North Korea fires ballistic missile, possibly from submarine, days before talks

By Joyce Lee and Chang-Ran Kim

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea fired what may have been a submarine-launched ballistic missile from off its east coast on Wednesday, a day after it announced the resumption of talks with the United States on ending its nuclear program.

If confirmed, it would be the most provocative test by North Korea since it started the talks with the United States in 2018. Analysts said it was likely a reminder by Pyongyang of the weapons capability it had been aggressively developing as it gears up for the new round of talks.

A State Department spokeswoman called on Pyongyang to “refrain from provocations” and remain committed to the nuclear negotiations.

South Korea’s military said it had detected the launch of one missile that flew 450 km (280 miles) and reached an altitude of 910 km (565 miles). It was likely a Pukguksong-class weapon, as the North’s earlier submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) under development were known.

South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a parliamentary committee that the Pukguksong, or Pole Star in Korean, has a range of about 1,300 km (910 miles) and that the missile’s trajectory may have been raised to reduce the distance it traveled.

CNN, citing a U.S. official, said that the missile was launched from an underwater platform, which North Korea has previously done at the early stage of the SLBM program in 2015.

South Korea expressed concern and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch, saying it was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea rejects U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from using ballistic missile technology, saying they are an infringement of its right to self-defense.

Talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have been stalled since a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February ended without a deal.

The two leaders then met at the Demilitarized Zone border between the two Koreas in June and pledged to reopen working-level talks within weeks.

SEA LAUNCH

South Korea’s military said the missile was launched eastward from the sea northeast of Wonsan, the site of one of North Korea’s military bases on the east coast.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it appeared that one missile was launched and had split in two and then fallen into the sea. The Japanese government had said earlier it appeared North Korea had launched two missiles, one of which fell inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

South Korea’s Jeong, asked about Japan’s earlier assessment of two missiles, said the missile might have had at least two stages that separated in flight.

North Korea had been developing SLBM technology before it suspended long-range missile and nuclear tests and began talks with the United States that led to the first summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore in June 2018.

State news agency KCNA released photos and a report of leader Kim Jong Un in July inspecting a large, newly built submarine, seen as a potential signal that Pyongyang was continuing with its development of an SLBM program.

The latest missile launch was the ninth since Trump and Kim met in June, but the others have been of short-range land-based missiles.

David Wright, missile expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, put the range of the missile tested on Wednesday at about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) at standard trajectory.

Hours before Wednesday’s launch, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said in a statement the working-level talks with the United States would be held on Saturday – a development that could potentially break what had been months of stalemate.

North Korea’s previous missile launch was on Sept. 10, also hours after Choe had expressed Pyongyang’s willingness for talks with the United States.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said: “North Korea tends to raise the stakes before negotiations in an effort to win unearned concessions.”

Trump has played down North Korea’s recent series of short-range launches, saying in September the United States and North Korea “didn’t have an agreement on short-range missiles” and that many countries test such weapons.

Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the timing of the latest launch enhances leverage for the North and also signals Pyongyang is in for the long haul in its talks with Washington.

“The risk is that testing such a system causes the U.S. to walk away before this weekend, but Kim probably bet that the U.S. is so invested in the talks taking place and making progress … that the U.S. won’t walk away.”

(Reporting by Joyce Lee, Josh Smith and Chang-Ran Kim; Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Chris Gallagher and David Dolan in Tokyo, and Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

White House: Talks with North Korea must lead to ending nuclear program

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Closing ceremony - Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 25, 2018 - Ivanka Trump (L to R), U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter and senior White House adviser, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Yong Chol of the North Korea delegation attend the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Yuna Park and Roberta Rampton

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end to its nuclear program after senior officials from Pyongyang visiting South Korea said on Sunday their government was open to talks with the United States.

The North Korean delegation, in Pyeongchang for the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, met at an undisclosed location with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and expressed a willingness to meet with the United States, Moon’s office said in a statement.

The Pyongyang delegation said developments in relations between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States should go hand in hand, according to the statement.

The Olympics gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North’s missile program and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

The United States announced on Friday it was imposing its largest package of sanctions aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

On Sunday, North Korean state media accused the United States of provoking confrontation on the Korean peninsula with the sanctions.

The White House said its sanctions would continue.

“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” the White House said in a statement.

“In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end,” it said.

NO INTERACTION WITH IVANKA TRUMP

Moon, the North Korean delegation, and Ivanka Trump, U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter, were among dignitaries who attended the Olympics closing ceremony on Sunday.

Ivanka Trump, a senior White House adviser, did not interact with the North Korean delegation, a senior U.S. administration official said. She met Moon on Friday as part of a weekend trip leading the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremony.

North Korea sent former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, an official accused of being behind a deadly 2010 attack on a South Korean warship, to lead its delegation.

The decision enraged the families of 46 sailors killed in the torpedo attack and threatened the mood of rapprochement that Seoul sought to create at what it called the “Peace Games.”

North Korea has denied its involvement in the sinking.

Moon met Kim in Pyeongchang, where the Olympics were held, before the closing ceremony, the South Korean government said.

Earlier, about 100 conservative South Korean lawmakers and activists staged a sit-in near the border with North Korea, to protest Kim’s arrival and facing off against about 2,500 South Korean police.

The North’s delegation took a different route, prompting the opposition Korea Liberty Party to accuse Moon’s administration of “abuse of power and an act of treason” by rerouting the motorcade to shield it from the protest.

TRUMP WARNING

The North sent Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to the opening ceremony.

She was the center of a frenzy of attention, especially when she appeared at the opening ceremony and was only a few feet from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. They did not speak.

Kim Yo Jong and the North’s nominal head of state were the most senior North Korean officials to visit the South in more than a decade. The North Korean leader later said he wanted to create a “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue.”

The U.S. president, in announcing the new sanctions on Friday, warned of a “phase two” that could be “very, very unfortunate for the world” if the sanctions did not work.

North Korea denounced the sanctions in a statement carried on its state media and said a blockade by the United States would be considered an act of war.

China also reacted angrily, saying on Saturday the unilateral targeting of Chinese firms and people risked harming cooperation on North Korea.

Moon won election last year promising to try to improve relations with the North.

(Reporting by Yuna Park and Christine Kim in Seoul; additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. warns North Korean leadership will be ‘utterly destroyed’ in case of war

U.S. warns North Korean leadership will be 'utterly destroyed' in case of war

By Josh Smith and Michelle Nichols

SEOUL/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States warned North Korea’s leadership it would be “utterly destroyed” if war were to break out after Pyongyang test fired its most advanced missile, putting the U.S. mainland within range, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The Trump administration has repeatedly said all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea’s ballistic and nuclear weapons programmes, including military ones, but that it still prefers a diplomatic option.

Speaking at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley said the United States had never sought war with North Korea.

“If war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression like we witnessed yesterday,” she said. “…and if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.”

Haley said the United States has asked China to cut off oil supply to North Korea, a drastic step that Beijing – the North’s neighbour and sole major trading partner – has so far refrained from doing. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping talked on the phone earlier on Wednesday.

“Just spoke to President Xi Jinping of China concerning the provocative actions of North Korea. Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Previous U.S. administrations have failed to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and a sophisticated missile programme. Trump, who has previously said the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary to protect itself and its allies from the nuclear threat, has also struggled to contain Pyongyang since he came to office in January.

Urging China to use its leverage and promising more sanctions against North Korea are two strategies that have borne little fruit so far.

In a speech in Missouri about taxes, Trump, who has traded insults with the North in the past, referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with a derisive nickname.

“Little Rocket Man. He is a sick puppy,” Trump said.

For a graphic on North Korea’s missile program, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2twm7W3

A man looks at a street monitor showing a news report about North Korea’s missile launch, in Tokyo, Japan, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

“CLOCK TICKING”

North Korea, which conducted its sixth and largest nuclear bomb test in September, has tested dozens of ballistic missiles under Kim’s leadership.

Pyongyang has said its weapons programmes are a necessary defence against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, denies any such intention.

North Korean state media said on Wednesday the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was launched from a newly developed vehicle in a “breakthrough” and that the warhead could withstand the pressure of re-entering the atmosphere.

Kim personally guided the missile test and said the new launcher was “impeccable”. Pyongyang claimed it had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force”.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called on North Korea to stop its weapons tests and for the United States and South Korea not to hold military drills in December as it would “inflame an already explosive situation”.

The official China Daily newspaper said in an editorial that the latest launch may have been prompted by the Trump administration’s decision to label North Korea a sponsor of state terrorism.

Beijing wants the two “belligerents” to calm down and is vexed that a golden opportunity to encourage Pyongyang into talks was “casually wasted” by the Trump administration, the paper said.

“The clock is ticking down to one of two choices: learning to live with the DPRK having nuclear weapons or triggering a tripwire to the worst-case scenario,” it added.

North Korea said the new missile soared to an altitude of about 4,475 km (2,780 miles) – more than 10 times the height of the International Space Station – and flew 950 km (590 miles) during its 53-minute flight.

It flew higher and longer than any North Korean missile before, landing in the sea near Japan.

Photos released by North Korean state media appeared to show a missile being positioned on the launch site by a mobile vehicle, designed to allow the missile to be fired from a wider number of areas to prevent it being intercepted before launch.

Kim is shown laughing and smiling with officials both next to the missile as it is readied, and in a control booth. The launch itself shows the missile lifting off amid smoke and fire, with Kim watching from a field in the distance.

U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded from satellite and other data that the test missile was fired from a fixed position, not a mobile launcher, three U.S. officials said.

One official said the test appears to demonstrate a more powerful North Korean solid-fuel propulsion system, especially in its second stage rocket.

The photos also revealed a larger diameter missile, which could allow it to carry a larger warhead and use a more powerful engine, said David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based nonprofit science advocacy group.

Three U.S. intelligence analysts said they were trying to assess whether North Korea’s comments meant Kim might now be open to a longer halt in testing in order to reopen negotiations that might help prevent, or at least defer, the imposition of additional sanctions.

The officials also noted, however, that North Korea has not proved it has an accurate guidance system for an ICBM or a re-entry vehicle capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and surviving a return from space through Earth’s atmosphere, meaning further tests would be needed.

An international meeting in Canada in January is designed to produce “better ideas” to ease tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, Canadian officials said on Wednesday, although North Korea itself will not be invited.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday the United States has “a long list of additional potential sanctions, some of which involve potential financial institutions, and the Treasury Department will be announcing those when they’re ready to roll those out”.

In just three months, South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics at a resort just 80 km (50 miles) from the heavily fortified border with North Korea.

(For a graphic on North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2f3Y8rQ )

(Interactive graphic: Nuclear North Korea, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2lE5yjF )

(Reporting by Christine Kim and Soyoung Kim in Seoul, Linda Sieg, William Mallard, Timothy Kelly in Tokyo, Mark Hosenball, John Walcott, Steve Holland, Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Michael Martina and Christian Shepherd in Beijing; Writing by Yara Bayoumy, Lincoln Feast and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Alistair Bell, Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)

North Korea fires ballistic missile close to Japan: officials

North Korea fires ballistic missile close to Japan: officials

By Christine Kim and Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile that landed close to Japan on Wednesday, the first test by Pyongyang since a missile fired over its neighbor in mid-September, officials said.

North Korea launched the missile a week after President Donald Trump put North Korea back on a U.S list of countries that Washington says support terrorism. The designation allows the United States to impose more sanctions, although some experts said it risked inflaming tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Japan’s government estimated that the missile flew for about 50 minutes and landed in the sea in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese broadcaster NHK said. An Aug. 29 missile fired by North Korea that flew over Japan was airborne for 14 minutes.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday’s missile was fired from Pyongsong, a city in South Pyongan Province, at around 1817 GMT over the sea between South Korea and Japan.

Minutes after the North fired the missile, South Korea’s military conducted a missile-firing test in response, the South Korean military added.

The Pentagon said it had detected a “probable” missile launch from North Korea.

“We detected a probable missile launch from North Korea. We are in the process of assessing the situation and will provide additional details when available,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters.

Leading Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun quoted an unidentified government official as saying the missile did not cross over Japan and it fell into the Sea of Japan or on the Korean peninsula.

The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump was briefed while the missile was still in the air.

South Korean news agency Yonhap, citing South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the missile flew to the east and the South Korean military was analyzing details of the launch with the United States.

U.S. stocks pared gains after reports of the missile launch. The S&P 500 index was up half a percent in midafternoon.

Two authoritative U.S. government sources said earlier that U.S. government experts believed North Korea could conduct a new missile test within days.

After firing missiles at a rate of about two or three a month since April, North Korea paused its missile launches in late September, after it fired a missile that passed over Japan’s northern Hokkaido island on Sept. 15.

The U.S. officials who spoke earlier declined to say what type of missile they thought North Korea might test, but noted that Pyongyang had been working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States and had already tested inter-continental ballistic missiles.

Last week, North Korea denounced Trump’s decision to relist it as a state sponsor of terrorism, calling it a “serious provocation and violent infringement.”

Trump has traded insults and threats with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and warned in his maiden speech to the United Nations in September that the United States would have no choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to defend itself or its allies.

Washington has said repeatedly that all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea, including military ones, but that it prefers a peaceful solution by Pyongyang agreeing to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

To this end, Trump has pursued a policy of encouraging countries around the world, including North Korea’s main ally and neighbor, China, to step up sanctions on Pyongyang to persuade it to give up its weapons programs.

North Korea has given no indication it is willing to re-enter dialogue on those terms.

North Korea defends its weapons programs as a necessary defense against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, denies any such intention.

(Reporting by Christine Kim in Seoul, Linda Sieg and William Mallard in Tokyo, Mark Hosenball and Tim Ahmann in Washington; editing by Dan Grebler and Grant McCool)

U.S. experts think North Korea could launch missile ‘within days’: government sources

U.S. experts think North Korea could launch missile 'within days': government sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. government experts think North Korea could conduct a new missile test within days, in what would be its first launch since it fired a missile over Japan in mid-September, two authoritative U.S. government sources said on Tuesday.

One of the U.S. sources, who did not want to be identified, said the United States had evidence that Japanese reports about the monitoring of signals suggesting North Korea was preparing a new missile test were accurate.

Both sources said U.S. government experts believed a new test could occur “within days.”

A Japanese government source said earlier on Tuesday that Japan had detected radio signals suggesting North Korea may be preparing another ballistic missile launch, although such signals were not unusual and satellite images did not show fresh activity.

Other U.S. intelligence officials have noted North Korea has previously sent deliberately misleading signs of preparations for missile and nuclear tests, in part to mask real preparations, and in part to test U.S. and allied intelligence on its activities.

After firing missiles at a rate of about two or three a month since April, North Korean missile launches paused inSeptember, after it fired a missile that passed over Japan’s northern Hokkaido island on Sept. 15.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Exclusive: North Korea rules out negotiations on nuclear weapons

Exclusive: North Korea rules out negotiations on nuclear weapons

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korea on Friday ruled out negotiations with Washington as long as joint U.S-South Korea military exercises continue, and said that Pyongyang’s atomic weapons program would remain as a deterrent against a U.S. nuclear threat.

In an interview with Reuters, Han Tae Song, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, brushed off the new sanctions which the Trump administration has said it is preparing, as well as the possibility of North Korea being added to a U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism.

South Korea and the United States agreed on Friday to keep working for a peaceful end to the North Korean nuclear crisis, but a U.S. envoy said it was difficult to gauge the reclusive North’s intentions as there has been “no signal”.

Han, asked about those bilateral talks in Seoul, replied: “As long as there is continuous hostile policy against my country by the U.S. and as long as there are continued war games at our doorstep, then there will not be negotiations.”

“There are continued military exercises using nuclear assets as well as aircraft carriers, and strategic bombers and then…raising such kinds of military exercises against my country,” he said.

He, who is ambassador to the U.N.’s Conference on Disarmament, was speaking at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) mission in Geneva, where the DPRK and the United States secured a 1994 nuclear deal which later fell apart.

He said he had no information on when North Korea might test a ballistic missile again, after the last one two months ago.

“The DPRK, my country, will continue to build-up its self-defense capability, the pivot of which is nuclear forces and capability for a triumphant…strike as long as U.S. and hostile forces keep up nuclear threat and blackmail,” Han said.

“Our country plans ultimate completion of the nuclear force,” he said.

‘NUCLEAR DETERRENT’

China said on Thursday that a “dual suspension” proposal to handle North Korea was still the best option, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had rejected a “freeze for freeze” agreement.

Han, asked about China’s latest appeal for a freeze, said “the situation is far from those things”.

Han said that U.S. administrations had “never accepted” halting joint military exercises, adding: “So if they accept such things, then we will think what we do in the future.”

North Korea could not consider abandoning its nuclear program, he said, adding: “This is the deterrent, the nuclear deterrent to cope with the nuclear threat from America.”

Han said that Trump was expected to announce further sanctions against North Korea. Existing sanctions have constituted “large-scale human rights violations” that had delayed delivery of aid and consumer goods, he said.

“It is obvious that the aim of the sanctions is to overthrow the system of my country by isolating and stifling it and to intentionally bring about humanitarian disaster instead of preventing weapons development as claimed by the U.S. and its followers,” he said.

Han, asked whether new U.S. sanctions were expected against North Korean individuals or financial structures, said:

“The media is saying the Americans and Trump are considering such things.

“But that is their business and then we don’t mind what they want to do against my country since the aim is quite clear.

“So we are ready for such kinds of measures taken by America against my country,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

In Beijing, Trump presses China on North Korea and trade

In Beijing, Trump presses China on North Korea and trade

By Steve Holland and Christian Shepherd

BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump pressed China to do more to rein in North Korea on Thursday and said bilateral trade had been unfair to the United States, but praised President Xi Jinping’s pledge that China would be more open to foreign firms.

On North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Trump said “China can fix this problem quickly and easily”, urging Beijing to cut financial links with North Korea and also calling on Russia to help.

Trump was speaking alongside Xi in the Chinese capital to announce the signing of about $250 billion in commercial deals between U.S. and Chinese firms, a display that some in the U.S. business community worry detracts from tackling deep-seated complaints about market access in China.

Xi said the Chinese economy would become increasingly open and transparent to foreign firms, including those from the United States, and welcomed U.S. companies to participate in his ambitious “Belt and Road” infrastructure-led initiative.

Trump made clear that he blamed his predecessors, not China, for the trade imbalance, and repeatedly praised Xi, calling him “a very special man”.

“But we will make it fair and it will be tremendous for both of us,” Trump said.

Xi smiled widely when Trump said he does not blame China for the deficit and also when Trump said Xi gets things done.

“Of course there are some frictions, but on the basis of win-win cooperation and fair competition, we hope we can solve all these issues in a frank and consultative way,” Xi said.

“Keeping opening up is our long-term strategy. We will never narrow or close our doors. We will further widen them,” he said. China would also offer a more fair and transparent environment for foreign firms, including U.S. ones, Xi said.

MODEST PROGRESS

Trump is pressing China to tighten the screws further on North Korea and its development of nuclear weapons in defiance of U.N. sanctions. At least modest progress is hoped for, although there are no immediate signs of a major breakthrough, a U.S. official said earlier.

Referring to Xi, Trump said: “I do believe there’s a solution to that, as do you.”

Xi reiterated that China would strive for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula but offered no hint that China would change tack on North Korea, with which it fought side-by-side in the 1950-53 Korean war against U.S.-led forces.

“We are devoted to reaching a resolution to the Korean peninsula issue through dialogue and consultations,” Xi said.

Briefing reporters after the talks, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump told Xi: “You’re a strong man, I’m sure you can solve this for me.”

Tillerson said both leaders agreed they could not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea but he acknowledged they had some differences over tactics and timing.

Tillerson pointed out that Trump, in a speech in Seoul, had “invited the North Koreans to come to the table,” in line with the Chinese desire for a negotiated solution. He added, however, that Trump was prepared for a “military response” if he deemed the threat serious enough, but “that’s not his first choice”.

“We are going to work hard on diplomatic efforts as well,” he said, but did not elaborate.

In a show of the importance China puts on Trump’s first official visit, Thursday’s welcoming ceremony outside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People overlooking Tiananmen Square was broadcast live on state television – unprecedented treatment for a visiting leader.

Earlier on Thursday, Xi said he had a deep exchange of views with Trump and reached consensus on numerous issues of mutual concern.

“For China, cooperation is the only real choice, only win-win can lead to an even better future,” he said.

Xi said China and the United States strengthened high-level dialogue on all fronts over the past year and boosted coordination on major international issues, such as the Korean peninsula and Afghanistan.

“Relations between China and the United States are now on a new historical starting point,” Xi said.

Trump and Xi hit it off at their first meeting in April at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and continued their “bromance” on Wednesday with an afternoon of sightseeing together with their wives. However, divisions persist over trade and North Korea.

And while Xi is riding high after consolidating power at a twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress last month, Trump comes to China saddled with low public approval ratings and dogged by investigations into Russian links to his election campaign.

‘HORRIBLE’ TRADE SURPLUS

Trump has ratcheted up his criticism of China’s massive trade surplus with the United States – calling it “embarrassing” and “horrible” last week – and has accused Beijing of unfair trade practices.

For its part, China says U.S. restrictions on Chinese investment in the United States and on high-tech exports need to be addressed.

Several corporate chief executives were in Beijing as part of a delegation led by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, with General Electric and semiconductor maker Qualcomm Inc among those announcing billions of dollars in sales to China. [L3N1NF2IA]

But Qualcomm’s agreement to sell $12 billion worth of components to three Chinese mobile phone makers over three years is non-binding, and critics say such public announcements are sometimes more show than substance.

“This shows that we have a strong, vibrant bilateral economic relationship, and yet we still need to focus on leveling the playing field because U.S. companies continue to be disadvantaged doing business in China,” said William Zarit, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

Trump railed against China’s trade practices during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and threatened to take action once in office. But he has since held back on any major trade penalties, making clear he was doing so to give Beijing time to make progress reining in North Korea.

A U.S. official said both sides were “in sync” about wanting to minimize friction during the visit and recreate the positive tone of the April summit.

Trump was not expected to put much emphasis in his talks with Xi on thorny issues such as the disputed South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its own, although the leaders’ aides may deal with those matters privately, the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

China has repeatedly pushed back at suggestions it should be doing more to rein in North Korea, which does about 90 percent of its trade with China, saying it is fully enforcing U.N. sanctions and that everyone has a responsibility to lower tension and get talks back on track.

(This story was refiled to restore dropped word in paragraph 16.)

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Matthew Miller, Philip Wen and John Ruwitch; Writing by Ben Blanchard and Tony Munroe; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

Saudi crown prince calls Iran supply of rockets ‘military aggression’

Saudi crown prince calls Iran supply of rockets 'military aggression'

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince said Iran’s supply of rockets to militias in Yemen is an act of “direct military aggression” that could be an act of war, state media reported on Tuesday.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s comments were published after Saudi air defense forces intercepted a ballistic missile that Saudi Arabia said was fired toward Riyadh on Saturday by the Iran-allied Houthi militia, which controls large parts of neighboring Yemen.

Saudi-led forces, which back the internationally-recognized government, have been targeting the Houthis in a war which has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered a humanitarian disaster in one of the region’s poorest countries.

The supply of rockets to the Houthi movement could “constitute an act of war against the kingdom,” state news agency SPA on Tuesday quoted Prince Salman as saying in a call with British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.

Iran has denied it was behind the missile launch, rejecting the Saudi and U.S. statements condemning Tehran as “destructive and provocative” and “slanders”.

In reaction to the missile, the Saudi-led military coalition said on Monday it would close all air, land and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula country.

The United Nations on Tuesday called on the coalition to re-open an aid lifeline into Yemen, saying food and medicine imports were vital for 7 million people facing famine.

“The situation is catastrophic in Yemen, it is the worst food crisis we are looking at today,” Jens Laerke of the U.N. Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told a briefing in Geneva.

The missile launch was “most likely a war crime” Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday but also urged Saudi Arabia against restricting aid access to Yemen, where the United Nations estimates nearly 900,000 people are infected with cholera.

“This unlawful attack is no justification for Saudi Arabia to exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe by further restricting aid and access to the country,” it said.

The coalition said aid workers and humanitarian supplies would continue to be able to access and exit Yemen despite the temporary closure of ports but the United Nations said it was not given approval for two scheduled humanitarian flights on Monday.

The United Nations and international aid organizations have repeatedly criticized the coalition for blocking aid access, especially to northern Yemen, which is held by the Houthis.

The Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Houthis since they seized parts of Yemen in 2015, including the capital Sanaa, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee and seek help from neighboring Saudi Arabia.

In an interview with CNN television on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused the armed Lebanese Hezbollah group of firing the missile at Riyadh from Houthi-held territory.

“With regards to the missile…that was launched on Saudi territory, it was an Iranian missile launched by Hezbollah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen.”

He said the missile was similar to one launched in July at Yanbu in Saudi Arabia and was manufactured in Iran, disassembled and smuggled into Yemen, then reassembled by the operatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, “then it was launched into Saudi Arabia.”

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Rania El Gamal in Dubai and Tom Perry in Beirut and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg/William Maclean)

North Korea diplomat says take atmospheric nuclear test threat ‘literally’

North Korea diplomat says take atmospheric nuclear test threat 'literally'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The recent warning from North Korea’s foreign minister of a possible atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean should be taken literally, a senior North Korean official told CNN in an interview aired on Wednesday.

“The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally,” Ri Yong Pil, a senior diplomat in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, told CNN.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said last month Pyongyang may consider conducting “the most powerful detonation” of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean amid rising tensions with the United States.

The minister made the comment after President Donald Trump warned that North Korea, which has been working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States, would be totally destroyed if it threatened America.

CIA chief Mike Pompeo said last week that North Korea could be only months away from gaining the ability to hit the United States with nuclear weapons.

Experts say an atmospheric test would be a way of demonstrating that capability. All of North Korea’s previous nuclear tests have been conducted underground.

Trump next week will make a visit to Asia during which he will highlight his campaign to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

Despite the bellicose rhetoric, White House officials say Trump is looking for a peaceful resolution of the standoff. But all options, including military ones, are on the table.

The U.S. Navy said on Wednesday a third aircraft carrier strike group was now sailing in the Asia-Pacific region, joining two other carriers, the Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt.

Navy officials said the Nimitz, which was previously carrying out operations in support of the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, would be ready to support operations in the region before heading back to its home port. It said the movement had been long planned.

A leading South Korea opposition figure, Hong Jun-pyo, head of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, told Reuters in Washington on Wednesday he backed Trump’s tough stance.

Hong said he had met with members of Congress and the administration and told them a majority of South Koreans wanted U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, which were withdrawn from the Korean peninsula in 1992, returned, or for South Korea to develop a nuclear capability of its own.

“The only way to deal with the situation is by having a nuclear balance between the North and the South,” said Hong, the runner-up in South Korea’s 2017 presidential election.

Reintroducing nuclear weapons remains unlikely, not least because it would undermine demands from Seoul and Washington for North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.

Trump spoke during his election campaign about the possibility of South Korea and Japan acquiring nuclear weapons, but administration officials have played down the remarks and given no indication of any plan to redeploy tactical weapons.

On Wednesday, Trump was asked whether he would visit the tense demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea during his Asia tour and responded enigmatically.

“I’d rather not say, but you’ll be surprised,” he told reporters.

(Reporting by David Alexander, David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown)

Iran open to talks over its ballistic missile programme: sources

A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File

By Parisa Hafezi, Jonathan Saul and John Walcott

ANKARA/LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran has suggested to six world powers that it may be open to talks about its ballistic missile arsenal, seeking to reduce tension over the disputed programme, Iranian and Western officials familiar with the overtures told Reuters.

Tehran has repeatedly vowed to continue building up what it calls defensive missile capability in defiance of Western criticism, with Washington saying the Islamic Republic’s stance violates its 2015 nuclear deal with the powers.

But the sources said that given U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to ditch the deal reached under his predecessor Barack Obama, Tehran had approached the powers recently about possible talks on some “dimensions” of its missile programme.

“During their meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month, Iran told members of the (world powers) that it could discuss the missile programme to remove concerns,”

an Iranian source with knowledge of the meeting told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

U.S. and Western officials did not confirm the matter was discussed at the Zarif-Tillerson meeting. But two U.S. officials said Iran had recently been “keeping it alive” by feeding certain media reports and via third parties such as Oman.

A former U.S. Defense Department official said Iran’s overtures had reached Washington in recent weeks.

“Iran has put feelers out saying it is willing to discuss its ballistic missile programme and is using contacts … officials who were ‘holdovers’ from the Obama administration,” the former official said.

Iran’s reported approach came after Trump called the nuclear accord “an embarrassment” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”. He is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the deal, a senior administration official said on Thursday.

Such a step could unravel the breakthrough agreement – seen by supporters as crucial to forestalling a Middle East arms race and tamping down regional tensions, since it limits Iran’s ability to enrich uranium in exchange for sanctions relief.

“RECYCLING OFFERS”

The other five powers are Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, all of whom have reaffirmed commitment to the deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met his counterparts from the six powers, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for the first time, on the fringes of the U.N. gathering on Sept. 20.

“The Americans expressed their worries about Iran’s missile capability and Zarif said in reply that the programme could be discussed,” the Iranian source told Reuters.

A U.S. official with first-hand knowledge of dealings with the Islamic Republic said Zarif had been recycling offers that “have been lying dormant on the table for some time.

“Zarif knows that if Trump goes ahead and decertifies Iran, it (Iran) will be on the high ground, and the U.S. will be isolated among the (six powers),” the official said.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said on Friday Tehran’s ballistic missile programme was for defence purposes only and non-negotiable.

“Iran has in all bilateral diplomatic meetings, including the recent visit of … Zarif to New York, emphasised that its defensive missile programme is not negotiable,” Qasemi was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

The U.S. mission at the United Nations referred Reuters to the U.S. State Department for comment. The State Department declined to comment on whether possible talks on missiles were addressed at the meeting or whether Iran had recently communicated such interest.

But it said Washington remained committed to “countering the full range of threats the Iranian regime poses to the U.S., our allies, and regional stability, including its ballistic missile development”.

The Trump administration has imposed fresh unilateral sanctions on Iran, saying its missile tests violate the U.N. resolution that formalised the nuclear deal. It calls on Tehran not to undertake activities related to missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs.

Iran says it has no such plans and denies breaching the resolution.

Iran has one of the biggest ballistic missile programmes in the Middle East, viewing it as an essential precautionary defence against the United States and other adversaries, primarily Gulf Arab states and Israel.

KHAMENEI CONSULTED ON MISSILE OVERTURE

A senior Iranian official, who also asked not to be named, said pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, Zarif and Revolutionary Guards commanders have had several meetings with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all Iranian policy, to secure his backing for missile talks.

“The leader was not optimistic during the meetings because he does not trust Americans. Others argued that the heightening tension over the missile programme could be resolved through talks,” said the official, involved in backroom negotiations.

Any talks would not aim to end or suspend Iran’s missile programme but to “negotiate some dimensions of it, like limiting production of some missiles with specific ranges”, he said.

“Diplomacy worked well in ending the nuclear stand-off … The dispute over the missile programme also can be resolved through talks,” the official said.

A third Iranian official said Tehran would be willing to discuss long-range missiles. He did not elaborate.

A U.S. official with extensive experience negotiating with Iran said “putting this out there publicly as Zarif has done puts pressure on the (Trump) administration”.

A Western official said the administration had assessed Zarif’s approach to be “a stalling tactic by Tehran”.

Another Western official said Iran must present concrete details for missile talks: “What will need to be seen are the specifics on load capability, the distance range of missiles and how many kilograms can a missile warhead carry.”

When asked if Iran appeared willing to negotiate on its missile programme, a French diplomat said: “We talk about everything with them, including the ballistic programme.

“Our objective is that this leads to concrete acts. On the ballistic issue they repeat that it’s all defensive and has nothing to do with nuclear.”

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Yara Bayoumy in Washington; editing by Mark Heinrich)