Trump presses China on North Korea border ahead of summit

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he delivers remarks during the Prison Reform Summit at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Ph

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday urged China on Monday to maintain a secure border with North Korea, pressing Beijing ahead of his anticipated meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month aimed at denuclearization.

“China must continue to be strong & tight on the Border of North Korea until a deal is made. The word is that recently the Border has become much more porous and more has been filtering in. I want this to happen, and North Korea to be VERY successful, but only after signing!” Trump tweeted.

He did not elaborate on the significance of the North Korea-China border issue in any deal that might be reached on denuclearization. Trump has said his meeting with Kim will take place on June 12 in Singapore.

Pyongyang last week threatened to scrap any meeting if Washington continued to press for unilateral denuclearization.

In response, Trump said that as far as he knew, the meeting was still on track and sought to placate Kim by saying the North Korean leader would be protected as part of any deal.

Last week, Trump told reporters at the White House that the Kim was possibly being influenced by Beijing, North Korea’s main ally, after two recent visits he made to China.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry)

North Korea ‘declines’ South Korea media for nuclear site event; China urges ‘stability’

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in deliver a statement at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

By Heekyong Yang

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has declined to accept a list of South Korean journalists hoping to observe the closure of its nuclear test site, South Korea said on Friday, raising new questions about the North’s commitment to reducing tension.

North Korea had invited a limited number of journalists from South Korea and other countries to witness what it said will be the closing of its only nuclear weapons test site at Punggye-ri next week.

The North Korean offer to scrap the test site has been seen as major concession in months of easing tension between it, on the one hand, and South Korea and the United States on the other.

But the remarkable progress appears to have been checked in recent days with North Korea raising doubts about an unprecedented June 12 summit in Singapore between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, and calling off talks with the South.

The South Korean Unification Ministry, which handles dealings with the North, said on Friday North Korea had “declined to accept” the list of journalists submitted by the South for the test site dismantling.

The ministry did not elaborate but the North Korean decision is likely to raise doubts about its plan for the test site.

Trump on Thursday sought to placate North Korea after it threatened to call off the June summit, saying Kim’s security would be guaranteed in any deal and his country would not suffer the fate of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, unless that could not be reached.

North Korea had said on Wednesday it might not attend the Singapore summit if the United States continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal, which it has developed in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions to counter perceived U.S. hostility.

On Thursday, North Korea’s chief negotiator called South Korea “ignorant and incompetent” and denounced U.S.-South Korean air combat drills and threatened to halt all talks with the South.

Trump, in rambling remarks in the White House’s Oval Office, said as far as he knew the summit was still on track, but that the North Korean leader was possibly being influenced by Beijing.

But he also stressed that North Korea would have to abandon its nuclear weapons and warned that if no deal was reached, North Korea could be “decimated” like Libya or Iraq.

‘PEACEFUL MEANS’

China, responding to U.S. President Donald Trump suggestion that Beijing may be influencing North Korea’s new hardline stance, said on Friday it stands for stability and peace on the Korean peninsula and for settlement of confrontation over its development of weapons through talks.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about Trump’s comments, said China’s position had not changed and he reiterated that it supported the goal of denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

“We are consistently supporting all relevant parties in resolving the peninsula issue through political consultations and peaceful means,” Lu told a regular briefing.

Kim has made two visits to China recently for talks with President Xi Jinping, including a secretive train trip to Beijing in late March, his first known visit outside North Korea since coming to power.

He flew to the port city of Dalian this month.

Both times, Kim’s encounters with Xi were cast by Chinese state media as friendly. They included beachside strolls and Xi saying that previous generations of North Korean and Chinese leaders had visited each other as often as relatives.

The warmth between the two leaders marks a sharp reversal in what had been months of frosty ties, as China ratcheted up sanction pressure on North Korea in response to its relentless missiles and nuclear tests last year.

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and considers it an important security buffer against the U.S. military presence in region.

What had seemed until this week to be rapidly warming ties between North Korea, on the one hand, and South Korea and the United States on the other, had fueled fears in Beijing that it might be left out of a new deal on the peninsula, according to analysts.

(Additonal reporting by Micheal Martina, in BEIJING; Writing by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Josh Smith, Robert Birsel)

North Korea says won’t hold talks with ‘incompetent’ South unless differences settled

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Joyce Lee and Heekyong Yang

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s chief negotiator called the South Korean government “ignorant and incompetent” on Thursday, denounced U.S.-South Korean air combat drills and threatened to halt all talks with the South unless its demands are met.

The comments by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the country, were the latest in a string of inflammatory statements marking a drastic change in tone after months of easing tension with plans for denuclearisation and a summit scheduled with the United States.

Ri criticized the South for participating in the drills, as well as for allowing “human scum” to speak at its National Assembly, the North’s KCNA news agency said in a statement.

“Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of south Korea,” the statement said.

It did not elaborate.

KCNA, in its English-language service, deliberately uses lower-case “north” and “south” to show that it only recognises one undivided Korea.

North Korea on Wednesday said it might not attend the June 12 summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore if the United States continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal, which it has developed in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions to counter perceived U.S. hostility.

A South Korean presidential Blue House official said the South intends to more actively perform “the role of a mediator” between the United States and North Korea, but that goal has been cast into doubt by Ri’s comments.

“On this opportunity, the present south Korean authorities have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group devoid of the elementary sense of the present situation,” Ri’s statement said.

The statement did not identify the “human scum” by name, but Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat to Britain who defected to the South in 2016, held a press conference on Monday at the South Korean National Assembly for his publication of his memoir.

In his memoir, “Password from the Third Floor”, Thae describes North Korean leader Kim as “impatient, impulsive and violent”.

SUMMIT IN DOUBT

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told parliament that North Korea and the United States had differences of views over how to achieve denuclearisation. Trump acknowledged on Wednesday it was unclear if the summit would go ahead.

“It is true that there are differences of opinion between the North and the United States on methods to accomplish denuclearisation,” Kang told lawmakers, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Trump will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on May 22.

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

Asked if she trusted Kim Jong Un, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang said: “Yes.”

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that the United States had demanded North Korea ship some nuclear warheads, an intercontinental ballistic missile and other nuclear material overseas within six months.

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

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

China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said the measures North Korea has taken to ease tension should be acknowledged, and all other parties, especially the United States, should cherish the opportunity for peace.

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

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

North Korea defends its nuclear and missile programs as a deterrent against perceived aggression by the United States, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The North has long said it is open to eventually giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States withdraws its troops from South Korea and ends its “nuclear umbrella” alliance with Seoul.

North Korea said it was pulling out of the talks with South Korea after denouncing U.S.-South Korean “Max Thunder” air combat drills, which it said involved U.S. stealth fighters, B-52 bombers and “nuclear assets”.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “I hope that in the end common sense will prevail, and the summit will take place and it will be successful.”

(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO and Michael Martina in BEIJING, and Cynthia Kim, Ju-min Park and Josh Smith in SEOUL; Editing by Nick Macfie)

North Korea says may reconsider summit with Trump, suspends talks with South

FILE PHOTO - South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a banquet on the Peace House at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

By Christine Kim and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea threw next month’s summit between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump into doubt on Wednesday, threatening weeks of diplomatic progress by saying it may reconsider if Washington insists it unilaterally gives up its nuclear weapons.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said earlier Pyongyang had called off high-level talks with Seoul, which had been due on Wednesday, in the first sign of trouble after months of warming ties.

Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan, KCNA later said the fate of the unprecedented U.S.-North Korea summit, as well as bilateral relations, “would be clear” if the United States spoke of a “Libya-style” denuclearisation for the North.

“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” Kim Kye Gwan said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The United States was still hopeful about the summit, scheduled for Singapore on June 12, but also prepared for a tough negotiation process, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

“We’re still hopeful that the meeting will take place and we’ll continue down that path, but at the same time we’ve been prepared that these could be tough negotiations,” Sanders said in an interview with Fox News.

“The president is ready if the meeting takes place. If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing.”

Vice Minister Kim specifically criticized U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who has called for North Korea to quickly give up its nuclear arsenal in a deal that mirrors Libya’s abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea clashed with Bolton when he worked under the Bush administration, calling him “human scum” and a “bloodsucker”.

“We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” Kim said.

The North Korean statement, as well its cancellation of the talks with the South due to U.S.-South Korean military exercises, mark a dramatic reversal in tone from recent months when both sides embraced efforts to negotiate.

North Korea had announced it would publicly shut its nuclear test site next week.

‘THREATS AND BLACKMAIL’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States would agree to lift sanctions on North Korea if it agreed to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

However, Kim Kye Gwan’s statement appeared to reject that, saying North Korea would never give up its nuclear program in exchange for trade with the United States.

“We have already stated our intention for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearisation is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” Kim said.

North Korea has always defended its nuclear and missile programs as a necessary deterrent against perceived aggression by the United States, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea has long said it is open to eventually giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States withdraws its troops from South Korea and ends its “nuclear umbrella” security alliance with Seoul, though South Korean officials have said the North may be willing to compromise.

The United States has insisted on complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the facilities needed to build the weapons as soon as possible.

Asian stock markets dipped after North Korea called off the talks with the South. Cancellation of the Singapore summit could see tension flare again even as investors worry about China-U.S. trade friction.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa spoke to Pompeo by telephone and discussed North Korea’s postponement of the talks with the South, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Pompeo told Kang Washington would continue to make preparations for the U.S-North Korea summit, bearing in mind the recent action by North Korea, it said.

Kim Kye Gwan’s statement came hours after North Korea pulled out of talks with the South after denouncing the U.S.-South Korean “Max Thunder” air combat drills, which it said involved U.S. stealth fighters, B-52 bombers and “nuclear assets”, as a provocation.

American stealth F-22 fighters were spotted in South Korea earlier in May, but a spokesman for the U.S. military command in South Korea said no B-52s were scheduled to take part in the drills.

A South Korean defense ministry official said the drills would go on as planned and were not aimed at any third party.

‘MISERABLE FATE’

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

Trump has raised expectations for success even as many analysts have been skeptical about the chances of bridging the gap due to questions about North Korea’s willingness to give up a nuclear arsenal that it says can hit the United States.

Kim Kye Gwan derided as “absurd” Bolton’s suggestion that discussions with North Korea should be similar to those that led to components of Libya’s nuclear program being shipped to the United States in 2004.

“(The) world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate,” Kim said.

He said North Korea was a nuclear weapon state while Libya had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.

A U.S. government expert on North Korea said Kim Jong Un may also be trying to gauge whether Trump was willing to walk away from the meeting.

Joshua Pollack, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said Pyongyang appeared irritated by the U.S. administration’s vow to maintain sanctions in spite of North Korean concessions.

“The North Koreans want a change in tone from the U.S., and at least so far, they’re not hearing one,” he said.

The doubt thrown over the summit comes a week after Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, under which Tehran curbed its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions.

China said on Wednesday all parties “should show goodwill and avoid mutual provocation” to create a conducive atmosphere for denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

The North-South talks had been due to focus on plans to implement a declaration that emerged from an inter-Korea summit last month, including promises to formally end the Korean War and pursue “complete denuclearisation”.

South Korea described the North’s decision as “regrettable”.

(Reporting by Josh Smith and Christine Kim in SEOUL, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Philip Wen and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING, and David Brunnstrom, Phillip Stewart, Tim Ahmann, Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton, Doina Chiacu in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)

Closing North Korea nuclear test site an important step, U.N. chief says

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrives for a news conference in Vienna, Austria, May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

VIENNA (Reuters) – Irreversibly closing North Korea’s nuclear test site is an important step that could pave the way for progress at talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday.

North Korea gave details on Saturday on the planned dismantling of the Punggye-ri site where it is believed to have carried out all six of its nuclear tests.

The official Korean Central New Agency said it would take place between May 23 and 25 and involve collapsing all the site’s tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances, and removing all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts.

“I would like to welcome that and to say that the irreversible closure of the site will be an important confidence-building measure that will contribute to further efforts towards sustainable peace and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Guterres said in a statement after meeting Austria’s chancellor in Vienna.

“And I look forward to this positive momentum being consolidated at the summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea,” he said in the remarks to reporters after his meeting with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Trump and Kim are due to hold talks in Singapore on June 12, the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

After North Korea’s announcement on Saturday, Trump said on Twitter: “Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture!”

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Upbeat Trump welcomes U.S. prisoners released by North Korea

U.S.President Donald Trump greets the Americans formerly held hostage in North Korea upon their arrival at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Roberta Rampton and David Brunnstrom

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump welcomed three Americans who had been held prisoner in North Korea back home on Thursday, thanking its leader Kim Jong Un for their release and sounding upbeat about a planned U.S.-North Korea summit.

The former prisoners, freed after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang for a second meeting with Kim in less than six weeks, landed at around 2:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) at Joint Base Andrews near Washington.

Trump and his wife, Melania, boarded the plane for about five minutes before the three men stepped out, shaking hands with the president and waving to media and military personnel.

“Frankly, we didn’t think it was going to happen and it did,” Trump said after thanking Kim for releasing the men.

“We’re starting off on a new footing. This is a wonderful thing that he released the folks early.”

Trump said he believed Kim wanted to bring North Korea “into the real world” and had high hopes for their planned meeting, which would be the first between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

“I think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful,” Trump said. “My proudest achievement will be – this is part of it – when we denuclearize that entire peninsula.”

Trump and Kim engaged in a bellicose exchange of rhetoric last year over North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States. Tensions began to ease, coinciding with the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.

There has been no sign that Pompeo’s visit has cleared up the central question of whether North Korea will be willing to bargain away weapons its ruling family has long seen as crucial to its survival.

However, the release of the three men marked a dramatic victory for Trump’s embattled White House at a time when his foreign policy is under withering criticism after Tuesday’s U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

His administration has also been under fire for ethics violations and a chaotic turnover of personnel, as well as a federal investigation of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election.

The three Americans formerly held hostage in North Korea gesture next to U.S.President Donald Trump, upon their arrival at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

The three Americans formerly held hostage in North Korea gesture next to U.S.President Donald Trump, upon their arrival at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

MADE-FOR-TV MOMENT

The arrival of the released prisoners in the dead of night created a made-for-TV moment for Trump, a former reality television host.

“I think you probably broke the all-time-in-history television rating for three o’clock in the morning,” Trump joked to cameras.

Details of the planned Trump-Kim summit have yet to be announced, but a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Singapore had emerged as the likeliest location.

Trump said it would be held in a few weeks and details would be announced within three days.

The three former prisoners were Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul, detained in 2015 and sentenced in 2016 to 10 years’ hard labor; Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, who taught for a month at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017; and Kim Hak-song, who also taught at PUST and was detained last year.

They appeared to be in good health but were taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in nearby Maryland for further medical evaluation.

“I was treated in many different ways, but overall I had to do much labor and when I became ill I received some treatment,” Kim Dong-chul said via a translator.

The trio thanked Trump and other officials for bringing them home. “We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return,” they said in a statement released as their plane made a stop in Alaska.

Until now, the only American released by North Korea during Trump’s presidency was Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old university student who returned home in a coma last summer after 17 months in prison and died days later. His death escalated U.S.-North Korea tensions.

Trump said he wanted to pay his “warmest respects” to Warmbier’s parents.

North Korean state media said the three were arrested either for subversion or “hostile acts” against the government. A North Korean official told Pompeo that Kim had granted the three “amnesty,” a senior U.S. official said.

‘NO CLARITY’

The release appeared to signal an effort by Kim to improve the mood for the summit and followed a recent pledge to suspend missile tests and shut a nuclear bomb test site.

Trump has credited his “maximum pressure” campaign for drawing North Korea to the table and vowed to keep sanctions in place until Pyongyang takes concrete steps to denuclearize.

But former spy chief Kim Yong Chul, director of North Korea’s United Front Department, said in a toast to Pompeo over lunch in Pyongyang: “We have perfected our nuclear capability. It is our policy to concentrate all efforts into economic progress … This is not the result of sanctions that have been imposed from outside.”

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while the release of the detainees was not an explicit precondition for a Trump-Kim meeting, the North Koreans understood that they had to do it for any progress to be made.

“The North Koreans have still said nothing to indicate that they are willing to give up their nuclear weapons” she said.

“We have no clarity about Kim’s intentions.”

Vice President Mike Pence echoed that caution, even while praising Kim for making moves toward peace.

“What Kim Jong Un has said publicly and in discussions is that he is prepared to negotiate to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Pence told the CBS “This Morning” program on Thursday. “Those words are important, but we’ll see what they mean.”

A land divided – https://tmsnrt.rs/2KdXMcS

American detainees in North Korea – http://tmsnrt.rs/2pmE3ks

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in WASHINGTON; Haejin Choi and Christine Kim in SEOUL; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Nick Macfie and John Stonestreet)

Trump says Pompeo en route to North Korea, cites hopes on U.S. detainees

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens to remarks made by President Donald Trump during Pompeo's swearing-in ceremony at the Department of State in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump revealed on Tuesday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way to Pyongyang to prepare for Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressed hope that three Americans held there would soon be released.

Trump said Pompeo, making his second visit to North Korea in less than six weeks, was expected to arrive “very shortly” and that the two countries had already agreed on a date and location for the unprecedented summit, though he stopped short of providing details.

While Trump said it would be a “great thing” if the three American detainees were freed, Pompeo, speaking to reporters en route to Pyongyang, said he had not received a commitment for their release but hoped North Korea would “do the right thing.”

Their release could signal an effort by Kim to set a more positive tone for the summit following his recent pledge to suspend missile tests and shut Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb test site.

While Kim would be giving up the last of his remaining American prisoners, whom North Korea has often used in the past as bargaining chips with the United States, a release could also be aimed at pressuring Trump to make concessions of his own in his bid to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal, something it has not signaled a willingness to do.

“Plans are being made, relationships are building,” Trump said of the planned summit during remarks at the White House that were otherwise focused on his decision to pull the United States out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“Hopefully, a deal will happen. And with the help of China, South Korea and Japan, a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everyone,” Trump added.

Pompeo made a secret visit to North Korea over the Easter weekend, becoming the first U.S. official known to have met Kim, to lay the groundwork for the planned summit. The meeting occurred before Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of state had been confirmed.

Trump suggested that dropping out of the Iran nuclear accord, which he has frequently denounced as a bad deal for the United States, would send a “critical message” not just to Tehran but also to Pyongyang. He has demanded that North Korea agree to give up its nuclear arsenal.

“The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them,” Trump said.

FATE OF THREE DETAINEES IN PLAY

Pompeo’s latest trip raised the prospects that the three Korean-American detainees – Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chul – could be turned over to him.

Asked whether that could happen, Trump told reporters: “We’ll all soon be finding out. We’ll soon be finding out. It would be a great thing if they are.”

“We’ve been asking for the release of these detainees for 17 months,” Pompeo said. “We’ll talk about it again. It’d be a great gesture if they’d agree to do so.”

Pompeo said he was hoping to finalize the agenda for the summit. He met Kim on this last trip but said he did not know exactly who he would meet this time.

Pompeo said he hoped to be able to outline a set of conditions that would create the opportunity for a historic change in the security relationship with North Korea and added that sanctions would not be lifted until U.S. objectives were met.

“We are not going to head down the path we headed down before,” he said. “We will not relieve sanctions until such time as we have achieved our objectives.”

Pompeo’s latest visit followed talks between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met on April 27 at the heavily fortified demilitarized zone between the countries, the first summit for the two Koreas in over a decade.

The North-South summit produced dramatic images and a declaration of goodwill. But it was short on specific commitments and failed to clear up the question of whether Pyongyang is really willing to give up nuclear missiles that now threaten the United States.

U.S. officials have been pressing Kim to free the three remaining American detainees as a gesture of sincerity before the summit, the first-ever meeting of sitting U.S. and North Korean leaders. Trump and Kim have exchanged insults and threats over the past year but tensions have eased in recent months.

Until now, the only American released by North Korea during Trump’s presidency was Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old university student who returned to the United States in a coma last summer after 17 months of captivity and died days later.

Warmbier’s death escalated U.S.-North Korea tensions, already running high at the time over Pyongyang’s stepped-up missile tests.

The three still being held are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong Chul; Kim Sang-duk, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017, and Kim Hak Song, who also taught at PUST.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom, David Alexander and John Walcott; Editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish)

South Korean trust in North jumps after feel-good summit

South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as Kim leaves after a farewell ceremony at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

By Hyonhee Shin and Haejin Choi

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean trust in North Korea has surged since last week’s feel-good summit at which their leaders declared an end to hostilities and to work towards denuclearization of the peninsula.

A survey taken on Friday, the day North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met South Korean President Moon Jae-in, showed 64.7 percent believe the North will denuclearize and keep peace. Before the summit, only 14.7 percent of those polled said they did, research agency Realmeter said on Monday.

Many South Koreans were struck by the live TV images during the summit of a smiling and joking Kim. Never before had they seen a self-deprecating and witty side to him, admitting that his country’s train system was inferior and promising he wouldn’t wake up Moon any more with early morning missile launches.

Kim seemed markedly different from former North Korean leaders – his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung, people on the street in Seoul said on Monday.

“Denuclearizing is definitely possible,” said 41-year-old Kim Jin-han. The North Korean leader “talked about his country’s weaknesses, such as the infrastructure. He was very open about that. This is very different from the previous leaders. So I think he is ready to wholly give up nuclear weapons.”

Kim’s comments about bringing Pyongyang-style cold noodles to the summit banquet clearly captivated many in the South, prompting some to add his face to the photo of a popular app for a food delivery service, holding a bowl of noodles under his arm.

One social media post getting attention said that with a successful summit, South Korea should brace for an onslaught of North Korean beer as the first wave of “cultural aggression”. A parody showed a South Korean news announcer reporting that Kim complaining about watery South Korean beer compared to Taedonggang Beer featured in the background.

South Korea’s stock market got a boost on Monday, lifted by shares of construction companies and train and steel manufacturers on hopes for joint economic projects.

NEXT SUMMIT

A euphoric mood also enveloped the presidential Blue House on Monday as Moon was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation by scores of aides and staff.

“I am confident a new era of peace will unfold on the Korean peninsula,” Moon told his aides, asking them to quickly follow up on the agreements made in Friday’s declaration.

The two sides are technically still at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Moon’s approval rating after the summit rose to 70 percent, Realmeter said, its highest since mid-January.

Moon also told aides that U.S. President Donald Trump deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to end the standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, a South Korean official said.

“President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. What we need is only peace,” Moon told aides, according to a Blue House official who briefed the press.

In January, Moon had said Trump “deserves big credit” for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, saying it may have come from “U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.”

Friday’s final declaration, however, leaves many questions unanswered, particularly what “denuclearization” means or how that will be achieved. Much hinges on Kim’s upcoming summit with Trump, who said it could happen in the next three to four weeks.

Any deal with the United States will require that North Korea demonstrate “irreversible” steps to shutting down its nuclear weapons program, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.

A flurry of diplomacy is unfolding in the lead-up to that meeting, with China saying it will send the government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, to North Korea on Wednesday and Thursday this week. China is the North’s main ally.

And over the weekend, South Korea’s spy chief visited Tokyo to brief Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

NO MORE SPEAKERS

In initial small steps towards reconciliation, South Korea said on Monday it would remove loudspeakers that blared propaganda across the border, while North Korea said it would shift its clocks to align with its southern neighbor.

South Korea turned off the loudspeakers that broadcast a mixture of news, Korean pop songs and criticism of the North Korean regime as a goodwill gesture ahead of the summit. It will begin removing the speakers on Tuesday.

“We see this as the easiest first step to build military trust,” South Korean defense ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said. “We are expecting the North’s implementation.”

North Korea will shift its time zone 30 minutes earlier to align with South Korea, starting May 5, state media reported on Monday.

The KCNA dispatch said the decision came after Kim found it “a painful wrench” to see two clocks showing different times on a wall at the summit venue.

The northern time zone was created in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule after World War Two. South Korea and Japan are in the same time zone, nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

Kim also told Moon during the summit he would soon invite experts and journalists from the United States and South Korea when the country dismantles its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, the Blue House said on Sunday.

North Korea has conducted all six of its nuclear tests at the site, a series of tunnels dug into the mountains in the northeastern part of the country. Some experts and researchers have speculated that the most recent – and by far largest – blast in September had rendered the entire site unusable.

But Kim said there were two additional, larger tunnels that remain “in very good condition” beyond the existing one, which experts believe may have collapsed.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL and Matthew Miller in BEIJING. Writing by Malcolm Foster. Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie)

North Korea tells U.S. it is prepared to discuss denuclearization: source

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS

By Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea has told the United States for the first time that it is prepared to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets President Donald Trump, a U.S. official said on Sunday.

U.S. and North Korean officials have held secret contacts recently in which Pyongyang directly confirmed its willingness to hold the unprecedented summit, the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The communications, still at a preliminary stage, have involved State Department officials talking to North Korea apparently through its United Nations mission, and intelligence officers from both sides using a separate backchannel, the official said.

Until now, the United States had relied mostly on ally South Korea’s assurance of Kim’s intentions.

South Korean envoys visited Washington last month to convey Kim’s invitation to meet. Trump, who has exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year, surprised the world by quickly agreeing to meet Kim to discuss the crisis over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States.

But North Korea has not broken its public silence on the summit, which U.S. officials say is being planned for May. There was no immediate word on the possible venue for the talks, which would be the first ever between a sitting U.S. president and North Korean leader.

The U.S. official declined to say exactly when the U.S.-North Korea communications had taken place but said the two sides had held multiple direct contacts.

“The U.S. has confirmed that Kim Jong Un is willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula‎,” said a second U.S. official.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House welcomed the communication between North Korea and the United States, with one official saying the development was “positive”.

“We are aware contact between North Korea and the United States is going well,” said another Blue House official on condition of anonymity.

“We don’t know, however, up to what extent information is being shared between the two.”

On Monday, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton is due to begin his role as Trump’s national security adviser, while on Thursday Senate confirmation hearings begin for Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Both have taken hawkish stances on North Korea.

The second South Korean official said the South’s National Security Office head, Chung Eui-yong, could speak with Bolton over the telephone as early as Tuesday.

Questions remain about how North Korea would define denuclearization, which Washington sees as Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has said over the years that it could consider giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

Some analysts have said Trump’s willingness to meet Kim handed North Korea a diplomatic win, as the United States had insisted for years that any such summit be preceded by North Korean steps to denuclearize.

Tension over North Korea’s tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile surged last year and raised fears of U.S. military action against Pyongyang.

But anxieties have eased significantly since North Korea sent athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. The neighbors are technically still at war after a 1950-53 conflict ended with a ceasefire, not a truce.

North and South Korea will hold their first summit in more than a decade towards the end of April.

The two Koreas have been holding working talks since March to work out details of the summit, like the agenda and security for the two leaders.

Kim met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a surprise visit to Beijing in late March, his first trip outside the isolated North Korea since he came to power in 2011.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstromm; Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Peter Cooney and Rosalba O’Brien)

Secrecy, delays surrounded North Korea leader’s slow train to China

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a train, as he paid an unofficial visit to China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters/File Photo

By Brenda Goh and Sue-Lin Wong

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – For a regime obsessed with secrecy, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s decision to travel to Beijing on a distinctive green armored train was an all-but-dead giveaway that he was making his first journey abroad since assuming power in 2011.

The historic visit sent officials scrambling to obscure the identity of the 21-car train and its occupants as it meandered across roughly 1,100 km (680 miles) of track through northeast China, causing rare delays along the way and triggering a growing frenzy of speculation as it neared the Chinese capital.

The train arrived at Beijing Station on Monday afternoon and left the following afternoon, with the identity of its occupants only announced on Wednesday morning – after it had crossed back into North Korea at the city of Sinuiju.

Clues that something unusual was afoot emerged in the border city of Dandong, just across the Yalu River from North Korea and linked to the isolated country by the Sino-Korea Friendship Bridge. That bridge bears a single rail track which, it turned out, carried Kim’s train into China late on Sunday.

The Daily NK, a Seoul-based website staffed by North Korean defectors, reported that boards supported by scaffolding had been set up on the platform at Dandong’s train station, blocking what is ordinarily an open view, before two trains passed through the station between 10:20 and 10:40 p.m. on Sunday night.

Yao Jun, who sells car parts in Dandong, said the station was locked down again on Tuesday night, an unusual occurrence. Kim returned to North Korea in the early hours of Wednesday.

“Now we know for next time – if the train station is in lockdown then that means Kim Jong Un has come to China,” Yao told Reuters.

At least one Dandong hotel was told by Chinese authorities not to book rooms facing the bridge, while tours from China into the North were canceled on Sunday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. A local resident said that a wedding party along the river on Sunday had been told not to set off firecrackers.

By Monday morning sighting rumors and pictures were making the rounds on Chinese social media, before being blocked or deleted by censors, while railway bureaus began warning travelers to expect delays or cancellations on Monday and Tuesday.

The disruptions were noteworthy in a country with a vast rail network that prides itself on its efficiency, with 98.8 percent of trains departing on time in 2016 and 95.4 percent arriving on schedule, and prompted complaints online.

Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University who researches the country’s railway system, said Kim’s train traveled on the regular track network, rather than on the tracks used by the country’s high-speed trains.

“Passenger and freight traffic would have been affected,” he said.

A person answering the official phone line at Dandong station on Thursday stressed that everything had been “normal” this week, and asked, “who told you the station was closed?”

An official in the international cooperation department of the China Railway Corporation declined immediate comment on Kim’s visit.

MANCHURIA AND THE GREAT WALL

China has not disclosed the route taken by Kim in the train – green with a yellow stripe resembling one used by his late father, Kim Jong Il, on his last visit to China in 2011.

Based on photos from the elder Kim’s visit, the only visible difference between the two trains was a license plate. The younger Kim’s license plate showed DF0002; the plate on the train used by his father displayed DF0001.

North Korean state media showed Kim and his entourage, including his wife Ri Sol Ju, seated on stuffed pink sofas inside the train carriage with Song Tao, the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s international affairs department, during their inbound stop in Dandong.

There are at least two likely rail routes between Dandong and Beijing, and an ordinary service takes at least 14 hours, according to Chinese railway timetables. The route is also covered by China’s high-speed trains, which travel on separate tracks, in just over six hours.

But social media posts made by local railway bureaus and ordinary users on social media suggest a surge in delays around the route from Dandong that heads north to Shenyang, in the region previously known as Manchuria. The route then snakes west along the Hebei province coast towards Beijing.

On Monday morning, Weibo users at rail stations in Tangshan and Tianjin began complaining of unexpected cancellations to regular services bound for Beijing, which they said were made without explanation.

In a Weibo post published at 5:14 p.m. on Monday and since deleted, the Beijing Railway Bureau told travelers waiting at stations in Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang to expect delays of up to two hours for trains from Shenyang and Qinhuangdao.

On Tuesday evening, a Twitter user with the handle “2018you333” posted a grainy video of a train with a single horizontal stripe hurtling across an empty car underpass, which the user said was taken at the Shanhai Pass area, 300 km east of Beijing and a major pass in the Great Wall of China.

“Let’s guess where this distinguished guest is coming from!”, the post said.

Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the video.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina, Philip Wen and the Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms; Editing by Tony Munroe and Alex Richardson)