(Newsweek) North and South Korean personnel have completed disarming an important section of the massive demilitarized zone that lies between them, an unprecedented step amid a warming of relations between the longtime foes.
Officials from both sides of what has been described as the world’s most heavily fortified border—alongside members of the U.S.-led United Nations Command—completed the removal of defense posts, landmines and armed soldiers Thursday from the Joint Security Area, where troops from both Koreas have stood face-to-face since the ceasefire that ended their mid-20th-century conflict. Despite technically remaining at war, North and South Korea have embarked on a series of top-level meetings this year aimed at settling their decades-long feud.
In the most recent inter-Korea summit last month, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to begin scaling down their countries’ military presence on the border. As a result, personnel began demining activities at the beginning of the month.
“The military authorities of the two Koreas and the UNC will make joint efforts to ensure that the JSA disarmament, stated in the Sept. 19 military agreement, will be implemented normally,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Thursday in a statement, according to the official Yonhap News Agency.
A South Korean soldier (center) carries a coffin containing a piece of bone believed to be the remains of an unidentified South Korean soldier killed in the Korean War in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), in Cheorwon, South Korea, on October 25. The excavation project is part of a comprehensive military agreement that the two Koreas signed last month.JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
The U.S. has cautiously supported peace efforts between its ally South Korea and foe North Korea. The U.S.-led U.N. Command that assisted in the recent demilitarization efforts fought alongside South Korea in battles against North Korea and its Chinese allies in the 1950s, a war that ended in an armistice along the border that stands today. With the Cold War long over, however, Washington’s main concern is North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons.
After a year of challenging Kim, President Donald Trump ultimately embraced the young ruler’s peace overture toward Moon in January, a move that led to two inter-Korean summits before Trump himself in June became the first sitting U.S. president to meet a North Korean head. In exchange for peace, Kim vowed to give up the weapons of mass destructions his country has long argued were necessary for its protection.
The U.S. and North Korea have accused one another in recent months of making insufficient progress toward their pledge of bettering relations. Washington wants North Korea to completely shutter its nuclear program before lifting international sanctions and making peace. Meanwhile, Pyongyang argues that the suspension of nuclear and missile tests, the return of U.S. soldiers’ remains and prisoners as well as the partial or whole destruction of certain key military sites was enough to warrant concessions.
Despite U.S. apprehensions, South Korea has moved forward with an ambitious plan to forge ties with its northern neighbor. Moon has green-lit the restoration of cross-border military communications, the linking of the two countries’ railroad systems and various projects designed to unify the economies of the Koreas.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (from left) walk together during a visit to the Samjiyon guesthouse in North Korea, on September 20. Since the beginning of this year, the two countries have met more times than in any previous period in their history.PYONGYANG PRESS CORPS/POOL/GETTY IMAGES
In a reminder of the bloodshed that took the lives of millions on the Korean Peninsula, personnel demilitarizing the border this month discovered what the South Korean Defense Ministry said Thursday was likely the remains of at least two soldiers who died fighting in the Korean War. One of them was found with dog tags intact, reading “Pak Je Kwon,” who was believed to be a South Korean sergeant.
Both Koreas have pledged to conduct joint searches for other war casualties once they complete the removal of mines from the area.
(Economist) Tempers are flaring as the South China Sea grows crowded
IT IS getting hard to sail across the South China Sea without bumping into a warship. On September 30th an American destroyer (the USS Decatur, pictured) passed within 50 metres of a Chinese naval vessel which was conducting “unsafe and unprofessional” manoeuvres, according to the Americans. Earlier in the month Japan sent a submarine to conduct drills in the sea for the first time. In August a British warship was confronted there by Chinese ships and jets. And this month ships from Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and Britain will take part in more than two weeks of joint naval drills in the same crowded waters.
The maritime hubbub is an attempt to push back against China’s claim to the entire South China Sea, which other littoral states dispute and which a UN tribunal has rubbished. China wants military vessels and aircraft to notify it before passing through the sea, something America and others would view as an infringement of international norms even if China’s claims had been upheld. To make matters even more fraught, China has reclaimed land around a series of reefs and rocks in the sea to build bases teeming with guns, missiles and radar. Should these constructions be deemed rocks or islands under international law, and rightful Chinese territory, then certain restrictions would apply to military vessels passing within 12 nautical miles. But America and the UN tribunal, among others, consider several of them “low-tide elevations”—shoals, in effect—that do not enjoy the same rights. America and its allies keep sending warships to sail around the sea in ways that demonstrate that they do not accept China’s position.
Since 2015 America has conducted 12 of these “freedom of navigation operations” (FONOPs, in Pentagon jargon). These flout China’s claims in several different ways. By sailing within 12 nautical miles of genuine islands, for example, America’s navy demonstrates that it does not need and will not seek permission to exercise its right of “innocent passage”. By conducting military manoeuvres within 12 nautical miles of other fortified specks it shows that it considers them mere elevations around which no restrictions are warranted. And by entering the sea at all, it rejects China’s stance that it has any say in military activity in open waters within the area it claims.
FONOPs have grown “more regular and strident” under the Trump administration, says Alessio Patalano of King’s College London. America’s European and regional allies are not quite as confrontational. They do not trumpet the details of how they have affronted China and they tend to keep a greater distance from its bristling baselets (although France and Britain have grown a little bolder lately). But simply by showing up, they help to demonstrate a united front. Australian, Japanese, British and French vessels have all sailed across the sea together, in various pairings. The hitch is that there are a lot more warships ploughing around, and so a lot more scope for dangerously heated encounters.
(Reuters) North and South Korea agreed on Monday to hold a summit in the North in September, another step towards boosting cooperation between the old rivals, even as doubts grow over efforts to end the North’s nuclear weapons program.
Officials from both sides meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas, reached an agreement on a September summit between the countries’ leaders in the North’s capital of Pyongyang.
No date was announced for what will be the third meeting this year between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
They first met in April in Panmunjom, a remarkable thaw in ties after more than a year of rising tension and fears of war over the North’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
There they agreed that Moon would visit the North’s capital in the autumn, though the pair met again in May in an unannounced meeting at Panmunjom.
No details on an agenda for next month’s talks were announced, but the two Koreas have been discussing a range of issues, from a possible peace declaration to joint economic and infrastructure projects.
The progress between the two Koreas comes as North Korea and the United States are struggling to agree on how to bring about the North’s denuclearization, after Kim vowed to work toward that goal at a landmark summit in June in Singapore with U.S. President Donald Trump.
U.S. officials have told Reuters that North Korea had yet to agree to a timeline for eliminating its nuclear arsenal or to disclose its size, which U.S. estimates have put at between 30 and 60 warheads.
After Monday’s talks, Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of a North Korean committee aiming for the “peaceful reunification” of the peninsula, told his South Korean counterpart, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, it was important to clear “obstacles” preventing inter-Korean relations from moving forward.
“If the issues that were raised at the talks aren’t resolved, unexpected problems could emerge and the issues that are already on the schedule may face difficulties,” Ri said, without giving details.
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, arrive for their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone, North Korea, August 13, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS
One issue that has angered North Korea recently has been the case of a dozen North Korean restaurant workers who came to the South in 2016 via China.
The North says they were abducted by the South and should be returned, and has raised the possibility of the issue creating an obstacle to the reunion of some families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War, planned for next week.
Cho did not say if North Korea had raised the case of the restaurant workers on Monday, merely saying it had not brought up new issues.
“There were mentions that if there are problems to be resolved by both sides, on humanitarian issues or for the development of inter-Korean relations, we should do it,” the minister told reporters.
Cho said the two sides had exchanged views on the North’s denuclearization and on a peace mechanism to replace the armistice that ended fighting during the Korean War.
Moon and Kim agreed during their first summit to push for a declaration of an end to the Korean War together with the United States this year, but Washington has said it would only be possible after the North abandons its nuclear program.
Last month, the North’s state media criticized the South accusing it of only caring only about the views of the United States and failing to take practical steps to advance inter-Korean relations.
South Korea hopes to restart efforts on a cross-peninsula railway and a joint industrial park but has been cautious about major projects due to international sanctions chiefly engineered by Washington over the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
The North has urged the United States to end the sanctions, saying it had made goodwill gestures, including a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, the dismantling of a nuclear site, and the return of the remains of some U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War.
“The North is asking the South to play a bridging role as they want the United States to speed up progress in declaring an end to the war officially,” said Seo Yu-seok, a researcher at the Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
Christopher Green, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, said the North could try to increase pressure on the South to deliver on economic promises made at the April summit, while widening the distance between Seoul and Washington.
Ri said the two sides had agreed on a date for the summit, but he declined to elaborate.
Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman of South Korea’s presidential office, said it would be difficult for the summit to happen before the Sept. 9 anniversary of North Korea’s founding, a major holiday there.
North Korea has returned remains believed to be of 55 US troops killed during the Korean War, bringing renewed hope to families who have waited decades for closure.
The return of the remains, brought to a US base in South Korea, is the latest move in the cautious diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang.
The repatriation was agreed at the June summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
It is hoped more will follow.
“It’s hard to live your life not knowing what happened to your loved one,” the daughter of one missing serviceman told the BBC ahead of Friday’s news.
The Singapore summit, where Mr Trump and Mr Kim agreed to work towards the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, has been criticised for a lack of detail on when or how Pyongyang would renounce nuclear weapons.
But the return of US remains was one of four points actually listed in that June declaration, and comes on the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.
It is believed that 55 soldiers have been returned this time, but their remains will need to be forensically tested to ensure they are indeed slain US troops – and it’s possible the identification process could take years.
John Zimmerlee, the son of a US serviceman who is among the missing, told the BBC there was no guarantee these were the remains of American soldiers.
Mr Zimmerlee, the founder of the Korean War Prisoners Of War and Missing In Action Network, said: “Keep in mind that these 55 remains that are coming back, these are people that they [North Korea] suspected were their enemy during the (Korean) war – not necessarily Americans.
“They could be British, they could be Australians, Belgians – could be a lot of different people.”
‘An emotional and symbolic gesture’
By Laura Bicker, BBC Seoul correspondent, Osan air base
The small wooden caskets were draped in the UN flag and carried carefully one by one from the aircraft onto US soil.
Hundreds of US soldiers and some of their families from the Osan base came to salute and line the route of their final journey.
Before the ceremony they’d been told they would be watching a key moment in history. They stood silently and watched.
Earlier I’d asked Korean War veterans from the US and the UK what this meant to them. Amazing news, they told me.
“This is an emotional and symbolic gesture,” said another.
Why are US remains in North Korea?
More than 326,000 Americans fought alongside soldiers from South Korea and a UN coalition during the war to support the South against the Communist North.
Thousands of US military personnel from the Korean war remain unaccounted for and most of them – about 5,300 – were lost in what is now North Korea.
The missing US soldiers are among around 33,000 coalition troops still unaccounted for.
The remains are believed to be located at:
prisoner of war camps – many perished during the winter of 1950
the sites of major battles, such as the areas around Unsan and Chongchon in the north-west of the country – said to contain approximately 1,600 dead
temporary UN military cemeteries – China and North Korea returned about 3,000 dead Americans in an effort called Operation Glory in 1954, but others remain
the demilitarised zone that separates North and South Korea – said to contain 1,000 bodies
Between 1990 and 2005, 229 sets were returned, but this halted as relations deteriorated with the development of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
What happens now?
A US military aircraft took the remains to the US base at Osan in South Korea where, according to the White House, a repatriation ceremony will be held on 1 August after some initial testing.
The remains will then be brought to the US to undergo thorough forensic testing.
The White House said it was “a solemn obligation of the United States Government to ensure that the remains are handled with dignity and properly accounted for so their families receive them in an honorable manner”.
What has the reaction been?
The US government said it was “encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change”.
The return of the dead soldiers was “a significant first step to recommence the repatriation of remains from North Korea and to resume field operations in North Korea to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home”.
The repatriation will be welcomed by relatives who have waited decades for progress.
But Bill Richardson, a former UN ambassador who secured the return of six bodies in 2007, remains sceptical.
It is thought North Korea has about 200 sets of remains collected already.
What about North Korea’s wider intentions?
The 12 June summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un saw both sides speak with ambition about concrete steps to improve relations but experts have cast doubt on whether Pyongyang is genuine in its apparent commitment to “denuclearise”.
(Reuters) North Korea is continuing to produce fuel for nuclear bombs in spite of its pledge to denuclearize, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, even as he argued that the Trump administration was making progress in talks with Pyongyang.
Asked at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing whether North Korea was still making bomb fuel, Pompeo responded to Democratic Senator Ed Markey by saying: “Yes, that’s correct … Yes, they continue to produce fissile material.”
Pompeo declined to respond when asked whether North Korea was continuing to pursue submarine-launched ballistic missiles or whether its nuclear program was advancing generally.
He said he would be happy to answer the latter question if necessary in a classified setting, but suggested public statements on the issue would not help “a complex negotiation with a difficult adversary.”
Pompeo defended what he termed progress in talks with North Korea stemming from an unprecedented June 12 summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in sometimes testy exchanges with skeptical lawmakers from both parties.
He said the United States was engaged in “patient diplomacy” to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, but would not let the process “drag out to no end.”
Briefing on his July 5-7 visit to North Korea, Pompeo said he had emphasized this position in “productive” discussions with his North Korean interlocutor, Kim Yong Chol.
He said Trump remained upbeat about the prospects for North Korean denuclearization, but Kim needed to follow through on his summit commitments.
Pompeo said U.S. North Korea policy was guided by a principle stated by Trump on July 17 that “diplomacy and engagement are preferable to conflict and hostility.”
Trump has hailed his summit with Kim as a success, even saying the day after that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat, but questions have been mounting about Pyongyang’s willingness to give up a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States.
Kim committed in a broad summit statement to work toward denuclearization but Pyongyang has offered no details as to how it might go about this.
Pompeo left Pyongyang on July 7 saying he had made progress on key issues, only for North Korea to accuse his delegation hours later of making “gangster-like” demands.
Pompeo reiterated that North Korea had agreed to denuclearize. However, he did not respond when asked by Senator Bob Menendez whether Pyongyang agreed with the U.S. definition of denuclearization, except to say he was fully confident North Korea understood this.
DEMOCRAT DENOUNCES “REALITY TV ‘SUMMIT’”
Menendez, the ranking member of the committee, called Trump’s meeting with Kim “a reality TV ‘summit’ that was little more than a photo-op with a brutal dictator.”
“We have seen only a vague agreement of promises to make more promises – but with weaker commitments than North Korea has previously made,” he said.
Pompeo conceded that there was an “awful long way to go” with North Korea but in answer to a question, said the U.S. goal was for North Korea’s complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization by the end of Trump’s current term in office, which runs until January 2021, and “more quickly if possible.”
Trump said last week there was “no rush” and “no time limit” on the denuclearization negotiations, but Pompeo has given varying statements about how patient Washington might be.
He rejected Markey’s suggestion that the United States was being “taken for a ride” by North Korea, replying, “fear not senator, fear not.”
However he indicated that no progress had been made on a key U.S. demand – that North Korea disclose the range of its nuclear capabilities, saying: “An initial declaration … is something that is at the very forefront of what … we think, makes sense to get them to a point where we can verify their full denuclearization.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The Republican chairman of the committee, Bob Corker, criticized Trump for saying that Kim was “very talented” and that “he loves his people,” given the country’s serious human rights abuses and the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier after imprisonment there.
Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has been arrested, Malaysia’s anti-corruption task force told the ABC, amid an investigation into how billions of dollars went missing from a state fund he founded almost a decade ago.
Authorities picked Mr Najib up from his home after serving him with a remand order, two sources close to the family said.
Charges, including embezzlement and bribery with government money, are expected to be handed down early Wednesday morning.
Mr Najib was arrested at his Kuala Lumpur home at 2:35pm (local time) today, sources said.
Millions of dollars worth of jewellery, handbags, watches and other items were also seized.
Family under suspicion
Mr Najib’s wife is also under investigation and his stepson, Riza Aziz, was brought in for questioning earlier today along with a Hollywood film producer, as part of the probe into alleged theft and money-laundering.
Red Granite agreed in March to pay the US Government $60 million to settle claims it benefited from the 1MDB scandal.
Since his shock election loss to Mahathir Mohamad in May, Mr Najib has been barred from leaving the country, quizzed by the anti-corruption agency and had his personal and family houses searched as part of the 1MDB probe.
Mr Mahathir said in an interview last month that embezzlement and bribery with government money were among the charges that Malaysia was looking to bring against Mr Najib, adding they had “an almost perfect case” against him.
It is unclear how many charges Najib will or if he will be allowed to apply for bail.
Founded by Mr Najib in 2009, 1MDB is being investigated in at least six countries for alleged money laundering and corruption.
Civil lawsuits filed by the US Department of Justice allege that nearly $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.
(Time) President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un concluded their historic summit in Singapore Tuesday by signing a joint document that included a pledge to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The document, which hailed the summit as an “epochal event of great significance,” is broken down into four bullet point resolutions, including unspecified “security guarantees” from the U.S. in exchange for a “firm and unwavering commitment” from North Korea to pursue “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the White House confirmed. The leaders also agreed to commit to recovering and repatriating the remains of prisoners of war.
Trump described the “comprehensive” document as “very important,” and the leaders signed English and Korean copies.
The paper affirmed intentions to “establish new U.S.-DPRK relations” and agreed to future negotiations “at the earliest possible date.” The two countries are still technically at war since an armistice rather than a peace agreement ended the Korean War in 1953, and the two nations do not have formal diplomatic relations.
America’s goal for North Korea is complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. Kim had offered to discuss denuclearization in April, but North Korea threatened to cancel the summit late last month over concerns that giving up nucelar weapons was the only item on a “one-sided” negotiating agenda.
The U.S. president, fresh off of a tumultuous G-7 meeting in Canada, is set to meet with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday. On Tuesday, he’ll go toe-to-toe with Kim to try and push for North Korea’s denuclearization.
Those arriving with the president aboard Air Force One into Singapore’s Paya Lebar Air Base reportedly included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Asked by a reporter how he felt about the upcoming meeting with Kim, Trump said: “Very good.” He then got into his waiting limousine.
During his time in the city-state, Trump is expected to stay at the Shangri-La Hotel. Kim, for his part, is reportedly staying at the nearby St. Regis hotel. Both men will travel on Tuesday to the island of Sentosa — just off of Singapore’s main island — to hold their summit at the Capella hotel there.
When Trump and Kim meet they will be making history even before they start. Enemies since the 1950-53 Korean War, the sitting leaders of North Korea and the United States have never met previously.
The two countries were on the brink of war last year, with their leaders trading insults and threats, until Kim made a dramatic offer in March to meet Trump and discuss nuclear disarmament, which the American president accepted.
Trump said he and Kim may even sign an agreement to end the Korean War, which was concluded only with a truce, not a peace treaty.
The US will offer North Korea “unique” security assurances in return for denuclearisation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s US-North Korea summit in Singapore, Mr Pompeo said preliminary talks between senior officials were continuing and moving quite rapidly.
He insisted the US would accept nothing less than complete denuclearisation.
North Korea’s state media has talked of a “new relationship” with the US.
What did the secretary of state say?
Mr Pompeo, Donald Trump’s top diplomat, said that the president was fully prepared for his meeting with Kim Jong-un.
He said the US would be satisfied with nothing less than the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula – with verification the key part of any deal.
The US was prepared to offer certainty to North Korea so they could be “comfortable that denuclearisation isn’t something that ends badly for them”.
He would not be drawn on what might be on offer.
Mr Pompeo stressed that economic sanctions would remain in place “until North Korea completely and verifiably eliminates its weapons of mass destruction programmes”.
What is happening now?
Both Mr Trump and Mr Kim arrived in Singapore on Sunday.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who met Mr Trump and Mr Kim separately on Sunday evening, told the BBC that both leaders were feeling “supremely confident” ahead of their meeting.
The US president and North Korean leader are staying in separate hotels, not far from each other, and will meet on Tuesday at a hotel on Sentosa, a popular tourist island a few hundred metres off the main island of Singapore.
Their first meeting will be just the two men, with their translators, without any advisers present.
Mr Trump has said he has a “good feeling” about Tuesday’s much-anticipated summit.
These pages in the paper are significant because they pave the way for a possible change in the state’s message and it helps those watching argue that this time with North Korea, things could be different.
How did we get here?
The two leaders have had an extraordinary up-and-down relationship over the past 18 months.
Mr Trump’s first year in office was marked by bitter exchanges between himself and Mr Kim – as North Korea conducted several ballistic missile tests in defiance of the international community.
A defiant North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test in September 2017. Soon after, Mr Kim declared that his country had achieved its mission of becoming a nuclear state, with missiles that could reach the US.
In early 2018, a remarkable turnaround in the relationship occurred. It started with significant diplomatic overtures from North Korea towards South Korea during the Winter Olympics. In March, Mr Trump shocked the world by accepting an invitation from Mr Kim to meet in person.
What do both sides want?
Denuclearisation has been the central issue in the run-up to the talks. The US wants North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, but North Korea is widely expected to resist that and it is unclear what it might ask for in return.
Mr Kim has also said he wants to focus on building the North Korean economy – and thus wants sanctions relief and international investment. The question is what concessions he is willing to make, and whether he will stick to any promises made.
Still, the US is not necessarily expecting to get a final deal in Singapore. President Trump has described it as a “get-to-know-you situation” and said “it’s going to be a process”.
On Sunday, two U.S. officials told Reuters that the Pentagon is considering increased naval war drills in the South China Sea near China’s heavily disputed militarized islands. The officials, who are working jointly with Asian diplomats — declined to comment about the Pentagon’s progress in finalizing the plan for the new drills.
Such a move could further increase geopolitical tensions in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
Officials explained to Reuters that the naval drills could involve more extensive patrols, ones involving a large number of warships or operations including closer surveillance of the Chinese military bases on the islands, which now includes anti-ship cruise missiles, radar-jamming equipment, and strategic bombers.
U.S. officials said they are not doing this alone. They are aligning international allies and strategic partners to increase “naval deployments through the vital trade route as China strengthens its military capabilities on both the Paracel and Spratly islands.”
“What we have seen in the last few weeks is just the start, significantly more is being planned,” said one Western diplomat, referring to a freedom of navigation patrol late last month that used two U.S. ships for the first time.
“There is a real sense more needs to be done.”
While the Pentagon does not directly comment on future classified operations, there is a reason to believe that more naval drills are set to intensify in the second half of 2018. Last month, we reported that the U.S. Navy conducted its “freedom of navigation” patrols near the islands to demonstrate the right to sail through the international waters, even as President Donald Trump asked Beijing for cooperation on North Korea.
Even though the naval operation had been planned for many months in advance, this was the first time where two U.S. warships used the “freedom of navigation” card to sail miles from the heavily disputed islands.
In response to Beijing’s recent militarization of its islands, the Pentagon withdrew an invitation for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to participate in a massive multinational naval exercise off Hawaii’s coast this summer.
During the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue summit on Saturday, Mattis blasted Beijing for the militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea and warned there could be “much larger consequences” in the near term. He said China’s militarization in the region was now a “reality” but that Beijing would face unspecified consequences.
At the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhou, of the People’s Liberation Army’s, hinted in a question to Mattis that the U.S. Navy’s recent freedom of navigation around the islands could be defined as militarization.
“Mattis’ speech was negative,” Zhao said in an interview afterward.
“If China’s islands and reefs are continuously threatened by activities under the name of so-called freedom of navigation, China will eventually station troops on these reefs.”
Speaking to reporters at the Singapore conference, Lieutenant General He Lei defended Beijing’s military build-up in the South China Sea, blasting the “irresponsible comments” made by Mattis, who on Saturday accused Beijing of threatening its neighbors in the heavily disputed waters and warned China of “consequences” if it continues weaponizing the South China Sea.
“It is China’s sovereign and legal right for China to place our army and military weapons there. We see any other country that tries to make noise about this as interfering in our internal affairs,” He said.
Singapore-based military strategist Tim Huxley told Reuters while increased international pressure might slow China’s militarization efforts, however, the momentum will be hard to stop.
“China has created a new reality down there, and it is not going to be rolled back,” Huxley said.
“They are not doing this to poke America or their neighbors in the eye but they are almost certainly doing this to serve their long-term strategic objectives, whether that is projecting their military power or securing energy supplies.”
The amount of insight from Mattis and General He Lei at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue this past weekend has provided us with the understanding that tensions in the South China Sea are about to significantly flare up in the second half of 2018 and beyond. Nevertheless, the clues from Reuters about their conversation with U.S. officials familiar with the situation confirms that one of the world’s most volatile areas could soon be much closer to war than we thought.
Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore on 12 June is back on, the US president says, a week after it was scrapped.
Mr Trump made the announcement after talks with a senior North Korean envoy at the White House.
The envoy, General Kim Yong-chol, hand-delivered a letter from the North Korean leader to President Trump.
Mr Trump at first said the letter was “very interesting” but later said he had not yet opened it.
He also said the issue of formally ending the Korean War would be on the table in Singapore.
The 1950-53 conflict only ended with a truce, not a final peace treaty.
“We’ll be meeting on June 12th in Singapore. It went very well,” President Trump told reporters on the White House lawn.
“We’ve got to know their people very well,” he added.
Mr Trump cautioned that the summit might not achieve a final deal on the North’s controversial nuclear programme.
“I never said it goes in one meeting. I think it’s going to be a process, but the relationships are building and that’s very positive,” he said.
The historic meeting between Mr Trump and Kim Jong-un would be the first between sitting US and North Korean leaders. President Trump has offered to help rebuild the North’s economy if it scraps its nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un says he is committed to “denuclearisation” in some form but his precise demands are unclear.
1 June: Senior North Korean envoy General Kim Yong-chol delivers a letter from Mr Kim in person at the White House. Mr Trump says the summit on 12 June is back on
Gen Kim Yong-chol’s visit to Washington came a day after he met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York.
Mr Pompeo described their talks about denuclearisation “substantive”.
“President Trump and I believe Chairman Kim is the kind of leader who can make those kinds of decisions. And that in the coming weeks and months, we will have the opportunity to test whether or not this is the case,” he said.
Mr Kim’s letter reportedly expresses his interest in meeting without making any significant concessions or threats in regards to denuclearisation, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing a foreign government official who was briefed on the contents.
Trump the diplomat basks in the spotlight
Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington
This is Trump diplomacy, unfolding in real time. If it’s not what the world expects, if it’s statecraft as we’ve never seen it before, that’s because this is a president unlike any the American people have elected before.
From “fire and fury” to a relationship “as good as it’s been in a long time”. The summit is on, then it’s off, now it’s on again. The president, as witnessed by his impromptu 16 minute question-and-answer session with gathered reporters, is basking in the world’s spotlight as he conducts these historic negotiations.
Passing legislation is hard. Coping with the Russia investigation is infuriating. Welcoming to the White House the “second most powerful man in North Korea”, as Mr Trump called Kim Yong-chol, is comparatively easy.
Even as Mr Trump heralded the progress being made, he was downplaying expectations for the upcoming summit, which he said was never planned to end in some grand signing ceremony.
For the moment, it appears the Singapore meeting will be only a first step – a chance for a historic photo-op and a hope for breakthroughs to come.
For a president who many thought last year was barrelling toward war, however, that appears more than enough.
How did we get here?
North Korea has carried out six nuclear tests and numerous tests of ballistic missiles, all the while maintaining a barrage of belligerent rhetoric against its enemies, particularly the US.
(ZH) Update: As if the earlier begging was not enough, it appears Kim wants to make sure that President Trump is aware of his efforts and desire to meet.
Yonhap reports that North Korea’s state media said Friday the demolition of its only known nuclear test site has demonstrated its “peace-loving” efforts and pursuit of a “total halt” to nuclear tests.
As we detailed yesterday, North Korea officially demolished the test-site overnight, inviting a number of reporters to witness the event.
And today, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in English.
“The dismantlement of the nuclear test ground is a vivid manifestation of the DPRK government’s fixed peace-loving stand to join in the international aspiration and efforts for total halt to the nuclear test and make positive contribution to building a nuclear free world,”
The KCNA added that the demolition of the tunnels and other surrounding facilities, including a communications center, power systems and observation centers, was carried out “completely” and “with transparency.”
* * *
It appears that Trump “jilted North Korean lover” approach may have been just what the doctor ordered.
Literally minutes after we said that most experts expected a violent, angry outburst from North Korea’s president in response to Trump’s unexpected cancellation of the Singapore June 12 summit, such as this comment from Senator Jack Reed…
Spoke w/ @BloombergTV’s @kevcirilli about Pres Trump pulling out of planned nuclear summit w/ North Korea & how if Pres Trump had taken a more considered approach to Mr. Kim’s initial offer for a summit, we wouldn’t be in this position.https://t.co/vY7HOiFYXf
… a shocked North Korea is virtually begging for a meeting.
In a statement issued by state-run Korean Central News Agency, citing Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea announced it was willing to sit with the U.S. “whenever, however” through any method to try to resolve the outstanding issues.
Gwan said that whereas President Trump’s announcement to one-sidedly cancel the planned summit is unexpected and very regrettable, “North Korea’s goal and will to do everything for peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and mankind remains unchanged, and we are always willing to give time and opportunity to the US side with a big and open mind,” according to the statement. He added that “We express our intent that there is a willingness to sit at any time, in any way to resolve issues” and noted that President Trump’s decision to cancel the summit is “not what the world wants” and the summit is necessary to resolve the current hostile bilateral relationship.
Furthermore, North Korea appears to be backtracking on the recent diplomatic escalation and has effectively apologized, stating that “its previous remarks regarding the U.S.-North Korea summit had been in protest against strong US remarks towards North.”
While we await the full KCNA statement, here are the key bullet points courtesy of Reuters and Bloomberg:
NORTH KOREA SAYS TRUMP’S SUMMIT CANCELLATION IS UNEXPECTED
NORTH KOREA SAYS IT’S WILLING TO MEET WITH U.S. AT ANY TIME
NORTH KOREA SAYS IT IS STILL WILLING TO RESOLVE ISSUES WITH UNITED STATES WHENEVER, HOWEVER
NORTH KOREA SAYS U.S.-N.KOREA SUMMIT IS NECESSARY TO RESOLVE CURRENT HOSTILE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP
NORTH KOREA SAYS IT HAD WISHED `TRUMP MODEL’ COULD RESOLVE ISSUES
NORTH KOREA SAYS IT HAD HOPED FOR ISSUES REGARDING N.KOREA TO BE RESOLVED “TRUMP-STYLE”
NORTH KOREA SAYS NO CHANGE IN N. KOREA’S WILL TO DO BEST FOR PEACE
NORTH KOREA SAYS ITS PREVIOUS REMARKS REGARDING U.S.-N.KOREA SUMMIT HAD BEEN IN PROTEST AGAINST STRONG U.S. REMARKS TOWARDS NORTH
N.KOREA HAS WILLINGNESS TO GIVE CHANCE, TIME TO U.S.
NORTH KOREA HAS WILLINGNESS TO GIVE CHANCE, TIME TO U.S.
And the punchline:
NORTH KOREA SAYS CURRENT SITUATION REFLECTS DESPARATE NEED FOR SUMMIT
Or, to summarize North Korea’s response to Trump’s “dear John” letter:
(BBG) President Donald Trump said North Korea hasn’t directly raised concerns about his proposed summit with its leader Kim Jong Un, after the country threatened through its state-run news agency to pull out of the meeting.
“We haven’t been notified at all,” Trump said Wednesday during a meeting with Uzbekistan’s president at the White House, in response to questions from reporters about whether the summit would go on. “We’ll have to see.”
North Korea’s vice foreign minister and a top disarmament negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, said in a statement published Wednesday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency that Kim’s regime felt “repugnance” toward National Security Adviser John Bolton and rejected a “Libya model” in which the country quickly surrenders its nuclear weapons.
“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” Kim said. He added that Trump risked becoming a “more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors” if he didn’t accept North Korea as a nuclear power.
Asked if he would continue to insist North Korea denuclearize, Trump said “yes.” The White House said it was proceeding with planning for the landmark meeting.
“He’ll be there, and he’ll be ready” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of Trump in a Fox News interview Wednesday, adding that North Korea’s threat to back out of talks isn’t out of the ordinary amid heated discussions between adversaries.
“We’re ready to meet, and if it happens that’s great, but if it doesn’t we’ll see what happens,” she said. “If it doesn’t we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been ongoing.”
China, North Korea’s top trading partner and ally, called on both sides to “avoid further provocation.”
“The amelioration of the situation on the Korean Peninsula is hard won and should be cherished,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing.
Trump’s planned June 1 summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore is shaping up to be one of the biggest foreign policy tests of the Trump administration. It comes after a year in which the two countries’ leaders traded personal insults and threats of war as North Korea ramped up its tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.
Tensions have risen in recent weeks over the steps needed for the U.S. to ease sanctions against North Korea: The Trump administration wants Kim to give up his weapons before getting anything in return, while the regime favors a more phased approach.
“The original conflict of interests endures,” said Van Jackson, a strategy fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and a former U.S. Department of Defense adviser. “The bottom line is that Kim isn’t going to give up nukes, and the reason is pessimism; it’s that North Korea has no theory of its own security without nukes.”
Earlier Wednesday, North Korea abruptly canceled talks with South Korea and warned the U.S. to “think twice” about the Trump summit. The moves undercut the optimism after Kim agreed to discuss his nuclear weapons program in a first-of-its-kind meeting.
Seoul’s financial markets took the threats in stride, with traders viewing it as a negotiating tactic on the part of the North Korean leader. The benchmark Kospi index gained 0.2 percent, while the won parred the day’s loss to 0.3 percent, after weakening as much as 0.8 percent earlier.
The comments from Kim Kye Gwan indicated broader dissatisfaction with the U.S. approach to talks, and Bolton’s comparisons to Libya in particular. The national security adviser, who advocated a military strike on North Korea before joining the administration last month, has described a denuclearization deal similar to one in which Libya allowed its weapons to be packed up and shipped to the U.S. in return for sanctions relief.
The comparison only underscores the fears of the Kim regime, which views nuclear weapons as insurance against any U.S.-led military action. Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was brutally killed by NATO-backed rebels two years after the last remnants of his nuclear program were removed.
“Our country is neither Libya nor Iraq, which have met a miserable fate,” Kim Kye Gwan said. “It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya, which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.”
The earlier KCNA report announcing the decision to “indefinitely” suspend talks with South Korea cited the allies’ “Max Thunder” military drills and other “improper acts” by authorities in Seoul. “There is a limit in showing goodwill and offering opportunity,” the report said.
North Korea has in recent weeks issued repeated complaints about Trump administration efforts to maintain its “maximum pressure” campaign against the regime in the run up to the meeting. The KCNA statement specifically cited the deployment of B-52 bombers, which are capable of carrying nuclear bombs, and F-22 fighter jets as evidence of threatening behavior by the U.S.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Wednesday that the U.S. won’t send B-52 bombers for the military drills, citing unidentified local military and government officials. The South Korean Ministry of National Defense said in a text message that the allies would proceed with the exercises as planned.
Colonel Rob Manning, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement that the exercises now underway are annual drills aimed at maintaining “a foundation of military readiness.” He said the drills’ defensive nature “has been clear for many decades and has not changed.”
(Time) President Donald Trump revealed the date and location of his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, announcing Thursday that they will meet in Singapore on June 12.
In typical fashion, Trump first revealed the news on Twitter. “The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th,” he tweeted Thursday morning. “We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!”
Donald J. Trump
The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!
The details of the sit-down came two days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea to prepare for the meeting, which Trump noted on Tuesday as he withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. “The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them,” Trump said in his speech at the White House that day. “In fact, at this very moment, Secretary Pompeo is on his way to North Korea in preparation for my upcoming meeting with Kim Jong Un. Plans are being made. Relationships are building.”
Some foreign policy experts worry that backing out of the Iran deal will make it harder for the Trump Administration to convince North Korea to enter into a deal with the U.S. But as TIME reported earlier this week, Trump and his aides think the decision will show North Korea that the United States won’t accept any deal that would allow Kim to restart a nuclear program.
(BBG) One summit has changed the perceptions of a nation.
Friday’s meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un prompted 78 percent of respondents to a Korea Research Center poll published this week to say they trusted the North Korean leader. That’s a far cry from the 10 percent of South Koreans who said they approved of Kim in a Gallup Korea poll conducted just a month-and-a-half ago.
The summit was filled with unprecedented scenes: Kim’s step over the ankle-high concrete slab dividing the Korean Peninsula — and then his walk back across the border hand-in-hand with Moon; a 30-minute private chat in the woods in front of television cameras; the first ever live remarks to reporters by a North Korean leader; Kim’s sense of humor and his deferential manner toward Moon, who is more than 30 years his senior.
And that’s just the optics. More significantly, the two leaders signed a declaration to finally end a seven-decade war this year, and pursue the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. Kim also called for frequent meetings between the leaders — a major shift given only three summits have taken place since the war.
More than 35 percent of respondents to the poll conducted earlier this week on behalf of national broadcaster MBC said the biggest accomplishment was the pledge to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons. Nearly 30 percent said Moon’s hop over the border at Kim’s impromptu suggestion was the most impressive moment of the summit.
Support for Kim is now nearly as high as it is for Moon, who scored an 86 percent rating. The South Korean president has been enjoying the highest popularity among all South Korean presidents in history since his inauguration a year ago .
The question now is whether this positive perception of Kim will continue through and beyond a planned summit between the North Korean leader and U.S. President Donald Trump, possibly later this month.
North Korea and South Korea have agreed to denuclearize the peninsula and later this year formally end the war between the two nations that began in 1950.
The nations signed an armistice when the fighting ended in 1953, but they’ve now agreed to pursue a proper peace agreement tied to the “common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, has pledged a “new history” with the South Koreans. Together with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, he has agreed to work on a permanent peace agreement and work toward a “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
“We talked about peace and prosperity,” Moon said. “A bold decision has been made. Big applause should be given to Kim Jong Un.”
Moon called the meeting “historical” and “a valuable time.” To achieve a complete peace the two nations will collaborate and “change the order of the Korean peninsula.”
Moon also said this process included “a bold and courageous decision” by Kim and that the two leaders “have confidence in each other.”
“There is no turning back,” he added.
Kim similarly praised Moon, saying this moment has been a long time coming.
“Same people, same blood, so we cannot be separated and should live together in unification,” Kim said. “I hope we live together soon as a new path forward.”
With the rest of the world watching, he added, “We will never repeat the past mistakes.”
The event-packed day was well choreographed, providing emotional and video-friendly moments including a red-carpet honor-guard review, planting a pine tree together, sharing a walk in the Demilitarized Zone and then a lengthy private talk at a picnic table on a newly painted bright blue bridge.
The two men spoke for more than half an hour as media watched from afar.
Perhaps the day’s biggest highlight was when Kim, wearing a black Mao suit, first appeared in the morning, walking from the North size of the DMZ to meet Moon at the border with the South. It was the first time a North Korean leader stepped on South Korean soil.
Shortly thereafter, Moon said to Kim, “You’ve come to the South today, when can I go to the North?” Kim responded: “Why not try now?”
Holding hands, as more than 3,000 journalists, mostly from South Korean looked on, the leaders jumped across the boundary.
Kim and Moon may request three-way talks with Washington or four-way talks that include Beijing to convert the armistice from 1953 into a peace treaty, hopefully by the end of this year.
Both nations have agreed to expand civilian exchanges and pursue join sporting and cultural events.
Family reunions may happen in mid-August, an anniversary for both nations’ celebrating liberation from Japanese colonial rule after the end of World War II.
(BBG) North Korea has achieved its goal of developing a nuclear arsenal and is suspending further tests of atomic weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles, its state-run media reported, citing leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim said the regime’s nuclear test site will be shuttered, according to the Korean Central News Agency. Punggye-ri, built in a secluded mountain valley northeast of Pyongyang and the site for all six of the regime’s nuclear blasts, has already been in doubt amid signs of structural weakness, and some observers have said it would be unsafe to do more tests there.
“I solemnly declare that we have accomplished credible weaponization of nuclear forces,” Kim was quoted as saying at a Friday ruling party meeting. “Our decision to suspend nuclear tests is part of the world’s important steps for nuclear disarmament and our republic will join global efforts to completely suspend nuclear tests.”
The comments come ahead of his talks on April 27 with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and a planned summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in May or June. While Kim’s statement that he has achieved his desired deterrent is largely a reiteration of prior claims — and he made no commitment to giving up the weapons he has already acquired — the pledge to mothball the test site suggests he’s seeking to further ease tensions ahead of those meetings.
A spokesman for Moon said Kim’s statement was a positive sign, while Trump praised it in a tweet, calling it “very good news for North Korea and the World.”
“Big progress!” he added. “Look forward to our Summit.” In a later tweet he noted that North Korea would “shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s Northern Side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests.”
North Korea has already effectively halted weapons tests for about five months, after firing a missile on Nov. 29 believed to be capable of reaching any city in the U.S. After that launch, which prompted the most restrictive United Nations sanctions yet, Kim declared his regime’s decades-long quest for nuclear weapons “complete.”
Commercial satellite imagery of Punggye-ri from March 17 showed no evidence of tunneling operations or personnel or vehicles in key areas, according to the 38 North website, which monitors North Korea.
Tunnels at the site suffered cave-ins during and after each nuclear test, said Hong Tae-kyung, a professor of geophysics at Seoul’s Yonsei University.
“A fair amount of tunnels have collapsed and there’s even a possibility of radioactive leaks there,” said Hong. “Realistically, it’s highly unlikely they can be used for nuclear tests any more.”
If North Korea resumed nuclear testing at some point it would probably pick another site in the less-populated east with lower risk of contamination for Pyongyang, Hong added.
Friday’s meeting of the Workers’ Party agreed that the suspension of nuclear tests was “an important process for the worldwide disarmament,” KCNA reported. “The DPRK will join the international desire and efforts for the total halt to the nuclear test,” it added, using the initials for North Korea’s formal name.
Shin Beomchul, a professor at the Korean National Diplomatic Academy, called Kim’s comments a “very carefully coordinated calculation to build hopes of the world that it’s open to changes that could possibly follow the summits.”
“It’s still hard to tell from the statement if it has genuine intent to denuclearize,” Shin said. “Contents-wise, there’s no real change in its position.”
Kim has long said he wants his country to be recognized as a nuclear power, but nations including South Korea and the U.S. want him to dismantle his arsenal. Any progress on that front is likely to be slow and fraught, and prior efforts involving Kim’s late father when he was leader collapsed in acrimony. The weapons are Kim’s only serious card in dealing with the outside world.
In a speech on Thursday, Moon warned that implementing any deal with North Korea would be challenging, even if he was optimistic about reaching an “in-principle” agreement.
“Realistically speaking, we’re just entering the threshold for a dialogue,” Moon said.
Still, the regime is feeling the economic squeeze of sanctions, including by neighbor and ally China. And Kim at the party meeting spoke of the need to prioritize the development of his impoverished country.
The North Korean leader has placed greater emphasis on the economy since taking power in 2011, a shift that could make any offers of outside aid more appealing in negotiations. In 2013, Kim for the first time declared his goal of “simultaneously‘’ pushing forward economic development and his nuclear force.
Kim’s statement is a “major opportunity to bring the Korean Peninsula out of the Cold War shadows,” China’s state-run Global Times said in a commentary. “It is hoped that Washington will take real action to consolidate the upbeat atmosphere, which includes scrapping U.S.-South Korea joint military drills or considerably reducing the size and frequency of the drills at the very least.”
The U.S., South Korea and Japan should immediately lift sanctions on North Korea except for broader UN-agreed penalties, it said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement that Kim’s actions would help promote a political settlement to the tensions.
Japan though expressed some skepticism.
“We have made many promises with North Korea, we paid money on the condition that they would end a test facility and such,” Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters in Washington. “But I remember that they just took our money.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters it won’t change how Japan handles the regime, Kyodo News reported.
Two U.S. officials who asked not to be identified said there was no reason not to believe Kim’s pledge was genuine. U.S. pressure had changed the calculus for Kim, one official said.
“This is a very serious initiative, it fits right in with North Korean policy and what they’ve been saying for a while,” said Joel Wit, a senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies who was involved in North Korea talks from 1993 to 1995. “They’ve decided that this is the moment to shift gears and to focus on developing their economy, end of story.”
North Korea won’t give up its nuclear weapons without reciprocal steps from the U.S. and others, he added. “But this is another sign that they are serious.”
(BBG) Kim Jong Un could become the first North Korean leader in history to enter South Korea in just over four weeks, when he steps across the heavily fortified border for a summit with President Moon Jae-in.
The April 27 meeting on the southern side of the demilitarized zone will be the first between leaders of the two nations in 11 years. Leaders of the two nations — which are still technically at war — have only met twice since the peninsula was divided in 1948.
Next month’s summit — a precursor to a potential meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump — is the culmination of diplomatic efforts after North Korea fired a flurry of missiles last year. Kim got the ball rolling with a call for talks in a News Year’s Day speech, which led to his nation’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics and a series of meeting between the two Koreas.
“As the date for the inter-Korean summit is finalized now, we will do our best to be fully prepared for it during the given time,” Moon’s spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, said in a text message. “We hope all South Koreans will be united in making a groundbreaking turning point for peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula at the summit.”
The question now is whether the summit can lay the groundwork for a successful Trump-Kim meeting and a return to multi-nation talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The North Korean leader paid a surprise visit to Beijing this week to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, with China saying Kim expressed an openness to discussions over his nation’s nuclear program.
Trump welcomed the meeting between Kim and Xi, while calling for continued pressure against the isolated regime. “Maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!” Trump said.
Trump has also threatened military action to prevent Kim from obtaining the ability to achieve its stated goal of being capable of striking the continental U.S. with a nuclear weapon.
Earlier Thursday, Moon’s office released a statement praising China’s participation in discussions to help stabilize the situation on the peninsula. “We expect the upcoming inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea summits to provide a clear turning point for eternal denuclearization and a peace system on the Korean Peninsula,” spokesman Kim said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told parliament that his nation would consider holding talks with North Korea in the context of the other summits taking place. The Asahi newspaper said earlier that Kim Jong Un’s administration was seeking a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The yen weakened to a two-week low against the dollar after the report.
The last inter-Korean summit was held in October 2007 between then President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong Il, the father of the current North Korean leader. The pair signed a peace declaration calling to end the armistice with a permanent treaty, but progress stalled and the two sides remain in a stalemate.
The first summit was in June 2000 between the elder Kim and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, a proponent of the so-called Sunshine Policy. The meeting led to family reunions until ties soured under conservative President Lee Myung-bak.
US President Donald Trump has accepted an invitation from Kim Jong-un for a historic face-to-face meeting, a surprise development that could mark a potential breakthrough in North Korea’s nuclear stand-off with America and its allies.
South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong made the announcement of Kim’s offer in Washington on Thursday (Friday morning Hong Kong time).
Chung said Kim was “committed to denuclearisation” and would refrain from any further nuclear and missile tests.
He said Kim wanted to meet Trump as “soon as possible” and that Trump said “he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula.
Kim “understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea [South Korea] and the United States must continue”, Chung said.
No American president has ever met with a North Korean leader.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later confirmed Chung’s comments. She said Trump would “meet with Kim Jong-un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearisation of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.”
Chung headed a delegation that met Kim at a historic meeting in Pyongyang late on Monday, Kim’s first with South Korean officials.
Korea Society president Thomas Byrne hailed the announcement.
“What we’re seeing here is that the alliance is working. Both the US and the ROK [South Korea] are on the same page,” Byrne, who’s now in Seoul for meetings with government and business officials, told the South China Morning Post.
“There’s unison in ends. There may be flexibility in ways to meet that end but the end remains unchanged: The denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and the use of maximum pressure. The joint military drills between South Korea and the US will go on and that’s been assured from the highest levels here.”
Trump’s aides have been wary of North Korea’s diplomatic overtures because of its history of reneging on international commitments.
Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!
But Trump himself declared the developments as “great progress” in a tweet, adding that “sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached”.
Earlier Thursday he boasted to journalists that South Korea would be making a “major statement” about North Korea.
After his announcement to reporters in a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room, Trump was asked whether the announcement would be about talks with North Korea and he told ABC reporter Jon Karl: “It’s almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit.”
A meeting between Kim and Trump, who have exchanged bellicose insults in the past year that have raised fear of war, would mark a dramatic breakthrough in efforts to resolve the tense stand-off over North Korea’s effort to develop nuclear missiles capable of hitting the US mainland.
Chung and South Korean National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon flew to Washington to explain North Korea’s stance on possible future talks with Washington and the prospect of Pyongyang suspending nuclear tests if the security of the North’s government is assured.
Earlier Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that though “talks about talks” might be possible with Pyongyang, denuclearisation negotiations were likely a long way off, adding “we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in made similar comments, saying: “This is just a start, and we can’t be optimistic just yet.”
Japan’s prime minister on Friday welcomed the surprise announcement of the summit between Trump and Kim.
“I highly appreciate North Korea’s change that it will begin talks on the premise of denuclearisation,” Shinzo Abe said, adding that he planned to visit the United States to meet Trump “as early as April”.
The United States and North Korea were foes throughout the cold war and fought on the opposite side of a bloody war in the 1950s.
In the last two decades, they have been engaged in what is perhaps the world’s most dangerous nuclear stand-off, with 30,000 US military personnel stationed just over the border in the South.
“It’s a stunning development, something that’s caught everyone by surprise,” Paul Stares, a senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of the Centre for Preventive Action at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said.
“People will liken this to the possibility of a Nixon to China move, but maybe Reagan to Reykjavík is more appropriate,” Stares said, referring to a meeting between then US President Ronald Reagan and former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in the Icelandic capital in 1986.
“The two of them came very close to agreeing to abolish nuclear weapons forever … It was a real breakthrough in terms of subsequent developments.
“Kim Jong-un is looking for legitimacy and status. North Korean leaders have been wanting for many years to be seen on the same level as the US president, so this would give him a tremendous domestic boost.”
The full statement by Chung Eui-yong
“Good evening. Today, I had the privilege of briefing President Trump on my recent visit to Pyongyang, North Korea. I’d like to thank President Trump, the Vice-President, and his wonderful national security team, including my close friend, General [H.R.] McMaster.
“I explained to President Trump that his leadership and his maximum-pressure policy, together with international solidarity, brought us to this juncture. I expressed President Moon Jae-in’s personal gratitude for President Trump’s leadership.
“I told President Trump that, in our meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he is committed to denuclearisation. Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests. He understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue. And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.
“President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearisation.
“The Republic of Korea [South Korea], along with the United States, Japan, and our many partners around the world remain fully and resolutely committed to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Along with President Trump, we are optimistic about continuing a diplomatic process to test the possibility of a peaceful resolution.
“The Republic of Korea, the United States, and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions. Thank you.”
The leaders of North and South Korea are due to meet at a summit of the two countries next month, Seoul’s envoy has said after a rare trip to Pyongyang.
N Korea’s Kim Jong-un also said he was willing to talk to the US about getting rid of nuclear weapons, the envoy said.
There have been previous programmes to halt the North’s nuclear ambitions, but it has failed to keep its promises.
It will be the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries for more than a decade.
The two men will meet on the heavily fortified border next month, at the truce village of Panmunjom. The two countries also agreed to open a hotline between the leaders.
On their return from Pyongyang, South Korean officials said Kim Jong-un told them he was now willing to talk about getting rid of the North’s nuclear weapons, if he felt that the regime’s security could be guaranteed.
Mr Kim also said there would be no missile tests while diplomacy continued.
This is a huge turnaround for North Korea’s young leader, the BBC’s Laura Bicker reports from Seoul.
The United States had said talks with North Korea would only go ahead if it was willing to discuss denuclearisation.
The US has said it is “cautiously optimistic” about improving North-South contacts, but ruled out formal talks with Pyongyang unless it was ready to give up its nuclear weapons.
Throughout the Olympics, the US maintained that North Korean gestures of rapprochement would carry little weight without such a commitment – particularly following last year’s nuclear and missile tests carried out by the North.
South Korean officials had dinner with the normally reclusive leader on Monday. Among the delegation were intelligence chief Suh Hoon and National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong.
They were the first officials from Seoul to meet Mr Kim since he came to power. They returned to Seoul on Tuesday morning, Yonhap news agency said.
The trip was part of a wave of rapprochement moves surrounding last month’s Winter Olympics.
Throughout the Olympics, the US maintained that North Korean gestures of rapprochement would carry little weight without commitment to give up nuclear weapons.
The South Korean delegation is expected to visit Washington later this week to brief US officials on their talks in the North.
Kim Jong-un has met very few foreign officials since he became leader in 2011 and the last time envoys from the South visited Pyongyang was in 2007.
Two previous summits were held in 2000 and 2007, under South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun who met Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.
So the sight of a southern delegation smiling, shaking hands and sitting down for dinner with him is significant.
They were aiming to capitalise on the reduced tensions after the Games, which saw the Koreas march together under a single flag.
The hope is that future formal talks will break the diplomatic standoff between the US and North Korea and persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, something it has fiercely resisted despite ever-increasing punitive sanctions.
The North’s KCNA news agency said Mr Kim had “warmly welcomed” the delegates and held an “openhearted talk” with them.
They passed on a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in in which he invited Mr Kim to attend further talks.
KCNA said Mr Kim had “exchanged views and made a satisfactory agreement” on the letter and gave orders for it to be acted on.
The dinner, which lasted four hours, also featured Ri Sol-ju, Mr Kim’s wife who rarely appears at official events, and his sister Kim Yo-jong, who was part of a North Korean delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics.
The South’s response to the apparently cordial meeting is likely to remain muted until the delegates return to Seoul.
Officials have stressed the talks were only preliminary, but the parties had “somewhat shared” views on some issues.
When asked whether nuclear disarmament had been discussed, a senior officials from Mr Moon’s office said “I assume so”, the Yonhap news agency reports.