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

By Hyonhee Shin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘THREATS AND HURDLES’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Korea fires missiles, derides South Korea’s Moon as ‘impudent’

People visit the statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea, in this undated photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 16, 2019. KCNA/ via REUTERS

By Josh Smith and Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea launched at least two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday, South Korea’s military said, shortly after Pyongyang described South Korea’s president as “impudent” and vowed that inter-Korean talks are over.

The North has protested against joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, largely computer-simulated, which kicked off last week, calling them a rehearsal for war. It has also fired several short-range missiles in recent weeks.

North Korea fired two more short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast on Friday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

Japan’s defense ministry said it did not see any imminent security threat from the latest projectile launch.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initial information indicated at least one projectile was fired by North Korea and appeared to be similar to the short-range missiles fired in previous weeks. Another official said the United States was consulting with South Korea and Japan.

An official at Seoul’s defense ministry said the latest test involved ballistic technology and detailed analysis was under way with the United States with the possibility that the North fired the same type of missiles it used on Aug. 10.

The missiles were launched shortly after 8 a.m. Friday (2300 GMT Thursday) and flew around 230 kms (142 miles) to an altitude of 30 kms (18 miles), South Korea’s JCS said.

The launches have complicated attempts to restart talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators over the future of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Those denuclearization talks have been stalled despite a commitment to revive them made at a June 30 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Earlier on Friday, Pyongyang rejected a vow by South Korean President Moon Jae-in a day earlier to pursue talks with the North and to unify the two Koreas by 2045.

The loss of dialogue momentum between the North and South and the stalemate in implementing pledges made at an historic summit between their two leaders last year was entirely the responsibility of the South, a North Korean spokesman said.

The unidentified spokesman repeated criticism that the joint U.S.-South Korea drills were a sign of Seoul’s hostility toward the North.

“We have nothing to talk any more with the South Korean authorities nor have any idea to sit with them again,” the North’s spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The committee manages relationships with the South. The rival Koreas are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce rather than a peace treaty.

South Korea’s unification ministry called North Korea’s comments about Moon “not in line” with inter-Korean agreements and unhelpful for developing relations between them.

After an emergency meeting of South Korea’s National Security Council held to discuss the launches, officials reiterated that the joint drills are simply an opportunity to evaluate whether South Korea could eventually assume wartime control of the allied forces on the peninsula.

‘IMPUDENT GUY’

Moon and Kim have met three times since April last year, pledging peace and cooperation, but little progress has been made to improve dialogue and strengthen exchanges and cooperation.

“North Korea makes it exceedingly difficult to build trust when it interprets restraint as weakness and looks to exploit divisions within South Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Seoul and Washington should continue to seek working-level talks with North Korea but the allies should also prepare new sanctions and renewed military cooperation if Pyongyang continues to violate United Nations resolutions and threaten its neighbors, Easley said.

The South’s Moon said in a Liberation Day address on Thursday it was only through his policy of Korean national peace that dialogue with the North was still possible.

“In spite of a series of worrying actions taken by North Korea recently, the momentum for dialogue remains unshaken,” Moon said in a speech marking Korea’s independence from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

The North’s spokesman described Moon as an “impudent guy” who is “overcome with fright”.

He said Moon had no standing to talk about engagement with the North because of the ongoing military maneuvers.

“His open talk about ‘dialogue’ between the North and the South under such a situation raises a question as to whether he has proper thinking faculty,” the spokesman said.

It was “senseless” to think that inter-Korean dialogue would resume once the military drills with the United States were over, he said.

However, the spokesman left open the possibility of talks with the United States.

Trump and Kim have met twice since their first summit in Singapore last year and said their countries would continue talks. However, little progress has been made on the North’s stated commitment to denuclearize.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL, Chris Gallagher in TOKYO, and Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Nuclear talks in doubt as North Korea tests ballistic missiles, envoy cancels trip

FILE PHOTO: South Korean people watch a live TV broadcast on a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Seoul, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea test-fired two new short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, South Korean officials said, its first missile test since its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to revive denuclearisation talks last month.

South Korea, which supports efforts by North Korea and the United States to end years of hostility, urged the North to stop acts that are unhelpful to easing tension, saying the tests posed a military threat on the Korean peninsula.

The South’s National Security Council said it believed the missiles were a new type of ballistic missile but it would make a final assessment with the United States.

Firing a ballistic missile would be a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban the North from the use of such technology. North Korea has rejected the restriction as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defense.

North Korea launched the missiles from the east coast city of Wonsan with one flying about 430 km (267 miles) and the other 690 km (428 miles) over the sea. They both reached an altitude of 50 km (30 miles), an official at South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.

Some analysts said the North appeared to have retested missiles it fired in May, but two South Korean military officials said the missiles appeared to be a new design.

The launch casts new doubt on efforts to restart stalled denuclearisation talks after Trump and Kim met at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas at the end of June.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had been expected to meet on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok next week.

But a diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday that Ri had canceled his trip to the conference.

The White House, Pentagon and U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test had no immediate impact on Japan’s security, according to Kyodo News.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who has taken a hard line toward North Korea, made no mention of the launches in a tweet on Thursday after a visit to South Korea. He said he had “productive meetings” on regional security.

South Korea’s nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, had phone calls with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Biegun, and his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, to share their assessment, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing that Beijing had noted the launch, and called for North Korea and the United States to reopen negotiations “as early as possible”.

‘CLEAR MESSAGE’

After Trump and Kim met last month, the United States and North Korea vowed to hold a new round of working-level talks soon, but Pyongyang has since sharply criticized upcoming joint military drills by U.S. and South Korean troops.

North Korea’s foreign ministry accused Washington this month of breaking a promise by holding military exercises with South Korea. On Tuesday, Kim inspected a large, newly built submarine from which ballistic missiles could be launched.

“By firing missiles, taking issue with military drills and showing a new submarine, the North is sending one clear message: there might be no working-level talks if the United States doesn’t present a more flexible stance,” said Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear envoy.

Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the weapons tested on Thursday appeared to be the same as the ones tested in May, which were less of a challenge than long-range missiles but “enough to subtly pressure” Washington.

But the South Korean military believes they may be new because they traveled further. In North Korea’s previous missile test in May, the projectiles flew only 420 km (260 miles) and 270 km (168 miles) though they reached the same altitude of about 50 km (30 miles).

“We’re very cautious because it’s difficult to extend the range within such a short time,” said one military official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that, according to a preliminary analysis, the missiles were similar to those tested in May but showed enhanced capabilities. They cautioned that it would take time before they were certain whether this was a new missile or not.

One of the officials added that North Korea had generally been shortening the time it took for them to prepare missiles to be launched, potentially decreasing the warning time the United States and allies have to detect the launches.

Nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States stalled after a second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February broke down.

Trump has repeatedly lauded the North’s freeze in weapons testing as he is keen for a big foreign policy win as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee, Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin and Jane Chung; David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, and Huizhong Wu in BEIJING; Editing by Jack Kim, Robert Birsel)

U.S., China to relaunch talks with little changed since deal fell apart

By David Lawder and Chris Prentice

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States and China are set to relaunch trade talks this week after a two-month hiatus, but a year after their trade war began there is little sign their differences have narrowed.

After meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Japan just in late June, U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to suspend a new round of tariffs on $300 billion worth of imported Chinese consumer goods while the two sides resumed negotiations.

Trump said then that China would restart large purchases of U.S. agricultural commodities, and the United States would ease some export restrictions on Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei Technologies.

But sources familiar with the talks and China trade watchers in Washington say the summit did little to clear the path for top negotiators to resolve an impasse that caused trade deal talks to break down in early May.

A U.S. official said last week the discussions were expected to resume with a phone call between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

A USTR spokesman said the call was expected this week, but gave no further details.

The United States is demanding that China make sweeping policy changes to better protect American intellectual property, end the forced transfer and theft of trade secrets and curb massive state industrial subsidies. At stake, U.S. officials say, is dominance of the high-tech industries of the future, from artificial intelligence to aerospace.

“We’ve had a change in atmospherics,” said Derek Scissors, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a business-oriented Washington think tank. “While this is great for markets, the administration has not said one specific thing about how we’re unstuck.”

Scissors, who has at times consulted with Trump administration officials, said that both sides got what they wanted out of the summit — a lowering of the temperature and the avoidance of new tariffs that would have been painful for both sides.

“The pressure for one side to give into the other is diffused right now. I expect this to drag out for months,” Scissors added.

NO FIRM COMMITMENTS

Washington and Beijing appear to have different ideas of what the two leaders agreed in Osaka.

Three sources familiar with the state of negotiations say that the Chinese side did not make firm commitments to immediately purchase agricultural commodities.

One of the sources said Trump raised the issue of agricultural purchases twice during the meeting, but Xi only agreed to consider purchases in the context of a broader final agreement.

Other than a small purchase of American rice by a private Chinese firm, no purchases have materialized. Chinese officials and state media accounts in the past week have emphasized that any deal, including agricultural purchases, is dependent on removal of U.S. tariffs.

“The Chinese have been clear they didn’t promise anything,” said one source familiar with the talks.

“The idea they would give up their main leverage before getting anything doesn’t make sense. I could see them buying some pork and buying some soybeans, but it’s still going to be pennies.”

Trump administration officials have also downplayed the extent of pledges to allow Huawei to purchase U.S. technology products, with White House trade adviser Peter Navarro saying that only “lower-tech” U.S. semiconductors could be made available for sale to the company..

Reuters reported last week that the Commerce Department’s export control enforcement staff was told to continue to treat Huawei as a blacklisted entity as the department considers requests for licenses to U.S. firms to sell products and services to Huawei

Chinese officials point out that they only got the United States to concede on Huawei at the Osaka talks, rather than on their other demand, which was removing the existing tariffs.

So the focus on the upcoming talks will be the scrapping on the tariffs, they say.

A second source said that U.S. tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods and Chinese tariffs on $160 billion worth of U.S. goods could wind up being “the new normal.”

One Chinese official familiar with the situation said that trade talks would be re-started very quickly, but that there was a “fairly large gap” in the core demands of both countries and it would be a challenge to reach consensus on the toughest issues.

“The negotiating environment is even more severe,” the official said.

Another official said China remained concerned about the presence of hawks in the U.S. team, such as Trump advisor Peter Navarro.

“There are bullies there,” the official said.

The officials spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

China’s foreign ministry cited Xi as telling Trump at Osaka that “on issues concerning China’s sovereignty and dignity, China must safeguard its core interests”.

A senior Beijing-based Asia diplomat said there would be pressure on China’s leadership not to give in to the United States and for any outcomes to seen as equal and balanced.

“A trade deal cannot be portrayed as a victory for the United States,” the diplomat said, citing conversations with Chinese officials.

WHICH TEXT?

There has been no indication the two sides will resume negotiations using a text that had been largely agreed before China backtracked on commitments in early May, prompting Trump to proceed with a long-threatened tariff hike to 25 percent on a $200 billion list of Chinese imports.

Beijing had cut out of that text commitments to make changes to its laws reflecting reform pledges, arguing that this would violate its national sovereignty.

Lighthizer has insisted on legal changes to make it more likely that Chinese reform pledges will be carried out.

Finding a way around this issue is paramount for talks. Beyond that, there are many other difficult issues to resolve, including the structure of an enforcement mechanism designed to hold the two sides to their pledges.

U.S. demands for curbs to provincial and local subsidies for Chinese state companies, access to China’s cloud computing market, agricultural biotech approvals and the ultimate size of China’s purchases of agricultural products are all divisive issues for the two sides.

Claire Reade, a former China trade negotiator at USTR who is now a Washington-based trade lawyer with the firm Arnold and Porter, said there was room on both sides to get a deal.

“It’s a question of political will and there are ways to maneuver around the current red flags that have been put in the ground,” Reade said. “Both President Xi and President Trump have to come out of this saying they stood strong, and they in-effect got a win.”

One way for China to avoid the appearance of giving in to U.S. demands is to take some legal steps on key issues before the deal is agreed. That way they can say they’re doing it on their own terms, she added.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Simon Webb and Alistair Bell)

North Korea upbeat on Trump-Kim surprise meeting as a chance to push nuclear talks

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cross over a military demarcation line at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed at their meeting on Sunday to push forward dialogue for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, North Korean state media said on Monday.

Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea on Sunday when he met Kim in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas and agreed to resume stalled nuclear talks.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

“The top leaders of the two countries agreed to keep in close touch in the future, too, and resume and push forward productive dialogues for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and in the bilateral relations,” KCNA news agency said.

The meeting, initiated by a tweet by Trump that Kim said took him by surprise, displayed the rapport between the two, but analysts said they were no closer to narrowing the gap between their positions since they walked away from their summit in February in Vietnam.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters shortly before departing South Korea that a new round of talks would likely happen “sometime in July” and the North’s negotiators would be foreign ministry diplomats.

In a photo released by KCNA on Monday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Pompeo are shown sitting next to Kim and Trump respectively in Freedom House, the building in which the two leaders had their one-on-one talks.

KCNA said that during the chat between Trump and Kim, the two leaders explained “issues of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula,” “issues of mutual concern and interest which become a stumbling block in solving those issues,” and “voiced full understanding and sympathy.”

Kim said it was the good personal relationship he had with Trump that made such a dramatic meeting possible at just one day’s notice and that the relationship with Trump would continue to produce good results, according to KCNA.

The two leaders’ “bold, brave decision” that led to the historic meeting “created unprecedented trust between the two countries” that had been tangled in deeply rooted animosity, KCNA said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the meeting between Trump and Kim and “fully supports the continued efforts of the parties to establish new relations toward sustainable peace, security and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

China also welcomed the meeting, with a foreign ministry spokesman describing it as “constructive and achieving positive results”.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

But problems could lie ahead.

“The fact that the nuclear talks have jump-started is very encouraging, but that doesn’t mean that the two sides have already adjusted their positions and set the conditions for successful working-level negotiations,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, dismissed a report in The New York Times on Monday that Washington is seeking to soften its approach, floating an idea of accepting a nuclear freeze – instead of complete dismantlement – and giving tacit recognition that North Korea is a nuclear state.

“I read this NYT story with curiosity,” Bolton said in a tweet. “Neither the [National Security Council] staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.’ This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President. There should be consequences.”

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at United Nations, Josh Smith in Seoul, and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler)

U.S., North Korea in behind-the-scenes talks over third summit, Moon says

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States is in behind-the-scenes talks with North Korea over a possible third summit and has proposed working-level negotiations that have been stalled since the second such meeting in February, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: South Korea's President Moon Jae-in attends a press meeting at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden June 14, 2019. Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in attends a press meeting at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden June 14, 2019. Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

Moon, in written answers to questions posed by visiting foreign journalists, said there was no reason to talk of a “stalemate” just because there had been no official dialogue, aimed at the denuclearization of North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their second meeting in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi in February but failed to reach a deal due to differences between U.S. calls for denuclearization and North Korean demands for relief from sanctions.

“Both sides have been engaged in dialogue in regard to a third summit,” Moon said.

“It’s noteworthy that the behind-the-scenes talks have been preceded by the mutual understanding of each other’s position gained through the Hanoi summit.”

The United States had made a proposal for working-level talks, Moon said, urging North Korea to return to the negotiating table “at the earliest date possible”.

North Korea pursued nuclear and missile program for years in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and U.N. and U.S. sanctions.

Moon has been an ardent champion of efforts to end the confrontation, vowing to play a mediator role in nudging North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons in exchange for an end to sanctions and security guarantees.

The Hanoi breakdown was a blow for Moon, who days before the summit offered to “ease the burden” of the United States by providing concessions to the North through inter-Korean economic initiatives which he seeks to revive.

Moon did not specify when and how the U.S. proposal was made. But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that a recent exchange of letters between Trump and Kim boosted hopes for a restart of talks, calling it a “very real possibility.”

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said on Sunday that Trump’s letter had “excellent content” and Kim would “seriously contemplate” it, without elaborating.

‘NEXT LEVEL’

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea who led working-level talks ahead of the Hanoi summit, is visiting Seoul from Thursday for meetings with South Korean officials before joining Trump, who is due in South Korea this weekend.

Trump is considering visiting the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, where Kim and Moon had their historic first summit last year, a South Korean official said. The two Koreas are technically still at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.

But a U.S. official said on Tuesday that Trump had no plans to meet Kim during his trip and declined to comment on whether Trump would go to the DMZ.

Trump wanted to travel to the DMZ on a 2017 visit to South Korea but heavy fog prevented it.

“The resumption of negotiations between North Korea and the United States will take it to the next level. I believe everything has now fallen into place for that to happen,” Moon said.

The Hanoi summit cast doubt on Kim’s commitment to denuclearize. There has been little progress since then, with Pyongyang resuming some limited testing of weapons and being aloof toward dialogue offers both from Washington and Seoul.

There is also a gray area over talk about the denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula”, which, by North Korea’s reckoning, includes the regional U.S. nuclear umbrella protecting Japan and South Korea. The United States only wants North Korea to denuclearize.

Moon said Kim had told him he wanted to “finalize a denuclearization process as soon as possible and to concentrate on economic development”.

Moon called for the North to scrap the “passive stance” it has presented since the Hanoi summit and take action on its past promises.

“By responding to the U.S. proposal for working-level negotiations, it can also show its determination to denuclearize,” he said.

The questions for the written interview were provided by Reuters, AP, AFP, Yonhap, Kyodo, Xinhua and Tass ahead of a symposium on the Korea peace process hosted by Yonhap in Seoul on Thursday.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

As meetings begin and U.S. tariffs loom, Mexico hopes for migration deal

Vehicles and people cross the border bridge into the U.S., as seen from Laredo, Texas June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Alexandra Alper

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mexico can reach an agreement with the United States to resolve a dispute over migration that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to threaten punitive tariffs, Mexican officials said on Monday as high-level talks were set to begin in Washington.

Trump has proposed the tariffs on Mexican imports to pressure Mexico into action against migrants passing through on the way to the United States, as well as drug cartels.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, speaking at his regular morning news conference in Mexico City, also reiterated that he believed a deal could be reached to avert the tariffs.

The Mexican officials, speaking to reporters in Washington, warned that Trump’s tariffs could backfire.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said such tariffs would be devastating and would not stop waves of Central American migrants from crossing the southern U.S. border.

“Tariffs, along with the decision to cancel aid programs to the northern Central American countries, could have a counterproductive effect and would not reduce migration flows,” Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Martha Barcena, also said at the news conference.

The tariffs also “could cause financial and economic instability,” reducing Mexican authorities’ capacity to address migration flows and “offer alternatives” to migrants fleeing Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, she said.

The discussions in Washington will include a meeting of Mexican Agriculture Minister Victor Villalobos and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday, Mexican officials said.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan also are expected to participate in talks, Mexican officials said.

Mexican Economy Secretary Graciela Marquez and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will meet this week, as will Ebrard and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump’s latest threat of tariffs further roiled global markets, which are already under pressure amid a trade war between the United States and China.

U.S. stock index futures fell on Monday as the multi-front trade war made investors increasingly risk averse and fueled worries of a recession.

Mexico has cited the economic risk of U.S. tariffs on its goods as it seeks to soothe relations with Washington. A separate trade deal involving Mexico, the United States and Canada also is pending.

Ebrard told reporters Lopez Obrador had not yet decided if he would attend the Group of 20 summit for the world’s leading economies in Japan but would do so this week.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

North Korea says “biggest issue” in U.S. ties is impounded ship

North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations Han Tae Song attends an interview with Reuters at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.S. seizure of a North Korean cargo ship is the biggest stumbling block to improving bilateral relations, a senior North Korean official said on Wednesday, warning Washington against using the “logic of strength” against Pyongyang.

The Trump administration must make a “big decision” on lifting sanctions before stalled nuclear negotiations can resume, Han Tae Song, North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, added in an interview.

“It would be the greatest miscalculation if America thought my country is among the countries where American-style logic of strength or pressure might work,” Han, who is also North Korea’s disarmament ambassador, told Reuters.

North Korea, under U.S. and U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs, has stepped up a campaign for the return of the ship, which Washington says it seized over accusations it was used for coal shipments in violation of the curbs.

The country has warned Washington that the impounding of the “Wise Honest” ship had violated its sovereignty and could affect “future developments” between the two countries.

“Yes, (it is) the biggest issue,” Han said of the vessel, which U.S. officials say is en route to American Samoa. “It is because it is the infringing upon the sovereignty of our country.”

Han described the seizure as a “wanton violation of international law” and demanded its immediate return.

Han said he had no information on its cargo, but on the consequences of a U.S. failure to return the ship, he said: “We don’t want, the Americans also don’t want and the international community don’t want the situation again worsening.”

At their second summit meeting in February, talks broke down between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, stalling moves toward denuclearization.

Han said his country’s short-range missile tests carried out earlier in May were a “routine checking of our national defense capabilities”, indicating that they would continue.

“WE ARE NOT OBSESSED” OVER MORE TALKS

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously strengthened sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

Asked whether North Korea was ready to resume nuclear negotiations with the United States, Han referred to Kim’s speech to the Supreme People’s Assembly in April.

“If they don’t change their minds, if they don’t make a big decision, we are not obsessed over another round of talks with the USA, out of (being) thirsty for lifting sanctions,” Han said.

“That’s why our leader said that if they made a big decision, there will be another round of talks with America.”

Han said that North Korean grain production was lower last year following drought, leading to a “shortage of food”.

U.N. agencies, including the World Food Programme (WFP), are providing food assistance, from donor contributions, he said.

“If there is food aid, it’s ok. But if there is no food aid, then we have to manage ourselves.”

Asked whether the food shortages were manageable, he replied: “It is manageable, but the problem is U.N. sanctions.

“We can’t transact for importing the food through banking systems, that is the main problem.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)

North Korean leader warns of a return to tension, blames U.S. ‘bad faith’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Russia in this undated photo released on April 25, 2019 by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told Russian President Vladimir Putin peace and security on the Korean peninsula depended on the United States, warning that a state of hostility could easily return, North Korean media said on Friday.

Kim’s remarks, at talks with Putin in Vladivostok on Thursday, will likely add to pressure on the United States to be more flexible on a North Korean demand for an easing of international sanctions.

A second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February collapsed with no progress on a U.S. demand that the North give up its nuclear program and a North Korean demand for an easing of sanctions.

The North Korean leader has said he would wait until the end of the year for the United States to be more flexible.

“The situation on the Korean peninsula and the region is now at a standstill and has reached a critical point where it may return to its original state as the U.S. took a unilateral attitude in bad faith at the recent second DPRK-U.S. summit talks,” North Korea’s KCNA reported Kim as saying.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is North Korea’s official name.

“The DPRK will gird itself for every possible situation.” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

William Hagerty, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, told a Washington think-tank that Kim’s contact with Russia and China was part of an effort to seek relief from international sanctions.

“The fact you see Kim Jong Un meeting with Vladimir Putin underscores the fact that the sanctions are working and the sanctions are putting extreme economic pressure on the North Korean regime,” Hagerty said.

“What we see is an outreach to try to find a way to deal with it. There is a much simpler way to deal with it and that is to denuclearize,” he said.

He said it was important the international community enforced U.N. sanctions against North Korea that were imposed because of its nuclear and missile programs.

SECURITY GUARANTEES

On Friday, Kim joined officials to lay a wreath at a navy memorial at Vladivostok bay.

The first face-to-face talks between Putin and Kim, held on an island off the Russian Pacific city, did not appear to yield any major breakthrough.

The two discussed ways to promote strategic communication and tactical collaboration in the course of ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula and beyond, KCNA said.

Putin said he thought a deal on North Korea’s nuclear program was possible and the way to achieve it was to move forward step by step to build trust.

But any U.S. security guarantees to North Korea might need to be supported by other nations involved in previous six-way talks on the issue, Putin said.

Russia was for years a participant in six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear program. The talks, which included the two Koreas, the United States, China and Japan, have not been held since 2009.

“They only need guarantees about their security. That’s it. All of us together need to think about this,” Putin told reporters after talks with Kim, referring to North Korea.

Such guarantees would have to be international, legally binding, and vouch for North Korea’s sovereignty, Putin said.

Russia and North Korea agreed to increase cooperation in various areas and Kim invited Putin to visit North Korea, and he accepted, KCNA said. No date was announced.

“North Korea seems to be trying to expand its negotiating position with the U.S.,” said South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Cho Yoon-je, according to the Yonhap news agency.

“The U.S. continues to send a message to North Korea through channels at every level that it is open to dialogue … The expectation seems to be that the North may respond once the Chairman Kim Jong Un’s diplomatic schedule is completed.”

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL and Maria Vasilyeva in VLADIVOSTOK; Editing by Jack Kim, Robert Birsel)

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to meet Putin in Russia on Thursday: Kremlin

A combination of file photos shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a wreath laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam March 2, 2019 and Russia's President Vladimir Putin looking on during a joint news conference with South African President Jacob Zuma after their meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Krasnodar region, Russia, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/Pool/Maxim Shipenkov/Pool

By Vladimir Soldatkin and Maria Vasilyeva

MOSCOW/VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet on Thursday in the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok to discuss the international standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program, a Kremlin official said.

The visit is part of Kim’s effort to build foreign support after the breakdown of a second U.S.-North Korea summit in Vietnam in February meant no relief on sanctions for North Korea, analysts said.

The summit will be the first between Putin and the North Korean leader and the nuclear row, and how to resolve it, would be the main item on the agenda, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters.

“In the last few months the situation around the peninsula has stabilized somewhat, thanks in large part to North Korea’s initiatives of stopping rocket testing and closing its nuclear test site,” Ushakov said. “Russia intends to help in any way possible to cement that positive trend.”

The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Tuesday the visit would happen soon, but did not elaborate on a time or location.

Kim’s chief aide, Kim Chang Son, was seen in Vladivostok on Sunday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Vladivostok is the closest major Russian city to the short stretch of border that Russia and North Korea share, and can be reached from the border via train, Kim’s preferred mode of international transport.

Russia has for years been involved in efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program. It was involved in so-called six party talks – along with the two Koreas, Japan, the United States and China – that were last held in 2009.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said it understood the agenda would include Russia-North Korea relations, denuclearisation, and regional cooperation.

“Russia shares our viewpoints such as the achievement of complete denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula and the settlement of permanent peace,” foreign ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said in Seoul.

“I hope that the summit will be an opportunity that contributes to positive progress.”

RUSSIAN PRESTIGE

After the failed Hanoi summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, Kim is probably looking to prove that he is still sought after by world leaders, and that he has more options, said Artyom Lukin, a professor at Far Eastern Federal University.

Kim did not want to look too dependent on Washington, Beijing and Seoul, he said.

“As for Russia, the Putin-Kim summit will reaffirm Moscow’s place as a major player on the Korean Peninsula. This meeting is important for Russian international prestige.”

Putin previously held a summit in Russia with Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor as North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, in 2002. Kim Jong Il visited Russia again in 2011, when he was hosted by Dmitry Medvedev, the Putin lieutenant who at the time was serving as Russian president.

Online media which monitor North Korea reported that the venue for the summit would be the Far Eastern Federal University, on an island that is connected to the mainland part of Vladivostok by a bridge.

The bridge was built in time for the 2012 Asia-Pacific Cooperation Summit, which took place on the same site that now houses the university.

At the university campus on Tuesday, the sports complex had been closed and workers were seen bringing in pieces of furniture, a Reuters TV crew at the site reported. A white tent had been erected next to the sports complex.

At the entrance to the campus, security guards were stopping vehicles as they drove in, and searching them. There were no signs of preparation at Vladivostok railway station.

But at Khasan, a Russian settlement where the train line crosses the border, the state flags of Russia and North Korea were fluttering from the station building on Tuesday. A set of mobile steps for alighting from a train was positioned on the platform edge.

(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith in SEOUL; Maxim Rodionov in MOSCOW; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Angus MacSwan)