North Korea’s Kim urges ‘positive and offensive’ security measures ahead of nuclear talks deadline

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for “positive and offensive measures” to ensure the country’s security before a year-end deadline he has set for denuclearization talks with the United States, state media KCNA said on Monday.

Kim convened a weekend meeting of top Workers’ Party officials to discuss policy matters amid rising tension over his deadline for Washington to soften its stance in stalled negotiations aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

At a Sunday session, Kim suggested action in the areas of foreign affairs, the munitions industry and armed forces, stressing the need to take “positive and offensive measures for fully ensuring the sovereignty and security of the country,” KCNA said, without elaborating.

The meeting was the largest plenary session of the party’s 7th Central Committee since its first gathering in 2013 under Kim, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs.

The key policymaking organ drew several hundred attendees, state television showed on Monday. The committee also met in 2018 and in April but on a much smaller scale.

“By ‘positive and offensive measures,’ they might mean highly provocative action against the United States and also South Korea,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean studies in Seoul.

KCNA said the meeting was still under way. It was the first time the gathering had lasted more than one day since Kim took power in late 2011, ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told a regular briefing.

The United States was watching the end-of-year meeting closely and hoped North Korea would choose peace over confrontation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday.

“We still maintain our view that we can find a path forward to convince the leadership in North Korea that their best course of action is to create a better opportunity for their people by getting rid of their nuclear weapons,” Pompeo told Fox News.

North Korea has urged Washington to offer a new approach to resume negotiations, warning that it may take an unspecified “new path” if the United States fails to meet its expectations.

U.S. military commanders said the move could include the testing of a long-range missile, which North Korea has suspended since 2017, along with nuclear warhead tests.

Washington would be “extraordinarily disappointed” if North Korea tests a long-range or nuclear missile, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said on Sunday, vowing to take appropriate action as a leading military and economic power.

The United States had opened channels of communication with North Korea and hoped Kim would follow through on denuclearization commitments he made at summits with U.S. President Donald Trump, O’Brien said.

A video released by the U.S. Air Force and reviewed by Reuters on Monday showed a simulation of an Aegis destroyer spotting what appeared to be a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile being fired toward the Pacific over the skies of Japan, prompting the launch of ground interceptor missiles.

The 65-second clip was dated September and released on Dec. 2 on the website of the U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.

A South Korean military source said while it was largely a regular promotional video, its release coincided with heightened tensions amid a recent series of North Korean weapons tests and a war of words between Pyongyang and Washington.

‘INDEPENDENT ECONOMY’

North Korea’s economy seemed to be another key item on the agenda for the second-day session, Yang said, with the economy hit by international sanctions over its weapons programs.

KCNA said Kim discussed state management and economic issues in line with his campaign to build an “independent economy.”

Kim “presented the tasks for urgently correcting the grave situation of the major industrial sectors of the national economy,” KCNA said.

In New York, U.N. Security Council members were scheduled to hold an informal meeting on Monday to contemplate a Russian and Chinese proposal to ease sanctions on North Korea.

Russia and China proposed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution this month that would lift some sanctions in a bid to kick-start the denuclearization talks.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the proposal was aimed at promoting the talks process and to “satisfy reasonable humanitarian and livelihood requirements” from North Korea.

“China hopes that when it comes to the peninsula issue, Security Council members can assume their responsibilities and take proactive steps to support a political resolution,” he told a daily news briefing.

The move is seen as an attempt to create a crack in a U.S.-led global campaign to pressure North Korea to give up its weapons programs amid lackluster progress in the negotiations.

Sanctions on industries that earned North Korea hundreds of millions of dollars a year were imposed in 2016 and 2017 to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s weapons programs.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Daewoung Kim, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)

Explainer: Why have North Korea-U.S. denuclearization talks stalled?

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – Negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have been at a standstill after a working-level meeting with the United States in October in Stockholm collapsed.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has set a year-end deadline for Washington to change its stance in the negotiations, a deadline U.S. officials have downplayed as artificial.

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, says denuclearization is now off the table.

Here are the competing demands that lead to the deadlock:

HOSTILE POLICY

A North Korean envoy accused U.S. officials of sticking to their “old viewpoint and attitude” when he broke off the Stockholm talks.

Little was known about what North Korea and the United States specifically sought and offered during that meeting.

But Pyongyang has been demanding U.S. corresponding action to its proposed dismantling of a nuclear testing venue, including the lifting of crippling sanctions.

North Korea offered to abolish its Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for the revocation of key five U.N. resolutions during a failed summit between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in February in Vietnam.

But the Americans argued decommissioning Yongbyon did not suffice, calling for Pyongyang to transfer nuclear weapons and bomb fuel to the United States.

North Korea had also said it dismantled its Sohae missile launch site as an initial step toward denuclearization, but the facility was used on Sunday for what Pyongyang said was a “very significant test”.

North Korea has stepped up calls for the United States to an end to joint military drills with South Korea, as well as retracting its “hostile policy” including criticizing Pyongyang’s human rights record.

‘COMPLETE, VERIFIABLE, IRREVERSIBLE’

U.S. officials came to Stockholm seeking a “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea, and pushed for a moratorium on weapons tests as a first step, a diplomatic source in Seoul told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Although some media reports said the United States had planned to propose temporarily lifting sanctions on coal and textile exports, the source said the Stockholm talks did not get into details.

Washington and Seoul have contemplated possible areas where sanctions be eased on the conditions they can be immediately put back if needed, such as a resumption of South Korean tours to the North.

North Korea, in contrast, has sought a “systematic guarantee” for the lifting of sanctions, singling out five U.N. resolutions at the Hanoi summit, the source said.

The five U.N. resolutions, adopted in 2016 and 2017, chiefly limited North Korea’s mineral exports and banned financial transactions, which were expected to prevent Pyongyang from earning at least $1 billion a year.

“But the Americans can’t take the risk of easing sanctions first, having already given a lot of gifts to Kim without substantial progress on denuclearization, including summits,” the source said.

“Sanctions are basically all they have to press North Korea.”

U.S. negotiators tried to fix a date for the next round of talks when the Stockholm meeting fell apart, but North Korean officials were uncooperative, the source said.

DEADLINE

As the year-end deadline approaches, North Korea has ratcheted up tensions, firing dozens of missiles and warning Kim might take a different path if diplomacy with the United States fails.

Kim was “displeased” at Trump’s remarks Tuesday he could use military force against North Korea “if we have to”, a top North Korean commander said on Wednesday, warning of “prompt corresponding actions”.

Trump’s re-election battle and the impeachment inquiry against him may have emboldened Kim to overestimate North Korea’s leverage, the diplomatic source said.

Recent weapons tests raised concerns North Korea could resume nuclear and long-range missile testing suspended since 2017. Analysts described last month’s launch of shorter range weapons as a Thanksgiving reminder for Trump.

“North Korea is pushing the envelope little by little with the tests, and the Americans are saying if those tests were not a big deal, but they’re not OK,” the source said.

“If there’s no progress until year-end, North Korea would have to do something, maybe an intercontinental ballistic missile test. Then the United States has no option but to respond even more sternly, and in a worst-case scenario, the negotiations could break down for good.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

North Korea revives ‘dotard’ label in warning to Trump over ‘Rocket Man’ remarks

North Korea revives ‘dotard’ label in warning to Trump over ‘Rocket Man’ remarks
By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on military force and the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, would represent “a very dangerous challenge” if they were intended to provoke Pyongyang, a top North Korean diplomat said on Thursday.

Trump’s comments threaten to return the two countries to the tensions of two years ago, Choe Son Hui, first vice-minister of Foreign Affairs for North Korea, said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.

In 2017 the two leaders famously engaged in a war of words, with Trump calling Kim “Rocket Man” and North Korea slamming the U.S. president, now 73, as a “dotard”.

Since then Trump and Kim have met three times, but negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal have stalled amid disagreements and rising tensions.

This year saw a number of short-range ballistic missile launches by North Korea, and Kim has warned that the United States has until the end of the year to change its stance or he could take an unspecified “new path.”

On Tuesday Trump once again called Kim “Rocket Man” and said the United States reserved the right to use military force against North Korea.

“If this is meant to make expressions, reminiscent of those days just two years ago when a war of words was fought across the ocean, surface again on purpose, it will be a very dangerous challenge,” Choe said, arguing that the comments aroused concern and undermined the dignity of North Korea’s leader.

The lack of courtesy shown to Kim had “prompted the waves of hatred of our people against the U.S. and the Americans and they are getting higher and higher”, Choe said.

“It would be fortunate” if Trump’s remarks were simply “an instantaneous verbal lapse, but the matter becomes different if they were a planned provocation that deliberately targeted us”, she said.

North Korea would watch closely to see if Trump repeated the comments, Choe said.

“If any language and expressions stoking the atmosphere of confrontation are used once again on purpose at a crucial moment as now, that must really be diagnosed as the relapse of the dotage of a dotard,” she concluded.

Trump said on Tuesday he still had confidence in the North Korean leader but noted that Kim “likes sending rockets up”.

“…That’s why I call him Rocket Man,” Trump told reporters at a NATO meeting in London.

Trump added that Washington could use military force. “If we have to, we’ll do it.”

On Wednesday, North Korea’s army chief said he was disappointed by Trump’s suggestion of using military force against Pyongyang, and warned that any strike would meet “prompt corresponding actions”.

(Reporting by Josh Smith, Ju-min Park and Jack Kim; Editing by Giles Elgood)

North Korea’s Kim celebrates completion of ‘modern mountainous city

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has celebrated the completion of leader Kim Jong Un’s signature construction project, a new city near the sacred mountain where his family claims its roots, with state media on Tuesday calling it the “epitome of modern civilisation”.

A massive celebration involving fireworks was held at the city near Mount Paektu on Monday, the official KCNA news agency said.

The Rodong Sinmun, a ruling party mouthpiece, ran photos of Kim smiling as he cut a ribbon at the ceremony attended by thousands of people, while state television showed beige, green and purple buildings covered in snow.

The city named Samjiyon is envisaged as what North Korea calls a “socialist utopia” with new apartments, hotels, a ski resort and commercial, cultural and medical facilities.

The town “has turned into an example of a mountainous modern city under socialism, an epitome of modern civilization,” KCNA said.

KCNA said it could accommodate 4,000 families and has 380 blocks of public and industrial buildings in “hundreds of hectares”.

The city is one of the largest economic initiatives Kim has launched as part of his drive for a “self-reliant economy, as Pyongyang calls for Washington to lift economic sanctions in their denuclearization talks.

But its construction was delayed chiefly due to shortages in construction materials and labor as a result of sanctions imposed to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The delays prompted Pyongyang to mobilize youth labor brigades, which defectors and human rights activists likened to “slave labor” as they get no pay, poor food and are forced to work more than 12 hours a day for up to 10 years in return for better chances to enter a university or join the all powerful Workers’ Party.

State media has also reported over the past year on factories, families and individuals who sent winter jackets, tools, shoes, blankets and biscuits to Samjiyon, which the defectors said was part of the cash-strapped regime’s campaign to source supplies from the public.

The project was completed despite “the worst trials” and “ordeals and difficulties,” KCNA said, without elaborating.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un supervises air drills while U.S. and South Korea postpone drills: KCNA

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean media reported on Monday that leader Kim Jong Un supervised air force drills for the second time in three days, even as the United States and South Korea decided to postpone their joint air drills to ease denuclearisation talks with North Korea.

The U.S. and South Korea said on Sunday they would postpone upcoming military drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea. Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.

The drills, already planned to be scaled back from previous years, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea to test readiness.

On Monday, North Korean state news agency KCNA said Kim supervised an airborne landing training of sharpshooter sub-units of the Air and Anti-Aircraft Force of the North Korean army.

Kim “said that it is necessary to wage a drill without notice under the simulated conditions of real war” for “improving the preparedness” of North Korean military units, KCNA said.

On Saturday, KCNA had reported that Kim watched a “combat flight contest” of the flight commanding officers of the Air and Anti-Aircraft Force. A photo in state newspaper Rodong Sinmun showed him smiling amid pilots gathered around him.

It was unclear when Kim oversaw these events, or whether it was on the same day. There were no mention of U.S. or South Korea in the KCNA reports.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told Kim, “You should act quickly, get the deal done” with the United States, and signed off “See you soon!” on Twitter.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Tom Brown)

North Korea slams door on Japan PM Abe visit, calls him an ‘idiot’

North Korea slams door on Japan PM Abe visit, calls him an ‘idiot’
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea on Thursday called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an “idiot and villain” who should not even dream of setting foot in Pyongyang, in a media commentary laden with insults in response to his criticism of a North Korean weapons test.

North Korea tested what it called “super-large multiple rocket launchers” on Oct. 31, but Japan said they were likely ballistic missiles that violated U.N. sanctions.

Abe condemned the test at an Asian summit this week, while saying he was eager to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “without conditions” to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the isolated state, Kyodo news agency reported citing the Japanese government.

“Abe is an idiot and villain as he is making a fuss as if a nuclear bomb was dropped on the land of Japan, taking issue with the DPRK’s test-fire of super-large multiple rocket launchers,” the North’s KCNA state news agency said, citing a statement by Song Il Ho, its ambassador for ties with Japan.

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

“Abe would be well-advised not to dream forever of crossing the threshold of Pyongyang as he hurled a torrent of abuse at the just measures of the DPRK for self-defense.”

The commentary signals a setback for Abe’s hope of resolving the issue of the abducted Japanese citizens. He has vowed to bring all of them and has said he was willing to meet Kim without conditions.

In 2002, North Korea admitted that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese from the 1960s to the 1980s. Japan says 17 of its citizens were abducted, five of whom were repatriated.

North Korea has said eight of them were dead and another four never entered the country.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang in 2002 and met the father of the current North Korean leader but Abe has never met Kim.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Robert Birsel)

North Korea criticizes ‘hostile policy’ as U.S. diplomat visits South Korea

North Korea criticizes ‘hostile policy’ as U.S. diplomat visits South Korea
SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. report calling North Korea a sponsor of terrorism shows a “hostile policy” that prevents progress in denuclearization talks, the isolated nation said on Tuesday, as a senior U.S. diplomat was set to arrive in the neighboring South.

North Korea accused the United States of failing to show flexibility after a breakdown last month in the first talks between their officials since President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to reopen negotiations.

“The channel of dialogue between the DPRK and the U.S. is more and more narrowing due to such attitude,” North Korean state news agency KCNA said, citing a Foreign Ministry official, and using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

It said a U.S. State Department report on terrorism “proves once again” that U.S. rejection of North Korea indicated “a hostile policy”.

The agency was referring to “Country Reports on Terrorism 2018”, issued last week, which reaffirmed North Korea’s re-designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Tuesday’s statement came ahead of a visit to Seoul by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell, who is expected to discuss the stalled talks with North Korea, as well as the South’s decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

“I look forward to productive meetings with your government so we can reaffirm the security alliance as the cornerstone of the peace and security here in the region,” Stilwell told reporters late on Tuesday upon arrival at Incheon airport.

U.S. officials did not describe Stilwell’s agenda in detail, but said he would discuss the strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and cooperation across foreign policies.

Washington has urged South Korea to rethink a decision to end an intelligence-sharing agreement scrapped in an escalating political and economic dispute with Japan.

On Tuesday, Kim In-chul, a spokesman for South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said there was no change in its stance not to renew the intelligence-sharing pact, however.

The top U.S. negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea, James DeHart, was also set to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said.

In April, North Korean leader Kim said the country would give Washington until the end of the year to be “more flexible” in denuclearization talks, but state media have since given only vague warnings about what will happen if the deadline expires.

The United States and North Korea could hold another round of working-level talks as soon as mid-November, South Korean lawmaker Lee Eun-jae said on Monday after a briefing by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; additional reporting by Daewoung Kim and Chaeyoun Won; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

North Korea launches two suspected missiles after warnings to Washington

North Korea launches two suspected missiles after warnings to Washington
By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired two suspected missiles into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan on Thursday, according to military officials in Japan and South Korea, ending nearly a month-long lull in testing after denuclearization talks stalled.

The launches, which Japanese authorities identified as likely ballistic missiles, were the first since one day of talks between the United States and North Korea ended without an agreement on Oct. 5 in Sweden.

American officials have played down previous missile launches this year, saying they were short-range weapons.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has set an end-of-the-year deadline for denuclearization talks with Washington, however, and in a statement on Sunday North Korea said it would be a mistake for the United States to ignore that deadline.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said: “We are aware of reports of a North Korean missile launch. We are continuing to monitor the situation and consulting closely with our allies in Japan and South Korea.”

Analysts said the launches underscore how tense the situation has become after three meetings between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump – unprecedented top-level contact between the countries – failed to lead to any agreement over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“Make no mistake, if there is no change in the current trajectory of U.S.-North Korea relations there is only one possible outcome: a long-range missile or nuclear weapons test by Pyongyang that will spark a crisis just like in 2017,” said Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington.

TWO PROJECTILES FIRED

The first of two “unidentified projectiles” was fired on Thursday at 4:35 p.m. local time (0735 GMT) from South Phyongan Province, in the center of North Korea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a series of statements. A second projectile was detected at 4:38 p.m. (0738 GMT).

The projectiles traveled an estimated 370 kilometers (230 miles) and reached an altitude of 90 km (56 miles), the JCS said, calling them “short range”.

“Objects that appeared to be ballistic missiles were launched from North Korea,” Japan’s defense ministry said in a statement. “They did not land within our territory.”

An American air base at Misawa, 1,130 km (700 miles) north of Tokyo, posted a “real world missile alert” and urged personnel to seek shelter, before later issuing an “all clear”.

The afternoon launch timing was a departure from this year’s string of tests, which usually took place around dawn.

On Wednesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited an unnamed military source as saying that movements of transporter erector launchers (TEL), used to fire missiles, had been detected in North Korea.

South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting after the launch on Thursday, and expressed its concern about what it called “short-range projectiles”.

“Our military is maintaining a readiness posture while tracking and monitoring related developments in preparation for another launch,” the JCS said in a statement after the launches on Thursday.

The JCS called on North Korea to stop the launches because they were “unhelpful” for reducing tensions on the peninsula.

Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University, said the launches could be a so-called “running test fire” of a recently developed multiple-rocket system, with the aim of fine-tuning the system for full production.

RISING TENSIONS

The launches occurred on the day that South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the funeral of his mother, who died on Tuesday.

In a message delivered via the border village of Panmunjom late on Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim had expressed “deep condolences” and “consolation” over Moon’s loss, Moon’s office said on Thursday.

Relations between the two Koreas have cooled since a flurry of personal meetings between Moon and Kim last year, and denuclearization negotiations between North Korea and the United States appear stalled.

On Sunday, North Korea said there had been no progress in North Korea-United States relations.

North Korea has tested several new missile designs this year, including a new submarine-launched ballistic missile fired from a platform in the sea on Oct. 2.

It says the missiles are necessary to defend against new warplanes and weapons acquired by South Korea, including the advanced F-35 stealth fighter jet.

North Korea has also accused the United States and South Korea of continuing hostile policies, including military drills.

On Monday, South Korea began its annual Hoguk military exercises, which it says are for self defense.

North Korean state media, however, strongly criticized the drill as practice for invading the North, and said “South Korean military warmongers are driving the situation into an extreme one.”

Experts have said several of the new missiles tested this year by North Korea are designed to potentially evade missile defense systems deployed in South Korea and Japan.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Joyce Lee, and Josh Smith in Seoul, Ritsuko Ando and Tim Kelly in Tokyo, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Catherine Evans and Frances Kerry)

North Korea leader Kim invited Trump to Pyongyang in letter: report

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un invited U.S. President Donald Trump to visit Pyongyang in a letter sent in August amid stalled denuclearisation talks, a South Korean newspaper reported on Monday, citing diplomatic sources.

Kim, in the letter sent in the third week of August, spoke of his “willingness” for a third summit and extended an invitation for Trump to visit the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unidentified source.

Trump on Aug. 9 said he had received a “very beautiful letter” from Kim.

But U.S. officials have not said anything about a second letter in August.

Trump and Kim have met three times since June last year to discuss ways to resolve a crisis over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, but substantive progress has been scant.

Their first two meetings were formal summits, the second of which, in Vietnam in February, broke down after they failed to narrow a gap between U.S. demands for North Korean denuclearisation and a North Korean demand for relief from sanctions.

They met for a third time on June 30 in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas and agreed to restart working-level talks but that has not happened.

Since the June meeting, North Korea has several times tested short-range projectiles.

The White House, the U.S. State Department and the North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.

‘THREATS AND HURDLES’

An unidentified director-general for U.S. affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry said on Monday he hoped a “good meeting” with working-level U.S. officials would take place “in a few weeks”.

But whether a meeting would lead to a “crisis or chance” was up to the United States, the official said, calling for a more flexible approach.

“The discussion of denuclearisation may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the official said in a statement carried by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency.

North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, said last week Pyongyang was willing to have “comprehensive discussions” late this month.

Trump subsequently said he would be willing to meet Kim at some point this year.

South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, asked about the newspaper report, said there were “detailed explanations about such a letter” but declined to elaborate.

Kang said it could be “too much to expect” that Trump and Kim would meet before any working-level talks.

“No agreement was reached between the two leaders in Hanoi even after working-level negotiations,” Kang told a parliamentary panel.

“For the sake of the success of another summit, their working-level teams should meet and have primary discussions on the outcome of the summit,” Kang said.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in NEW YORK and Arshad Mohammed in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel)

North Korea changes constitution to solidify Kim Jong Un’s rule

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles as he guides missile testing at an unidentified location in North Korea, in this undated image provided by KCNA on August 7, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s parliament has approved changes to the country’s constitution to solidify leader Kim Jong Un’s role as head of state, state media said on Thursday.

The move comes after Kim was formally named head of state and commander-in-chief of the military in a new constitution in July that analysts said was possibly aimed at preparing for a peace treaty with the United States.

North Korea has long called for a peace deal with the United States to normalize relations and end the technical state of war that has existed since the 1950-1953 Korean War, concluded with an armistice, rather than a peace treaty.

Kim’s legal status as “representing our state has been further consolidated to firmly ensure the monolithic guidance of the Supreme Leader over all state affairs,” state news agency KCNA quoted Choe Ryong Hae, president of the presidium of the supreme people’s assembly, or titular parliament, as saying.

The presidium president had historically been the nominal head of state.

But the new constitution said Kim, as chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), a top governing body created in 2016, was the supreme representative of all the Korean people, which means head of state, as well as “commander-in-chief”.

A previous constitution simply called Kim “supreme leader” who commanded the country’s “overall military force”.

Thursday’s constitutional amendments appear to confirm that North Korea’s legal system will now recognize Kim as head of state.

The new constitution authorizes Kim to promulgate legislative ordinances and major decrees and decisions and appoint or recall diplomatic envoys to foreign countries, KCNA said.

“With the amendment, Kim Jong Un is reviving his grandfather’s head of state system,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute. “He has become a de facto head of state.”

In reality, Kim, a third-generation hereditary leader, rules North Korea with an iron fist and the title change will mean little to the way he wields power.

The back-to-back constitutional revision is unprecedented, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News, a website that tracks North Korea.

“By further bolstering the SAC chairman’s authority, Kim Jong Un has emerged as the most powerful leader in North Korean history,” she said.

There has been scant progress in the U.S. aim of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program despite three meetings between President Donald Trump and Kim.

Trump has said he and Kim agreed at their last meeting to resume working-level talks, but these have yet to happen and North Korea has conducted multiple missile tests since while accusing Washington of breaking a pledge to stop joint military exercises with South Korea.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)