North Korea ‘declines’ South Korea media for nuclear site event; China urges ‘stability’

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in deliver a statement at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

By Heekyong Yang

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has declined to accept a list of South Korean journalists hoping to observe the closure of its nuclear test site, South Korea said on Friday, raising new questions about the North’s commitment to reducing tension.

North Korea had invited a limited number of journalists from South Korea and other countries to witness what it said will be the closing of its only nuclear weapons test site at Punggye-ri next week.

The North Korean offer to scrap the test site has been seen as major concession in months of easing tension between it, on the one hand, and South Korea and the United States on the other.

But the remarkable progress appears to have been checked in recent days with North Korea raising doubts about an unprecedented June 12 summit in Singapore between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, and calling off talks with the South.

The South Korean Unification Ministry, which handles dealings with the North, said on Friday North Korea had “declined to accept” the list of journalists submitted by the South for the test site dismantling.

The ministry did not elaborate but the North Korean decision is likely to raise doubts about its plan for the test site.

Trump on Thursday sought to placate North Korea after it threatened to call off the June summit, saying Kim’s security would be guaranteed in any deal and his country would not suffer the fate of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, unless that could not be reached.

North Korea had said on Wednesday it might not attend the Singapore summit if the United States continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal, which it has developed in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions to counter perceived U.S. hostility.

On Thursday, North Korea’s chief negotiator called South Korea “ignorant and incompetent” and denounced U.S.-South Korean air combat drills and threatened to halt all talks with the South.

Trump, in rambling remarks in the White House’s Oval Office, said as far as he knew the summit was still on track, but that the North Korean leader was possibly being influenced by Beijing.

But he also stressed that North Korea would have to abandon its nuclear weapons and warned that if no deal was reached, North Korea could be “decimated” like Libya or Iraq.

‘PEACEFUL MEANS’

China, responding to U.S. President Donald Trump suggestion that Beijing may be influencing North Korea’s new hardline stance, said on Friday it stands for stability and peace on the Korean peninsula and for settlement of confrontation over its development of weapons through talks.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about Trump’s comments, said China’s position had not changed and he reiterated that it supported the goal of denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

“We are consistently supporting all relevant parties in resolving the peninsula issue through political consultations and peaceful means,” Lu told a regular briefing.

Kim has made two visits to China recently for talks with President Xi Jinping, including a secretive train trip to Beijing in late March, his first known visit outside North Korea since coming to power.

He flew to the port city of Dalian this month.

Both times, Kim’s encounters with Xi were cast by Chinese state media as friendly. They included beachside strolls and Xi saying that previous generations of North Korean and Chinese leaders had visited each other as often as relatives.

The warmth between the two leaders marks a sharp reversal in what had been months of frosty ties, as China ratcheted up sanction pressure on North Korea in response to its relentless missiles and nuclear tests last year.

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and considers it an important security buffer against the U.S. military presence in region.

What had seemed until this week to be rapidly warming ties between North Korea, on the one hand, and South Korea and the United States on the other, had fueled fears in Beijing that it might be left out of a new deal on the peninsula, according to analysts.

(Additonal reporting by Micheal Martina, in BEIJING; Writing by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Josh Smith, Robert Birsel)

North Korea says won’t hold talks with ‘incompetent’ South unless differences settled

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Joyce Lee and Heekyong Yang

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s chief negotiator called the South Korean government “ignorant and incompetent” on Thursday, denounced U.S.-South Korean air combat drills and threatened to halt all talks with the South unless its demands are met.

The comments by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the country, were the latest in a string of inflammatory statements marking a drastic change in tone after months of easing tension with plans for denuclearisation and a summit scheduled with the United States.

Ri criticized the South for participating in the drills, as well as for allowing “human scum” to speak at its National Assembly, the North’s KCNA news agency said in a statement.

“Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of south Korea,” the statement said.

It did not elaborate.

KCNA, in its English-language service, deliberately uses lower-case “north” and “south” to show that it only recognises one undivided Korea.

North Korea on Wednesday said it might not attend the June 12 summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore if the United States continued to demand it unilaterally abandon its nuclear arsenal, which it has developed in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions to counter perceived U.S. hostility.

A South Korean presidential Blue House official said the South intends to more actively perform “the role of a mediator” between the United States and North Korea, but that goal has been cast into doubt by Ri’s comments.

“On this opportunity, the present south Korean authorities have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group devoid of the elementary sense of the present situation,” Ri’s statement said.

The statement did not identify the “human scum” by name, but Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat to Britain who defected to the South in 2016, held a press conference on Monday at the South Korean National Assembly for his publication of his memoir.

In his memoir, “Password from the Third Floor”, Thae describes North Korean leader Kim as “impatient, impulsive and violent”.

SUMMIT IN DOUBT

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told parliament that North Korea and the United States had differences of views over how to achieve denuclearisation. Trump acknowledged on Wednesday it was unclear if the summit would go ahead.

“It is true that there are differences of opinion between the North and the United States on methods to accomplish denuclearisation,” Kang told lawmakers, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Trump will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on May 22.

The Blue House intends to “sufficiently convey (to the United States) what we’ve discerned about North Korea’s position and attitude… and sufficiently convey the United States’ position to North Korea”, thereby helping to bridge the gap, the official said.

Asked if she trusted Kim Jong Un, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang said: “Yes.”

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that the United States had demanded North Korea ship some nuclear warheads, an intercontinental ballistic missile and other nuclear material overseas within six months.

The newspaper, citing several sources familiar with North Korea, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to have told the North Korean leader when they met this month that Pyongyang might be removed from a list of state sponsors of terrorism if it complied.

The Asahi also reported that if North Korea agreed to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation at the Singapore summit, Washington was considering giving guarantees for Kim’s regime.

China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said the measures North Korea has taken to ease tension should be acknowledged, and all other parties, especially the United States, should cherish the opportunity for peace.

Cancellation of the summit, the first between U.S. and North Korean leaders, would deal a major blow to what could be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency.

This comes at a time his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has drawn criticism internationally and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has fueled deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border.

North Korea defends its nuclear and missile programs as a deterrent against perceived aggression by the United States, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The North has long said it is open to eventually giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States withdraws its troops from South Korea and ends its “nuclear umbrella” alliance with Seoul.

North Korea said it was pulling out of the talks with South Korea after denouncing U.S.-South Korean “Max Thunder” air combat drills, which it said involved U.S. stealth fighters, B-52 bombers and “nuclear assets”.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “I hope that in the end common sense will prevail, and the summit will take place and it will be successful.”

(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO and Michael Martina in BEIJING, and Cynthia Kim, Ju-min Park and Josh Smith in SEOUL; Editing by Nick Macfie)

North Korea says may reconsider summit with Trump, suspends talks with South

FILE PHOTO - South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a banquet on the Peace House at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

By Christine Kim and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea threw next month’s summit between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump into doubt on Wednesday, threatening weeks of diplomatic progress by saying it may reconsider if Washington insists it unilaterally gives up its nuclear weapons.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said earlier Pyongyang had called off high-level talks with Seoul, which had been due on Wednesday, in the first sign of trouble after months of warming ties.

Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan, KCNA later said the fate of the unprecedented U.S.-North Korea summit, as well as bilateral relations, “would be clear” if the United States spoke of a “Libya-style” denuclearisation for the North.

“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” Kim Kye Gwan said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The United States was still hopeful about the summit, scheduled for Singapore on June 12, but also prepared for a tough negotiation process, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

“We’re still hopeful that the meeting will take place and we’ll continue down that path, but at the same time we’ve been prepared that these could be tough negotiations,” Sanders said in an interview with Fox News.

“The president is ready if the meeting takes place. If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing.”

Vice Minister Kim specifically criticized U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who has called for North Korea to quickly give up its nuclear arsenal in a deal that mirrors Libya’s abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea clashed with Bolton when he worked under the Bush administration, calling him “human scum” and a “bloodsucker”.

“We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” Kim said.

The North Korean statement, as well its cancellation of the talks with the South due to U.S.-South Korean military exercises, mark a dramatic reversal in tone from recent months when both sides embraced efforts to negotiate.

North Korea had announced it would publicly shut its nuclear test site next week.

‘THREATS AND BLACKMAIL’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States would agree to lift sanctions on North Korea if it agreed to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

However, Kim Kye Gwan’s statement appeared to reject that, saying North Korea would never give up its nuclear program in exchange for trade with the United States.

“We have already stated our intention for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearisation is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” Kim said.

North Korea has always defended its nuclear and missile programs as a necessary deterrent against perceived aggression by the United States, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea has long said it is open to eventually giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States withdraws its troops from South Korea and ends its “nuclear umbrella” security alliance with Seoul, though South Korean officials have said the North may be willing to compromise.

The United States has insisted on complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the facilities needed to build the weapons as soon as possible.

Asian stock markets dipped after North Korea called off the talks with the South. Cancellation of the Singapore summit could see tension flare again even as investors worry about China-U.S. trade friction.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa spoke to Pompeo by telephone and discussed North Korea’s postponement of the talks with the South, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Pompeo told Kang Washington would continue to make preparations for the U.S-North Korea summit, bearing in mind the recent action by North Korea, it said.

Kim Kye Gwan’s statement came hours after North Korea pulled out of talks with the South after denouncing the U.S.-South Korean “Max Thunder” air combat drills, which it said involved U.S. stealth fighters, B-52 bombers and “nuclear assets”, as a provocation.

American stealth F-22 fighters were spotted in South Korea earlier in May, but a spokesman for the U.S. military command in South Korea said no B-52s were scheduled to take part in the drills.

A South Korean defense ministry official said the drills would go on as planned and were not aimed at any third party.

‘MISERABLE FATE’

Cancellation of the summit, the first meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader, would deal a major blow to what would be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency.

Trump has raised expectations for success even as many analysts have been skeptical about the chances of bridging the gap due to questions about North Korea’s willingness to give up a nuclear arsenal that it says can hit the United States.

Kim Kye Gwan derided as “absurd” Bolton’s suggestion that discussions with North Korea should be similar to those that led to components of Libya’s nuclear program being shipped to the United States in 2004.

“(The) world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate,” Kim said.

He said North Korea was a nuclear weapon state while Libya had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.

A U.S. government expert on North Korea said Kim Jong Un may also be trying to gauge whether Trump was willing to walk away from the meeting.

Joshua Pollack, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said Pyongyang appeared irritated by the U.S. administration’s vow to maintain sanctions in spite of North Korean concessions.

“The North Koreans want a change in tone from the U.S., and at least so far, they’re not hearing one,” he said.

The doubt thrown over the summit comes a week after Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, under which Tehran curbed its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions.

China said on Wednesday all parties “should show goodwill and avoid mutual provocation” to create a conducive atmosphere for denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

The North-South talks had been due to focus on plans to implement a declaration that emerged from an inter-Korea summit last month, including promises to formally end the Korean War and pursue “complete denuclearisation”.

South Korea described the North’s decision as “regrettable”.

(Reporting by Josh Smith and Christine Kim in SEOUL, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Philip Wen and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING, and David Brunnstrom, Phillip Stewart, Tim Ahmann, Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton, Doina Chiacu in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)

Trump, Kim summit in Singapore presents logistical challenges for North Korea

Office workers walk to the train station during evening rush hour in the financial district of Singapore March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su/Files

By Jack Kim and Jamie Freed

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s trip to Singapore for talks with U.S. President Donald Trump poses logistical challenges that are likely to include using Soviet-era aircraft to carry him and his limousine, as well as dozens of security and other support staff.

The choice of Singapore as the site of the first-ever meeting of a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader was as much because it was within reasonable flight time and distance from Pyongyang as because of the island state’s political neutrality, a South Korean presidential official told reporters.

Since becoming North Korea’s leader in 2011, Kim has only taken one known overseas trip by air – and that was earlier this week to Dalian in China to hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He flew in his personal Ilyushin-62M jet accompanied by a cargo plane that people with knowledge of North Korean affairs say is believed to have carried his limousine.

“It looks very much like the trip to Dalian was a dry run,” said Andray Abrahamian, a research fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS and formerly with Choson Exchange, a Singapore-based group that trains North Koreans in business skills.

At 4,700 km from Pyongyang’s Sunan airport, Singapore is easily in the range of the Il-62M aircraft. The Soviet-era narrow-body jet with four engines was first introduced in the 1970s and has a maximum range of 10,000 km.

But the Ilyushin-76 cargo plane cannot fly more than 3,000 km without refueling if carrying a full load. It will therefore have to stop off at a friendly location like Vietnam’s capital on the way to Singapore or fly with a reduced load.

The Il-76, originally designed for moving heavy machinery to remote parts of the Soviet Union, is big enough to fit a school bus or two shipping containers inside it, according to passenger and cargo flight operator Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions.

But the cargo plane has had some safety issues. In the latest incident last month, a crash killed 257 people on board after takeoff from an Algiers air base.

Unlike his father Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011 and who traveled by armored train on his rare trips abroad because he feared being shot down, according to a North Korean defector familiar with his security details, the younger leader is not known to be averse to flying.

But air travel of this distance does pose a significantly greater challenge in transporting communication and security equipment and personnel needed to back up a summit meeting.

 

SUITE FIT FOR A LEADER

Lee Yun-keok, a defector who had worked for the North’s government and now heads the North Korea Strategic Information Service Center in Seoul, said the trip will involve dozens of security personnel and equipment including possibly a personal toilet for the leader.

It will also mean burning a large quantity of jet fuel, a refined oil product sharply limited by U.N. sanctions targeting North Korea’ imports. Kim’s two planes will need around 50 metric tons of jet fuel per aircraft for the flight from Pyongyang to Singapore.

China, the main source of fuel for the North, exported just 3 tons of jet fuel in March and made no official exports the two previous months, according to Chinese customs data.

But the North’s planes can pick up extra fuel when they fly to China and Russia for commercial operations, and international security experts believe the North may have been stockpiling the fuel which it has also used for its missile program.

“The United States had preferred Geneva,” the South Korean presidential official told reporters, requesting anonymity to discuss the arrangements for the summit meeting.

“But Singapore was selected as it was the most realistically viable destination Kim Jong Un could probably travel when considering the travel time and flight distance.”

The two sides initially considered meeting in the Panmunjom truce village straddling the Korean military border, the scene of the third inter-Korea summit attended by Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in last month, the official said. The official said the South did not know the reason why Panmunjom was dropped.

There was no confirmation on the specific location for the meeting between Kim and Trump although there are a number of sites in Singapore that can guarantee security protection, including hotels that have experience hosting high-security events, Singapore media and a Singapore government official said.

The meeting is scheduled for one day on June 12, but if either or both of the leaders decide to stay overnight, there is only one hotel room in all of the city that meets “security protocol” for the U.S. president, according to a source with knowledge of previous U.S. presidential visits.

That is the 348-square meter Shangri-la Suite in the Valley Wing of the hotel of the same name, at a current rate of S$10,000 ($7,500) a night for June 12.

($1 = 1.3348 Singapore dollars)

(Additional reporting by Dewey Sim in Singapore, Christine Kim and Joori Roh in Seoul; Edited by Martin Howell)

Trump says to meet with North Korea’s Kim on June 12 in Singapore

FILE PHOTO - A combination photo shows a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) handout of Kim Jong Un released on May 10, 2016, and Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA handout via Reuters/File Photo & REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore for a first ever summit between the leaders of the two countries.

“The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” Trump said on Twitter.

The two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons development and testing program, which has deepened long-seated tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Trump’s announcement came just hours after three Americans who had been held prisoner in North Korea arrived at a U.S. military base outside Washington, having been released by Kim.

Trump said on their arrival that he believed Kim wanted to bring North Korea “into the real world” and had high hopes for their planned meeting, which would be the first between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

“I think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful,” Trump said. “My proudest achievement will be – this is part of it – when we denuclearize that entire peninsula.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

North Korea releases detained Americans ahead of anticipated Trump-Kim summit

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo shows Mike Pompeo (L) in Washington, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) in Pyongyang, North Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump (R), in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., respectively from Reuters files. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (L) & KCNA handout via Reuters & Kevin Lamarque (R)

By Makini Brice and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that three Americans detained by North Korea have been released and are on their way home with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump said he will greet Pompeo and the Americans when they land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) Thursday morning.

“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

South Korea heralded the move as positive for upcoming talks between Trump and Kim and called on Pyongyang to also release six South Korean detainees.

Pompeo had arrived in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, earlier on Wednesday from Japan and headed to its Koryo Hotel for meetings.

The three U.S. detainees being released are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul; Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017; and Kim Hak-song, who also taught at PUST.

Until now, the only American released by North Korea during Trump’s presidency has been Otto Warmbier, a 22—year-old university student who returned to the United States in a coma last summer after 17 months of captivity. He died days later.

Warmbier’s death escalated U.S.-North Korea tensions, already running high at the time over Pyongyang’s stepped-up missile tests.

The upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit has sparked a flurry of diplomacy, with Japan, South Korea and China holding a high-level meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday.

However, North Korea reminded the United States on Wednesday there still was tension between them, warning it against “making words and acts that may destroy the hard-won atmosphere of dialogue,” the North’s state media said.

“The U.S. is persistently clinging to the hostile policy toward the DPRK, misleading the public opinion. Such behavior may result in endangering the security of its own country,” it added, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Christine Kim in Seoul; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Paul Tait and Bill Trott)

Trump says Pompeo en route to North Korea, cites hopes on U.S. detainees

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens to remarks made by President Donald Trump during Pompeo's swearing-in ceremony at the Department of State in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump revealed on Tuesday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way to Pyongyang to prepare for Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressed hope that three Americans held there would soon be released.

Trump said Pompeo, making his second visit to North Korea in less than six weeks, was expected to arrive “very shortly” and that the two countries had already agreed on a date and location for the unprecedented summit, though he stopped short of providing details.

While Trump said it would be a “great thing” if the three American detainees were freed, Pompeo, speaking to reporters en route to Pyongyang, said he had not received a commitment for their release but hoped North Korea would “do the right thing.”

Their release could signal an effort by Kim to set a more positive tone for the summit following his recent pledge to suspend missile tests and shut Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb test site.

While Kim would be giving up the last of his remaining American prisoners, whom North Korea has often used in the past as bargaining chips with the United States, a release could also be aimed at pressuring Trump to make concessions of his own in his bid to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal, something it has not signaled a willingness to do.

“Plans are being made, relationships are building,” Trump said of the planned summit during remarks at the White House that were otherwise focused on his decision to pull the United States out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“Hopefully, a deal will happen. And with the help of China, South Korea and Japan, a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everyone,” Trump added.

Pompeo made a secret visit to North Korea over the Easter weekend, becoming the first U.S. official known to have met Kim, to lay the groundwork for the planned summit. The meeting occurred before Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of state had been confirmed.

Trump suggested that dropping out of the Iran nuclear accord, which he has frequently denounced as a bad deal for the United States, would send a “critical message” not just to Tehran but also to Pyongyang. He has demanded that North Korea agree to give up its nuclear arsenal.

“The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them,” Trump said.

FATE OF THREE DETAINEES IN PLAY

Pompeo’s latest trip raised the prospects that the three Korean-American detainees – Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chul – could be turned over to him.

Asked whether that could happen, Trump told reporters: “We’ll all soon be finding out. We’ll soon be finding out. It would be a great thing if they are.”

“We’ve been asking for the release of these detainees for 17 months,” Pompeo said. “We’ll talk about it again. It’d be a great gesture if they’d agree to do so.”

Pompeo said he was hoping to finalize the agenda for the summit. He met Kim on this last trip but said he did not know exactly who he would meet this time.

Pompeo said he hoped to be able to outline a set of conditions that would create the opportunity for a historic change in the security relationship with North Korea and added that sanctions would not be lifted until U.S. objectives were met.

“We are not going to head down the path we headed down before,” he said. “We will not relieve sanctions until such time as we have achieved our objectives.”

Pompeo’s latest visit followed talks between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met on April 27 at the heavily fortified demilitarized zone between the countries, the first summit for the two Koreas in over a decade.

The North-South summit produced dramatic images and a declaration of goodwill. But it was short on specific commitments and failed to clear up the question of whether Pyongyang is really willing to give up nuclear missiles that now threaten the United States.

U.S. officials have been pressing Kim to free the three remaining American detainees as a gesture of sincerity before the summit, the first-ever meeting of sitting U.S. and North Korean leaders. Trump and Kim have exchanged insults and threats over the past year but tensions have eased in recent months.

Until now, the only American released by North Korea during Trump’s presidency was Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old university student who returned to the United States in a coma last summer after 17 months of captivity and died days later.

Warmbier’s death escalated U.S.-North Korea tensions, already running high at the time over Pyongyang’s stepped-up missile tests.

The three still being held are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong Chul; Kim Sang-duk, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017, and Kim Hak Song, who also taught at PUST.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom, David Alexander and John Walcott; Editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish)

South Korea says it wants U.S. troops to stay regardless of any treaty with North Korea

FILE PHOTO: U.S. army soldiers take part in a U.S.-South Korea joint river-crossing exercise near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Yeoncheon, South Korea, April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Wednesday the issue of U.S. troops stationed in the South is unrelated to any future peace treaty with North Korea and that American forces should stay even if such an agreement is signed.

“U.S. troops stationed in South Korea are an issue regarding the alliance between South Korea and the United States. It has nothing to do with signing peace treaties,” said Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for the presidential Blue House, citing President Moon Jae-in.

The Blue House was responding to media questions about a column written by South Korean presidential adviser and academic Moon Chung-in that was published earlier this week.

Moon Chung-in said it would be difficult to justify the presence of U.S. forces in South Korea if a peace treaty was signed after the two Koreas agreed at an historic summit last week to put an end to the Korean conflict.

However, Seoul wants the troops to stay because U.S. forces in South Korea play the role of a mediator in military confrontations between neighboring superpowers like China and Japan, another presidential official told reporters on condition of anonymity earlier on Wednesday.

Presidential adviser Moon Chung-in was asked not to create confusion regarding the president’s stance, Kim said.

The United States currently has around 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, which North Korea has long demanded be removed as one of the conditions for giving up its nuclear and missile programs.

However, there was no mention in last week’s declaration by Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea. Kim and Moon Jae-in pledged to work for the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula.

U.S. troops have been stationed in South Korea since the Korean War, which ended in 1953 in an armistice that left the two Koreas technically still at war.

Moon Jae-in and Kim have said they want to put an end to the Korean conflict, promising there will be “no more war” on the Korean peninsula.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)

North and South Korea start to dismantle border speakers, fulfilling summit pledge

South Korean soldiers move loudspeakers that were set up for propaganda broadcasts near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

By Joori Roh

SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea began dismantling loudspeakers that blared propaganda across their heavily fortified border on Tuesday, South Korea’s defense ministry said, fulfilling a promise made at last week’s historic summit.

The moves are the first practical, if small, steps toward reconciliation after Friday’s meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North’s Kim Jong Un.

Moon, meanwhile, asked that the United Nations help verify North Korea’s planned shutdown of its Punggye-ri nuclear test site in a phone conversation on Tuesday with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a statement from the presidential Blue House said.

Guterres said the requests need approval from the U.N. Security Council, but he wanted to cooperate to build peace on the Korean peninsula and would assign a U.N. official in charge of arms control to cooperate with South Korea, the statement said.

Several days before Friday’s summit, the North surprised the world by declaring it would dismantle the test site to “transparently guarantee” its dramatic commitment to stop all nuclear and missile tests.

The Punggye-ri site, where North Korea has conducted all six of its nuclear tests, consists of a system of tunnels dug beneath Mount Mantap in the northeastern part of the country.

Some experts and researchers have speculated the most recent – and by far largest – blast in September had rendered the entire site unusable. But Kim said there were two additional, larger tunnels that remain “in very good condition”.

BORDER LOUDSPEAKERS REMOVED

Along the border, South Korea started taking down its loudspeakers on Tuesday afternoon, a defense official said. Activity at several spots along the border indicated North Koreans were doing the same, he said.

For decades, with only a few breaks, the two sides have pumped out propaganda from huge banks of speakers as a form of psychological warfare. The South broadcast a mixture of news, Korean pop songs and criticism of the northern regime, while the North blasted the southern government and praised its own socialist system.

As a sign of goodwill, the South had stopped its propaganda ahead of the summit, and the North followed suit.

The incremental steps come amid speculation about where Kim will meet U.S. President Donald Trump, who said their planned summit could take place in three or four weeks.

Trump tweeted Monday that meeting Kim at the Peace House in the demilitarized zone, where Moon met Kim, would be an excellent venue.

“There’s something that I like about it because you’re there, you’re actually there. Where, if things work out, there’s a great celebration to be had on the site, not in a third-party country,” Trump later told reporters at the White House.

But a senior U.S. official said Singapore was still high on the list of potential sites.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday Singapore had not had any request to host the Kim-Trump meeting.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House seemed to welcome the prospect of hosting the meeting in Panmunjom, the border village where the Peace House is located.

“Panmunjom is quite meaningful as a place to erode the divide and establish a new milestone for peace,” a senior presidential official told reporters, asking not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. “Wouldn’t Panmunjom be the most symbolic place?”

(Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Ju-min Park, writing by Malcolm Foster. Editing by Lincoln Feast)

From nuclear weapons to peace: Inside the Korean summit declaration

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un share a toast at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuter

By Josh Smith and Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea made ambitious promises for peace on Friday, including to formally end the Korean War this year, but made only a vague commitment to “complete decentralization of the Korean peninsula” without specifics on how that key goal would be achieved.

The declaration signed at the historic summit between the leaders of the two Koreas also did not mention several issues that have been prominent in the past, including human rights in North Korea and joint economic projects.

As the focus now shifts to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s expected meeting in May or June with U.S. President Donald Trump, here is a summary of key issues in the agreement:

NUCLEAR WEAPONS

North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs have become central to the conflict, and many observers were hoping the summit would provide more insight into whether Kim Jong Un is truly willing to give up those weapons.

Both South Korea and the United States say they share the goal of forcing North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms, and the Trump administration says there will be no reduction in pressure on Pyongyang until it has completely denuclearized.

Any economic relations between the two Koreas are limited by sanctions imposed over the programs.

In the agreement, the two Koreas “confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete decentralization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula” and “agreed to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities in this regard”.

Such language is similar to past declarations, however, and South Korea offered no additional details beyond saying it would closely cooperate with the United States and the international community on the issue.

“It largely recycles the aspirational language of preceding Inter-Korean documents,” said Daniel Russel, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia. “It falls short of the explicit commitments to decentralization in some past declarations.”

Past efforts to entice Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program have failed in part due to North Korean demands the United States withdraw its troops from the peninsula and remove its “nuclear umbrella” of support for the South. South Korea has said Kim may be willing to compromise on this traditional sticking point, but no new details were announced at the summit.

PEACE DEAL

A concrete goal outlined in the declaration was the formal ending the state of war that has existed since the 1950-53 Korean War was halted with a truce, not a treaty.

South Korea and a U.S.-led U.N. force are technically still at war with North Korea and the idea of an official peace deal to change that is not something that can be resolved by the Koreas alone. So the declaration calls for meetings with the United States and possibly China, which were both involved in the conflict.

South Korean leaders at the time opposed the idea of a truce that left the peninsula divided, and were not signatories to the armistice, which was officially signed by the commander of North Korea’s army, the American commander of the U.N. Command and the commander of the “Chinese People’s volunteers”, who were not officially claimed by Beijing at the time.

North and South Korea have seriously discussed the idea before. In 1992, the two sides agreed to “endeavor together to transform the present state of armistice into a solid state of peace”.

The last inter-Korean summit in October 2007 concluded with a declaration by the two Koreas to “recognize the need to end the current armistice regime and build a permanent peace regime” and “to work together to advance the matter of having the leaders of the three or four parties directly concerned to convene on the Peninsula and declare an end to the war”.

FAMILY VISITS

Reunions between families divided by the war and the border are an emotional issue. The two sides agreed to hold “reunion programs” on Aug. 15, the day both Koreas celebrate their independence from Japanese colonization.

The last family visits were at the end of 2015, but the program fell apart amid souring relations.

After Moon took office last May, his administration quickly asked that the visits resume, but North Korea never officially responded.

North Korean state media implied that the program could be resumed if South Korea sent back a dozen North Korean waitresses who defected to the South after working at a restaurant in China, but that demand appears to have been dropped.

DEMILITARIZED ZONE

The DMZ, which snakes for 240 km (150 miles) along the 38th parallel, was drawn in the 1953 armistice that ended three years of bitter fighting. The zone is 4 km (2.5 miles) wide, and has become an unlikely tourist attraction.

Friday’s declaration said each side would cease propaganda broadcasts, hold regular military meetings, and take other measures to reduce tensions along the border and turn the DMZ into a “peace zone”.

“Demilitarizing” the DMZ could also mean the removal of guard posts and landmines.

INTER-KOREAN COMMUNICATION

After previously establishing a “hotline” between the two presidents’ offices, the two Koreas pledged to increase direct inter-Korean exchanges and dialogue, including between lower-level political officials.

The two Koreas will also set up a communications office in Kaesong in North Korea, although the timing for that was not specified.

The countries’ defense officials will meet in May, and Moon plans to visit Pyongyang later in the year for another summit.

Moon and Kim also agreed to hold “regular meetings and direct telephone conversations” and “frequent and candid discussions”.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Alex Richardson)