South Korea To Play ‘Mediator’ At North Korea- US Summit

South Korea is said to be the mediator between the U.S and North Korea after Pyongyang threatened to pull out of an unprecedented summit between its leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore.

North Korea on Wednesday said it might not attend the summit if Washington continues to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal.

Japan’s Asahi newspaper on Thursday reported the United States has demanded North Korea ship some nuclear warheads, an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and other nuclear material overseas within six months.

The newspaper, citing several sources familiar with North Korean issues, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to have told the North Korean leader when they met this month that Pyongyang might be removed from a list of state sponsors of terrorism if it ships out those nuclear items.

The Asahi also reported that if Pyongyang agrees to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation at the planned Singapore summit, Washington was considering giving guarantees for Kim’s regime.

Doubts over the U.S.-North Korea summit arose on Wednesday when Pyongyang denounced U.S.-South Korean military exercises as a provocation and called off high-level talks with Seoul.

Trump has said it is unclear whether the summit will go ahead but he would continue to insist on denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House said it would seek to bridge the gap between the Washington and Pyongyang.

A Blue House official said the South Korean government or President Moon Jae-in intends to more actively perform “the role of a mediator” between South Korea, the U. S. and North Korea.

Trump will host South Korean President Moon at a summit at the White House on May 22, and the two are expected to discuss the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit.

The official said the Blue House intends to “sufficiently convey (to the U. S.) what we’ve discerned about North Korea’s position and attitude… and sufficiently convey the United States’ position to North Korea,” thereby helping to bridge the gap between their positions.

“Seeing the announced statements and responses from North Korea and the U. S., we see the two parties as having a sincere and serious attitude (to stand in each other’s shoes),” the official said.

South Korea intends to continue discussions with North Korea to hold high-level talks North Korea canceled on Wednesday, Blue House said in a separate statement on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Thursday the measures North Korea has taken to ease tension on the Korean peninsula should be acknowledged, and all other parties, especially the U. S., should cherish the opportunity for peace.

Cancellation of the summit, the first between U.S. and North Korean leaders, would deal a major blow to what would be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency.

This comes at a time when his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has drawn criticism internationally and his move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has fueled deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border.

North And South Korea Leaders To Meet For Summit

South Korea has announced that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a border village on April 27.

According to reports this meeting is coming after the nations agreed on a rare summit that could prove significant in global efforts to resolve a decades-long standoff over the North’s nuclear program.

The announcement was made after officials met at the border village of Panmunjom. Few other details were immediately released, but the Koreas plan to hold another preparatory meeting on April 4 to discuss protocol, security and media coverage issues.

The leaders of the two Koreas have held talks only twice since the 1950-53 Korean War, in 2000 and 2007, under previous liberal governments in Seoul. The Korean Peninsula was divided in 1945 into a US-dominated south and Soviet-backed north.

Seoul’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, one of the three South Korean participants in today’s talks, told reporters beforehand that setting up discussions between the leaders on ways to rid the North of its nuclear weapons would be a critical point. The North’s three delegates were led by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of a state agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs.

The South’s delegation arrived in Panmunjom after their vehicles crossed the heavily guarded border near the southern city of Paju.Greeting the South Korean officials at the North Korea-controlled Tongilgak building, Ri said that the past 80 days have been filled with “unprecedented historic events” between the rivals, referring to the Koreas resuming dialogue before the Winter Olympics in the South and the agreement on the summit. He expressed hopes for an outcome that would meet the “hope and desire of the nation.”

Cho, in response, said officials in the preparatory talks should do their best to set up a successful summit as the “current situation was created by decisions from the highest leaders of the North and South.”

The talks follow a surprise meeting this week between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which appeared to be aimed at improving both countries’ positions ahead of Kim’s planned meetings with Moon and President Donald Trump.

In setting up separate talks with Beijing, Seoul, Washington, and potentially with Moscow and Tokyo, North Korea may be moving to disrupt any united front among its negotiating counterparts.

By reintroducing China, which is the North’s only major ally, as a major player, North Korea also gains leverage against South Korea and the United States, analysts say.

In his talks with Xi, Kim may have discussed economic cooperation with China or requested a softening of enforcement of sanctions over the North’s nukes and missiles. North Korea also wants Beijing to resist tougher sanctions if the talks with Washington and Seoul fall apart and the North starts testing missiles again.

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi is spending two days in Seoul brefing South Korean officials on the results of the talks between Kim and Xi.

Yang is expected to meet Seoul’s presidential national security director Chung Eui-yong on Thursday before meeting President Moon on Friday. Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom in a statement said Seoul welcomes the meeting between Kim and Trump and called it an encouraging sign that Kim expressed a firm willingness for dialogue with South Korea and the United States during his visit to Beijing.North Korea has yet to officially confirm its interest in a summit between Kim and Trump.

In its coverage of the Kim-Xi meeting, the North’s state media didn’t carry Kim’s reported comments about opening dialogue with the United States that were carried in Chinese state media.It’s unclear whether the leaders’ meetings could lead to any meaningful breakthrough.

The North’s diplomatic outreach comes after an unusually provocative year where it conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date and three intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to target the US mainland.

The change in tactics could be an attempt to ease pressure from heavy sanctions and improve its economy.

Washington and Seoul have said Kim previously told South Korean envoys that he was willing to put his nukes up for negotiation in his talks with Trump. However, the North has yet to officially confirm its interest in a summit between Kim and Trump.

There’s deep skepticism among some analysts that the North, after years of dogged weapons development, will commit to real denuclearization and then agree to a robust verification regime.

North Korea over the past two decades has been repeatedly accused of using disarmament talks as a way to ease outside pressure and win badly needed aid, while all along secretly pushing ahead with its weapons development.

The Koreas agreed to a summit when Moon’s envoys visited Kim in Pyongyang earlier this month.

The meeting followed a sudden period of inter-Korean warmth over February’s Winter Olympics in the South, where the North sent hundreds of officials, including Kim’s sister who met with Moon to deliver his brother’s desire for a summit.Using a subsequent visit to the United States, Moon’s envoys also brokered a potential meeting between Kim and Trump, who said he would meet the North Korean leader “by May.”

The planned summit between Moon and Kim will be preceded by performances of South Korean pop singers in North Korea this Sunday and Tuesday.

About 70 South Korean officials and technicians flew to Pyongyang on Thursday to set up the performance equipment. The South Korean artists performing in the North will include some of the country’s most popular pop singers, including Cho Yong-pil, who performed in Pyongyang during a previous era of detente, and girl band Red Velvet.

 

North Korean Leader Meets South Korean Government Officials

According to North Korea’s Official news agency, its leader Kim Jong Un has met with senior South Korean government officials for the first time and said it is his “firm will to vigorously advance” inter-Korean ties and pursue reunification.

The National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong lead the 10-member South Korean delegation to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Monday in hopes of encouraging North Korea and the U. S. to talk to one another.

Washington and Pyongyang have been at loggerheads for months over the North’s nuclear and missile programs, with U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un trading insults and threatening war.

Tensions between the two Koreas eased during the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea, where President Moon Jae-In hosted a high-level North Korean delegation. Kim Jong Un invited Moon to North Korea for a summit, which Moon said the two sides should work towards.

“Hearing the intention of President Moon Jae In for a summit from the special envoy of the south side, (Kim Jong Un) exchanged views and made a satisfactory agreement,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said of the meeting.

The agency did not provide details on what that agreement was but an official from the presidential Blue House in Seoul said it partially addressed the summit offer made by the North.

North Korea has been developing nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the U. S. but Pyongyang and Washington both say they want a diplomatic solution.

Seoul’s delegation met Kim Jong Un, his sister Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s wife and other officials on Monday, said Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for the South’s presidential office. Kim Yo Jong attended the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in February.

The delegation will wrap up a two-day trip to Pyongyang later on Tuesday after another meeting with North Korean officials, the spokesman said.

Blue House officials could not confirm whether Kim Jong Un would be present at Tuesday’s meeting.

Chung said in Seoul before leaving on Monday his team would deliver the South Korean president’s wish to bring about denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and permanent peace.

Kim Jong Un gave orders for “practical steps” regarding the letter from Moon that was delivered to him by the delegation, KCNA said without elaborating.

“He also made an exchange of in-depth views on the issues for easing the acute military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange,” the report said.

Both North Korea and the United States have said they are open to talks but the U.S. position has been that dialogue must be aimed at North Korea’s denuclearisation, something Pyongyang has rejected.

Moon has also remained vigilant against North Korea’s weapons ambitions, saying on Tuesday South Korea should bolster its defenses in tandem with talks with Pyongyang.

The Pentagon has nevertheless said it was “cautiously optimistic” about the North-South talks, which resumed in January for the first time in two years.

North Korea has vowed never to give up what it calls an essential deterrent against U.S. hostility. Pyongyang has not carried out any nuclear or missile tests since November.

Although the North is carrying out annual winter military exercises, it has not engaged in unusual behavior, according to South Korea’s defence ministry.

The Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, 38 North, said satellite images indicated North Korea’s main nuclear reactor may be operating, meaning that it had resumed production of plutonium, presumably for its nuclear weapons program.

Steam plumes were observed from the reactor in images from Feb. 17 and Feb. 25 and such vapor plumes had “generally been a useful indicator of reactor operations”, 38 North said in a report on Monday.

However, the report said no cooling water discharges had been observed.

That could mean the plumes were unrelated to reactor operations, or that the discharge pipeline had been extended into a nearby river in an attempt to disguise activity.

“The presence of ice melt on the river supports the conclusion that the reactor is indeed operating and that the outfall pipeline has been extended,” it said.

 

North Korea To Send Athletes To Paralympic Games In South Korea

Following North Korea’s first visit to South Korea during the Winter Olympics, it seems that the tension between the two countries might have reduced as it is been reported that North Korea plans to send athletes to compete in next month’s Paralympic Games in South Korea.

Now, officials from North and South Korea met on Tuesday at a village along the heavily-fortified border to discuss logistics for the Paralympics, which begin on March 8.

The Winter Games was held in PyeongChang in South Korea from Feb. 9 to Feb. 25 with North Korea participating for the first time.

South Korean leaders see Pyongyang’s participation in the Games as key to lowering tensions on the peninsula and possibly leading to diplomatic negotiations over the North’s nuclear programme.

The 2018 Winter Paralympics, officially known as the XII Paralympic Winter Games, and commonly known as the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics, is an international winter multi-sport event for athletes with disabilities.

 

United States, South Korea Korea To Go Ahead With Olympic-Delayed Drills

The United States and South Korea will go ahead with joint military drills after the Paralympics, both of them confirmed Tuesday, despite the exercises always infuriating Pyongyang and the Olympics having driven a rapprochement on the peninsula.

Washington previously agreed to a request from Seoul to delay the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises — which usually begin in late February or early March — until after the Pyeongchang Games in the South, to try to avoid stoking tensions.

The Olympics have since seen a charm offensive by Pyongyang, which dispatched athletes, cheerleaders and its leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong to attend the Games.

She passed on Kim Jong Un’s invitation to the South’s President Moon Jae-in to come to a summit in Pyongyang — which he did not immediately accept, saying the right conditions were needed first.

Analysts say the Games-driven bonhomie on the peninsula may not last long once the sporting festivals are over, particularly once Key Resolve, a command post drill, and the Foal Eagle theatre-level field exercise begin.

The start date will be announced by the two allies between the end of the Paralympics on March 18 and the beginning of April, Seoul’s defence minister Song Young-moo was quoted as telling the National Assembly by a ministry spokesman.

A US Forces Korea spokesman confirmed the position to AFP. “The date for the postponed exercises — Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — will be announced after the Paralympics,” he said. “The exercises have been postponed, not scrapped.”

General Vincent K. Brooks, who commands the 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea, last week told the US House Armed Services Committee that joint drills were “essential” to “deter North Korean aggression”.

Military tensions often run high during the exercises, with the North carrying out its own counter-drills against what it condemns as rehearsals for a war.

Pyongyang says it needs its nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion by the US.

The North’s KCNA news agency on Monday accused the US of seeking to torpedo the reconciliatory mood by resuming the exercises.

“Trump and his clique are racketeering to nip peace in the bud that started sprouting on the Korean peninsula,” KCNA said in a commentary.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has previously said the drills would go ahead after the end of the Paralympics.

AFP

South Korea’s Moon Urges ‘Stern’ Response To New United States Tariffs

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called Monday for a “stern” response to new US tariffs on the South’s exports as concern grew over looming trade restrictions by Washington.

US President Donald Trump last week threatened retaliatory action against China and South Korea and vowed to revise or scrap a 2012 free trade deal with the South which he described as a “disaster”.

Trump also put his “America First” doctrine into action last month by imposing duties of 20 to 50 percent on large washing machines made in nations including the South, as well as tariffs on solar panels imported from China and elsewhere.

Seoul has said it would take the issue to the World Trade Organization while Beijing expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the move, adopted to protect US manufacturers.

The trade frictions have strained ties at a time when Seoul and Washington are seeking to present a united front against North Korea’s nuclear threat.

Moon, at a meeting with aides, expressed concern over “intensifying protectionism” that may take a toll on the South’s export-reliant economy — also the world’s 11th largest.

“I am concerned that widening restrictions by the US on our exports, including steel, electronics, solar panels and washing machines, may take a toll on the exports despite their global competitiveness,” he said.

“I’d like (officials) to respond to unreasonable protectionist measures in a confident and stern manner by… reviewing whether the measures violate the current Korea-US free trade pact,” he said.

Moon also urged officials to “actively argue the unfairness” of the tariffs when renegotiating the bilateral free trade deal.

Moon’s comments also came days after the US Commerce Department recommended hefty new tariffs on steel imports from countries including the South.

The US trade deficit — which Trump has vowed repeatedly to fix — widened even further during his first year in office, up 12 percent to $566 billion.

The Trump administration last July initiated talks to renegotiate the free trade pact with Seoul, arguing it was lopsided because America’s bilateral trade deficit had ballooned under it.

Two previous rounds of talks made little progress and Seoul’s chief trade negotiator Kim Hyun-chong said at the time there was “a long way to go”.

The next round of negotiations is scheduled in Washington next month.

AFP

Kim Jong’s Sister Lands In South Korea Ahead Of Winter Olympics

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister has landed in South Korea ahead of the Olympics.

Kim Yo Jong is the first member of Pyongyang’s ruling dynasty to set foot in its rival since the Korean War.

Yo Jong was also part of a high-level diplomatic delegation led by the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam — its highest-level official ever to go to the South — as the Winter Olympics trigger a diplomatic rapprochement between the rivals.

Their white Ilyushin-62 jet, marked in Korean script “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, the North’s official name, and its tailfin emblazoned with a Northern emblem, touched down at Incheon airport near Seoul.

The last member of the Kim family to set foot in Seoul was Yo Jong’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder, after his forces invaded in 1950 and the capital fell.

Three years later the conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula divided by the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, and the two sides technically in a state of war.

Now the North is subject to multiple rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, while the democratic South has risen to become the world’s 11th-largest economy.

Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong, both of them in dark coats with fur collars, were met by the South’s unification minister and other officials, exchanging pleasantries about the cold weather.

The leader’s sister looked relaxed, smiling calmly as she talked with them, before making her way through the terminal, with four bodyguards surrounding her closely, to take a high-speed train to the Winter Olympics host Pyeongchang.

The delegation’s trip is the diplomatic high point of a Games-driven rapprochement between the two Koreas, with dovish South Korean President Moon Jae-in pushing a “peace Olympics” that will open a door for dialogue to alleviate tensions and seek to persuade Pyongyang to give up its atomic ambitions.

Kim Yong Nam was due to attend a leaders’ reception on Friday ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony along with US Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, both of whose countries the North regularly threatens.

And Moon is scheduled to have lunch with the Pyongyang delegation on Saturday.

But all eyes are on Yo Jong — a key member of the Kim dynasty that has ruled the impoverished, isolated nation with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult over three generations.

The family are revered in the North as the “Paektu bloodline”, named after the country’s highest mountain and supposed birthplace of the late leader Kim Jong Il.

Many analysts suggest Yo Jong may be carrying a personal message to Moon from her brother.

 

6.3 Earthquake Hits North Korea Near Known Nuclear Site

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake has struck North Korea near a known nuclear test site – Punggye-ri. The Japanese Foreign Ministry claims that according to its data, “it was a nuclear test.”

 

“After examining the data we concluded that it was a nuclear tests,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono said at a briefing following a meeting of Japan’s National Security Council, Reuters reports.

North Korea’s state television said it would carry an important announcement at 06:30 GMT.

An allegedly artificial quake was detected at 12:36pm in North Hamgyeong Province, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), Yonhap reports.

“Today, at around 12:36pm, we detected an artificial earthquake measuring 6.3 magnitude… we are analyzing whether a nuclear test was conducted,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, according to Yonhap.

The USGS reported the tremor as a 6.3 magnitude, while China’s earthquake administration also said it detected a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in northeastern North Korea, calling it a “suspected explosion,” Reuters reported.

South Korean scientists say the possible explosion was far more powerful than previous tremors recorded after Pyongyang’s tests.

“The power is 10 or 20 times or even more than previous ones,”Kune Y. Suh, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University, said, as quoted by Reuters. “That scale is to the level where anyone can say a hydrogen bomb test.”

Japan gives roughly the same estimate for the earthquake. According to Japanese meteorological agency, the tremors in North Korea were at least 10 times as powerful as previous nuclear tests.

The Pentagon and the JCS have urgently called for a crisis countermeasure, assuming that North Korea is most likely to have conducted a sixth nuclear test, the report added. Seoul has placed its military on highest alert and is closely cooperating with the US.

Seoul’s presidential office has already accused its neighbor of conducting a nuclear test while president Moon Jae-in has convened a National Security Council meeting.

Earlier in the day, North Korea’s official news agency (KCNA) reported that the Nuclear Weapons Institute has created a“more developed nuke,” that can be fitted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The new alleged hydrogen bomb, the report said, not only features“enormous destructive power” but can also be used to detonate a“super powerful” electromagnetic pulse.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service warned Monday that its neighbor might be preparing its sixth nuclear weapon test from a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri. North Korea has already conducted five nuclear tests – in 2006, 2009, 2013 and in January and September 2016. During the last test, the North claimed it had successfully detonated a small nuclear warhead.

Source: RT Newspaper

South Korea Arrests Nigerian for Smuggling Meth Worth $1.7m

South Korean Police said Wednesday they have arrested a 46 year-old Nigerian for smuggling large amounts of methamphetamines, also called meth, into the country through international mail from China.

The Nigerian yet to be identified is being detained by the Gyeongnam Provincial Police Agency in Seoul.

Yonhap, the Korean news agency said the Nigerian twice last week and via post attempted to smuggle into the country 605 grams of meth , worth some 2 billion won (US$1.77 million). The drug was hidden in women’s cosmetic products.

Each parcel was delivered via international express mail.

The volume of meth he tried to sneak into Korea is large enough for about 20,000 people, the police said.

The suspect, who lives in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, and has a blue-collar job, received the mail from China through Cambodia.

The police received intelligence about possible drug smuggling earlier and impounded the drugs at customs located at Incheon International Airport, it added.

The police said they are investigating whether the suspect had any accomplices.

It appears a Nigerian drug smuggling ring is very active in Asia, especially in India where many Nigerians have been arrested.

NAN