U.S. detects new activity at North Korea factory that built ICBMs

A satellite image shows the Sanumdong missile production site in North Korea on July 29, 2018. Planet Labs Inc/Handout via REUTERS

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. spy satellites have detected renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, a senior U.S. official said on Monday, in the midst of talks to compel Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms.

Photos and infrared imaging indicate vehicles moving in and out of the facility at Sanumdong, but do not show how advanced any missile construction might be, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity because the intelligence is classified.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that North Korea appeared to be building one or two new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles at the large research facility on the outskirts of Pyongyang, citing unidentified officials familiar with intelligence reporting.

According to the U.S. official who spoke to Reuters, one photo showed a truck and covered trailer similar to those the North has used to move its ICBMs. Since the trailer was covered, it was not possible to know what, if anything, it was carrying.

The White House said it did not comment on intelligence. A senior official at South Korea’s presidential office said U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies are closely looking into various North Korean movements, declining specific comment.

The evidence obtained this month is the latest to suggest ongoing activity in North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities despite talks with the United States and a June summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump declared soon afterward that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat. Kim committed in a broad summit statement to work toward denuclearization, but Pyongyang has offered no details as to how it might go about that and subsequent talks have not gone smoothly.

It was not the first time U.S. intelligence clashed with the president’s optimism.

In late June, U.S. officials told U.S. media outlets that intelligence agencies believed North Korea had increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons and that it did not intend to fully give up its nuclear arsenal.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that North Korea was continuing to produce fuel for nuclear bombs despite its pledge to denuclearize. But he insisted the Trump administration was still making progress in its talks with Pyongyang.

Joel Wit, a former State Department negotiator and founder of 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project, said it was unrealistic to expect North Korea to stop its programs “until the ink is dry on an agreement.”

That was the case with U.S. negotiations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and more recently with Iran, “which continued to build more centrifuges capable of producing nuclear material even as it negotiated with the United States to limit those capabilities,” Wit said.

The Sanumdong factory produced two Hwasong-15 ICBMs, North Korea’s longest-range missiles, but the U.S. official noted that Pyongyang still had not tested a reliable re-entry vehicle capable of surviving a high-velocity trip through the Earth’s atmosphere and delivering a nuclear warhead.

It is possible, the official said, that any new missiles the North is building may be for further testing of such vehicles and of more accurate guidance systems.

“They seem to have figured out the engines, but not all the higher-tech stuff, and that might be what this is about,” the official said.

“What’s more, a liquid-fueled ICBM doesn’t pose nearly the threat that a solid-fueled one would because they take so long to fuel, and that’s something we almost certainly could see in time to abort a launch, given our assets in the vicinity.”

(Additional reporting by David Alexander and Joyce Lee; Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Trump thanks Kim as North Korea transfers remains of missing U.S. soldiers

A soldier carries a casket containing the remains of a U.S. soldier who was killed in the Korean War during a ceremony at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

By Joyce Lee and Eric Beech

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea transferred 55 small, flag-draped cases carrying the suspected remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War on Friday, officials said, a first step in implementing an agreement reached in a landmark summit in June.

The repatriation of the remains missing in the 1950-53 conflict is seen as a modest diplomatic coup for U.S. President Donald Trump as it was one of the agreements reached during his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore aimed primarily at securing the denuclearization of the North.

“After so many years, this will be a great moment for so many families. Thank you to Kim Jong Un,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

A White House statement earlier said: “We are encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change.”

A U.S. military transport plane flew to an airfield in North Korea’s northeastern city of Wonsan to bring the remains to Osan air base in South Korea, the White House statement said.

Soldiers in dress uniforms with white gloves were seen slowly carrying 55 small cases covered with the blue-and-white U.N. insignia, placing them one by one into silver vans waiting on the tarmac in Osan.

A U.N. honor guard carries a box containing remains believed to be from American servicemen killed during the 1950-53 Korean War after it arrived from North Korea, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Friday, July 27, 2018. Ahn Young-joon/Pool via Reuter

A U.N. honor guard carries a box containing remains believed to be from American servicemen killed during the 1950-53 Korean War after it arrived from North Korea, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Friday, July 27, 2018. Ahn Young-joon/Pool via Reuters

Straight-backed officers looked on next to the flags of the United States, South Korea and the United Nations.

A formal repatriation ceremony would be held at Osan on Wednesday, the White House said.

The remains would then be flown to Hawaii for further processing under the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the U.N. Command said in a statement.

The transfer of the remains coincided with the 65th anniversary of the 1953 armistice that ended fighting between North Korean and Chinese forces on one side and South Korean and U.S.-led forces under the U.N. Command on the other. The two Koreas are technically still at war because a peace treaty was never signed.

Kim paid tribute to the North’s Korean War “martyrs” and to Chinese soldiers killed in the conflict, state media said.

More than 7,700 U.S. troops who fought in the Korean War remain unaccounted for, with about 5,300 of those lost in what is now North Korea.

U.S. soldiers salute to vehicles transporting the remains of 55 U.S. soldiers who were killed in the Korean War at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

U.S. soldiers salute to vehicles transporting the remains of 55 U.S. soldiers who were killed in the Korean War at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

GOODWILL GESTURE

The pledge to transfer war remains was seen as a goodwill gesture by Kim at the June summit and, while it has taken longer than some U.S. officials had hoped, the handover will rekindle hopes for progress in nuclear talks.

Kim committed in a broad summit statement to work toward denuclearization but Pyongyang has offered no details.

South Korea welcomed the return of the remains, calling it “meaningful progress that could contribute to fostering trust” between Pyongyang and Washington.

The two Koreas agreed to hold general-level military talks on Tuesday to discuss ways to implement their own summit in April in which they vowed to defuse tensions, Seoul’s defense ministry said on Friday.

South Korea also said it plans to cut the number of troops from 618,000 to 500,000 by 2020 and the number of generals from 436 to 360 as part of military reforms.

The plan comes amid a thaw in relations between the two Koreas and days after the South pledged to reduce guard posts and equipment along the demilitarized zone on its border with the North.

It would spend 270.7 trillion won ($241.8 billion) on the reforms from 2019-23, which translates into a 7.5 percent rise in its annual defense budget, the ministry said in a statement.

Pyongyang has renewed calls for a declaration of the end of the Korean War, calling it the “first process for peace” and an important way Washington can add heft to security guarantees it has pledged in return for North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons.

The U.S. State Department says Washington is committed to building a peace mechanism to replace the armistice when North Korea has denuclearised.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a Senate hearing on Wednesday North Korea was continuing to produce fuel for nuclear bombs despite of its pledge to denuclearize, even as he argued that the United States was making progress in talks with Pyongyang.

Pompeo said North Korea had begun to dismantle a missile test site, something Kim also promised in Singapore, and called it “a good thing, steps forward”. However, he said Kim needed to follow through on his summit commitments to denuclearize.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning luxury goods said to include recreational sports equipment.

The United States has blocked a request by the International Olympic Committee to transfer sports equipment to North Korea so its athletes can participate in the Olympic Games, United Nations diplomats said on Thursday.

Before Friday’s transfer of remains, the United States and North Korea had worked on so-called joint field activities to recover Korean War remains from 1996-2005. Washington halted those operations, citing concerns about the safety of its personnel as Pyongyang stepped up its nuclear program.

More than 400 caskets of remains found in North Korea were returned to the United States between the 1990s and 2005, with the bodies of some 330 other Americans also accounted for, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Pentagon officials have said discussions with North Korea have included resuming field operations in the North to recover remains.

The program helped bring in vital hard currency to North Korea, which has been under U.S.-led sanctions for decades. However, reviving it could complicate U.S. efforts to persuade countries around the world to maintain economic pressure on Pyongyang over its ballistic and nuclear programs.

(Reporting by Eric Beech and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON and Joyce Lee in SEOUL; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

Trump expects ‘big results,’ including North Korea, after Putin summit

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about his summit meeting in Finland with Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the start of a meeting with members of the U.S. Congress at the White House in Washington, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his meeting with Vladimir Putin would lead to “big results,” in a continuing bid to calm a storm over his failure to criticize the Russian leader for Moscow’s actions to undermine the 2016 U.S. election.

In a tweet Trump said he elicited a promise from Putin to help negotiate with North Korea but did not say how. “Russia has agreed to help with North Korea, where relationships with us are very good and the process is moving along,” he said. “There is no rush, the sanctions remain! Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!”

Russia’s RIA news agency, citing Moscow’s envoy to Pyongyang, reported on Wednesday that a summit between the leaders of Russia and North Korea is “on the agenda” and that it would be “logical” to raise the idea of lifting sanctions.

Trump met North Korea’s Kim Jong Un last month in the first meeting between leaders of the two countries, and recently received a letter from Kim expressed hope for “practical actions” in the future.

Trump had said he and Putin discussed reducing nuclear weapons worldwide.

“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki,” Trump said in a series of early-morning tweets about their Monday summit. “Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”

Republicans and Democrats both accused him of siding with an adversary rather than his own country after he shied away from criticizing the Russian leader for what U.S. intelligence agencies say were Moscow’s efforts to undermine the 2016 election.

Instead, standing next to Putin Trump cast doubt on the agencies. On Tuesday Trump said he had misspoken and that he had complete faith in U.S. intelligence agencies and accepted their conclusions.

Trump also tweeted on Wednesday that his NATO meeting in Brussels last week was an “acknowledged triumph,” adding that his one-on-one with Putin “may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success. Many positive things will come out of that meeting.”

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk in Moscow and Alison Williams in London; Editing by Jon Boyle and Jeffrey Benkoe)

South Korea scraps annual government war drill as talks with North go on

FILE PHOTO - South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in 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

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Tuesday it has decided to scrap an annual government mobilization drill this year as part of a suspended joint exercise with the United States but will carry out its own drills to maintain readiness. The ministers of safety and defense made the announcement at a media briefing on Tuesday. The drill, called the Ulchi exercises, usually takes place every August in tandem with the joint Freedom Guardian military drill with the United States.

Seoul and Washington said in June they would halt the joint exercise after U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to end war games following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.

Seoul’s presidential office has said the suspension of the combined exercise could facilitate ongoing nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States.

South Korea would develop a new drill model by incorporating Ulchi and the existing Taeguk command post exercises, which would be aimed at fighting militancy and large-scale natural disasters, the ministers said.

That incorporated exercise would be launched in October when the Hoguk field training drill takes place, the ministers said.

“Our military will carry out planned standalone drills this year and decide on joint exercises through close consultations with the United States,” Defence Minister Song Young-moo said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Christine Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)

Explainer: What will it cost for complete denuclearization of North Korea?

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore in this picture released on June 12, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS/File Phot

VIENNA (Reuters) – At a summit in Singapore in early June with U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un pledged to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”.

Follow-up talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials are due to be held, and Trump said last week, “It will be a total denuclearization, which has already started taking place.”

Assuming denuclearization of North Korea does take place, what would it look like and how much would it cost?

WHAT DOES DENUCLEARIZATION MEAN?

That is far from clear and may have different meanings for each side.

The exact form denuclearization takes will depend on negotiations. North Korea may seek to continue some nuclear activities with possible civilian uses like uranium enrichment, as Iran is able to do under its deal with major powers.

For Washington, however, denuclearization means at least eliminating the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons. That requires removing or dismantling existing weapons, shutting down the program that makes them, and limiting or eliminating Pyongyang’s ability to enrich uranium and produce plutonium, another key ingredient in atomic bombs.

It would also most likely require restricting or eliminating North Korea’s ballistic missile programs.

KNOWN AND UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS

To complicate matters further, much remains unknown about North Korea’s nuclear activities, its weapons program and its ballistic missile capabilities. These are among the most secret activities in a highly secretive state that foreign intelligence services have struggled to penetrate.

North Korea has carried out six increasingly powerful nuclear tests since 2006 and surprised foreign governments with a series of missile tests showing rapidly improving technology and increasing range.

Pyongyang tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in December that governments and experts said appeared to bring all of the continental United States within range, though many believe it has yet to fully develop the re-entry vehicle in which the warhead returns to the Earth’s atmosphere as it approaches its target.

BEATING HEART

Historically the Yongbyon complex north of Pyongyang has been at the heart of North Korea’s nuclear program. It houses a reactor that produces spent fuel from which plutonium is reprocessed, and an experimental reactor that analysts observing satellite imagery say is close to being completed.

Yongbyon is also widely thought to house a uranium enrichment plant, though many experts say one or more larger enrichment sites are likely to exist outside Yongbyon.

By pursuing plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment, North Korea has developed the two tracks to obtaining the fissile material for nuclear weapons.

While Yongbyon is closely watched by satellites and was monitored by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors before they were expelled in 2009, far less is known about facilities elsewhere in the country.

Nuclear analyst David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security has quoted an anonymous “official source” as saying that about half of North Korea’s nuclear facilities are outside Yongbyon and the site where it has carried out nuclear tests.

FEW PRECEDENTS

There are few cases in which a country has voluntarily given up nuclear weapons. Those that have did so in particular circumstances, and provide imperfect analogies.

South Africa shut down its nuclear weapons program and dismantled its weapons shortly before the 1994 end of apartheid. Several former Soviet republics gave up their weapons after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Of those, Ukraine had the most, roughly 5,000, and it held onto them the longest.

South Africa kept its nuclear weapons program secret until after it had dismantled its six atom bombs and destroyed many of the documents relating to them, meaning the cost is not known. The weapons were dismantled in just months.

In Ukraine, which had ground-based strategic weapons with roughly 1,250 nuclear warheads, a Defence Ministry official said the United States paid around $350 million to dismantle the silos from which those missiles would have been launched.

At its peak Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal was the third biggest in the world. North Korea’s is much smaller – its exact size is not known but several analysts estimate it has around 30 weapons.

SO, HOW MUCH?

Given the uncertainties involved, most analysts are reluctant to be more specific than to predict costs for denuclearization running into billions of dollars.

“I think it would be fair to say that dismantling and cleanup of a substantial part of the North Korean nuclear complex (not even considering the missile complex) would cost many billions and take 10 years or so,” said Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist and Stanford University professor who visited Yongbyon in 2010.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office in 2008 estimated at $575 million the cost of dismantling the reactor at Yongbyon and two nearby plants that made fuel rods and separated plutonium from spent fuel, plus shipping its spent fuel out of the country and reprocessing it. It said that should take four years.

North Korea’s nuclear activities and stockpiles have increased significantly since 2008. There is now a second reactor at least near completion at Yongbyon, and the CBO estimate did not cover uranium enrichment, weapons facilities, missile technology or sites like uranium mines.

VERIFICATION

For the whole process to work, Washington will need to be convinced North Korea has declared all its relevant sites and activities. Verification is likely to play an important role.

Any doubt over whether North Korea has declared all its activities could lead to a dispute like the one over whether Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion of that country in 2003. A balance will have to be struck between transparency and intrusiveness.

The cost of IAEA safeguards activities for Iran, where the agency is policing the country’s 2015 nuclear deal, was 15.8 million euros ($18.42 million) last year, according to a confidential IAEA report obtained by Reuters.

But the IAEA was already inspecting Iran’s declared nuclear facilities before the deal was reached. Starting essentially from scratch in North Korea will be much more expensive.

“If you take the annual cost of IAEA verification and monitoring in Iran and multiply it by roughly three or more, you might get a rough estimate for the annual cost for North Korea after any denuclearization deal,” Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said.

“North Korea’s nuclear program is more secretive than Iran’s and, in terms of nuclear weapons, far more advanced.”

(Reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam, Ed Cropley in Johannesburg, Joyce Lee, Joori Roh and Heekyong Yang in Seoul; Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

North Korea, China discuss ‘true peace’, denuclearization

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping raise a toast in Beijing, China, in this undated photo released June 20, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS

By Christine Kim and Christian Shepherd

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping came to an understanding on issues discussed at a summit of the two leaders, including denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the North’s state media said on Wednesday.

Kim and Xi assessed the historic meeting Kim had with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore last week and exchanged opinions on ways to resolve the issue of denuclearization, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The North Korean leader also promised during a meeting with Xi in Beijing to cooperate with Chinese officials to secure “true peace” in the process of “opening a new future” on the Korean peninsula, it said.

Xi told Kim the neighbors’ joint efforts could definitely ensure peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.

“I have faith that, with the joint efforts of China and North Korea, our relationship can definitely benefit both countries and both peoples,” he said, during a meeting at Beijing’s Diaoyutai state guest house.

Kim told Xi that previously China and North Korea had helped each other out like family members. “General Secretary comrade Xi Jinping has shown us touching and familial support and concern,” he said, according to Xinhua.

Kim wrapped up his two-day trip to Beijing on Wednesday with a visit to an agricultural sciences exhibition and the Beijing subway command center, Xinhua added.

The visit follows his Singapore summit, where Kim and Trump reaffirmed a commitment to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump surprised officials in South Korea and the United States after that meeting by saying he would end “provocative” joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

The United States and South Korea said they had agreed to suspend a joint military exercise set for August, although decisions regarding subsequent drills have not yet been made.

On Wednesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa said the decision to suspend the exercise could be reconsidered, based on future developments with North Korea.

“I think we’ve made it clear this is a goodwill gesture to strengthen dialogue momentum,” Kang said.

“It’s not irreversible. They could come back if the dialogue loses speed, or if North Korea doesn’t live up to its denuclearization commitment,” she said.

Kim is on his third visit to China this year. Xi offered high praise to the North Korean leader on Tuesday for the “positive outcome” of last week’s summit with Trump.

KCNA also reported that Xi said relations between China and North Korea had reached a new level of development since Kim’s first visit in March and that the pacts by the two leaders were being carried out “one-by-one”.

Kim also told Xi he was willing to bolster friendship and cooperation, it said.

It was widely expected that Kim would visit Beijing to brief Xi on his summit with Trump, which included Pyongyang agreeing to hand over the remains of troops missing from the 1950-53 Korean War.

Two U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday North Korea could start that process within the next few days.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Joori Roh and Joyce Lee in SEOUL and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

North Korean film on Kim’s Singapore trip reveals new focus on economy

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk after lunch at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has produced a film on leader Kim Jong Un’s summit meeting with President Donald Trump this week, feeding, as one would expect, a fervid cult of personality but also seemingly highlighting his dream of economic development.

The 42-minute film, titled “Epochal meeting that pioneered new history between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States”, aired on North Korean state television on Thursday.

It shows the highlights of Kim’s three-day trip to the city-state of Singapore, including exchanges during his historic summit with Trump on Tuesday, and visits he made to some of Singapore’s top sites that evening.

Rigidly controlled North Korean state media usually give ordinary people little exposure to the affluence of their Asian neighbors.

For years, media have relentlessly extolled the successes of their state, and its leaders from the Kim family, proudly defying the evil United States and its lackey allies, even as many ordinary North Koreans starved.

But this film lavished praise on prosperous, capitalist Singapore, lauding the “clean, beautiful and advanced” nation and suggesting it had lessons to offer.

“Our comrade supreme leader said he is eager to learn the excellent knowledge and experiences in various fields from your country,” the state media presenter cited Kim as telling Singapore officials.

Kim was briefed on urban planning and lauded the island nation’s “world-class” cargo-handling capacity, as well as its well-equipped ports and its economy.

One analyst said the film was underscoring Kim’s stated pledge to make the economy a priority, after he had announced the achievement of a long-held ambition to develop nuclear weapons.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives in Singapore, June 10, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information via REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives in Singapore, June 10, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information via REUTERS

MESSAGE OF HOPE?

Kim shifted his focus at a ruling party congress in April, abandoning the parallel pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic development he had expounded since taking power in 2011, to focus instead exclusively on development.

“It’s to give the message that ‘We could be as rich if we develop the market economy’,” Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector who now runs a Seoul-based think-tank, said of the film’s message.

“Ordinary North Koreans might feel some discontent for now, seeing Kim and his aides enjoying overseas travel when they’re struggling to feed themselves, but this film could give them hope at the same time.”

The film made much of Kim’s surprise evening outing to some of Singapore’s most famous waterfront sites, among them a rooftop bar and infinity swimming pool at one of its plushest hotels, where surprised guests filmed him with camera phones.

In one scene, Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was seen walking with him along a promenade, clearly impressed with the high-rise skyline.

Inevitably, Kim is portrayed in the film as a global peacemaker, sitting and smiling as an equal with the U.S. president derided just months earlier by state media as a “lunatic old man”.

Trump, accompanied by Kim, was shown returning the salute of Defence Minister No Kwang Chol, who was clad in his military uniform, raising questions among Trump’s critics back home.

The film also showed Trump offering Kim a peek inside the U.S. presidential limousine, known as “The Beast,” calling it a gesture of “special respect and goodwill”.

Such images reflected a new confidence in the North Korean leadership that the isolation was over and they had at last been accepted as legitimate members of the international community.

But the message could confound some ordinary North Koreans, said a South Korean official.

“It was recognition that North Korea has really craved, but it might also be a double-edged sword for Kim,” said the official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“Imagine how perplexed ordinary North Koreans could be by the image of the evil United States so deeply rooted in their minds, and then this sudden mood of a thaw.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Jeongmin Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Trump says North Korea no longer a nuclear threat; North highlights concessions

North Koreans watch the displayed local newspapers reporting the summit between the U.S. and North Korea at a subway station in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 13, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat, nor is it the “biggest and most dangerous problem” for the United States, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday on his return from a summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The summit was the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader and followed a flurry of North Korean nuclear and missile tests and angry exchanges between Trump and Kim last year that fueled fears of war.

“Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump said on Twitter.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk in the Capella Hotel after their working lunch, on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk in the Capella Hotel after their working lunch, on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters

“There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”

On Tuesday, Trump told a news conference after the summit that he would like to lift sanctions against the North but that this would not happen immediately.

North Korean state media lauded the summit as a resounding success, saying Trump expressed his intention to halt U.S.-South Korea military exercises, offer security guarantees to the North and lift sanctions against it as relations improve.

Kim and Trump invited each other to their respective countries and both leaders “gladly accepted,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

“Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” KCNA said.

Trump said the United States would stop military exercises with South Korea while North Korea negotiated on denuclearization.

“We save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith – which both sides are!” he said on Twitter.

U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump’s reasoning for halting the exercises was “ridiculous”.

“It’s not a burden onto the American taxpayer to have a forward deployed force in South Korea,” Graham told CNN.

“It brings stability. It’s a warning to China that you can’t just take over the whole region. So I reject that analysis that it costs too much, but I do accept the proposition, let’s stand down (on military exercises) and see if we can find a better way here.”

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he hoped all parties could “grasp the moment of positive changes” on the peninsula to take constructive steps toward a political resolution and promoting denuclearization.

“At this time, everyone had seen that North Korea has halted missile and nuclear tests, and the United States and South Korea have to an extent restricted their military actions. This has de facto realized China’s dual suspension proposal,” he told a daily news briefing.

“When it comes to Trump’s statement yesterday that he would halt South Korea and the United States’ military drills, I can only say that China’s proposal is indeed practical and reasonable, is in line with all sides’ interests and can resolve all sides’ concerns.”

China, North Korea’s main ally, last year proposed what it calls a “dual suspension”, whereby North Korea suspend nuclear and missile tests, and South Korea and the United States suspend military drills.

U.S.-North Korea relations: https://tmsnrt.rs/2l2UwW7

SURPRISE

There was some confusion over precisely what military cooperation with South Korea Trump had promised to halt.

The U.S.-South Korean exercise calendar hits a high point every year with the Foal Eagle and Max Thunder drills, which both wrapped up last month. Another major exercise is due in August.

The United States maintains about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, which remains in a technical state of war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce not a peace treaty.

Trump’s announcement on the exercises was a surprise even to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who has worked in recent months to help bring about the Trump-Kim summit.

Asked about Trump’s comments, South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters there was a need to seek measures that would help improve engagement with North Korea but it was also necessary to confirm exactly what Trump had meant.

Moon will be chairing a national security meeting on Thursday to discuss the summit.

Trump’s administration had previously ruled out any concessions or lifting of sanctions without North Korea’s commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible steps to scrap a nuclear arsenal that is advanced enough to threaten the United States.

But a joint statement issued after the summit said only that North Korea “commits to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is to lead the U.s. side in talks with North Korea to implement outcomes of the summit, arrived in South Korea on Wednesday, to be greeted by General Vincent Brooks, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, and U.S. Charge d’Affaires Marc Knapper.

Pompeo had a meeting with Brooks before heading to Seoul, according to a pool report. He is set to meet Moon on Thursday and hold a three-way meeting with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

On Tuesday, just after Trump’s surprise announcement, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea said they had not received any instruction to cease joint military drills.

Although the Pentagon said Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was consulted, current and former U.S. defense officials expressed concern at the possibility the United States would halt the exercises without an explicit concession from North Korea lowering the threat.

CRITICS IN THE UNITED STATES

Critics in the United States said Trump had given away too much at a meeting that gave Kim long-sought international standing.

The North Korean leader had been isolated, his country accused of widespread human rights abuses and under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“For North Korea, they got exactly what they wanted,” said Moon Seong-mook, a former South Korean military official current head of the Unification Strategy Centre in Seoul.

“They had a summit as a nuclear state with Kim on equal turf with Trump, got the United States to halt joint military exercises with South Korea. It’s a win for Kim Jong Un.”

Japan’s Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera said that, while North Korea had pledged denuclearization, no concrete steps had been taken and Japan would not let down its guard.

“We see U.S.-South Korean joint exercises and the U.S. military presence in South Korea as vital to security in East Asia,” Onodera told reporters. “It is up to the U.S. and South Korea to decide about their joint exercises. We have no intention of changing our joint drills with the U.S.”

Japan would only start shouldering the costs of North Korea’s denuclearization after the International Atomic Energy Agency restarts inspections, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

The Singapore summit did not get top billing in the main state news outlets in China.

The English-language China Daily said in an editorial that while it remained to be seen if the summit would be a defining moment, the fact it went smoothly was positive.

“It has ignited hopes that they will be finally able to put an end to their hostility and that the long-standing peninsula issues can finally be resolved. These hopes should not be extinguished,” it said.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Joori Roh and David Brunnstrom in SEOUL, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Phil Stewart in WASHINGTON, Christian Shepherd in BEIJING and John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

Trump, Kim agree on denuclearization, U.S. promises security guarantees

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Steve Holland, Soyoung Kim and Jack Kim

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged at a historic summit on Tuesday to move toward complete denuclearization, while the United States promised its old foe security guarantees.

The start of negotiations aimed at banishing what Trump described as North Korea’s “very substantial” nuclear arsenal could have far-reaching ramifications for the region, and in one of the biggest surprises of the day, Trump said he would stop military exercises with old ally South Korea.

But Trump and Kim gave few other specifics in a joint statement signed at the end of their summit in Singapore, and several analysts cast doubt on how effective the agreement would prove to be in the long run at getting North Korea to give up its cherished nuclear weapons.

“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The two leaders had appeared cautious and serious when they arrived for the summit at the Capella hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa, a resort island with luxury hotels, a casino and a Universal Studios theme park.

Body language expert said they both tried to project command as they met, but also displayed signs of nerves.

After a handshake, they were soon smiling and holding each other by the arm, before Trump guided Kim to a library where they met with only their interpreters. Trump had said on Saturday he would know within a minute of meeting Kim whether he would reach a deal.

Trump later told a news conference he expected the denuclearization process to start “very, very quickly” and it would be verified by “having a lot of people in North Korea”.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials would hold follow-up negotiations “at the earliest possible date”, the statement said.

Despite Kim announcing that North Korea was destroying a major missile engine-testing site, Trump said sanctions on North Korea would stay in place for now.

John Hopkins University’s North Korea monitoring project 38 North said last week North Korea had razed a facility for testing canister-based ballistic missiles.

U.S. President Donald Trump shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un his car, nicknamed "The Beast", during their walk around Capella hotel after a working lunch at a summit in Singapore, June 12, 2018, in this still image taken from video. Host Broadcaster/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. BROADCASTERS: NO USE AFTER 72 HOURS; DIGITAL: NO USE AFTER 30 DAYS.

U.S. President Donald Trump shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un his car, nicknamed “The Beast”, during their walk around Capella hotel after a working lunch at a summit in Singapore, June 12, 2018, in this still image taken from video. Host Broadcaster/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. BROADCASTERS: NO USE AFTER 72 HOURS; DIGITAL: NO USE AFTER 30 DAYS.

Trump said the regular military exercises the United States holds with South Korea were expensive and provocative. His halting of the drills could rattle South Korea and Japan, which rely on a U.S. security umbrella.

Trump said the exercises would not be revived “unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should”.

Earlier, Kim said he and Trump had “decided to leave the past behind. The world will see a major change”.

However, several experts said the summit failed to secure any concrete commitments by Pyongyang for dismantling its nuclear arsenal. They also noted the statement did not refer to human rights in one of the world’s most repressive nations.

TRADING FOR A PROMISE

Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow at Washington’s Foundation for Defense of Democracies think-tank, said it was unclear if negotiations would lead to denuclearization, or end with broken promises, as had happened in the past.

“This looks like a restatement of where we left negotiations more than 10 years ago and not a major step forward,” he said.

Daniel Russel, formerly the State Department’s top Asia diplomat, said the absence of any reference to the North’s ballistic missiles was “glaring”.

“Trading our defense of South Korea for a promise is a lopsided deal that past presidents could have made but passed on,” he said.

North Korea has long rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament, instead referring to the denuclearization of the peninsula. That has always been interpreted as a call for the United States to remove its “nuclear umbrella” protecting South Korea and Japan.

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on summit between the U.S. and North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on summit between the U.S. and North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The document made no mention of the sanctions on North Korea and nor was there any reference to a peace treaty formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War, which killed millions of people and ended in a truce.

But the joint statement did say the two sides had agreed to recover the remains of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, so they could be repatriated.

Trump said China, North Korea’s main ally, would welcome the progress he and Kim had had made.

“Making a deal is great thing for the world. It’s also a great thing for China,” he said.

China, which has opposed North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, said it hoped North Korea and the United States could reach a basic consensus on denuclearization.

“At the same time, there needs to be a peace mechanism for the peninsula to resolve North Korea’s reasonable security concerns,” China’s top diplomat, state councillor Wang Yi, told reporters in Beijing.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the Kremlin had a positive assessment of the summit but “the devil is in the details”, the TASS news agency reported.

If the summit does lead to a lasting detente, it could fundamentally change the security landscape of Northeast Asia, just as former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 led to the transformation of China.

But Li Nan, senior researcher at Pangoal, a Beijing-based Chinese public policy think-tank, said the meeting had only symbolic significance.

“There is no concrete detail on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the provision of security guarantees by the United States,” Li said. “It is too early to call it a turning point in North Korea-U.S. relations.”

The dollar retreated after jumping to a 3-week high but global shares crept higher on news of the agreement.

Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2l2UwW7

HARD NEGOTIATOR

Trump said he had formed a “very special bond” with Kim and relations with North Korea would be very different in future. He called Kim “very smart” and a “very worthy, very hard negotiator”.

Just a few months ago, Kim was an international pariah accused of ordering the killing of his uncle, a half-brother and hundreds of officials suspected of disloyalty. Tens of thousands of North Koreans are imprisoned in labor camps.

Trump said he raised the issue of human rights with Kim, and he believed the North Korean leader wanted to “do the right thing”.

Trump also said U.S. college student Otto Warmbier did not die in vain days after he was released from North Korean custody in 2017, as his death helped initiate the process that led to the summit.

“I believe it’s a rough situation over there, there’s no question about it, and we did discuss it today pretty strongly … at pretty good length, and we’ll be doing something on it,” Trump said.

During a post-lunch stroll through the gardens of the hotel where the summit was held, Trump said the meeting had gone “better than anybody could have expected”.

Kim stood silently alongside, but he had earlier described the summit as a “a good prelude to peace”.

Trump also rolled out what amounted to a promotional video starring the two leaders before the talks, which was watched by the North Korean officials on an iPad.

As the two leaders met, Singapore navy vessels, and air force Apache helicopters patrolled, while fighter jets and a Gulfstream 550 early warning aircraft circled high overhead.

Within North Korea, the summit is likely to go down well.

“Signing the joint statement would show North Korean citizens that Kim Jong Un is not a leader just within North Korea but also in international society, especially with his position equivalent to Trump,” said Ahn Chan-il, a defector from North Korea who lives in the South.

(Additional reporting by Dewey Sim, Aradhana Aravindan, Himani Sarkar, Miral Fahmy, John Geddie, Joyce Lee, Grace Lee, Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in Singapore and Christine Kim in Seoul; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)

Who has Kim Jong Un’s ‘nuclear button’ in Pyongyang while he’s away?

FILE PHOTO: 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 Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – When Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday for perhaps the most significant nuclear talks since the Cold War, the American president will have his link to the U.S. nuclear arsenal nearby at all times.

As the leader of a newly minted nuclear state, much less is known about how Kim maintains control of his nuclear arsenal while he travels.

Kim began the year by declaring to the world that “a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office,” which was widely interpreted as an allusion to his personal control over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

Trump fired back in a tweet, saying “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

When the two meet in Singapore for high-stakes nuclear negotiations, Trump will be accompanied, as always, by a staffer carrying his “button” in the form of the “nuclear football” containing equipment used to authorize a strike.

North Korea is one of the most insular states in the world and command and control of its nuclear facilities is kept within a tight, impenetrable circle.

Additionally, Kim – who came to power in 2011 – has only just begun making trips outside North Korea. He has been to Beijing twice and has briefly crossed the frontier at the Demilitarized Zone with South Korea to meet its president. Singapore will be the furthest he is known to have traveled since taking over.

But analysts who closely watch North Korea believe it is unlikely Kim would have come to Singapore without being confident of the arsenal’s security – and the ability to order its use.

“We don’t know how developed North Korea’s secure communications capabilities are, so whether Kim Jong Un will be within easy reach of his National Command Authority during his stay in Singapore is an open question,” said Andrew O’Neil, a North Korea nuclear policy expert at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

“That said, given that most assume… North Korea’s nuclear command, control, communications and intelligence is configured to promote a high degree of centralization in Kim’s decision-making, it beggars belief that Kim would not be within secure reach to authorize a possible launch if required,” O’Neil added.

Kim likely delegated authority to watch over the arsenal to one of a number of trusted North Korean officials who stayed in Pyongyang, including Choe Ryong Hae, one of several senior leaders who saw Kim off at the airport as he departed for Singapore, said Michael Madden, a leadership expert with the 38 North website, which monitors North Korea.

“Kim can authorize or approve a missile strike while he is away,” Madden said. “There’s a protocol for launches.”

Trusted officials would maintain control of fixed telecommunications hotlines in the country, and there is likely a code system to activate the systems involved in launching North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

“There are only certain designated facilities where these communications can be activated,” Madden said

North Korea’s missile program: https://tmsnrt.rs/2t6WEPL

SECURITY CONCERNS

Many questions remain unanswered, however, including whether the North Koreans have robust enough communication systems to make sure no one panics and launches an attack, said Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program.

“Its command and control structure while Kim is traveling is unlikely to be robust enough for him to be able to reliably issue or stop launch sequences,” he said.

He said that was because North Korea was likely to have configured its nuclear forces to permit rapid authorization to launch in order to offset the risk of a first strike from the United States.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)