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South and North Korea make contact on communication line
By UPI Staff | Jan. 03, 2018


A South Korean government official communicates with a North Korean officer on the Demilitarized Zone in the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea. Photo courtesy of Unification Ministry/EPA-EFE

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- South and North Korea made contact on a re-established communication channel running through the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday.

North Korea made the first contact at the appointed time, and a 20-minute conversation from 3:30-3:50 p.m. took place, Seoul's Unification Ministry said, according to Yonhap.

The phone line had been out of use for two years.

The phone call on Wednesday did not address major policy issues, but instead "checked technical issues of the communication line," the ministry said.

There were no discussions of North Korea's participation in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The development came after a North Korean official announced through state-run media that the communication line would be reconnected, under the orders of leader Kim Jong Un.

Ri Son-kwon, chairman of the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, said the hotline would be used to discuss practical matters on dispatching a North Korean delegation to the Games.

"Reflecting the intentions of the leadership, we will seek close ties with the South in an earnest and sincere manner," he said.

Ri added that the North Korean leader "positively and highly regarded" the South's response to his suggestion of sending a North Korean team to the Olympics and making the arrangements through urgent talks with Seoul.

Kim reportedly emphasized that "the issue of improving inter-Korean ties according to the wishes of the people" depends on how the discussions take course.

However, South Korea's presidential office welcomed the North's decision to restore the communication channel, deeming it a "significant step towards holding regular talks."

The North cut off the hotline installed at the Panmunjom liaison office, as well as a military channel in February 2016, in protest of South Korea's shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

On Tuesday, South Korea suggested using the inter-Korean hotline as a means to arrange the North's participation in the Winter Olympics as well as set up a high-level dialogue to potentially discuss other areas of mutual concern.


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China endorses easing of tensions on Korean peninsula
By Elizabeth Shim
| Jan. 03, 2018

Jan. 3 (UPI) -- China is welcoming news of détente between North and South Korea after the two sides agreed to re-establish contact after months of tensions.

State-owned news agency Xinhua said Wednesday the offer of dialogue from Kim Jong Un and the South's response are "positive signs."

"At the beginning of the new year 2018, a positive signal has emerged from the Korean peninsula in a long time," the Xinhua editorial read. "It is hoped the Korean peninsula can come out of a frozen state" of tensions.

The Chinese news agency noted the easing of hostilities began quickly with Kim's New Year speech, which included a willingness to send the North Korean national team to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Xinhua's editorial also gave high marks for South Korean President Moon Jae-in's positive response, and Seoul's proposal to hold high-level talks on Tuesday.

The editorial echoed similar statements from China's foreign ministry on Tuesday, welcoming potential talks.

"We have noticed active signals sent by leaders from North Korea and South Korea on improving ties and North Korea may participate in the Winter Olympic Games. This is a good thing. China welcomes and supports the two sides taking the opportunity to make efforts at improving ties, easing tensions on the peninsula and realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

The next day, however, Geng was less welcoming of speculation Beijing had been offering secret assurances to North Korea, the South China Morning Post reported.

A report from the Washington Free Beacon, detailing alleged assurances the Chinese government would not allow North Korea to collapse while providing missile support, was dismissed as "fake news" on Wednesday.

"Anyone with common sense can see that the document [cited in the report] is fake," Geng said.

Kim previously snubbed a senior Chinese envoy when he visited the North in November, and Pyongyang has condemned China for implementing international sanctions.


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Sharp Reactions in Congress to Trump Tweet on North Korea
January 03, 2018
by Michael Bowman


U.S. President Donald Trump's tweet warning North Korea's leader that he has a "Nuclear Button" that is "much bigger & more powerful" than Kim Jong Un's set off a series of sharp reactions Wednesday on Capitol Hill as the Senate gaveled in for its first day of business in 2018.

"It's embarrassing, it's counterproductive and it's dangerous," said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the Foreign Relations Committee's top Democrat.

"It puts the president of the United States in the position of being a fool or deadly serious [about ordering a nuclear strike]," Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told VOA. "We don't need that."

But Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming had a different view about the wisdom of the provocative presidential tweet, saying: "We finally have a president who is actually dealing with the problem at hand, instead of what we've seen previously, which was ignoring the problem."

Vice President Mike Pence echoed that view in an exclusive interview with VOA on Wednesday.

"President Trump has provided a kind of clear leadership on the world stage that has made immeasurable progress particularly with regard to North Korea," Pence said. "President Trump made it clear [that] America will not be bullied, America will not be threatened."

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted: "North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the 'Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.' Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

Odd timing

Trump's tweet came amid tentative steps to reestablish and broaden communications between North Korea and South Korea.

North Korea reopened a cross-border communications channel with South Korea on Wednesday, the first significant sign the bitter rivals are seeking to improve relations after years of rising tensions.

The sudden thaw in frosty ties between North and South Korea began Monday, when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used his annual New Year's Day address to call for direct talks with Seoul and to announce his willingness to send a negotiating team to South Korea to discuss his country's possible participation next month in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Seoul responded Tuesday by offering to hold talks with North Korean diplomats next week, January 9, in Panmunjom. The meeting would be the first high-level inter-Korean talks since December 2015.

Democrats accused Trump of sabotaging diplomacy at a critical moment.

"The president always undercuts diplomacy," Kaine said. "If you undermine diplomacy, you raise the risk of unnecessary war."

Pence, by contrast, argued that, under Trump's leadership, an unprecedented amount of non-military pressure is being brought to bear on North Korea.

"After decades of North Korea stalling and ignoring the world community and continuing to develop nuclear and ballistic missiles, we're now literally beginning to see movement among nations in the region. China is doing more than ever before," the vice president said.

While some Republican lawmakers simply ignore Trump's most provocative tweets, Democrats continue to blast the president's social media messaging.

"I don't let my 11-year-old have a Twitter account, and I would suggest that somebody in the White House might want to do a better job of controlling the president's Twitter account," New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich told VOA.


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Seoul and Pyongyang set the time for first inter-Korean talks in 25 months
By Jennie Oh | Jan. 08, 2018


South and North Korea to hold first inter-Korean talks in 25 months on Tuesday 10 a.m. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
| License Photo

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 08 (UPI) -- Seoul and Pyongyang officials will meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday for the first inter-Korean dialogue to be held in 25 months, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said in a regular press briefing on Monday that the time had been confirmed and a detailed schedule would be released on the day of the dialogue.

The meeting will take place in the Peace House in the truce village of Panmunjom, JoongAng Ilbo reported.

He said the talks will largely focus on the North's participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics but other pending issues of mutual interest could be on the agenda, "especially those that were highlighted in July last year."

On July 17 last year, the new Moon Jae-in administration proposed holding military talks with the North to discuss ways to prevent accidental clashes and to halt hostile actions near the Military Demarcation Line. Seoul also suggested inter-Korean Red Cross talks on holding separated family reunions.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told reporters on Monday morning that Seoul would prepare to discuss these issues, Yonhap reported.

The ministry, however, could not confirm if Tuesday's talks would touch on North Korea's nuclear program. Spokesman Baik said, it would be difficult to comment based on presuppositions.

Meanwhile, analysts believe the North may ask Seoul to halt joint military drills with the United States as well as the rotational deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the South.

It may also request the resumption of economic cooperation such as reactivating the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex.


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Treat Kim Jong Un like the gangster that he is
By Robert Huish, Dalhousie University | Jan. 09, 2018


This image released on December 9 by the North Korean official news service (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting various government facilities throughout the country's Samjiyon County. Photo by KCNA/UPI
| License Photo

Jan. 9 (UPI) -- U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should never talk to each other on the phone, or through Twitter. Two unpredictable, nuclear-armed egotists are a threat to themselves and to the world, regardless of the size of their buttons.

Fortunately, cooler heads are now communicating between North and South Korea. Still, this is no time for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, nor the international community, to get comfortable with Kim.

North Korea flouts international agreements, bolsters its economy through sordid means and is responsible for ghastly human rights abuses.

As a researcher on social justice and human security in North Korea, I have a reminder for Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as they prepare to meet in Vancouver next week to discuss North Korea: Kim runs a feudal gangland, not a nation state. The rules of diplomacy do not apply to the Hermit Kingdom.

North Korea is isolated, hungry, without power and without allies. Yet Kim gathers resources for nuclear proliferation, missiles and prison camps. This is thanks to his business partners. The international community has mistakenly ignored them.

How to deal with Kim's belligerence? View him as a thug. And like any gangster, understand how he makes money and what really scares him.

First, target those who profit with Kim. Second, empower defectors who can speak to North Korea's grim reality. Their voices matter both within and outside North Korea.

Kim acquires weapons by sea, he pays for them with narcotics, cyberattacksand cryptocurrency. Masterful smugglers, North Korean vessels run under flags of convenience, shell companies process the funds and other vessels entering North Korean waters deceptively turn off their broadcast identifiers.

'Protector' of North Koreans

I interviewed numerous North Korean defectors for three years. I also tracked vessels doing business with Kim. From this work, I make two conclusions about how the international community should approach North Korea.

First, Kim holds power through a projected image of ordained invincibility. He is the protector of the North Korean people. He may not provide enough food, and he may send them to prison camps, but only he can protect against pending violence from the United States.

Missile launches and nuclear tests pose little threat to the West. They are symbolic demonstrations of power for his compatriots.

Second, in order to prop up his image as the Great Marshal, Kim collects his military resources below the radar. Illegal smuggling, counterfeiting, insurance scams, weapons sales, cyberattacks, narcotics production and forced labor abroad bring in cash. And there are global markets for all, accessed through shady diplomats and shadowy shell companies. They skirt sanctions with impunity.

Formal diplomacy fails as North Korea relies more on the illicit, rather than the legitimate, international community. Until now.

Recent sanctions by the United States, the United Nations and the European Union are smarter. They target Kim's financial environment. Instead of sanctioning the target, new sanctions attack the banks and maritime operators that help him.

Already, maritime traffic into North Korea has dropped significantly and the regime is taking to sea-to-sea transfers to acquire goods - a high-risk, low-return operation. Kim's options are getting fewer.

It's a start, but not enough.

Targeting Kim's markets for missile tests and nuclear proliferation is good policy. It is easier, and safer, to prevent missiles getting in to North Korea than it is to shoot them down once they're flying out.

However, North Korea's trading partners are widespread and include businesses around the world, notably in Europe, India, Africa and even New Zealand.

Recognize that Kim's greatest fear is having his compatriots and the world know how weak he is. The missiles are more show than threat. It's why Kim is not fazed by Donald Trump's half-baked tweets.

Kim nervous about defectors' stories

He is, however, deeply frightened of defectors telling their stories. Their testimony will shatter his reputation and possibly land him in the International Court of Justice.

North Koreans are unlikely to oust Kim themselves and rebel against Juche, the regime's rigid social control system. China also fears the thought of any civil conflict in North Korea that could lead to a massive refugee crisis at its borders.

Strategic sanctions against North Korea are starting to put Kim in a bind. Winter is a hungry time in North Korea, and Kim will blame sanctions for upcoming food shortages.

Freeland, Tillerson and Moon must remain vigilant with smart sanctions and not trust Kim to make good on any agreement.

Instead, they must identify those who finance Kim, block their revenues and deal with him like an international criminal, not as a head of state.

Robert Huish is an associate professor in international development studies at Dalhousie University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Two Koreas in fresh talks on Winter Olympics after the North agreed to attend the games
South Korea has proposed a joint march for the opening ceremony and a unified women's ice hockey team

Agence France-Presse
January 15, 2018


The head of South Korean delegation Lee Woo-sung, right, and the head of North Korean delegation Kwon Hook Bong, left, arrive for their meeting at the North side of Panmunjom in North Korea on January 15, 2018. Officials from the Koreas met Monday to work out details about North Korea's plan to send an art troupe to the South during next month's Winter Olympics. South Korea Unification Ministry via AP

North and South Korea began talks on Monday to discuss appearances by performers from Pyongyang's state-run artistic troupes at next month's Winter Olympics in the South, after the North agreed to attend the games.

Pyongyang agreed last week to send athletes, high-level officials, and others to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, easing months of high tensions over its weapons programmes.

The two sides agreed an art troupe would be part of the delegation. Eight officials - four from each country - started a working-level meeting to thrash out the details on the northern side of the Military Demarcation Line at the border truce village of Panmunjom soon after 10 am (0100 GMT), Seoul's unification ministry said.

The North's delegates include Kwon Hyok-Bong, a senior culture ministry official, as well as Hyon Song-Wol, the leader of the North's famed all-female Moranbong music band.

The 10-strong band, established in 2012 with members supposedly chosen by leader Kim Jong-Un, is known for its Western-style, synthesiser-driven music and sophisticated fashion style rare in the isolated nation, although most of their songs laud the regime.

Their numbers include the jaunty "Mother's Birthday", about the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, and the more soulful "We Call Him Father", an ode to leader Kim Jong-Un.

Such lyrics could fall foul of the South's National Security Act, which bans praise for the North.

The band once cancelled a planned performance in Beijing in 2015 and returned home after Chinese officials took issue with propaganda images on the stage featuring Pyongyang's long-range missiles.

The South's delegates include senior officials from the state-run Korean Symphony Orchestra, raising the prospect of groups from both sides of the DMZ performing together -- another top North Korean act is the State Merited Chorus, a military choir.

The two Koreas are also set to hold talks with the International Olympics Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday over how the North's athletes will participate in the games.

South Korea has proposed a joint march for the opening ceremony and a unified women's ice hockey team, reports quoted a minister as saying last week.

The South Korean government and Olympic organisers have been keen for Pyongyang - which boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul - to take part in what they have been promoting as a "peace Olympics".

The North remained silent on the offer until Mr Kim abruptly announced intentions to take part in his New Year speech, in a move seen as aimed at easing military tensions with the US.

Tension has been high on the flashpoint peninsula as the North staged a flurry of nuclear and missile tests since last year and Mr Kim traded threats of war and personal attacks with US president Donald Trump.

Mr Kim's declaration triggered an apparent rapprochement and a rapid series of moves, while Seoul touted last week's talks -- the first inter-Korea meeting in two years -- as a potential first step to bring the North into negotiations over nuclear arsenal.

South Korean president Moon Jae-In, who advocates dialogue with the North but remains critical of Pyongyang's weapons drive, said last week he was willing to have a summit with Mr Kim "under the right conditions", but added that "certain outcomes must be guaranteed".

In a setback for such hopes, Pyongyang on Sunday slammed Mr Moon as "ignorant and unreasonable" for demanding pre-conditions - possibly a step towards denuclearisation - for a summit.

"The south Korean chief executive should not be dreaming," the state-run KCNA news agency said in an editorial, accusing Mr Moon of "brown-nosing" the United States.

"The south Korean authorities have an axe to grind, hoping to eat corn without teeth," it added.

It represented a return to the North's more usual tone - in the run-up to the talks KCNA had uncharacteristically and respectfully referred to Mr Moon by name and his title of president.

KCNA added that the North could still change its mind about taking part in the Olympics. "They should know that train and bus carrying our delegation to the Olympics are still in Pyongyang," it said.

A spokesman for Seoul's unification ministry played down the editorial, attributing it to "internal reasons and circumstances".

"We believe that it is important to seek improvement in ties based on mutual respect and understanding," Baik Tae-Hyun told reporters.


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North Korea's Olympic move a chance for U.S. talks, analyst says
By Elizabeth Shim

Jan. 18, 2018


North Korea is expected to send hundreds of delegates to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, an opportunity to “exhaust every diplomatic option available to avoid war,” a U.S. analyst said Wednesday. File Photo by Yonhap

NEW YORK, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- North Korea is pursuing a dangerous path of nuclear weapons development, but that does not mean the United States should dismiss an opportunity to deescalate tensions during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, a U.S. analyst said Wednesday.

Speaking before members of the Harvard Business School Club of New York, Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow with New America who recently met with North Korean officials in Moscow, said Kim Jong Un's overtures for reconciliation are not to be ignored as tensions recede on the peninsula.

"I think the Olympics actually offers an opportunity for both sides to scale back on the rhetoric," she said, referring to the U.S. and North Korean governments. "We now have a nearly two-month Winter Olympic pause."

"We must use that pause to pursue and exhaust every diplomatic option available to avoid a nuclear war, with a leader who is in regime-saving mode."

DiMaggio said Kim Jong Un is not irrational, but rather motivated by self-preservation.

Those priorities, however, have received mixed readings in the United States, owing to the rapid acceleration of weapons tests in 2017.

DiMaggio said a calmer assessment is necessary, given North Korea's circumstances.

"Kim would not carry out a first strike against the United States or its allies," the analyst said.

"Why would he engage in a first strike? It would be suicidal."

The rationality that characterizes the regime may have played a key role in Kim's offers in his New Year speech.

Kim's willingness to send a delegation to the Winter Games in South Korea has been met with a quick response from Seoul, and the two Koreas have held several talks at the truce village of Panmunjom.

Hundreds of North Korean athletes, performers and other representatives are expected to arrive in Pyeongchang in February, and the two Koreas agreed to march under a unified flag at the opening ceremony.

But none of the positive developments should turn U.S. attention away from the regime's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, according to DiMaggio.

"North Korea has an unflinching determination to advance its nuclear and missile program," she said, adding North Korea's sixth nuclear test conducted in September 2017 had a nuclear yield of 250 kilotons.

"By comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15 kilotons."

Kim made it clear in his speech there was no stopping North Korea because under his rule the regime has "finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force."

"U.S. intelligence agencies reduced the time that they estimate it will take North Korea to develop a missile that could carry a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on top of the missile, capable of surviving the stresses of re-entry, and delivering it to the United States," DiMaggio said.

"The rationale behind this accelerated pace is clear," the analyst added.

"The North Korean leadership sees its nuclear program as its only source of security against regime change by the hands of the United States."

DiMaggio, who recently met with North Korean officials, including top diplomat Choe Son Hui in Moscow, said the weapons are also being used to strengthen the North Korean negotiation position.

"I had an opportunity to sit on a panel with a senior North Korean official in Moscow," the analyst said, adding Choe explained why Pyongyang believes it needs nuclear weapons.

In the short term, North Korea is not seeking nuclear parity, rather enough armament to "deter us from attacking them."

Weapons buildup and the possibility North Korea could have enough fissile material to build multiple bombs is why the United States should approach Pyongyang carefully and speak in a single voice, while not undercutting diplomatic efforts, DiMaggio said.

"Unpredictability is not an asset," the analyst said, referring to Trump's tweets about Kim Jong Un. "We do not have direct military-to-military communication with the North Koreans."

"If the North Koreans are misreading the signals, you could see how this could spiral into something...We would know within minutes if a missile was launched," she said.

"But we can't assume the North Koreans have the same technology."


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Kim Jong Un invites South Korean President Moon to Pyongyang
By Steve George, Will Ripley and James Griffiths, CNN

Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT) February 10, 2018


Kim Jong Un invites President Moon to N. Korea 01:10
Pyeongchang, South Korea (CNN)The South Korean President has been invited to travel to North Korea, following a formal invitation from the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, potentially setting up the first meeting of Korean leaders since 2007.
The invite, presented to South Korean President Moon Jae-in by Kim's younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, was delivered during a historic meeting between North and South Korean officials at Seoul's presidential palace Saturday, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.
Saturday's meeting, the most significant diplomatic encounter between the two sides in more than a decade, could now be surpassed should Moon accept Kim's invitation to visit Pyongyang later this year.
Moon responded to the invitation by suggesting the two countries "should accomplish this by creating the right conditions," adding that talks between North Korea and the United States were also needed, and requested that North Korea be more active in talking with the US, according to Kim Eui-kyeom.
Images from the lunch meeting at the Blue House, which was broadcast live on South Korean TV, showed Moon sat in front of Kim Yo Jong, rather than Kim Yong Nam, technically the more senior official present in the meeting and head of the North Korean delegation.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, shakes hands with Ri Son Gwon, North Korea's chief negotiator, as Kim Yo Jong, right, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's nominal head of state, stand during a meeting Saturday at the presidential palace.
The younger Kim's trip to the South marks the first time that a member of the North's ruling dynasty has visited since the Korean War, which ended in an armistice in 1953.
Analysts noted that Kim Yo Jong was shown holding a blue folder adorned with a gold seal, which she later placed in front of her on the table, leading to speculation in South Korean media that it could contain a personal letter from her brother to the South Korean President.
Such a high-level meeting would have been unthinkable even a few months ago, but 2018 has seen an accelerated rapprochement between the two adversaries in the run-up to the Games.
Moon has expressed his intention to use the Winter Olympics as a chance to make diplomatic inroads with the North and restore normalized communications, following months of high tensions on the Peninsula.
Speaking last year at his swearing-in ceremony, Moon said he would be willing to travel to Pyongyang "under the right conditions," adding that "for peace on the Korean Peninsula, I will do everything that I can do."
Other members of the North Korean delegation present at Saturday's meeting included Ri Son Gwon, who led the first sit-down talks at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) earlier this year, and Choe Hwi. South Korean participants included senior officials Jeong Eui-yong, Jo Myong-gyoon and Im Jong-suk, the chief presidential secretary.
Kim Yo Jong also was due to attend the unified Korean hockey team's first Olympics match, a spokesperson for South Korea's presidential office told CNN. Moon and Kim Yong Nam were due to be in the stands as well, a Blue House spokesperson told CNN. The team plays Switzerland on Saturday.

The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, center, shakes hands Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the Opening Ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Dialogue with the US
Saturday's meeting follows a brief encounter between the two parties Friday at the Olympics Opening Ceremony, in which Moon twice shook hands with Kim Yo Jong.
The apparent thaw has not been reflected in Washington, however. US Vice President Mike Pence, sitting a few seats away in the same Opening Ceremony VIP booth, looked stony-faced as the scene unfolded.

'Good chance' South Korean President will be invited to North Korea

Pence, who is leading the US delegation to the Olympics, has accused Pyongyang of using the event for its own ends. "We will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games," he said in Japan earlier this week.
Shortly after North Korea invited the South Korean leader, Pence's office issued a statement.
"The Vice President is grateful that President Moon reaffirmed his strong commitment to the global maximum pressure campaign and for his support for continued sanctions," said Pence's spokeswoman, Alyssa Farah.
Pyongyang has ruled out a meeting with the US delegation during the Winter Games. Jo Yong Sam, department director general of North Korea's foreign ministry, said Thursday the country had never "begged the US for dialogue" and wasn't about to start now.
"We have no intention to meet the US side during our visit to South Korea," Jo said in a terse statement reported by state-run news agency KCNA.
The US has given mixed signals about its willingness to talk. Pence appeared to leave the door open for negotiations earlier this week when he said, "I haven't requested any meeting. But we'll see what happens."

  • Video shows Pence seated near Kim Jong Un's sister 01:00
'Calm before the storm'
Diplomatic sources with deep knowledge of North Korea's activities told CNN that despite outwardly positive signs and indications of a "charm offensive" from Pyongyang, what's "unclear and bizarre" is there has not been any concurrent diplomatic movement from North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Sources told CNN that sending ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam and Kim's sibling reads as more of a symbolic act than any concrete diplomatic initiative by North Korea.
Since diplomatic efforts are "almost zero," sources said this may signal a "calm before the storm," with North Korea quietly preparing its next moves for after the Olympics.


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South Korea promotes culinary delight, food aid at Pyeongchang
By Jennie Oh
Feb. 13, 2018

SEOUL, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- South Korea will strengthen efforts to eradicate global hunger and promote wellness around the world with food aid and culinary excellence, according to Minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs Kim Yung-rok, in an interview with UPI.

Ahead of a Global Food Summit held on the sidelines of the Pyeongchang Olympics, Kim renewed the country's commitment to boosting food security and nutrition, particularly in developing countries.

"South Korea was an impoverished nation in the past, after the Korean War. So it was once a country that received international food aid. Now, living standards have risen significantly and the level of self-sufficient food production is high, especially when it comes to rice," he said.

South Korea recently joined the multilateral Food Assistance Convention, pledging 50,000 tons of rice this year, worth $40.5 million.
The FAC, made up of 16 members, including Australia, the European Union and the United States, aims to reduce hunger, enhance food security and improve the nutritional status of the most vulnerable populations.

North Korea won't be among the recipient countries due to United Nations Security Council sanctions against its nuclear development program, although Kim says the isolated state is in critical need of food aid.

After consultations with the World Food Programme, Kim said the rice is likely to be delivered to Middle Eastern and African countries that are struggling from internal conflicts and climate change.

"As the average annual income in South Korea is set to hit $30,000 per capita, we will strive to seize the opportunity to expand our donation (through the FAC)," the minister said.

The agriculture ministry is also assisting agricultural development in developing nations around the world, as part of its Official Development Assistance (ODA).

"We are supporting developing nations with agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation systems as well as cutting-edge technology for farmers and consulting services for governments to help them formulate national strategies for agricultural development," Kim said.
In 2010, South Korea became the first country to transition from being an aid recipient to a donor of ODA.

Its rural development initiative sparked in the 1970s is largely credited with transforming the country's war-torn landscape into productive, self-sufficient communities, by bolstering farming co-ops, infrastructure and education.

Since then, the country has been sharing its homegrown rural development model by introducing modern farming techniques and new agricultural technologies to communities around the world.

Out of the 3.2 billion dollars allotted for ODA in South Korea's government budget for this year, around 70 million is dedicated to agricultural development in 15 countries around the world.

Kim says his ministry plans to expand assistance by customizing aid to the needs of the beneficiary countries.
Along with foreign aid, South Korea aims to introduce its homegrown food and technologies to promote sustainable produce and diets, as part of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs aim to achieve zero hunger and food security by 2030.

"Korean cuisine is internationally acclaimed as balanced, nutritious food, containing an eight to two ratio of vegetable oil to animal oil. Also, soy sauce, soy bean paste and other fermented products are some of the world's most advanced fermented foods. As for kimchi, it is one of the world's top five healthiest foods," Kim said.

The minister encouraged all Pyeongchang visitors to stop by the K-Food Plaza located in the Olympic venue where they can taste 60 of Korea's best traditional dishes, freshly prepared with ingredients sourced from the local Gangwon Province.

The dishes include chili chicken stew, buckwheat pancakes, soy sauce marinated beef, as well as a chromatic mixed rice bowl topped with stirred vegetables and meat.

The food exhibition will run throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games which end March 18.


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Human rights activists defy North Korea's Olympics charm offensive
By Elizabeth Shim
Feb. 13, 2018

Human-rights-activists-defy-North-Koreas-Olympics-charm-offensive (2).jpg

North Korean cheerleaders wave the reunification flags during the women's ice hockey preliminary round between Sweden and the joint North-South Korean team on Monday. Some have criticized Seoul for extending an invitation to a massive delegation of North Korean supporters when only a few qualified for the Olympics.Photo by Andrew Wong/UPI | License Photo

Human-rights-activists-defy-North-Koreas-Olympics-charm-offensive (1).jpg

South Korean activist Hwang In-cheol (L) condemned North Korea on Tuesday, the 48th anniversary of the hijacking of a Korean Air Lines flight in which his father was abducted. Photo by Elizabeth Shim/UPI


Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- The visit from a high-profile North Korean delegation during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics is not a sign of progress on the peninsula, human rights activists and South Korean politicians said Tuesday.

The international group of Seoul-based campaigners who had gathered to discuss North Korean abductions of South Korean citizens -- and challenge the assumption that Pyongyang's charm offensive is a positive development -- was meeting on the anniversary of the hijacking of a Korean Air Lines flight in 1969.

The hijacking led to the abduction of 50 South Korean passengers. Thirty-nine were eventually released.

Hwang Won, the father of activist Hwang In-cheol, remains trapped in the secretive regime for more than four decades, along with more than 500 South Korean abductees.

Hwang In-cheol, who told UPI in December he attempted to smuggle his father out of North Korea in 2013 following North Korea's third nuclear test, said he is not optimistic about détente.

The longtime activist said that in 2006, during the administration of President Roh Moo-hyun, the government's pro-engagement strategies did not help bring his father home.

"That was an era when people were chanting, 'Unification! Unification!'," Hwang told UPI, adding he had been collecting information on his father's whereabouts at the time. "But the most important point is [victims of North Korea abductions] were being thoroughly alienated."

Hwang also said the current moves of the administration of President Moon Jae-in, being made to possibly "suit the tastes of the North Korean regime" and moving quickly to please Pyongyang, is unleashing for him "traumatic memories" of the previous era, when victims of North Korean human rights violations were being left out of the conversation.

Other activists said a moral imperative to repatriate Hwang's father remains amid the torrent of favorable media coverage of the North Korean delegation that included Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong.

Peter Daley, a professor at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul who has helped build Hwang's online presence, agreed and said the festivities that have accompanied North-South détente should not deter those seeking to hold North Korea accountable.

"I think one important aspect is it's not a historical event, it's an ongoing crime," Daley said, referring to the airline abduction. "It's nice that North Koreans are coming here smiling and dancing, but I think a true sign of change and good intentions would be [for the North] to help resolve some of these outstanding crimes."

South Korean main opposition party politicians, including conservatives, are supporting Hwang's cause. They condemned North Korea for depriving Hwang of his family on Tuesday.

Hwang said he was 2 years old when his father was abducted and grew up "envious of kids who could ride on their fathers' shoulders."
Hwang also struggled as a child and his family would tell him his father "would be home for Christmas" for years, until he realized his father was not coming home.

"I miss him," Hwang says in a documentary the group aired on Tuesday.

Kim Seok-woo, director of the National Development Institute in Seoul, said the abductions stand as symbols of an ongoing "era of barbarism."

A former South Korean diplomat, Kim Seok-woo said the abductions provide evidence of North Korea's systematic human rights violations that "involve members of the highest level of government."

He also criticized Seoul for being "dragged around" by Pyongyang, while extending an invitation to a massive delegation of North Korean supporters, about 700 in total.

That number is "not suitable" relative to the "very small number" of North Korean Olympians competing in the Winter Games, he said.
The research institute representative also voiced concerns North Korea may be biding for time while continuing work on its nuclear
arsenal, and using South Korean taxpayers' money to fund the staging of its soft power at the Olympics.

Signe Poulsen, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul, told UPI there is no place under international law for amnesties for crimes against humanity, referring to the multiple allegations of rights abuses against the Kim Jong Un regime.

But Poulsen did not rule out the possibility the current détente could still effectively address those issues.

"Approaches toward resolving human rights violations preferably should be victim-centric," the U.N. official said, adding policy should not isolate those who are "already isolated."

"In that sense I would add one more thing, which is we don't see engagement and accountability as opposing each other," Poulsen said.
"Rather they are processes that are mutually reinforcing, if we are looking at a more sustainable way of moving forward."


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South Korea to pay nearly $3M for North Korea's Olympic delegation
By Elizabeth Shim
Feb. 13, 2018


Cheerleaders from North Korea are receiving South Korean financial support during their stay. Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 13 (UPI) -- North Korea's participation in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics is coming with a hefty pricetag, and South Korean taxpayers are being expected to foot the bill.

Seoul is to allocate about $2.7 million toward inter-Korea cooperation that will go directly to "support" for North Korean Olympians, local news service News 1 reported Wednesday.

According to South Korea's unification ministry, the decision to provide assistance for the North Koreans is being made early Wednesday, and will go toward accommodations for North Korea's cheerleading team, its performing artists, taekwondo demonstrators, or more than 700 people who have no connection to competitive sports during the Olympics.

The funds do not include money that will go toward another 150 North Koreans participating in the March Paralympics, but Seoul is expected to finance their stay as well, according to the report.

The decision to finance the North Korean visit was made in January as part of the deal to assist the cash-strapped North.
Seoul has used the same "North-South Cooperation Fund" for previous events.

South Korea's willingness to help North Korea during what President Moon Jae-in has described as the country's "Peace" Olympics has been receiving positive reviews in Pyongyang.

The latest developments could mean North Korean leader Kim Jong Uncould place a moratorium on provocations, CBS No Cut News reported Wednesday.

On Tuesday, KCNA reported Kim thanked the South Korean government after being briefed on the visit by his sister Kim Yo Jong, who delivered a letter to Moon following the opening ceremony of the Winter Games.


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US Open to Discussing Talks With North Korea
By Brian Padden
February 19, 2018

The U.S. is indicating a new willingness to talk with North Korea, but it is still difficult to see a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula in the near future.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday, that he is intent on keeping the channels of communication open with North Korea and is "listening" for an indication that the Kim Jong Un government is "ready to talk."

Bloody nose

The shift in tone coming from the administration of President Donald Trump toward supporting unconditional exploratory talks with Pyongyang, and away from talk of a preemptive military "bloody nose" strike against North Korea, has come in response to the Olympic detente negotiated by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

North Korea's agreement to participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in the South has been accompanied by a pause in its intensive efforts over the last year to develop a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can strike the U.S. mainland. The U.S. contributed to the reduction in tensions by postponing joint military exercises with South Korea until after the Olympics.

After leading the American Olympic delegation in South Korea, Vice President Mike Pence also stated the U.S. may be open to unconditional informal talks, but emphasized the U.S. would continue to increase sanctions on North Korea until Pyongyang agrees to formal talks to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid.

Susan Thornton, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific said last week, during her confirmation hearing in the Senate, that the U.S. has no "bloody nose" military strategy and seeks a diplomatic settlement to end North Korea's nuclear program but also said that "we will reach this goal one way or another."

Thornton's testimony seemed to refute reports that Pentagon military planners were preparing for an imminent surgical strike attack on a North Korean missile or nuclear facility as a show of force to intensify pressure on Kim Jong Un to agree to denuclearization talks, known as the "bloody nose strategy."

Critics of the bloody nose strategy say Thornton's testimony indicates that moderates within the Trump administration have for now put on hold plans for a preventative strike as the risk remains too high that North Korea would launch a deadly counter attack on South Korea that could escalate into a devastating war, and that such unilateral military action would fracture the U.S./South Korean alliance.

"I think people began to understand it was going to be a bloody mess strategy and they are moving away from that," said Frank Jannuzi, an East Asia analyst at the Mansfield Foundation during an interview on VOA's Washington Talk.

Summit conditions

Kim Jong Un has responded to Moon's outreach by inviting the South Korean president to visit Pyongyang for a leaders summit soon.

President Moon indicated a willingness to meet with Kim under the right conditions. On Saturday, Moon played down expectations that the summit would happen in the near future and said that he wants to see increased inter-Korean cooperation, and an agreement to discuss the nuclear standoff with the U.S., before a summit can occur.

"I expect the relations between South and North Korea to improve in the future. Meanwhile, a shared understanding to have talks between the United States and North Korea is growing. I hope the inter-Korean talks could lead to talks between U.S. and North Korea and also denuclearization talks," said Moon.

Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has declared itself a nuclear weapons state and has repeatedly refused to talk about giving up what it claims is needed deterrence to prevent a U.S. invasion.

The U.S., meanwhile, is unwilling to ease economic sanctions pressure until the Kim government agrees to the goal of denuclearization.

Moon's diplomatic efforts are aimed at finding a way to get Pyongyang and Washington in direct talks, despite these opposing stances.

"I don't think the North is really prepared to talk about nuclear issues with South Korea, but South Korea could help facilitate that process getting underway," said Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow for the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution, during an interview on VOA's Washington Talk.

However President Moon's ability to offer North Korea significant economic incentives to encourage compromise and cooperation is constrained by international sanctions, and the U.S. maximum pressure approach.

And time for Moon's Olympic diplomacy could run out in April, when the U.S. and South Korea are expected to resume joint military exercises. Washington defends these conventional drills as legal under international law and needed to maintain military readiness. But Pyongyang has called them provocative rehearsals for invasion, and could respond by resuming missile or nuclear tests, which could reignite tensions in the region.


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South Korean presidential adviser: Many hurdles ahead to resolving North Korea issue
By Jennie Oh
Feb. 21, 2018

SEOUL, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- A South Korean presidential security adviser has cautioned there is a long road ahead to resolving the North Korea crisis, amid optimism that inter-Korean relations have improved, Maeil Business Daily reported.

Moon Chung-in, the South Korean president's special adviser on foreign affairs and national security said Tuesday that while many say the Pyeongchang Olympics has brought about a significant change to South-North relations, the two Koreas are only in the beginning stages of building bridges.

"There are too many hurdles to creating a post-Pyeongchang situation where the 'peaceful Olympics' [mood] can be sustained," he said.
Moon noted that various factors such as the North's continued nuclear provocations and Washington's military threats against the North had hindered the two Koreas from engaging in dialogue, even up until last year.

He attributed the recent progress in cross-border ties to Washington's continued pressure on Pyongyang combined with the South Korean President's Moon Jae-in's "sincere stance" on dialogue.

The advisor stressed that, now, there needs to be "a certain level of peaceful coexistence and rebuilding of trust" to further build inter-Korean ties.

Moon added that talks between the United States and North Korea were essential to overcoming military tensions and that such dialogue should eventually lead to the restoration of Six Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis, Yonhap reported.


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Trump Announces 'Largest Ever' Sanctions on North Korea
By William Gallo
February 23, 2018

After announcing what he called the "largest ever" set of sanctions against North Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened a "phase two" if the measures aren't effective.

"If the sanctions don't work, we'll have to go to phase two, and phase two may be a very rough thing," Trump said, speaking alongside visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Trump did not specify what he meant by "phase two," but suggested it would be "very, very unfortunate for the world."

"Only time will tell," he added.

Both as a candidate and as president, Trump repeatedly has made headlines about Pyongyang. He threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea and has suggested he would have China "get rid of" North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Earlier Friday, Trump announced the "heaviest sanctions ever imposed" against North Korea, part of what the White House bills as a "maximum pressure" campaign against the North.

The sanctions, which target North Korea's illicit shipping and trade, come despite a recent thaw in tensions between North and South Korea, which have been holding high-level talks.

The sanctions target 56 entities – 27 shipping and trade companies, 28 vessels, and one individual –located all over the world, from North Korea to China to Tanzania, according to senior U.S. administration officials.

North Korea has long relied on a complex and shadowy global shipping network to evade United Nations sanctions that target its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"We are determined through these efforts to increase the pressure on the North Korean regime and show Kim Jong Un that there's no other path for him to take but denuclearization," said a senior U.S. official.

The announcement came as Trump's daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, arrived in South Korea for meetings with senior Seoul officials and to attend the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

At a dinner for the U.S. delegation in Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised North Korea's participation in the Olympic Games "as an opportunity for us to engage in active discussions between the two Koreas and this has led to lowering of tensions on the peninsula."

"I also believe that such developments are thanks to President Trump's strong support for inter-Korean dialogue and I would like to express my deep appreciation on this point as well," Moon added.

A high-level North Korean delegation is also attending the closing ceremony, but U.S. officials have said there will not be any meetings between the U.S. and North Korean delegations.

Since Trump took office, U.S. officials have given mixed messages on the idea of talking with the North, at times suggesting Washington is open to talks without preconditions and at other moments insisting Pyongyang must first commit to giving up its nuclear program.

The latest U.S. position, outlined by Vice President Mike Pence, is that the White House remains open to negotiations but that it will also keep up its campaign to diplomatically and economically isolate North Korea.

Earlier sanctions

Since August of last year, the U.S. has helped oversee three rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea. The pressure has not stopped Pyongyang from conducting more nuclear and missile tests.

Nonetheless, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters U.S. sanctions are "beginning to have a significant impact" on North Korea's ability to fund its weapons programs, though he did not provide any evidence for the assertion.

The U.S. also released a global advisory Friday, intended to alert the world to "deceptive shipping practices used by North Korea to evade sanctions," according to a Treasury Department statement.

"The president has made it clear to companies worldwide that if they choose to help fund North Korea's nuclear ambitions, they will not do business with the United States," Mnuchin said.

But the new sanctions' effectiveness depends on whether they can successfully be implemented.

And the U.S. has limited leverage over many of the shipping companies involved in helping North Korea evade sanctions, warns Gary Samore, former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

"A lot of the companies working with North Korea are very small," Samore said. "And they don't care whether they work with the United States."

Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury Department official, praised the new sanctions for addressing North Korean shipping, which he says "has long been a gaping hole in the U.S. sanctions regime."

"The only thing missing here today is action against complicit Chinese banks," said Schanzer, now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "We know they continue to undermine our efforts to isolate North Korea.

"Until we take that step, DPRK will be able to operate rather freely in the formal financial sector."


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North Korean envoy, in South, opens door to US talks
By: Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press and Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press  

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — A North Korean envoy making a rare visit to South Korea said Sunday that his country was willing to open talks with the United States, a rare step toward diplomacy between enemies after a year of North Korean missile and nuclear tests and direct threats of war from both Pyongyang and Washington.

Kim Yong Chol, who Seoul believes masterminded two attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans, was in South Korea for the end of the Olympics. He said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to improve ties with Washington and had “ample intentions of holding talks” with its rival, according to the South’s presidential office.

He made the remarks during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is eager to engage the North after one of the most hostile periods in recent years on the Korean Peninsula.

Moon, who was invited a day after the opening ceremonies to Pyongyang for a summit with Kim Jong Un, also said that Washington and Pyongyang should quickly meet to “fundamentally solve” the standoff on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim later sat in the VIP box at Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang for the Olympic closing ceremonies, just feet away from Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and the top U.S. military commander on the peninsula, Gen. Vincent Brooks. The former anti-Seoul military intelligence chief watched K-pop divas and fireworks and stood for the South Korean national anthem.

Even the faintest possibility of diplomacy will be welcomed by many. But there will also be widespread skepticism among conservatives in Seoul and Washington, with many wondering if the North is simply looking for economic relief after a series of increasingly tough international sanctions slapped on Pyongyang for its illicit weapons programs or more time to develop those weapons.

Moon has yet to accept the North’s invitation for a summit, but he has advocated engagement with Pyongyang his entire political career and likely wants to go.

But he must first strike a balance with Washington, which has a policy meant to isolate and sanction the North until it agrees to give up its nukes. Some observers believe that Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge to win concessions from Seoul.

There was no immediate comment from the United States, where it was dawn when the statement was released.

Kim Yong Chol was head of the North’s military intelligence when the 2010 attacks on South Korea took place and is currently a vice chairman of the ruling party’s central committee tasked with inter-Korea relations.

With decades of experience, he is one of the most powerful people in the North’s ruling regime. Seoul decided to temporarily take him off of a blacklist to allow the visit.

South Korea is hoping to ease tensions by allowing the North to participate in the games and send senior delegations.
Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, attended the opening ceremony in an historic first — no member of the ruling Kim family had ever traveled to the South before. She invited President Moon Jae-in to a summit with her brother in Pyongyang. The delegation to the closing ceremony was expected to follow up on that invitation while in South Korea.

The delegation’s arrival was met by protesters calling for Kim’s arrest for his alleged role in the 2010 attacks — the sinking of the warship Cheonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors and an artillery strike on a South Korean island that killed four people.

Outside Olympic Stadium, just before the ceremony, more than 200 anti-Pyongyang protesters waved South Korean and U.S. flags, banged drums and held signs saying “Killer Kim Yong Chol go to hell.” They denounced the South Korean government’s decision to allow the visit.

“How can a murderer who killed 46 sailors on the Cheonan warship can be invited, protected and defended? This is the state of what the Republic of Korea has become,” one protester shouted into a mic, referring to South Korea’s formal name

The protesters also hung a sign that read: “We are against Pyongyang Olympics: fallen into the propaganda of the terrorist Kim Jong Un’s brutal regime.”

There were no major clashes.

At the opening ceremony earlier this month, Kim Yo Jong sat in the same VIP box with Moon and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, creating some awkward moments. Though Pence stood to cheer the entrance of the U.S. team, he remained seated when the athletes from North and South Korea marched together behind a “unification” flag, leaving Moon to instinctively turn around and shake Kim’s sister’s hand.

Pence’s office claimed afterward that the North had pulled out of a planned meeting at the last minute.

The North’s state-run news agency ran a story Sunday quoting a “spokesman for the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee” as saying that Pence insulted Kim’s sister with his hard-line rhetoric after returning to the U.S. and “we will never have face-to-face talks with them even after 100 years or 200 years.”

Associated Press Seoul Bureau Chief Foster Klug and Pyongyang Bureau Chief Eric Talmadge contributed to this report.