Exclusive: More than 40 countries accuse North Korea of breaching U.N. sanctions

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – More than 40 countries accused North Korea on Friday of illicitly breaching a United Nations cap on refined petroleum imports and called for an immediate halt to deliveries until the end of the year, according to a complaint seen by Reuters.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council imposed an annual cap of 500,000 barrels in December 2017 in a bid to cut off fuel for North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

But in a complaint to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, 43 countries – including the United States, Britain and France – said they estimated that in the first five months of this year Pyongyang had imported more than 1.6 million barrels of refined petroleum via 56 illicit tanker deliveries.

The complaint said North Korean vessels continue to conduct ship-to-ship transfers at sea “on a regular basis as the DPRK’s primary means of importing refined petroleum.” North Korea’s formal name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The countries asked the Security Council sanctions committee to make an official determination that North Korea had exceeded the cap and “inform member states that they must immediately cease selling, supplying, or transferring refined petroleum products to the DPRK for the remainder of the year.”

Similar requests to the committee in 2018 and 2019 were blocked by North Korean allies Russia and China. They are also the only two countries to have formally reported deliveries of refined petroleum to the Security Council sanctions committee.

“China and Russia collectively have reported 106,094.17 barrels of refined petroleum product transfers … January through May,” the complaint said. “The official accounting of the DPRK’s imports vastly under represents the volume of refined petroleum products that actually enter the DPRK.”

The 43 countries also urged the committee to call on states to “immediately exercise enhanced vigilance regarding the DPRK attempting to procure additional refined petroleum products and to prevent illicit ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to vessels owned, controlled, or acting on behalf of or working in cooperation with the DPRK.”

North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. While the Security Council has steadily strengthened sanctions, U.N. monitors reported this year that North Korea continued to enhance its programs last year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have met three times since 2018, but failed to make progress on U.S. calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for an end to sanctions.

The complaint to the Security Council committee said: “If the DPRK is able to flagrantly evade international sanctions, it will have little incentive to engage in serious negotiations.”

The North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Gregorio)

U.S. envoy arrives in South Korea as North Korea rejects talks

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. envoy arrived in South Korea on Tuesday in an effort to renew stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, hours after it issued a statement saying it has no intention of sitting down with the United States and told South Korea to “stop meddling”.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who has led working-level talks with the North Koreans, landed at a U.S. military base south of Seoul, media reported, and was due to meet South Korean officials on Wednesday and Thursday.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kwon Jong Gun, director general for U.S. affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry, accused South Korea of misinterpreting a North Korean statement dismissing an “untimely rumor” about another summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

North Korea said on Saturday it did not feel the need for a new summit, days after South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had offered to mediate between Kim and Trump, suggested the two leaders meet again before the U.S. elections in November.

“It is just the time for (South Korea) to stop meddling in others’ affairs but it seems there is no cure or prescription for its bad habit,” Kwon said in a statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency.

“Explicitly speaking once again, we have no intention to sit face to face with the United States.”

Trump and Kim met for the first time in 2018 in Singapore, raising hopes for a negotiated end to North Korea’s nuclear program. But their second summit, in 2019 in Vietnam, and subsequent working-level negotiations fell apart.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kwon’s statement reflected lingering inter-Korean tension and North Korea’s view that nuclear issues should be discussed only with the United States.

“It also suggested that North Koreans would ditch the past concept of negotiations where the South played a broker role, and won’t return to the table without major U.S. concessions,” Yang said.

Biegun said last week there was time for both sides to re-engage and “make substantial progress” but the novel coronavirus pandemic would make an in-person summit difficult before the U.S. presidential elections on Nov. 3.

The coronavirus complicated Biegun’s visit in a more personal way as well.

A newspaper reported that because of the outbreak, the envoy would not be visiting a Korean chicken soup restaurant that has been a regular stop on previous visits, and instead had arranged for the dish to be prepared at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.

Last month, North Korea abruptly raised tensions with South Korea and blew up a joint liaison office, just on its side of the border, before just as suddenly suspending plans for unspecified military actions.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Chris Reese, Howard Goller and Lincoln Feast)

Trump to meet North Korea’s Kim in 2019, wants plan to end arms program: Pence

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference in Singapore, November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

By John Geddie

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday President Donald Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2019 and will push for a concrete plan outlining Pyongyang’s moves to end its arms programs.

The United States and North Korea have been discussing a second meeting of their leaders after a June summit in Singapore to lay the groundwork for ending a nuclear standoff between the old foes.

“The plans are ongoing. We believe that the summit will likely occur after the first of the year, but the when and the where of that is still being worked out,” Pence told reporters after meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

In a separate interview with NBC News, Pence said the United States would not require Pyongyang to provide a complete list of nuclear weapons and locations before the second summit but that the meeting must produce a concrete plan.

“I think it will be absolutely imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question, identifying all the development sites, allowing for inspections of the sites and the plan for dismantling nuclear weapons,” Pence said.

Pence and Moon were meeting on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit hosted by Singapore.

A U.S. think tank said on Monday it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 active, undeclared missile bases inside North Korea, underscoring the challenge for American negotiators hoping to persuade Kim to give up his weapons programs.

North Korea had entered into agreements with regional powers in 1994 and in 2005 to dismantle its nuclear program in return for economic benefits and diplomatic rewards, but those deals broke down after Pyongyang clandestinely continued to pursue building weapons of mass destruction.

With scant sign of progress on negotiations since the June summit and recent high-level meetings canceled, Trump said last week he was now in “no rush” but still wanted to meet with Kim for a second time.

“We’re going to keep the pressure on. We’re going to keep the sanctions in place,” Pence told NBC. “President Trump continues to be very hopeful that in that next summit, we’ll come out with a plan for actually implementing and achieving denuclearization.”

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un after they signed documents that acknowledged the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un after they signed documents that acknowledged the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

U.S. officials have said sanctions forced North Korea to the negotiating table and vowed to keep pressure until complete denuclearization. But North Korea has credited its nuclear and missile breakthroughs for providing it the standing to meet the world’s biggest powers.

Pence told reporters that Moon agreed to work closely with the United States toward the second U.S.-North Korea summit, as Washington maintains the “maximum pressure” campaign by keeping the sanctions against Pyongyang in place.

Asked if China, which has been the North’s main economic benefactor, was doing enough to maintain sanctions pressure, Pence said Beijing has done more than they have ever done before and Trump was grateful for that.

A U.S. congressional commission said on Wednesday China appeared to have relaxed enforcement of sanctions on North Korea as Pyongyang began to engage with the United States this year.

Trump is expected to speak more about enforcing sanctions when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit late this month and the unique role that China can play in ensuring the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, Pence said.

North Korea has not tested a nuclear device or ballistic missile since last year, and has said it has shuttered its main nuclear test site, with plans to dismantle several more facilities.

But it has warned it could restart its nuclear program if the United States does not drop the sanctions regime.

(Reporting by John Geddie in Singapore; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Bernadette Baum)

Trump says ‘We’ll see’ on North Korea summit, to insist on denuclearization

A banner bearing a unification flag hang on a barbed wire fence near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledged on Wednesday it was unclear if his summit with North Korea would go ahead after Pyongyang threatened to pull out of the unprecedented meeting, a move that could deny him a potentially major foreign policy achievement.

North Korea threw the June 12 summit between its leader Kim Jong Un and Trump into doubt on Wednesday, saying it might not attend if Washington continues to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal. North Korea also called off talks with South Korea scheduled for Wednesday, blaming U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

“We’ll have to see,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office when asked if the summit was still on, though he insisted he would not back down from his demand for North Korea’s denuclearization.

“No decision, we haven’t been notified at all … We haven’t seen anything, we haven’t heard anything,” he said.

Trump’s relatively muted response was in marked contrast to just a few days ago when he exulted over North Korea’s release of three Americans, welcoming them home with praise for Kim and an expression of high hopes that the summit would produce “something very meaningful.”

Trump’s aides – who, according to one U.S. official, were caught off guard by North Korea’s warning – were working on Wednesday to determine whether it was a negotiating ploy by Pyongyang or an attempt to scuttle the summit.

Cancellation of the summit, the first between U.S. and North Korean leaders, would deal a major blow to what would be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency. This comes at a time when his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has drawn withering criticism internationally and his move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has fueled deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border.

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

The White House said it was still hopeful the summit would take place, but Trump was prepared for a tough negotiation.

“The president is ready if the meeting takes place,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News. “If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing.”

Sanders said the North Korean comments were “not something that is out of the ordinary in these types of operations.” Pyongyang has a long history of threatening to walk away from international negotiations if it does not get its way.

North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs, Kim Kye Gwan, cast doubt on whether the summit, which is set for Singapore, would be held.

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

“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the … summit,” he said.

North Korea clashed with Bolton when he worked under the Bush administration.

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

In an interview with Fox News Radio, Bolton brushed aside the remarks against him as “nothing new” and said odds were still in favor of the summit going ahead, but the United States would not soften its demands.

“I think that’s where the president is; we are going to do everything we can to come to a successful meeting, but we are not going to back away from the objective of that meeting which is complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.”

Sanders appeared reluctant to endorse the Libya model that the outspoken and hawkish Bolton has touted, most recently on U.S. television on Sunday.

She said the model that would be followed in dealing with North Korea was “the President Trump model.”

“He’s going to run this the way he sees fit. We’re 100 percent confident … he’s the best negotiator.”

“MISERABLE FATE”

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

“(The) world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate,” Kim said in an apparent reference to the demises of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Iraqi former president Saddam Hussein.

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

The doubt thrown over the summit comes a week after Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.

The North Korean statements marked a dramatic reversal in tone from recent months when Pyongyang appeared to embrace efforts to negotiate.

North Korea had announced it would publicly shut its nuclear test site next week and also improved the mood for a summit by the three detained Americans last week.

Some analysts and U.S. officials believe North Korea may be testing Trump’s willingness to soften the U.S. demand for complete denuclearization.

North Korea could also be trying to capitalize on an apparent gap in messaging between Bolton and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo, who returned from his second visit to Pyongyang last week with the freed Americans, has stressed the economic benefits, possibly including U.S. investment, that could flow to the country if it agrees to denuclearize.

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

“We have already stated our intention for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” Kim said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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

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

“This statement targets Bolton, and threatens the administration’s entire strategy. Suggests NK has not radically changed its strategy, & econ. inducements will not convince them to denuke,” tweeted Abraham Denmark, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for East Asia.

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

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

A South Korean defense ministry official said the drills would go on as planned.

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

(Reporting by Josh Smith and Christine Kim in Seoul, Tim Kelly in Tokyo, Philip Wen and Christian Shepherd in Beijing, David Brunnstrom, Phillip Stewart, Tim Ahmann, Matt Spetalnick, Lesley Wroughton and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alistair Bell and James Dalgleish)

South Korea, U.S. launch aerial drills amid North Korean warnings of nuclear war

The South Korean army's K-55 self-propelled artillery vehicles take part in a military exercise near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, November 29, 2017.

By Christine Kim and Philip Wen

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States and South Korea went ahead with large-scale joint aerial drills on Monday, a move North Korea had said would push the Korean peninsula to “the brink of nuclear war”, ignoring calls from Russia and China to call them off.

The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States as part of a weapons program that it has conducted in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was “regrettable” that all parties had not “grasped the window of opportunity” presented by two months of relative calm before the North’s most recent test.

China and Russia had proposed that the United States and South Korea stop major military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programs. Beijing formally calls the idea the “dual suspension” proposal.

The annual U.S.-South Korean drill, called Vigilant Ace, will run until Friday, with six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to be deployed among the more than 230 aircraft taking part.

North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called U.S. President Donald Trump “insane” on Sunday and said the drills would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.

F-35 fighters will also join the drills, which will include the largest number of 5th generation fighters ever to have taken part, according to a South Korea-based U.S. Air Force spokesman.

Around 12,000 U.S. service members, including from the Marines and Navy, will join South Korean troops. Aircraft taking part will be flown from eight U.S. and South Korean military installations.

South Korean media reports said B-1B Lancer bombers could join the exercise this week. The U.S. Air Force spokesman could not confirm the reports.

Trump said last week that additional major sanctions would be imposed on North Korea after Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile test.

Earlier last month, Trump put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that allows the United States to impose more sanctions.

Russia has accused the United States of trying to provoke North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into “flying off the handle” over his missile program to hand Washington a pretext to destroy his country.

Speaking at a news briefing in Beijing, Wang said China consistently opposed any behavior that elevated tensions.

“And measures that don’t abide by or are outside the UN Security Council resolutions lack basis in international law and damage the rights of United Nations members,” Wang said when asked about the prospect of further U.S. sanctions against North Korea.

China’s Air Force said on Monday that its surveillance aircraft had in recent days conducted drills in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea to “improve combat-readiness and safeguard the country’s strategic interests”.

The aircraft took a flight path not previously flown to regions they had never previously operated in, and coordinated with fighter jets, alert aircraft and guided missile forces, spokesman Shen Jinke said, according to a post on the Air Force’s official microblog.

The joint exercises between South Korea and United States are designed to enhance readiness and operational capability and to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. military had said before the drills began.

The North’s KCNA state news agency, citing a foreign ministry spokesman, said on Saturday the Trump administration was “begging for nuclear war by staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula”.

North Korea regularly uses its state media to threaten the United States and its allies.

North Korea has tested dozens of ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and largest nuclear bomb test in September, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

It has said its weapons programs are a necessary defense against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, denies any such intention.

 

 

(Reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Philip Wen in BEIJING; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

 

U.S. Navy strike group to move toward Korean peninsula

FILE PHOTO - Sailors man the rails of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, as it departs its home port in San Diego, California August 22, 2014.

By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Navy strike group will be moving toward the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula as a show of force, a U.S. official told Reuters on Saturday, as concerns grow about North Korea’s advancing weapons program.

Earlier this month North Korea tested a liquid-fueled Scud missile which only traveled a fraction of its range.

The strike group, called Carl Vinson, includes an aircraft carrier and will make its way from Singapore toward the Korean peninsula, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity.

“We feel the increased presence is necessary,” the official said, citing North Korea’s worrisome behavior.

The news was first reported by Reuters.

In a statement late Saturday, the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet said the strike group had been directed to sail north, but it did not specify the destination. The military vessels will operate in the Western Pacific rather than making previously planned port visits to Australia, it added.

This year North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, have repeatedly indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming, possibly as soon as April 15, the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founding president and celebrated annually as “the Day of the Sun.”

Earlier this week U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Florida, where Trump pressed his counterpart to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.

Trump’s national security aides have completed a review of U.S. options to try to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. These include economic and military measures but lean more toward sanctions and increased pressure on Beijing to rein in its reclusive neighbor.

Although the option of pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea is not off the table, the review prioritizes less-risky steps and de-emphasizes direct military action.

Trump spoke with South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn on Friday, the White House said on Saturday in a statement which did not mention the strike group.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Richard Chang)