North Korea warns of retaliation against U.S-South Korea military drills

North Korea warns of retaliation against U.S-South Korea military drills
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea threatened on Wednesday to retaliate if the United States goes ahead with scheduled military drills with South Korea, ramping up pressure on Washington to change course as a year-end North Korean deadline for U.S. flexibility approaches.

The statement came even though Washington said last week that the joint aerial exercise planned for next month would be reduced in scope from previous drills.

“It is self-defense rights” to retaliate against any move which threatens its sovereignty and security, according to a statement from the State Affairs Commission, without elaborating.

It is rare for the commission, the supreme governing body chaired by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to release a statement.

Last week, a senior North Korean diplomat also blamed the U.S. joint aerial drill for “throwing cold water” over talks with Washington. Pyongyang opposes U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises, viewing them as a rehearsal for invasion.

In its latest statement, Pyongyang said it had taken measures to calm Washington’s concerns but that the United States had failed to reciprocate, leaving it with a “feeling of betrayal.”

Asked to comment on the North Korea statement, the U.S. State Department made no reference to the military exercises, but a spokeswoman referred to an agreement reached between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump at their first summit in Singapore in June 2018.

“President Trump remains committed to making progress toward the Singapore commitments of transformed relations, building lasting peace, and complete denuclearization,” she said.

Immediately following his first meeting with Kim, Trump made a surprise announcement that the United States would suspend military drills with South Korea. Since then, major exercises have been halted or scaled back.

Kim in April gave the United States a year-end deadline to show more flexibility in stalled denuclearization talks.

This statement followed the collapse of his second summit with Trump in Hanoi in February, and has raised concerns that North Korea could return to nuclear bomb and long-range missile testing suspended since 2017.

North Korea has tested the limits of engagement with a string of short-range missile launches, and analysts say it appears to have been emboldened to toughen its approach by the impeachment inquiry into Trump in Washington.

Senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers presented dueling narratives on Wednesday as the congressional impeachment inquiry threatening Trump’s presidency entered a crucial new phase with the first televised public hearing.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jonathan Oatis)

North Korea says ‘window of opportunity closing’ for outcome of talks with U.S

North Korea says ‘window of opportunity closing’ for outcome of talks with U.S
MOSCOW (Reuters) – A North Korean diplomat said on Friday the window of opportunity for progress in dialogue with the United States was getting smaller, adding that Pyongyang expects reciprocal steps from Washington by the end of the year.

“We’ve given the United States quite a lot of time and we’re waiting for an answer by the end of this year, of some kind of result. … But I must say that the window of opportunity closes every day,” said Jo Chol Su, the head of the North Korean foreign ministry’s North American department.

Jo, who spoke at the Moscow Nonprofileration Conference, said Pyongyang was ready to hold talks with the United States if there was the prospect of progress, but was not interested in dialogue that would yield no results, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

“Should there be a constructive element, constructive signals, we are always ready to meet any moment; but if a meeting is again just for talking, if we cannot expect tangible results, then we are not interested in just talking.”

Jo also said that sanctions imposed on North Korea were “an unacceptable insult” and must be lifted.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Jo’s remarks. Washington has been looking to resume stalled talks with North Korea, but a State Department spokeswoman said it had no meetings to announce.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to reopen denuclearization talks that stalled after a failed summit in Vietnam in February, but these have gone nowhere.

North Korean and U.S. officials met for the first time since that decision in Stockholm last month, but the meeting broke down with North Korea’s envoy saying the U.S. side had failed to show flexibility.

North Korea has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, but the United States has insisted Kim must dismantle his nuclear weapons program first.

Earlier this year, Kim set a year-end deadline for Washington to take a new approach, raising concerns that North Korea could return to nuclear bomb and long-range missile testing suspended since 2017.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that Mark Lambert, the director of the office of Korean affairs at the U.S. State Department who has been attending the Moscow conference, met briefly with Jo at a reception there on Thursday.

The State Department did not respond when asked about this report.

(Reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Jonathan Oatis)

North Korea slams door on Japan PM Abe visit, calls him an ‘idiot’

North Korea slams door on Japan PM Abe visit, calls him an ‘idiot’
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea on Thursday called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an “idiot and villain” who should not even dream of setting foot in Pyongyang, in a media commentary laden with insults in response to his criticism of a North Korean weapons test.

North Korea tested what it called “super-large multiple rocket launchers” on Oct. 31, but Japan said they were likely ballistic missiles that violated U.N. sanctions.

Abe condemned the test at an Asian summit this week, while saying he was eager to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “without conditions” to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the isolated state, Kyodo news agency reported citing the Japanese government.

“Abe is an idiot and villain as he is making a fuss as if a nuclear bomb was dropped on the land of Japan, taking issue with the DPRK’s test-fire of super-large multiple rocket launchers,” the North’s KCNA state news agency said, citing a statement by Song Il Ho, its ambassador for ties with Japan.

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

“Abe would be well-advised not to dream forever of crossing the threshold of Pyongyang as he hurled a torrent of abuse at the just measures of the DPRK for self-defense.”

The commentary signals a setback for Abe’s hope of resolving the issue of the abducted Japanese citizens. He has vowed to bring all of them and has said he was willing to meet Kim without conditions.

In 2002, North Korea admitted that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese from the 1960s to the 1980s. Japan says 17 of its citizens were abducted, five of whom were repatriated.

North Korea has said eight of them were dead and another four never entered the country.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang in 2002 and met the father of the current North Korean leader but Abe has never met Kim.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Robert Birsel)

North Korea criticizes ‘hostile policy’ as U.S. diplomat visits South Korea

North Korea criticizes ‘hostile policy’ as U.S. diplomat visits South Korea
SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. report calling North Korea a sponsor of terrorism shows a “hostile policy” that prevents progress in denuclearization talks, the isolated nation said on Tuesday, as a senior U.S. diplomat was set to arrive in the neighboring South.

North Korea accused the United States of failing to show flexibility after a breakdown last month in the first talks between their officials since President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to reopen negotiations.

“The channel of dialogue between the DPRK and the U.S. is more and more narrowing due to such attitude,” North Korean state news agency KCNA said, citing a Foreign Ministry official, and using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

It said a U.S. State Department report on terrorism “proves once again” that U.S. rejection of North Korea indicated “a hostile policy”.

The agency was referring to “Country Reports on Terrorism 2018”, issued last week, which reaffirmed North Korea’s re-designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Tuesday’s statement came ahead of a visit to Seoul by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell, who is expected to discuss the stalled talks with North Korea, as well as the South’s decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

“I look forward to productive meetings with your government so we can reaffirm the security alliance as the cornerstone of the peace and security here in the region,” Stilwell told reporters late on Tuesday upon arrival at Incheon airport.

U.S. officials did not describe Stilwell’s agenda in detail, but said he would discuss the strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and cooperation across foreign policies.

Washington has urged South Korea to rethink a decision to end an intelligence-sharing agreement scrapped in an escalating political and economic dispute with Japan.

On Tuesday, Kim In-chul, a spokesman for South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said there was no change in its stance not to renew the intelligence-sharing pact, however.

The top U.S. negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea, James DeHart, was also set to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said.

In April, North Korean leader Kim said the country would give Washington until the end of the year to be “more flexible” in denuclearization talks, but state media have since given only vague warnings about what will happen if the deadline expires.

The United States and North Korea could hold another round of working-level talks as soon as mid-November, South Korean lawmaker Lee Eun-jae said on Monday after a briefing by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; additional reporting by Daewoung Kim and Chaeyoun Won; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

North Korea says may reconsider steps to build trust with U.S.: KCNA

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said on Thursday its patience has limits and it could reverse steps to build trust with the United States, as it criticized a U.N. Security Council call for it to cease its weapons programs and denounced a U.S. missile test.

The five European members of the U.N. Security Council met on Tuesday to urge North Korea “to take concrete steps” towards giving up its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

That call came days after North Korea said it test-fired a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, in what was the most provocative action by North Korea since it resumed dialogue with the United States in 2018.

North Korea, as part of its efforts to sustain that dialogue, which has included three meetings between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. President Donald Trump, has stopped testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman, in a statement reported by its state KCNA news agency, raised questions about that restraint.

“There is a limit to our patience and there is no law that anything we have refrained from so far will continue indefinitely,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman also denounced what he said was the U.N. Security Council’s unfair taking up of the issue of North Korea’s self-defense.

“The fact … is prompting us to reconsider the crucial pre-emptive steps we have taken to build trust with the U.S.”

The spokesman did not elaborate on what pre-emptive steps he was referring to, but North Korean state media and officials have referred to the halting of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, and the return of remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War, as good-faith gestures to the United States, which it says have not been reciprocated.

The North Korean spokesman also referred to a U.S. Air Force test of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile this month.

The U.S. test was “clearly carried out in order to pressure us”, the North Korean spokesman said.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Robert Birsel)

North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S. in Sweden

By Johan Ahlander and Philip O’Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Working-level nuclear talks in Sweden between officials from Pyongyang and Washington have broken off, North Korea’s top negotiator said late on Saturday, dashing prospects for an end to months of stalemate.

The talks, at an isolated conference center on the outskirts of Stockholm, were the first such formal discussion since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and agreed to restart negotiations that stalled after a failed summit in Vietnam in February.

The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, who spent much of the day in talks with an American delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as U.S. inflexibility, saying the other side’s negotiators would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude.”

“The negotiations have not fulfilled our expectation and finally broke off,” Kim told reporters outside the North Korean embassy, speaking through an interpreter.

The U.S. State Department said Kim’s comments did not reflect “the content or spirit” of more than 8-1/2 hours of talks, and Washington had accepted Sweden’s invitation to return for more discussions with Pyongyang in two weeks.

“The U.S. brought creative ideas and had good discussions with its DPRK counterparts,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. North Korea is also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

She said the U.S. delegation had previewed a number of new initiatives that would pave the way for progress in the talks, and underscored the importance of more intensive engagement.

“The United States and the DPRK will not overcome a legacy of 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean peninsula through the course of a single Saturday,” she added.

“These are weighty issues, and they require a strong commitment by both countries. The United States has that commitment.”

North Korea’s Kim downplayed the U.S. gestures.

“The U.S. raised expectations by offering suggestions like a flexible approach, new method and creative solutions, but they have disappointed us greatly and dampened our enthusiasm for negotiation by bringing nothing to the negotiation table,” he said.

Swedish broadcaster TV4 said the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, who led the team, had arrived back at the U.S. embassy in central Stockholm.

The Swedish foreign office declined to give details on the invitation for new talks, or whether Pyongyang had accepted.

Since June, U.S. officials had struggled to persuade North Korea, which is under sanctions banning much of its trade, due to its nuclear program, to return to the table, but that appeared to change this week when the North abruptly announced it had agreed to talks.

On Saturday, negotiator Kim accused the United States of having no intention of solving difficulties through dialogue, but said a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was still possible.

It would only happen “when all the obstacles that threaten our safety and check our development are removed completely without a shadow of doubt,” he said, in an apparent reference to North Korea’s desire for Washington to ease economic pressure.

On Sunday, China’s President Xi Jinping and the North’s leader exchanged messages to reaffirm the neighbors’ relationship on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. China is the North’s only major ally.

Xi, who has met Kim five times in the past year, said they had “reached a series of important consensuses, leading China-North Korea relations into a new historical era”, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Kim replied the two leaders would “resolutely safeguard the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the world,” Xinhua reported.

TENSIONS

The delegation from North Korea arrived in Sweden on Thursday. Analysts have said both countries’ leaders had growing incentives to reach a deal, but it was unclear if common ground could be found after months of tension and deadlock.

The readout from the talks did not sound very promising, said Jenny Town, a managing editor at 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project.

“I think (North Korea’s) expectations were too high that the removal of Bolton would provide more flexibility on what the U.S. wants as initial steps,” she said, referring to Trump’s hardline former aide John Bolton, abruptly fired last month amid disagreements on how to tackle foreign policy challenges.

“While certainly it removes some pressure for an all or nothing deal, it seems the gap between what the two sides want as a baseline and are willing to reciprocate still has not narrowed,” Town added.

An official at South Korea’s presidential office said the talks in Sweden were nevertheless the beginning of negotiations, and that South Korea hoped the United States and North Korea would keep the momentum of the dialogue.

Only a day after announcing the new talks, North Korea said it had test-fired a new ballistic missile designed for submarine launch, underscoring the need for Washington to move quickly to negotiate limits on Pyongyang’s growing arsenal.

Speaking in Athens on a tour of southern Europe while the talks were still underway, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said he was hopeful of progress.

“We are mindful this will be the first time that we’ve had a chance to have a discussion in quite some time and that there remains to be a lot of work that will have to be done by the two teams,” he told a news conference.

(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom, Johan Ahlander, Simon Johnson, Niklas Pollard and Philip O’Connor in Stockholm; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Michele Kambas in Athens, Joori Roh and Ju-min Park in Seoul, Andrea Shalal and Julia Harte in Washington, Huizhong Wu and Hallie Gu in Beijing; Writing by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

North Korea says it successfully tested new submarine-launched ballistic missile

What appears to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) flies in an undisclosed location in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on October 2, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said on Thursday it had successfully test-fired a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from the sea to contain external threats and bolster self-defense, ahead of fresh nuclear talks with the United States.

The launch on Wednesday was the most provocative by North Korea since it resumed dialogue with the United States in 2018 and a reminder by Pyongyang of the weapons capability it has been aggressively developing, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, analysts said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “sent warm congratulations” to the defense scientists who conducted the test, state news agency KCNA said, indicating he did not attend the launch as he has at previous tests of new weapons systems.

The new type of SLBM, called Pukguksong-3, was “fired in vertical mode” in the waters off the eastern city of Wonsan, KCNA said, confirming an assessment by South Korea’s military on Wednesday that the missile was launched on a lofted trajectory.

“The successful new-type SLBM test-firing comes to be of great significance as it ushered in a new phase in containing the outside forces’ threat to the DPRK and further bolstering its military muscle for self-defense,” KCNA said.

DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The test “had no adverse impact on the security of neighboring countries,” KCNA said but gave no other details about the launch.

Photos released in the North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, whose front two pages featured the test, showed a black-and-white painted missile clearing the surface of the water, then the rocket engine igniting to propel it into the sky.

A State Department spokeswoman called on Pyongyang to “refrain from provocations” and to remain committed to nuclear negotiations.

South Korea expressed strong concern and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch, saying it was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea rejects U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from using ballistic missile technology, saying they are an infringement of its right to self-defense.

Talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have been stalled since a second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February broke down in disagreement over nuclear disarmament.

North Korea fired the missile hours after announcing it would resume talks with the United States by holding working-level negotiations on Oct. 5.

North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, arrived at the Beijing airport on Thursday with other North Korean officials and booked flights to Stockholm, Sweden, Yonhap reported, citing an airport official.

“We’re going for the DPRK-U.S. working-level negotiations,” the negotiator Kim told reporters in Beijing, according to Yonhap. “There’s been a new signal from the U.S. side, so we’re going with great expectations and optimism about the outcome.”

‘NUCLEAR CAPABLE’

The Pukguksong-3 appeared to be a new design that has enhanced range and stability compared with a version tested in 2016, three analysts said.

It was probably launched from a test platform and not a submarine, which would be the final stage of testing, said Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

State news agency KCNA released photos and a report in July of leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a large, newly built submarine, but an unnamed South Korean military source said on Thursday that the submarine appears to be still incomplete, Yonhap news agency reported.

Leader Kim Jong Un’s absence at the test is “extremely unusual,” Kyungnam University’s Kim said, probably meant to contain the political fallout that could result in the upcoming talks falling apart before they even start.

On Wednesday, South Korea’s military said the missile flew 450 km (280 miles) and reached an altitude of 910 km (565 miles). It was likely a Pukguksong-class weapon, as the North’s earlier submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) under development were known.

South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said the Pukguksong, or Pole Star in Korean, would have had a range of about 1,300 km (910 miles) on a standard trajectory.

North Korea had been developing SLBM technology before it suspended long-range missile and nuclear tests and began talks with the United States that led to the first summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore in June 2018.

The latest version of the Pukguksong may be the longest-range North Korean missile that uses solid fuel and the first nuclear-capable missile to be tested since November 2017, Ankit Panda of the U.S.-based Federation of American Scientists said.

North Korea has been developing rocket engines that burn solid fuel, which has advantages in military use compared with liquid fuel because it is stable and versatile, allowing it to be stored in missiles until they are ready for launch.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Writing by Jack Kim. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

North Korea fires ballistic missile, possibly from submarine, days before talks

By Joyce Lee and Chang-Ran Kim

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea fired what may have been a submarine-launched ballistic missile from off its east coast on Wednesday, a day after it announced the resumption of talks with the United States on ending its nuclear program.

If confirmed, it would be the most provocative test by North Korea since it started the talks with the United States in 2018. Analysts said it was likely a reminder by Pyongyang of the weapons capability it had been aggressively developing as it gears up for the new round of talks.

A State Department spokeswoman called on Pyongyang to “refrain from provocations” and remain committed to the nuclear negotiations.

South Korea’s military said it had detected the launch of one missile that flew 450 km (280 miles) and reached an altitude of 910 km (565 miles). It was likely a Pukguksong-class weapon, as the North’s earlier submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) under development were known.

South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a parliamentary committee that the Pukguksong, or Pole Star in Korean, has a range of about 1,300 km (910 miles) and that the missile’s trajectory may have been raised to reduce the distance it traveled.

CNN, citing a U.S. official, said that the missile was launched from an underwater platform, which North Korea has previously done at the early stage of the SLBM program in 2015.

South Korea expressed concern and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch, saying it was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea rejects U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from using ballistic missile technology, saying they are an infringement of its right to self-defense.

Talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have been stalled since a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February ended without a deal.

The two leaders then met at the Demilitarized Zone border between the two Koreas in June and pledged to reopen working-level talks within weeks.

SEA LAUNCH

South Korea’s military said the missile was launched eastward from the sea northeast of Wonsan, the site of one of North Korea’s military bases on the east coast.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it appeared that one missile was launched and had split in two and then fallen into the sea. The Japanese government had said earlier it appeared North Korea had launched two missiles, one of which fell inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

South Korea’s Jeong, asked about Japan’s earlier assessment of two missiles, said the missile might have had at least two stages that separated in flight.

North Korea had been developing SLBM technology before it suspended long-range missile and nuclear tests and began talks with the United States that led to the first summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore in June 2018.

State news agency KCNA released photos and a report of leader Kim Jong Un in July inspecting a large, newly built submarine, seen as a potential signal that Pyongyang was continuing with its development of an SLBM program.

The latest missile launch was the ninth since Trump and Kim met in June, but the others have been of short-range land-based missiles.

David Wright, missile expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, put the range of the missile tested on Wednesday at about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) at standard trajectory.

Hours before Wednesday’s launch, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said in a statement the working-level talks with the United States would be held on Saturday – a development that could potentially break what had been months of stalemate.

North Korea’s previous missile launch was on Sept. 10, also hours after Choe had expressed Pyongyang’s willingness for talks with the United States.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said: “North Korea tends to raise the stakes before negotiations in an effort to win unearned concessions.”

Trump has played down North Korea’s recent series of short-range launches, saying in September the United States and North Korea “didn’t have an agreement on short-range missiles” and that many countries test such weapons.

Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the timing of the latest launch enhances leverage for the North and also signals Pyongyang is in for the long haul in its talks with Washington.

“The risk is that testing such a system causes the U.S. to walk away before this weekend, but Kim probably bet that the U.S. is so invested in the talks taking place and making progress … that the U.S. won’t walk away.”

(Reporting by Joyce Lee, Josh Smith and Chang-Ran Kim; Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Chris Gallagher and David Dolan in Tokyo, and Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Russia seizes North Korean vessels in poaching clampdown

A still image taken from video footage shows a boat with Russian border guards sailing towards a North Korean vessel to detain it and crew members for poaching in waters that Moscow considers its exclusive economic zone, released by Russia's Federal Security Service on September 27, 2019. Federal Security Service/Handout via REUTERS

By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia detained three North Korean vessels and 252 crew on Friday in the second such incident in two weeks as part of a clampdown on poaching by the secretive nation’s fishermen.

The detentions mark rare confrontation between North Korea and Russia, which sees itself as an important player in international talks on defusing nuclear tensions around the reclusive state’s missile program.

Border guards impounded the vessels in waters off Russian’s far eastern coast that Moscow considers its exclusive economic zone, the Interfax news agency reported.

Border guards said they had seized more than 30,000 squid and illegal fishing equipment and were holding the vessels and several motorboats at the port of Nakhodka, the report said.

The Kremlin said the move would not damage its ties with Pyongyang.

“A lot of North Korean poachers cross Russia’s border and poach illegally in Russian territorial waters so of course energetic measures are needed to impose order in this area,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

FOOD SHORTAGES

North Korea, which is reeling under sanctions over its weapons program, has struggled with food shortages and a dysfunctional state rationing system for years.

Its crop production this year is expected to drop to its lowest in five years, bringing serious shortages to 40% of the population, the United Nations said last week.

Russia detained two North Korean boats in its territorial waters in the Sea of Japan on Sept. 17 after one of them attacked a Russian patrol.

In that incident, Russia said it detained a vessel for poaching, prompting a second boat to open fire. Several border guards and alleged poachers were hurt and one of the North Koreans later died from his wounds.

Moscow summoned a North Korean diplomat over the incident.

A regional border official at the Federal Security Service said last week the poachers had resisted because they feared punishment back home for the loss of state property over the confiscation of their vessel.

The countries have had disputes over fishing in the region in the past. Moscow accused Pyongyang in July of illegally detaining one of its fishing vessels. North Korea said the crew had been detained for breaching the rules for entering its territory.

(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Timothy Heritage)

North Korea leader Kim invited Trump to Pyongyang in letter: report

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un invited U.S. President Donald Trump to visit Pyongyang in a letter sent in August amid stalled denuclearisation talks, a South Korean newspaper reported on Monday, citing diplomatic sources.

Kim, in the letter sent in the third week of August, spoke of his “willingness” for a third summit and extended an invitation for Trump to visit the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unidentified source.

Trump on Aug. 9 said he had received a “very beautiful letter” from Kim.

But U.S. officials have not said anything about a second letter in August.

Trump and Kim have met three times since June last year to discuss ways to resolve a crisis over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, but substantive progress has been scant.

Their first two meetings were formal summits, the second of which, in Vietnam in February, broke down after they failed to narrow a gap between U.S. demands for North Korean denuclearisation and a North Korean demand for relief from sanctions.

They met for a third time on June 30 in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas and agreed to restart working-level talks but that has not happened.

Since the June meeting, North Korea has several times tested short-range projectiles.

The White House, the U.S. State Department and the North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.

‘THREATS AND HURDLES’

An unidentified director-general for U.S. affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry said on Monday he hoped a “good meeting” with working-level U.S. officials would take place “in a few weeks”.

But whether a meeting would lead to a “crisis or chance” was up to the United States, the official said, calling for a more flexible approach.

“The discussion of denuclearisation may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the official said in a statement carried by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency.

North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, said last week Pyongyang was willing to have “comprehensive discussions” late this month.

Trump subsequently said he would be willing to meet Kim at some point this year.

South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, asked about the newspaper report, said there were “detailed explanations about such a letter” but declined to elaborate.

Kang said it could be “too much to expect” that Trump and Kim would meet before any working-level talks.

“No agreement was reached between the two leaders in Hanoi even after working-level negotiations,” Kang told a parliamentary panel.

“For the sake of the success of another summit, their working-level teams should meet and have primary discussions on the outcome of the summit,” Kang said.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in NEW YORK and Arshad Mohammed in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel)