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Biegun holds second day of talks with N.Korean counterpart in Vietnam: media, By Colin Zwirko
Meetings come as both sides continue preparations for Wednesday’s summit in Hanoi
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun met his North Korean counterpart in Hanoi on Friday for the second day in a row, as the two sides step up preparations for the second U.S.-DPRK summit next week.
North Korean Special Representative for U.S. Affairs of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) Kim Hyok Chol was reported by various media on the scene to have traveled to Biegun’s hotel in Hanoi on Friday morning for the talks.
The discussions lasted from around 0900 until 1430 local time, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, based on reports of the participants’ movements at the Hotel du Parc where the talks were being held.
Both sides met again for another two hours of talks in the evening, Yonhap later reported.
Thursday’s talks – the first since both parties arrived in Vietnam – lasted around four-and-a-half hours.
Kim Hyok Chol was seen on his way to Friday’s meeting with fellow top official Kim Song Hye, head of the department of united front strategy at the United Front Department (UFD), and Choe Kang Il, acting head of the North American department with the foreign ministry.
Other North Korean officials in Hanoi to prepare for the summit include Pak Chol and Kim Jong Un’s chief secretary Kim Chang Son.
Neither side has released details regarding the precise topics of the marathon talks held Thursday and Friday, though the two sides are believed to be laying the parameters for President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s meetings and perhaps even an agreement expected to result from the February 27-28 summit.
A statement from the White House released just before Biegun and Kim met in Hanoi Friday, however, signaled that the U.S. hopes the summit will once again primarily focus on the topic of denuclearization.
“This summit aims to make further progress on the commitments the two leaders made in Singapore: transformed relations, a lasting and stable peace, and the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the White House statement read.
“The President has made clear that should North Korea follow through on its commitment to complete denuclearization, we will work to ensure there are economic development options,” it continued.
The statement did not mention the prospects for sanctions relief as a part of the summit agenda, but did praise the President for mobilizing an “international coalition” to implement “a maximum pressure campaign.”
“The President has called on all countries to comply with these sanctions,” it added.
Meanwhile, Biegun’s ROK counterpart Lee Do-hoon arrived in Hanoi Friday afternoon and is expected to meet Biegun and possibly others in the lead-up to next Wednesday’s summit.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, however, as of late Friday still does not appear to have departed his country for the summit by train, despite reports he is expected to arrive in Hanoi on Monday following a roughly 45-hour train journey through China.
North Korea committed to dismantling uranium, plutonium facilities: White House, By Hamish Macdonald
U.S. prepared to “mobilize investment, improve infrastructure, enhance food security, and more”
North Korea has committed to dismantling its uranium and plutonium processing facilities during prior discussions with the U.S., a “fact sheet” published by the White House on Thursday said.
While North Korea only agreed to “work towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in a declaration signed by Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018, U.S. officials had previously insisted publicly that additional commitments had been made.
The fact sheet, titled “President Trump Is Committed to Achieving Transformational Peace for the United States, the Korean Peninsula, and the World” recapped what it called “historic results” made by the Trump administration in diplomatically engaging North Korea.
“North Korea has not conducted a nuclear weapons or missile test in more than 400 days, and has committed to the dismantlement of plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities,” the fact sheet said.
While this appears to be the first occasion that the White House has officially stated that North Korea made such a commitment, the State Department’s Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Biegun made the same claim at an event hosted by Stanford University last month.
“Chairman Kim also committed, in both the joint statement from the aforementioned Pyongyang summit as well as during the Secretary of State’s October meetings in Pyongyang, to the dismantlement and destruction of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities,” Biegun said.
“This complex of sites that extends beyond Yongbyon represents the totality of North Korea’s plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment programs,” he added, though saying that the move was qualified as dependent on corresponding measures by the United States.
The Pyongyang summit held between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in September 2018 produced a joint declaration in which Yongbyon was mentioned, however, no concrete commitment appeared to have been made.
“The North expressed its willingness to continue to take additional measures, such as the permanent dismantlement of the nuclear facilities in Yeongbyeon, as the United States takes corresponding measures in accordance with the spirit of the June 12 US-DPRK Joint Statement,” the declaration reads.
Though, despite this claim, Biegun also admitted the U.S. and North Korea did not have a shared definition of denuclearization.
In addition to the claim, the fact sheet indicates that Trump is planning on offering substantial economic incentives and rewards to North Korea if progress is made on denuclearization.
“The President has made clear that should North Korea follow through on its commitment to complete denuclearization, we will work to ensure there are economic development options,” it read.
“The United States and partners are prepared to explore how to mobilize investment, improve infrastructure, enhance food security, and more in the DPRK. Robust economic development under Chairman Kim is at the core of President Trump’s vision for a bright future for United States–DPRK relations,” it added.
In an effort to promote progress made, however, the White House criticized others administrations for not curtailing the North’s nuclear programme despite offering economic incentives.
“Prior to President Trump, efforts to negotiate limits on the DPRK’s nuclear program failed, despite billions of dollars in payment under prior administrations,” it said.
The fact sheet was released in the lead up to the second summit between Trump and Kim, which is set to take place in Hanoi, Vietnam on February 27 and 28.
Trump withholding information on North Korea, congressmen claim, By Hamish Macdonald
Chairmen raise concerns about “disconnect” between intel community and administration on DPRK
The chairmen of three U.S. House of Representative committees urged President Donald Trump, in a letter published on Thursday, to stop withholding from Congress information pertaining to North Korea and current negotiations with the DPRK.
The letter, signed by Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel, the Chairman House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith, and the Chairman House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Adam Schiff comes just one week before Trump is set to stage a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam.
“It is unacceptable that the administration is planning for a second meeting with Chairman Kim before Congress has been briefed by Secretary Pompeo on the June 2018 Singapore Summit,” the letter read.
“There is no legitimate reason for having failed to provide regular, senior-level briefings to the relevant committees of jurisdiction on a matter of such significance to our national security,” it added.
The three congressmen requested, in the letter CC’d to Pompeo, that the Secretary of State brief all House members on the outcomes of both summits within one week of the second summit’s conclusion.
They further added their deep concern “about the lack of transparency to Congress on intelligence matters related to North Korea” and cited letters sent by the congressmen previously which complained of insufficient congressional notifications from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“In our letter – to which we have yet to receive a response – we asked that access to information regarding North Korea’s nuclear and conventional weapons programs be restored for Members and appropriately cleared staff, as had been the case previously,” it said.
“On the eve of the second summit, we once again insist that you lift the access restrictions, which severely hamper Congress’s ability to evaluate the threat posed by North Korea,” it added.
Additionally, the committee Chairmen raised concerns about perceived differences between the administration’s assessment on the DPRK and that of the intelligence community.
“We are perplexed and troubled by the growing disconnect between the Intelligence Community’s assessment and your administration’s statements about Kim Jong Un’s actions, commitments, and intentions,” the letter read.
“Furthermore, our ability to conduct oversight of U.S. policy toward North Korea on behalf of the American people has been inappropriately curtailed by your administration’s unwillingness to share information with Congress,” it added.
In the letter, the congressmen cited testimony by the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats as well as separate testimony by the Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), Admiral Phil Davidson.
Coats testified to a U.S. Senate Select Committee on January 29 that the intelligence community assessed North Korea was unlikely to denuclearize and that signs had been observed throughout 2018 that were “inconsistent with full denuclearization”.
“We continue to assess that North Korea is unlikely to give up all of its nuclear weapons and production capabilities, even as it seeks to negotiate partial denuclearization steps to obtain key U.S. and international concessions,” Coats said.
Davidson echoed this assessment on February 12 in testimony given ay a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services.
“We think it is unlikely that North Korea will give up all of its nuclear weapons or production capabilities, but seeks to negotiate partial denuclearization in exchange for U.S. and international concessions,” Davidson said.
“These assessments are alarming for what they indicate about Kim Jong Un’s intentions, and they are also inconsistent with your own statements, including your declaration that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat to the United States,” Engel, Smith, and Schiff wrote on Thursday to the President.
In addition to Trump and Pompeo, Coats and the Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan were also included in the letter.
U.S. will maintain sanctions until risk from North Korea “substantially reduced”, By Leo Byrne
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicates potentially softer stance on sanctions
U.S. Secretary of Mike Pompeo on Thursday said sanctions against North Korea would not be lifted until the risk from its weapons programs is “substantially reduced.”
Pompeo’s comments come a week before the second summit between DPRK leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam.
“I don’t want to get into the negotiations, what we might give up, what they might give up,” Pompeo said during an interview with NBC today.
“But the American people should know we have the toughest economic sanctions that have ever been placed on North Korea, and we won’t release that pressure until such time as we’re confident that we’ve substantially reduced that risk.”
The secretary of state’s comments appear to continue a trend of softer messaging on sanctions from high-level staffers in Washington, who previously claimed that there would no sanctions relief until North Korea denuclearized.
In September last year, Pompeo clashed with other members of the UN Security Council over sanctions policy, telling the assembled diplomats that there would be no sanctions relief until North Korea’s “full, final, verified denuclearization.”
Trump and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton have also previously indicated sanctions could be rolled back in exchange for something “meaningful” and “a significant sign of a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons.”
Pompeo also recently said that international restrictions against the DPRK could be relaxed in exchange for a “good outcome”, though also added that Washington would need to “verify” North Korea’s actions.
The U.S. Department of State did not elaborate on the apparent difference in messaging.
During the NBC interview, Pompeo added that Washington’s goal remained the complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea, and that the U.S. would not compromise on it.
“(Denuclearization is) what we need to get for the American people. To keep the American people safe, we have to reduce the threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea, and then, in turn, we can work on peace and security on the peninsula and a brighter future for the North Korean people.”
Speaking to another media outlet later in the day, Pompeo also denied that Trump was “ratcheting down expectations” on progress with the DPRK, citing a lack of missile and nuclear tests and ongoing meetings with North Korea.
“Real progress being made. And now the two leaders – goodness, a week or so from now, the 27th and 28th – will be together on the ground in Hanoi, and I hope we can make real progress, that Chairman Kim will begin to fulfill the commitment he made in June in Singapore of last year to denuclearize his own country,” Pompeo told the Fox Business Network.
Why, at the second Kim-Trump summit, optics could matter just as much as outcomes, By Oliver Hotham
For two such image-conscious leaders, the photo-ops are just as important as the joint statement
A second summit between DPRK leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump looms. With just days to go until the two leaders meet in Hanoi, DPRK watchers and pundits are scrambling to make predictions about what to expect from the talks and what kind of new relationship might emerge.
But beyond talk of sanctions relief, nuclear concessions, and end of war declarations, almost just as important will be the optics of the summit: the photo-ops, the tours of the city, the post-meeting press conferences (should they take place), and, of course, the all-important first handshake.
This is especially true for two such image-conscious leaders.
President Trump is known for his love of showmanship, with decades of experience in reality TV and advertising selling his love of the over-the-top luxury lifestyle.
Kim Jong Un, too, has spent the last few years shoring up his rule through a not-so-subtle domestic propaganda push.
In contrast to his reclusive father, Kim the youngest has since he came to power sought to portray himself as a family man with the people’s livelihood in mind, smiling and laughing with officials and expressing regret at past mistakes.
Kim has also, since last year, reveled in his new role as an international statesman – with nine summits now under his belt, North Korean propagandists have delighted in producing long documentaries detailing his travels and foreign leaders who have paid tribute to his leadership.
All this – as well as both sides’ need to sell the Hanoi summit as a greater success than last year’s Singapore meeting – make optics all-important, experts say.
“President Trump is not one to pass up on the opportunity for grandiosity and drama,” says Soo Kim, a former North Korea analyst for the CIA. “Kim will also benefit to burnish his image as a ‘normal,’ peace-embracing leader through this second meeting with Trump.”
“We ought to be concerned that whereas Kim will remain unwaveringly focused on his goal, Trump may mistake good theatrics for progress in nuclear talks, slip, and extend a concession to Kim.”
CONCRETE STEPS FORWARD?
All this talk of diplomatic theater is, of course, anathema to what many experts want from the summit, and speaks to a shallow process in which success is defined not by tangible outcomes but by pithy photo-ops.
“We should be cautious that even the smallest, most benign theatrics take away from the gravity of the issue under contention,” warns Soo Kim. “Perhaps this is what both leaders want.”
One source with extensive knowledge of North Korean propaganda but who asked not to be named agrees, telling NK News that “optics are more important than outcome, for both sides.”
The Trump administration’s goals appear to have shifted in recent months: from last year’s calls for full denuclearization to 2019’s more pragmatic about-face, it’s clear that Washington is increasingly conscious it may have to settle for something less substantial.
This, the source says, means that the Trump administration can paint even minor concessions as a diplomatic victory.
“As long as Trump can work in some kind of language … that would enable him to say he removed North Korea’s ICBM threat and thanks to him, North Korea is on a path toward becoming a responsible member of the international community by implementing economic reform, I would say Trump would be able to spin the summit as a success,” they say.
Pyongyang’s considerations are even less reliant on major progress, the source says, arguing that Pyongyang will be able to paint the second U.S.-DPRK summit as a success “regardless of the actual outcome.”
But in many ways, one expert points out, both sides have already declared the meeting a success.
“President Trump and Kim have already been crafting a narrative of success in advance of the summit in Hanoi,” says Jung Pak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“Of course, optics are important. But there’s the risk of President Trump painting himself into a corner, if he hasn’t already, getting more and more invested in the positive optics of summitry rather than substance.”
Blame game: What’s causing so many delays on inter-Korean projects? By Chad O’Carroll and Dagyum Ji
Confusion on how to interpret UNSC sanctions may be at root of recent issues
While hundreds of trucks and tourists flow across the China-DPRK border unhindered every day, the road of inter-Korean exchange has faced some surprising bumps and barriers in 2019 best illustrated by two key recent examples.
Firstly, what should have been a straightforward January delivery of Tamiflu medication to help North Koreans through the freezing Winter season remains stuck in South Korea.
This is despite the fact that humanitarian exemptions have long existed within the North Korea sanctions regime to facilitate such deliveries.
Secondly, South Korean Journalists reporting on a belated New Years event in the North Korean resort of Mount Kumgang were – in February – barred from bringing cameras and laptops across the inter-Korean border.
This is despite a likely established precedence, as it would have been hard to imagine reporters covering the demolition of the Punggye-ri nuclear site without laptops and cameras in 2018.
So what exactly is going on and why are these seemingly mundane issues causing such problems now?
Not only is the matter complicated, but the answers also depend on who you ask. And though these obstacles have received little press attention outside of South Korea, they’re fundamental for understanding a dynamic fraught with confusion and one which could create major future problems for inter-Korean cooperation.
POINTING THE FINGER
In both cases involving the Tamiflu deliveries and equipment in possession of the journalists, South Korean citizens and cargoes would have to cross the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) separating the two Koreas.
This, consequently, has unique implications which do not exist on North Korea’s borders with either China or Russia, namely that a third party also plays a role in determining what can cross the border: the United Nations Command (UNC).
How, then, is a decision made as to whether or not an activity, person or cargo going to North Korea over the MDL breaches UN sanctions?
“When South Korean nationals visit North Korea, relevant divisions within the Ministry of Unification approve the inbound and outbound of items according to the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act,” an MOU spokesperson told NK News.
The ministry then “examines whether there are items that are subject to the international sanctions including that of the United Nations”.
But the process doesn’t stop there when the items cross the MDL as the U.S.-led UNC also has authority over the area and requires additional sanctions verification processes.
“We will check with United Nations Command folks and their Secretariat,” a spokesperson for U.S. Forces Korea / UNC told NK News. “They receive the official requests to cross, process and are involved.”
As a result, close coordination between the U.S. and ROK is logically required for many inter-Korean activities, and that’s precisely where issues have recently come to the fore.
On Tamiflu, question marks on what, exactly, South Korean authorities were intending to send along with the medicine appear to be at the core of the problem.
The MOU said on January 8 that Seoul had approved a bill to provide Tamiflu to North Korea and that it planned to deliver the goods “in the near future” after consultation with Pyongyang.
The decision was finalized less than three weeks after the Trump administration reportedly gave a green light for South Korea to provide the Tamiflu at the second face-to-face meeting of the ROK-U.S. working group on December 21.
But less than two days later the MOU said the delivery of 200,000 doses of the medicine and 50,000 sets of early medical detection kits – which would have required UNC authorization to cross the MDL – would be “delayed a little”.
With the issue is still unresolved, the MOU on January 25 said that plans had been postponed further due to an “issue of technology and practical preparation,” prompting South Korean media to speculate that problems with the UNC – which last August controversially blocked an inter-Korean rail survey – may have been causing the delay.
Shinzo Abe’s legacy building in the age of the new-look North Korea, By Marco Milani and Markus Bell
Japan’s Prime Minister faces dilemma over domestic agenda and changes on Korean Peninsula
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe survived a 2018 marked by scandal, corruption and political isolation to win re-election as leader of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party. With the stage set for Abe to lead the country until 2021, he stands to become the longest-serving Prime Minister in Japanese history.
Secure in the knowledge that he will not have to contest future elections, Abe now looks to shaping his political legacy. Domestically, the Japanese leader is well positioned to achieve his long-prized goal of reforming the Japanese Constitution, aimed at the re-appropriation of the military as an instrument of foreign policy.
But succeeding at home requires Abe succeed overseas. An ongoing U.S.-China trade war and deteriorating relations with South Korea means that Abe is going to have his hands full. At the top of the list of his 2019 foreign policy priorities will surely be North Korea.
Fire, fury, and missed opportunities
2017 was the year of ‘fire and fury’ and Japan was well positioned to benefit from the rhetorical and security escalations in East Asia. North Korean missile launches and nuclear tests provided a means for consolidating domestic support for his proposed constitutional revision of Article 9, to make Japan a ‘normal’ country again. As the U.S. and North Korea traded barbs, Abe rushed to support the Trump administration’s hard-line approach.
But the winds changed in the year that followed, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un went from bond villain to international statesman. North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, three meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a further three with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, and a much feted Trump-Kim summit gave hope for shifting the discourse on East Asia from impending war to peace and reconciliation.
Japan has not been party to the historic meetings. Conspicuous in its absence, Tokyo has been diplomatically isolated, confounded by what analysts have labelled ‘Japan’s North Korea dilemma’. In short, Abe has refused to engage with North Korea until Kim Jong Un resolves North Korea’s 1970s abductions of Japanese citizens.
If Japan’s Prime Minister stands fast on this issue, he risks missing the chance to participate in reshaping the geo-political landscape of East Asia. But if he changes tact, he puts himself at the mercy of a capricious North Korea.
If Tokyo and Pyongyang are to restart a dialogue, Abe needs to navigate deeply entrenched animosities between the two countries, a lack of a coherent strategy towards North Korea, and the realization that Japan has little to offer Pyongyang, short of a normalization of relations. He risks wasting significant political capital in a diplomatic volley that could alienate his voter base.
History shaping foreign policy
2018 may have been the year of a smiling Kim Jong Un, but not everyone has been convinced by the new-look North Korea. Citing a history of duplicity, Japan is reticent to join the international community in lauding a mainstream North Korea. Japan’s refusal to soften its stance has been matched by claims in North Korean state media that Japan is “Trying to free-ride on the winds of peace”.
Inter-state frictions between Japan and North Korea have their roots in two unsettled events: Japan’s imperial expansion and North Korea’s abduction project.
Japan and South Korea normalized diplomatic relations with the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations, which also addressed the damages of Japan’s (1910-1945) colonization of the Korean Peninsula. There have been no such reparations and normalization of relations between North Korea and Japan. Instead, memories of colonization are fresh in the minds of North Koreans, deployed by the government to justify its hostility towards outside powers and used to keep its citizenry on a war-ready footing.
Anti-Japanese sentiment in North Korea is mirrored in Japan. Hate speech groups react to North Korean provocations by attacking the country’s ethnic Korean community. In 2002, for example, Pyongyang’s admission that North Korean agents had kidnapped Japanese citizens galvanized Japanese conservatives and contributed to propelling Abe into power. Buoyed by the electoral benefits of anti-Korean feelings, Tokyo has been slow to legislate on anti-Korean racism.
Recent events have shifted in Kim’s favor. Knowing that it holds all the cards, Pyongyang is unlikely to make things easy on its old foe.