U.S. says North Korea diplomacy ‘very much alive,’ but it’s watching rocket site

A satellite image of North Korea's Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Tongchang-ri) which Washington-based Stimson Center's 38 North says, "Rebuilding continues at the engine test stand" is seen in this image released from Washington, DC, U.S., March 7, 2019. Courtesy Airbus Defence & Space and 38 North, Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS/Handout via REUTERS

By David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chief U.S. envoy for North Korea said on Monday that “diplomacy is still very much alive” with Pyongyang despite a failed summit last month, but cautioned that Washington was closely watching activity at a North Korean rocket site and did not know if it might be planning a new launch.

Stephen Biegun told a conference in Washington that although U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un parted on good terms after their Feb. 27-28 summit in Hanoi, big gaps remained between the two sides and North Korea needed to show it was fully committed to giving up its nuclear weapons.

Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, stressed that U.S.-led sanctions, which Pyongyang wants dropped, would stay in place until North Korea completed denuclearization. He rejected an incremental approach sought by Pyongyang, and said that easing sanctions for partial steps would amount to subsidizing North Korea’s weapons programs.

As Biegun spoke at the Carnegie Nuclear Conference, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank issued a new report on activity at North Korea’s Sohae rocket launch site, in which satellite images from Friday showed possible preparations for a launch.

In the course of nearly a year of diplomatic engagement with the United States, North Korea has maintained a freeze on missile and nuclear tests and space rocket launches in place since 2017. Trump has repeatedly stressed this as a positive outcome of the diplomacy.

Biegun said Washington did not know what the activity spotted in North Korea meant. He said the Trump administration took it “very seriously” but cautioned against drawing any snap conclusions.

“What Kim Jong Un will ultimately decide to do may very much be his decision and his decision alone,” Biegun said, adding that Trump had made clear last week he would be “very disappointed” if North Korea were to resume testing.

An authoritative U.S. government source familiar with U.S. intelligence assessments said they did not conclude that a launch was imminent, given North Korea’s apparent desire to keep negotiations going with the United States. However, the source said Pyongyang appeared to want to make clear it retained the capability to resume launches at any moment.

“Diplomacy is still very much alive,” Biegun said. He offered no specifics on when new talks might be held and did not say whether any talks had taken place since the summit, which collapsed over differences on U.S. demands for Pyongyang’s denuclearization and North Korea’s demand for sanctions relief.

ENGAGEMENT

“It’s certainly our expectation that we will be able to continue our close engagement,” Biegun said.

The State Department has declined to say whether there has been any direct engagement between the two sides since the summit.

A national security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday the United States should seek the gradual denuclearization of North Korea because an “all-or-nothing” strategy will not help break the impasse in talks.

To bridge the gap, Moon could pursue an unofficial inter-Korean summit as he did last year before the first summit between Trump and Kim, and then visit Washington, the adviser said.

Trump has said he remains open to more talks with Kim. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson told the Washington conference she thought there would be another summit.

Asked if there would be a third meeting, she said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump had “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.”

Thompson said it was “incredibly important” that all countries continued to maintain U.N. 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.

At the White House on Monday, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders scoffed at reports that China was wary of holding a summit with Trump on trade after he walked out of his meeting with Kim without a deal.

“We’ll see what happens with North Korea the same way we’re going to see what happens in the negotiations with China. They’re ongoing,” she said.

Trump on Friday stressed again his belief in his personal rapport with Kim.

The CSIS report said commercial satellite images acquired last Wednesday and Friday showed North Korea had continued preparations on the launch pad at its Sohae launch facility and at the engine testing stand there.

“Based on past practices, these activities could be consistent with preparations for the delivery of a rocket to the launch pad or engine to the test stand; or they could be North Korean coercive bargain tactics,” it said.

Trump said after his first summit with Kim in Singapore last June that Kim had promised to dismantle the test stand, a pledge the North Korean leader reiterated and expanded on at a summit with Moon in September.

Pyongyang has used Sohae to launch satellites into space since 2011, and Washington says its work there has helped develop missile technology. A satellite launch in April 2012 killed off an Obama administration deal for a freeze in North Korean nuclear and missile testing reached weeks earlier.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Mark Hosenball, Matt Spetalnick, Arshad Mohammed and Doina Chiacu; additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL, editing by Grant McCool and Sonya Hepinstall)

Malaysia frees Indonesian woman accused of Kim Jong Nam’s poisoning

Siti Aisyah, who was previously a suspect in the murder case of North Korean leader's half brother Kim Jong Nam reacts as she arrives in news conference, after a Malaysian court released her of charges at Halim Perdanakusuma airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

By Rozanna Latiff

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – An Indonesian woman accused in the 2017 chemical poison murder of the North Korean leader’s half-brother was freed on Monday after a Malaysian court dropped the charge in a case that drew suspicions of being a political assassination.

As the court announced its decision, Siti Aisyah, 26, turned to her Vietnamese co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong, 30, in the dock and the two women, who had been facing the death penalty together, embraced in tears.

They had been accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.

Following the dramatic decision to release Siti Aisyah, a defense lawyer asked for an adjournment in the case against Huong in order to submit a request that charges be dropped against her too.

Defense lawyers have maintained that the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents. The North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur was defaced with graffiti just hours before the trial was to resume, authorities said.

Interpol had issued a red notice for four North Koreans who were identified as suspects by Malaysian police and had left the country hours after the murder.

During the trial, the court was shown CCTV footage of two women allegedly assaulting Kim Jong Nam while he prepared to check in for a flight.

Siti Aisyah, who had worked as a masseuse at a hotel in the Malaysian capital, and Huong, who described herself as an actress, had maintained that they believed they had been hired to participate in a reality TV prank show.

Once the court released her, Siti Aisyah, wearing a black traditional Malay dress and headscarf, was rushed to the Indonesian embassy, where she spoke briefly with journalists.

“I feel so happy. I did not expect that today I would be released,” Siti Aisyah said, adding that she was healthy and had been treated well in prison.

Prosecutors told the court that they had been instructed to withdraw the charge against Siti Aisyah. No reason was given.

While the court discharged Siti Aisyah from the case, it rejected her lawyer’s request for a full acquittal, as it said that the trial had already established a prima facie case and she could be recalled if fresh evidence emerged.

The defense had disputed whether the CCTV footage was clear enough to identify the Indonesian woman as an assailant, or establish what she had done to the victim.

Gooi Soon Seng, Siti Aisyah’s lawyer, said his client was “a scapegoat”.

“I still believe that North Korea had something to do with it,” Gooi said.

Kim Jong Nam had lived in exile in Macau for several years before the killing, having fled his homeland after his half-brother became North Korea’s leader in 2011 following their father’s death.

Some South Korean lawmakers said the North Korean regime had ordered the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, who had been critical of his family’s dynastic rule. Pyongyang has denied the accusation.

NOT OVER YET FOR HUONG

Left to stand trial by herself after Siti Aisyah’s release, Huong was still sobbing as she prepared to take the stand on Monday at the start of her defense. But the court agreed to resume proceedings on Thursday instead, pending a reply from the attorney-general to the request that charges against her also be withdrawn.

“Where is the principle of equality? Both of them were charged on the same evidence, the defense was called on fairly the same grounds,” said Salim Bashir, one of Huong’s lawyers.

“Until today, we do not know what were the exceptional circumstances that were needed for the attorney-general to review the charge against Siti Aisyah. The prosecution never advanced a single ground for the withdrawal.”

Although the two women were being tried together, the cases against them were separate, and the court had asked the Indonesian woman to present her defense first.

Siti Aisyah’s trial was suspended in December as her lawyers argued with prosecutors over access to statements made by seven witnesses.

Prosecutor Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad told Reuters the decision to withdraw the charge against her was made based on “several representations”, without elaborating.

Siti Aisyah flew back to Jakarta on Monday, accompanied by Indonesian Law Minister Yasonna H. Laoly.

Laoly said Siti Aisyah’s release, after over two years in prison, was the result of high-level diplomacy by his government, including meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the attorney-general.

“After studying the case thoroughly, we sent letters to the Attorney-General of Malaysia and met with him and Prime Minister Mahathir last August,” Laoly told reporters with Siti Aisyah shortly after landing in Jakarta.

Laoly had written to Malaysia’s attorney-general, laying the blame on North Korea.

“Miss Aisyah was deceived and had no awareness whatsoever that she was being used as an intelligence tool of North Korea,” he wrote.

(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa in JAKARTA; writing by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

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)

Trump says he would be disappointed if North Korea resumed testing

FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high-ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By Roberta Rampton and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he would be disappointed if North Korea were to resume weapons testing and reiterated his belief in his good relationship with its leader, Kim Jong Un, despite the collapse of a summit with him last week.

“I would be surprised in a negative way if he did anything that was not per our understanding. But we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I would be very disappointed if I saw testing.”

Trump’s comments to reporters on the White House lawn before leaving to visit Alabama came after two U.S. think tanks and Seoul’s spy agency said this week that North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site.

There have also been reports emanating from South Korea’s intelligence service of new activity at a factory that produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Trump said he thought his and the U.S. relationship with Kim and North Korea was “a very good one.”

“I think it remains good,” he said.

Trump, eager for a big foreign policy win on North Korea which has eluded his predecessors for decades, has repeatedly stressed his good relationship with Kim. He went as far late last year as saying that they “fell in love,” but the bonhomie has failed to bridge the wide gap between the two sides.

A second summit between Trump and Kim collapsed last week over differences on U.S. demands for Kim to give up his nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for sanctions relief.

North Korean state media acknowledged the fruitless summit for the first time on Friday, saying people were blaming the United States for the lack of an agreement.

“The public at home and abroad that had hoped for success and good results from the second … summit in Hanoi are feeling regretful, blaming the U.S. for the summit that ended without an agreement,” its Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary.

The paper directed fiery rhetoric against Japan, accusing it of being “desperate to interrupt” relations between Pyongyang and Washington and “applauding” the breakdown of the summit.

Washington has said it is open to more talks with North Korea but it has rejected an incremental approach to negotiations sought by Pyongyang and it remains unclear when the two sides might meet again.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful he would send a delegation to North Korea for more talks in the next couple of weeks, but that he had received “no commitment yet.”

A senior State Department official who briefed reporters in Washington on Thursday said the United States was keen to resume talks as soon as possible, but North Korea’s negotiators needed to be given more latitude than they were given ahead of the summit.

“There will necessarily need to be a period of reflection here. Both sides are going to have to digest the outcome to the summit,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Fundamentally, where we really need to see the progress, and we need to see it soon, is on meaningful and verifiable steps on denuclearization. That’s our goal and that’s how we see these negotiations picking up momentum.”

The official said complete denuclearization was the condition for North Korea’s integration into the global economy, a transformed relationship with the United States and a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, a hard-liner who has argued for a tough approach to North Korea, said this week that Trump was open to more talks, but also warned of tougher sanctions if North Korea did not denuclearize.

Bolton and other U.S. officials have sought to play down the activity spotted at the Sohae rocket launch site, although Trump on Thursday called it “disappointing.”

The official who briefed reporters on Thursday said he would “not necessarily share the conclusion” of the think tanks that the Sohae site was operational again, but said any use of the site would be seen as “backsliding” on commitments to Trump.

North Korea has frozen nuclear and missile testing since 2017, and Trump has pointed to this as a positive outcome from nearly a year’s engagement with North Korea.

Sohae has been used in the past to rest missile engines and to launch rockets that U.S. officials say have helped development of North Korea’s weapons programs.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, David Brunnstrom, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey in Washington and Hyonhee Shin, Joyce Lee and Ju-min Park in Seoul; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. open to North Korea talks despite missile program activity

FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high-ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By David Brunnstrom and Hyonhee Shin

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is open to additional talks with Pyongyang over denuclearization, his national security adviser said on Thursday, despite reports that North Korea is reactivating parts of its missile program.

New activity has been detected at a factory that produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the United States, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo and Donga Ilbo newspapers reported, citing lawmakers briefed by the National Intelligence Service.

This week, two U.S. think tanks and Seoul’s spy agency said North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site, prompting Trump to say he would be “very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim” if it were true.

The reports of North Korean activity raise more questions about the future of the dialogue Trump has pursued with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after a second summit between the two leaders in Vietnam broke down last week.White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday that Trump was still open to additional talks with North Korea over denuclearization.

“The president’s obviously open to talking again. We’ll see when that might be scheduled or how it might work out,” Bolton said in an interview with Fox News.

He said it was too soon to make a determination on the reports of the North Korean activities.

“We have a lot of ways of getting information,” he said. “We’re going to study the situation carefully. As the president said, it would be very, very disappointing if they were taking this direction.”

The Vietnam summit between Kim and Trump last week collapsed over differences on how far North Korea was willing to limit its nuclear program and the degree of U.S. willingness to ease economic sanctions against the isolated country.

Trump, eager for a big foreign policy win on North Korea that has eluded his predecessors for decades, has repeatedly stressed his good relationship with Kim. He went as far late last year as saying they “fell in love,” but the bonhomie has failed so far to bridge the wide gap between the two sides.

MISSILE FACTORY

Movement of cargo vehicles was spotted recently around a North Korean factory at Sanumdong in Pyongyang, which produced ICBMs.

South Korean spy chief Suh Hoon told lawmakers he viewed the activity as missile-related, the JoongAng Ilbo said. It quoted Suh as saying North Korea continued to run its uranium enrichment facility at the main Yongbyon nuclear complex after a first summit between Trump and Kim last June in Singapore.

The Sanumdong factory produced the Hwasong-15 ICBM, which can fly more than 13,000 km (8,080 miles). After its test flight in 2017, North Korea declared the completion of its “state nuclear force,” before pursuing talks with South Korea and the United States last year.

South Korea’s presidential office and defense ministry declined to confirm the reports on Sanumdong, saying they were closely monitoring North Korea’s activities together with the United States.

The U.S. State Department said it could not comment on intelligence matters.

Separately, U.S. think tanks reported on Thursday that North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station appeared to be operational again after work that began days before Trump met with Kim in Hanoi.

Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank called the work a “snapback” after North Korea partially dismantled the site, acting on a pledge by Kim to Trump at the Singapore summit.

“The rebuilding activities at Sohae demonstrate how quickly North Korea can easily render reversible any steps taken towards scrapping its WMD program with little hesitation,” it said.

“North Korea’s actions constitute an affront to the president’s diplomatic strategy (and) demonstrate North Korean pique at Trump’s refusal to lift economic sanctions during the meetings in Hanoi.”

The Washington-based 38 North think tank also said the Sohae site appeared now to have returned to normal operational status.

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his way to board a train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his way to board a train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

SANCTIONS WARNING

Some analysts see the work as aimed at pressing Washington to agree to a deal, rather than as a definite move to resume tests.

A U.S. government source, who did not want to be identified, said North Korea’s plan in rebuilding the site could have been to offer a demonstration of good faith by conspicuously stopping again if a summit pact was struck, while furnishing a sign of defiance or resolve if the meeting failed.

Imagery from Planet Labs Inc analyzed by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California showed activity at Sohae from Feb. 23 until Wednesday.

38 North said photos from Wednesday showed the rail-mounted transfer building used to move rockets at the site was complete, cranes had been removed from the launch pad and the transfer building moved to the end of the pad.

“But we don’t draw any conclusions from that besides they are restoring the facility,” Joel Wit of 38 North told Reuters. “There is no evidence to suggest anything more than that.”

On Wednesday, Bolton, a hardliner who was argued for a tough approach to North Korea in the past, warned of new sanctions if it did not scrap its weapons program.

Despite the sanctions talk, there have been signs across Asia that Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against North Korea has sprung leaks.

In a new sanctions breach, three South Korean companies were found to have brought in more than 13,000 tons of North Korean coal, worth 2.1 billion won ($2 million) since 2017, by making it out to have been produced in China and Vietnam, South Korea said.

North Korean media has given conflicting signals about its relations with the United States, while appearing to target Bolton as a spoiler.

Its state television aired a 78-minute documentary late on Wednesday focused on showing a cordial mood between Trump and Kim as the summit ended, indicating Pyongyang was not about to walk away from negotiations, experts say.

It also showed a stone-faced Bolton during a meeting in Hanoi, while Trump and other U.S. participants were all smiles.

In a return to a more usual, strident tone, the KCNA news agency criticized new small-scale military exercises that the United States and South Korea plan to hold instead of a large-scale spring exercise they have called off.

The news agency said the drills would be a “violent violation” of agreements signed between the United States and North Korea as well as between the two Koreas.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries said last week that they would not carry out a large-scale spring joint military exercises, replacing it with smaller-scale ones.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, David Alexander and Tim Ahmann in Washington and Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alistair Bell)

South Korea sees signs North Korea restoring part of missile launch site: Yonhap

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – South Korean intelligence agencies have detected signs that North Korea is restoring part of the Dongchang-ri missile launch site it tore down, Yonhap News Agency reported on Tuesday.

Specifically, Yonhap said the closed-off country, under pressure for years to discontinue its nuclear program, is putting back a roof and a door on the facility.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service also said during a briefing for the National Assembly’s intelligence committee that “the U.S. information is the same as ours,” according to Yonhap.

A second summit on denuclearization between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week broke down over differences on how far North Korea was willing to limit its nuclear program and the degree of U.S. willingness to ease sanctions on the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful the United States would send a delegation to North Korea in the coming weeks.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for officials to try to find a way to restart talks between the North and the United States.

The breakdown of the summit was a blow for Moon, who had hoped eased U.S. sanctions would help lead to a restart of inter-Korean projects including a factory park, key to his vision for a pan-peninsula economic community.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Writing by Nick Zieminski; Editing by David Gregorio)

South Korea to work with U.S. and North Korea after failed nuclear talks

U.S. President Donald Trump pumps his fist at members of the U.S. military as he arrives to address them after his summit meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Vietnam during a refueling stop at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S., February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL/HANOI (Reuters) – South Korea will work with the United States and North Korea to ensure they reach agreement on denuclearization, the South’s president said on Friday, a day after talks between the U.S. and North Korean leaders collapsed over sanctions.

A second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Vietnam, was cut short after they failed to reach a deal on the extent of sanctions relief North Korea would get in exchange for steps to give up its nuclear program.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has been an active supporter of efforts to end confrontation on the Korean peninsula, meeting Kim three times last year and trying to facilitate his nuclear negotiations with the United States.

“My administration will closely communicate and cooperate with the United States and North Korea so as to help their talks reach a complete settlement by any means,” Moon said in a speech in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Moon also said South Korea would consult the United States on ways to resume joint projects with the North including tourism development at Mount Kumgang and the Kaesong industrial complex, both in North Korea.

The Hanoi summit came eight months after Trump and Kim met for the first time in Singapore and agreed to establish new relations and peace in exchange for a North Korean commitment to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump said two days of talks had made good progress but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. He said he had walked away because of unacceptable North Korean demands.

“It was all about the sanctions,” Trump told a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the negotiations with Kim were “very substantive” and that “we know what they want and they know what we must have,” but he gave no other details about any next steps. “Relationship very good, let’s see what happens!” he wrote.

‘BIGGEST STEP’

However, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told a midnight news conference after Trump left Hanoi that North Korea had sought only a partial lifting of sanctions “related to people’s livelihoods and unrelated to military sanctions.”

He said North Korea had offered a realistic proposal involving the dismantling of all of its main nuclear site at Yongbyon, including plutonium and uranium facilities, by engineers from both countries.

“This is the biggest denuclearization step we can take based on the current level of trust between the two countries,” Ri said.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told the briefing she had the impression that Kim “might lose his willingness to pursue a deal” after the U.S. side rejected a partial lifting of sanctions in return for the destruction of Yongbyon, “something we had never offered before.”

Speaking to South Korean media later on Friday, Choe appeared more pessimistic about chances for progress.

“Having conducted the talks this time, it occurs to us that there may not be a need to continue,” she said, adding that North Korea had taken “many steps” to try to reach a deal.

“We’re doing a lot of thinking,” she said while adding, the situation would change “if our demands can be resolved.”

But despite the doubt that Choe raised, both sides have indicated they want to maintain the momentum and press on.

“We are anxious to get back to the table so we can continue that conversation that will ultimately lead to peace and stability, better life for the North Korean people, and a lower threat, a denuclearized North Korea,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference in Manila.

North Korean media adopted a conciliatory tone.

The state KCNA news agency said Kim and Trump had a constructive, sincere exchange and decided to continue productive talks, without mentioning that the talks ended abruptly with no agreement.

Kim, who is due to leave Vietnam on Saturday, also expressed gratitude to Trump for putting in efforts to get results, KCNA said.

‘OPPORTUNITY TO TALK’

A U.S. State Department official said the North Korean media coverage had been constructive, indicating “ample opportunity to talk.”

The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state conducted repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources of hard cash

The United States has demanded North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization before sanctions can be lifted. North Korea has denounced that position as “gangster like.”

The U.S. official said North Korea had proposed closing part of its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for the lifting of all U.N. sanctions except those directly targeting their weapons of mass destruction programs.

The U.S. side said “that wouldn’t work”, he said.

“The dilemma that we were confronted with is the North Koreans at this point are unwilling to impose a complete freeze on their weapons of mass destruction programs,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

“So to give many, many billions of dollars in sanctions relief would in effect put us in a position of subsidizing the ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Analysts estimate North Korea may have a nuclear arsenal of 20 to 60 weapons, which, if fitted to its intercontinental ballistic missiles, could threaten the U.S. mainland.

The collapse of the summit leaves Kim in possession of that arsenal though Trump said the North Korean leader had agreed to maintain his moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Failure to reach an agreement also marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office.

(Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Jeff Mason, Soyoung Kim, James Pearson, Josh Smith, Ju-min Park, Mai Nyugen, Khanh Vu, Jack Kim in HANOI; Martin Petty and Karen Lema in MANILA; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast)

Pompeo assures Philippines of U.S. protection in event of sea conflict

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

By Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the Philippines on Friday it would come to its defense if it came under attack in the South China Sea, reaffirming a defense code that Manila’s security chiefs have sought to revise.

Speaking during a stopover after a summit in Hanoi with North Korea, Pompeo said a 1951 Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defence Treaty would be adhered to if its ally was a victim of aggression, and singled out China as a threat to stability.

“China’s island-building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security and therefore economic livelihood as well as that of the United States,” he told a news conference in Manila.

“Any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations.”

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have competing claims of sovereignty in the waterway, a conduit for in excess of $3.4 trillion of goods carried annually on commercial vessels.

Pompeo said those countries were responsible for ensuring “these incredibly vital sea lanes are open and China does not pose a threat to closing them down”.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that China and the countries around the South China Sea were working hard to protect peace and stability.

“So if countries outside the region, like the United States, really want to consider the peace, tranquillity and well-being of people in the region, then they shouldn’t make trouble out of nothing and incite trouble,” Lu told reporters.

Pompeo also said allies should be wary of risks of using Chinese technology.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has been seeking a review of the treaty, which was agreed five years after the Philippines gained independence from the United States in 1946, with the aim of clarifying the extent to which the United States will defend the Philippines should it come under attack.

Lorenzana’s push for greater certainty comes amid a rapid buildup by Beijing of military assets, coastguard and fishing militia in the South China Sea, most notably on and around artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago.

Although there is no longer a permanent U.S. military presence in the Philippines, joint exercises, intelligence exchanges and transfers of hardware take place regularly under various agreements.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, however, is not a fan and believes that the alliance makes his country a potential target of China, with which he wants stronger business ties.

Duterte has repeatedly questioned the U.S. commitment, noting that it did nothing to stop China from turning reefs into islands equipped with radar, missiles batteries and hangers for fighter jets, and within firing distance of the Philippines.

Pompeo made a courtesy call on Duterte late on Thursday.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin confirmed that discussions on the defense treaty were taking place, but in his own view, it was better not be too specific about its parameters.

“I believe in the old theory of deterrence,” he told reporters. “In vagueness lies the best deterrence.”

He added: “We are very assured, we are very confident that United States has, in the words of Secretary Pompeo, and in the words of President Trump to our president, ‘we have your back’.”

(Writing by Martin Petty; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

Trump, North Korea give conflicting accounts of summit collapse

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui speaks to reporters after a news conference following the end of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 1, 2019. Yonhap/via REUTERS

By Jeff Mason and Josh Smith

HANOI (Reuters) – A second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un collapsed on Thursday over sanctions on Pyongyang, and the two sides gave conflicting accounts of what led to the failure, raising questions about the future of denuclearization talks.

Trump said two days of talks in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi had made good progress in building relations and on the main issue of denuclearization, but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. He said he had walked away because of unacceptable North Korean demands.

“It was all about the sanctions,” Trump said at a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”

However, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told a news conference past midnight and hours after Trump left Hanoi that North Korea had sought only a partial lifting of sanctions and had offered a realistic proposal, including the dismantling of its main nuclear site at Yongbyon.

The United States demanded “one more” measure beyond dismantling Yongbyon, Ri said. He said if Washington partially removed sanctions, North Korea could permanently end all nuclear material production, including plutonium and uranium, under U.S. observation.

“This is the biggest denuclearization step we can take based on the current level of trust between the two countries,” Ri said in a rare exchange between a North Korean official and reporters. “In fact, as we take steps toward denuclearization, the most important issue is security but we thought it would be more burdensome for the United States to take military-related measures, which is why we saw partial lifting of sanctions as corresponding action.”

North Korea’s position would not change, even if Washington proposed further talks, Ri said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the minister’s remarks.

The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state conducted repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources of hard cash.

Trump and Kim cut short their talks, skipping a planned working lunch at the French-colonial-era Metropole hotel after a morning of meetings.

“Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” Trump said, adding “it was a friendly walk”.

Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office.

The collapse of the talks raised questions about the Trump administration’s preparations and about what some critics see as his cavalier style of personal diplomacy.

Since their first summit in Singapore in June, Trump has stressed his good chemistry with Kim, but there have been doubts about whether the bonhomie could move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating a North Korean nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States.

Things had appeared more promising when the leaders met on Wednesday, predicting successful talks before a social dinner with top aides.

The White House had been confident enough to schedule a “joint agreement signing ceremony” at the conclusion of talks. Like the lunch, the ceremony did not take the place.

 

MARKETS HIT

“No deal is a surprise, especially as they were both all smiley last evening,” said Lim Soo-ho, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy.

“But no-deal today doesn’t mean there won’t be one in coming months. It means stakes were way too high for the two leaders to give another wishy-washy statement like they did in Singapore.”

Daniel Russel, the State Department’s former top diplomat for East Asia until early in the Trump administration, said the failure showed Trump had rushed into the summit.

“The Hanoi Summit validates Benjamin Franklin&rsquo’s axiom that by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” he said. “The hard diplomatic work of narrowing differences and exploring options had simply not been done, so it is not surprising that the two leaders encountered insurmountable differences.”

The Singapore summit, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, produced a vague statement in which Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

But little progress followed.

News of the summit failure sent South Korea’s currency lower and knocked regional stock markets. South Korea’s Kospi index closed 1.8 percent lower, marking the biggest one-day percentage loss since Oct 2018.

North Korea’s old rival South Korea, which backs efforts to end confrontation on the peninsula, said it regretted that no deal had been reached but the two sides had made progress.

Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said difficulties in the talks were unavoidable but the two sides should press on and China would play a constructive role.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he backed Trump’s decision and wanted a meeting with Kim.

There was no indication of when Trump and Kim, or their negotiators, might meet again.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they could hold further meetings, but there was no plan to do so immediately.

Kicking off their second day of talks in Hanoi, Trump said he would be happy as long as North Korea conducted no more nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

North Korea has conducted no tests since late 2017, and Trump said Kim had promised him there would be no resumption.

Trump said he and Kim had discussed dismantling Yongbyon, which Kim was willing to do, but Kim had wanted sanctions relief first.

Trump said there were other facilities he wanted included in a deal – and the North Koreans had been surprised the Americans knew about them – but they had baulked.

TESTING TRUMP?

Russel said Kim might have thought he could drive a hard bargain, given Trump’s domestic troubles.

“Kim Jong Un is not testing ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs at the moment, but he is testing Donald Trump. Kim may have wanted to see if Trump’s domestic legal and political woes made him desperate enough to take any deal he could get,” he said.

Trump had indicated a more flexible stance in the run-up to the Hanoi summit, prompting some critics to warn that he risked squandering leverage over North Korea if he gave away too much.

U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea would eve give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which Kim’s ruling family sees as vital to its survival.

 

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason in HANOI; Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim, Joyce Lee, Jeongmin Kim, Hyonhee Shin, Jack Kim, James Pearson, Mai Nyugen, Ju-min Park, Khanh Vu in HANOI, Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel, Lincoln Feast and Grant McCool)

Trump and North Korea’s Kim predict success in high-stakes nuclear summit

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands before their one-on-one chat during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason

HANOI (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met in Vietnam on Wednesday for a second summit that the United States hopes will persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of peace and development.

Kim and Trump shook hands and smiled briefly in front of a row of their national flags at the Metropole hotel in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, before heading to dinner together.

Trump told reporters he thought the talks would be very successful, and asked if he was “walking back” on denuclearization, said “no”.

At their historic first summit in Singapore last June, Trump and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean peninsula but little progress has been made.

Kim said they had overcome obstacles to hold their second summit and praised Trump for his “courageous decision” to begin a dialogue.

“Now that we’re meeting here again like this, I’m confident that there will be an excellent outcome that everyone welcomes, and I’ll do my best to make it happen,” Kim said.

Trump and Kim held a 20-minute, one-on-one chat before sitting down to dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Kim’s top envoy, Kim Yong Chol, and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.

On Thursday, the two leaders will hold a series of meetings, the White House said. The venue has not been announced.

“We’re going to have a very busy day tomorrow,” said a smiling, relaxed-looking Trump, seated beside Kim at a round table with the other four officials and two interpreters.

“Our relationship is a very special relationship.”

Experts said the pair were at pains to show their relationship had improved since their first meeting, with their body language closely mirroring each other.

A child with stickers of the North Korean and Vietnamese flags on her face reacts at the Vietnam-North Korea Friendship kindergarten, founded by North Korean Government in Hanoi, ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A child with stickers of the North Korean and Vietnamese flags on her face reacts at the Vietnam-North Korea Friendship kindergarten, founded by North Korean Government in Hanoi, ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

GOOD RELATIONS

Trump said late last year he and Kim “fell in love”, but whether the bonhomie can move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States is the question that will dominate the talks.

Trump and Kim’s Singapore summit, the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, ended with great fanfare but little substance over how to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

In the run-up to this summit, Trump has indicated a more flexible stance, saying he was in no rush to secure North Korea’s denuclearization. He repeated that on Wednesday, saying while some people believed the talks should be moving more quickly, he was satisfied.

He has also said he would be happy as long as North Korea, which has not tested a nuclear weapon or intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, maintained that freeze.

Some critics have said Trump appeared to be wavering on a long-standing U.S. demand for complete and irreversible denuclearization by North Korea and risked squandering leverage if he gave away too much, too quickly.

Asked if he would declare a formal end to the Korean War, which North Korea has long called for, Trump said: “We’ll see.”

North and South Korea have been technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict, with the Americans backing the South, ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Evans Revere, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, said Trump was under pressure, given the criticism and other domestic problems, and Kim might try to use that.

“Kim may be tempted to push Trump even harder for concessions, knowing how much the president wants and needs that testing pause,” Revere said.

Students from Nguyen Du secondary school hold U.S. and Vietnam flags outside the Presidential Palace, as they wait for wait to greet U.S. President Donald Trump, in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Students from Nguyen Du secondary school hold U.S. and Vietnam flags outside the Presidential Palace, as they wait for wait to greet U.S. President Donald Trump, in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

‘AWESOME’ POTENTIAL

U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea will ever give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which it sees as its guarantee of national security. Analysts say it won’t commit to significant disarmament unless punishing U.S.-led economic sanctions are eased.

The two sides have discussed specific and verifiable denuclearization measures, such as allowing inspectors to observe the dismantlement of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor, U.S. and South Korean officials say.

U.S. concessions could include opening liaison offices or clearing the way for inter-Korean projects.

Despite little progress on his goal of ridding North Korea of its weapons programs, Trump appeared to be betting on his personal relationship with Kim, and the economic incentive after 70 years of hostility between their countries.

“Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize,” Trump said on Twitter ahead of the meeting.

“The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!”

For Trump, a deal that eases the North Korean threat could hand him a big foreign-policy achievement in the midst of domestic troubles.

While he is in Hanoi, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is testifying before U.S. congressional committees, with the president’s business practices the main focus.

Cohen, in wide-ranging testimony he is due to deliver on Wednesday, refers to a comment Trump made to him about avoiding the U.S. military draft for the Vietnam War on medical grounds: “‘You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam’,” Cohen cited Trump as saying.

“I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now,” Cohen said in a draft statement seen by Reuters.

Trump, responding to the statement on Twitter, said Cohen was lying to reduce his prison time. He declined to respond when a reporter asked him about Cohen later.

 

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason in HANOI; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, Mai Nyugen, Ju-min Park, Khanh Vu, Josh Smith in HANOI, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast)