U.S., North Korea to seek understanding on denuclearization at summit

FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo

By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and North Korea will seek a common understanding of what denuclearization means when President Donald Trump presses Kim Jong Un next week to give up all of the North’s nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

Trump and Kim are set to meet in Vietnam for their second summit in an effort to thaw relations between the former foes and reduce one of the world’s biggest nuclear threats.

U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for the meeting, and Trump has made clear he does not expect this one to be his last with Kim, a dictator he once derided as “little rocket man” but now considers a partner with whom he works well.

Critics have said Trump gave Kim too much simply by meeting with him in Singapore last year. That criticism may be levied again for the Vietnam summit.

But the U.S. officials said the United States remained focused on getting the North Korean leader to denuclearize, even if he had not made that decision himself so far.

“I don’t know if North Korea has made the choice yet to denuclearize, but the reason why we’re engaged in this is because we believe there is a possibility,” one official said.

The two sides have not agreed previously on what denuclearization means.

Kim agreed in Singapore to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, which could be taken to include removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella for South Korea and nuclear-capable forces, while the United States has been demanding that North Korea give up all of its nuclear and missile programs.

“It is ultimately about the denuclearization of North Korea. That was what was agreed between the two sides and that is the overriding goal that President Trump is seeking to achieve with this summit. This is an important step towards that ultimate goal,” the official said.

He said the United States would press for a freeze on all weapons of mass destruction and missile programs and a “roadmap” to set expectations for negotiations going forward.

The two sides are not discussing the removal of U.S. troops from South Korea, however. The United States keeps some 28,500 troops in South Korea.

Asked whether Trump was open to withdrawing all U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula for a peace treaty that would formally end the war, a second official said that was “not the subject of discussions.”

The officials noted that punishing U.S. sanctions would remain in place to give North Korea an incentive to move.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Susan Heavey; Editing by James Dalgleish)

U.S. commander says North Korea unlikely to give up all its nuclear weapons

FILE PHOTO: Admiral Philip S. Davidson (L), Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, meets with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe's office in Tokyo, Japan June 21, 2018. Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Weeks before a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the top U.S. military commander for Asia on Tuesday echoed an intelligence assessment that North Korea is unlikely to give up all its nuclear weapons.

Although he expressed optimism about the Feb. 27-28 summit in verbal testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, expressed doubts about North Korean intentions in his written submission to the panel.

“USINDOPACOM’s assessment on North Korean denuclearization is consistent with the Intelligence Community position. That is, we think it is unlikely that North Korea will give up all of its nuclear weapons or production capabilities, but seeks to negotiate partial denuclearization in exchange for U.S. and international concessions,” it said.

Last month, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress he believed it was unlikely North Korea would give up all its nuclear weapons and had continued activity inconsistent with pledges to denuclearize.

Trump has been eager to hold a second summit with Kim even though their first meeting in Singapore in June produced only vague commitments from the North Koreans and little concrete progress since.

Trump and Kim’s next summit is to be held in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Trump says time, location for summit with North Korea’s Kim has been set

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to deliver remarks on border security and the partial shutdown of the U.S. government in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday a time and location for his second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had been agreed upon, but he did not give any details and said they would be announced next week.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview on Wednesday he was dispatching a team to prepare for the summit to be held somewhere in Asia in late in February.

The last summit, which took place in Singapore in June, was the first such event between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

The meeting resulted in a vague commitment by Kim to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But he has not yet taken concrete steps to that end, in Washington’s view.

Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump said he was making tremendous progress with North Korea, but provided no evidence.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by David Alexander and Sonya Hepinstall)

North Korea says it wants peace, relations with U.S.

Directional signs bearing North Korean and U.S. flags are seen near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korea said on Tuesday that relations with the United States will develop “wonderfully at a fast pace” if Washington responds to its efforts on denuclearization with trustworthy measures and practical actions.

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Han Tae Song, told the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament that Pyongyang would continue working to establish a “permanent and durable peace mechanism on the Korean peninsula”.

The landmark summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump last June produced a promise to work toward the complete denuclearization of the divided peninsula. Progress since then has been patchy.

Washington is demanding concrete action, such as a full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities, before agreeing to key goals of Pyongyang – easing international sanctions and declaring an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice.

The summit had brought about a dramatic turn in relations that had been “the most hostile on earth” and contributed to ensuring peace and security on the peninsula, Han said..

He referred to the two leaders’ joint statement issued after their meeting in Singapore and Kim’s New Year’s Address, adding:

“Accordingly we declared that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them and we have taken various practical measures.

“If the U.S. responds to our efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions, bilateral relations will develop wonderfully at a fast pace through the process of taking more definite and epoch-making steps,” he said.

Han told Reuters that he had no information on a possible second summit between Kim and Trump, which the White House has said would be held in late February without saying where.

“As we open a new year, we are determined to seize this hard-won unprecedented window of opportunity of diplomacy,” South Korea’s deputy ambassador Lee Jang-Keun told the Geneva forum on Tuesday.

“The recent announcement by the U.S. of holding a second U.S.-DPRK summit meeting in late February is another harbinger of hope,” he said.

South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha told Reuters at Davos last week that North Korea must make concrete pledges toward curbing its nuclear weapons program, such as dismantling its main nuclear complex and allowing international inspections to confirm the process, when leader Kim meets Trump as soon as next month.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Angus MacSwan)

Next U.S.-North Korea summit must give concrete results: Seoul

By Soyoung Kim and Alessandra Galloni

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – A planned second summit next month between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un must “deliver concrete results on denuclearization”, South Korea’s top diplomat said on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told the World Economic Forum in Davos that the two leaders should make “really great big strides” on the road to denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, in line with international demands.

Trump and Kim met in Singapore last June for an unprecedented summit, producing a promise to work toward “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula, but the two sides have since struggled to agree how to implement the pledge.

Critics of U.S. efforts say that summit only boosted Kim’s international stature while doing little to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal that now threatens the United States.

After Trump met Pyongyang’s top nuclear negotiator, Kim Yong Chol, in Washington on Friday, the White House announced that the second summit would take place in late February.

The two sides have given no sign of having narrowed their differences over U.S. demands that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program and Pyongyang’s demands for a lifting of economic sanctions and a formal end to the Korean War.

North and South Korea are still technically at war, given the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The North Korean envoy’s recent visit to Washington has put nuclear talks “back on track”, Kang said in Davos. Details of the second summit would continue to be negotiated despite a partial government shutdown in Washington, she added.

Trump did not elaborate on the country chosen to host the summit, but Vietnam has been considered a leading candidate.

Earlier on Wednesday, Kang met with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum to discuss the planned second summit between Washington and Pyongyang, Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Kono agreed that “concrete results” will have to be made toward denuclearization while stressing that Japan expects close communication and coordination with South Korea on the nuclear negotiations regardless of “several pending issues” between the neighbors, the ministry said.

The two U.S. allies share a bitter history that includes Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean peninsula and the use of comfort women, Japan’s euphemism for girls and women, many of them Korean, forced to work in its wartime brothels.

The rows between the neighbors flared again in late October when South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp must compensate South Koreans for their forced labor during World War Two. Japan maintains that the issue of forced labor was fully settled in 1965 when the two countries restored diplomatic ties, and has denounced the ruling as “unthinkable.”

Wartime history has long been a stumbling block for relations between the neighbors, sparking concern about regional efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program.

In the latest escalation of tensions, a Japanese patrol aircraft made an “intimidating” pass over a South Korean warship on Wednesday, in what South Korea’s military said was a “clear provocation” toward a friendly neighbor.

Kang expressed “regret” over the incident and urged defense authorities from the two countries to resolve the issue soon, the foreign ministry said.

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Alessandra Galloni in DAVOS, Switzerland, Editing by Mark Bendeich, William Maclean)

U.S. and North Korean officials met in Hanoi to discuss second Trump-Kim summit: South Korean newspaper

FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. State Department officials recently met multiple times with North Korean counterparts in Hanoi and discussed planning a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a South Korean newspaper reported on Monday.

U.S. officials discussed the schedule for the second Trump-Kim summit while in contact with North Korean officials in the Vietnamese capital city, fuelling speculation that Vietnam could host the event, the Munhwa Ilbo reported, citing unnamed diplomatic sources in Seoul and Washington.

Vietnam has diplomatic relations with both the United States and North Korea, with North Korea maintaining a diplomatic office in Vietnam, and has the symbolic significance of a communist country that has reformed its economy, the newspaper reported.

A spokesperson for the U.S Embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Sunday, Trump told reporters in Washington that the United States and North Korea are negotiating a location for a second summit.

“It will be announced probably in the not too distant future,” Trump said. They do want to meet and we want to meet and we’ll see what happens.”

While the two sides had a very good dialogue and the American president had communicated with Kim, Trump said sanctions would be enforced until more progress is made.

In a nationally televised New Year address, Kim said he is willing to meet Trump again anytime to achieve their common goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, but warned he may have to take an alternative path if U.S. sanctions and pressure against the country continued.

“I am always ready to sit together with the U.S. president anytime in the future, and will work hard to produce results welcomed by the international community without fail,” Kim said.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Michael Perry)

Kim says ready to meet Trump ‘anytime,’ warns of ‘new path’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses for photos in Pyongyang in this January 1, 2019 photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS.

By Hyonhee Shin and Soyoung Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Tuesday he is ready to meet U.S. President Donald Trump again anytime to achieve their common goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, but warned he may have to take an alternative path if U.S. sanctions and pressure against the country continued.

In a nationally televised New Year address, Kim said denuclearization was his “firm will” and North Korea had “declared at home and abroad that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them.”

Kim added that Pyongyang had “taken various practical measures” and if Washington responded “with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions … bilateral relations will develop wonderfully at a fast pace.”

“I am always ready to sit together with the U.S. president anytime in the future, and will work hard to produce results welcomed by the international community without fail,” Kim said.

However, he warned that North Korea might be “compelled to explore a new path” to defend its sovereignty if the United States “seeks to force something upon us unilaterally … and remains unchanged in its sanctions and pressure.”

It was not clear what Kim meant by “a new path,” but his comments are likely to further fuel skepticism over whether North Korea intends to give up a nuclear weapons program that it has long considered essential to its security.

In response to the news, Trump wrote on Twitter, “I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”

There was no immediate comment from the White House. Asked for a reaction, a U.S. State Department official said: “We decline the opportunity to comment.”

South Korea’s presidential office, however, welcomed Kim’s speech, saying it carried his “firm will” to advance relations with Seoul and Washington.

Kim and Trump vowed to work toward denuclearization and build “lasting and stable” peace at their landmark summit in Singapore in June, but little progress has been made since.

Trump has said a second summit with Kim is likely in January or February, though he wrote on Twitter last month that he was “in no hurry.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made several trips to Pyongyang last year but the two sides have yet to reschedule a meeting between him and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol after an abrupt cancellation in November.

Pyongyang has demanded Washington lift sanctions and declare an official end to the 1950-1953 Korean War in response to its initial, unilateral steps toward denuclearization, including dismantling its only known nuclear testing site and a key missile engine facility.

SANCTIONS

U.S. officials have said the extent of initial North Korean steps were not confirmed and could be easily reversed. Washington has halted some large-scale military exercises with Seoul to aid negotiations but has called for strict global sanctions enforcement on impoverished North Korea until its full, verifiable denuclearization.

Kim’s reference to pledges not to make nuclear weapons could indicate a first moratorium on such weapons production, although it was not clear if this was conditional. While Pyongyang conducted no nuclear or missile tests last year, satellite images have pointed to continued activity at related facilities.

The U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, reiterated last month that Washington had no intention of easing sanctions but had agreed to help South Korea send flu medication to North Korea, saying such cooperation could help advance nuclear diplomacy.

Analysts said Kim’s message sent clear signals that North Korea was willing to stay in talks with Washington and Seoul this year – but on its own terms.

“North Korea seems determined in 2019 to receive some sort of sanctions relief … The challenge, however, is will Team Trump be willing to back away from its position of zero sanctions relief?” said Harry Kazianis of the Washington-based Centre for the National Interest.

“Kim’s remarks seem to suggest his patience with America is wearing thin.”

After racing toward the goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States in 2017, Kim used last year’s New Year speech to warn that “a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office” and order mass production of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.

But he also offered to send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics in the South in February, setting off a flurry of diplomacy that included three summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and the meeting with Trump in June.

This year, Kim said inter-Korean relations had entered a “completely new phase,” and offered to resume key inter-Korean economic projects banned under international and South Korean sanctions, without conditions.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Soyoung Kim and Hyunyoung Yi; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Stephen Coates and Paul Simao)

North Korea condemns U.S. sanctions, warns denuclearization at risk

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a constructions site of Yangdeok, in this undated photo released on October 31, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS.

By Hyunjoo Jin and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea on Sunday condemned the U.S. administration for stepping up sanctions and pressure on the nuclear-armed country, warning of a return to “exchanges of fire” and that disarming Pyongyang could be blocked forever.

The North’s stinging response came after the United States said on Monday it had introduced sanctions on three North Korean officials, including a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, for alleged human rights abuses.

Denuclearizing North Korea has made little progress since Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met in Singapore in June in a historic summit. The two sides have yet to reschedule working-level talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol, which were canceled abruptly in November.

While crediting Trump for his “willingness” to improve relations with the North, also known as DPRK, Pyongyang accused the U.S. State Department of being “bent on bringing the DPRK-U.S. relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire.”

North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Washington had taken “sanctions measures for as many as eight times against the companies, individuals and ships of not only the DPRK but also Russia, China and other third countries…”

If the U.S. administration believed that heightened sanctions and pressure would force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons, “it will count as (its) greatest miscalculation, and it will block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever – a result desired by no one,” according to the statement.

The foreign ministry statement was released under the name of the policy research director of the Institute for American Studies.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Josh Smith; Editing by Mark Potter)

North Korea’s Kim inspects newly developed ‘tactical’ weapon, releases U.S. prisoner

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a constructions site of Yangdeok, in this undated photo released on October 31, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS/File Photo

By Joyce Lee and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s leader publicly inspected a new weapon for the first time in nearly a year, state media reported on Friday, while it also decided to release a U.S. prisoner, sending conflicting signals at a time of sensitive negotiations.

Kim Jong Un’s visit to the test site of a new “tactical weapon” threatened to sour the diplomatic atmosphere as negotiations between his country and the United States appear to have stalled.

“This result today is a justification of the party’s policy focused on defense science and technology, another display of our rapidly growing defense capabilities to the whole region, and a groundbreaking change in strengthening our military’s combat capabilities,” Kim said.

In Washington, in response to the North Korean announcement, a U.S. State Department spokesman said, “We remain confident that the promises made by President Trump and Chairman Kim will be fulfilled.”

The official was referring to an unprecedented summit in June between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore, where they agreed to work toward denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula and establish new relations.

But the agreement was short on specifics, and negotiations have made little headway since.

In a possibly conciliatory gesture, however, North Korea also announced on Friday it was releasing an American citizen detained since October after “illegally” entering North Korea from China.

North Korea has often held previous American detainees for more extended periods.

‘STEEL WALL’

The military test was successful and the weapon could protect North Korea like a “steel wall”, its KCNA news agency said, adding that Kim had observed “the power of the tactical weapon”.

The only picture released by state media showed Kim standing on a beach surrounded by officials in military uniforms, but no weapons were visible.

International weapons experts said the officials around Kim included a leader of the artillery corps of the Korean People’s Army.

South Korea’s defense ministry said it did not have an immediate comment but was analyzing the North Korean weapon test.

Friday’s understated announcement was more likely aimed at reassuring the North Korean military rather than trying to torpedo diplomatic talks, however, said Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

“North Korea is trying to show its soldiers that they are becoming high-tech and keeping a certain level of military capability while trying to eliminate dissatisfaction and worries inside its military,” he added.

The test may also have been a response to recent joint military drills by the United States and South Korea, which North Korea said violated recent pacts to halt to “all hostile acts”, said Yang Uk, an analyst at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

Kim said the weapons system tested was one in which his father, Kim Jong Il, had taken a special interest during his life, personally leading its development.

Kim’s last publicized military inspection was the launch of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Nov. 29 last year, though he engaged in at least eight other military-related activities this year, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

STALLED TALKS

Kim this year declared his nuclear force “complete” and said he would focus on economic development.

North Korea has continued to showcase its conventional military capabilities, including at a large military parade in its capital, Pyongyang, on Sept. 9.

But any testing of new weapons threatens to raise tension with Washington, which has said there will be no easing in international sanctions until North Korea takes more concrete steps to abandon its nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.

North Korea has increasingly expressed frustration at Washington’s refusal to ease sanctions and recently threatened to restart development of its nuclear weapons if more concessions were not made.

“They’re trying to signal that they are willing to walk away from talks and restart weapons testing,” said Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists. “It is the most explicit in a series of escalating statements designed to send this message.”

A meeting in New York planned this month between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol, a senior aide to Kim, was postponed.

On Thursday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Trump planned to meet Kim again in 2019 and will push for a concrete plan outlining Pyongyang’s moves to end its arms programs.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Jeongmin Kim in Seoul, and Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Clarence Fernandez)