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)

Trump says U.S.-China trade deal may be reached in four weeks

U.S. President Donald Trump talks with with China's Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Jeff Mason and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States and China were close to a trade deal that could be announced within four weeks, while warning Beijing that it would be difficult to allow trade to continue without a pact.

The two countries are engaged in intense negotiations to end a months-long trade war that has rattled global markets, but hopes of a resolution soared after both sides expressed optimism following talks in Beijing last week.

Speaking to reporters at the White House at the start of a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, Trump said some of the tougher points of a deal had been agreed but there were still differences to be bridged.

“We’re getting very close to making a deal. That doesn’t mean a deal is made, because it’s not, but we’re certainly getting a lot closer,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

“And I would think with, oh, within the next four weeks or maybe less, maybe more, whatever it takes, something very monumental could be announced.”

Trump said he would hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping if there were a deal.

Xi assured Trump that text of the China-U.S. trade could be finalized soon, in a message conveyed by Liu He.

According to state-run news agency Xinhua, Liu He told Trump that Xi believed under his and Trump’s leadership, China-U.S. relations will make new and greater progress.

Xi said that in the past month or more, the two sides’ trade teams had maintained close contact and “achieved new and substantive progress on issues in the text of two countries’ trade agreement”.

“I hope the two sides’ trade teams can continue working in the spirit of mutual respect, equality, and mutual benefit to resolve each other’s concerns, and finish negotiations on the text of the China-U.S. trade agreement soon,” Xi said to Trump through Liu.

KEEPING LEVERAGE

Trump declined to say what would happen to U.S. tariffs on $250 billion worth of goods as part of a deal. China wants the tariffs lifted, while U.S. officials are wary of giving up that leverage, at least for now.

Asked about the benefits of an agreement for China, Trump said: “It’s going to be great for China, in that China will continue to trade with the United States. I mean, otherwise, it would be very tough for us to allow that to happen.”

Goods trade between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, totaled $660 billion last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, consisting of imports of $540 billion from China and $120 billion in exports to China.

On China’s behalf, Liu cited “great progress” in the talks because of Trump’s direct involvement and expressed hope that the talks would lead to “a good result.”

U.S. SEEKS SWEEPING CHANGES

Trump has previously threatened to impose punitive tariffs on all imports from China, more than a half-trillion dollars worth of products.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is leading the talks for the Trump administration, said there were still some “major, major issues” to resolve and praised Liu’s commitment to reform in China.

Asked about the remaining sticking points, Trump mentioned tariffs and intellectual property theft. He said he would discuss tariffs with Liu in their meeting.

“Some of the toughest things have been agreed to,” Trump said. He later said that an enforcement plan for a deal remained a sticking point as well.

“We have to make sure there’s enforcement. I think we’ll get that done. We’ve discussed it at length,” he said.

Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are holding talks in Washington with a Chinese delegation this week after meeting together in Beijing last week. The current round of talks is scheduled to go through Friday and possibly longer.

Hopes that the talks were moving in a positive direction have cheered financial markets in recent weeks. But U.S. stocks were mixed on Thursday as investors waited for more developments in the trade negotiations, with the Dow Jones industrial Average slightly higher, and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite slightly lower. [.N]

The United States is seeking reforms to Chinese practices that it says result in the theft of U.S. intellectual property and the forced transfer of technology from U.S. companies to Chinese firms.

Administration officials initially envisioned a summit between Trump and Xi potentially taking place in March, but some U.S. lawmakers and lobbying groups have said recently they were told that the administration was now aiming for a deal in late April.

OUTSTANDING ISSUES

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said last week that the talks were “not time-dependent” and could be extended for weeks or even months longer.

While some reform pledges by Beijing are largely set, including an agreement to avoid currency manipulation, an enforcement mechanism to ensure that China keeps its pledges and the status of U.S. tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods must be resolved.

“China has been very clear, publicly and privately, that they would like to see all the tariffs removed,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce international affairs chief Myron Brilliant told reporters on Tuesday.

“The (Trump) administration has been equally clear that they want to keep some of the tariffs in place as a way to have leverage over China fulfilling its obligations under whatever final package is reached.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Lawder; Additional reporting by Chris Prentice and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Peter Cooney, Simon Cameron-Moore and Michael Perry)

U.S. says North Korea diplomacy ‘very much alive,’ but it’s watching rocket site

A satellite image of North Korea's Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Tongchang-ri) which Washington-based Stimson Center's 38 North says, "Rebuilding continues at the engine test stand" is seen in this image released from Washington, DC, U.S., March 7, 2019. Courtesy Airbus Defence & Space and 38 North, Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS/Handout via REUTERS

By David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chief U.S. envoy for North Korea said on Monday that “diplomacy is still very much alive” with Pyongyang despite a failed summit last month, but cautioned that Washington was closely watching activity at a North Korean rocket site and did not know if it might be planning a new launch.

Stephen Biegun told a conference in Washington that although U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un parted on good terms after their Feb. 27-28 summit in Hanoi, big gaps remained between the two sides and North Korea needed to show it was fully committed to giving up its nuclear weapons.

Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, stressed that U.S.-led sanctions, which Pyongyang wants dropped, would stay in place until North Korea completed denuclearization. He rejected an incremental approach sought by Pyongyang, and said that easing sanctions for partial steps would amount to subsidizing North Korea’s weapons programs.

As Biegun spoke at the Carnegie Nuclear Conference, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank issued a new report on activity at North Korea’s Sohae rocket launch site, in which satellite images from Friday showed possible preparations for a launch.

In the course of nearly a year of diplomatic engagement with the United States, North Korea has maintained a freeze on missile and nuclear tests and space rocket launches in place since 2017. Trump has repeatedly stressed this as a positive outcome of the diplomacy.

Biegun said Washington did not know what the activity spotted in North Korea meant. He said the Trump administration took it “very seriously” but cautioned against drawing any snap conclusions.

“What Kim Jong Un will ultimately decide to do may very much be his decision and his decision alone,” Biegun said, adding that Trump had made clear last week he would be “very disappointed” if North Korea were to resume testing.

An authoritative U.S. government source familiar with U.S. intelligence assessments said they did not conclude that a launch was imminent, given North Korea’s apparent desire to keep negotiations going with the United States. However, the source said Pyongyang appeared to want to make clear it retained the capability to resume launches at any moment.

“Diplomacy is still very much alive,” Biegun said. He offered no specifics on when new talks might be held and did not say whether any talks had taken place since the summit, which collapsed over differences on U.S. demands for Pyongyang’s denuclearization and North Korea’s demand for sanctions relief.

ENGAGEMENT

“It’s certainly our expectation that we will be able to continue our close engagement,” Biegun said.

The State Department has declined to say whether there has been any direct engagement between the two sides since the summit.

A national security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday the United States should seek the gradual denuclearization of North Korea because an “all-or-nothing” strategy will not help break the impasse in talks.

To bridge the gap, Moon could pursue an unofficial inter-Korean summit as he did last year before the first summit between Trump and Kim, and then visit Washington, the adviser said.

Trump has said he remains open to more talks with Kim. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson told the Washington conference she thought there would be another summit.

Asked if there would be a third meeting, she said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump had “been very clear that they remain open to the dialogue. They haven’t got a date on the calendar but our teams continue to work towards that.”

Thompson said it was “incredibly important” that all countries continued to maintain U.N. sanctions on North Korea until it gave up its nuclear weapons.

“We are not letting the foot off the gas. We are going to continue with the pressure campaign,” she said.

At the White House on Monday, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders scoffed at reports that China was wary of holding a summit with Trump on trade after he walked out of his meeting with Kim without a deal.

“We’ll see what happens with North Korea the same way we’re going to see what happens in the negotiations with China. They’re ongoing,” she said.

Trump on Friday stressed again his belief in his personal rapport with Kim.

The CSIS report said commercial satellite images acquired last Wednesday and Friday showed North Korea had continued preparations on the launch pad at its Sohae launch facility and at the engine testing stand there.

“Based on past practices, these activities could be consistent with preparations for the delivery of a rocket to the launch pad or engine to the test stand; or they could be North Korean coercive bargain tactics,” it said.

Trump said after his first summit with Kim in Singapore last June that Kim had promised to dismantle the test stand, a pledge the North Korean leader reiterated and expanded on at a summit with Moon in September.

Pyongyang has used Sohae to launch satellites into space since 2011, and Washington says its work there has helped develop missile technology. A satellite launch in April 2012 killed off an Obama administration deal for a freeze in North Korean nuclear and missile testing reached weeks earlier.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Mark Hosenball, Matt Spetalnick, Arshad Mohammed and Doina Chiacu; additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL, editing by Grant McCool and Sonya Hepinstall)

Third summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim likely, no date set: U.S. official

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson attends a panel discussion after a Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) conference in Beijing, China January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Department of State official on Monday said she thinks there will be a third summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but no date has been set.

Trump and Kim’s second summit in Vietnam last month collapsed over differences on U.S. demands for Pyongyang’s denuclearization and North Korea’s demand for sanctions relief.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Sunday that the president was open to another summit with Kim but more time may be needed. Trump and Kim first met in Singapore last June.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president “have been very clear that they remain open to the dialogue. They haven’t got a date on the calendar but our teams continue to work towards that,” U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson said when asked if there would be a third meeting.

“Is there a next summit? Well, I think there will be,” said Thompson, who spoke at the Carnegie Nuclear Conference in Washington.

Thompson said it was “incredibly important” that all countries continued to maintain United Nations sanctions on North Korea until it gave up its nuclear weapons.

“We are not letting the foot off the gas. We are going to continue with the pressure campaign,” she said. “We are going to continue to hold those sanctions and we are going to continue to work with the team abroad to make sure those stay in place.”

Trump said on Friday he would be disappointed if Pyongyang were to resume weapons testing and reiterated his belief in his good relationship with Kim despite the collapse of the summit.

Trump commented after U.S. think tanks and Seoul’s spy agency said that North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site. Non-proliferation experts have said satellite images indicate North Korea could be preparing to launch a missile or a space rocket in spite of a freeze in testing that has been in place since 2017.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Grant McCool)

Trump says he would be disappointed if North Korea resumed testing

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

By Roberta Rampton and David Brunnstrom

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

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

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

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

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

“I think it remains good,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. open to North Korea talks despite missile program activity

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

By David Brunnstrom and Hyonhee Shin

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is open to additional talks with Pyongyang over denuclearization, his national security adviser said on Thursday, despite reports that North Korea is reactivating parts of its missile program.

New activity has been detected at a factory that produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the United States, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo and Donga Ilbo newspapers reported, citing lawmakers briefed by the National Intelligence Service.

This week, two U.S. think tanks and Seoul’s spy agency said North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site, prompting Trump to say he would be “very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim” if it were true.

The reports of North Korean activity raise more questions about the future of the dialogue Trump has pursued with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after a second summit between the two leaders in Vietnam broke down last week.White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday that Trump was still open to additional talks with North Korea over denuclearization.

“The president’s obviously open to talking again. We’ll see when that might be scheduled or how it might work out,” Bolton said in an interview with Fox News.

He said it was too soon to make a determination on the reports of the North Korean activities.

“We have a lot of ways of getting information,” he said. “We’re going to study the situation carefully. As the president said, it would be very, very disappointing if they were taking this direction.”

The Vietnam summit between Kim and Trump last week collapsed over differences on how far North Korea was willing to limit its nuclear program and the degree of U.S. willingness to ease economic sanctions against the isolated country.

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

MISSILE FACTORY

Movement of cargo vehicles was spotted recently around a North Korean factory at Sanumdong in Pyongyang, which produced ICBMs.

South Korean spy chief Suh Hoon told lawmakers he viewed the activity as missile-related, the JoongAng Ilbo said. It quoted Suh as saying North Korea continued to run its uranium enrichment facility at the main Yongbyon nuclear complex after a first summit between Trump and Kim last June in Singapore.

The Sanumdong factory produced the Hwasong-15 ICBM, which can fly more than 13,000 km (8,080 miles). After its test flight in 2017, North Korea declared the completion of its “state nuclear force,” before pursuing talks with South Korea and the United States last year.

South Korea’s presidential office and defense ministry declined to confirm the reports on Sanumdong, saying they were closely monitoring North Korea’s activities together with the United States.

The U.S. State Department said it could not comment on intelligence matters.

Separately, U.S. think tanks reported on Thursday that North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station appeared to be operational again after work that began days before Trump met with Kim in Hanoi.

Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank called the work a “snapback” after North Korea partially dismantled the site, acting on a pledge by Kim to Trump at the Singapore summit.

“The rebuilding activities at Sohae demonstrate how quickly North Korea can easily render reversible any steps taken towards scrapping its WMD program with little hesitation,” it said.

“North Korea’s actions constitute an affront to the president’s diplomatic strategy (and) demonstrate North Korean pique at Trump’s refusal to lift economic sanctions during the meetings in Hanoi.”

The Washington-based 38 North think tank also said the Sohae site appeared now to have returned to normal operational status.

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his way to board a train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his way to board a train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

SANCTIONS WARNING

Some analysts see the work as aimed at pressing Washington to agree to a deal, rather than as a definite move to resume tests.

A U.S. government source, who did not want to be identified, said North Korea’s plan in rebuilding the site could have been to offer a demonstration of good faith by conspicuously stopping again if a summit pact was struck, while furnishing a sign of defiance or resolve if the meeting failed.

Imagery from Planet Labs Inc analyzed by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California showed activity at Sohae from Feb. 23 until Wednesday.

38 North said photos from Wednesday showed the rail-mounted transfer building used to move rockets at the site was complete, cranes had been removed from the launch pad and the transfer building moved to the end of the pad.

“But we don’t draw any conclusions from that besides they are restoring the facility,” Joel Wit of 38 North told Reuters. “There is no evidence to suggest anything more than that.”

On Wednesday, Bolton, a hardliner who was argued for a tough approach to North Korea in the past, warned of new sanctions if it did not scrap its weapons program.

Despite the sanctions talk, there have been signs across Asia that Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against North Korea has sprung leaks.

In a new sanctions breach, three South Korean companies were found to have brought in more than 13,000 tons of North Korean coal, worth 2.1 billion won ($2 million) since 2017, by making it out to have been produced in China and Vietnam, South Korea said.

North Korean media has given conflicting signals about its relations with the United States, while appearing to target Bolton as a spoiler.

Its state television aired a 78-minute documentary late on Wednesday focused on showing a cordial mood between Trump and Kim as the summit ended, indicating Pyongyang was not about to walk away from negotiations, experts say.

It also showed a stone-faced Bolton during a meeting in Hanoi, while Trump and other U.S. participants were all smiles.

In a return to a more usual, strident tone, the KCNA news agency criticized new small-scale military exercises that the United States and South Korea plan to hold instead of a large-scale spring exercise they have called off.

The news agency said the drills would be a “violent violation” of agreements signed between the United States and North Korea as well as between the two Koreas.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries said last week that they would not carry out a large-scale spring joint military exercises, replacing it with smaller-scale ones.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, David Alexander and Tim Ahmann in Washington and Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alistair Bell)

White House’s Hassett says progress in China trade talks-Fox Business

FILE PHOTO: Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett gestures as he speaks during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said on Monday that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has made progress in talks with China and a deal was possible to end a dispute that has already put tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods.

“I think that it looks like Ambassador Lighthizer has made a lot of progress, and we might get there on China,” Hassett said in an interview with Fox Business Network.

World markets were buoyed on Monday by investors’ optimism that a trade deal could be cemented as soon as this month to resolve the ongoing trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

“I think everybody’s hopeful, as the markets are, that this is going to get to the finish line sometime soon,” Hassett told Fox, adding that details of any deal are still being worked out.

On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that trade talks were progressing well and that he had asked China to immediately remove all tariffs on U.S. agricultural products while delaying his own plan to impose 25 percent tariffs on Chinese goods.

A summit between Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping could occur around March 27 to finalize a deal, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing a source briefed on negotiations.

A representative for the White House said they had no comment on the ongoing negotiations.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)