South, North Korea reopen hotlines as leaders seek to rebuild ties

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) -South and North Korea have restored hotlines that Pyongyang severed a year ago when ties deteriorated sharply, and the two countries’ leaders are renewing efforts to rebuild relations, Seoul’s presidential office said on Tuesday.

The decision on the hotlines was made by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who have exchanged multiple letters since April when they marked the third anniversary of their first summit, said Moon’s press secretary, Park Soo-hyun.

North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, also said all inter-Korean communication channels resumed operation at 10 a.m. Tuesday (0100 GMT) in line with an agreement between Moon and Kim.

The hotlines are a rare tool to bridge the two Koreas, but it was unclear whether their reconnection would expedite any meaningful restart of negotiations aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

“The two leaders have explored ways to recover relations by exchanging letters on several occasions, and agreed to restore severed hotlines as a first step for that process,” Park said in a statement. “They have also agreed to regain trust as soon as possible and foster progress on relations again.”

KCNA touted the reopening of the hotlines as “a big stride in recovering mutual trust and promoting reconciliation.”

A senior official of the U.S. administration, which has sought unsuccessfully to persuade North Korea to return to talks over its nuclear program, welcomed the announcement.

“The United States supports inter-Korean dialogue and engagement,” the official said. “Diplomacy and dialogue are essential to achieving complete denuclearization and to establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

NUCLEAR STALEMATE

North Korea cut the lines in June 2020 as cross-border ties soured after a failed second summit in February 2019 between Kim and then U.S. President Donald Trump, which Moon had offered to mediate.

Then the North blew up a joint liaison office, launched on its soil in 2018 to foster better ties with the South, plunging relations to their lowest ebb under Moon.

Seoul’s defense ministry confirmed that twice-daily regular communication was resumed via a military hotline on Tuesday.

The Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, also said telephone lines installed at the border truce village of Panmunjom were restored.

Moon had called for a revival of the hotlines and offered a video summit with Kim to avoid the coronavirus, but Pyongyang has previously responded with scathing criticism, saying it had no intention to talk to Seoul.

North Korea has not formally confirmed any COVID-19 outbreaks, but it closed its borders and took strict anti-virus measures, seeing the pandemic as a matter of national survival.

Park said Moon and Kim have agreed to work together to fight the pandemic but did not discuss any possible summit, in-person or virtual.

The exchange of letters came ahead of Moon’s summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in May, where the leaders displayed their willingness to engage the North.

But it still remains to be seen whether Pyongyang was ready to return to negotiations, with Biden’s administration seeking a “reliable, predictable and constructive” way to bring progress.

“It’s just a reconnection of the lines they’d cut unilaterally,” said Moon Seong-mook, a retired South Korean military general who previously led inter-Korean talks.

“North Korea would still wonder what’s the point in talking to the South, as the North wants substantive easing of sanctions, but there’s nothing we can do on that.”

James Kim of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul said Pyongyang might mean to show some willingness to respond to U.S. overtures, but warned against reading too much into the latest move.

“We need to see some seriousness on Pyongyang’s part to move towards denuclearization for us to say that there is genuine progress,” Kim said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha and Jack Kim in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Gerry Doyle, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Giles Elgood)

Many key China issues still ‘under review’ at Biden’s first 100 days

By Michael Martina and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As U.S. President Joe Biden’s first 100 days come to a close this week, a number of key policy positions and contentious issues remain “under review,” to use the White House’s terminology.

They stretch from deep-seated economic issues a generation in the making to controversial policies introduced by Republican President Donald Trump’s government, which preceded the Democratic Biden administration.

Many relate to China, the United States’ strategic competitor, a rivalry that Biden has starkly defined, most recently in a speech to Congress on Wednesday, as a struggle between democracy and autocracy for control of the global economy in the 21st century.

The Biden administration has begun to flesh out an overarching strategy to compete with China that relies on renewing relations with partners like India and allies like Japan and South Korea, and heavy domestic investment.

But critics say slow reviews of specific policies could cost U.S. companies and the economy.

After Biden’s speech, Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters, “I don’t believe we yet have as a nation a comprehensive strategy to deal with a China intent on dominating the world, eventually.”

“We don’t have the luxury of time to sit around and marvel at the problem,” said one Republican aide in the House of Representatives, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We need action and specific policies in place.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the Republican criticism of their policy reviews. Democrats argue privately, however, that the administration is still racing to get crucial jobs filled.

Biden has yet to name an ambassador to China and many other countries, or to fill a key post at the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, which oversees exports of critical U.S. technology to China.

Administration officials have said they will look to add “new targeted restrictions” on some sensitive technology exports to China in cooperation with allies, but have not offered further details.

TARIFFS ON CHINESE GOODS

The Biden administration has said it will conduct a thorough review of U.S. tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on nearly $400 billion worth of Chinese goods, but it has not given a deadline.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a recent interview that the United States was not ready to lift the duties, in part because of the leverage it gives American negotiators.

The tariffs cost U.S manufacturers $80 billion, the Tax Foundation think tank reported last September. China has fallen short of pledges to buy U.S. goods made in a January 2020 trade deal.

SUPPLY CHAIN REVIEW

Biden launched a 100-day review of risks to critical supply chains in February, citing the United States’ need for secure, diverse, dependable goods in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, electric vehicle batteries, and rare earth minerals.

The Defense, Commerce, Energy, Agriculture, Transportation, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services departments are expected to submit reports addressing supply chain resiliency due one year after the February order.

INVESTMENT BAN

The Biden administration also has not addressed how it will use a tough sanctioning tool introduced by Trump that would prohibit U.S. investments in Chinese companies that the previous administration said were owned or controlled by the Chinese military.

NORTH KOREA

The Biden administration has signaled for weeks it is finalizing a broad review of North Korea (Successive U.S. administrations have sought to persuade the Stalinist country to part with its nuclear weapons.) A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the administration was “closer to the end of that review than we are to the beginning,” but offered no details.

The White House has shared little about the review and whether it will offer concessions to get Pyongyang to return to talks. It has simultaneously signaled a hard line on human rights, denuclearization and sanctions, while making diplomatic overtures that officials say have been rebuffed by Pyongyang, which has long demanded economic sanctions relief.

CUBA, VENEZUELA

Biden promised during the 2020 presidential campaign to reverse parts of Trump’s harsh measures against Cuba, and aides have said they are looking especially at Trump’s last-minute decision to designate Havana as a state sponsor of terrorism.

But the new administration appears to be in no rush. And any significant move of this type would risk a political backlash in the crucial swing state of Florida ahead of the 2022 congressional midterm elections. Trump’s hardline approach was popular among the Miami area’s large Cuban-American population, helping him win the state in November though he lost the presidential election.

Among the other issues still being decided are how to craft a new policy on Venezuela, where Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions failed to dislodge socialist President Nicolas Maduro, and how to close the internationally condemned U.S. military prison for foreign suspects at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

(Reporting by Michael Martina, Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom, Andrea Shalal, Trevor Hunnicutt and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis)

Danish filmmaker says he can share evidence on North Korea trying to skirt sanctions

COPENHAGEN/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The Danish director of a new documentary that with hidden cameras shows apparent attempts to evade a U.N. ban on arms trading with North Korea said he is keen to share an “enormous” amount of material not included in the film.

“The Mole,” by maverick filmmaker Mads Bruegger, charts what he says was a 10-year undercover operation by a retired Copenhagen chef to infiltrate a network of sanctions-breakers linked to the head of the Korean Friendship Association (KFA), an international group that promotes friendly ties with Pyongyang.

“The material we have is huge,” Bruegger told Reuters on Tuesday, two days after his documentary aired on Danish TV. “I would like to meet with the U.N.’s North Korea expert panel to start a dialogue about what they would be interested in.”

A spokesman at the North Korean Embassy in Stockholm declined to comment. The head of the KFA denied any involvement in attempts to violate the arms embargo against Pyongyang.

In the documentary, the former chef – who has long been fascinated with communist dictatorships – pretends to be a supporter of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and joins the Friendship Association.

After becoming a trusted member, he hires a former French Foreign Legion soldier to play an arms trader and the two travel to North Korea for meetings about possible arms deals, apparently winning the trust of North Korean officials.

They also agree a deal with the North Korean regime to build an underground factory in Uganda to produce weapons and drugs.

The documentary names certain key North Korean officials and shows entire catalogues of North Korean weapons for sale, including tanks, medium-range ballistic missiles and thermobaric explosives.

“If the film in any way can help to slow down North Korea’s tenacity in terms of breaking sanctions and spreading their weapons across in the world, then I would be very happy about that,” Bruegger said.

None of the deals mooted in the film are consummated and eventually, as partners start to demand money, Bruegger makes the ex-legionnaire playing the arms dealer disappear. The filmmakers say their evidence has been presented to the North Korean Embassy in Stockholm, but there has been no response.

The foreign ministers of Sweden and Denmark said following the airing of the film that they would raise the issue of sanctions busting at the United Nations and European Union.

North Korea has been subject since 2006 to U.N. sanctions, which have been strengthened by the Security Council over the years in efforts to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear arms and ballistic missile programs.

The documentary, filmed over the course of a decade, is a co-production between public broadcasters in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Britain.

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Simon Johnson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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 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)

Two Koreas, U.N. forces agree to remove weapons at border

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean soldier patrols at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 18, 2018. Picture taken on April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea and the U.N. Command agreed on Monday to withdraw firearms and guard posts in the demilitarized zone village of Panmunjom this week, Seoul’s defense ministry said, the latest move in a fast-improving relationship.

The three sides held their second round of talks at Panmunjom to discuss ways to demilitarize the border in line with a recent inter-Korean pact reached at last month’s summit in Pyongyang.

The U.S.-led UNC, which has overseen affairs in the DMZ since the end of hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War, was not immediately available for comment, but it said on Friday it supports the two Koreas’ efforts to implement their military deal.

The announcement comes amid U.S. concerns that the inter-Korean military initiative could undermine defense readiness and comes without substantial progress on North Korea’s promised denuclearization.

The neighbors are looking to withdraw 11 guard posts within a 1-km (0.6-mile) radius of the Military Demarcation Line on their border by the end of the year.

They also plan to pull out all firearms from a Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom and cut to 35 each the numbers of personnel stationed there and share information on surveillance equipment.

At Monday’s meeting, the three sides agreed to remove firearms and guard posts from the JSA by Thursday, and carry out a joint inspection over the following two days, the ministry said.

The two Koreas have been removing landmines around the area as part of the agreement and they confirmed the completion of the demining operation at the talks with the UNC.

“We discussed the timeline of the pullout of firearms and guard posts, as well as ways to adjust the number of guard personnel and conduct joint inspections,” the ministry said in a statement.

The agreement also includes a halt in “all hostile acts” and a no-fly zone around the border.

North and South Korea are technically still at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, but relations have improved considerably in the last year.

After his third summit in Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the North was ready to invite international experts to watch the dismantling of a key missile site and would close the main Yongbyon nuclear complex if Washington took reciprocal actions.

Those actions could include putting a formal end to the 1950-53 war, opening of a U.S. liaison office in North Korea, humanitarian aid and an exchange of economic experts, Moon said.

But Washington demands North Korea takes irreversible steps to scrap its arsenal, such as a full disclosure of nuclear facilities and material.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Trump says expects announcement of new summit with North Korea’s Kim ‘pretty soon’

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he expected a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be announced “pretty soon” but that the location had yet to be determined.

Trump, during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the United Nations, said: “Chairman Kim has been really very open and terrific, frankly. I think he wants to see something happen.”

Moon met with Kim for a third time last week. He said brought Trump a personal message from the North Korean leader saying he was hoping to meet with the U.S. president again soon.

Trump and Kim met for an unprecedented summit on June 12, and Trump has been keen on a second meeting, even though some U.S. officials and most analysts say Pyongyang has yet to show it is prepared to give up a nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news briefing earlier on Monday he hoped to travel back to North Korea before the end of the year to make final preparations for a second summit, which he said he was “confident” would happen.

“I expect I’ll be traveling to Pyongyang before too long,” he said.

Asked if that would be before the end of the year, he replied: “Yes. Lord willing, I’ll be traveling before the end of the year.”

Pompeo said he was optimistic that Kim would deliver on his pledge to denuclearize, but this would take time.

“We’re bringing the two senior leaders, the individuals who can actually make the decisions that will move this process forward, bring them together so we can continue to make progress towards what the U.N. Security Council has demanded and what Chairman Kim has promised he would do.

“That’s the effort. There remains work to be done. There will be some time before we get to complete denuclearization for sure.”

At last week’s meeting with Moon, Kim promised to dismantle a missile site and also a nuclear complex – if the United States took “corresponding action.”

However, while appearing to set a positive tone, the commitments fell far short of Washington’s demands for a complete inventory of North Korea’s weapons programs and irreversible steps toward denuclearization.

The mood though is sharply changed from that at last year’s U.N. General Assembly, when Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and mocked the North Korean leader as “Rocket Man” on a “suicide mission.”

North Korea’s representative to the meeting, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, responded to Trump’s U.N. remarks last year by calling them “the sound of a dog barking” and warning that North Korea could detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

Pompeo has proposed a meeting with Ri at the General Assembly this week. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said last week the two had agreed to meet but said the meeting could take place later.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by David Alexander and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Doina Chiacu and James Dalgleish)

Who has Kim Jong Un’s ‘nuclear button’ in Pyongyang while he’s away?

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – When Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday for perhaps the most significant nuclear talks since the Cold War, the American president will have his link to the U.S. nuclear arsenal nearby at all times.

As the leader of a newly minted nuclear state, much less is known about how Kim maintains control of his nuclear arsenal while he travels.

Kim began the year by declaring to the world that “a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office,” which was widely interpreted as an allusion to his personal control over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

Trump fired back in a tweet, saying “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

When the two meet in Singapore for high-stakes nuclear negotiations, Trump will be accompanied, as always, by a staffer carrying his “button” in the form of the “nuclear football” containing equipment used to authorize a strike.

North Korea is one of the most insular states in the world and command and control of its nuclear facilities is kept within a tight, impenetrable circle.

Additionally, Kim – who came to power in 2011 – has only just begun making trips outside North Korea. He has been to Beijing twice and has briefly crossed the frontier at the Demilitarized Zone with South Korea to meet its president. Singapore will be the furthest he is known to have traveled since taking over.

But analysts who closely watch North Korea believe it is unlikely Kim would have come to Singapore without being confident of the arsenal’s security – and the ability to order its use.

“We don’t know how developed North Korea’s secure communications capabilities are, so whether Kim Jong Un will be within easy reach of his National Command Authority during his stay in Singapore is an open question,” said Andrew O’Neil, a North Korea nuclear policy expert at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

“That said, given that most assume… North Korea’s nuclear command, control, communications and intelligence is configured to promote a high degree of centralization in Kim’s decision-making, it beggars belief that Kim would not be within secure reach to authorize a possible launch if required,” O’Neil added.

Kim likely delegated authority to watch over the arsenal to one of a number of trusted North Korean officials who stayed in Pyongyang, including Choe Ryong Hae, one of several senior leaders who saw Kim off at the airport as he departed for Singapore, said Michael Madden, a leadership expert with the 38 North website, which monitors North Korea.

“Kim can authorize or approve a missile strike while he is away,” Madden said. “There’s a protocol for launches.”

Trusted officials would maintain control of fixed telecommunications hotlines in the country, and there is likely a code system to activate the systems involved in launching North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

“There are only certain designated facilities where these communications can be activated,” Madden said

North Korea’s missile program: https://tmsnrt.rs/2t6WEPL

SECURITY CONCERNS

Many questions remain unanswered, however, including whether the North Koreans have robust enough communication systems to make sure no one panics and launches an attack, said Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program.

“Its command and control structure while Kim is traveling is unlikely to be robust enough for him to be able to reliably issue or stop launch sequences,” he said.

He said that was because North Korea was likely to have configured its nuclear forces to permit rapid authorization to launch in order to offset the risk of a first strike from the United States.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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)

Ending North Korea oil supplies would be seen as act of war, says Russia

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance at the Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang January 25, 2018.

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The delivery of oil and oil products to North Korea should not be reduced, Moscow’s ambassador to Pyongyang was cited as saying by RIA news agency on Wednesday, adding that a total end to deliveries would be interpreted by North Korea as an act of war.

The U.N. and United States have introduced a wave of sanctions aimed at curbing North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, including by seeking to reduce its access to crude oil and refined petroleum products.

“We can’t lower deliveries any further,” Russia’s envoy to Pyongyang, Alexander Matzegora, was quoted by RIA as saying in an interview.

Quotas set by the U.N. allow for around 540,000 tonnes of crude oil a year to be delivered to North Korea from China, and over 60,000 tonnes of oil products from Russia, China and other countries, he was quoted as saying.

“[This] is a drop in the ocean for a country of 25 million people,” Matzegora said.

Shortages would lead to serious humanitarian problems, he said, adding: “Official representatives of Pyongyang have made it clear that a blockade would be interpreted by North Korea as a declaration of war, with all the subsequent consequences.”

Last week, the United States imposed further sanctions on North Korea, including on its crude oil ministry.

In his first annual State of the Union speech to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, President Donald Trump vowed to keep up the pressure on North Korea it from developing missiles which could threaten the United States.

North Korea on Saturday condemned the latest U.S. sanctions. and Russian deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov said Russia had no obligation to carry out sanctions produced by the U.S.

The ambassador also denied charges by Washington that Moscow, in contravention of U.N. sanctions, was allowing Pyongyang to use Russian ports for transporting coal.

“We double-checked [U.S.] evidence. We found that the ships mentioned did not enter our ports, or if they did, then they were carrying cargo that had nothing to do with North Korea,” he is cited as saying.

Reuters reported earlier that North Korea had shipped coal to Russia last year which was then delivered to South Korea and Japan in a likely violation of U.N. sanctions.

(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Richard Balmforth)