepared to recognize that the North is unwilling, at least at the present time, to give up its nuclear weapons—and whether, as a result, the administration is now prepared to consider an agreement that imposes significant constraints on DPRK capabilities but falls short of requiring complete denuclearization in an agreed time frame.
To be sure, such an agreement is not the ideal outcome that the U.S. government and all other interested governments would like to see. However, a less ambitious agreement should be compared not with the ideal but unattainable goal of complete, time-bound elimination but with its most likely alternative—a U.S. strategy of pressure, containment and ultimately regime change. Full Report

30 June
Trump takes historic step into North Korea with Kim Jong Un

After the theatrical gesture, both leaders pledged to restart stalled nuclear negotiations between the two countries
(Politico) It was a made-for-TV moment for the reality show-groomed president that unfolded at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Trump approached the border from the south, while Kim approached from the north. The two met at the line demarcating the two countries, grinned and shook hands.
Trump said Kim then asked him if he would like to cross into North Korea. Trump said he would be honored and walked about 20 steps into the country.
The two leaders then decamped to Freedom House, a small building on the southern side of the border that has been used for occasional talks between North and South Korean officials for two decades. They emerged 53 minutes later and announced they would appoint teams to restart nuclear negotiations.

30 May
North Korea envoy executed over failed Trump-Kim summit: report
(The Hill) Bloomberg News reported Thursday citing a South Korean newspaper that Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea’s special envoy to the U.S., was executed in March along with four other North Korean foreign ministry officials involved in the Hanoi, Vietnam, summit.
A fifth official, Kim Jong Un’s top deputy, Kim Yong Chol, has reportedly been sentenced to hard labor, according to the newspaper.
An unnamed North Korean source told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper that Kim Yong Chol and four other officials were executed at a North Korean airport for allegedly spying on behalf of the U.S.

4 May
NKorea says leader Kim oversaw drills of rocket launchers
(AP) — North Korean state media on Sunday said leader Kim Jong Un observed a live-fire drill of long-range multiple rocket launchers and unspecified tactical guided weapons, a day after South Korea’s military detected the North launching several unidentified short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast.
The weapons launches were a likely sign of Pyongyang’s growing frustration at stalled diplomatic talks with Washington meant to provide coveted sanctions relief in return for nuclear disarmament. They also highlighted the fragility of the detente between the Koreas, which in a military agreement reached last September vowed to completely cease “all hostile acts” against each other in land, air and sea.

25 April
Putin says U.S. guarantees unlikely to prompt North Korea to de-nuclearize
(Reuters) That would mean including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea as well as the United States and North Korea, a long-standing format that has been sidelined by unilateral U.S. efforts to broker a deal.
The talks between Putin and Kim did not appear to have yielded any major breakthrough. But with Moscow committed to upholding international sanctions until North Korea dismantles its nuclear program, Russia’s room for maneuver, beyond putting on a show of camaraderie, was limited.

North Korea issued $2 million bill for comatose Otto Warmbier’s care
North Korea issued a $2 million bill for the hospital care of comatose American Otto Warmbier, insisting that a U.S. official sign a pledge to pay it before being allowed to fly the University of Virginia student from Pyongyang in 2017.
The presentation of the invoice — not previously disclosed by U.S. or North Korean officials — was extraordinarily brazen even for a regime known for its aggressive tactics.

24 April
Reuters: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in the Russian city of Vladivostok for a summit he is likely to use to seek support from Russian President Vladimir Putin while Pyongyang’s nuclear talks with Washington are in limbo. Earlier, at a stop on the border, Kim told Russian state television he was hoping for useful and successful discussions with Putin.
For Putin the summit is an opportunity to show that Russia remains a major global player despite being under sanctions itself over its intervention in Ukraine and allegations that it meddled in U.S. elections. But analysts predicted that Kim is unlikely to emerge from the summit with any substantial promises of sanctions relief. The meeting is likely to focus more on showing camaraderie.

13 April
Kim open to another summit with Trump, with conditions
(AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is open to a third summit with President Donald Trump, but set the year’s end as a deadline for Washington to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement to salvage the high-stakes nuclear diplomacy, the North’s state-run media said Saturday.
Kim made the comments during a speech Friday at a session of North Korea’s rubber stamp parliament, which made a slew of personnel changes that bolstered his diplomatic lineup amid stalemated negotiations with the United States. His speech came hours after Trump and visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in Washington and agreed on the importance of nuclear talks with North Korea.
According to the Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, Kim blamed the collapse of his summit with Trump in February on what he described as unilateral demands by the United States, which he said raised questions over whether Washington has genuine willingness to improve relations. But Kim said his personal relationship with Trump remains good and that they could exchange letters at “any time.”

28 February
PBS experts go to the heart of the problem:
How ‘overreach’ by Trump and Kim set summit up for failure
Frank Jannuzi: “For President Trump, the summit should be about denuclearization. But for Kim Jong-un, it’s really about legitimacy, prestige and a sense of security. And this is why he will have third summit, fourth summit, fifth summit, because each summit actually bestows a certain amount of additional legitimacy and stature upon this North Korean dictator.
— is that in the interest of the United States to have summit after summit after summit, if it’s not going anywhere?
FJ: Only if it leads to concrete steps, which is why I would hope that this summit should have been better prepared in terms of having an agreement in place before the two leaders met.
If there’s going to be a third summit, you should be darn sure that the working level talks should nail down what’s going to happen before it happens. And maybe that’s part of the learning curve with this president.
Jung Pak: I hope, if there is a next summit — and I suspect that there will be a next summit — that we let the working level discussions move forward and advance the conversation, rather than having the two leaders in the room again, so we could have another set of status quo situation.
So I think the lesson learned here is that the top level leadership conversations are good, they’re OK for maintaining goodwill and momentum, but the working level processes are just as important, if not more.

Trump gets praise from unlikely corners for walking away from Kim
(Politico) “President Trump did the right thing by walking away and not cutting a poor deal for the sake of a photo op,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. It was a rare bipartisan outpouring of compliments — even if some of them came with caveats — for a president who has alarmed global leaders with his erratic foreign policy decisions, his desire to engage in trade wars and his threats to pull out of NATO. “For the United States to have agreed to lift all sanctions in the absence of real and complete denuclearization would have been a tremendous mistake,” former national security adviser Susan Rice, who also served as ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama, said Thursday

US and North Korea give conflicting accounts of summit collapse
Pyongyang disputes Trump’s claim that Kim sought end to all sanctions
(Nikkei Asia Review) The world had been expecting the two leaders to make at least symbolic progress at their second summit, and they had appeared to be in good spirits until the early afternoon. But as the talks entered the final stretch, each side stuck to demands the other found unacceptable, prompting the abrupt cancellation of a planned signing ceremony for a “joint agreement.”
“Basically, [North Korea] wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that,” Trump explained at a news conference afterward.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho gave a different account after Trump left Hanoi, saying that Pyongyang had sought only a partial lifting of sanctions.
Trump’s Talks With Kim Jong-un Collapse, and Both Sides Point Fingers
(NYT) The premature end to the negotiations leaves the unusual rapprochement between the United States and North Korea that has unfolded for most of a year at a deadlock, with the North retaining both its nuclear arsenal and facilities believed to be producing additional fissile material for warheads.
It also represents a major setback at a difficult political moment for Mr. Trump, who has long presented himself as a tough negotiator capable of bringing adversaries into a deal and had made North Korea the signature diplomatic initiative of his presidency.
Trump Was Right to Walk Away From North Korea, But Kim Won’t Be Ignored
(New York) Trump’s next step was also shrewd: calling South Korean president Moon Jae-in from Air Force One to ask him to take the lead in further efforts with Kim. The South Koreans said Trump “asked President Moon to actively perform the role of a mediator that may entail talking with Chairman Kim and letting him know the outcome of his dialogue.” This calms Moon, who has staked his own political survival on the process moving forward, and may provide some incentives for North Korea to keep talking. It also, of course, gives Trump someone else to blame if progress does not ensue.
Keen observers noted that Trump’s North Korea envoy, Stephen Biegun — who recently made the case for a steady, slow, and mutual move toward denuclearization — was not present at the major summit dinner. It’s an odd choice that seems to signal he is not a key Trump adviser and may limit his future effectiveness. Washington still has cards — the lifting of sanctions, a declaration ending the Korean War, the removal of some or all troops from the Korean Peninsula — that Kim badly wants. But those cards just got harder, not easier, for Trump to play.
No deal reached between Trump, Kim at 2nd summit
(AP via CBC) The nuclear summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un collapsed Thursday after the two sides failed to reach a deal due to a standoff over U.S. sanctions on the reclusive nation, a stunning end to high-stakes meetings meant to disarm a global threat.
Trump, in a news conference after the abrupt end to the talks, said the breakdown occurred over North Korea’s insistence that all punishing sanctions the U.S. had imposed on North Korea be lifted without Pyongyang committing to eliminate its entire nuclear arsenal.

27 February
Robin Wright: Will Trump Give Away Too Much to North Korea—and Get Too Little?
(The New Yorker) Eight months after the first summit, the two countries have not even defined what “denuclearization” means. They’re “still at the starting point of the lengthy and arduous process,” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, in Washington, told me. “Trump cannot afford to squander the time spent getting to this point and come away with just pictures and pleasantries with Kim. This summit can and must emphasize substance over pageantry.”

It had been dubbed a brilliant move in a grand game of diplomatic chess: North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had booked the same hotel being used by the White House press corps during his meeting with President Trump in Vietnam this week. South Korean media and experts hailed it as a “heroic” and “deliberate strategy” for Kim to reveal more of himself to the American press. But minutes after Kim Jong Un arrived, the Vietnamese foreign ministry announced the Melia Hanoi Hotel, where North Korean leader is staying, would no longer host the press center for hundreds of visiting American journalists assigned to cover his second summit with Trump.

Trump: Kim Jong Un Is a Super Well-Adjusted Dictator
(Vanity Fair) According to new report from CNN, the last time the two leaders met, Trump told Kim that he’d known “plenty of people who’d grown up wealthy and whose families were powerful,” life circumstances that led to them being total f–kups. But Kim, in Trump’s mind, wasn’t one of them. (As a reminder, we’re talking about a guy who runs a country that’s been described as “the world’s biggest open prison camp,” who’s starved his own people to pay for nuclear weapons, and who ordered the execution of his half brother and uncle.)
Trump, of course, has a vested interest in flattering Kim. The two are currently rubbing shoulders in Vietnam, at a summit that no one expects will yield much of anything for the U.S., save for, at best, a “gesture that would help signal that Kim may actually be serious about dismantling [his nuclear] program eventually.” As a leader for whom ass-kissing goes a very long way, Trump presumably expects the strategy to work on his little authoritarian friend. None of which is to say he doesn’t truly believe that Kim is an accomplished dictator people should look up to. Last year, he told reporters how impressed he was with Kim’s ability to “take over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and run it, and run it tough,” and earlier this month he informed his followers that an economic miracle is about to take place in North Korea—one that only he saw coming.

Susan Rice: Can Trump Avoid Caving to Kim in Vietnam?
The United States can make progress toward reducing the North Korean nuclear threat if Mr. Trump is disciplined in his diplomacy.
For Mr. Trump, diplomacy with North Korea has always been about theater and politics. In falsely declaring after his first summit with Mr. Kim that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” while bragging that the risk of war — which he foolishly stoked — is now diminished, the president is intent on creating the illusion of progress. In fact, there has been none toward our core goal of full denuclearization.
… the risk of the Hanoi summit is twofold. First, in a rush to generate good optics and distract from unpleasant developments at home, Mr. Trump may make further concessions to the North Korean dictator, like a peace declaration, partial sanctions relief, or continued limitations on United States military exercises or troop presence without receiving tangible, irreversible concessions in return. Second, Mr. Trump risks squandering an opportunity to make real headway toward denuclearization.

North Korea warns U.S. skeptics as Kim heads for summit with Trump
(Reuters) …their vaguely worded [Singapore] agreement has produced few results and U.S. Democratic senators and U.S. security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The North’s KCNA state news agency said such opposition was aimed at derailing the talks.
The Trump administration has pressed the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, which, combined with its missile capabilities, pose a threat to the United States, before it can expect any concessions. But in recent days Trump has signaled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove sanctions if there is meaningful progress on denuclearization.
Trump also said he was in no rush and had no pressing schedule for North Korea’s denuclearization, hinting at a more gradual, reciprocal approach, long favored by Pyongyang.
Trump Is Misleading the American People About North Korea
Kim Jong-un is a threat. It’s time for the president to say so.
By Tom Donilon, national security adviser to President Barack Obama from 2010 to 2013.
There are two basic problems heading into the summit. First, the president is either misleading the public or is dangerously mistaken about North Korea, falsely promising that its nuclear program is constrained and that the threat has receded. Second, and relatedly, the president’s repeated claims to be in “no rush” to reach a deal reflect a serious analytical error, since, despite a pause in nuclear and missile tests, North Korea’s nuclear program is in fact advancing by the day. At a minimum, the United States should insist that North Korea meaningfully freeze its program during the pendency of the talks.

22 February
(Bloomberg Politics) Kim Jong Un may have his own art-of-the-deal game plan at next week’s meeting with the U.S. president in Vietnam: Get Donald Trump in a room alone.
Ever since their landmark summit in Singapore last year – Trump said he and Kim “fell in love” – the North Koreans have preferred dealing directly with the president. . As Nick Wadhams reports, U.S. officials fear Trump may make concessions on the fly if Kim offers something that sounds good at the moment.
Trump has a track record of doing just that – he suddenly agreed to pull U.S. troops out of Syria on a December phone call with Turkey’s president, and dismissed his own intelligence community’s findings on Russian election-meddling at a press conference with Vladimir Putin in July.
In Hanoi, administration officials worry about the fate of some 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. Kim could seek to exploit Trump’s distaste for overseas deployments to win a commitment to withdraw some or all of them as part of a denuclearization accord.
Since his real-estate days, Trump has relished the intimacy of the one-on-one chat to cut the best deal. Some of his closest aides fear that’s precisely what Kim is counting on in order to set Trump up. – Karl Maier

21 February
North Korea warns of food crisis, slashes rations before next leaders’ summit
(Reuters) – North Korea has warned that it is facing a food shortfall of some 1.4 million tons in 2019 and has been forced to almost halve rations, blaming high temperatures, drought, floods and United Nations sanctions in a memo seen by Reuters on Thursday. … Margareta Wahlstrom, president of the Swedish Red Cross, told Reuters after a trip to North Korea in November that, as far as the areas in which they operated were concerned, the maze harvest was only 65 percent of what should be normal due to the combination of an influenza outbreak, a heat wave and a typhoon.

18 February
North Korea’s ‘socialist utopia’ needs mass labor. A growing market economy threatens that
(Reuters) The labor units, called dolgyeokdae or youth brigades, were created by Kim’s late grandfather Kim Il Sung to build railways, roads, electricity networks and other infrastructure projects after the Korean peninsula was liberated from Japan’s 1910-45 occupation.
Young workers get no pay, poor food and are forced to work more than 12 hours a day for up to 10 years in return for better chances to enter a university or join the all powerful Workers’ Party. But as private markets boom and more people cherish financial stability above political standing, the regime has been struggling to recruit the young laborers in recent years, they say.

15 February
Singapore to Hanoi: The bumpy diplomatic road since Trump and Kim first met
(Reuters) – the statement that came out of the meeting was light on specifics, opting instead for four general commitments:
-The two countries will establish “new relations” for peace and prosperity.
-The United States and North Korea will work together to build a “lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula”.
-North Korea committed “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”.
-The two countries will recover and repatriate the remains of soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Throughout all [subsequent] talks, as well as other behind-the-scenes negotiations, neither side announced major new steps toward denuclearization, easing sanctions, or establishing a new “peace regime” for the peninsula.
Statements carried by North Korean state media complained about Washington’s opposition to signing a peace declaration or easing sanctions until North Korea takes more steps toward denuclearization.
American and North Korean officials have been tight-lipped about what agreement might come from the second Trump-Kim summit, but analysts say Washington needs to be open to taking interim steps for any deal to be possible. Stephen Biegun, the top U.S. envoy to North Korea, told South Korean lawmakers that most of the recent discussions with Pyongyang had revolved around summit logistics, and that more talks were needed to address the substantive issues

North Korea has continued to produce bomb fuel while in denuclearization talks with the United States and may have produced enough in the past year to add as many as seven nuclear weapons to its arsenal, according to a study released just weeks … But the country’s freeze in nuclear and missile testing since 2017 means that North Korea’s weapons program probably poses less of a threat than it did at the end of that year, the report by Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation found.

5 February
State of the Union: Second Trump-Kim Summit set for Vietnam on Feb 27, 28
(Straits Times) United States President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong Un are set to meet in Vietnam on Feb 27 and 28, Mr Trump told Congress in his second State of the Union (SOTU) address. The site of the meeting with the North Korean leader was not mentioned, but is widely believed to be the seaside city of Da Nang.
“As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr Trump said.
“Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months.”
“Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one. And Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam.”
While North Korea has refrained from testing missiles or nuclear devices since the two leaders met in a breakthrough summit in Singapore in June last year, and has returned the remains of many Americans killed in the Korean War, official talks on denuclearisation have not made any progress and official rhetoric on either side has been at odds.

UN monitors find North Korea protecting nuclear missiles and easily skirting U.S. sanctions
Trump hailed ‘tremendous progress’ in his dealings with North Korea, but the view in the U.S. is that it has yet to take concrete steps to give up its nuclear program

18 January
Trump, North Korea’s Kim to hold second summit in late February
(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February but will maintain economic sanctions on Pyongyang, the White House said on Friday after Trump met Pyongyang’s top nuclear negotiator.
The announcement came amid a diplomatic flurry in Washington surrounding the visit of Kim Yong Chol, a hardline former spy chief, and marked a sign of movement in a denuclearization effort that has stalled since a landmark meeting between Trump and the North Korean leader in Singapore last year.

1 January
Kim and Trump Back at Square 1: If U.S. Keeps Sanctions, North Will Keep Nuclear Program
Nearly two years into his presidency and more than six months after his historic summit meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, President Trump finds himself essentially back where he was at the beginning in achieving the ambitious goal of getting Mr. Kim to relinquish his nuclear arsenal.
That was the essential message of Mr. Kim’s annual New Year’s televised speech, where he reiterated that international sanctions must be lifted before North Korea will give up a single weapon, dismantle a single missile site or stop producing nuclear material.
The list of recent North Korean demands was a clear indicator of how the summit meeting in Singapore last June altered the optics of the relationship more than the reality. Those demands were very familiar from past confrontations: that all joint military training between the United States and South Korea be stopped, that American nuclear and military capability within easy reach of the North be withdrawn, and that a peace treaty ending the Korean War be completed.
Kim Jong-un, Ready to Meet Trump ‘at Any Time,’ Demands U.S. End Sanctions
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, said Tuesday that he was willing to have a second summit meeting with President Trump, but he paired the offer with a threat that if international sanctions against his country were not lifted, the North would “have no choice” but to return to nuclear confrontation.
“I am willing to meet the United States president at any time for the betterment of our international community,” Mr. Kim said in his New Year’s Day speech, broadcast on North Korea’s state-run television.
There were sparse direct references in the speech to denuclearization. But Mr. Kim said the country would not be willing to take further steps toward removing its nuclear weapons unless the United States reciprocated. … Since the Singapore meeting, Mr. Trump has occasionally seemed to waver on the question of lifting some sanctions before the North dismantles its facilities and gives up its weapons and missiles. Now, with Mr. Kim’s demand, he must decide whether to back down — and take steps similar to those of his predecessors.

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