Nuclear talks in doubt as North Korea tests ballistic missiles, envoy cancels trip

FILE PHOTO: South Korean people watch a live TV broadcast on a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Seoul, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea test-fired two new short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, South Korean officials said, its first missile test since its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to revive denuclearisation talks last month.

South Korea, which supports efforts by North Korea and the United States to end years of hostility, urged the North to stop acts that are unhelpful to easing tension, saying the tests posed a military threat on the Korean peninsula.

The South’s National Security Council said it believed the missiles were a new type of ballistic missile but it would make a final assessment with the United States.

Firing a ballistic missile would be a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban the North from the use of such technology. North Korea has rejected the restriction as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defense.

North Korea launched the missiles from the east coast city of Wonsan with one flying about 430 km (267 miles) and the other 690 km (428 miles) over the sea. They both reached an altitude of 50 km (30 miles), an official at South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.

Some analysts said the North appeared to have retested missiles it fired in May, but two South Korean military officials said the missiles appeared to be a new design.

The launch casts new doubt on efforts to restart stalled denuclearisation talks after Trump and Kim met at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas at the end of June.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had been expected to meet on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok next week.

But a diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday that Ri had canceled his trip to the conference.

The White House, Pentagon and U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test had no immediate impact on Japan’s security, according to Kyodo News.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who has taken a hard line toward North Korea, made no mention of the launches in a tweet on Thursday after a visit to South Korea. He said he had “productive meetings” on regional security.

South Korea’s nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, had phone calls with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Biegun, and his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, to share their assessment, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing that Beijing had noted the launch, and called for North Korea and the United States to reopen negotiations “as early as possible”.

‘CLEAR MESSAGE’

After Trump and Kim met last month, the United States and North Korea vowed to hold a new round of working-level talks soon, but Pyongyang has since sharply criticized upcoming joint military drills by U.S. and South Korean troops.

North Korea’s foreign ministry accused Washington this month of breaking a promise by holding military exercises with South Korea. On Tuesday, Kim inspected a large, newly built submarine from which ballistic missiles could be launched.

“By firing missiles, taking issue with military drills and showing a new submarine, the North is sending one clear message: there might be no working-level talks if the United States doesn’t present a more flexible stance,” said Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear envoy.

Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the weapons tested on Thursday appeared to be the same as the ones tested in May, which were less of a challenge than long-range missiles but “enough to subtly pressure” Washington.

But the South Korean military believes they may be new because they traveled further. In North Korea’s previous missile test in May, the projectiles flew only 420 km (260 miles) and 270 km (168 miles) though they reached the same altitude of about 50 km (30 miles).

“We’re very cautious because it’s difficult to extend the range within such a short time,” said one military official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that, according to a preliminary analysis, the missiles were similar to those tested in May but showed enhanced capabilities. They cautioned that it would take time before they were certain whether this was a new missile or not.

One of the officials added that North Korea had generally been shortening the time it took for them to prepare missiles to be launched, potentially decreasing the warning time the United States and allies have to detect the launches.

Nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States stalled after a second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February broke down.

Trump has repeatedly lauded the North’s freeze in weapons testing as he is keen for a big foreign policy win as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee, Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin and Jane Chung; David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, and Huizhong Wu in BEIJING; Editing by Jack Kim, Robert Birsel)

North Korea says recent rocket drill was “regular and self-defensive”: KCNA

North Korean military conducts a "strike drill" for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea, in this May 4, 2019 photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s “strike drill” last week at which leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the launch of rockets and at least one short-range ballistic missile was “regular and self-defensive,” the North’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, according to state media.

“The recent drill conducted by our army is nothing more than part of the regular military training, and it has neither targeted anyone nor led to an aggravation of the situation in the region,” an unidentified ministry spokesperson said in a statement to the state-run KCNA news agency.

Saturday’s drill was the first test of a ballistic missile by North Korea since it launched a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017.

It came in the wake of talks with the United States and South Korea stalling in February, and raised alarms in both countries, which have been seeking to entice the North into abandoning its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Seoul responded on Saturday by calling on its northern neighbor to “stop acts that escalate military tension on the Korean Peninsula.”

In a second statement carried by KCNA on Wednesday, a spokesman for the North Korean office in charge of military engagement with South Korea lashed out at Seoul over any suggestion that the rocket drills had violated an inter-Korean agreement aimed at reducing military tension.

“The South Korean military should take a close look at the inter Korean military agreement and recall what it has done itself before talking nonsense that it was against the spirit of the agreement,” the spokesperson said, according to KCNA.

The second statement also criticized last week’s test of a U.S. Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by the U.S. Air Force out of California over the Pacific, saying South Korea was in no position to criticize North Korea.

“The South Korean military has no right to say a word to its fellow countrymen when it acted like a mute who ate honey when the United States fired a Minuteman ICBM which threatens us,” the military spokesman said.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has met with Kim twice, said he was still confident he could have a deal with Kim, and South Korean officials have subsequently played down the test.

North Korea’s foreign ministry statement hit back at “spiteful remarks” about the tests from unnamed critics, warning that “baseless allegations” might “produce a result of driving us to the direction which neither we nor they want to see at all.”

The ministry spokesperson said there was a double standard, with South Korea and the United States carrying out military drills with little criticism.

“Only our regular and self-defensive military drill is branded as provocative, and this is an undisguised manifestation of the attempt to press the gradual disarmament of our state and finally invade us,” the spokesperson said. “We think this is very much unpleasant and regrettable, and we sound a note of warning.”

After meeting with Kim for the first time in June last year, Trump abruptly announced he was cancelling all large-scale military exercises with South Korea.

Smaller exercises have continued, however, drawing regular criticism from Pyongyang.

North Korea had maintained a freeze in nuclear and ballistic missiles testing in place since 2017, a fact Trump has repeatedly pointed out as an important achievement from his engagement with Pyongyang.

Denuclearization talks with North Korea have stalled, however, after Trump and Kim met in February for a second summit but failed to reach an agreement.

North Korea balked at the extent of the demands made by American negotiators, and Trump said he ended the summit early because Kim was asking for nearly all major sanctions to be lifted while offering little in return.

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for talks with South Korean officials.

He did not respond to questions from journalists, but his agenda is expected to include the missile test, as well as other aspects of talks with North Korea, including plans for possible humanitarian aid.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Minwoo Park. Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Hugh Lawson)

Third summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim likely, no date set: U.S. official

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson attends a panel discussion after a Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) conference in Beijing, China January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Department of State official on Monday said she thinks there will be a third summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but no date has been set.

Trump and Kim’s second summit in Vietnam last month collapsed over differences on U.S. demands for Pyongyang’s denuclearization and North Korea’s demand for sanctions relief.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Sunday that the president was open to another summit with Kim but more time may be needed. Trump and Kim first met in Singapore last June.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president “have been very clear that they remain open to the dialogue. They haven’t got a date on the calendar but our teams continue to work towards that,” U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson said when asked if there would be a third meeting.

“Is there a next summit? Well, I think there will be,” said Thompson, who spoke at the Carnegie Nuclear Conference in Washington.

Thompson said it was “incredibly important” that all countries continued to maintain United Nations sanctions on North Korea until it gave up its nuclear weapons.

“We are not letting the foot off the gas. We are going to continue with the pressure campaign,” she said. “We are going to continue to hold those sanctions and we are going to continue to work with the team abroad to make sure those stay in place.”

Trump said on Friday he would be disappointed if Pyongyang were to resume weapons testing and reiterated his belief in his good relationship with Kim despite the collapse of the summit.

Trump commented after U.S. think tanks and Seoul’s spy agency said that North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site. Non-proliferation experts have said satellite images indicate North Korea could be preparing to launch a missile or a space rocket in spite of a freeze in testing that has been in place since 2017.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Grant McCool)

Security advisers from U.S., South Korea, Japan meet on North Korean summits: Seoul

FILE PHOTO: Shotaro Yachi speaks with Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi (not pictured) during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Wu Hong/Pool

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – The top national security advisers of the United States, South Korea and Japan met at the weekend to discuss North Korea and the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said on Monday.

The two days of meetings could also help prepare the way for a possible meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

They were the latest in a flurry of diplomatic activity spanning Asia, the United States and Europe ahead of North Korea’s planned summits with the South and the United States.

South Korea’s National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong met U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Japan’s National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi to discuss summit meetings between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the Blue House in Seoul said.

They also discussed the possible meeting between Trump and Kim, it said.

The security advisers from the three countries discussed the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”, agreed that “it was important to not repeat the mistakes of the past” and to work together closely, the Blue House said.

A senior North Korean diplomat left for Finland on Sunday for talks with former U.S. and South Korean officials, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

That followed three days of talks between North Korean and Swedish foreign ministers on security on the Korean peninsula.

Sweden “engaged heavily” on the issue of U.S. detainees during the talks between North Korean and Swedish foreign ministers, CNN reported on Sunday, citing unidentified sources with knowledge of the negotiations.

North Korea is pursuing its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions and has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Sandra Maler and Paul Tait)