North Korea’s leader promises ‘new strategic weapon,’ leaves room for talks

By Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s leader plans to further develop nuclear programs and to introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, state media said on Wednesday, although he signaled there was still room for dialogue with the United States.

Kim Jong Un presided over a four-day meeting of top Workers’ Party officials this week amid rising tensions with the United States, which has not responded to his repeated calls for concessions to reopen negotiations. Washington has dismissed the deadline as artificial.

Kim said there were no grounds for North Korea to be bound any longer by a self-declared moratorium on testing nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), according to a statement on the results of the policy meeting carried by the official KCNA news agency.

At times smiling or striking the podium with his hand as he made remarks during the meeting, Kim accused the United States of making “gangster-like demands” and maintaining a “hostile policy”, such as by holding continued joint military drills with South Korea, adopting cutting edge weapons and imposing sanctions.

He pledged to continue bolstering his country’s nuclear deterrent but said the “scope and depth” of that deterrent will be “properly co-ordinated depending on” the attitude of the United States.

“The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future,” Kim said, using the initials for North Korea’s official name – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We will reliably put on constant alert the powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the U.S. and guaranteeing our long-term security.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it would be “deeply disappointing” if Kim reneges on denuclearization commitments and Kim would hopefully “choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.”

In his latest comments on Tuesday in the United States, President Donald Trump said he had a good relationship with Kim and thought the North Korean leader would keep his word.

“He likes me, I like him. We get along. He’s representing his country, I’m representing my country. We have to do what we have to do.

“But he did sign a contract, he did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs said large-scale joint military drills with the United States had been halted and it would be unhelpful for negotiations if North Korea took action to introduce what it called a new strategic weapon.

There were no official reports as of early afternoon on Wednesday in South Korea that Kim had delivered an annual New Year’s address.

‘STRATEGIC WEAPONS’

Kim had previously said he might have to seek a “new path” if Washington failed to meet his expectations. U.S. military commanders said Pyongyang’s actions could include test firing an ICBM alongside nuclear warhead tests. North Korea last test fired an ICBM in 2017.

Jeffrey Lewis, a non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said it was difficult to predict North Korea’s next move. But it might involve firing a solid-fuel ICBM and an atmospheric nuclear test, he said.

However, Jeong Han-beom, who teaches security policy at Korea National Defense University in Seoul, said North Korea would not immediately stage such a provocative act as an ICBM or nuclear test because it could risk derailing negotiations.

Tension had been rising ahead of the year-end as North Korea conducted a series of weapons tests and waged a war of words with Trump.

The nuclear talks have made little headway despite three meetings between Kim and Trump since 2018. Working-level talks in Stockholm in October broke down, with a North Korean chief negotiator accusing U.S. officials of sticking to their old stance.

Kim said there will “never be denuclearization on the Korean peninsula” if Washington adheres to what he calls its hostile policy.

We “will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK and lasting and durable peace-keeping mechanism is built,” Kim said.

He called for North Koreans to brace for an “arduous and prolonged struggle” and foster a self-reliant economy because of a delay in the anticipated lifting of sanctions.

“The present situation warning of long confrontation with the U.S. urgently requires us to make it a fait accompli that we have to live under the sanctions by the hostile forces in the future, too, and to strengthen the internal power from all aspects.”

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the party assembly results made clear Kim wants U.S. security guarantees before taking substantial action toward denuclearization.

“And he is suggesting that he will take the bull by the horns to achieve that goal, while promoting self reliance at home and still being open to talks depending on how Trump handles ‘hostile policy,'” Yang said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Jack Kim and Sangmi Cha; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Jeff Mason in Palm Beach, Florida; Editing by Grant McCool and Neil Fullick)

North Korea’s Kim to unveil ‘new path’ in New Year speech after U.S. misses deadline

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to make a closely watched New Year address on Wednesday which is likely to offer a glimpse of a “new path” he has vowed to take if the United States fails to meet his deadline to soften its stance over denuclearization.

The New Year address is expected to touch upon a wide range of issues from foreign affairs and military development to the economy and education.

In his 2019 speech, Kim said he might have to change course if Washington sticks to its pressure campaign and demands unilateral action, while stressing a “self-reliant” economy, a drive he has launched amid tightening sanctions.

The United States was on track to ignore a year-end deadline set by Kim, which Washington has downplayed as artificial, to show more flexibility to reopen talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The upcoming speech is expected to be the culmination of an ongoing meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s 7th Central Committee, a key policy-making body, which Kim convened on Saturday. It was still under way on Tuesday, state media said.

Discussions at the gathering remain largely unknown, but official media KCNA said on Tuesday that Kim spent seven hours during a Monday session discussing state, economic and military building. On Sunday, he called for “positive and offensive measures” to ensure the country’s security.

“The Central Committee plenary meeting is meant to legitimize the process behind the policy decisions Kim Jong-un will announce in his New Year speech,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“This meeting is to provide political justification for the economic and security policies Pyongyang will pursue in 2020.”

North Korea has provided few hints for what the “new path” may involve, but U.S. military commanders said Pyongyang next move could include the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which it has halted since 2017, alongside nuclear bomb tests.

U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien warned Washington would be “extraordinarily disappointed” if North Korea tests a long-range or nuclear missile, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped it would choose peace over confrontation.

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

The U.S. Air Force flew an RC-135 surveillance plane over South Korea on Monday and Tuesday, according to military flight tracker Aircraft Spots.

Despite mounting speculation over a potential military provocation, any restart of an ICBM test would risk a personal relationship with Trump, which Pyongyang has repeatedly touted while denouncing Pompeo and other aides, analysts say.

Cho Tae-yong, a former South Korean deputy national security advisor, said Kim had few options that can leave the Trump ties intact.

“In any case, North Korea would add a lot of caveats before and after testing to make sure they’re not intent on destroying the negotiating table and it was the Americans who betrayed them,” Cho told Reuters.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)

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

By Hyonhee Shin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘INDEPENDENT ECONOMY’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. ready to deal with any North Korean ‘Christmas gift’: Trump

U.S. ready to deal with any North Korean ‘Christmas gift’: Trump
By Alexandra Alper

PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday brushed off North Korea’s warning of a “Christmas gift”, saying the United States would “deal with it very successfully,” amid U.S. concerns that Pyongyang might be preparing a long-range missile test.

“We’ll find out what the surprise is and we’ll deal with it very successfully,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort. “We’ll see what happens.”

“Maybe it’s a nice present,” he quipped. “Maybe it’s a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test.”

North Korea warned Washington earlier this month of a possible “Christmas gift” after its leader Kim Jong Un gave the United States until the end of the year to propose new concessions in talks over his country’s nuclear arsenal and reducing tensions between the two long-time adversaries.

In issuing the warning, North Korea accused Washington of trying to drag out denuclearization talks ahead of Trump’s re-election bid next year and said it was “entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get.”

U.S. military commanders have said that the North Korean response could involve the testing of a long-range missile, something North Korea has suspended, along with nuclear bomb tests, since 2017.

Trump has repeatedly held up the suspension of such tests as evidence that his policy of engaging with North Korea, which has involved unprecedented summits with Kim, was working.

ICBM TEST IN 2017

North Korea’s last test of an intercontinental ballistic missile took place in November 2017. That involved a Hwasong-15 ICBM, the largest missile it has ever tested, and which it said was capable of reaching all of the United States.

Trump and Kim have met three times since 2018, but there has been no substantive progress in dialogue. North Korea has demanded an end to international sanctions while the United States says Pyongyang must first commit to giving up its nuclear weapons.

Recent days have seen a flurry of international diplomacy aimed at preventing a complete breakdown of dialogue and avoiding a return to the heated confrontation seen two years ago that raised fears of war.

China, North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic backer, together with Russia, proposed last week that the U.N. Security Council lift some sanctions to break the current deadlock.

A U.S. State Department official responded by saying it was not the time to consider lifting U.N. sanctions when North Korea was “threatening to conduct an escalated provocation, refusing to meet to discuss denuclearization, and continuing to maintain and advance its prohibited weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.”

North Korea has conducted repeated tests of short-range missiles this year and this month carried out what appeared to be engine tests at a rocket-testing facility U.S. officials have said Kim promised Trump he would close.

Pyongyang said the tests were aimed at “restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S.”

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper, Tim Ahmann and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Alex Richardson and Alistair Bell)

‘Before it is too late’: Diplomats race to defuse tensions ahead of North Korea’s deadline

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – A last minute flurry of diplomacy aimed at engaging with North Korea ahead of its declared year-end deadline for talks has been met with stony silence from Pyongyang so far, with the looming crisis expected to top the agenda at summits in China next week.

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was due to leave Beijing on Friday after meeting with Chinese officials. Earlier in the week, Biegun also made stops in Seoul and Tokyo for discussions with counterparts.

It is unclear if Biegun had any behind-the-scenes contact with North Korean officials, but his overtures and calls for new talks were not publicly answered by Pyongyang.

Biegun’s trip came as China and Russia teamed up this week to propose a resolution that would ease some United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea as a way to jumpstart talks.

Next week, Chinese, South Korean and Japanese leaders are due to meet in China, with North Korea likely to top the agenda.

“It’s kind of creepy that there haven’t been any statements from high level (North Korea) Foreign Ministry officials this week…,” Jenny Town, managing editor at the North Korea monitoring website 38 North, said on Twitter. “The silence, even after Biegun’s speech in Seoul, makes me concerned.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has given the United States until the end of the year to propose new concessions in talks over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and reducing tensions between the long-time adversaries.

North Korea has said it is up to the United States to decide what “Christmas gift” it will receive this year, without specifying what Kim’s decision may be.

The prospect that 2020 may see a return to heightened tensions and major missile or weapons tests by North Korea has led politicians, diplomats, and analysts around the world to debate how to salvage diplomacy after U.S. President Donald Trump’s unprecedented summits with Kim over the past two years failed to make a breakthrough.

On Wednesday, four leading Democrats in the U.S. Senate wrote a letter to Trump arguing that U.S. efforts to establish peace on the peninsula and denuclearize North Korea “appear to be stalled and on the brink of failure”.

“We reiterate our hope that you will execute a serious diplomatic plan before it is too late,” the letter said.

‘THE BEST PLAN’

The Senate Democrats’ letter called for the administration to seek an interim agreement to freeze and roll back some of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes in conjunction with reduced pressure from sanctions.

“While such an agreement would of course only be a first step in a longer process, it would nonetheless be an important effort to create the sort of real and durable diplomatic process that is necessary,” they wrote.

China and Russia on Monday introduced a joint proposal that calls on the U.N. Security Council to lift some sanctions on exports and foreign workers, with Chinese officials calling it the “the best plan in the current situation to resolve the stalemate”.

The United States has said it is opposed to any sanctions relief at the moment, but has also said it is willing to be flexible in discussions.

Meanwhile, analysts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank that has often advocated for a hard line against countries such as North Korea and Iran, called for the Trump administration to turn to implement a “maximum pressure 2.0” campaign.

The United States should increase sanctions, target North Korea with offensive cyber operations, and carry out an “aggressive” information campaign against the country, the foundation wrote in a report earlier in December.

A study commissioned by peace activists reported last month that sanctions were disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations in North Korea.

The report for Korea Peace Now! called for lifting all sanctions that may be violating international law or undermining human rights, and to “urgently” try to mitigate the impact on humanitarian efforts.

MILITARY TENSIONS

Recent weeks have seen some U.S. and North Korean officials discussing possible military actions once again.

Earlier this month, Trump angered North Korean officials by suggesting the United States could use military force “if we have to.”

Those remarks led North Korea’s army chief to warn that North Korea would take “prompt corresponding actions at any level.”

North Korea launched several dozen short-range missiles in 2019, and the commander of U.S. air forces in the Pacific said this week that he suspects “some kind of long-range missile” could be North Korea’s “Christmas gift.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Tuesday, Gen. Charles Brown said the U.S. military could “dust off pretty quickly and be ready to use” options it had developed during the height of tensions in 2017.

“If the diplomatic efforts kind of fall apart, we’ve got to be ready…we’re already thinking ahead,” he said.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

U.S. warns North Korea against ‘ill-advised behavior’ as deadline looms

By Matt Spetalnick and Jane Chung

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States warned North Korea on Thursday against any resumption of “unfortunate ill-advised behavior” after Pyongyang raised international concerns by setting an end-of-year deadline for Washington to reconsider its diplomatic approach.

Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell said that “we have heard threats before,” when asked whether Washington was concerned about a return to long-range missile tests by North Korea, which has vowed to take an unspecified “new path” if the United States is not more flexible in stalled nuclear talks.

North Korea said earlier on Thursday the United States had nothing to offer it in possible renewed talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear and missile programs, a day after Washington said it was ready to take “concrete steps” toward securing a deal.

It criticized the United States for convening a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday, calling it a “foolish thing” that would help Pyongyang make a clear decision on which path it would take.

“The U.S. talks about dialogue, whenever it opens its mouth, but it is too natural that the U.S. has nothing to present before us though dialogue may open,” a North Korean Foreign Ministry representative said in a statement carried by the state news agency, KCNA.

The 15-member Security Council met on Wednesday as concerns grow internationally that North Korea could restart ICBM test launches suspended since 2017, because denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled.

Pyongyang has conducted a recent series of weapons tests and resumed personal insults against U.S. President Donald Trump, stirring fears the two countries could return to a collision course, as they were before Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their first summit last year.

Speaking at a think tank event in Washington on Thursday, Stilwell suggested it was unclear “whether they actually carry out those threats in light of where the president has said he wants to go.””He wants to work with North Korea. He wants to help build their economy. But there’s also the reminder that you can’t have any more of this unfortunate ill-advised behavior,” Stilwell said.

‘CONCRETE STEPS’

The U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, said on Wednesday the United States was ready “to simultaneously take concrete steps” toward a deal on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs but that the Security Council must be prepared to respond to any provocations.

“The U.S. talked about a ‘corresponding measure’ in the meeting. However, as we already declared, we have nothing to lose more and we are ready to take a countermeasure corresponding to anything that the U.S. opts for,” the Foreign Ministry representative said.

North Korea also defended its right to missile and weapons tests, while calling the United States “bandit-like” in the statement.

The U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, is expected to visit Seoul next week to meet South Korean officials, leading to speculation he could try to salvage talks by reaching out to North Korea ahead of the deadline.

China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, said on Wednesday it was imperative the Security Council ease sanctions on North Korea in a bid to support talks between Pyongyang and Washington and “head off a dramatic reversal” of the situation.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Jane Chung, Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Cooney)

U.S. ready to be flexible with North Korea, warns against provocations: Trump’s U.N. envoy

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States is “prepared to be flexible” in negotiations aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs but Pyongyang must engage and avoid provocations, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft said on Wednesday.

“We have not asked North Korea to do everything before we do anything,” Craft told reporters before a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea.

“We are prepared to be flexible, but we cannot solve this problem alone. The DPRK must do its part and it must avoid provocations. It must engage in this process,” she said.

The United States requested the meeting of the 15-member council as concerns grow internationally that North Korea could resume nuclear or long-range missile testing – suspended since 2017 – because denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has given U.S. President Donald Trump until the end of 2019 to show flexibility. North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Kim Song, declared on Saturday, however, that denuclearization was off the table.

Trump then warned that Kim risked losing “everything” if he resumes hostility and that North Korea must denuclearize. Trump and Kim have met three times since June 2018, but no progress toward a deal has been made.

U.S. top nuclear negotiator Stephen Biegun met privately with U.N. Security Council ambassadors on Wednesday ahead of the public meeting.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

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

By Hyonhee Shin

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

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

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

Here are the competing demands that lead to the deadlock:

HOSTILE POLICY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘COMPLETE, VERIFIABLE, IRREVERSIBLE’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEADLINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim Jong Un rides again as North Korea warns U.S. against using military force

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said it would take “prompt corresponding actions” if the United States resorts to military force, state media reported on Wednesday, as tensions rise ahead of Pyongyang’s year-end deadline for stalled denuclearization talks.

The statement came just hours after North Korea announced it would convene a rare gathering of top ruling-party officials later this month, and state media showed photos of leader Kim Jong Un taking a second symbolic horse ride on the country’s sacred Mt. Paektu.

U.S. President Donald Trump, in Britain for a NATO summit, said on Tuesday that Washington could use military force against North Korea “if we have to”, though he added he still hoped for talks.

Kim was “displeased to hear” those comments, Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, said in a statement carried by North Korea’s state news agency KCNA.

“I clearly state here that if the U.S. uses any armed forces against the DPRK, we will also take prompt corresponding actions at any level,” Pak said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The use of armed forces against the DPRK will be a horrible thing for the U.S.”

North Korea and the United States are still technically at war and the state of truce could turn into an “all-out armed conflict any moment” even by accident, Pak said.

For the second time in two months, Kim visited Mt Paektu on horseback, this time accompanied by senior military officers, aimed at instilling the mountain’s “indefatigable revolutionary spirit” in the people, KCNA reported.

Kim has warned the United States it has until the end of the year to offer more concessions or North Korea will pursue an unspecified “new path”. Analysts believe that may include a resumption of intercontinental ballistic missile launches or nuclear tests.

Washington has urged North Korea to give up significant portions of its nuclear arsenal before punishing international sanctions are eased, while Pyongyang has accused the United States of “gangster-like” demands for unilateral disarmament.

U.S. officials have called for more talks, while playing down the deadline as “artificial” and warning that it would be a “huge mistake and a missed opportunity” for North Korea to take any provocative steps.

But North Korean state media have carried a steady chorus of statements in recent weeks, saying Washington should not ignore the warning and dismissing U.S. calls for talks as a stalling tactic.

SENIOR LEADERS TO MEET

North Korea announced that a Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea would meet sometime in late December.

KCNA said the plenum would discuss and decide on “crucial issues” in light of the “changed situation at home and abroad”.

The timing of this plenum is unusual because it comes before the year-end deadline, as well as before Kim’s expected New Year’s address, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News, a website that monitors North Korea.

“That Pyongyang is opting to hold this meeting before the end of the year indicates its strong resolve,” she said. “Taking the party plenum announcement and the Mount Paektu visit together, the ‘resolve’ seems to be that North Korea will not cave in to the U.S., and that it will keep charging on despite the difficulties.”

Kim has often visited Mt. Paektu around the time of major developments in North Korea, including missile launches.

Kim said there was a need to prepare for “the harshness and protracted character of our revolution,” according to KCNA.

Lee said the fact that Kim was accompanied by senior army officers rather than party officials, combined with other recent military-related announcements by state media, suggests North Korea “will likely transition to a more militaristic line”.

While Kim’s plans are still unclear, the signals suggest the window for diplomacy is closing fast, if it is not already shut, said John Delury of Seoul’s Yonsei University.

“The message is ‘buckle up, it’s going to be a big year for us next year’,” he said. “And not a year of diplomacy and summitry, but rather of national strength.”

(Reporting by Josh Smith. Editing by Lincoln Feast and Gareth Jones)