On again? Trump says still chance of June 12 North Korea summit

U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the White House for a trip to Annapolis, Maryland, in Washington, U.S. May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Roberta Rampton and Christine Kim

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump dangled the possibility on Friday that a June 12 summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, could still take place, just a day after he canceled the meeting citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility.”

Trump indicated the summit could be salvaged after welcoming a conciliatory statement from North Korea saying it remained open to talks.

“It was a very nice statement they put out,” Trump said as he left the White House to deliver a commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy. “We’ll see what happens – it could even be the 12th.

“We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it.”

An official form North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Institute talks to reporters during the dismantlement process in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, North Korea May 24, 2018. Picture taken May 24, 2018 News1/Pool via REUTERS

An official form North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Institute talks to reporters during the dismantlement process in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, North Korea May 24, 2018. Picture taken May 24, 2018 News1/Pool via REUTERS

Earlier on Twitter, Trump had noted “very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea.”

After decades of tension on the Korean Peninsula and antagonism with the United States over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, Kim and Trump agreed to what would be the first meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader. The plan followed months of war threats and insults traded between the leaders, as well as advances in North Korean missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Trump scrapped the meeting on Thursday after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out of the summit in Singapore over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials. Trump cited North Korean hostility in canceling the summit.

In Pyongyang, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea’s criticisms of certain U.S. officials had been a reaction to American rhetoric and that the current antagonism showed “the urgent necessity” for the summit.

“His sudden and unilateral announcement to cancel the summit is something unexpected to us and we cannot but feel great regret for it,” Kim Kye Gwan said of Trump in a statement on state media.

He said North Korea remained open to resolving issues with Washington “regardless of ways, at any time.”

Trump’s latest about-face sent officials scrambling in Washington. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters diplomats were “still at work” and said Trump had just sent a note out on the summit, which could be back on “if our diplomats can pull it off.”

North Korea had sharply criticized suggestions by Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and Vice President Mike Pence that it could share the fate of Libya if it did not swiftly surrender its nuclear arsenal. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed by NATO-backed militants after halting his nascent nuclear program.

Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea appreciated Trump having made the bold decision to work toward a summit.

“We even inwardly hoped that what is called ‘Trump formula’ would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said.

Trump had initially sought to placate North Korea, saying he was not pursuing the “Libya model” in getting the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “This is the President Trump model. He’s going to run this the way he sees fit.”

A command post of Punggye-ri nuclear test ground is blown up during the dismantlement process in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, North Korea May 24, 2018. Picture taken May 24, 2018. News1/Pool via REUTERS

A command post of Punggye-ri nuclear test ground is blown up during the dismantlement process in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, North Korea May 24, 2018. Picture taken May 24, 2018. News1/Pool via REUTERS

SALVAGE THE SUMMIT

U.S. regional allies Japan and South Korea, as well as North Korea’s main ally, China, urged the two countries to salvage the summit on Friday.

At an economic forum in St. Petersburg, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan said such a summit was necessary to ensure security on the Korean peninsula, which touched on China’s core interests.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at the same forum, regretted the cancellation of the summit and said the world should keep doing its bit to make it happen.

In Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had urged Trump at a White House meeting on Tuesday not to let a rare opportunity slip away, said on Thursday he was “perplexed” by the cancellation.

South Korea also would continue efforts to improve ties with the North, the presidential office said after Moon’s top security advisers met for the second time on Friday.

Some analysts worried that canceling the summit could prompt a resumption in hostilities, including renewed shorter-range missile tests or stepped-up cyber attacks by Pyongyang and increased sanctions or deployment of new military assets by Washington.

In his letter, Trump warned Kim of the United States’ greater nuclear might, reminiscent of the president’s tweet last year asserting that he had a “much bigger” nuclear button than Kim.

While the Trump administration had insisted on North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear program, Pyongyang had always couched its language in terms of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

It has said in previous, failed talks that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States provided security guarantees by removing its troops from South Korea and withdrawing its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

Before Trump scrapped the meeting on Thursday, North Korea said it had completely dismantled its Punggye-ri nuclear test facility “to ensure the transparency of discontinuance” of nuclear testing.

 

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Idrees Ali, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON, Christian Lowe, Denis Pinchuk and Katya Golubkova in St Petersburg; Writing by So Young Kim and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)

Trump cancels summit with North Korea scheduled for next month

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) in Washignton, DC, U.S. May 17, 2018 and in Panmunjom, South Korea, April 27, 2018 respectively. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque and Korea Summit Press Pool/File Photos

By David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday called off a planned historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even after North Korea followed through on a pledge to blow up tunnels at its nuclear test site.

Referring to a scheduled June 12 meeting with Kim in Singapore, Trump said in a letter to the North Korean leader: “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long- planned meeting.”

Trump called it “a missed opportunity” and said he still hoped to meet Kim someday.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s cancellation of the summit.

U.S. stocks dropped sharply on the news, with the benchmark S&P 500 Index falling more than half a percent in about 10 minutes. Investors turned to U.S. Treasury debt as a safe alternative, driving the yield on the 10-year note, which moves inversely to its price, down to a 10-day low and back below the psychologically important 3 percent level.

The U.S. dollar also weakened broadly, particularly against the Japanese yen, which climbed to a two-week high against the greenback.

“Please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place,” Trump wrote.

“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God that they will never have to be used,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday, North Korea repeated a threat to pull out of the summit with Trump next month and warned it was prepared for a nuclear showdown with Washington if necessary.

FADED HOPE

North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has been a source of tension on the Korean peninsula for decades, as well as antagonism with Washington. The rhetoric reached new heights under Trump as he mocked Kim as “little rocket man” and in address at the United Nations threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary. Kim had called Trump mentally deranged and threatened to “tame” him with fire.

Kim rarely leaves North Korea and his willingness to meet and Trump’s acceptance sparked hope but it had faded in recent days.

In a statement released by North Korean media, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui had called U.S. Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy” for comparing North Korea – a “nuclear weapons state” – to Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi gave up his unfinished nuclear development program, only to be later killed by NATO-backed fighters.

“Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States,” Choe said.

A small group of international media selected by North Korea witnessed the demolition of tunnels at the Punggye-ri site on Thursday, which Pyongyang says is proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing.

The apparent destruction of what North Korea says is its only nuclear test site has been widely welcomed as a positive, if largely symbolic, step toward resolving tension over its weapons. North Korean leader Kim has declared his nuclear force complete, amid speculation the site was obsolete anyway.

Cancellation of what would have been the first ever summit between a serving U.S president and a North Korean leader denies Trump what supporters hoped could have been the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency, and one worthy of a Nobel Prize.

“I felt a wonderful dialogue was building between you and me, and ultimately it is only that dialogue that matters,” Trump said in his letter to Kim. “Some day, I look very much forward to meeting you.”

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Writing by Josh Smith and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Robert Birsel and Bill Trott)

Foreign media start marathon journey to North Korea nuclear test site

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – International journalists left on a marathon journey to a North Korean nuclear test site on Wednesday, after Pyongyang belatedly cleared a number of South Korean media to witness what it says will be the dismantling of its only nuclear test facility.

Travel will involve an 11-hour train ride, a four-hour bus journey and then a hike of another hour, a reporter with Russia’s RT said on Twitter.

North Korea has suspended talks with the South and threatened to pull out of an upcoming summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, but the invitation to media was seen as an indication that its unexpected offer to end its nuclear tests still held.

North Korea invited international media to observe the destruction with explosives of the Punggye-ri site, but not experts as initially promised, casting doubt over how verifiable the plan is and whether it will be safe.

It had also declined to take the South Korean reporters after calling off planned inter-Korean talks in protest against U.S.-South Korean “Max Thunder” air combat drills. North Korea has always justified its nuclear program as a deterrent against perceived U.S. hostility.

Reporters from news outlets from the other countries said on Twitter they arrived in the North Korean port city of Wonsan on Tuesday. The eight South Koreans arrived in Wonsan on Wednesday, where they were forced to leave their radiation detectors, satellite phones and Bluetooth mouses before they all set off for the test site, according to South Korean media pool reports.

North Korea had announced it would use explosives to close test tunnels, expected on Thursday or Friday.

Seoul’s unification ministry welcomed Pyongyang’s decision to accept the South Koreans.

“We hope for an early realization of complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula through a North Korea-U.S. summit and dialogue of various levels, starting with the abolition of the nuclear test site,” ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a news briefing.

SUMMIT IN DOUBT

North Korea’s last-minute acceptance of South Korean reporters came amid concerns that Kim was starting to back away from his promise to scrap the nuclear program, which it has pursued in defiance of years of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

International journalists left on a marathon journey to a North Korean nuclear test site on Wednesday, after Pyongyang belatedly cleared a number of South Korean media to witness what it says will be the dismantling of its only nuclear test facility.

International journalists left on a marathon journey to a North Korean nuclear test site on Wednesday, after Pyongyang belatedly cleared a number of South Korean media to witness what it says will be the dismantling of its only nuclear test facility.

The North has threatened to pull out of the summit with Trump in Singapore on June 12 if Washington demands it unilaterally abandons its nuclear arsenal. It has also criticized the Max Thunder drills.

Trump said on Tuesday there was a “substantial chance” the summit would not take place.

China said that both the United States and North Korea were still making preparations for the summit and Beijing hoped both sides can “clear away distractions.”

“We really hope that all sides, especially the United States and North Korea, can seize the opportunity, meet each other halfway, and resolve in a balanced way each other’s concerns,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.

“We still look forward to the meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders proceeding smoothly and achieving positive results.”

Lu said China had played a positive role on the Korean peninsula, after Trump reiterated his suggestion that Kim’s recent meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping had influenced Kim to harden his stance ahead of the summit.

Seoul is seeking to mediate between the United States and North Korea, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in visiting Washington on Tuesday to urge Trump to seize the rare opportunity to meet Kim.

High-level intra-Korea talks will likely resume after Friday, once Max Thunder finishes, Moon’s media secretary Yoon Young-chan said.

A senior South Korean official told reporters on condition of anonymity: “Given the North’s thinking and statements alike, we would be able to turn around the mood after the Max Thunder drills from the current standoff and restart dialogue.”

North Korea has rejected unilateral disarmament and given no indication that it is willing to go beyond statements of broad support for the concept of universal denuclearisation.

It has said in previous, failed talks that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States provided security guarantees by removing its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

(Additional reporting by Joori Roh and Josh Smith in SEOUL, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

U.S. bolsters Asia ballistic missile defense as Trump-Kim summit nears

The U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG69) arrives to join Forward Deployed Naval Forces at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Tim Kelly

YOKOSUKA, Japan (Reuters) – The USS Milius, one of the U.S. Navy’s most advanced guided missile destroyers, arrived in Japan on Tuesday to reinforce defenses against any ballistic missile attacks by North Korea, or anyone else in East Asia.

The warship’s arrival at Yokosuka Naval Base comes three weeks before an unprecedented meeting is supposed to take place in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG69) arrives to join Forward Deployed Naval Forces at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG69) arrives to join Forward Deployed Naval Forces at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The show of force is a reminder of the military pressure that can be brought to bear on North Korea as the United States seeks to press it to abandon its nuclear weapons and its ballistic missile program.

The deployment of the Milius to Japan was delayed by almost a year so it could undergo upgrades to its Aegis air defense system to enhance its ability to detect and target missiles.

Armed with missiles designed to shoot down warheads in space, the Milius will be part of a naval destroyer force that would be the first U.S. line of defense against any long-range ballistic missiles fired at it by North Korea.

The force, under a security treaty between Japan and the United States, would also defend Japan from attack.

“What the Milius has now is the latest and greatest upgrade for the combat system,” Commander Jennifer Pontius, the ship’s captain, said in Yokosuka after her ship docked.

“It creates increased capacity in various mission areas such as ballistic missile defense, electronic warfare, undersea warfare and air warfare.”

The Milius’s dockside welcome under a bright afternoon sky in Yokosuka, the headquarters of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, came amid uncertainty over whether the Trump-Kim meeting will go ahead.

North Korea said last week it was reconsidering the summit after calling off separate talks with South Korea in a protest over U.S.-South Korean air combat drills known as Max Thunder.

North Korea said it would walk away from dialogue if the United States insisted on it unilaterally abandoning its nuclear arsenal, which it says it needs to defend itself against U.S. aggression.

Family members of a crew hold signs, upon the arrival the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG69), that joins Forward Deployed Naval Forces at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Family members of a crew hold signs, upon the arrival the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG69), that joins Forward Deployed Naval Forces at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Trump has warned that failure to reach a denuclearisation agreement could lead to “decimation” of Kim’s rule.

The Milius joins two other ships in the Seventh Fleet with similar upgrades and reinforces the fleet after two other U.S. warships in the region were crippled in collisions with commercial ships last year.

With the Milius, the U.S. Navy has 13 ships based at Yokosuka, including the USS Ronald Reagan, Washington’s only forward deployed carrier.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Trump presses China on North Korea border ahead of summit

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he delivers remarks during the Prison Reform Summit at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Ph

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday urged China on Monday to maintain a secure border with North Korea, pressing Beijing ahead of his anticipated meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month aimed at denuclearization.

“China must continue to be strong & tight on the Border of North Korea until a deal is made. The word is that recently the Border has become much more porous and more has been filtering in. I want this to happen, and North Korea to be VERY successful, but only after signing!” Trump tweeted.

He did not elaborate on the significance of the North Korea-China border issue in any deal that might be reached on denuclearization. Trump has said his meeting with Kim will take place on June 12 in Singapore.

Pyongyang last week threatened to scrap any meeting if Washington continued to press for unilateral denuclearization.

In response, Trump said that as far as he knew, the meeting was still on track and sought to placate Kim by saying the North Korean leader would be protected as part of any deal.

Last week, Trump told reporters at the White House that the Kim was possibly being influenced by Beijing, North Korea’s main ally, after two recent visits he made to China.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry)

North Korea ‘declines’ South Korea media for nuclear site event; China urges ‘stability’

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in deliver a statement at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

By Heekyong Yang

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has declined to accept a list of South Korean journalists hoping to observe the closure of its nuclear test site, South Korea said on Friday, raising new questions about the North’s commitment to reducing tension.

North Korea had invited a limited number of journalists from South Korea and other countries to witness what it said will be the closing of its only nuclear weapons test site at Punggye-ri next week.

The North Korean offer to scrap the test site has been seen as major concession in months of easing tension between it, on the one hand, and South Korea and the United States on the other.

But the remarkable progress appears to have been checked in recent days with North Korea raising doubts about an unprecedented June 12 summit in Singapore between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, and calling off talks with the South.

The South Korean Unification Ministry, which handles dealings with the North, said on Friday North Korea had “declined to accept” the list of journalists submitted by the South for the test site dismantling.

The ministry did not elaborate but the North Korean decision is likely to raise doubts about its plan for the test site.

Trump on Thursday sought to placate North Korea after it threatened to call off the June summit, saying Kim’s security would be guaranteed in any deal and his country would not suffer the fate of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, unless that could not be reached.

North Korea had said on Wednesday it might not attend the Singapore summit if the United States continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal, which it has developed in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions to counter perceived U.S. hostility.

On Thursday, North Korea’s chief negotiator called South Korea “ignorant and incompetent” and denounced U.S.-South Korean air combat drills and threatened to halt all talks with the South.

Trump, in rambling remarks in the White House’s Oval Office, said as far as he knew the summit was still on track, but that the North Korean leader was possibly being influenced by Beijing.

But he also stressed that North Korea would have to abandon its nuclear weapons and warned that if no deal was reached, North Korea could be “decimated” like Libya or Iraq.

‘PEACEFUL MEANS’

China, responding to U.S. President Donald Trump suggestion that Beijing may be influencing North Korea’s new hardline stance, said on Friday it stands for stability and peace on the Korean peninsula and for settlement of confrontation over its development of weapons through talks.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about Trump’s comments, said China’s position had not changed and he reiterated that it supported the goal of denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

“We are consistently supporting all relevant parties in resolving the peninsula issue through political consultations and peaceful means,” Lu told a regular briefing.

Kim has made two visits to China recently for talks with President Xi Jinping, including a secretive train trip to Beijing in late March, his first known visit outside North Korea since coming to power.

He flew to the port city of Dalian this month.

Both times, Kim’s encounters with Xi were cast by Chinese state media as friendly. They included beachside strolls and Xi saying that previous generations of North Korean and Chinese leaders had visited each other as often as relatives.

The warmth between the two leaders marks a sharp reversal in what had been months of frosty ties, as China ratcheted up sanction pressure on North Korea in response to its relentless missiles and nuclear tests last year.

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and considers it an important security buffer against the U.S. military presence in region.

What had seemed until this week to be rapidly warming ties between North Korea, on the one hand, and South Korea and the United States on the other, had fueled fears in Beijing that it might be left out of a new deal on the peninsula, according to analysts.

(Additonal reporting by Micheal Martina, in BEIJING; Writing by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Josh Smith, Robert Birsel)

North Korea says won’t hold talks with ‘incompetent’ South unless differences settled

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Joyce Lee and Heekyong Yang

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s chief negotiator called the South Korean government “ignorant and incompetent” on Thursday, denounced U.S.-South Korean air combat drills and threatened to halt all talks with the South unless its demands are met.

The comments by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the country, were the latest in a string of inflammatory statements marking a drastic change in tone after months of easing tension with plans for denuclearisation and a summit scheduled with the United States.

Ri criticized the South for participating in the drills, as well as for allowing “human scum” to speak at its National Assembly, the North’s KCNA news agency said in a statement.

“Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of south Korea,” the statement said.

It did not elaborate.

KCNA, in its English-language service, deliberately uses lower-case “north” and “south” to show that it only recognises one undivided Korea.

North Korea on Wednesday said it might not attend the June 12 summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore if the United States continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal, which it has developed in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions to counter perceived U.S. hostility.

A South Korean presidential Blue House official said the South intends to more actively perform “the role of a mediator” between the United States and North Korea, but that goal has been cast into doubt by Ri’s comments.

“On this opportunity, the present south Korean authorities have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group devoid of the elementary sense of the present situation,” Ri’s statement said.

The statement did not identify the “human scum” by name, but Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat to Britain who defected to the South in 2016, held a press conference on Monday at the South Korean National Assembly for his publication of his memoir.

In his memoir, “Password from the Third Floor”, Thae describes North Korean leader Kim as “impatient, impulsive and violent”.

SUMMIT IN DOUBT

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told parliament that North Korea and the United States had differences of views over how to achieve denuclearisation. Trump acknowledged on Wednesday it was unclear if the summit would go ahead.

“It is true that there are differences of opinion between the North and the United States on methods to accomplish denuclearisation,” Kang told lawmakers, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Trump will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on May 22.

The Blue House intends to “sufficiently convey (to the United States) what we’ve discerned about North Korea’s position and attitude… and sufficiently convey the United States’ position to North Korea”, thereby helping to bridge the gap, the official said.

Asked if she trusted Kim Jong Un, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang said: “Yes.”

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that the United States had demanded North Korea ship some nuclear warheads, an intercontinental ballistic missile and other nuclear material overseas within six months.

The newspaper, citing several sources familiar with North Korea, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to have told the North Korean leader when they met this month that Pyongyang might be removed from a list of state sponsors of terrorism if it complied.

The Asahi also reported that if North Korea agreed to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation at the Singapore summit, Washington was considering giving guarantees for Kim’s regime.

China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said the measures North Korea has taken to ease tension should be acknowledged, and all other parties, especially the United States, should cherish the opportunity for peace.

Cancellation of the summit, the first between U.S. and North Korean leaders, would deal a major blow to what could be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency.

This comes at a time his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has drawn criticism internationally and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has fueled deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border.

North Korea defends its nuclear and missile programs as a 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.

The North 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” alliance with Seoul.

North Korea said 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”.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, U.N. 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.”

(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO and Michael Martina in BEIJING, and Cynthia Kim, Ju-min Park and Josh Smith in SEOUL; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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)

North Korea is dismantling its nuclear site, but is it abandoning its arsenal or hiding evidence?

A satellite photo of the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site in North Korea May 14, 2018. Planet Labs Inc/Handout via REUTERS

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – Satellite imagery shows North Korea dismantling facilities at its nuclear test site, but experts say the images can’t reveal whether it is the first step toward full denuclearization, or an attempt to cloak nuclear capabilities from outside observers.

North Korea’s intentions were thrown further into doubt on Wednesday, when it abruptly announced it may “reconsider” meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in June if the United States continues to insist on unilateral denuclearization.

Commercial satellite imagery – including photos taken by Planet Labs as recently as May 14 – show North Korea removing some structures around its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, experts say.

“So far it looks like the surface-level support structures are being dismantled,” said Scott LaFoy, an open source imagery analyst. “This would be consistent with the site being closed, as you need engineers and working teams on-site to prepare and maintain the site.”

Among the facilities that appear to have been razed are an engineering office, as well as buildings housing the air compressor used to pump air into the tunnels where the bombs were detonated, said non-proliferation expert Frank Pabian.

“This is entirely in keeping with the official North Korean news report that ‘technical measures’ associated with the shutdown were underway,” Pabian said.

North Korea has said it plans to use explosives to collapse the tunnels; “completely” block up the tunnel entrances; and remove observation facilities, research institutes and guard structures.

A limited number of foreign media have been invited to view the ceremonial closure of the site, but so far no international inspectors, leading some experts to suspect that North Korea is seeking to hide details of its nuclear capabilities.

“North Korea might seem like they’re being generous in holding this event, but this is the actual testing ground we’re talking about here – The smoking gun,” said Suh Kune-yull, professor of nuclear energy system engineering at Seoul National University. “It seems like they’re trying to erase any evidence of the nuclear capabilities they have.”

“SOME RED FLAGS”

In a statement on Wednesday, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan sharply criticized American officials – especially national security adviser John Bolton – for suggesting that Libya could be a template for denuclearizing North Korea.

Bolton has proposed Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un make a deal similar to the one that led to components of Libya’s nuclear program being shipped to the United States in 2004.

In 2011, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed by rebel forces backed by a NATO air campaign.

While the technical aspects of a North Korea deal could mirror some aspects of the Libya effort, Pyongyang has a much more advanced weapons program and Gaddafi’s fate is not encouraging, Andreas Persbo, the executive director of VERTIC, a London think tank that focuses on disarmament verification and implementation, said in a recent interview.

“Libya is a horrible example to make out of that perspective because of course the North Koreans have their own teams advising Kim Jong Un on what this meant, and they will highlight the fact that this is not a good solution for North Korea,” he said.

North Korea appears instead to be proposing a longer-term general commitment to “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which could take years even under the best circumstances, experts say.

LaFoy said North Korea’s actions so far are “not necessarily nefarious,” but that it does raise some “red flags” about complete permanent denuclearization.

“That imagery tells us the site appears to be in the process of decommissioning,” he said. “But we can’t yet tell if it is going to be closed for years or something that can ultimately be reversed in a few weeks or months.”

(GRAPHIC: Nuclear North Korea – https://tmsnrt.rs/2Kql12i)

(Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Malcolm Foster in TOKYO. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

North Korea says may reconsider summit with Trump, suspends talks with South

FILE PHOTO - South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a banquet on the Peace House at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

By Christine Kim and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea threw next month’s summit between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump into doubt on Wednesday, threatening weeks of diplomatic progress by saying it may reconsider if Washington insists it unilaterally gives up its nuclear weapons.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said earlier Pyongyang had called off high-level talks with Seoul, which had been due on Wednesday, in the first sign of trouble after months of warming ties.

Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan, KCNA later said the fate of the unprecedented U.S.-North Korea summit, as well as bilateral relations, “would be clear” if the United States spoke of a “Libya-style” denuclearisation for the North.

“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 DPRK-U.S. summit,” Kim Kye Gwan said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The United States was still hopeful about the summit, scheduled for Singapore on June 12, but also prepared for a tough negotiation process, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

“We’re still hopeful that the meeting will take place and we’ll continue down that path, but at the same time we’ve been prepared that these could be tough negotiations,” Sanders said in an interview with Fox News.

“The president is ready if the meeting takes place. If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing.”

Vice Minister Kim 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 mirrors Libya’s abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea clashed with Bolton when he worked under the Bush administration, calling him “human scum” and a “bloodsucker”.

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

The North Korean statement, as well its cancellation of the talks with the South due to U.S.-South Korean military exercises, mark a dramatic reversal in tone from recent months when both sides embraced efforts to negotiate.

North Korea had announced it would publicly shut its nuclear test site next week.

‘THREATS AND BLACKMAIL’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States would agree to lift sanctions on North Korea if it agreed to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

However, Kim Kye Gwan’s statement appeared to reject that, 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 denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearisation is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” Kim said.

North Korea has always defended 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.

North Korea 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, though South Korean officials have said the North may be willing to compromise.

The United States has insisted on complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the facilities needed to build the weapons as soon as possible.

Asian stock markets dipped after North Korea called off the talks with the South. Cancellation of the Singapore summit could see tension flare again even as investors worry about China-U.S. trade friction.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa spoke to Pompeo by telephone and discussed North Korea’s postponement of the talks with the South, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Pompeo told Kang Washington would continue to make preparations for the U.S-North Korea summit, bearing in mind the recent action by North Korea, it said.

Kim Kye Gwan’s statement came hours after North Korea pulled out of talks with the South after denouncing the U.S.-South Korean “Max Thunder” air combat drills, which it said involved U.S. stealth fighters, B-52 bombers and “nuclear assets”, as a provocation.

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

A South Korean defense ministry official said the drills would go on as planned and were not aimed at any third party.

‘MISERABLE FATE’

Cancellation of the summit, the first meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader, would deal a major blow to what would be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency.

Trump has raised expectations for success 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.

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.

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

A U.S. government expert on North Korea said Kim Jong Un may also be trying to gauge whether Trump was willing to walk away from the meeting.

Joshua Pollack, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said Pyongyang appeared irritated by the U.S. administration’s vow to maintain sanctions in spite of North Korean concessions.

“The North Koreans want a change in tone from the U.S., and at least so far, they’re not hearing one,” he said.

The doubt thrown over the summit comes a week after Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, under which Tehran curbed its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions.

China said on Wednesday all parties “should show goodwill and avoid mutual provocation” to create a conducive atmosphere for denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

The North-South talks had been due to focus on plans to implement a declaration that emerged from an inter-Korea summit last month, including promises to formally end the Korean War and pursue “complete denuclearisation”.

South Korea described the North’s decision as “regrettable”.

(Reporting by Josh Smith and Christine Kim in SEOUL, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Philip Wen and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING, and David Brunnstrom, Phillip Stewart, Tim Ahmann, Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton, Doina Chiacu in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)