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North Korea, US to hold working-level talks on Oct 5
01 Oct 2019

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US President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, on Jun 30, 2019. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files)


SEOUL: North Korea and the United States have agreed to hold working-level talks on Saturday (Oct 5), North Korea's state news agency KCNA said on Tuesday, a development that would break months of stalemate since a failed summit in February.
"I can confirm that US and DPRK officials plan to meet within the next week," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes have been stalled in a holding pattern since the second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam ended without a deal.

The two leaders had agreed to restart working-level talks at a surprise meeting at the heavily-guarded border between the two Koreas in June, but the outcome remained uncertain as North Korea repeatedly launched short-range ballistic missiles and often criticised the United States for continuing joint military drills with South Korea.

The two countries agreed to have preliminary contact on Oct 4, followed by the working-level talks, KCNA said, citing a statement issued under the name of Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui. It did not mention where the talks would be held, or give any more details.

"The delegates of the DPRK side are ready to enter into the DPRK-US working-level negotiations," Choe said in the statement, using North Korea's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

"It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-US relations."

Although North Korea has lately expressed willingness for working-level talks, messages carried by its state media attached a caveat that Washington should show more flexibility.

North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Myong Gil said in a statement last month that the United States should present the "right calculation method at the upcoming talks".

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in September that Washington was ready to meet North Korean counterparts and believed it was important to do so, although ousted former US National Security Adviser John Bolton warned on Monday that North Korea had no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons.

"We welcome the agreement between North Korea and the United States to proceed with working-level negotiations on Oct 5." South Korea's presidential Blue House said in a statement.

"Through this working-level negotiation, we hope that substantial progress will be made at an early date to achieve complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula."

Source: Reuters/hm
 

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South Korea stands by fighter jet patrol over disputed Dokdo islets
Oct. 1, 2019
By Elizabeth Shim
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South Korean F15K

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South Korea's military flew fighter jets over the disputed Dokdo Islets (pictured) on Tuesday. File Photo by Yonhap

Oct. 1 (UPI) -- South Korea defended a decision to fly F-15K fighter jets over disputed islets in the East Sea following strong protests from Japan.

As part of a commemoration marking the founding of the military, Seoul's fighter jets had conducted a patrol over Dokdo, also known as Takeshima in Japan, South Korean news service News 1 reported Tuesday.

Japanese foreign ministry official Shigeki Takizaki called the South Korean embassy to express "deep regret," according to Japanese press reports.

Japan and South Korea each claim the islets as part of their territory. On Monday Takizaki reportedly said "Takeshima, as clearly reflected in history, is Japanese territory, even under international law."

Japan did incorporate Dokdo into its territory when it annexed the Korean Peninsula in 1905. Japan's claims are no longer valid following the end of World War II and colonial occupation, according to Seoul.

The Japanese diplomat also said South Korea flights are "unacceptable."

Taro Kono, Japan's new defense minister, said the flights would interfere with security cooperation between South Korea and Japan.

"I hope [South Korea] responds wisely," Kono said.

South Korea rejected Japan's claims to Dokdo. Seoul's military said Dokdo is "clearly the territory of the Republic of Korea" and protested Japanese statements.

South Korea flew four jets in observance of the 71st anniversary of the country's Armed Forces Day, over Dokdo and also the island of Marado. It patrolled other areas of the peninsula, including areas of the West Sea or Yellow Sea, according to News 1.

South Korea's relations with Japan remain strained at a time when Tokyo is cooperating with other partners on monitoring North Korea.

Japan's foreign ministry said Tuesday Canada and Japan have been cooperating in the surveillance of North Korean vessels engaging in illicit ship-to-ship transfers at sea, Yonhap reported.

Tokyo also said Canadian forces will be allowed to be stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, for the purpose of transshipment monitoring.

Kadena is a U.S. air force installation.
 

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North Korea presence on Hambak Island is violation, Seoul lawmaker says
Oct. 2, 2019
By Elizabeth Shim
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North Korea has deployed troops to a disputed island near Yeonpyeong Island (pictured), but Seoul has said it is not a violation of a past agreement. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 2 (UPI) -- South Korea's main opposition conservatives are calling for a tougher response to the presence of North Korean troops on a disputed island near the western maritime border.

Lawmakers are slamming Seoul's position on the deployment of a North Korean platoon on Hambak Island, following a statement from Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, who said the North Korean maneuvers are not a violation of an inter-Korea military agreement signed in September 2018, News 1 reported Wednesday.

Suh Chung-won, a conservative lawmaker with no party affiliation, said North Korea's presence on an island the South also claims is a violation of law.

"Article 13 of the Armistice Agreement states commanders of both sides recognize a group of islands centered on Udo and includes Maldo, Udo and Hambakdo [Island] as [South Korean] territory," Suh said, during a parliamentary audit of the defense ministry. "For this reason, North Korea has not built military facilities there for 70 years."

Earlier in September the defense ministry told a parliamentary committee North Korea may have deployed a platoon to Hambak Island for monitoring purposes, including tracking the construction of military facilities at the Northern Limit Line, keeping an eye on defecting North Koreans and watching for Chinese fishing vessels.

Suh said Wednesday the presence of North Korean facilities is an issue.

"We could take military action. The presence of North Korea's military facilities at the southernmost tip of the West is a major problem," Suh said, according to Newsis.

The lawmaker also said the North was "doing bad things" by planning the military facility on Hambak Island before May 2017.

"We must be poised to take action in order to maintain security as outlined in the Armistice Agreement" of 1953, Suh said.

Earlier on Wednesday North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile, according to analysts.
 

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Analyst: U.S. should 'test' Kim Jong Un
Oct. 15, 2019
By Thomas Maresca
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This image, released Aug. 7 by the North Korean Official News Service (KCNA), shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un overseeing the country's fourth series of missile launches in less than two weeks a "warning" to South Korea and the United States over an ongoing joint military exercise. File Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- As nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States remain at a stalemate and Pyongyang continues to launch new missiles, Washington should put Kim Jong Un's willingness to denuclearize to the test, defense analyst Bruce Bennett of research institute RAND Corp. said Tuesday.

Speaking at a forum at Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies, Bennett said that despite repeated promises, Kim Jong Un has not taken any significant steps to denuclearize and has in fact increased his nuclear capacity since the failed Hanoi, Vietnam, summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in February.

"From an American perspective, it looks what we call 'bait and switch,'" Bennett said.

The analyst said that Washington should test whether Kim is willing -- or able -- to live up to his denuclearization pledge.

"President Trump should say to Kim Jong Un: 'Prove to me that you're serious,'" said Bennett. "Take one nuclear weapon. . . we'll send in American, British and French teams of nuclear specialists. They'll work with your personnel to take apart that weapon. Get rid of it.

"If Kim is not prepared to do that today, when will he ever be prepared to [dismantle] one out of 45 weapons he can clearly afford? Unless he doesn't want to do it himself. And there's reason to believe that's the case."

Bennett added that Kim may also not have the power to unilaterally dismantle a weapon if he doesn't have the support of the country's military elites.

"We always assume he's very powerful, that he can do whatever he wants to," said Bennett. "But can he really do anything he wants to, especially with nuclear weapons? Let's test and see."

In return, the United States can offer limited sanctions relief, said Bennett, such as reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the joint inter-Korean manufacturing zone that was shuttered in 2016.

Bennett said he would also offer to invite the International Atomic Energy Agency to send inspectors into South Korea to confirm that there are no American nuclear weapons hidden in the South and to set a precedent for verification on the Korean Peninsula.

Negotiations between North Korea and the United States have stalled since the February Trump-Kim summit ended abruptly without an agreement, as both sides remained far apart on timing and details of denuclearization and sanctions relief.

A working level meeting on Oct. 5 in Stockholm, the first official talks since Trump briefly met Kim at the inter-Korean border in the DMZ in late June, broke down in hours with the North Korean side complaining that the United States remained inflexible.

"While having so far hinted at a flexible approach, new method and creative solution, the U.S. has heightened expectations," said North Korea's chief negotiator, Kim Myong Gil. "But it came out with nothing, greatly disappointed us and sapped our appetite for negotiations."

North Korea has continued to launch new missiles since the Hanoi summit, including its first submarine-launched ballistic missile, on Oct. 2.

Pyongyang has also tested a new type of short-range ballistic missile on several launches since May, which analysts have said is similar to Russia's Iskander missile. The missile is capable of complex flight patterns that make it much more difficult for missile defenses to detect and intercept.

U.N. Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from conducting any kind of ballistic missile launch.

Bennett said that it's important to emphasize the serious threat that North Korea poses to South Korea and potentially the United States, one that will continue to grow as Pyongyang develops its nuclear and conventional arsenal.

Bennett estimated that one nuclear blast from a 230-kiloton nuclear warhead, the size that North Korea tested in September 2017, would cause roughly 3 million casualties in Seoul or New York.

He added that North Korea's new Iskander-type missile would potentially be able to destroy eight or nine of the South Korean military's 12 air bases.

"My bottom line is we need to be more proactive in trying to address this threat," Bennett said. "This is a serious threat and we need to take it seriously in order to justify the things we have to do to fix the problem."
 

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What Did America Offer North Korea at Working-Level Talks? One Report Claims To Know
October 15, 2019
And it makes absolutely no sense at all.
by Harry J. Kazianis

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Do we finally know what U.S. negotiators offered North Korea at recent working-level talks that broke down in just a few hours? According to several news reports, citing just one anonymous source, we just might have an idea.

The offer might look familiar, as it is similar to a reported U.S. offer that had been in the press. According to the Korean outlet Hankyoreh which picked up a report in the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, the deal Washington pitched Pyongyang looked like this:
The US offered to temporarily suspend the ban on North Korean exports of coal and textiles as a reward for denuclearization. After the working-level meeting in Stockholm on Oct. 4-5, North Korea declared that the talks had broken down and claimed that the US had shown up “empty-handed.” The US State Department countered by saying it had brought “creative ideas.” The Japanese paper said that these “creative ideas” were the rewards offered during the talks.
The Japanese newspaper reported that the US had proposed two conditions for easing sanctions. First, the US asked North Korea to promise that it would hand over all nuclear weapons and materials in its possession and completely dismantle facilities related to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and ballistic missiles. Second, it asked the North to completely dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear complex and to effectively halt its uranium enrichment activities. The US apparently indicated that, if North Korea agreed to those conditions, the US was willing to not only provisionally lift the embargo on coal and textiles but also allow humanitarian aid to the North and officially declare the end of the Korean War. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, North Korea retorted that the US’ conditions were excessive and asked for all sanctions to be lifted.

The newspaper said that North Korea complained to the US that it hadn’t been rewarded for its suspension of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and nuclear weapon testing. Furthermore, North Korea asked the US to halt its joint military exercises with South Korea, stop deploying cutting-edge weaponry to South Korea, and to refrain from deploying strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula. According to the newspaper, the US responded by voicing its concerns about North Korea’s launch of the Pukguksong-3 missile, apparently launched from a submarine. The launch, US negotiators reportedly said, was entirely unhelpful for dialogue between the two countries.
This, of course, raises a lot of questions as there are key details that would have needed to be ironed out. First and most important, would North Korea give up its weapons of mass destruction, missiles, nuclear material and facilities before sanctions relief comes? Knowing how long that process could take--nevermind confirmed--we could be talking about years for Pyongyang to get any benefit if that is the case.

Second, how would the deal be implemented? This then opens the floodgates to many more questions. What would inspection teams look like? Who would be part of them? Who would determine if North Korea is following the terms of this deal? Are there snapback provisions if Pyongyang cheats?

There is also some strange problems with the deal, or at least the wording of the report. If America demanded the closure of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, wouldn’t that already be covered in the demand to close “completely dismantle facilities related to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and ballistic missiles.” What facilities does this cover? Production? As you can see, this report leaves us asking more questions than gaining any sort of clarity, as there seem to be parts missing or jumbled in someway.

But in the end all of these questions are for nothing. Such a deal, if this was the offer to begin with, would have been a non-starter to North Korea as it essentially asks for something close to denuclearization in exchange for just a few sanctions removed. Good luck with that.
 

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Samsung says fix coming for security-flawed Galaxy phones
By Nicholas Sakelaris
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The company said a software fix will be available sometime next week. File Photo courtesy Samsung Electronics/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 19 (UPI) -- South Korean electronics giant Samsung said Friday it will offer a software fix for a major security flaw that allows anyone to bypass fingerprint security on its Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note S10 devices.

The security defect, which was discovered this week, allows any fingerprint to unlock the phones if they are encased in a silicone shell. The case interacts with the phones in such a way that effectively fools them into accept any print.

"This issue involved ultrasonic fingerprint sensors unlocking devices after recognizing 3-dimensional patterns appearing on certain silicone screen protecting cases as users' fingerprints," the company said. "To prevent any further issues, we advise that [affected] users who use such covers to remove the cover, delete all previous fingerprints and newly register their fingerprints."

Samsung said a security patch will be issued next week. Until then, it also recommends owners against using front screen protectors on the devices.
Millions of S10 devices have been sold worldwide.

Samsung has not indicated whether the security flaw might also affect Galaxy S11 devices, which are expected to be released early next year.
 

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South Korean students arrested after trespassing at U.S. ambassador's residence
OCT. 19, 2019
By Elizabeth Shim

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South Korean university students climb over a wall during a protest against the Special Measures Agreement, at Habib House, the U.S. ambassador’s residence, in Seoul on Friday. Photo by Kim Chul-soo/EPA-EFE



Oct. 19 (UPI) -- More than a dozen South Korean university students were arrested on Friday after climbing into the U.S. ambassador's residence in Seoul.

A total of 17 students of a progressive inter-university coalition protesting U.S. military cost sharing were arrested at 2:57 p.m. after trespassing into the U.S. compound. They used a ladder to climb the wall of the residence, South Korean news service Newsis reported.

Two students who did not enter compound but were part of the group were also arrested, according to the report.

After climbing into the area by ladder, the protesters expressed opposition to U.S. demands that South Korea pay nearly $5 billion for basing 28,500 U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula.

The students reportedly chanted, "Harris, leave this land," a reference to U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris, the top American envoy to Seoul.

Harris has publicly defended the U.S.-South Korea alliance as the linchpin of regional security. In a recent interview with a local paper, he also said Seoul pays only one-fifth of the cost of the U.S. military presence.

Harris had said Seoul should increase its contributions to $4.8 billion, a five-fold increase.

Kim Han-sung, president of the student coalition, told Newsis the students are condemning Harris' statement and that the demand places burden on South Korean taxpayers.

The next round of negotiations between the two countries is scheduled to take place Wednesday and Thursday in Hawaii, Yonhap reported Friday.

A South Korean foreign ministry official said the two sides are working closely for a "fair level of defense cost sharing," according to the report.

In February, South Korea agreed to raise its contribution by 8.2 percent and pay $915 million annually.
 

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China and South Korea set to restart annual defence talks after five-year break
  • Vice-ministerial meeting was last held in 2014 as Seoul agreed to the deployment of a US anti-missile system
Laura Zhou
Published: 21 Oct, 2019

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China and South Korea are expected to resume their vice-ministerial strategic defence dialogue after a five-year break. Photo: Reuters

China and South Korea are set to hold high-level defence talks on Monday for the first time since 2014, when tensions emerged over Seoul’s plans to allow deployment of a US anti-missile system.

Lieutenant General Shao Yuanming, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, is expected to meet South Korean defence vice-minister Park Jae-min in Beijing, according to Yonhap News Agency.

They will talk on the sidelines at the Xiangshan Forum, a three-day gathering on Asia-Pacific security and defence which started on Sunday.
The defence ministry in Seoul said the officials were expected to “have in-depth discussions on the Korean peninsula security conditions and issues of mutual concern”, Yonhap reported.


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Lieutenant General Shao Yuenming is expected to resume China’s part in a high-level defence dialogue with South Korea. Photo: Minnie Chan

Relations between China and South Korea were strained by Seoul’s decision to host American Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system (THAAD) but ties have warmed as both countries have pushed back against pressure from the US.

Washington and Seoul are at odds over a cost-sharing agreement for the US military, with US President Donald Trump demanding South Korea contribute more for the presence of US forces.

Hwang Jae-ho, director of the Global Security Cooperation Centre at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said the meetings, formally known as the China-South Korea vice-ministerial strategic defence dialogue, resumed mainly because the countries now had more mutual interests.

“Now China has to make more friends in the international community as its ties with the United States have gone bad, and South Korea is looking for China to help rein in Pyongyang. At a time like this, it’s inevitable for the two countries to want to move closer,” Hwang said.

The deployment of THAAD, a proposed military hotline, and South Korea’s air defence identification zone are expected to be high on the agenda.
First held in 2011, the defence dialogue was hosted alternately by Seoul and Beijing. It was suspended in 2015 when South Korea, then under president Park Geun-hye, said it was considering THAAD as a deterrent against North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Beijing disapproved and said China was the real target. Each country then placed unofficial economic and cultural bans on the other. These included Chinese sanctions against South Korea’s Lotte supermarket chain and a ban on TV airtime for South Korean bands.

Tensions began to slowly ease after November 2017, when the two countries said they had decided to set aside their differences and advance their strategic partnership. Seoul also promised not to host additional THAAD missiles nor join a US-led missile defence system that involved Japan.
Additional reporting by Kristin Huang
 

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Australia to deploy Anzac-class frigate to help enforce UNSC sanctions against North Korea
Gabriel Dominguez, London
24 October 2019
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The Australian government announced on 24 October that it is deploying Royal Australian Navy Anzac (Meko 200)-class frigate HMAS Parramatta in support of the international effort to enforce United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions imposed against North Korea.

“HMAS Parramatta will deploy in support of sanctions enforcement as a component of a broader East Asian deployment,” said Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in a statement, adding that Parramatta is the third Australian vessel to deploy to the region to monitor and deter ship-to-ship transfers of sanctioned goods.

“This deployment reflects Australia’s ongoing commitment to maintain pressure on North Korea to take concrete, verifiable, and irreversible steps towards denuclearisation,” said Reynolds.
 

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North Korea accuses U.S., South Korea of prepping for war
April 28, 2020

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F-15K fighter jets were deployed in joint U.S.-South Korea exercises, North Korean state media said Tuesday. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA-EFE

April 28 (UPI) -- North Korea denounced the United States and South Korea for conducting joint drills last week in response to increased North Korean flight activity.

Pyongyang propaganda service Uriminzokkiri claimed Tuesday the coalition training was fanning the "fever of war" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"The South Korean military is currently conducting war exercises, such as combined air training and the Pohang joint landing training," North Korean state media said.

Uriminzokkiri also said the joint exercises involved the deployment of South Korea's F-15K and KF-16 jet fighters and the United States' F-16 aircraft.

During the joint landing operation drill, U.S. and South Korean military exercised with more than 300 troops operating armored vehicles, Pyongyang said.

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo had said drills were necessary because of an uptick in North Korean military activity.

"North Korea's inspections of artillery-focused combat readiness and the North Korean air force's flight activities are increasing, leading to increased military tension," Jeong had said.

Pyongyang's media denied the joint exercises were for defense purposes.

"These are extremely reckless and provocative practices for war, aimed at our republic," Uriminzokkiri said. "Just as an alligator cannot become a goldfish by putting on a disguise, saying [the exercises] are for defense is not fitting for warmongers."

North Korea's condemnation of the drills comes at a time when Kim Jong Un remains out of the public eye, encouraging wild speculation about his condition following unconfirmed reports of heart surgery and ill health.

North Korean restaurant workers in China who spoke to Yonhap claimed Kim's health is "good," as their establishments reopen and the coronavirus pandemic could be subsiding in China.

According to Yonhap's China correspondent, North Korea-run restaurants in the northeastern city of Shenyang are operating again, possibly in violation of international sanctions.

China has claimed it is complying with international resolutions against North Korea for nuclear weapons development.
 

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Donald Trump: I know how Kim Jong Un is doing

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President Donald Trump said Monday he knows the health condition of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has not been seen publicly in over two weeks. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI | License Photo


SEOUL, (UPI) -- U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday he has information about Kim Jong Un's condition amid swirling speculation about the North Korean leader's health but did not offer any details.
"Yes, I do have a very good idea, but I can't talk about it now," Trump said during a Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House. "I just wish him well. I've had a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un."

Trump said Kim's whereabouts and health would soon be widely known.
"I hope he's fine," he said. "I do know how he's doing, relatively speaking. We will see. You'll probably be hearing in the not-too-distant future."

However, Trump later added, "Nobody knows where he is."

The president's comments come after several days of rumors and media reports claiming that Kim, who has not made a public appearance in over two weeks, is gravely ill or even dead.

Speculation has been rife about the North Korean leader's health since he did not attend April 15 ceremonies observing the birth anniversary of founder Kim Il Sung for the first time since he fully assumed power in 2012.

Kim was also absent from a celebration of the founding of North Korea's armed forces on Saturday.

Last week, a report by the Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that receives information from sources inside North Korea, claimed that Kim was receiving treatment at a hospital after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure.

Citing an unnamed source, the article said Kim underwent the procedure on April 12 at the Hyangsan Clinic, a private hospital for the Kim family in North Pyongyan Province, as a result of "excessive smoking, obesity and overwork."

CNN reported that the leader was in "grave danger" following surgery, citing an anonymous U.S. official. Trump later said he believed the report was "incorrect."

Further rumors followed, including a social media posting by the vice director of a Hong Kong satellite television network claiming that Kim was dead, and a report from Japanese magazine Shukan Gendai that Kim was in a vegetative state after heart surgery.

South Korean newspaper JoongAng Daily reported Monday that Kim was self-quarantining because one of his personal bodyguards contracted COVID-19, citing an unnamed source in China. Another newspaper, Dong-a Ilbo, published an article by a high-ranking North Korean defector, Ri Jong Ho, speculating that Kim may have been injured during missile tests on April 14.

South Korean officials, however, have said that there are no indications that Kim Jong Un is in dire health, with presidential adviser Moon Chung-in telling CNN on Monday that Kim is "alive and well" and has been staying in the coastal resort area of Wonsan since April 13.

A report from 38 North, a website that analyzes developments in North Korea, used satellite data to conclude that a train likely belonging to Kim has been parked at his Wonsan resort since at least April 21.

"The train's presence does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader or indicate anything about his health, but it does lend weight to reports that Kim is staying at an elite area on the country's eastern coast," the report said.

North Korean state run-media has not addressed any of the speculation surrounding Kim and has reported on correspondence he has had over the past week with other heads of state, including the presidents of Syria and Cuba.

The most recent report citing Kim came Monday, when state-run Korean Central News Agency said that the leader sent "a message of greeting" to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Kim's last officially reported public appearance came in an April 12 photo showing him inspecting a group of fighter jets at an airfield in the western part of the country. He also attended an April 11 meeting of the ruling party's political bureau, according to KCNA, during which he called for stricter measures to contain the coronavirus in North Korea.
 

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No deal on U.S., South Korea burden sharing, report says
April 30, 2020

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U.S. President Donald Trump (R) has said South Korea should increase its defense contributions. File Photo by Shealah Craighead/White House | License Photo


April 30 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korea have not reached a settlement on defense burden sharing despite reports indicating otherwise, according to a South Korean news service on Thursday.

News 1 reported a source at Seoul's presidential Blue House confirmed negotiations on the Special Measures Agreement are ongoing and the two sides have yet to agree on a final number.

The Trump administration has said South Korea should pay as much as $5 billion annually for maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula, but Seoul has suggested the U.S. demand cannot be met. On Tuesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said a 13 percent increase from current levels of contribution is the "highest amount possible."

According to News 1, government sources said the two sides agreed to a 13 to 14 percent increase in South Korea's burden sharing at the end of March. But on April 20, during a press briefing at the White House, Trump publicly denied any deal was reached.

The most recent SMA expired at the end of 2019. South Korean workers at U.S. military bases were furloughed on April 1.

Uncertainty about the future of cost sharing comes at a time when the absence of Kim Jong Un is triggering questions about stability on the peninsula.

The U.S. military could be closely monitoring North Korea.

South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported Thursday two U.S. RC-12 Guardrail planes, special reconnaissance aircraft, were deployed from Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.

The aircraft also flew in South Korean airspace on Wednesday, according to the report.

Shin Jong-woo, director of Seoul-based Korea Defense and Security Forum, said the multiple deployments indicate the U.S. military is seeking precise readings and identification of relevant signals located in North Korea.
 

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Analysts: U.S., China should tread carefully in case of North Korea collapse
April 30, 2020

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China shares an 880-mile border with North Korea, which may be crossed in the event of North Korea instability, U.S. analysts say.

NEW YORK, April 30 (UPI) -- China plays an outsize role in North Korea's economy, but its clout in the region doesn't mean Beijing can easily intervene in the event of North Korea instability, U.S. analysts say.

Neither should the United States' 28,500 troops on the peninsula get involved in a crisis scenario, where Kim Jong Un remains missing and no one in Pyongyang, including Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong, is able to take the reins.

"Certainly, the United States should play a role behind the scenes," said Mitchell Lerner, director of the Institute for Korean Studies at Ohio State University.

"But a U.S. military presence [in North Korea] would likely just exacerbate the situation by inflaming much of the North's population, which has for so long been fed a steady diet of tales of American atrocities."

The United States should provide financial, logistical and intelligence support, but the military needs to stay in the background if at all possible, Lerner told UPI.

Tensions between the United States and North Korea have receded since 2018, when Kim met with President Donald Trump at a historic summit. Despite several North Korean short-range missile tests, Trump has professed a special relationship with the North Korean leader, whose last reported public appearance was April 11. Rumors have swirled that he is in ill health.

But ordinary North Koreans are indoctrinated to deeply resent Americans at an early age for their role in the 1950-53 Korean War, at sites like the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities.


Terry Roehrig, professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, told UPI during a recent Korea Economic Institute webinar that the domestic nature of regime instability rules out external involvement.

"If there is something wrong with Kim Jong Un's health, and he passes away, that is an internal political issue," Roehrig said. "I don't think the United States should or can necessarily intervene."

While the world's biggest military superpower would be recommended to sit out a potential North Korea collapse, such a scenario could invite China -- which shares an 880-mile border with the reclusive country, to respond -- particularly if it affects Chinese control of its northeastern region.

"China does have a critical role to play in a North Korean contingency," said Soo Kim, a policy analyst at the RAND Corp. "But Beijing will only consider crossing into the North Korean side of the border if the situation in North Korea interrupts China's own stability.


"Should there be instability in North Korea, the benefit of China's involvement in the contingency to the United States and allied interests will be limited."

In the event of a regime downfall or coup, neither Beijing nor Washington, not to mention Seoul, could be ready for what might follow.

U.S.-China relations has reached its lowest point in decades as accusations fly amid the coronavirus pandemic. Discussing North Korea as COVID-19 cases continue to rise may be the least of Trump's, and President Xi Jinping's priorities.

"It is very important the United States, China and South Korea have had discussions about this, because if we decide to act, there's an awful lot of room to get in each other's way," Roehrig said.

"China would perhaps be more willing and certainly better placed to move into North Korea if there was some indication of extreme instability" in a country that has developed nuclear and chemical weapons, he added.

Lerner, who agrees the Chinese could cross the border in a "worst-case scenario," said the friendship between China and North Korea is somewhat exaggerated. The North Koreans are wary of Chinese intrusion.


"They really don't have the close fraternal and ideological bonds that most Americans seem to think. And the Kims have always jealously guarded their control of North Korea against Chinese encroachment," the analyst said. "One suspects that the next leader, whether it is a Kim family member or someone else, will feel the same way."

As Kim's disappearance raises stability questions, the Trump administration may have been raising the risk of decoupling from a key ally, South Korea. A short-term defense burden-sharing agreement expired at the end of 2019. Meanwhile, South Korean workers at U.S. military bases were furloughed on April 1, and a reported South Korean offer of a 13 percent increase in contributions has not been formally accepted in Washington. U.S. officials have asked as much as $5 billion annually from Seoul.

"The worst possible message, but one that is not surprising," Lerner said. "Trump sees foreign policy only through the lens of dollars and cents."

Soo Kim says the policy is sowing doubt and mistrust among South Koreans.

"It's one thing if this contention were confined at the top levels only; it becomes a larger, messier issue once it seeps out to the public. And it has."
 

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U.S. deploys bombers, spy planes as Kim Jong Un remains missing
May 1, 2020
By Elizabeth Shim

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The RC-135W, or Rivet Joint, flew over the Korean Peninsula on Friday, according to aviation tracker Aircraft Spot. Image courtesy of U.S. Air Force

May 1 (UPI) -- The U.S. military deployed supersonic bombers in the Pacific and surveillance aircraft over the Korean Peninsula, as speculation continues over the status of Kim Jong Un.

Online aviation tracker Aircraft Spot published data of the movements of the movements of the RC-135W, or Rivet Joint, on Friday.

"USAF RC-135W 62-4139 LEVET22 operating over South Korea," the tracker tweeted.

The spy plane was deployed to South Korean airspace and flew near the Seoul metropolitan area and over the cities of Incheon and Gyeonggi Province's Gwangju city, according to Yonhap news agency.

The Rivet Joint is designed to gather telemetry and other electronic intelligence data before missile launches. It has been detected in South Korean airspace in recent months.

In a separate tweet, Aircraft Spot confirmed two supersonic bombers, the U.S. Air Force's B-1B Lancers, flew from the U.S. mainland to the East China Sea near Okinawa, then to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

The supersonic bombers have been active in the Pacific. On Thursday, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command confirmed two B-1Bs carried out a 32-hour flight over the South China Sea from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

"This operation demonstrates the U.S. Air Force's dynamic force employment model in line with the National Defense Strategy's objectives of strategic predictability with persistent bomber presence, assuring allies and partners," the U.S. military said.

Before Kim went missing for 20 days, North Korea had warned the United States of consequences if its demands for sanctions relief were not met.

Kim had also vowed to introduce a "new strategic weapon," raising concerns in South Korea earlier this year the regime could be pursuing the development of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles.

The South Korean government has said they have detected no unusual movements following unconfirmed reports of Kim's health.
 

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He’s Back: Kim Jong Un Reappears — at Fertilizer Plant
May 02, 2020
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After a wave of news reports suggesting he was gravely ill or even dead, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has appeared in public for the first time in 21 days.

Kim’s venue choice for his reemergence was relatively mundane: the completion ceremony for a fertilizer plant in Sunchon, a city about 50 kilometers north of the capital, Pyongyang.

State television showed a smiling Kim, smoking a cigarette and casually chatting with senior officials as he sauntered around the plant. Though at times he was shuttled about in a golf cart, Kim showed no obvious signs of health problems.

Rumors about Kim’s health began to swirl after he skipped a major North Korean political anniversary on April 15. The reason for Kim’s absence remains unclear, as does the timing of his reappearance.

“I’d rather not comment on it yet,” U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday. “We’ll have something to say about it at the appropriate time.”

It is not the first time there have been rumors about Kim’s health. In 2014, Kim disappeared from public view for about 40 days, prompting a flurry of speculation. He eventually reemerged using a cane.

Accounts vary

But this time around, the rumors were especially intense, as well as varied. Among the theories: Kim had undergone failed heart surgery, suffered a kidney malfunction, was in lockdown because of coronavirus fears or had been injured in a botched missile test. TMZ, the celebrity gossip website, reported that Kim had died.

On social media, the portly North Korean leader’s “death” had become an internet joke, with the hashtag #KimJongUnDead trending on Twitter, Instagram and other sites.

“The incident may reveal more about us than about Kim: how we keep trying to wish the problem of North Korea away through fevered speculation, rather than find practical ways to deal with it as it is,” John Delury, a professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University, said.

The rumors began when the Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, reported Kim was recovering after heart surgery. Several U.S. media, including CNN and NBC, then reported the U.S. had been monitoring intelligence he was in grave danger.

South Korean officials had rejected the reports, insisting Kim was alive and in control of the country. Some officials in Seoul had said Kim may have skipped the April 15 anniversary event because of coronavirus concerns. North Korea has said it does not have any coronavirus infections, a claim that experts say is unlikely.

In state media footage published Saturday, neither Kim nor any of the top officials surrounding him wore face masks. However, most if not all people wore masks in the crowd of hundreds that gathered to watch the ceremony.

The 36-year-old Kim has gained a significant amount of weight since taking over after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011. Kim's health is especially relevant because he has no clear successor, raising concerns about a power struggle in a nuclear-armed country.

“North Korean instability and power transition is a real possibility, and we need to be prepared,” says Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. diplomat focused on the Koreas.

Not much known

But the incident is a reminder of how little is known about the activity of senior leaders in North Korea, the “hardest of the hard targets,” says Bruce Klingner, a former CIA official on Korea issues.

“Things like...health (issues)...or leadership intentions, those are very difficult to get information on,” says Klingner, now with the Heritage Institute. “Really all sources of intelligence have almost unique constraints when operating in North Korea.”

One of the big questions: why did Kim skip the April 15 event commemorating the birth anniversary of his late grandfather and national founder Kim Il Sung?

While a health issue can’t be ruled out, Korea analyst Rachel Minyoung Lee says Kim may just be trying to distinguish himself from the legacies of his grandfather, as well as his father, former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea since late last year has made an effort to distance Kim Jong Un from his predecessors, apparently to highlight [Kim] on his own merit … so what we're seeing now tracks with that trend,” she told VOA.

And why did Kim choose a fertilizer factory to make his reappearance?

Christopher Green, a North Korea expert and lecturer at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said the reason may be simple: “North Korea has an endemic fertilizer shortage and it is May, a bad time for North Korea food security.”

“Kim Jong Un didn’t disappear to spite you,” Green said, “and hasn’t reappeared to thumb his nose at you.”
 
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