‘Missiles like these will start the war’: North Korea tests showcase growing capability

FILE PHOTO: North Korean military conducts a "strike drill" for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea, in this May 4, 2019 photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s second missile test on Thursday signals it is serious about developing new, short-range weapons that could be used early and effectively in any war with South Korea and the United States, analysts studying images of the latest launches say.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the first flight of a previously untested weapon – a relatively small, fast missile experts believe will be easier to hide, launch, and maneuver in flight.

Photos released by state media on Friday showed Thursday’s test involved the same weapon.

The tests have increased tensions after the last U.S.-North Korea summit collapsed in February in Hanoi with no agreement over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said late on Thursday the launches seemed like a protest over the failed summit, while North Korea has defended the tests as routine and self-defensive.

Some analysts say the multiple tests show the missiles aren’t only for political show.

“This second test solidifies that these launches are not just to stir the pot and elicit a U.S. response to resume negotiations,” said Grace Liu, one of a team of missile experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) in California. “They are developing a reliable, operable missile that can defeat missile defenses and conduct a precision strike in South Korea.”

DEFEATING MISSILE DEFENSES

The U.S. and South Korean responses to the launches have been muted, with U.S. President Donald Trump and other officials emphasizing the missiles are not the large, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the United States.

But analysts said the military applications of the new missiles should not be underestimated.

“The Trump administration keeps downplaying these missiles because they are not ICBMs, but even though they can’t reach the U.S. mainland, it’s missiles like these that will start the war,” said Melissa Hanham, a weapons expert at Datayo, which tracks international security threats.

“They are small, easy to hide, easy to maneuver and you can’t tell what kind of warhead they are carrying. They could carry a nuclear weapon.”

In a preliminary report on Wednesday, the North Korea tracking website 38 North said the new missile looks similar to Russia’s SS-26 Iskander missile and could exploit gaps in South Korean and American missile defense coverage.

The United States and South Korea field Patriot and THAAD missile batteries designed to shoot down various ballistic and cruise missiles, but their capabilities have been disputed.

While the origin of the North Korean missile remains unclear, a team of analysts at CNS told Reuters that Thursday’s test confirmed the missile is capable of maneuvering to elude defenses and protect its launch crew from detection.

“You can tell from the low apogee that this missile maneuvers a bit in boost to defeat missile defenses and aircraft hunting the launcher,” said Jeffrey Lewis of CNS.

Michael Duitsman, a rocket propulsion expert with the team, said North Korean state media photos of the launch show likely thrust vanes and steerable fins that guide the missile with precision and allow it to maneuver through much of its flight.

While Saturday’s missile was fired from a transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicle with wheels, Thursday’s test featured a tracked vehicle.

Use of a tracked vehicle, which North Korea has more experience building, suggests it may plan to deploy a large number of the missiles and launchers, said Joshua Pollack, editor of The Nonproliferation Review.

“This seems to be their only mass-production option for highly capable TELs at the moment,” he said.

The missile uses solid fuel, which allows the weapon to be easily moved and fired more quickly than those using liquid fuel, analysts said.

In the end, the new missiles add a new level of unpredictability to an already tense situation, Hanham said.

“If North Korea pulls out (an ICBM) everyone knows it’ll be launched with a nuke,” she said. “These little missiles you don’t know, so it’s hard to be prepared.”

POLITICAL SHOCKWAVES

The new weapon’s maneuverability and low flying has led some South Korean officials to hesitate to label the weapon a “ballistic missile,” a weapon that would likely violate United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“Given its low altitude, more careful analysis is required,” said ruling party lawmaker Ahn Gyu-baek, citing military officials. “One should also be careful to not aggravate the situation with hasty actions.”

Ahn said South Korean military officials had assessed a number of potential political motives behind the missile launches. Those included increasing pressure for sanctions relief, and protesting Seoul’s military buildup including the purchase of new F-35 fighter aircraft as well as joint military drills by the United States and South Korea, which North Korea complained about in statements defending the tests.

The tests also likely held a message for domestic audiences designed to boost support for Kim’s government, he said.

“The Kim regime is determined to fight pressure with pressure,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.”It is threatening to raise regional tensions and create political problems for Moon and Trump if not offered economic concessions it failed to win in Hanoi.”

While Kim may not return to launching ICBMs or testing nuclear weapons immediately, he may seek other provocative ways to break the stalemate, Pollack said.

“Kim Jong Un has given the United States until the end of the year to rethink its approach,” he said. “But if they don’t get a meaningful response to these tests, maybe they’ll try to push the envelope further.”

(Reporting by Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Joyce Lee. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

North Korea says recent rocket drill was “regular and self-defensive”: KCNA

North Korean military conducts a "strike drill" for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea, in this May 4, 2019 photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s “strike drill” last week at which leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the launch of rockets and at least one short-range ballistic missile was “regular and self-defensive,” the North’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, according to state media.

“The recent drill conducted by our army is nothing more than part of the regular military training, and it has neither targeted anyone nor led to an aggravation of the situation in the region,” an unidentified ministry spokesperson said in a statement to the state-run KCNA news agency.

Saturday’s drill was the first test of a ballistic missile by North Korea since it launched a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017.

It came in the wake of talks with the United States and South Korea stalling in February, and raised alarms in both countries, which have been seeking to entice the North into abandoning its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Seoul responded on Saturday by calling on its northern neighbor to “stop acts that escalate military tension on the Korean Peninsula.”

In a second statement carried by KCNA on Wednesday, a spokesman for the North Korean office in charge of military engagement with South Korea lashed out at Seoul over any suggestion that the rocket drills had violated an inter-Korean agreement aimed at reducing military tension.

“The South Korean military should take a close look at the inter Korean military agreement and recall what it has done itself before talking nonsense that it was against the spirit of the agreement,” the spokesperson said, according to KCNA.

The second statement also criticized last week’s test of a U.S. Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by the U.S. Air Force out of California over the Pacific, saying South Korea was in no position to criticize North Korea.

“The South Korean military has no right to say a word to its fellow countrymen when it acted like a mute who ate honey when the United States fired a Minuteman ICBM which threatens us,” the military spokesman said.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has met with Kim twice, said he was still confident he could have a deal with Kim, and South Korean officials have subsequently played down the test.

North Korea’s foreign ministry statement hit back at “spiteful remarks” about the tests from unnamed critics, warning that “baseless allegations” might “produce a result of driving us to the direction which neither we nor they want to see at all.”

The ministry spokesperson said there was a double standard, with South Korea and the United States carrying out military drills with little criticism.

“Only our regular and self-defensive military drill is branded as provocative, and this is an undisguised manifestation of the attempt to press the gradual disarmament of our state and finally invade us,” the spokesperson said. “We think this is very much unpleasant and regrettable, and we sound a note of warning.”

After meeting with Kim for the first time in June last year, Trump abruptly announced he was cancelling all large-scale military exercises with South Korea.

Smaller exercises have continued, however, drawing regular criticism from Pyongyang.

North Korea had maintained a freeze in nuclear and ballistic missiles testing in place since 2017, a fact Trump has repeatedly pointed out as an important achievement from his engagement with Pyongyang.

Denuclearization talks with North Korea have stalled, however, after Trump and Kim met in February for a second summit but failed to reach an agreement.

North Korea balked at the extent of the demands made by American negotiators, and Trump said he ended the summit early because Kim was asking for nearly all major sanctions to be lifted while offering little in return.

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for talks with South Korean officials.

He did not respond to questions from journalists, but his agenda is expected to include the missile test, as well as other aspects of talks with North Korea, including plans for possible humanitarian aid.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Minwoo Park. Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Hugh Lawson)

Trump supports plan for humanitarian food aid to North Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at an event to celebrate the anniversary of first lady Melania Trump's “Be Best” initiative in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – South Korea said that U.S. President Donald Trump supports the country’s plan to provide humanitarian food aid to North Korea, Yonhap reported on Tuesday.

Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke for 35 minutes earlier on Tuesday, during a call in which the two leaders also discussed ways to continue dialogue with Pyonyang, the South Korean news agency reported.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked by reporters in April whether he was prepared to ease some sanctions on North Korea, Trump said he and Moon were discussing “certain humanitarian things” and the possibility of South Korea helping North Korea with food.

Nearly half of North Koreans suffer from severe food insecurity and meager official rations are expected to be cut further after dry spells, heat waves and flooding have led to the worst harvest in a decade, the United Nations said on Friday.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have met twice, but talks between the two leaders have stalled. On Saturday, North Korea fired projectiles off its coast, but Trump and his administration have played down the weapons tests.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu)

North Korea quits liaison office in setback for South after new U.S. sanctions

FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wave during a car parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 18, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin and David Brunnstrom

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea on Friday pulled out of a liaison office with the South, in a major setback for Seoul, just hours after the United States imposed the first new sanctions on the North since the second U.S.-North Korea summit broke down last month.

North Korea said it was quitting the joint liaison office set up in September in the border city of Kaesong after a historic summit between leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in early last year.

“The North’s side pulled out after conveying to us that they are doing so on the instructions from a higher level, during a liaison officials’ contact this morning,” South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told a briefing.

South Korea regrets the decision and urged a swift normalisation of the arrangement, Chun said, adding the South would continue to staff the office, set up as a regular channel of communication to ease hostility between the rivals, which technically remain at war.

The move came after the United States on Thursday blacklisted two Chinese shipping companies it says helped North Korea evade sanctions over its nuclear program and cited 67 vessels it said engaged in illicit trade helping the North.

It was the first such step since a second meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi broke down over conflicting demands by the North for relief from sanctions and from the United States for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

The North’s withdrawal from the office was another blow to Moon, who has seen his standing as a mediator between Pyongyang and Washington deteriorate and divisions grow within his government over how to break the impasse.

Moon’s administration had touted the office as a major feat resulting from his own summit with Kim last year despite U.S. concerns about possible loosening of sanctions.

The South’s Chun said he would not directly link the North’s move to the failed Hanoi summit. But experts saw a pattern in the North lashing out against the South when its crucial strategic position with Washington is in jeopardy.

“The North sees its nuclear issue and ties with the United States as a matter of greater strategic importance, so when they try to assert its position, they sacrifice the ties with the South, which is considered inferior,” said Shin Beom-chul of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

Moon’s office reacted by holding an urgent meeting, headed by his national security adviser, to discuss the withdrawal.

The won weakened about 0.4 percent against the dollar in non-deliverable forward (NDF) trade after the news.

NEW SANCTIONS

The U.S. Treasury Department identified two Chinese firms for new sanctions – Dalian Haibo International Freight Co Ltd and Liaoning Danxing International Forwarding Co Ltd – which had helped the North evade U.S. and international sanctions, it said.

It also cited 67 vessels for engaging in illicit transfers of refined petroleum with North Korean tankers or facilitating the export of the North’s coal.

Reuters was unable to locate contact details for either of the Chinese companies to seek comment.

The U.S. sanctions prohibit U.S. dealings with the designated companies and freezes any assets they have in the United States.

“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related U.N. Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The latest sanctions showed there was some “leakage” in North Korea sanctions enforcement by China, but it was mostly abiding by U.N. resolutions, a senior U.S. official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

While declining to say whether Washington was trying to send a post-summit message to Pyongyang, the official said Trump “has made clear that the door is wide open to continuing the dialogue with North Korea.”

LIMBO

U.S.-North Korean engagement has appeared to be in limbo since the Feb. 27-28 summit, despite U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying on March 4 he was hopeful he could send a team to North Korea “in the next couple of weeks.”

North Korea has warned it is considering suspending talks and may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests, in place since 2017, unless Washington makes concessions.

Activity was detected at the North’s main rocket test facility around the time of the failed summit, fueling concern that Pyongyang may be about to resume weapons development to ratchet up pressure on Washington.

On Monday, two senior U.S. senators called for the Trump administration to correct a slowing pace of American sanctions designations on North Korea, saying such actions had seen a marked decline in the past year of U.S. diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang.

They pointed to a recent U.N. report that North Korea continued to defy U.N. sanctions with an increase in smuggling of petroleum products and coal and violation of bans on arms sales.

A U.N. sanctions panel said in the report Liaoning Danxing was suspected of illicitly shipping Mercedes-Benz limousines to North Korea. Last July, the Netherlands seized a cargo of Belarusian vodka, also banned as luxury goods, en route to North Korea via the company, it said.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Additional reporting by Choonsik Yoo in Seoul and Gao Liangping and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Jack Kim and Clarence Fernandez)

Trump says he would be disappointed if North Korea resumed testing

FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high-ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By Roberta Rampton and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he would be disappointed if North Korea were to resume weapons testing and reiterated his belief in his good relationship with its leader, Kim Jong Un, despite the collapse of a summit with him last week.

“I would be surprised in a negative way if he did anything that was not per our understanding. But we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I would be very disappointed if I saw testing.”

Trump’s comments to reporters on the White House lawn before leaving to visit Alabama came after two U.S. think tanks and Seoul’s spy agency said this week that North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site.

There have also been reports emanating from South Korea’s intelligence service of new activity at a factory that produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Trump said he thought his and the U.S. relationship with Kim and North Korea was “a very good one.”

“I think it remains good,” he said.

Trump, eager for a big foreign policy win on North Korea which has eluded his predecessors for decades, has repeatedly stressed his good relationship with Kim. He went as far late last year as saying that they “fell in love,” but the bonhomie has failed to bridge the wide gap between the two sides.

A second summit between Trump and Kim collapsed last week over differences on U.S. demands for Kim to give up his nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for sanctions relief.

North Korean state media acknowledged the fruitless summit for the first time on Friday, saying people were blaming the United States for the lack of an agreement.

“The public at home and abroad that had hoped for success and good results from the second … summit in Hanoi are feeling regretful, blaming the U.S. for the summit that ended without an agreement,” its Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary.

The paper directed fiery rhetoric against Japan, accusing it of being “desperate to interrupt” relations between Pyongyang and Washington and “applauding” the breakdown of the summit.

Washington has said it is open to more talks with North Korea but it has rejected an incremental approach to negotiations sought by Pyongyang and it remains unclear when the two sides might meet again.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful he would send a delegation to North Korea for more talks in the next couple of weeks, but that he had received “no commitment yet.”

A senior State Department official who briefed reporters in Washington on Thursday said the United States was keen to resume talks as soon as possible, but North Korea’s negotiators needed to be given more latitude than they were given ahead of the summit.

“There will necessarily need to be a period of reflection here. Both sides are going to have to digest the outcome to the summit,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Fundamentally, where we really need to see the progress, and we need to see it soon, is on meaningful and verifiable steps on denuclearization. That’s our goal and that’s how we see these negotiations picking up momentum.”

The official said complete denuclearization was the condition for North Korea’s integration into the global economy, a transformed relationship with the United States and a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, a hard-liner who has argued for a tough approach to North Korea, said this week that Trump was open to more talks, but also warned of tougher sanctions if North Korea did not denuclearize.

Bolton and other U.S. officials have sought to play down the activity spotted at the Sohae rocket launch site, although Trump on Thursday called it “disappointing.”

The official who briefed reporters on Thursday said he would “not necessarily share the conclusion” of the think tanks that the Sohae site was operational again, but said any use of the site would be seen as “backsliding” on commitments to Trump.

North Korea has frozen nuclear and missile testing since 2017, and Trump has pointed to this as a positive outcome from nearly a year’s engagement with North Korea.

Sohae has been used in the past to rest missile engines and to launch rockets that U.S. officials say have helped development of North Korea’s weapons programs.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, David Brunnstrom, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey in Washington and Hyonhee Shin, Joyce Lee and Ju-min Park in Seoul; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

South Korea sees signs North Korea restoring part of missile launch site: Yonhap

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – South Korean intelligence agencies have detected signs that North Korea is restoring part of the Dongchang-ri missile launch site it tore down, Yonhap News Agency reported on Tuesday.

Specifically, Yonhap said the closed-off country, under pressure for years to discontinue its nuclear program, is putting back a roof and a door on the facility.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service also said during a briefing for the National Assembly’s intelligence committee that “the U.S. information is the same as ours,” according to Yonhap.

A second summit on denuclearization between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week broke down over differences on how far North Korea was willing to limit its nuclear program and the degree of U.S. willingness to ease sanctions on the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful the United States would send a delegation to North Korea in the coming weeks.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for officials to try to find a way to restart talks between the North and the United States.

The breakdown of the summit was a blow for Moon, who had hoped eased U.S. sanctions would help lead to a restart of inter-Korean projects including a factory park, key to his vision for a pan-peninsula economic community.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Writing by Nick Zieminski; Editing by David Gregorio)

South Korea to work with U.S. and North Korea after failed nuclear talks

U.S. President Donald Trump pumps his fist at members of the U.S. military as he arrives to address them after his summit meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Vietnam during a refueling stop at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S., February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL/HANOI (Reuters) – South Korea will work with the United States and North Korea to ensure they reach agreement on denuclearization, the South’s president said on Friday, a day after talks between the U.S. and North Korean leaders collapsed over sanctions.

A second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Vietnam, was cut short after they failed to reach a deal on the extent of sanctions relief North Korea would get in exchange for steps to give up its nuclear program.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has been an active supporter of efforts to end confrontation on the Korean peninsula, meeting Kim three times last year and trying to facilitate his nuclear negotiations with the United States.

“My administration will closely communicate and cooperate with the United States and North Korea so as to help their talks reach a complete settlement by any means,” Moon said in a speech in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Moon also said South Korea would consult the United States on ways to resume joint projects with the North including tourism development at Mount Kumgang and the Kaesong industrial complex, both in North Korea.

The Hanoi summit came eight months after Trump and Kim met for the first time in Singapore and agreed to establish new relations and peace in exchange for a North Korean commitment to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump said two days of talks had made good progress but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. He said he had walked away because of unacceptable North Korean demands.

“It was all about the sanctions,” Trump told a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the negotiations with Kim were “very substantive” and that “we know what they want and they know what we must have,” but he gave no other details about any next steps. “Relationship very good, let’s see what happens!” he wrote.

‘BIGGEST STEP’

However, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told a midnight news conference after Trump left Hanoi that North Korea had sought only a partial lifting of sanctions “related to people’s livelihoods and unrelated to military sanctions.”

He said North Korea had offered a realistic proposal involving the dismantling of all of its main nuclear site at Yongbyon, including plutonium and uranium facilities, by engineers from both countries.

“This is the biggest denuclearization step we can take based on the current level of trust between the two countries,” Ri said.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told the briefing she had the impression that Kim “might lose his willingness to pursue a deal” after the U.S. side rejected a partial lifting of sanctions in return for the destruction of Yongbyon, “something we had never offered before.”

Speaking to South Korean media later on Friday, Choe appeared more pessimistic about chances for progress.

“Having conducted the talks this time, it occurs to us that there may not be a need to continue,” she said, adding that North Korea had taken “many steps” to try to reach a deal.

“We’re doing a lot of thinking,” she said while adding, the situation would change “if our demands can be resolved.”

But despite the doubt that Choe raised, both sides have indicated they want to maintain the momentum and press on.

“We are anxious to get back to the table so we can continue that conversation that will ultimately lead to peace and stability, better life for the North Korean people, and a lower threat, a denuclearized North Korea,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference in Manila.

North Korean media adopted a conciliatory tone.

The state KCNA news agency said Kim and Trump had a constructive, sincere exchange and decided to continue productive talks, without mentioning that the talks ended abruptly with no agreement.

Kim, who is due to leave Vietnam on Saturday, also expressed gratitude to Trump for putting in efforts to get results, KCNA said.

‘OPPORTUNITY TO TALK’

A U.S. State Department official said the North Korean media coverage had been constructive, indicating “ample opportunity to talk.”

The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state conducted repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources of hard cash

The United States has demanded North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization before sanctions can be lifted. North Korea has denounced that position as “gangster like.”

The U.S. official said North Korea had proposed closing part of its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for the lifting of all U.N. sanctions except those directly targeting their weapons of mass destruction programs.

The U.S. side said “that wouldn’t work”, he said.

“The dilemma that we were confronted with is the North Koreans at this point are unwilling to impose a complete freeze on their weapons of mass destruction programs,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

“So to give many, many billions of dollars in sanctions relief would in effect put us in a position of subsidizing the ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Analysts estimate North Korea may have a nuclear arsenal of 20 to 60 weapons, which, if fitted to its intercontinental ballistic missiles, could threaten the U.S. mainland.

The collapse of the summit leaves Kim in possession of that arsenal though Trump said the North Korean leader had agreed to maintain his moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Failure to reach an agreement also marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office.

(Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Jeff Mason, Soyoung Kim, James Pearson, Josh Smith, Ju-min Park, Mai Nyugen, Khanh Vu, Jack Kim in HANOI; Martin Petty and Karen Lema in MANILA; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast)

Trump and North Korea’s Kim predict success in high-stakes nuclear summit

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands before their one-on-one chat during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason

HANOI (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met in Vietnam on Wednesday for a second summit that the United States hopes will persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of peace and development.

Kim and Trump shook hands and smiled briefly in front of a row of their national flags at the Metropole hotel in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, before heading to dinner together.

Trump told reporters he thought the talks would be very successful, and asked if he was “walking back” on denuclearization, said “no”.

At their historic first summit in Singapore last June, Trump and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean peninsula but little progress has been made.

Kim said they had overcome obstacles to hold their second summit and praised Trump for his “courageous decision” to begin a dialogue.

“Now that we’re meeting here again like this, I’m confident that there will be an excellent outcome that everyone welcomes, and I’ll do my best to make it happen,” Kim said.

Trump and Kim held a 20-minute, one-on-one chat before sitting down to dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Kim’s top envoy, Kim Yong Chol, and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.

On Thursday, the two leaders will hold a series of meetings, the White House said. The venue has not been announced.

“We’re going to have a very busy day tomorrow,” said a smiling, relaxed-looking Trump, seated beside Kim at a round table with the other four officials and two interpreters.

“Our relationship is a very special relationship.”

Experts said the pair were at pains to show their relationship had improved since their first meeting, with their body language closely mirroring each other.

A child with stickers of the North Korean and Vietnamese flags on her face reacts at the Vietnam-North Korea Friendship kindergarten, founded by North Korean Government in Hanoi, ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A child with stickers of the North Korean and Vietnamese flags on her face reacts at the Vietnam-North Korea Friendship kindergarten, founded by North Korean Government in Hanoi, ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

GOOD RELATIONS

Trump said late last year he and Kim “fell in love”, but whether the bonhomie can move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States is the question that will dominate the talks.

Trump and Kim’s Singapore summit, the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, ended with great fanfare but little substance over how to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

In the run-up to this summit, Trump has indicated a more flexible stance, saying he was in no rush to secure North Korea’s denuclearization. He repeated that on Wednesday, saying while some people believed the talks should be moving more quickly, he was satisfied.

He has also said he would be happy as long as North Korea, which has not tested a nuclear weapon or intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, maintained that freeze.

Some critics have said Trump appeared to be wavering on a long-standing U.S. demand for complete and irreversible denuclearization by North Korea and risked squandering leverage if he gave away too much, too quickly.

Asked if he would declare a formal end to the Korean War, which North Korea has long called for, Trump said: “We’ll see.”

North and South Korea have been technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict, with the Americans backing the South, ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Evans Revere, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, said Trump was under pressure, given the criticism and other domestic problems, and Kim might try to use that.

“Kim may be tempted to push Trump even harder for concessions, knowing how much the president wants and needs that testing pause,” Revere said.

Students from Nguyen Du secondary school hold U.S. and Vietnam flags outside the Presidential Palace, as they wait for wait to greet U.S. President Donald Trump, in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Students from Nguyen Du secondary school hold U.S. and Vietnam flags outside the Presidential Palace, as they wait for wait to greet U.S. President Donald Trump, in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

‘AWESOME’ POTENTIAL

U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea will ever give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which it sees as its guarantee of national security. Analysts say it won’t commit to significant disarmament unless punishing U.S.-led economic sanctions are eased.

The two sides have discussed specific and verifiable denuclearization measures, such as allowing inspectors to observe the dismantlement of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor, U.S. and South Korean officials say.

U.S. concessions could include opening liaison offices or clearing the way for inter-Korean projects.

Despite little progress on his goal of ridding North Korea of its weapons programs, Trump appeared to be betting on his personal relationship with Kim, and the economic incentive after 70 years of hostility between their countries.

“Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize,” Trump said on Twitter ahead of the meeting.

“The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!”

For Trump, a deal that eases the North Korean threat could hand him a big foreign-policy achievement in the midst of domestic troubles.

While he is in Hanoi, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is testifying before U.S. congressional committees, with the president’s business practices the main focus.

Cohen, in wide-ranging testimony he is due to deliver on Wednesday, refers to a comment Trump made to him about avoiding the U.S. military draft for the Vietnam War on medical grounds: “‘You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam’,” Cohen cited Trump as saying.

“I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now,” Cohen said in a draft statement seen by Reuters.

Trump, responding to the statement on Twitter, said Cohen was lying to reduce his prison time. He declined to respond when a reporter asked him about Cohen later.

 

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason in HANOI; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, Mai Nyugen, Ju-min Park, Khanh Vu, Josh Smith in HANOI, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast)

Trump lands in Vietnam for second summit with North Korea’s Kim

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Noi Bai Airport for the US-DPRK summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Kham/Po

By Jeff Mason and Khanh Vu

HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday for their second summit in less than a year, at which the U.S. side will urge tangible steps by North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Trump flew into Hanoi on Air Force One, touching down just before 9 p.m. (1400 GMT).

“Just arrived in Vietnam,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “Thank you to all of the people for the great reception in Hanoi. Tremendous crowds, and so much love!”

Kim arrived by train early in the day after a three-day, 3,000-km (1,850-mile) journey from his capital, Pyongyang, through China. He completed the last stretch from a border station to Hanoi by car.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) waves upon his arrival at the border town with China in Dong Dang, Vietnam, February 26, 2019. Nhan Sang/VNA via REUTERS

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (C) waves upon his arrival at the border town with China in Dong Dang, Vietnam, February 26, 2019. Nhan Sang/VNA via REUTERS

The two leaders, who seemed to strike up a surprisingly warm relationship at their first summit in Singapore last June, will meet for a brief one-on-one conversation on Wednesday evening, followed by a dinner, at which they will each be accompanied by two guests and interpreters, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.

They will meet again on Thursday, she said.

Their talks come eight months after the historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

While much of that first meeting was about breaking the ice after decades of bitter animosity between their two countries, this time there will be pressure to move beyond a vaguely worded commitment by Kim to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump’s critics at home have warned him against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, urging specific, verifiable North Korean action to abandon the nuclear weapons that threaten the United States.

In return, Kim would expect significant U.S. concessions such as relief from punishing sanctions and a declaration that the 1950-53 Korean War is at last formally over.

Trump, landing in darkness, waved as he disembarked Air Force One and was met by senior Vietnamese and U.S. officials. His motorcade passed crowds waving the flags of Vietnam, the United States and North Korea on its way to the JW Marriott Hotel, his accommodation for the two-day summit.

Earlier, Vietnamese officials greeted Kim at the station in Dong Dang town after he crossed the border from China by train. He got a red-carpet welcome with honor guard, military band and fluttering North Korean and Vietnamese flags.

Kim was accompanied by his sister, Kim Yo Jong, an important aide.

About a dozen bodyguards briefly ran alongside his limousine as he began the two-hour journey to Hanoi, smiling and waving to children lining the route.

Roads were closed with security forces in armored personnel carriers guarding the route to Hanoi’s Melia hotel where Kim is staying.

Vietnamese authorities have yet to announce where Kim and Trump will meet.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also arrived on Tuesday and met Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh for talks.

‘TREMENDOUS’

Trump said before leaving Washington it would be “a very tremendous summit” and stressed the benefits to North Korea if it gave up its nuclear weapons.

“With complete Denuclearization, North Korea will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse. Without it, just more of the same. Chairman Kim will make a wise decision!” he said.

In a speech on Sunday, however, Trump appeared to play down the possibility of a major breakthrough, saying he would be happy as long as North Korea maintained its pause on weapons testing.

“I’m not in a rush,” he said. “I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy.”

North Korea has not conducted a nuclear or missile test since 2017, but analysts say the two leaders have to move beyond summit symbolism.

“The most basic yet urgent task is to come to a shared understanding of what denuclearization would entail,” said Gi-Wook Shin, director of Stanford’s Asia-Pacific Research Center.

“The ambiguity and obscurity of the term ‘denuclearization’ only exacerbates the skepticism about both the U.S. and North Korean commitments to denuclearization.”

While the United States is demanding North Korea give up all of its nuclear and missile programs, North Korea wants to see the removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella for South Korea.

Trump’s departure from Washington comes at a time of increased pressure at home, and he is keen to show progress on a foreign policy issue that has confounded multiple predecessors.

Some analysts fear this may lead him to pull his punches.

“The main concern is whether the president, besieged by domestic distractions, will give away too much, and take a bad deal that leaves the United States less secure,” said Victor Cha, a former White House official who took part in past North Korea negotiations under previous Republican administrations.

While Trump is in Hanoi, his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is testifying before U.S. congressional committees, with the president’s business practices the main focus.

Anticipation has also been rising about the impending release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, although a senior U.S. Justice Department official said on Friday it would not come this week.

A South Korean presidential spokesman told reporters in Seoul the two sides might be able to agree to a formal end of the Korean War, which was concluded with an armistice not a peace treaty, a move North Korea has long sought.

Protesters in Seoul tore up photographs of Kim and threw them to the ground to highlight their dismay that North Korea’s grim human rights record was not expected to figure in talks.

Amnesty International said Trump had disregarded human rights to gain favor with Kim.

“His silence in the face of relentless and grave human rights violations has been deafening,” it said.

(For live coverage of the summit, click: ); Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, https://www.reuters.com/live/north-koreaMai Nguyen, Hyonhee Shin, Josh Smith and Ebrahim Harris in HANOI, Joyce Lee in SEOUL; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)

North Korea warns U.S. skeptics as Kim heads for summit with Trump

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a train as he departs for a summit in Hanoi, in Pyongyang, North Korea in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 23, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

By Jack Kim and Josh Smith

HANOI (Reuters) – North Korea warned President Donald Trump on Sunday not to listen to U.S. critics who were disrupting efforts to improve ties, as its leader, Kim Jong Un, made his way across China by train to a second summit with Trump in Vietnam.

The two leaders will meet in Hanoi on Wednesday and Thursday, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, where they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

But their vaguely worded agreement has produced few results and U.S. Democratic senators and U.S. security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The North’s KCNA state news agency said such opposition was aimed at derailing the talks.

“If the present U.S. administration reads others’ faces, lending an ear to others, it may face the shattered dream of the improvement of the relations with the DPRK and world peace and miss the rare historic opportunity,” the news agency said in a commentary, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Trump administration has pressed the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, which, combined with its missile capabilities, pose a threat to the United States, before it can expect any concessions.

But in recent days Trump has signaled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove sanctions if there is meaningful progress on denuclearization.

Trump also said he was in no rush and had no pressing schedule for North Korea’s denuclearization, hinting at a more gradual, reciprocal approach, long favored by Pyongyang.

The North also wants security guarantees and a formal end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Trump said on Sunday that he and Kim expect to make further progress at this week’s summit and again held out the promise that denuclearization would help North Korea develop its economy.

He also said Chinese President Xi Jinping has been supportive of Trump’s meeting with Kim. “The last thing China wants are large scale nuclear weapons right next door.”

TRUMP SCOFFS AT CRITICS

Trump scoffed at critics of his handling of North Korea.

“So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea. But thanks anyway!” he said in a tweet.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday” that North Korea has yet to take “concrete” steps on denuclearization and said another summit might be needed beyond the one in Hanoi, but that he hoped for substantial progress this week.

“The alternative to giving up his nuclear weapons is remaining a pariah state, remaining a nation that is unable to trade, unable to grow, unable to take care of its own people,” Pompeo said of Kim in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In a letter to Trump last week, three Democratic chairmen of key committees in the House of Representatives accused the administration of withholding information on the negotiations with North Korea.

“There are ample reasons to be skeptical that Chairman Kim is committed to a nuclear-free North Korea,” the lawmakers wrote.

U.S. intelligence officials recently testified to Congress that North Korea was unlikely to ever give up its entire nuclear arsenal.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Pompeo has conceded in private discussions with Korea experts that he would be lucky if North Korea agreed to dismantle 60 percent of what the United States has demanded, although he added that it would still be more than any other administration had achieved.

The State Department declined to comment on the report.

KCNA, referring to U.S. fears of the North’s weapons, said if this week’s talks ended without results, “the U.S. people will never be cleared of the security threats that threw them into panic”.

Few details of Kim’s trip to Vietnam were announced until early on Sunday, when North Korean state media confirmed he had left Pyongyang by train, accompanied by senior officials as well as his influential sister, Kim Yo Jong.

RED CARPET SEND-OFF

In rare, revealing coverage of Kim’s travel, the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper featured photographs of the leader getting a red-carpet send-off on Saturday afternoon and waving from a train door while holding a cigarette.

He was joined by top officials also involved in the Singapore summit, including Kim Yong Chol, former spy chief and Kim’s top envoy in negotiations with the United States, as well as senior party aide Ri Su Yong, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and defense chief No Kwang Chol.

Other senior officials, such as his de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, and Kim Hyok Chol, negotiations counterpart to U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun, were already in Hanoi to prepare for the summit.

Both sides are under pressure to forge more specific agreements than were reached in Singapore.

The two leaders are likely to try to build on their personal connection to push things forward in Hanoi, even if only incrementally, analysts said.

“They will not make an agreement which breaks up the current flow of diplomacy. (President Trump) has mentioned that they’ll meet again; even if there is a low-level agreement, they will seek to keep things moving,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Few details of summit arrangements have been released.

Some lamp posts on Hanoi’s tree-lined streets are decked with North Korean, U.S. and Vietnamese flags fluttering above a handshake design, and security has been stepped up at locations that could be the summit venue, or where the leaders might stay.

It could take Kim at least 2-1/2 days to travel to Vietnam by train.

(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee, Ju-min Park, Soyoung Kim, Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, and Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jeffrey Benkoe)