North Korea

  • North Korea Opens Prison Camps For ‘Special Criminals’ Who Flout Covid Rules

    North Korean authorities have opened up prison camps for Covid flouters, calling them ‘special criminals’ – with some reportedly dying a day after being put there.

    The North Korean Workers’ Party has created a new policy which categorises those who break quarantine rules as ‘special criminals’, saying they are guilty of political crimes – despite claims that there has not been one case of the virus in the country.

    Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, has approved the camps, which so far have seen ‘greatly increasing’ numbers of quarantine violators, reports Daily NK.

    Credit: Shutterstock
    Credit: Shutterstock

    According to a source, a new prison camp was opened up in Hwachon which will accommodate the new category of criminal.

    But it was reported that this new camp ‘isn’t big, and it is managed by the Ministry of Social Security’.

    Areas in the South Pyongan Province have been created for the prisoners, known as Camp 17 – located in Kaechon, while Camp 18 is based less than 40km away in Pukchang.

    The North Korean source is reported to have said: “The authorities opened the facility in one of the coal mines where there used to be a worksite for the Hwachon Political Prison Camp.”

    Another site has also been opened, which is in the Sungho district of Hwachon-dong, North Hwanghae Province.

    Camp 26 was closed down in 1991 after it was reported that human rights abuses were regularly taking place at the facility. It was given a new title – the Sungho Disciplinary Labor Centre – and it might be used as a camp for anyone caught breaking quarantine rules.

    ​North Korea Admits Kim Jong-Un Can’t Bend Space And Time

    The North Korean source is reported to have said that these abuses are still taking place within the camp.

    They said: “Having opened a new prison, the authorities make an example of newly arrived prisoners by making them run in teams of seven after finishing work in the mine.

    Credit: PA
    Credit: PA

    “The excuse is to make them reflect on their crimes before the Fatherland.

    “If you pass out while running, they make you run more 10 times the amount of time you were on the ground.

    “In early December, six of 53 new prisoners died a day after entering the camp from cruel treatment.”

    Meanwhile, it was reported three weeks ago that someone was publicly executed after being caught breaking coronavirus rules and crossing the border to China.

    A source told the Mail Online: “They held a public execution by firing squad to threaten residents here in the border area, because there’s been a lot of contact with people on the other side of the border, including a lot of smuggling.”


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  • North Korea Fires Missile Days Before Resuming US Talks

    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, in a display of its expanding military capabilities hours after saying it would resume nuclear diplomacy with the United States this weekend.

    South Korean officials said the missile was fired from North Korea’s eastern waters, suggesting it may have been submarine-launched. But South Korean defense officials won’t officially disclose whether the missile was fired from a submarine, a barge or any other possible platform.

    North Korea having the ability to launch missiles from submarines would be alarming because such weapons are harder to detect in advance.

    According to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the missile flew about 450 kilometers (280 miles) at the maximum attitude of 910 kilometers (565 miles) before landing between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korean and U.S. authorities were analyzing more details of the launch.

    Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga earlier said the North fired two ballistic missiles from the country’s east coast, and one of them appeared to have landed inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. There were no reports of damage to Japanese vessels or aircraft, he said. The North had not fired a weapon that reached inside Japan’s EEZ since November 2017 at the height of an unusually provocative run in nuclear and missile tests.

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launches and said they violate U.N. resolutions against the North.

    “We will continue to cooperate with the U.S. and the international community and do the utmost to maintain and protect the safety of the people as we stay on alert,” Abe said.

    The launches, which were the North’s ninth round of weapons tests since late July, came hours after a senior North Korean diplomat said North Korea and the United States have agreed to resume working-level nuclear negotiations this weekend.

    After supervising a testing firing of what the North described as a “newly developed super-large multiple rocket launcher” last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was quoted by state media as saying that the system would require a “running fire test” to complete its development.

    North Korea could also be demonstrating its displeasure over South Korea displaying for the first time some of its newly purchased U.S.-made F-35 stealth fighter jets at its Armed Forces Day ceremony on Tuesday. The North has called the F-35 purchases a grave provocation that violate recent inter-Korean agreements aimed at lowering military tensions.

    Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies and a former military official who participated in inter-Korean military talks, said the North’s launch was clearly aimed at increasing pressure on Washington ahead of planned weekend talks where it might demand concessions on U.S.-led sanctions against its crippled economy.

    Nuclear negotiations halted following a February summit between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in Vietnam that broke down after the U.S. rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for partially surrendering its nuclear capabilities.

    North Korea’s subsequent belligerent rhetoric and recent short-range weapons tests have been seen as an attempt to gain leverage before resuming the negotiations.

    In a statement released through state media, Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs, said the two nations will have preliminary contact on Friday before holding working-level talks on Saturday. She did not say where it would take place.

    “It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-U.S. relations,” Choe said in the statement, using an abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

    State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, who is traveling with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Rome, said later she did not have further details to share about the meeting.

    Last month, North Korea praised Trump for suggesting Washington may pursue an unspecified “new method” in the negotiations. North Korea also has welcomed Trump’s decision to fire hawkish former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who advocated a “Libya model” of unilateral denuclearization as a template for North Korea.

    The 2004 disarmament of Libya is seen by North Korea as a deeply provocative comparison because Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed following U.S.-supported military action in his country seven years after giving up a rudimentary nuclear program that was far less advanced than North Korea’s.

    The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who lobbied hard to set up the first summit between Kim and Trump last year in Singapore, welcomed Choe’s announcement and expressed hope the resumed talks would result in “substantial progress” in denuclearization and peace.

    That could be a tall order. The diplomacy between Trump and Kim has been driven chiefly by their personalities rather than an established diplomatic process, and working-level meetings have fleshed out the logistics of summits without bringing the countries closer to any nuclear agreement.

    The stalemate of recent months has revealed fundamental differences. North Korea says it will never unilaterally surrender its nuclear weapons and missiles and insists that U.S.-led sanctions against it should be lifted first before any progress in negotiations. The Trump administration has vowed to maintain robust economic pressure until North Korea takes real steps toward full, verifiable denuclearization.

    Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said progress in working-level negotiations would depend on several factors, including whether Kim empowers his officials to negotiate concrete steps and whether the Trump administration embraces “a phased approach where summits and sanctions relief must be earned, but denuclearization is not decided all at once.”

    But there are doubts about whether Kim would ever voluntarily deal away an arsenal that he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.

    After their Singapore summit in June 2018, Trump and Kim issued a vague statement calling for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing how or when it would occur.

    The lack of substance and fruitless working-level talks set up the failure in Hanoi. Trump and Kim met for the third time at the inter-Korean border on June 30 and agreed that working-level talks between the countries should resume.


    Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report from Tokyo.


  • Australian Student Released in North Korea Says ‘I’m OK’

    CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian student released after a week in detention in North Korea described his condition to reporters in Beijing on Thursday as “very good,” without saying what happened.

    Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced to Parliament that Alek Sigley, 29, had been released hours earlier following intervention from Swedish diplomats on Wednesday, and had been taken to the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

    Sigley looked relaxed and gave a peace sign when he arrived at Beijing airport. He did not respond to reporters’ questions about what had happened in Pyongyang.

    “I’m OK, I’m OK, I’m good. I’m very good,” Sigley said. Asked how he was feeling, Sigley replied: “Great.”

    Australian student Alek Sigley arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Thursday, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

    His father, Gary Sigley, a professor of Asian studies at University of Western Australia, said his son would soon be reunited with his Japanese wife Yuka Morinaga in Tokyo.

    Later Thursday, Sigley entered the departure area at Beijing airport, apparently on his way to Tokyo.

    “He’s fine. He’s in very good spirits. He’s been treated well,” the father told reporters in his hometown of Perth.

    Sigley’s friend and fellow student of North Korea, University of Technology Sydney academic Bronwen Dalton, said she had recently spoken to Sigley’s wife, who was thrilled by the news.

    “We were jumping up and down and we love Sweden,” Dalton said.

    “He’s a fine, young, emerging Asian scholar, he is very applied to his studies. I really doubted whether he did actually anything wrong by the regime,” Dalton added.

    Swedish diplomats had raised concerns about Sigley with North Korean authorities in Pyongyang, where Australia does not have an embassy.

    Australian student Alek Sigley arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Thursday, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

    “Alek is safe and well. Swedish authorities advised the Australian government that they met with senior officials from the DPRK yesterday and raised the issue of Alek’s disappearance on Australia’s behalf,” Morrison said, using the official acronym for North Korea.

    Morrison thanked Swedish authorities for “their invaluable assistance in securing Alek’s prompt release.”

    “This outcome demonstrates the value of discrete behind-the-scenes work of officials in resolving complex and sensitive consular cases in close partnership with other governments,” Morrison said.

    In an interview with Swedish public radio Thursday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said she had been in contact with Australia and Sweden’s special envoy to North Korea, Kent Harstedt. She said Sweden had “raised the issue of this case at highest level” in North Korea and the release happened during Harstedt’s visit to Pyongyang.

    “Happy for the release of Australian citizen Alek Sigley today! Sweden has done its utmost to work for Mr Sigley under our bilateral agreement with Australia. Relieved that the situation was resolved,” Wallstrom tweeted. She also welcomed “Korean authorities’ rapid action in connection with the visit of Sweden’s special envoy for the Korean Peninsula,” according to the Swedish Foreign Ministry.

    President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the Swedish delegation led by Harstedt headed back home on Thursday after a four-day visit. The agency said the Swedes visited a stamp museum and shoe factory during their stay in the North, but made no mention of Sigley.

    The Pyongyang university student and tour guide had been out of contact with family and friends in Japan and Australia since Tuesday last week. He had been active in social media about his experiences in North Korea and had boasted about the extraordinary freedom he had been allowed as one of the few foreign students living in Pyongyang.

    Morrison’s announcement was the first confirmation that he had been detained.

    Morrison said he discussed Sigley’s disappearance with other world leaders attending the Group of 20 summit in Japan last week and accepted offers to find out what happened to him. Morrison had dined with President Donald Trump in Osaka but declined to say with whom he had discussed Sigley’s disappearance.

    North Korea has been accused in the past of detaining Westerners and using them as political pawns to gain concessions. Australia advises people to reconsider their need to travel to North Korea and warns that foreigners have been subject to arbitrary arrests and long detentions.

    Leonid Petrov, an Australian National University expert on North Korea and friend of Sigley, last week speculated that Sigley had been “deliberately cut off from means of communications” temporarily because Trump was in the region.

    Petrov said on Thursday that he had not been able to contact Sigley since he had been freed, but still suspected his disappearance was linked to Trump meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday.

    “It was as time of sensitivity in North Korea after the visit of (Chinese President Xi Jinping) and before the visit by Donald Trump,” Petrov said.

    “I expected this to happen a couple of days earlier, but it was a good thing to see the Swedish government delegation arrive on Monday just after the summit. It was the right time to be there,” Petrov added.


    Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.


  • Trump Open to Meeting North Korea’s Kim at DMZ

    A file photo of North Korean officers at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Image: Associated Press

    OSAKA, Japan — Eyeing a history-making photo opportunity, President Donald Trump on Saturday issued a Twitter invitation to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to join him for a hand shake during a visit to the demilitarized zone with South Korea.

    The invitation, while long rumored in diplomatic circles, still struck as an impulsive display of showmanship by a president bent on obtaining a legacy-defining nuclear accord. North Korea responded to offer by calling it a “very interesting suggestion.”

    Presidential visits to the DMZ are traditionally treated as carefully guarded secrets for security reason. And White House officials couldn’t immediately say whether Kim had agreed to meet with Trump. The president himself claimed he wasn’t even sure Kim was in North Korea to accept the invitation.

    “All I did is put out a feeler, if you’d like to meet,” Trump said later of the message to Kim. He added, somewhat implausibly, that “I just thought of it this morning.”

    President Donald Trump, walking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stops to ask a question after he arrived at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    Trump is scheduled to fly to South Korea later Saturday after he concludes meetings at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, including with the president of China. He told reporters during a breakfast with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that he would be visiting the heavily fortified area between the two Koreas.

    “We’re going there,” the president said.

    Shortly before the breakfast, Trump tweeted his invitation for Kim to meet him there. “If Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!” he wrote.

    It was not immediately clear what the agenda, if any, would be for the potential third Trump-Kim meeting. Trump predicted that, “If he’s there we’ll see each other for two minutes.” Still, such a spectacle would present a valuable propaganda victory for Kim, who, with his family, has long been denied the recognition they sought on the international stage.

    Despite Trump’s comments Saturday, he had told The Hill newspaper in an interview this week that he would be visiting the DMZ and said “he might” meet with Kim. The paper reported it had withheld Trump’s comments, citing security concerns by the White House.

    North Korea’s state media made no mention Saturday of a possible meeting between Trump and Kim. South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a tweet that Trump asked South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the G20 meetings whether he’d seen Trump’s Twitter message to Kim. When Moon replied he had, Trump said ”(Let’s) try doing it” and raised his thumb, the Blue House said.

    Trump’s summit with Kim in Vietnam earlier this year collapsed without an agreement for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. He became the first sitting U.S. president to meet with the leader of the isolated nation last year in Singapore, where they signed a broad agreement to bring the North toward denuclearization.

    Substantive talks between the two nations have largely broken down since then, as the North has balked at Trump’s insistence that it give up its weapons before it sees relief from crushing international sanctions.

    Still, Trump has sought to publicly heap praise on Kim, who oversees an authoritarian government, in hopes of keeping the prospects of a deal alive, and the two have traded flowery letters in recent weeks.

    Every president since Ronald Reagan has visited the 1953 armistice line, except for George H.W. Bush, who visited when he was vice president. The show of bravado and support for South Korea, one of America’s closest military allies, has evolved over the years to include binoculars and bomber jackets.

    Trump, ever the showman, appears to be looking to one-up his predecessors with a meeting with Kim.

    As he left the White House for Asia earlier this week, Trump was asked whether he’d meet with Kim while he is in the region.

    “I’ll be meeting with a lot of other people … but I may be speaking to him in a different form,” Trump said.

    Such trips to the demilitarized zone, the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea, are usually undertaken under heavy security and the utmost secrecy. Trump tried to visit the DMZ when he was in Seoul in November 2017, but his helicopter was grounded by heavy fog.

    Trump has staked his self-professed deal-making reputation on his rapprochement with the North and has even turned it into a campaign rallying cry. Trump has repeatedly alleged that if he had lost the 2016 presidential campaign, the U.S. would be “at war” with North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

    The meeting would come at a time of escalating tensions. While North Korea has not recently tested a long-range missile that could reach the U.S., it last month a fired off a series of short-range missiles. Trump has brushed off the significance of the tests, even as his own national security adviser, John Bolton, has said they violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.

    Trump also suggested Saturday that the North was prepared to turn over additional unidentified remains of unknown American and allied service-members. At least six Americans have been identified from 55 boxes of remains delivered by the North last year after Trump’s first meeting with Kim, but the Defense Department in May announced it was halting efforts to recover additional remains, citing a lack of cooperation from North Korea.


  • Reports Say North Korea Detains Aussie Student

    CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian government said Thursday it was “urgently seeking clarification” on reports that an Australian had been detained in North Korea, which the attorney-general described as a “matter of the utmost seriousness.”

    Media have identified the detained man as Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old university student in Pyongyang.

    Attorney-General Christian Porter, who is based in Sigley’s hometown of Perth, told Perth Radio 6PR: “It is a very unusual set of circumstances.”

    “This particular jurisdiction, most Australians’ common sense would tell them, makes this a matter of the utmost seriousness,” Porter said.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was providing consular assistance to the family of an Australian man who has been reported as being detained in North Korea, but did not confirm his identity.

    “The department is urgently seeking clarification. Owing to our privacy obligations, we will not provide further comment,” a department statement said.

    Sigley said on social media that he was studying Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University and ran guided tours through a travel company he founded, Tongil Tours.

    He told Australian Broadcasting Corp. two years ago that he wanted to break down negative stereotypes about the country.

    “If we thought it was unsafe, we would stop doing these tours,” Sigley said. “We wouldn’t be able to bear the moral and legal responsibility of bringing people to North Korea if it was dangerous.”

    Official media in North Korea haven’t mentioned the reported arrest.

    South Korean television station Channel A cited an unidentified source in reporting the arrest but the source told the network it wasn’t immediately clear why Sigley had been detained.

    Australia does not have an embassy in North Korea, but consular assistance can be provided to Australians by the Swedish Embassy on a limited basis.

    South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the country’s main spy agency, said it cannot confirm the report.

    In March this year, Sigley wrote for Guardian Australia about living in North Korea, saying that as a long-term foreign resident on a student visa he had “nearly unprecedented access to Pyongyang.”

    “I’m free to wander around the city, without anyone accompanying me,” he wrote. “Interaction with locals can be limited at times, but I can shop and dine almost anywhere I want.”


  • North Korea appears to have fired two missiles

    Weapons fired by North Korea Thursday appeared to be two separate missiles, the South’s military said, in what was Pyongyang’s second launch in less than a week.

    The North “fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles” from North Pyongan province, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, adding they flew 270 and 420 kilometres (170 and 260 miles) and the South Korean and US militaries were jointly analysing them.

    The firing of missiles welcomed a US envoy’s visit to Seoul by firing at least one projectile for the second time in a week Thursday, the South’s military said, as Pyongyang seeks to up the ante in deadlocked nuclear negotiations with Washington.

    The launch came after North Korea carried out a military drill and fired multiple projectiles on Saturday, with at least one believed to be a short-range missile.

    It was also hours after the US Special Representative on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, arrived in Seoul late Wednesday for talks with South Korean officials on the allies’ approach towards Pyongyang.

    It is Biegun’s first visit to Seoul since the Hanoi summit between US President Donald Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un collapsed without agreement on rolling back Pyongyang’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

    “We are still analysing whether it is a single or multiple projectiles,” Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Kim Joon-rak told AFP, adding the launch fired in an eastward direction appeared to originate from Sino-ri in North Pyongan province.

    The decades-old Sino-ri operational missile base, 75 kilometres (45 miles) northwest of Pyongyang, is one of North Korea’s longest-running missile facilities and houses a regiment-sized unit equipped with Nodong-1 medium-range ballistic missiles, according to the Centre for Strategic & International Studies.

    Anything fired from it in an easterly direction would have to cross the Korean peninsula before reaching the sea.

    Biegun met his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon for breakfast on Thursday but much of his schedule was not made public.

    The US envoy is due to meet the South’s foreign and unification ministers Friday as the security allies — Washington stations 28,500 troops in the South to defend it from its neighbour — work on their approach towards Pyongyang.

    With Thursday’s launch, said Hong Min, a senior researcher at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification, “North Korea is sending a clear message that it will not be satisfied with humanitarian aid” being considered by Seoul.

    “It is saying, ‘We want security guarantees in return for the denuclearisation process’,” he added.

    “Kim could have felt he needed to show a strong military posture to ease complaints following a joint South-US military drill last month.”

        – ‘Stop nonsense’ –

    A summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North’s Kim Jong Un a year ago triggered a rapid diplomatic thaw on the peninsula, paving the way for a historic first meeting between Kim and Trump.

    But their second summit in Vietnam in February broke up without an agreement or even a joint statement, and the North has since blamed Seoul for siding with Washington, leaving inter-Korean relations in limbo.

    But Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington have all refrained from calling Saturday’s launch a missile, which could jeopardise the ongoing diplomacy by violating UN Security Council resolutions as well as Kim’s promise of a freeze on long-range missile tests.

    The North has said Saturday’s drill involved multiple Pyongyang “long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons”.

    But experts say it launched at least one short-range missile during the exercise, with a report on the respected 38 North website suggesting that it was a “direct import” of a Russian-produced Iskander.

    “The debris generated by the launch in North Korea is a virtual match of a launch of Iskander conducted by Russia,” it said.

    If North Korea imported Iskanders from Russia, the report added, “it has an existing capacity to deliver warheads to targets in South Korea with great precision”.

    Pyongyang insisted earlier Thursday that Saturday’s “routine drill” was conducted within its own waters and added the “flying objects” did not pose any threat to the US, South Korea and Japan.

    “The firing of the intermediate- and long-range missile and the ICBM was not involved in it,” a spokesman for the North’s delegation for military talks with the South said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

    He condemned Seoul’s criticism of the launch, with KCNA’s headline reading: “S. Korean military authorities urged to stop nonsense”.

        – Visits fall –

    The number of South Koreans visiting the North has slumped this year with inter-Korean ties stalling, figures showed.

    All civilian communication between the two countries — which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended with an armistice instead of a peace treaty — is banned and South Koreans need government approvals to travel north.

    So far this year only 617 have been granted permission, the unification ministry said, little more than the monthly average during 2018, when a total of 6,689 Southern citizens went North to attend government meetings, sports games, cultural and reunions for families separated since the Korean War.

    “Due to domestic and foreign political events since the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi, it has decreased somewhat since last year,” the ministry said in a statement.

  • North Korea confirms Kim’s departure to China for summit

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is making a four-day trip to China, the North’s state media reported Tuesday, in what’s likely an effort by Kim to coordinate with his only major ally ahead of a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump that could happen early this year.

    Kim departed for China on Monday afternoon with his wife Ri Sol Ju and other top officials, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said. It said Kim is visiting China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

    South Korean media reported that Kim’s distinctive armored train was expected to reach Beijing on Tuesday morning, which happens to be Kim’s birthday.

    Kim’s trip comes after U.S. and North Korean officials reportedly met in Vietnam to discuss the location of a second summit between Kim and Trump as the two nations look to settle the North’s decades-long pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.

    Washington and Pyongyang seemed close to war at points during 2017 as the North staged a series of increasingly powerful weapons tests that got it tantalizingly close to its nuclear goal of one day targeting with pinpoint accuracy anywhere on the U.S. mainland

    Possibly fearing the effect on his country’s terrible economy of crushing outside sanctions imposed because of his weapons’ tests, Kim abruptly turned to diplomacy with Seoul and Washington last year. Three times he visited China, which is North Korea’s most important trading partner and a key buffer against pressure from Washington.

    But even after what was seen as a blockbuster summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore last June — the first-ever between the leaders of the war enemies — there’s been little real progress in nuclear disarmament.

    Washington is pressing the North to offer up a detailed accounting of its nuclear arsenal, while Pyongyang says it has already done enough and it’s time for the U.S. to ease harsh international sanctions that hold back the North Korean economy.

    Despite Trump’s repeated assurances that another summit will allow he and Kim to make a grand deal to settle the nuclear standoff and change a relationship marked by decades of animosity and mistrust, outside analysts are highly skeptical that the North will easily abandon a nuclear arsenal constructed in the face of deep poverty and likely seen by Kim as his only guarantee of regime survival.

  • N. Korea begins dismantling rocket test site: analysts

    North Korea has started dismantling some facilities at its main satellite launch station, seen as the testing ground for its intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to expert analysis of recent satellite images.


    If confirmed, the analysis by respected US-based website 38 North could signal a step forward after last month’s landmark summit between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, although some experts questioned the significance of the gesture.

    After the summit, Trump had declared the North Korean nuclear threat was effectively over, and US media reports suggest he is privately furious at the lack of any subsequent progress on the denuclearisation issue.

    His public statements, however, remain upbeat and the 38 North analysis came as the president pronounced himself “very happy” with the way talks were progressing with Pyongyang.

    Sohae, on the northwest coast of North Korea, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit, but rocket engines are easily repurposed for use in missiles and the international community has labelled Pyongyang’s space program a fig leaf for weapons tests.

    38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez called the move an “important first step” for Kim in fulfilling a promise that Trump said the North Korean leader made during their June summit in Singapore.

    Since Sohae is “believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence-building measure on the part of North Korea,” Bermudez said.

    Trump said in Singapore that Kim had committed to destroying a “major” missile engine test site, without specifying the site.

    Sohae has been the North’s primary rocket launch site since 2012, and some experts cautioned against reading too much into the work described in the 38 North analysis.

    Melissa Hanham, senior research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, said that while dismantling the engine test site was a “good move”, it amounted to “the bare minimum” that could be done at Sohae.

    “Unless they dismantle the whole site, it will remain North Korea’s premier location for space launches,” Hanham said on Twitter.

    “North Korea does not need the Sohae engine test stand anymore if it is confident in the engine design. As (Kim Jong Un) said himself, North Korea is moving from testing to mass production,” she said, adding that observers should look for signs of new sites where more missiles could be built.

    “We ignored North Korea too long, and now it’s about managing how many nuclear weapons and delivery systems they have, not IF they have them,” she said.

    A US defence official also downplayed the news, saying the Sohae site was not a priority in terms of monitoring the North’s denuclearisation efforts.

    “It’s not on the radar, so to speak,” the official said.

    In a sign of Washington’ impatience with what it sees as North Korean heel-dragging on the denuclearisation issue, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in New York last week urging UN member-states to keep tough economic sanctions in place to pressure Kim into moving forward.

    China and Russia have argued that North Korea should be rewarded with the prospect of eased sanctions for opening up dialogue with the United States and halting missile tests.

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