U.S., South Korean militaries launched ballistic missiles into sea matching North Korean missile display a day earlier

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • The tit-for-tat missile launches were aimed at demonstrating the ability to respond swiftly and accurately to North Korean attacks
  • South Korean and U.S. officials also say North Korea is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017
  • The United States has vowed to push for additional international sanctions if North Korea conducts a nuclear test
  • Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions for the North’s disarmament steps

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South Korea Fires Multiple Missiles After Alleged N.K. Launch

Revelations 6:3-4 “ when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • South Korea ‘Fires Multiple Ballistic and Guided Missiles’ Following Alleged ICBM Launch by DPRK
  • South Korea’s military said it fired “several ballistic and guided missiles” after North Korea’s ICBM launch.
  • It added that it is “ready and capable” of precision strikes against North Korea’s missile launch locations and control systems “if needed”.
  • The launch was also condemned by Japan, with Tokyo sending a protest note to Pyongyang. Emergency headquarters were established by Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to gather and analyses information about North Korea’s alleged missile launch
  • The US has also criticized North Korea’s actions, urging Pyongyang not to destabilize the situation further
  • Should the infraction be confirmed, it will be North Korea’s 11th launch this year

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South Korea Warns: Be prepared for N.K to test a full scale ICBM very soon

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Picture

Revelations 6:3-4 “ when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • North Korea may be gearing up for a full ICBM test, just when U.S. attention is focused elsewhere
  • Pyongyang is showing mounting signs it may be gearing up for a major weapons test – potentially its first since 2017 of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could threaten U.S. cities.
  • South Korea, meanwhile, is planning its own solid-fuel space rocket test this month, in line with its plans to develop military satellites, which would be used to monitor North Korea.
  • The next few months may lay the foundation for rocky inter-Korean relations during a time when U.S. attention is focused on the Russian invasion, with fewer resources to divert elsewhere.
  • More than four years have passed since Pyongyang tested an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Since then, Kim Jong Un’s regime has shifted his focus to building a range of short- to intermediate-range missiles that can strike U.S. allies in the region.

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After a Quiet Month N.K. Said to Have Launched Another Missile

Matthew 24:6 “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”

Important Takeaways:

  • North Korea Fires Unidentified Projectile, South Korean Media Report
  • North Korea launched early on Sunday an “unidentified projectile eastward” after a month of silence, Yonhap reported
  • The projectile fell beyond Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, according to Kyodo.
  • If the information about the launch is confirmed, this will be Pyongyang’s eighth missile test since the beginning of the year
  • On 31 January, North Korea confirmed that it had successfully tested the day before a medium-range ballistic missile that traveled about 800 kilometers at a maximum height of 2000 meters.
  • On 5 and 11 January, North Korea tested missiles that Pyongyang claimed were hypersonic.
  • On 14 January, two short-range ballistic missiles were launched from a rail-based missile system and three days later, North Korea tested two short-range tactical guided missiles.
  • Cruise missiles and a tactical surface-to-surface guided missile were tested on 25 and 27 January respectively.

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Flanked by missiles, North Korea’s Kim says U.S. and South Korea threaten peace

By Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) -Standing beside North Korea’s largest missiles, leader Kim Jong Un said his country’s weapons development is necessary in the face of hostile policies from the United States and a military buildup in South Korea, state media said on Tuesday.

Pyongyang was only increasing its military in self-defense and not to start a war, Kim said in a speech at the Defense Development Exhibition on Monday, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency reported.

Kim made his remarks standing next to a variety of weapons, including the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun showed. Among them was the Hwasong-16, North Korea’s largest ICBM, unveiled at a military parade in October 2020 but not yet test-fired.

“We are not discussing war with anyone, but rather to prevent war itself and to literally increase war deterrence for the protection of national sovereignty,” Kim said.

State television footage showed a smiling Kim clapping as shirtless soldiers use their hands to smash bricks placed on colleagues’ chests, as others cut chains wrapped around their bodies in a show of strength.

Kim also saluted jets leaving colored trails during an air show, while strolling through missiles on display.

A spokesperson for South Korea’s defense ministry said South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies were analyzing the equipment displayed.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department reiterated that the U.S. goal was the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but that Washington “harbors no hostile intent” towards North Korea and is prepared to meet with it without preconditions for “serious and sustained diplomacy”.

“The United States has a vital interest in deterring the DPRK, defending against its provocations or uses of force, and in limiting the reach of its most dangerous weapons programs, and above all keeping the American people and our allies safe,” the spokesperson added, using the initials for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Pyongyang has said it is not interested in talks as long as Washington maintains policies such as sanctions and military activities in South Korea.

Washington’s assertions that it holds no hostile feelings toward North Korea were hard to believe in the face of its continued “wrong judgements and actions”, Kim said, without elaborating.

The two Koreas have been in an accelerating arms race, with both sides testing increasingly advanced short-range ballistic missiles and other hardware.

South Korea recently test fired its first submarine-launched ballistic missile, plans to build aircraft carriers and has bought American-made F-35 stealth fighters.

North Korea has pushed ahead with its missile program, and analysts say it has begun a major expansion of its main nuclear reactor, used to produce fuel for nuclear bombs.

South Korea’s national security adviser, Suh Hoon, was expected to meet his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan, in Washington on Tuesday to discuss North Korea.

Suh told reporters on Monday he planned to discuss South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War and for possible easing of sanctions on North Korea, Yonhap news agency reported.

Last week the two Koreas restored their hotlines that North Korea severed months ago, with Pyongyang urging Seoul to step up efforts to improve relations after criticizing what it called double standards over weapons development.

Kim said Seoul’s “unrestricted and dangerous” efforts to strengthen its military were “destroying the military balance in the Korean peninsula and increasing military instability and danger”.

“Under the absurd pretext of suppressing our threats, South Korea has openly expressed its desire to gain an edge over us in military power on various occasions,” he added.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Minwoo Park in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Stephen Coates and Nick Macfie)

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)

North Korea warns U.S. misinterpreting signals risks disappointment

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) -The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned the United States on Tuesday not to seek comfort in comments by her brother as this would end in disappointment, while a U.S. envoy met South Korea’s president aiming to revive talks with North Korea.

Kim Yo Jong, who is also a senior official in North Korea’s ruling party, released a statement in state media saying the United States appeared to be interpreting signals from North Korea in the “wrong way.”

She was responding to U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who on Sunday said he saw as an “interesting signal” a recent speech by Kim Jong Un on preparing for both confrontation and diplomacy with the United States.

“It seems that the U.S. may interpret the situation in such a way as to seek a comfort for itself,” she said in the statement, carried by the North’s KCNA state news agency.

“The expectation, which they chose to harbor the wrong way, would plunge them into a greater disappointment.”

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has been an intractable problem for Washington for years and in trying to change that, President Joe Biden’s administration conducted a review of policy and said it would seek “calibrated and practical” ways to persuade Pyongyang to denuclearize.

The U.S. special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, has been visiting South Korea to meet senior officials, including President Moon Jae-in.

Moon told the U.S. envoy he would do his best to get inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea relations back on track and expressed hopes for progress toward denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula, his spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee said.

Sung Kim reaffirmed Biden’s support for meaningful inter-Korean dialogue and engagement and said he would “do his best for resumption of U.S.-North Korea talks”, Park said.

On Monday, Sung Kim said he was willing to meet the North Koreans “anywhere, anytime without preconditions” and that he looks forward to a “positive response soon.”

A U.S. official in Washington told Reuters the United States was aware of Kim Yo Jong’s comments and added: “Ultimately, we hope (North Korea) will respond positively to our outreach.

“We will continue to wait to see if these comments are followed up with any more direct communications about a potential path forward.”

The official, who did not want to be otherwise identified, said U.S. policy was not aimed at hostility, but “at solutions and ultimately achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

“The United States is prepared to engage in diplomacy towards that ultimate objective, while working on practical measures that can help make progress along the way.”

‘CLEVER MOVE’

In a sign seen in South Korea as a positive U.S. gesture, the allies discussed scrapping a joint “working group” that analysts say Seoul has seen as an irritant in relations.

Sung Kim and his South Korean counterpart Noh Kyu-duk agreed to “look into terminating the working group,” while reinforcing coordination at other levels, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said.

The working group was set up in 2018 to help coordinate approaches to North Korea on issues such as denuclearization talks, humanitarian aid, sanctions enforcement and inter-Korean relations, amid a flurry of diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang at that time.

The Moon administration has made building ties with North Korea a top priority and a former aide to Moon told parliament last year the working group was seen as an obstacle to that.

“From a South Korean perspective, this was basically a mechanism for the U.S. to block inter-Korean projects during the Trump years,” said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea expert at King’s College London.

“It would be a clever political move for the Biden administration to end the group since consultation between Washington and Seoul will take place anyway.”

North Korea has rebuffed U.S. entreaties for diplomacy since Biden took over from Donald Trump, who had three summits with Kim, but failed to persuade him to give up his nuclear weapons.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Howard Goller)

Return the favor: South Korea looks to U.S. for COVID-19 vaccine aid

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea hopes the United States will help it tackle a shortage of coronavirus vaccine in return for test kits and masks Seoul sent to Washington earlier in the pandemic, the foreign minister said on Wednesday.

The government has drawn fire from the media for not doing enough to secure enough vaccines early, with just 3% of the population inoculated, due to tight global supply and limited access.

“We have been stressing to the United States that ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed,'” the minister, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters at the Kwanhun Club of South Korean journalists.

He said South Korea had airlifted Washington a large volume of coronavirus test kits and face masks in the early stages of the pandemic “in the spirit of the special South Korea-U.S. alliance,” despite tight domestic supply at the time.

“We are hoping that the United States will help us out with the challenges we are facing with the vaccines, based on the solidarity we demonstrated last year.”

The allies were in talks, added Chung, who also flagged South Korea’s potential contribution to preserving a global semiconductor supply chain U.S. President Joe Biden is keen to maintain.

Diplomatic efforts have not yielded any concrete steps, however, as the talks with Washington are still in an early stage, health ministry official Son Young-rae told reporters.

Opposition lawmaker Park Jin urged more aggressive vaccine diplomacy, calling for the government to invoke its free trade pact (FTA) with Washington to secure pharmaceutical products.

“The government needs to be more proactive,” Park told Reuters.

“The FTA provides us a legal base to demand (vaccines) as it stipulates the two countries’ commitment to promoting the development of, and facilitating access to, pharmaceutical products.”

The U.S. embassy in Seoul did not immediately reply to a Reuters’ request for comment.

About 1.77 million people in South Korea have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca Plc or Pfizer vaccines. The low rate compares with a 40% vaccination rate in the United States, according to Reuters data.

Tuesday’s 731 new coronavirus infections, up from 549 cases a day earlier, took South Korea’s tally to 115,926, with 1,806 deaths.

U.S.’ Blinken calls for global companies to reconsider financial support to Myanmar’s military

By Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday called on international companies to consider cutting ties to enterprises that support Myanmar’s military and he decried its crackdown on anti-coup protesters.

At least 512 civilians had been killed in nearly two months of protests against the coup, 141 of them on Saturday, the bloodiest day of the unrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group.

Blinken told reporters the violence was “reprehensible” and followed a pattern of “increasingly disturbing and even horrifying violence” against demonstrators opposing military rule, including the killing of children as young as five.

The United States has condemned the Feb. 1 coup that ousted an elected government. Washington has imposed several rounds of sanctions, but Myanmar’s generals have refused to change course.

Blinken said other nations and companies worldwide should look at pulling “significant investments in enterprises that support the Burmese military.”

“They should be looking at those investments and reconsidering them as a means of denying the military the financial support it needs to sustain itself against the will of the people,” he said.

The United States last week placed Treasury sanctions on two military-owned conglomerates, which prevents U.S. companies and individuals from dealing with them.

But some companies, including firms from U.S. regional allies such as Japan and South Korea, still have business relationships with military-owned companies, according to activist groups.

Activists have also called on international energy companies like U.S.-based Chevron to withhold revenues from natural gas projects they operate in Myanmar from the junta-controlled government.

One of Myanmar’s main ethnic minority rebel groups warned of a growing threat of major conflict on Tuesday and called for international intervention against the military crackdown.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; editing by Grant McCool)

Britain urges citizens to leave Myanmar as violence against protesters mounts

(Reuters) – Britain urged its citizens to leave Myanmar on Friday as security forces cracked down on more protests against the junta, forcing patients out of a hospital in the west of the country and arresting a Polish journalist.

After 12 people were killed on Thursday in one of the bloodiest days since the Feb. 1 coup, the British foreign office warned that “political tension and unrest are widespread since the military takeover and levels of violence are rising”.

Friday’s protests came as South Korea said it would suspend defense exchanges and reconsider development aid to Myanmar because of the violence.

More than 70 protesters have now been killed in the Southeast Asian nation since the military seized power, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group said.

Memorials were held for some of them on Friday, including one man whose family said his body had been taken by the security forces and not returned.

A spokesman for the junta did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment.

“Despite repeated demands of the international community, including South Korea, there are an increasing number of victims in Myanmar due to violent acts of the military and police authorities,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said Seoul would suspend defense exchanges, ban arms exports, limit exports of other strategic items, reconsider development aid and grant humanitarian exemptions allowing Myanmar nationals to stay in South Korea until the situation improved.

Protests were held in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, and several other towns on Friday, photographs posted on social media by witnesses and news organizations showed. Many were dispersed by security forces.

Poland’s foreign ministry said a Polish journalist was arrested, the second foreign reporter to be detained. A Japanese journalist was briefly held while covering a protest.

Riot police and armed soldiers entered the general hospital in Hakha, in the western Chin state, forcing all 30 patients to leave and evicting staff from on-site housing, said local activist Salai Lian.

Soldiers have been occupying hospitals and universities across Myanmar as they try to quash a civil disobedience movement that started with government employees like doctors and teachers but has expanded into a general strike that has paralyzed many sectors of the economy.

The country has been in crisis since the army ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government last month, detained her and officials of her National League for Democracy party, and set up a ruling junta of generals.

Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said on Thursday Suu Kyi had accepted gold and illegal payments worth $600,000 while in government. He said Phyo Min Thein, a former chief minister of Yangon, who is also in jail, had admitted making the payments.

Adding corruption charges to the accusations facing Suu Kyi, 75, could bring her a harsher penalty. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate currently faces four comparatively minor charges, such as illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and flouting coronavirus curbs.

“This accusation is the most hilarious joke,” Suu Kyi’s lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said on social media on Friday. “She might have other weaknesses but she doesn’t have weakness in moral principle.”

‘CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY’

Thursday’s dead included eight people killed when security forces fired on a protest in the central town of Myaing, the AAPP said.

Chit Min Thu was killed in the North Dagon district of Yangon. His wife, Aye Myat Thu, told Reuters he had insisted on joining the protests despite her appeals that he stay at home for the sake of their son.

“He said it’s worth dying for,” she said through her tears. “He is worried about people not joining the protest. If so, democracy will not return.”

The bloodshed came hours after the U.N. Security Council had called for restraint from the army.

U.N. human rights investigator Thomas Andrews on Friday dismissed as “absurd” comments by a senior Myanmar official that authorities were exercising “utmost restraint”. Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, he called for a united approach to “strip away the junta’s sense of impunity.”

The army did not respond to requests for comment on the latest deaths, but junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said on Thursday the security forces were disciplined and used force only when necessary.

Rights group Amnesty International accused the army of using lethal force against protesters and said many killings it had documented amounted to extra-judicial executions.

Suu Kyi fought for decades to overturn military rule under previous juntas before tentative democratic reforms began in 2011. She had spent a total of about 15 years under house arrest.

The army has justified taking power by saying that a November election, overwhelmingly won by Suu Kyi’s party, was marred by fraud – an assertion rejected by the electoral commission.

The junta has said a state of emergency will last for a year, but has not set a date for the election.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and Catherine Evans)