Joy, disbelief as Korean families separated by war meet after 65 years

North and South Korean family members meet during a reunion at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, North Korea, August 20, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – About 90 families from North and South Korea wept and embraced on Monday as the neighbors held their first reunion events in three years for relatives wrenched apart by the Korean War for more than six decades.

The brief reunions are set to total just 11 hours over the next three days in the North’s tourist resort of Mount Kumgang after the neighbors renewed exchanges this year following a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to the reunion events at a summit in April.

About 330 South Koreans from 89 families, many in wheelchairs, embraced 185 separated relatives from the North with tears, joy, and disbelief. Some struggled to recognize family not glimpsed in more than 60 years.

A man selected as a participant for a reunion shows pictures of his deceased mother and little brothers living in North Korea, at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, South Korea, August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

A man selected as a participant for a reunion shows pictures of his deceased mother and little brothers living in North Korea, at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, South Korea, August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

“How are you so old?” Kim Dal-in, 92, asked his sister, Yu Dok, after gazing at her briefly in silence.

“I’ve lived this long to meet you,” replied the 85-year-old, wiping away tears as she clasped a photograph of her brother in his youth.

Siblings Kim Gyong Sil, 72 and Gyong Yong, 71, wearing the traditional hanbok dress, colored pale violet, stood nervously staring at the entrance, awaiting their 99-year-old mother Han Shin-ja. They could not speak for minutes, wailed loudly and rubbed their cheeks and hands.

“When I fled home in the war…,” Han said, faltering as she choked with emotion and left her sentence incomplete.

The separated families are victims of a decades-long political gridlock since the 1950-53 war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, with ties increasingly strained as Pyongyang rapidly stepped up its weapons programs.

More than 57,000 South Korean survivors have registered for the family reunions, which usually end in painful farewells.

For years, Seoul has called for regular meetings between separated families, including the use of video conferences, but the program often fell victim to fragile ties.

At his historic June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June, Kim pledged to abandon his country’s nuclear programs if Washington provided security guarantees, but the two sides have since struggled to agree how to reach that goal.

The reunions should be scaled up sharply, held regularly, and include exchanges of visits and letters, said Moon, himself a member of a separated family from the North’s eastern port city of Hungnam.

“It is a shame for both governments that many of the families have passed away without knowing whether their lost relatives were alive,” he told presidential secretaries at a meeting.

Lee Geum-seom, who has been selected as a participant for a reunion, is helped by volunteers as she arrives at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, South Korea, August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Lee Geum-seom, who has been selected as a participant for a reunion, is helped by volunteers as she arrives at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, South Korea, August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

“Expanding and accelerating family reunions is a top priority.”

Ninety-three families from both sides of the border had been initially due to hold a three-day gathering from Monday, but four South Korean members canceled at the last minute because of poor health, the Red Cross said.

From Thursday, 88 more groups of relatives will meet, comprised of 469 individuals from the South and 128 from the North, Seoul’s Unification Ministry says.

For Lee Jong-shik, 81, Monday’s reunion was a hard-won second chance to track down his younger brother, Ri Chong Song, after the failure of a 2009 effort when a different individual showed up, to the dismay of the family from the South.

“I tried so hard, too, searching for you for seven years,” Ri told his brother.

The participants included the families of a prisoner of war and five people abducted by North Korean authorities during the conflict, though the six South Koreans they had hoped to meet had died.

The reunions, which began in 1985, can be a traumatic experience, say survivors, who know they are unlikely to see their relatives again since many are 80 or older and first-timers typically get priority for visits.

About 132,600 individuals were listed as separated families by the end of July. Of the 57,000 survivors, 41.2 percent are in their 80s and 21.4 percent in their 90s, government data show.

The oldest South Korean participant is 101-year-old Baek Seong-gyu, who was reunited with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

“Most participants are elderly and many suffer from hypertension, diabetes and have underlying medical conditions,” said physician Han Sang-jo. “Ahead of the reunions, we are thoroughly checking their health.”

Many brought gifts of clothing, medicine, and food for their North Korean relatives since anything deemed extravagant by Pyongyang was unlikely to pass muster.

Moon Hyun-sook, 91, said she put together clothes, cosmetics, and medicine for her two sisters, younger than she is by 12 and 26 years.

“Whenever I saw pretty clothes, I always thought how cute they would look in them,” she said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee in SEOUL, Hyun Young Yi in SOKCHO, and Joint Press Corps; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Clarence Fernandez)

Sanctions-hit North Korea warns of natural disaster brought by heat wave

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 Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea on Thursday called for an “all-out battle” against record temperatures that threaten crops in a country already grappling with tough international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

The resulting drought has brought an “unprecedented natural disaster”, the isolated nation said, warning against crop damage that could savage its farm-reliant economy, battered by sanctions despite recent diplomatic overtures.

“This high-temperature phenomenon is the largest, unprecedented natural disaster, but not an obstacle we cannot overcome,” the North’s Rodong Sinmun said, urging that “all capabilities” be mobilized to fight the extended dry spell.

Temperatures have topped a record 40°C (104°F) in some regions since late July, and crops such as rice and maize have begun to show signs of damage, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party said in a front-page commentary.

“Whether the current good crop conditions, for which the whole nation has made unsparing investment and sweated until now, will lead to a bumper year in the autumn hinges on how we overcome the heat and drought,” it added.

Similar past warnings in state media have served to drum up foreign assistance and boost domestic unity.

“I think the message was a precautionary one to minimize any impact on daily life,” said Dong Yong-seung, who runs Good Farmers, a group based in Seoul, capital of neighboring South Korea, that explores farm projects with the North.

But the mention of unprecedented weather, and a series of related articles, suggest the heat wave could further strain its capacity to respond to natural disasters, said Kim Young-hee, a defector from North Korea and an expert on its economy at Korea Finance Corp in Seoul.

The warning comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced in April a shift in focus from nuclear programs to the economy, and held an unprecedented June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Since then, the young leader has toured industrial facilities and special economic zones near the North’s border with China, a move experts saw as a bid to spur economic development nationwide.

“He has been highlighting his people-loving image and priority on the economy but the reality is he doesn’t have the institutions to take a proper response to heat, other than opening underground shelters,” added Kim, the economist.

GOOD CROP CONDITIONS

Drought and floods have long been a seasonal threat in North Korea, which lacks irrigation systems and other infrastructure to ward off natural disasters.

Last year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation warned of the North’s worst drought in 16 years, but late summer rains and privately produced crops helped avert acute shortages.

There appear to be no immediate signs of major suffering in the North, with rice prices stable around 62 U.S. cents per kg through the year to Tuesday, a Reuters analysis of data compiled by the Daily NK website showed.

The website is run by defectors who gather prices through telephone calls to traders in the North, gaining a rare glimpse into the lives of ordinary citizens.

Crops are good this year because there was little flooding to disrupt the early spring planting season, said Kang Mi-jin of the Daily NK, based in Seoul.

“They say nothing remains where water flowed away, but there is something to harvest after the heat,” Kang said, citing defectors. “Market prices are mainly determined by Chinese supplies and private produce, rather than crop conditions.”

The October harvest would reveal any havoc wreaked by the weather, Kim Young-hee added.

North Korea suffered a crippling famine in the 1990s when a combination of bad weather, economic mismanagement and the demise of fuel subsidies from the Soviet Union all but destroyed its state rationing system.

However, rationing has slowly been overtaken by an increase in foreign products, mainly from China, and privately produced food sold in North Korean markets, a factor experts say U.N. reports overlook.

The neighbors are in talks to help the North modernize its economy, step up disaster response measures and expand forests in a follow-up to April’s historic summit between Kim and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in.

Across the border, temperatures hit 39.6°C (103.28°F) in Seoul on Wednesday, their highest since weather authorities began monitoring in 1907. The heat has caused 29 deaths and injuries to more than 2,350 people, health officials have said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. has plan to dismantle North Korea nuclear program within a year: Bolton

FILE PHOTO: White House National Security Advisor John Bolton steps from Air Force One upon U.S. President Donald Trump's arrival in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File P

By Hyonhee Shin and Doina Chiacu

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday he believed the bulk of North Korea’s weapons programs could be dismantled within a year, as the United States and North Korea resumed working-level talks.

Bolton told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Washington has devised a program to dismantle North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction – chemical, biological and nuclear – and ballistic missile programs in a year, if there is full cooperation and disclosure from Pyongyang.

“If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they’re cooperative, we can move very quickly,” he said. “Physically we would be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of their programs within a year.”

He said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will likely discuss that proposal with the North Koreans soon. The Financial Times reported that Pompeo was due to visit North Korea this week but the State Department has not confirmed any travel plans.

South Korea media reported on Sunday that Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, met with North Korean officials on Sunday at the border village of Panmunjom within the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas to coordinate an agenda for Pompeo’s next visit to North Korea.

Kim’s delegation delivered Pompeo’s letter to Kim Yong Chol, a top Pyongyang official who met Pompeo and U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of last month’s historic summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Yonhap news agency said, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.

Some experts disputed Bolton’s optimistic time frame for decommissioning the North’s weapons.

“It would be physically possible to dismantle the bulk of North Korea’s programs within a year,” said Thomas Countryman, the State Department’s top arms control officer under President Barack Obama.

“I do not believe it would be possible to verify full dismantlement within a year, nor have I yet seen evidence of a firm DPRK decision to undertake full dismantlement.”

North Korea is completing a major expansion of a key missile-manufacturing plant, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing researchers who have examined new satellite imagery from San Francisco-based Planet Labs Inc.

Images analyzed by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California show North Korea was finishing construction on the exterior of the plant around the time Kim Jong Un held a summit with Trump last month, the report said.

The Chemical Material Institute in Hamhung makes solid-fuel ballistic missiles, which could allow North Korean to transport and launch a missile more quickly, compared to a liquid-fuel system that requires lengthy preparation.

Last week, 38 North, a website run by the Johns Hopkins University, said satellite imagery showed the North had been upgrading its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

“None of this activity technically violates any agreement Kim may have made,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor at MIT’s security studies Programme.

“What it suggests is that Kim has no intention of surrendering his nuclear weapons.”

Kim agreed at the June 12 summit to “work toward denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” but the joint statement released after the meeting gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might forsake its nuclear and missile programs.

As negotiations progress, the North could try to trade sites and technology that have relatively low values in exchange for sanctions relief, while covertly operating facilities required to advance key capabilities, Narang said.

“It is perfectly rational for North Korea to shift the emphasis to developing solid fuel missiles now that it already has a suite of liquid fuel missiles to deter an attack,” he said.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) arrive to sign a document to acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (L) arrive to sign a document to acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

TRUST BUT VERIFY

Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist and Stanford University professor, has predicted it would take around 10 years to dismantle and clean up a substantial part of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear site.

U.S. intelligence is not certain how many nuclear warheads North Korea has. The Defense Intelligence Agency is at the high end with an estimate of about 50, but all the agencies believe Pyongyang is concealing an unknown number, especially smaller tactical ones, in caves and other underground facilities around the country.

The U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in nuclear talks with the United States, NBC News quoted U.S. officials as saying on Friday.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully give up its nuclear arsenal and is considering ways to hide the number of weapons it has. It also reported Pyongyang has secret production facilities, according to the latest evidence they have.

Bolton refused to comment on intelligence matters but the United States was going into nuclear negotiations aware of Pyongyang’s failure to live up to its promises in the past.

“There’s not any starry-eyed feeling among the group doing this,” he said. “We’re well aware of what the North Koreans have done in the past.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in WASHINGTON and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Lindsay Dunsmuir, Howard Schneider, John Walcott, Soyoung Kim; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Nick Zieminski, Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast.)

Trump, Pompeo positive ahead of North Korean summit; officials meet to close differences

U.S. President Donald Trump flanked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly attend a lunch with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and officials at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Jack Kim and Steve Holland

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore could “work out very nicely” as officials from both countries sought to narrow differences on how to end a nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula.

But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo injected a note of caution ahead of the first-ever meeting of U.S. and North Korean leaders on Tuesday, saying that it remained to be seen whether Kim was sincere about his willingness to denuclearize.

Last-minute talks between the two sides were held in the tropical city-state aimed at laying the groundwork for the summit between Trump and Kim, a meeting almost unthinkable just months ago when the two were exchanging insults and threats that raised fears of war.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shake hands during a meeting at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. President Donald Trump and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shake hands during a meeting at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

But after a flurry of diplomatic overtures eased tension in recent months, the two leaders are now headed for a history-making handshake that U.S. officials hope could eventually lead to dismantling of a North Korean nuclear program that threatens the United States.

Offering a preview to reporters on the eve of the summit, Pompeo said it could provide “an unprecedented opportunity to change the trajectory of our relationship and bring peace and prosperity” to North Korea.

However, he played down the possibility of a quick breakthrough and said the summit should set the framework for “the hard work that will follow”, insisting that North Korea had to move toward complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.

Pyongyang, though, has shown little appetite for surrendering nuclear weapons its considers vital to the survival of Kim’s dynastic rule.

Sanctions on North Korea would remain in place until that had happened, Pompeo said. “If diplomacy does not move in the right direction … those measures will increase.”

“North Korea has previously confirmed to us its willingness to denuclearize and we are eager to see if those words prove sincere,” he said.

The White House later said discussions with North Korea had moved “more quickly than expected” and Trump would leave Singapore on Tuesday night, after the summit. He had earlier been scheduled to leave on Wednesday.

Kim is due to leave on Tuesday afternoon.

Trump arrived in Singapore on Sunday after a blow-up over trade with other members of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations in Canada,

The escalating economic clash between Washington and some of its closest global partners cast a cloud over Trump’s efforts to score a major foreign policy win in nuclear talks with North Korea, long one of America’s bitterest foes.

People gather outside the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

People gather outside the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Although gaps remain over what denuclearization would entail, Trump sounded a positive note in a lunch meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“We’ve got a very interesting meeting … tomorrow, and I just think it’s going to work out very nicely,” Trump said.

It was a far cry from last year when Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” and mocked Kim as “little rocket man,” Kim denounced the U.S. president as the “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

Kim, who also arrived on Sunday, remained ensconced in the heavily guarded St Regis Hotel, where he is staying. There was also no sign of his sister, Kim Yo Jong, who has accompanied him to Singapore.

Some people were grumbling in the wealthy city-state because of traffic jams caused by the summit and the cost of hosting two leaders with massive security needs. Lee has said the summit would cost Singapore about S$20 million ($15 million), more than half of which would go on security.

“Thanks PM Lee for spending $20 million of taxpayers’ money, which can … help a lot of needy families in Singapore to survive,” posted one Facebook user. Others complained about the traffic jams downtown.

Lee said the cost was worthwhile.

“It is our contribution to an international endeavor which is in our profound interest,” he told reporters on Sunday.

‘NEW ERA’

Trump and Kim are staying in separate hotels in the famous Orchard Road area of Singapore, dotted with high-rise luxury apartment blocks, offices and glittering shopping malls. Traffic was held up in the steamy midday sun and scores of bystanders were penned in by police when Trump went to meet Lee.

Similar scenes were seen on Sunday when Kim and Trump arrived in the city, and when Kim went to meet Lee. Their hotels are cordoned off with heavy security.

Commenting for the first time on the summit, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said the two sides would exchange “wide-ranging and profound views” to re-set relations. It heralded the summit as part of a “changed era”.

Discussions would focus on “the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean peninsula, the issue of realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern”, KCNA said.

In the lead up to the summit, North Korea rejected any unilateral nuclear disarmament, and KCNA’s reference to denuclearization of the peninsula has historically meant that Pyongyang wants the United States to remove its “nuclear umbrella” protecting South Korea and Japan.

Many experts on North Korea, one of the most insular and unpredictable countries in the world, remain skeptical Kim will ever completely abandon nuclear weapons. They believe Kim’s latest engagement is aimed at getting the United States to ease the crippling sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country.

A Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. side was entering the talks with a sense of optimism and an equal dose of scepticism given North Korea’s long history of developing nuclear weapons.

“We will not be surprised by any scenario,” said the official.

The official said Trump and Kim would hold a one-on-one meeting on Tuesday that could last up to two hours. He described it as a “get to know you plus” meeting.

Later, they would be joined by their respective negotiating teams for discussions that could last another hour.

The summit’s venue is the Capella hotel on Sentosa, a resort island off Singapore’s port with luxury hotels, a Universal Studios theme park and man-made beaches.

Trump initially touted the potential for a grand bargain with North Korea to rid itself of a nuclear missile program that has advanced rapidly to threaten the United States.

But he has since lowered expectations, backing away from an original demand for North Korea’s swift denuclearization.

He has said the talks would be more about starting a relationship with Kim for a negotiating process that would take more than one summit.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Soyoung Kim, Dewey Sim, Aradhana Aravindan, Himani Sarkar, Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel, Miral Fahmy, Joyce Lee, Grace Lee, Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom; Christine Kim in SEOUL; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; and Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Neil Fullick)

U.S. sees strong shared interests with European Union on Iran concerns

FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi//File Pho

WASHINGTON/BERLIN (Reuters) – The United States on Sunday said it hopes to use strong shared interests that have emerged with its European Union partners in recent months to move forward on addressing Iran’s nuclear program, missile development and role in regional conflicts.

A State Department official said the shared interests could form a “foundation to continue to work together moving forward.”

Iran said on Sunday that it would join a meeting with diplomats from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in Vienna on Friday to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to exit the 2015 nuclear accord.

It said Washington would not participate in the meeting of the joint commission set up by the six world powers, Iran and the European Union to handle any complaints about the deal’s implementation.

The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag cited an unnamed senior EU official as saying there were also discussions about a possible new pact between Iran and world powers that would cover the same ground as the 2015 deal but with some additions to appease the United States.

These could include provisions to address U.S. concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and Tehran’s support of armed groups in the Middle East, the source said.

“We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the senior EU official told the paper.

Such an agreement could in the future include financial aid for Iran, the report said.

The State Department official said Washington hoped the EU would focus “on the central issue here:  Iran’s multiple set of malign behaviors with regard to its nuclear program, missile development, terrorism, regional conflicts, and other issues.”

Three EU sources who were part of negotiations to keep Trump from quitting the nuclear deal said Friday’s meeting would address only the implementation of the 2015 deal, but not offer Iran financial aid in exchange for concessions.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi rejected reports of a proposed new agreement as “irrelevant claims”, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

“A meeting set for the next few days for the first joint commission without the United States … will only cover issues of the nuclear accord between Iran and the other members,” Qasemi said.

Earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on state television that the “joint commission … will be held at Iran’s request, and without the United States, to discuss the consequences of America’s withdrawal, and how the remaining countries can continue their commitment to the deal.”

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will outline a “diplomatic roadmap” and call for broad support from European and other allies to apply pressure on Iran to force it back to the negotiating table, as well as their support to address “the totality of Iran’s threats”.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Damon Darlin in Washington, Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Dale Hudson, William Maclean)

North Korea’s Kim told Xi he wanted to resume six-party disarmament talks: Nikkei

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, as he paid an unofficial visit to China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told Chinese President Xi Jinping during talks in Beijing last week that he agreed to return to six-party talks on his nation’s nuclear program and missile tests, the Nikkei newspaper said on Thursday.

Months of chill between Beijing and Pyongyang appeared to suddenly vanish during Kim’s secretive visit, with China saying that Kim had pledged his commitment to denuclearization.

Quoting multiple sources connected to China and North Korea, the Nikkei said that, according to documents issued after Kim and Xi met, Kim told Xi that he agreed to resuming the six-party talks, which were last held in 2009.

North Korea declared the on-again, off-again talks dead at the time, blaming U.S. aggression. The talks grouped the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, Japan and host China.

The sources said it was also possible that Kim could convey his willingness to resume the talks to U.S. President Donald Trump at a summit set to take place in May, but that it was far from clear if that meant the talks would actually resume.

Chinese officials were not immediately able to comment.

China has traditionally been secretive North Korea’s closest ally, though ties have been frayed by Kim’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles and Beijing’s backing of tough U.N. sanctions in response.

North Korea has said in previous talks that it could consider giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

Some analysts have said Trump’s willingness to meet Kim handed North Korea a diplomatic win, as the United States had insisted for years that any such summit be preceded by North Korean steps to denuclearize.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Nick Macfie)

White House: Talks with North Korea must lead to ending nuclear program

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Closing ceremony - Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 25, 2018 - Ivanka Trump (L to R), U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter and senior White House adviser, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Yong Chol of the North Korea delegation attend the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Yuna Park and Roberta Rampton

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end to its nuclear program after senior officials from Pyongyang visiting South Korea said on Sunday their government was open to talks with the United States.

The North Korean delegation, in Pyeongchang for the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, met at an undisclosed location with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and expressed a willingness to meet with the United States, Moon’s office said in a statement.

The Pyongyang delegation said developments in relations between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States should go hand in hand, according to the statement.

The Olympics gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North’s missile program and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

The United States announced on Friday it was imposing its largest package of sanctions aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

On Sunday, North Korean state media accused the United States of provoking confrontation on the Korean peninsula with the sanctions.

The White House said its sanctions would continue.

“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” the White House said in a statement.

“In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end,” it said.

NO INTERACTION WITH IVANKA TRUMP

Moon, the North Korean delegation, and Ivanka Trump, U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter, were among dignitaries who attended the Olympics closing ceremony on Sunday.

Ivanka Trump, a senior White House adviser, did not interact with the North Korean delegation, a senior U.S. administration official said. She met Moon on Friday as part of a weekend trip leading the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremony.

North Korea sent former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, an official accused of being behind a deadly 2010 attack on a South Korean warship, to lead its delegation.

The decision enraged the families of 46 sailors killed in the torpedo attack and threatened the mood of rapprochement that Seoul sought to create at what it called the “Peace Games.”

North Korea has denied its involvement in the sinking.

Moon met Kim in Pyeongchang, where the Olympics were held, before the closing ceremony, the South Korean government said.

Earlier, about 100 conservative South Korean lawmakers and activists staged a sit-in near the border with North Korea, to protest Kim’s arrival and facing off against about 2,500 South Korean police.

The North’s delegation took a different route, prompting the opposition Korea Liberty Party to accuse Moon’s administration of “abuse of power and an act of treason” by rerouting the motorcade to shield it from the protest.

TRUMP WARNING

The North sent Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to the opening ceremony.

She was the center of a frenzy of attention, especially when she appeared at the opening ceremony and was only a few feet from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. They did not speak.

Kim Yo Jong and the North’s nominal head of state were the most senior North Korean officials to visit the South in more than a decade. The North Korean leader later said he wanted to create a “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue.”

The U.S. president, in announcing the new sanctions on Friday, warned of a “phase two” that could be “very, very unfortunate for the world” if the sanctions did not work.

North Korea denounced the sanctions in a statement carried on its state media and said a blockade by the United States would be considered an act of war.

China also reacted angrily, saying on Saturday the unilateral targeting of Chinese firms and people risked harming cooperation on North Korea.

Moon won election last year promising to try to improve relations with the North.

(Reporting by Yuna Park and Christine Kim in Seoul; additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. national intelligence director says North Korea ‘decision time’ near

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo, and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats wait to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

By Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said on Tuesday time is running out for the United States to act on the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear programs.

“Decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this,” Coats said during a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Our goal is a peaceful settlement. We are using maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways.”

Coats told the Senate panel’s annual hearing on “Worldwide Threats,” with testimony from leaders of major U.S. intelligence agencies, that he expected more missile tests from North Korea this year.

“In the wake of accelerated missile testing since 2016, North Korea is likely to press ahead with more tests in 2018, and its Foreign Minister said that (North Korean leader) Kim (Jong Un) may be considering conducting an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean,” he said.

He said Pyongyang’s repeated statements that nuclear weapons are the basis for its survival suggest government leaders there “do not intend to negotiate them away.”

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein asked whether U.S. intelligence has looked into what it might take to bring North Korea to the negotiating table, but Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo declined to discuss the subject during a public hearing.

Feinstein said she had participated in a classified briefing recently on North Korea and described it as “difficult and harsh.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Andrea Ricci)

Trump tells Putin more steps needed to scrap North Korea nuclear program

President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, who complained last month that Moscow was “not helping us at all with North Korea,” told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday that more needs to be done to scrap Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the White House said.

“President Trump reiterated the importance of taking further steps to ensure the denuclearization of North Korea,” the White House said in a statement about the call with Putin.

In an interview with Reuters last month, Trump accused Russia of helping North Korea evade international sanctions meant to punish Pyongyang for its pursuit of a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the United States.

“Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump told Reuters.

Moscow denies it has failed to uphold U.N. sanctions.

Trump and Putin spoke after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in an interview with the Washington Post, raised the prospect of talks with North Korea.

But Pence, who traveled to South Korea for the Winter Olympics, also said Washington would intensify its “maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang until it takes a “meaningful step toward denuclearization.”

Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. resolutions.

Russia signed on to the latest rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea imposed last year, including a ban on coal exports, which are an important source of the foreign currency Pyongyang needs to fund its nuclear program.

But North Korea shipped coal to Russia at least three times last year after the ban was put in place on Aug. 5, three Western European intelligence sources told Reuters.

The North Korean coal was shipped to the Russian ports of Nakhodka and Kholmsk, where it was unloaded at docks and reloaded onto ships that took it to South Korea or Japan, the sources said.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Eric Walsh and Peter Cooney)

China, U.S. agree on aim of ‘complete, irreversible’ Korean denuclearization

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the newly-built Dental Sanitary Goods Factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) June 20, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) – China and the United States agreed that efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula should be “complete, verifiable and irreversible”, Chinese state media said on Saturday, reporting the results of high level talks in Washington this week.

“Both sides reaffirm that they will strive for the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” a consensus document released by the official Xinhua news agency said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said on Thursday that the United States pressed China to ramp up economic and political pressure on North Korea, during his meeting with top Chinese diplomats and defense chiefs.

China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and General Fang Fenghui met Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during the talks. Yang later met with U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House, where they also discussed North Korea, Xinhua reported.

The consensus document also highlighted the need to fully and strictly hold to U.N. Security Council resolutions and push for dialogue and negotiation, which has long been China’s position on the issue.

Military-to-military exchanges should also be upgraded and mechanisms of notification established in order to cut the risks of “judgment errors” between the Chinese and U.S. militaries, the statement also said.

Chinese state media described the talks, the first of their kind with the Trump administration, as an upgrade in dialogue mechanisms between China and the United States, following on from President Xi Jiping’s meeting with Trump in Florida in April.

Xi and Trump are next expected to meet again in Hamburg during the G20 Summit next month.

A day last week’s talks, President Donald Trump said China’s efforts to use its leverage with North Korea had failed, raising fresh doubts about his administration’s strategy for countering the threat from North Korea.

The death of American university student Otto Warmbier earlier this week, after his release from 17 months of imprisonment in Pyongyang, further complicated Trump’s approach to North Korea.

China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has been accused of not fully enforcing existing U.N. sanctions on its neighbor, and has resisted some tougher measures.

Washington has considered further “secondary sanctions” against Chinese banks and other firms doing business with North Korea, which China opposes.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Simo cameron-Moore)