North Korea upbeat on Trump-Kim surprise meeting as a chance to push nuclear talks

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cross over a military demarcation line at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed at their meeting on Sunday to push forward dialogue for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, North Korean state media said on Monday.

Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea on Sunday when he met Kim in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas and agreed to resume stalled nuclear talks.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

“The top leaders of the two countries agreed to keep in close touch in the future, too, and resume and push forward productive dialogues for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and in the bilateral relations,” KCNA news agency said.

The meeting, initiated by a tweet by Trump that Kim said took him by surprise, displayed the rapport between the two, but analysts said they were no closer to narrowing the gap between their positions since they walked away from their summit in February in Vietnam.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters shortly before departing South Korea that a new round of talks would likely happen “sometime in July” and the North’s negotiators would be foreign ministry diplomats.

In a photo released by KCNA on Monday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Pompeo are shown sitting next to Kim and Trump respectively in Freedom House, the building in which the two leaders had their one-on-one talks.

KCNA said that during the chat between Trump and Kim, the two leaders explained “issues of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula,” “issues of mutual concern and interest which become a stumbling block in solving those issues,” and “voiced full understanding and sympathy.”

Kim said it was the good personal relationship he had with Trump that made such a dramatic meeting possible at just one day’s notice and that the relationship with Trump would continue to produce good results, according to KCNA.

The two leaders’ “bold, brave decision” that led to the historic meeting “created unprecedented trust between the two countries” that had been tangled in deeply rooted animosity, KCNA said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the meeting between Trump and Kim and “fully supports the continued efforts of the parties to establish new relations toward sustainable peace, security and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

China also welcomed the meeting, with a foreign ministry spokesman describing it as “constructive and achieving positive results”.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

But problems could lie ahead.

“The fact that the nuclear talks have jump-started is very encouraging, but that doesn’t mean that the two sides have already adjusted their positions and set the conditions for successful working-level negotiations,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, dismissed a report in The New York Times on Monday that Washington is seeking to soften its approach, floating an idea of accepting a nuclear freeze – instead of complete dismantlement – and giving tacit recognition that North Korea is a nuclear state.

“I read this NYT story with curiosity,” Bolton said in a tweet. “Neither the [National Security Council] staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.’ This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President. There should be consequences.”

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at United Nations, Josh Smith in Seoul, and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler)

Trump discusses North Korea with Japan’s Abe after reported weapons tests

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he had spoken with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about North Korea and trade after North Korea raised doubts about the future of denuclearization dialogue with new weapons tests.

In a tweet, Trump described his talk with Abe, a close ally, as a “Very good conversation!” but gave no other details.

Trump and his administration have played down the North Korean weapons tests, which took place on Saturday, and which military analysts say could have involved short-range, ground-to-ground ballistic missiles.

Abe told reporters the United States and Japan would “respond together” to North Korea “going forward.”

If the weapons were ballistic missiles, they would have been the first fired by North Korea since its 2017 freeze in nuclear and missile testing opened the way for dialogue with the United States and South Korea.

Analysts interpreted the tests as an attempt to exert pressure on Washington to give ground in denuclearization negotiations after a February summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended in failure.

In a Twitter message on Saturday, Trump said he was still confident he could reach a deal with Kim.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that Washington still had “every intention” of negotiating with North Korea. Pompeo said he and Trump spoke about the launches on Saturday and were “evaluating the appropriate response.”

“But … we’re going to exhaust every diplomatic opportunity there is,” he told CBS. “We still believe there is a path forward where Chairman Kim can denuclearize without resort to anything beyond diplomacy.”

Pompeo said the launches were “short range” and that Washington had “high confidence” they did not involve intermediate-range missiles or intercontinental missiles that threaten the United States. He said they had not crossed any international boundary and posed no threat to South Korea or Japan.

North Korea’s official media described the tests as a “strike drill” supervised by Kim to test “large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons.”

Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, said the guided weapons could have been solid-fuel ballistic missiles with a range of up to 500 km (311 miles) that could neutralize the advanced U.S. THAAD anti-missile system deployed in South Korea.

White House adviser Larry Kudlow said on Friday that Washington and Tokyo may finalize a trade agreement by the end of May after Trump and Abe met at the White House last month.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Makini Brice; Editing by Susan Heavey and Jeffrey Benkoe)

North Korean leader warns of a return to tension, blames U.S. ‘bad faith’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Russia in this undated photo released on April 25, 2019 by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told Russian President Vladimir Putin peace and security on the Korean peninsula depended on the United States, warning that a state of hostility could easily return, North Korean media said on Friday.

Kim’s remarks, at talks with Putin in Vladivostok on Thursday, will likely add to pressure on the United States to be more flexible on a North Korean demand for an easing of international sanctions.

A second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February collapsed with no progress on a U.S. demand that the North give up its nuclear program and a North Korean demand for an easing of sanctions.

The North Korean leader has said he would wait until the end of the year for the United States to be more flexible.

“The situation on the Korean peninsula and the region is now at a standstill and has reached a critical point where it may return to its original state as the U.S. took a unilateral attitude in bad faith at the recent second DPRK-U.S. summit talks,” North Korea’s KCNA reported Kim as saying.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is North Korea’s official name.

“The DPRK will gird itself for every possible situation.” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

William Hagerty, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, told a Washington think-tank that Kim’s contact with Russia and China was part of an effort to seek relief from international sanctions.

“The fact you see Kim Jong Un meeting with Vladimir Putin underscores the fact that the sanctions are working and the sanctions are putting extreme economic pressure on the North Korean regime,” Hagerty said.

“What we see is an outreach to try to find a way to deal with it. There is a much simpler way to deal with it and that is to denuclearize,” he said.

He said it was important the international community enforced U.N. sanctions against North Korea that were imposed because of its nuclear and missile programs.

SECURITY GUARANTEES

On Friday, Kim joined officials to lay a wreath at a navy memorial at Vladivostok bay.

The first face-to-face talks between Putin and Kim, held on an island off the Russian Pacific city, did not appear to yield any major breakthrough.

The two discussed ways to promote strategic communication and tactical collaboration in the course of ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula and beyond, KCNA said.

Putin said he thought a deal on North Korea’s nuclear program was possible and the way to achieve it was to move forward step by step to build trust.

But any U.S. security guarantees to North Korea might need to be supported by other nations involved in previous six-way talks on the issue, Putin said.

Russia was for years a participant in six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear program. The talks, which included the two Koreas, the United States, China and Japan, have not been held since 2009.

“They only need guarantees about their security. That’s it. All of us together need to think about this,” Putin told reporters after talks with Kim, referring to North Korea.

Such guarantees would have to be international, legally binding, and vouch for North Korea’s sovereignty, Putin said.

Russia and North Korea agreed to increase cooperation in various areas and Kim invited Putin to visit North Korea, and he accepted, KCNA said. No date was announced.

“North Korea seems to be trying to expand its negotiating position with the U.S.,” said South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Cho Yoon-je, according to the Yonhap news agency.

“The U.S. continues to send a message to North Korea through channels at every level that it is open to dialogue … The expectation seems to be that the North may respond once the Chairman Kim Jong Un’s diplomatic schedule is completed.”

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL and Maria Vasilyeva in VLADIVOSTOK; Editing by Jack Kim, Robert Birsel)

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to meet Putin in Russia on Thursday: Kremlin

A combination of file photos shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a wreath laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam March 2, 2019 and Russia's President Vladimir Putin looking on during a joint news conference with South African President Jacob Zuma after their meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Krasnodar region, Russia, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/Pool/Maxim Shipenkov/Pool

By Vladimir Soldatkin and Maria Vasilyeva

MOSCOW/VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet on Thursday in the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok to discuss the international standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program, a Kremlin official said.

The visit is part of Kim’s effort to build foreign support after the breakdown of a second U.S.-North Korea summit in Vietnam in February meant no relief on sanctions for North Korea, analysts said.

The summit will be the first between Putin and the North Korean leader and the nuclear row, and how to resolve it, would be the main item on the agenda, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters.

“In the last few months the situation around the peninsula has stabilized somewhat, thanks in large part to North Korea’s initiatives of stopping rocket testing and closing its nuclear test site,” Ushakov said. “Russia intends to help in any way possible to cement that positive trend.”

The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Tuesday the visit would happen soon, but did not elaborate on a time or location.

Kim’s chief aide, Kim Chang Son, was seen in Vladivostok on Sunday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Vladivostok is the closest major Russian city to the short stretch of border that Russia and North Korea share, and can be reached from the border via train, Kim’s preferred mode of international transport.

Russia has for years been involved in efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program. It was involved in so-called six party talks – along with the two Koreas, Japan, the United States and China – that were last held in 2009.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said it understood the agenda would include Russia-North Korea relations, denuclearisation, and regional cooperation.

“Russia shares our viewpoints such as the achievement of complete denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula and the settlement of permanent peace,” foreign ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said in Seoul.

“I hope that the summit will be an opportunity that contributes to positive progress.”

RUSSIAN PRESTIGE

After the failed Hanoi summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, Kim is probably looking to prove that he is still sought after by world leaders, and that he has more options, said Artyom Lukin, a professor at Far Eastern Federal University.

Kim did not want to look too dependent on Washington, Beijing and Seoul, he said.

“As for Russia, the Putin-Kim summit will reaffirm Moscow’s place as a major player on the Korean Peninsula. This meeting is important for Russian international prestige.”

Putin previously held a summit in Russia with Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor as North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, in 2002. Kim Jong Il visited Russia again in 2011, when he was hosted by Dmitry Medvedev, the Putin lieutenant who at the time was serving as Russian president.

Online media which monitor North Korea reported that the venue for the summit would be the Far Eastern Federal University, on an island that is connected to the mainland part of Vladivostok by a bridge.

The bridge was built in time for the 2012 Asia-Pacific Cooperation Summit, which took place on the same site that now houses the university.

At the university campus on Tuesday, the sports complex had been closed and workers were seen bringing in pieces of furniture, a Reuters TV crew at the site reported. A white tent had been erected next to the sports complex.

At the entrance to the campus, security guards were stopping vehicles as they drove in, and searching them. There were no signs of preparation at Vladivostok railway station.

But at Khasan, a Russian settlement where the train line crosses the border, the state flags of Russia and North Korea were fluttering from the station building on Tuesday. A set of mobile steps for alighting from a train was positioned on the platform edge.

(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith in SEOUL; Maxim Rodionov in MOSCOW; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Trump says he would be disappointed if North Korea resumed testing

FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high-ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By Roberta Rampton and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he would be disappointed if North Korea were to resume weapons testing and reiterated his belief in his good relationship with its leader, Kim Jong Un, despite the collapse of a summit with him last week.

“I would be surprised in a negative way if he did anything that was not per our understanding. But we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I would be very disappointed if I saw testing.”

Trump’s comments to reporters on the White House lawn before leaving to visit Alabama came after two U.S. think tanks and Seoul’s spy agency said this week that North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site.

There have also been reports emanating from South Korea’s intelligence service of new activity at a factory that produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Trump said he thought his and the U.S. relationship with Kim and North Korea was “a very good one.”

“I think it remains good,” he said.

Trump, eager for a big foreign policy win on North Korea which has eluded his predecessors for decades, has repeatedly stressed his good relationship with Kim. He went as far late last year as saying that they “fell in love,” but the bonhomie has failed to bridge the wide gap between the two sides.

A second summit between Trump and Kim collapsed last week over differences on U.S. demands for Kim to give up his nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for sanctions relief.

North Korean state media acknowledged the fruitless summit for the first time on Friday, saying people were blaming the United States for the lack of an agreement.

“The public at home and abroad that had hoped for success and good results from the second … summit in Hanoi are feeling regretful, blaming the U.S. for the summit that ended without an agreement,” its Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary.

The paper directed fiery rhetoric against Japan, accusing it of being “desperate to interrupt” relations between Pyongyang and Washington and “applauding” the breakdown of the summit.

Washington has said it is open to more talks with North Korea but it has rejected an incremental approach to negotiations sought by Pyongyang and it remains unclear when the two sides might meet again.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful he would send a delegation to North Korea for more talks in the next couple of weeks, but that he had received “no commitment yet.”

A senior State Department official who briefed reporters in Washington on Thursday said the United States was keen to resume talks as soon as possible, but North Korea’s negotiators needed to be given more latitude than they were given ahead of the summit.

“There will necessarily need to be a period of reflection here. Both sides are going to have to digest the outcome to the summit,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Fundamentally, where we really need to see the progress, and we need to see it soon, is on meaningful and verifiable steps on denuclearization. That’s our goal and that’s how we see these negotiations picking up momentum.”

The official said complete denuclearization was the condition for North Korea’s integration into the global economy, a transformed relationship with the United States and a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, a hard-liner who has argued for a tough approach to North Korea, said this week that Trump was open to more talks, but also warned of tougher sanctions if North Korea did not denuclearize.

Bolton and other U.S. officials have sought to play down the activity spotted at the Sohae rocket launch site, although Trump on Thursday called it “disappointing.”

The official who briefed reporters on Thursday said he would “not necessarily share the conclusion” of the think tanks that the Sohae site was operational again, but said any use of the site would be seen as “backsliding” on commitments to Trump.

North Korea has frozen nuclear and missile testing since 2017, and Trump has pointed to this as a positive outcome from nearly a year’s engagement with North Korea.

Sohae has been used in the past to rest missile engines and to launch rockets that U.S. officials say have helped development of North Korea’s weapons programs.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, David Brunnstrom, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey in Washington and Hyonhee Shin, Joyce Lee and Ju-min Park in Seoul; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. open to North Korea talks despite missile program activity

FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high-ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By David Brunnstrom and Hyonhee Shin

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is open to additional talks with Pyongyang over denuclearization, his national security adviser said on Thursday, despite reports that North Korea is reactivating parts of its missile program.

New activity has been detected at a factory that produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the United States, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo and Donga Ilbo newspapers reported, citing lawmakers briefed by the National Intelligence Service.

This week, two U.S. think tanks and Seoul’s spy agency said North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site, prompting Trump to say he would be “very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim” if it were true.

The reports of North Korean activity raise more questions about the future of the dialogue Trump has pursued with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after a second summit between the two leaders in Vietnam broke down last week.White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday that Trump was still open to additional talks with North Korea over denuclearization.

“The president’s obviously open to talking again. We’ll see when that might be scheduled or how it might work out,” Bolton said in an interview with Fox News.

He said it was too soon to make a determination on the reports of the North Korean activities.

“We have a lot of ways of getting information,” he said. “We’re going to study the situation carefully. As the president said, it would be very, very disappointing if they were taking this direction.”

The Vietnam summit between Kim and Trump last week collapsed over differences on how far North Korea was willing to limit its nuclear program and the degree of U.S. willingness to ease economic sanctions against the isolated country.

Trump, eager for a big foreign policy win on North Korea that has eluded his predecessors for decades, has repeatedly stressed his good relationship with Kim. He went as far late last year as saying they “fell in love,” but the bonhomie has failed so far to bridge the wide gap between the two sides.

MISSILE FACTORY

Movement of cargo vehicles was spotted recently around a North Korean factory at Sanumdong in Pyongyang, which produced ICBMs.

South Korean spy chief Suh Hoon told lawmakers he viewed the activity as missile-related, the JoongAng Ilbo said. It quoted Suh as saying North Korea continued to run its uranium enrichment facility at the main Yongbyon nuclear complex after a first summit between Trump and Kim last June in Singapore.

The Sanumdong factory produced the Hwasong-15 ICBM, which can fly more than 13,000 km (8,080 miles). After its test flight in 2017, North Korea declared the completion of its “state nuclear force,” before pursuing talks with South Korea and the United States last year.

South Korea’s presidential office and defense ministry declined to confirm the reports on Sanumdong, saying they were closely monitoring North Korea’s activities together with the United States.

The U.S. State Department said it could not comment on intelligence matters.

Separately, U.S. think tanks reported on Thursday that North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station appeared to be operational again after work that began days before Trump met with Kim in Hanoi.

Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank called the work a “snapback” after North Korea partially dismantled the site, acting on a pledge by Kim to Trump at the Singapore summit.

“The rebuilding activities at Sohae demonstrate how quickly North Korea can easily render reversible any steps taken towards scrapping its WMD program with little hesitation,” it said.

“North Korea’s actions constitute an affront to the president’s diplomatic strategy (and) demonstrate North Korean pique at Trump’s refusal to lift economic sanctions during the meetings in Hanoi.”

The Washington-based 38 North think tank also said the Sohae site appeared now to have returned to normal operational status.

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his way to board a train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his way to board a train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

SANCTIONS WARNING

Some analysts see the work as aimed at pressing Washington to agree to a deal, rather than as a definite move to resume tests.

A U.S. government source, who did not want to be identified, said North Korea’s plan in rebuilding the site could have been to offer a demonstration of good faith by conspicuously stopping again if a summit pact was struck, while furnishing a sign of defiance or resolve if the meeting failed.

Imagery from Planet Labs Inc analyzed by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California showed activity at Sohae from Feb. 23 until Wednesday.

38 North said photos from Wednesday showed the rail-mounted transfer building used to move rockets at the site was complete, cranes had been removed from the launch pad and the transfer building moved to the end of the pad.

“But we don’t draw any conclusions from that besides they are restoring the facility,” Joel Wit of 38 North told Reuters. “There is no evidence to suggest anything more than that.”

On Wednesday, Bolton, a hardliner who was argued for a tough approach to North Korea in the past, warned of new sanctions if it did not scrap its weapons program.

Despite the sanctions talk, there have been signs across Asia that Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against North Korea has sprung leaks.

In a new sanctions breach, three South Korean companies were found to have brought in more than 13,000 tons of North Korean coal, worth 2.1 billion won ($2 million) since 2017, by making it out to have been produced in China and Vietnam, South Korea said.

North Korean media has given conflicting signals about its relations with the United States, while appearing to target Bolton as a spoiler.

Its state television aired a 78-minute documentary late on Wednesday focused on showing a cordial mood between Trump and Kim as the summit ended, indicating Pyongyang was not about to walk away from negotiations, experts say.

It also showed a stone-faced Bolton during a meeting in Hanoi, while Trump and other U.S. participants were all smiles.

In a return to a more usual, strident tone, the KCNA news agency criticized new small-scale military exercises that the United States and South Korea plan to hold instead of a large-scale spring exercise they have called off.

The news agency said the drills would be a “violent violation” of agreements signed between the United States and North Korea as well as between the two Koreas.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries said last week that they would not carry out a large-scale spring joint military exercises, replacing it with smaller-scale ones.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, David Alexander and Tim Ahmann in Washington and Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alistair Bell)

South Korea to work with U.S. and North Korea after failed nuclear talks

U.S. President Donald Trump pumps his fist at members of the U.S. military as he arrives to address them after his summit meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Vietnam during a refueling stop at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S., February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL/HANOI (Reuters) – South Korea will work with the United States and North Korea to ensure they reach agreement on denuclearization, the South’s president said on Friday, a day after talks between the U.S. and North Korean leaders collapsed over sanctions.

A second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Vietnam, was cut short after they failed to reach a deal on the extent of sanctions relief North Korea would get in exchange for steps to give up its nuclear program.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has been an active supporter of efforts to end confrontation on the Korean peninsula, meeting Kim three times last year and trying to facilitate his nuclear negotiations with the United States.

“My administration will closely communicate and cooperate with the United States and North Korea so as to help their talks reach a complete settlement by any means,” Moon said in a speech in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Moon also said South Korea would consult the United States on ways to resume joint projects with the North including tourism development at Mount Kumgang and the Kaesong industrial complex, both in North Korea.

The Hanoi summit came eight months after Trump and Kim met for the first time in Singapore and agreed to establish new relations and peace in exchange for a North Korean commitment to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump said two days of talks had made good progress but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. He said he had walked away because of unacceptable North Korean demands.

“It was all about the sanctions,” Trump told a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the negotiations with Kim were “very substantive” and that “we know what they want and they know what we must have,” but he gave no other details about any next steps. “Relationship very good, let’s see what happens!” he wrote.

‘BIGGEST STEP’

However, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told a midnight news conference after Trump left Hanoi that North Korea had sought only a partial lifting of sanctions “related to people’s livelihoods and unrelated to military sanctions.”

He said North Korea had offered a realistic proposal involving the dismantling of all of its main nuclear site at Yongbyon, including plutonium and uranium facilities, by engineers from both countries.

“This is the biggest denuclearization step we can take based on the current level of trust between the two countries,” Ri said.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told the briefing she had the impression that Kim “might lose his willingness to pursue a deal” after the U.S. side rejected a partial lifting of sanctions in return for the destruction of Yongbyon, “something we had never offered before.”

Speaking to South Korean media later on Friday, Choe appeared more pessimistic about chances for progress.

“Having conducted the talks this time, it occurs to us that there may not be a need to continue,” she said, adding that North Korea had taken “many steps” to try to reach a deal.

“We’re doing a lot of thinking,” she said while adding, the situation would change “if our demands can be resolved.”

But despite the doubt that Choe raised, both sides have indicated they want to maintain the momentum and press on.

“We are anxious to get back to the table so we can continue that conversation that will ultimately lead to peace and stability, better life for the North Korean people, and a lower threat, a denuclearized North Korea,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference in Manila.

North Korean media adopted a conciliatory tone.

The state KCNA news agency said Kim and Trump had a constructive, sincere exchange and decided to continue productive talks, without mentioning that the talks ended abruptly with no agreement.

Kim, who is due to leave Vietnam on Saturday, also expressed gratitude to Trump for putting in efforts to get results, KCNA said.

‘OPPORTUNITY TO TALK’

A U.S. State Department official said the North Korean media coverage had been constructive, indicating “ample opportunity to talk.”

The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state conducted repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources of hard cash

The United States has demanded North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization before sanctions can be lifted. North Korea has denounced that position as “gangster like.”

The U.S. official said North Korea had proposed closing part of its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for the lifting of all U.N. sanctions except those directly targeting their weapons of mass destruction programs.

The U.S. side said “that wouldn’t work”, he said.

“The dilemma that we were confronted with is the North Koreans at this point are unwilling to impose a complete freeze on their weapons of mass destruction programs,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

“So to give many, many billions of dollars in sanctions relief would in effect put us in a position of subsidizing the ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Analysts estimate North Korea may have a nuclear arsenal of 20 to 60 weapons, which, if fitted to its intercontinental ballistic missiles, could threaten the U.S. mainland.

The collapse of the summit leaves Kim in possession of that arsenal though Trump said the North Korean leader had agreed to maintain his moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Failure to reach an agreement also marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office.

(Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Jeff Mason, Soyoung Kim, James Pearson, Josh Smith, Ju-min Park, Mai Nyugen, Khanh Vu, Jack Kim in HANOI; Martin Petty and Karen Lema in MANILA; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast)

‘Sometimes you have to walk’: Trump scraps North Korea summit deal

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a news conference after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the JW Marriott hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Jeff Mason and Josh Smith

HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said he had walked away from a nuclear deal at his summit with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam on Thursday because of unacceptable demands from the North Korean leader to lift punishing U.S.-led sanctions.

Trump said two days of talks in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi had made good progress in building relations and on the key issue of denuclearization, but it was important not to rush into a bad deal.

“It was all about the sanctions,” Trump said at a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”

The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state undertook a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources hard cash.

Trump and Kim cut short their talks, skipping a planned working lunch at the French-colonial-era Metropole hotel after a morning of meetings.

“Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” Trump said, adding “it was a friendly walk”.

He later left Vietnam to return to Washington.

Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office.

Trump said Cohen “lied a lot” during Congressional testimony in Washington on Wednesday, though he had told the truth when he said there had been “no collusion” with Russia.

The collapse of the talks raised questions about the Trump administration’s preparations and about what some critics see as his cavalier style of personal diplomacy.

Since their first summit in Singapore in June, Trump has stressed his good chemistry with Kim, but there have been doubts about whether the bonhomie could move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating a North Korean nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States.

Things had appeared more promising when the leaders met on Wednesday, predicting successful talks before a social dinner with top aides.

The White House had been confident enough to schedule a “joint agreement signing ceremony” at the conclusion of talks. Like the lunch, the ceremony did not take the place.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump speak during the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in this photo released on February 28, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump speak during the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in this photo released on February 28, 2019 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

MARKETS HIT

“No deal is a surprise, especially as they were both all smiley last evening,” said Lim Soo-ho, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy.

“But no-deal today doesn’t mean there won’t be one in coming months. It means stakes were way too high for the two leaders to give another wishy-washy statement like they did in Singapore.”

The Singapore summit, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, produced a vague statement in which Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

But little progress followed.

News of the summit failure sent South Korea’s currency lower and knocked regional stock markets. South Korea’s Kospi index closed 1.8 percent lower, marking the biggest one-day percentage loss since Oct 2018.

North Korea’s old rival South Korea, which backs efforts to end confrontation on the peninsula, said it regretted that no deal had been reached but the two sides had made progress.

Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said difficulties in the talks were unavoidable but the two sides should press on and China would play a constructive role.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he backed Trump’s decision and wanted a meeting with Kim.

There was no indication of when Trump and Kim, or their negotiators, might meet again.

Kicking off their second day in Hanoi, Trump said he would be happy as long as North Korea conducted no more nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

North Korea has conducted no tests since late 2017, and Trump said Kim had promised him there would be no resumption.

Trump said he and Kim had discussed dismantling North Korea’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, which Kim was willing to do, but Kim had wanted sanctions relief first.

There were other facilities that Trump said he wanted included in a deal – and the North Koreans had been surprised the Americans knew about them – but they had baulked.

“We asked him to do more and he was unprepared to do that, but I’m still optimistic,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the news conference, referring to Kim.

Trump said the United States would be able to inspect some North Korean facilities but he did not go into specifics.

TESTING TRUMP?

Daniel Russel, a former top State Department diplomat for East Asia, said Kim might have thought he could drive a hard bargain, given Trump’s troubles at home.

“Kim Jong Un is not testing ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs at the moment, but he is testing Donald Trump. Kim may have wanted to see if Trump’s domestic legal and political woes made him desperate enough to take any deal he could get,” he said.

Trump had indicated a more flexible stance in the run-up to the Hanoi summit prompting some critics to warn that he risked squandering leverage over North Korea if he gave away too much.

U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea would eve give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which Kim’s ruling family sees as vital to its survival.

Earlier Kim and Trump, sitting across from each other at a conference table, appeared confident of progress, and Kim had suggested he was ready to give up his nuclear bombs.

“If I’m not willing to do that, I won’t be here right now,” Kim told reporters through an interpreter when asked if he was ready to give up his nuclear weapons.

Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason in HANOI; Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim, Joyce Lee, Jeongmin Kim, Hyonhee Shin, Jack Kim, James Pearson, Mai Nyugen, Ju-min Park, Khanh Vu in HANOI, Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast)

Trump and North Korea’s Kim predict success in high-stakes nuclear summit

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands before their one-on-one chat during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason

HANOI (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met in Vietnam on Wednesday for a second summit that the United States hopes will persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of peace and development.

Kim and Trump shook hands and smiled briefly in front of a row of their national flags at the Metropole hotel in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, before heading to dinner together.

Trump told reporters he thought the talks would be very successful, and asked if he was “walking back” on denuclearization, said “no”.

At their historic first summit in Singapore last June, Trump and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean peninsula but little progress has been made.

Kim said they had overcome obstacles to hold their second summit and praised Trump for his “courageous decision” to begin a dialogue.

“Now that we’re meeting here again like this, I’m confident that there will be an excellent outcome that everyone welcomes, and I’ll do my best to make it happen,” Kim said.

Trump and Kim held a 20-minute, one-on-one chat before sitting down to dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Kim’s top envoy, Kim Yong Chol, and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.

On Thursday, the two leaders will hold a series of meetings, the White House said. The venue has not been announced.

“We’re going to have a very busy day tomorrow,” said a smiling, relaxed-looking Trump, seated beside Kim at a round table with the other four officials and two interpreters.

“Our relationship is a very special relationship.”

Experts said the pair were at pains to show their relationship had improved since their first meeting, with their body language closely mirroring each other.

A child with stickers of the North Korean and Vietnamese flags on her face reacts at the Vietnam-North Korea Friendship kindergarten, founded by North Korean Government in Hanoi, ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A child with stickers of the North Korean and Vietnamese flags on her face reacts at the Vietnam-North Korea Friendship kindergarten, founded by North Korean Government in Hanoi, ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

GOOD RELATIONS

Trump said late last year he and Kim “fell in love”, but whether the bonhomie can move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States is the question that will dominate the talks.

Trump and Kim’s Singapore summit, the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, ended with great fanfare but little substance over how to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

In the run-up to this summit, Trump has indicated a more flexible stance, saying he was in no rush to secure North Korea’s denuclearization. He repeated that on Wednesday, saying while some people believed the talks should be moving more quickly, he was satisfied.

He has also said he would be happy as long as North Korea, which has not tested a nuclear weapon or intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, maintained that freeze.

Some critics have said Trump appeared to be wavering on a long-standing U.S. demand for complete and irreversible denuclearization by North Korea and risked squandering leverage if he gave away too much, too quickly.

Asked if he would declare a formal end to the Korean War, which North Korea has long called for, Trump said: “We’ll see.”

North and South Korea have been technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict, with the Americans backing the South, ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Evans Revere, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, said Trump was under pressure, given the criticism and other domestic problems, and Kim might try to use that.

“Kim may be tempted to push Trump even harder for concessions, knowing how much the president wants and needs that testing pause,” Revere said.

Students from Nguyen Du secondary school hold U.S. and Vietnam flags outside the Presidential Palace, as they wait for wait to greet U.S. President Donald Trump, in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Students from Nguyen Du secondary school hold U.S. and Vietnam flags outside the Presidential Palace, as they wait for wait to greet U.S. President Donald Trump, in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

‘AWESOME’ POTENTIAL

U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea will ever give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which it sees as its guarantee of national security. Analysts say it won’t commit to significant disarmament unless punishing U.S.-led economic sanctions are eased.

The two sides have discussed specific and verifiable denuclearization measures, such as allowing inspectors to observe the dismantlement of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor, U.S. and South Korean officials say.

U.S. concessions could include opening liaison offices or clearing the way for inter-Korean projects.

Despite little progress on his goal of ridding North Korea of its weapons programs, Trump appeared to be betting on his personal relationship with Kim, and the economic incentive after 70 years of hostility between their countries.

“Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize,” Trump said on Twitter ahead of the meeting.

“The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!”

For Trump, a deal that eases the North Korean threat could hand him a big foreign-policy achievement in the midst of domestic troubles.

While he is in Hanoi, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is testifying before U.S. congressional committees, with the president’s business practices the main focus.

Cohen, in wide-ranging testimony he is due to deliver on Wednesday, refers to a comment Trump made to him about avoiding the U.S. military draft for the Vietnam War on medical grounds: “‘You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam’,” Cohen cited Trump as saying.

“I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now,” Cohen said in a draft statement seen by Reuters.

Trump, responding to the statement on Twitter, said Cohen was lying to reduce his prison time. He declined to respond when a reporter asked him about Cohen later.

 

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason in HANOI; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, Mai Nyugen, Ju-min Park, Khanh Vu, Josh Smith in HANOI, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast)

North Korea warns U.S. skeptics as Kim heads for summit with Trump

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a train as he departs for a summit in Hanoi, in Pyongyang, North Korea in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 23, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

By Jack Kim and Josh Smith

HANOI (Reuters) – North Korea warned President Donald Trump on Sunday not to listen to U.S. critics who were disrupting efforts to improve ties, as its leader, Kim Jong Un, made his way across China by train to a second summit with Trump in Vietnam.

The two leaders will meet in Hanoi on Wednesday and Thursday, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, where they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

But their vaguely worded agreement has produced few results and U.S. Democratic senators and U.S. security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The North’s KCNA state news agency said such opposition was aimed at derailing the talks.

“If the present U.S. administration reads others’ faces, lending an ear to others, it may face the shattered dream of the improvement of the relations with the DPRK and world peace and miss the rare historic opportunity,” the news agency said in a commentary, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Trump administration has pressed the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, which, combined with its missile capabilities, pose a threat to the United States, before it can expect any concessions.

But in recent days Trump has signaled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove sanctions if there is meaningful progress on denuclearization.

Trump also said he was in no rush and had no pressing schedule for North Korea’s denuclearization, hinting at a more gradual, reciprocal approach, long favored by Pyongyang.

The North also wants security guarantees and a formal end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Trump said on Sunday that he and Kim expect to make further progress at this week’s summit and again held out the promise that denuclearization would help North Korea develop its economy.

He also said Chinese President Xi Jinping has been supportive of Trump’s meeting with Kim. “The last thing China wants are large scale nuclear weapons right next door.”

TRUMP SCOFFS AT CRITICS

Trump scoffed at critics of his handling of North Korea.

“So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea. But thanks anyway!” he said in a tweet.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday” that North Korea has yet to take “concrete” steps on denuclearization and said another summit might be needed beyond the one in Hanoi, but that he hoped for substantial progress this week.

“The alternative to giving up his nuclear weapons is remaining a pariah state, remaining a nation that is unable to trade, unable to grow, unable to take care of its own people,” Pompeo said of Kim in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In a letter to Trump last week, three Democratic chairmen of key committees in the House of Representatives accused the administration of withholding information on the negotiations with North Korea.

“There are ample reasons to be skeptical that Chairman Kim is committed to a nuclear-free North Korea,” the lawmakers wrote.

U.S. intelligence officials recently testified to Congress that North Korea was unlikely to ever give up its entire nuclear arsenal.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Pompeo has conceded in private discussions with Korea experts that he would be lucky if North Korea agreed to dismantle 60 percent of what the United States has demanded, although he added that it would still be more than any other administration had achieved.

The State Department declined to comment on the report.

KCNA, referring to U.S. fears of the North’s weapons, said if this week’s talks ended without results, “the U.S. people will never be cleared of the security threats that threw them into panic”.

Few details of Kim’s trip to Vietnam were announced until early on Sunday, when North Korean state media confirmed he had left Pyongyang by train, accompanied by senior officials as well as his influential sister, Kim Yo Jong.

RED CARPET SEND-OFF

In rare, revealing coverage of Kim’s travel, the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper featured photographs of the leader getting a red-carpet send-off on Saturday afternoon and waving from a train door while holding a cigarette.

He was joined by top officials also involved in the Singapore summit, including Kim Yong Chol, former spy chief and Kim’s top envoy in negotiations with the United States, as well as senior party aide Ri Su Yong, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and defense chief No Kwang Chol.

Other senior officials, such as his de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, and Kim Hyok Chol, negotiations counterpart to U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun, were already in Hanoi to prepare for the summit.

Both sides are under pressure to forge more specific agreements than were reached in Singapore.

The two leaders are likely to try to build on their personal connection to push things forward in Hanoi, even if only incrementally, analysts said.

“They will not make an agreement which breaks up the current flow of diplomacy. (President Trump) has mentioned that they’ll meet again; even if there is a low-level agreement, they will seek to keep things moving,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Few details of summit arrangements have been released.

Some lamp posts on Hanoi’s tree-lined streets are decked with North Korean, U.S. and Vietnamese flags fluttering above a handshake design, and security has been stepped up at locations that could be the summit venue, or where the leaders might stay.

It could take Kim at least 2-1/2 days to travel to Vietnam by train.

(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee, Ju-min Park, Soyoung Kim, Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, and Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jeffrey Benkoe)