North Korea ‘Looking To Blame Seoul’ For Its COVID-19 Infection – Analysts

This picture taken on July 26, 2020 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 27 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking at a ceremony to confer "Paektusan" commemorative pistols on leading commanding officers of DPRK armed forces on the occasion of the 67th anniversary of the Korean War ceasefire in Pyongyang. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This picture taken on July 26, 2020 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 27 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking at a ceremony. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea is seizing on the return of a defector from the South to point the finger at Seoul for the arrival of coronavirus in the country after months of denying it had any cases, analysts said Monday.

Pyongyang imposed a lockdown on the border city of Kaesong, saying it had found a suspected COVID-19 infection in a defector who had returned across the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, state media reported at the weekend.

For months the North had denied having any cases of the virus that swept the world after first emerging in neighbouring China — its main diplomatic backer and trade partner — raising scepticism among observers.

And Seoul officials said Monday that the man believed to be the re-defector has never been confirmed as a coronavirus patient in the South, nor a contact of a confirmed case.

The South has carried out more than 1.5 million tests as part of an extensive “trace, test and treat” model that has largely brought the outbreak under control.

Analysts said the North was likely to have already had virus cases, and Pyongyang was looking to blame Seoul for the outbreak, rather than its own longstanding ally Beijing.

“North Korea may try to use the defector’s return to deflect the blame for an outbreak that has already occurred, or for any future quarantine failures,” said former US government North Korea analyst Rachel Lee.

“It could take issue with South Korea’s poor frontline security,” she told AFP. “It could even claim that South Korea purposefully sent the defector back to North Korea to spread the virus there.”

Duyeon Kim, a Korea expert at the International Crisis Group, added that by blaming an imported case from the South, the North “can now legitimately and openly accept” aid from Seoul.

The North could “further send a message about defectors painting them as enemies of the state”, she added in a tweet.

Pyongyang has repeatedly excoriated leaflet-sending defectors and the Seoul government in recent weeks, worsening already frozen inter-Korean ties and culminating in the North blowing up a liaison office on its side of the border.

Return visitor

It is extremely rare for North Korean defectors to return to their original country, where rights groups say they face severe punishment for leaving — the South’s Unification Ministry says only 11 are known to have done so in the last five years.

It is even rarer for them to travel through the Demilitarized Zone, one of the world’s most secure borders, replete with minefields and guard posts.

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 23, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Kwangchon chicken farm under construction in Hwangju County. STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

 

But the South Korean military said a North Korean defector was believed to have returned to the North from Ganghwa island, on the Han river estuary northwest of Seoul.

He was not officially identified but according to multiple media reports and defectors he is a 24-year-old who defected in 2017, also by swimming across a river.

He is being investigated on rape allegations in the South, they added.

Last month he appeared on a YouTube channel run by another defector, and said it took him more than seven hours to swim across the inter-Korean border when he went south.

Afterwards, he “cried for 10 days, as I kept on thinking about my family” back home, he said in the interview.

Seoul’s health authorities said his name did not appear in the South’s database of confirmed coronavirus cases, nor its list of their contacts.

Two individuals who had contact with the suspected re-defector were tested on Sunday and both tested negative, added Yoon Tae-ho of the Central Disaster Management Headquarters.

The North’s medical infrastructure is seen as woefully inadequate to deal with any epidemic and Pyongyang closed its borders in late January — the first country in the world to do so — in an effort to protect itself against the coronavirus.

The situation in Kaesong “may lead to a deadly and destructive disaster”, official news agency KCNA reported at the weekend.

 

AFP

COVID-19: North Korea Reports First Suspected Case As Global Cases Top 16 Million

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 23, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un visiting the Kwangchon chicken farm under construction in Hwangju County. STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

 

North Korea declared its first suspected coronavirus case on Sunday, becoming one of the last countries to do so as the number of people infected worldwide passed 16 million.

The isolated, impoverished state had until now insisted it had not detected a single COVID-19 case — even as the pandemic swept the planet, overwhelming health systems and trashing the global economy.

At least 645,000 people around the world have succumbed to the respiratory disease, with North Korean arch-rival the United States the worst-hit country by far.

“The vicious virus could be said to have entered the country,” leader Kim Jong Un said, according to the official KCNA news agency.

Authorities locked down the city of Kaesong, near the frontier with South Korea, as state media said a defector who left for the South three years ago had returned and was suspected to be infected with the coronavirus.

But experts believe the contagion is likely to have already entered North Korea from neighbouring China, where the new disease emerged late last year.

The pandemic’s spread is still accelerating, with more than five million cases declared since July — a third of the total number of cases since the catastrophe began.

Even in recent days, there has been an alarming uptick in infections, including in places that had appeared to have controlled their outbreaks.

One of those was Australia, which on Sunday suffered its deadliest day since the pandemic began, with 10 fatalities and a rise in new infections despite an intense lockdown effort.

“These things change rapidly, but we have to say these numbers are far too high,” said Daniel Andrews, premier of Victoria state, where the latest outbreak is centred.

 No fireworks 

Around a quarter of the world’s 16 million confirmed COVID-19 cases are in the United States, which recorded more than 68,000 new infections in the past 24 hours.

After a drop in transmission rates in late spring, the country has seen a virus surge — particularly in California, Florida and Texas, which is also bracing for the first Atlantic hurricane of the year.

Daily US fatalities have exceeded 1,000 for the past four days, rapidly increasing the country’s death toll to more than 146,000.

“I’m still concerned that America doesn’t take it as seriously as the rest of the world,” said British golf star Lee Westwood, voicing his hesitation to travel there despite a new quarantine exemption for professional golfers.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, which also count for a quarter of total cases, governments are not planning a return to normality any time soon.

New Year’s Eve celebrations on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro have been cancelled as Brazil grapples with a spiralling virus crisis.

“There is no great reason to celebrate, with more than 80,000 deaths” from coronavirus in Brazil, an official told AFP.

 Holiday woes 

Meanwhile, Europe has reported around three million infections — despite being largely open for summer holidays within the continent.

However, in a snap decision, Britain’s government said passengers arriving from Spain will have to self-isolate for two weeks, after a surge in cases in the Mediterranean country, with health officials pointing to nightlife as a possible culprit.

The move, effective from Sunday, has reportedly caught out its Transport Minister Grant Shapps who is holidaying there.

“Various government ministers would have known in advance there was a possibility of imposing a quarantine on holidaymakers returning from Spain,” tweeted opposition MP Diane Abbot.

“But apparently no-one bothered to tell @grantshapps,” she joked.

It marked another hit to Spain’s tourism industry, which is desperately seeking a rebound after lockdowns and border closures pushed around 13 percent of bars, hotels and restaurants to permanently close.

It mirrors the fiscal pain wrought around the world by the pandemic, particularly in precarious economies where livelihoods are fast crumbling.

In India, for instance, millions of migrant workers who fled cities when COVID-19 hit say they are too scared to return.

Asia’s third-largest economy has reported more than 1.3 million virus cases and is the third worst-hit country behind the US and Brazil.

“We are trying our best to bring back migrant workers, even going to the extent of giving them air tickets, COVID-19 health insurance … (and) weekly checkups by doctors,” real estate developer Rajesh Prajapati said.

AFP

South Korean Prosecutors Begin Probe Into Kim Jong Un’s Sister

In this picture taken on July 2, 2020 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 3, 2020 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) meeting in Pyongyang. STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS
In this picture taken on July 2, 2020 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 3, 2020 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) meeting in Pyongyang.
STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

 

Seoul prosecutors have opened an unprecedented probe into North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister over Pyongyang’s blowing up of a liaison office last month, officials said Thursday.

The move is likely to infuriate the nuclear-armed North, which has repeatedly condemned South Korea in recent months, including directing personal insults at President Moon Jae-in.

Seoul Central District prosecutors received a criminal complaint against Kim Yo Jong from a Seoul-based lawyer and had started an investigation, a spokeswoman told AFP.

Last month, Pyongyang blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border, days after Kim Yo Jong — one of her brother’s closest advisers — had said the “useless” property would soon be seen “completely collapsed”.

Before the demolition, it had issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of South Korea over anti-North leaflets that defectors send back across the heavily-militarised border — usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles.

It raised pressure further by threatening military measures against Seoul, but later said it had suspended those plans in an apparent sudden dialling-down of tensions.

A balloon carrying a banner with portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L), the late leader Kim Il Sung (C) and Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, is caught on a tree after being launched by activists in Hongcheon on June 23, 2020. STR / YONHAP / AFP
A balloon carrying a banner with portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L), the late leader Kim Il Sung (C) and Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, is caught on a tree after being launched by activists in Hongcheon on June 23, 2020. STR / YONHAP / AFP

 

In his complaint, lawyer Lee Kyung-jae claimed the now-demolished liaison office was South Korean property as it was renovated using South Korean government funds, despite its being located in the North.

Kim “used explosives to destroy” the South’s “quasi-diplomatic mission building that served the public interest”, he said in the complaint.

Lee also filed a complaint against Pak Jong Chon, chief of the general staff of the North Korean military.

Under South Korea’s criminal code, he stressed, damaging property or disturbing the peace using explosives was punishable by death, or a prison sentence of at least seven years.

Capital punishment remains on the statute books in South Korea, although it has not executed anyone since 1997.

In practice, it would be virtually impossible for Seoul officials to punish Kim Yo Jong or Pak, but Lee told the South’s Yonhap News Agency that he wanted to “inform the North Korean people of their leader’s hypocrisy”.

The announcement came a week after a Seoul court ordered Pyongyang’s leader to compensate prisoners of war who spent decades in North Korea, in a move that could set a far-reaching legal precedent on the divided peninsula.

Inter-Korean relations have been strained following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump early last year over what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.

 

AFP

Kim Jong Un Makes First Public Appearance In Nearly Three Weeks: State Media

This file photo taken on April 15, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving from a balcony of the Grand People's Study House following a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang. ED JONES / AFP
This file photo taken on April 15, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving from a balcony of the Grand People’s Study House following a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang. ED JONES / AFP

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made his first public appearance since speculation about his health began last month, cutting the ribbon at the opening of a fertilizer factory, KCNA reported Saturday.

Kim “attended the ceremony” on Friday and “all the participants broke into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!'” when he appeared, the Korean Central News Agency said.

He also inspected the facility and was “briefed about the production processes,” the report said.

Kim “said with deep emotion” that his grandfather Kim Il Sung and father Kim Jong Il “would be greatly pleased if they heard the news that the modern phosphatic fertilizer factory has been built,” KCNA added.

Kim has not made a public appearance since presiding over a Workers’ Party politburo meeting on April 11, and the following day state media reported on him inspecting fighter jets at an air defence unit.

Conjecture over his health had grown since his conspicuous no-show at April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder — the most important day in the country’s political calendar.

A top security advisor to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said less than a week ago that Kim was “alive and well,” downplaying rumors that he was ill or incapacitated.

The advisor, Moon Chung-in, told CNN that Kim had been staying in Wonsan — a resort town in the east of North Korea — since April 13, adding: “No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”

Daily NK, an online media outlet run mostly by North Korean defectors, has reported Kim was undergoing treatment after a cardiovascular procedure last month.

Citing an unidentified source inside the country, it said Kim, who is in his mid-30s, had needed urgent treatment due to heavy smoking, obesity and fatigue.

Soon afterwards, CNN reported that Washington was “monitoring intelligence” that Kim was in “grave danger” after undergoing surgery, quoting what it said was an anonymous US official.

US President Donald Trump appeared to confirm that Kim was alive earlier this week.

Trump refused to comment Friday on Kim’s reported re-emergence.

Previous absences from the public eye on Kim’s part have prompted speculation about his health.

The North is extremely secretive, and doubly so about its leadership.

Kim’s father and predecessor Kim Jong Il had been dead for two days before anyone outside the innermost circles of North Korean leadership was any the wiser.

In 2014, Kim Jong Un dropped out of sight for nearly six weeks before reappearing with a cane.

Days later, the South’s spy agency said he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.

 

AFP

Trump Appears To Confirm That North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un Is Alive

In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump on Monday appeared to confirm that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is alive, saying he wished him well after days of speculation over the dictator’s whereabouts.

Asked if he had new information about Kim’s health, Trump said “yes, I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now. I just wish him well.”

“I hope he’s fine,” Trump continued, speaking at a White House press conference. “I do know how he’s doing, relatively speaking.”

Trump said the media would “probably be hearing in the not-too-distant future” about Kim.

Conjecture has grown since Kim’s conspicuous no-show at April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder — the most important day in the country’s political calendar.

Kim has not made a public appearance since presiding over a Workers’ Party politburo meeting on April 11, and the following day state media reported on him inspecting fighter jets at an air defense unit.

Amid media reports that he was ill and speculation that he might even have died, a top security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday that Kim was in fact “alive and well.”

 

AFP

Seoul Plays Down Report On North Korean Leader’s Health

 

South Korea played down a report Tuesday that the North’s leader Kim Jong Un was being treated after surgery, as speculation mounted over his absence from a key anniversary.

Pyongyang marked the birthday of its late founder, Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, on April 15 — by far the most important date in its annual political calendar — but Kim was not seen in attendance.

Daily NK, an online media outlet run mostly by North Korean defectors, said Kim had undergone a cardiovascular procedure earlier this month and was recovering at a villa in North Phyongan province.

“Excessive smoking, obesity, and fatigue were the direct causes of Kim’s urgent cardiovascular treatment,” it cited an unidentified source inside the country as saying.

No confirmation of the report was immediately available.

But it triggered widespread speculation, with CNN citing a US official saying that Washington was “monitoring intelligence” that Kim was in “grave danger” after undergoing surgery.

In a statement, a spokesman for the South’s presidential Blue House said: “We have nothing to confirm and no special movement has been detected inside North Korea as of now.”

The South’s Yonhap news agency, meanwhile, cited an unnamed government official saying that reports Kim was seriously ill were “not true”.

But there were no explicit denials that Kim, who is in his mid-30s, had had some kind of procedure.

Previous absences from the public eye on Kim’s part have prompted speculation about his health.

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In 2014 he dropped out of sight for nearly six weeks before reappearing with a cane. Days later, the South’s spy agency said he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.

“No-one knows what’s going on inside North Korea,” said Martyn Williams, who is affiliated with the 38 North research website.

“Kim Jong Il had been dead several days before it was announced and it took everyone by surprise,” he tweeted.

“Kim Jong Un has been ‘missing’ before, and has always reappeared. That said, his absence this week was more notable.”

– Closely guarded –

The North Korean leader has not made a public appearance since presiding over a meeting of the Workers’ Party politburo on April 11.

His powerful sister Kim Yo Jong was named as an alternate politburo member and the meeting called for stronger measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

Pyongyang has closed its borders and imposed tight restrictions to protect itself from the virus that emerged in neighbouring China and has since swept the world, and insists it has had no cases.

On April 12, the North’s official news state media KCNA reported that Kim had inspected drills by fighter jets at an air defence unit.

There were no state media reports of any drills after the South said two days later that Pyongyang had launched a series of short-range cruise missiles.

But analysts have said his absence from the April 15 commemorations suggested he could be looking to emphasise his own authority over his family’s legacy.

China is the North’s key diplomatic backer and main provider of trade and aid, but Beijing declined to be drawn on Tuesday’s developments.

In response to questions, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he did not know the source of the reports and added: “China and North Korea are friendly neighbours connected by mountains and rivers.”

Reporting from inside the isolated North is notoriously difficult, especially on anything to do with its leadership, which is among its most closely-guarded secrets.

Thae Yong Ho, a former senior North Korean diplomat who last week became the first defector ever to be directly elected to the South’s parliament, expressed doubts over the reports.

“The movements and personal affairs of the Kim family are national top secret issues which are little known to not only ordinary people but also high-ranking officials,” he said in a statement.

Kim’s father Kim Jong Il died on December 17, 2011 but even two days later it was still business as usual at the North’s foreign ministry, Thae recalled, adding that “everyone was caught by surprise” when the announcement was made.

AFP

‘Serious Consequences’ Await If Coronavirus Reaches North Korea – Kim

This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea.  STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned top party officials of the “serious consequences” of failing to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus in the country, state media reported Saturday.

The impoverished nation, with a weak and ill-equipped healthcare system, has closed its borders to prevent the spread of the disease into its territory.

Kim told a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea that the fight against the virus was a “crucial state affair for the defence of the people” that required maximum discipline, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

“In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

Two senior officials — party vice-chairmen Ri Man Gon and Pak Thae Dok — were sacked, and a party unit disbanded for corruption, the report said, indicating that they may have been involved in graft linked with the anti-epidemic measures.

“No special cases must be allowed,” he added, and ordered officials to “seal off all the channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way”.

Pyongyang has not reported a single case of COVID-19, which has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 84,000 people in dozens of countries since it emerged in neighbouring China.

North Korea has banned tourists, suspended international trains and flights and placed hundreds of foreigners in quarantine to prevent an outbreak. It has also reportedly postponed the new school term.

With loudspeakers blaring hygiene messages, ambassadors locked in their compounds, and state media demanding “absolute obedience”, North Korea’s anti-coronavirus measures have been described as “unprecedented” by diplomats.

South Korea, meanwhile, is battling a major outbreak of the virus with more than 2,300 cases — the highest number outside mainland China.

Germany’s ambassador to the United Nations has said the Security Council would adopt humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its weapons programmes, and allow the export of equipment to help North Korea fight the coronavirus.

But “the problem is that right now the North Koreans closed the borders,” Christoph Heusgen said Thursday after a closed-door Security Council meeting about the reclusive state.

The members of the Security Council called on North Korea “to allow this equipment in. So the population can be protected,” he added, without elaborating on the type of equipment.

 

AFP

North Korea ‘No Longer Interested’ In US Summits After Trump Tweets

This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on November 15, 2019 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Yangdok hot spring resort under construction in South Pyongan Province. KCNA / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on November 15, 2019 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Yangdok hot spring resort under construction in South Pyongan Province. KCNA / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea is “no longer interested” in summits with the US unless Washington offers new concessions in their nuclear negotiations, Pyongyang said Monday, hours after Donald Trump hinted at the prospect.

“You should act quickly, get the deal done,” Trump tweeted Sunday, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “See you soon!”

Kim and Trump have met three times since June last year, but talks have been gridlocked since their Hanoi summit in February broke up in disagreement over sanctions relief, while October’s working-level talks rapidly broke down in Sweden.

Pyongyang has set Washington a deadline of the end of the year to come forward with a fresh offer, and foreign ministry advisor Kim Kye Gwan said the US was stalling while “pretending it has made progress”.

He interpreted Trump’s tweet as a signal for a new summit, he said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA, but declared: “We are no longer interested in such talks that bring nothing to us.”

“We will no longer gift the US president with something he can boast of,” he went on, adding the North should be compensated for the “successes” that President Trump touted as his own achievements.

The implied criticism of Trump by name is a departure for Pyongyang, which has long limited its frustration to other administration officials.

Last month, adviser Kim declared: “Contrary to the political judgment and intention of President Trump, Washington political circles and DPRK policy makers of the US administration are hostile to the DPRK for no reason,” using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

In September he was fulsome in his praise for the US leader, saying that Trump was “different from his predecessors” and that he placed his hopes in “President Trump’s wise option and bold decision”.

But as the North’s deadline approaches it has issued a series of increasingly assertive statements — while also carrying out a number of weapons launches.

Washington should withdraw its “hostile policy” if it wants dialogue to continue, Kim said Monday, without elaborating further.

Trump’s tweet came after Washington and Seoul agreed to postpone annual joint aerial exercises to create space for diplomacy with Pyongyang, which condemns such drills as preparations for invasion.

 

AFP

Trump Departs South Korea After Historic Meeting With Kim Jong Un

US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One to depart South Korea in Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, following his meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un at the Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump left South Korea on Sunday after a trip to Asia that took in a G20 summit in Japan and a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula.

Trump departed on Air Force One just before 1000 GMT (7 pm local time) en route to Washington, a few hours after he became the first sitting US president to step onto North Korean soil.

Moments after becoming the only sitting US president to set foot inside North Korea on Sunday, Trump brought Kim back over the dividing line for a meeting where they agreed to start working-level talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.

Trump also said he had invited the young leader to the White House “anytime he wants to do it”.

“It’s a great day for the world and it’s an honour for me to be here,” Trump said. “A lot of great things are happening.”

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As they sat down for discussions, Kim said their “handshake of peace” in a location that was “the symbol of the division of north and south” showed that “we are willing to put the past behind us.”

The impromptu meeting in the DMZ — after Trump issued an invitation on Twitter on Saturday — came with negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington at a deadlock.

Their first summit took place in a blaze of publicity in Singapore last year but produced a vaguely-worded pledge about denuclearisation. A second meeting in Vietnam in February intended to put flesh on those bones broke up without agreement.

Contact between the two sides has since been minimal — with Pyongyang issuing frequent criticisms of the US position — but the two leaders exchanged a series of letters before Trump turned to Twitter to issue his offer to meet at the DMZ.

Trump’s entry onto North Korean soil — which he said was uncertain until the last moment — is an extraordinary sequel to the scene at Kim’s first summit with Moon last year when the young leader invited the South Korean to walk over the Military Demarcation Line, as the border is officially known.

Moon seized on last year’s Winter Olympics to broker the process between Pyongyang and Washington after tensions soared in 2017 as the North carried out multiple missile launches and its biggest nuclear test to date, while Trump and Kim traded mutual insults and threats of war.

The significance of the meeting in the no-mans-land often referred to as the world’s last Cold War frontier was “obvious”, said Stimson Centre Asia analyst David Kim.

“It’s historic for Trump to be the first US President enter North Korea soil, historic for Moon to meet, albeit briefly, with both leaders.”

The meeting had the “potential to kick-start stalled negotiations”, he told AFP but added that working-level discussions would be crucial.

“What we need is substance, not theatrics.”

The Hanoi summit foundered amid disagreements on what the North — which has carried out six nuclear tests and developed missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland — would be willing to give up in exchange for relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Soo Kim, a former CIA analyst now with RAND Corporation, said the North’s “gravitational force has pulled Trump across the DMZ”, calling it an “alluring elixir of wile, threatening rhetoric, stalling, and dangling of the remote possibility of resuming dialogue”.

Such a meeting has long been sought by the North, but “Kim didn’t have to lift a finger to get Trump to cross the DMZ”, she added. “It was, in all appearances, by Trump’s volition.”

The DMZ has been a regular stop for US presidents visiting the South, a security ally — although Trump’s helicopter was forced to turn back by fog in 2017 — while Panmunjom saw the first two summits between Moon and Kim last year.

AFP

Kim Jong Un Leaves Vladivostok After Putin Summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Far Eastern Federal University campus on Russky Island in the far-eastern Russian port of Vladivostok on April 25, 2019. Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left the Russian city of Vladivostok on Friday after a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin where the two vowed to pursue closer ties.

Kim took part in a departure ceremony at Vladivostok station before his armoured train departed around 0530 GMT.

Kim and Putin met Thursday in the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok for their first face-to-face talks.

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The two men agreed to seek stronger relations between Moscow and Pyongyang and Kim accused Washington of acting in “bad faith” in negotiations over the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Putin left the city on Thursday for another summit in Beijing while Kim stayed on overnight for events including a wreath-laying ceremony.

AFP

Putin, Kim Jong Un To Hold First Talks In Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un / AFP

 

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un will meet in Russia’s Far East on Thursday, the Kremlin said, as the North Korean leader looks to rebuild ties with an old ally amid a standoff with the United States.

Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said the meeting — the first between the two men — would take place in the Pacific coast city of Vladivostok, before Putin heads to Beijing for another summit.

“The focus will be on a political and diplomatic solution to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula,” Ushakov told a briefing on Tuesday.

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“Russia intends to help consolidate positive trends in every way,” he said.

Anticipation for the summit had been building since the Kremlin announced last week the two men would meet by the end of April.

Russian and North Korean flags were already flying on lamp posts Tuesday on Vladivostok’s Russky Island, where the summit is expected to take place at a university campus.

Ushakov said the talks would begin one-on-one and then move into an “expanded format”, without providing further details.

He said no joint statement or signing of agreements was planned.

Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency quoted sources in the country’s rail service as saying a train carrying Kim was expected to arrive at Vladivostok station at 6:00 pm local time (0800 GMT) on Wednesday.

Kim, who travels to international meetings on an armoured train, was expected to cross into Russia at the border town of Khasan, news agency Interfax reported.

The talks follow repeated invitations from Putin since Kim last year embarked on a series of diplomatic overtures.

Since March 2018 the formerly reclusive North Korean leader has held four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with the South’s Moon Jae-in, two with US President Donald Trump and one with Vietnam’s president.

– Cold War ties –
Analysts say he is now looking for wider international support in his standoff with Washington.

At Kim’s last summit with Trump in Hanoi in February, Pyongyang demanded immediate relief from sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

But the talks broke down over what North Korea was prepared to give up in return.

Last week Pyongyang launched a blistering attack on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, demanding he be removed from the negotiations just hours after announcing it had carried out a new weapons test.

Moscow has called for the sanctions to be eased, while the US has accused it of trying to help Pyongyang evade some of the measures — accusations Russia denies.

The Vladivostok meeting appears to have been discussed with Washington.

Ushakov met last week in Moscow with Fiona Hill, a foreign policy adviser to Trump, for talks on North Korea. The US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun was also in Moscow at the time for meetings with Russian officials.

The summit will be the first between the two neighbours since Kim’s father Kim Jong Il met Dmitry Medvedev in Russia eight years ago. Putin previously met Kim Jong Il in Vladivostok in 2002.

Ties between Pyongyang and Moscow, once its most important ally, go back decades.

The Soviet Union installed Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung as North Korea’s leader and was a crucial backer and main aid provider to Pyongyang during the Cold War.

The USSR started to reduce funding to the North as it began to seek reconciliation with Seoul in the 1980s, and Pyongyang was hit hard by the demise of the Soviet Union.

China has since stepped in to become the isolated North’s most important ally, its largest trading partner and crucial fuel supplier.

Analysts say that by reaching out to Russia Kim could be looking to balance Beijing’s influence, while Putin is keen to project Russian influence in another global flashpoint

Trump Considers Holding Third North Korea Summit

US President Donald Trump (L) listens to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un during a meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 27, 2019. Saul LOEB / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump said Thursday he is considering a potential third nuclear summit with North Korea’s leader.

“We will be discussing that and potential meetings, further meetings with North Korea and Kim Jong Un,” Trump said in the Oval Office at the start of talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

A third summit would follow on Trump’s historic breakthrough last year when he met Kim in Singapore and a follow-up this February in Hanoi that ended without progress in getting North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.

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Both Trump and Moon are heavily invested in bringing North Korea out of the cold. But the unsuccessful summit in Vietnam was a setback for the two allies that has yet to be resolved.

At the White House, Trump insisted that a peaceful resolution of the North Korea standoff remains within reach and that he continues to place considerable hope in his personal brand of diplomacy.

“I enjoy the summits, I enjoy being with the chairman,” he said.

Kim is “a person I’ve gotten to know very well, and respect and hopefully, and I really believe over a period of time, a lot of tremendous things will happen. I think North Korea has tremendous potential,” Trump said.

The Vietnam summit ended without Trump being able to extract major concessions from Kim on the country’s nuclear arsenal or Kim getting the reduction he wanted in heavy economic sanctions brought to pressure him into cooperating.

Despite the sanctions, Trump said Thursday that he supports unspecified South Korean moves to bring humanitarian relief.

“We are discussing certain humanitarian things right now. I’m OK with that, to be honest,” he said.

Although the broader sanctions should “remain in place,” he said he opposes any further tightening and noted that he had stopped planned new measures.

There was “the option of significantly increasing them…, but I didn’t want to do that,” he said.

 Vietnam fallout 

Trump has emerged as an unlikely peacemaker in the Korean peninsula, reversing his initially bellicose approach with a determined effort to put Washington and Pyongyang on a historic path to reconciliation.

But the Hanoi meeting was a letdown. The two leaders cut their talks short, skipping a scheduled final lunch and the expected issuing of a joint statement.

In Washington, that outcome brought Trump praise from Republican legislators who’d worried he would give too much away in pursuit of big headlines.

Trump continues to face criticism that he is out of his depth in talks with Kim and that sitting down with the dictator has yet to bring many benefits.

But he insists that while he retains an unusually good personal relationship with Kim, he will maintain a tough negotiating line.

“Sometimes, you have to walk,” Trump said, slipping into his real estate dealer’s lingo, after the Hanoi meeting.

Moon optimistic, Kim unbowed 

For Moon, the aftermath has been even more complicated.

In his talks with Trump, he insisted that the summits have produced important results, especially “the dramatic, significant reduction of military tension on the Korean peninsula.”

“In this sense, I believe that the Hanoi summit is not actually — was not a source of disappointment, but it is actually the part of a bigger process that will lead us to a bigger agreement.”

But Moon has staked his presidency on concrete engagement with isolated North Korea, pushing for a resumption of South Korean tourism to the North’s Mount Kumgang and operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, where companies from the South used to be staffed by workers from the North.

Plans to unveil details of such projects on March 1, right after the Hanoi summit, had to be shelved and he is under pressure from opponents on the right. One lawmaker branded him the North Korean’s “top spokesman.”

Kim himself has used the impasse to speak out against international sanctions and warn in colorful, defiant terms that his country will not bow to pressure.

The state-led economy will “deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring the DPRK to its knees,” a state media report quoted him as saying on Thursday, using the acronym for the North’s official name.

Shortly after the Hanoi summit, a series of satellite images emerged suggesting increased activity at the North’s Sohae rocket site, triggering international alarm that the nuclear-armed state might be preparing a long-range or space launch.