North Korea Fires Ballistic Missiles Amid Coronavirus Fears

This picture taken on February 28, 2020 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29 shows artillery being fired during a Korean People's Army joint strike drill at an undisclosed location. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This picture taken on February 28, 2020 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29 shows artillery being fired during a Korean People’s Army joint strike drill at an undisclosed location. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range  ballistic missiles on Monday, the South’s military said, weeks after Pyongyang threatened to demonstrate a “new strategic weapon” and its deadline for Washington to offer sanctions relief expired.

The launch was the nuclear-armed North’s first for more than three months and came as nuclear negotiations with the United States remain at a standstill.

The two devices were fired eastwards over the sea from the Wonsan area on the east coast and flew 240 kilometres (150 miles) at a maximum altitude of 35 kilometres, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

They were “believed to be short-range ballistic missiles,” a JCS official said.

South Korea’s security ministers expressed “strong concern” the North was “carrying out actions giving rise to military tensions”, the presidential Blue House said.

Japan’s defence ministry said there was no indication of anything coming down in its waters or exclusive economic zone, but added: “Recent repeated launches of ballistic and other missiles by North Korea are a serious issue.”

The launch came as Pyongyang battles to prevent a coronavirus outbreak and days after the one-year anniversary of the collapsed Hanoi summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.

Negotiations have since been deadlocked over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return, despite a high-profile June meeting in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.

Pyongyang carried out a series of weapons tests late last year, the last of them in November, often describing them as multiple launch rocket systems. It also carried out static engine tests, most recently in December.

At a party meeting at the end of that month, Kim declared that Pyongyang no longer considered itself bound by its moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, and threatened to demonstrate a “new strategic weapon” soon.

North Korea has a long history of seeking to demonstrate its military capability to try to obtain concessions.

“March is pretty reliably missile-testing season for North Korea,” tweeted Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.

“Looks like COVID-19 hasn’t changed that (or Pyongyang is determined to make it appear as if it hasn’t),” he added.

Former State Department official Mintaro Oba said: “Coronavirus dominates our attention at the moment, but this is a reminder that North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile programmes.”

It would “look for ways to gain leverage and reclaim the initiative as we get closer to the US presidential election”, he added.

Joint exercises

North Korea has not reported a single case of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 3,000 people and infected over 88,000 in dozens of countries since it emerged in neighbouring China.

But state media have said around 7,000 people have been quarantined in three provinces alone.

Seoul and Washington last week said they will postpone forthcoming joint military exercises after South Korea — which has more than 4,000 infections — declared its highest “severe” alert level over the coronavirus.

The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea to protect it against the nuclear-armed North, many of them based south of Seoul at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek — Washington’s biggest overseas military facility.

The security allies have previously scaled back annual joint military exercises significantly to facilitate nuclear talks with Pyongyang — which condemns such drills as preparations for an invasion — but a command coordination exercise had been planned for this spring.

In the past Pyongyang has fired missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland and has carried out six nuclear tests, the last of them 16 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast, according to the highest estimates.

It is under multiple sets of sanctions over its weapons programmes from the United Nations Security Council, US, the South and other bodies.

Heightened tensions in 2017 were followed by two years of nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington, including three meetings between Kim and US President Donald Trump, but little tangible progress was made.

‘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 Cancels Pyongyang Marathon Over Virus Scare

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 15, 2020, shows people in protective suits spraying disinfectant at an undisclosed location in North Korea, amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. PHOTO; STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea has cancelled the Pyongyang Marathon — its biggest tourist money-spinner of the year — because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, tour companies said on Friday.

Beijing-based Koryo Tours, the official partner of the marathon, said on its website it had “received official confirmation today that the Pyongyang Marathon 2020 is cancelled.”

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“This is due to the ongoing closure of the North Korean border and COVID-19 virus situation in China and the greater region,” it added.

Young Pioneer Tours, which specialises in budget trips to the isolated country, issued a similar statement.

The annual marathon is held in April as part of the anniversary commemorations for founder Kim Il Sung’s birth in 1912 and attracts curious foreigners eager to run through the streets of the tightly controlled city.

Almost 1,000 Westerners took part last year, according to organisers, paying entry fees of up to $150 to do so.

North Korea has put itself into self-imposed isolation to protect itself from the outbreak raging in neighbouring China, which has infected more than 75,000 people and killed over 2,200.

Pyongyang has suspended flights and train services, banned tourists, and imposed 30 days of quarantine on resident foreigners.

North Korea is subject to multiple international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and its medical infrastructure is weak, with chronic shortages of medicines and equipment.

As a result, an outbreak would wreak havoc, analysts say.

It has taken similar measures before: it banned tourists for more than four months from October 2014 to keep out the Ebola virus, even though no cases had been reported in Asia.

North Korea clamped down for six months during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03, which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong.

AFP

Former North Korea Diplomat To Run In South’s Elections

Former North Korean deputy ambassador to Britain Thae Yong Ho speaks as he announces he will join South Korea’s main opposition Liberty Korea Party, during a press conference in Seoul on February 11, 2020.  YONHAP / AFP

 

The highest-profile North Korean defector in the South declared himself a candidate for parliament Tuesday, in a move he said would demonstrate democratic freedoms in his new home.

Thae Yong Ho, who fled his post as the North’s deputy ambassador to Britain in August 2016, has since become a prominent and outspoken critic of Pyongyang and the engagement approach pursued by the South’s President Moon Jae-in.

He had joined the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), he said, adding his victory would encourage Northerners.

South Korean media reports cited LKP officials saying he would be recommended for a constituency in Seoul’s wealthy Gangnam district, a party stronghold, giving him a strong chance of success in the April 15 legislative election.

“Once the North Korean people and elites see that Thae Yong Ho, who served as a North Korean diplomat, can be elected by South Koreans,” Thae said, “we will be a step closer to the real reunification that we hope for”.

His impoverished but nuclear-armed former homeland is subject to multiple sanctions over its weapons programmes and remains technically at war with the South.

Moon’s dovish policies on North Korea and reunification were going in the “wrong direction”, Thae said.

Moon brokered the first summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but since the collapse of a second summit between the two in Hanoi, he has found himself largely sidelined by Pyongyang.

“I know about the North Korean regime and system more extensively and more deeply than anyone else,” Thae said, adding he would offer a “realistic” approach that differs from “unconditional assistance or unconditional confrontation”.

Thae is one of the highest-ranking North Korean diplomats ever to defect to the South, gifting Seoul’s then-conservative government a major propaganda coup at a time of rising tension on the divided Korean peninsula.

If elected, he will become the first former North Korean official to win a seat in the South’s National Assembly.

A predecessor of the Liberty Korea Party had a defector lawmaker from 2012 to 2016, but Cho Myung-Chul was an academic and did not serve in the North Korean government.

About 33,000 North Koreans have fled to the South in the past two decades, but it is rare for high-level officials to defect.

Following his arrival in Seoul, Thae told reporters that he had decided to defect after becoming disillusioned with the Pyongyang regime and to avoid his children from living “miserable” lives in the North.

The North’s state media denounced him as “human scum” and accused him of embezzling state funds, raping a minor and spying for South Korea in exchange for money.

US Slaps Sanctions Over N.Korea Workers But Appeals For Dialogue

File Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP

 

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two companies for exploiting North Korean overseas labor but joined allies Japan and South Korea in appealing for diplomacy to ease tensions with Pyongyang.

Showing a united front, Japan’s defense and foreign ministers and South Korea’s foreign minister all held talks with American counterparts Tuesday on both coasts, two weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to launch a new weapon.

In a UN-backed bid to curb North Korea’s cash flow, the United States announced that it was freezing any US assets of the two companies and making any transactions with them a crime.

The Treasury Department targeted the Korea Namgang Trading Corporation, a North Korean firm which it said has maintained workers in Russia, Nigeria and the Middle East.

It also blacklisted Beijing Sukbakso, a Chinese company that has handled lodging and remittances for workers.

“The exportation of North Korean workers raises illicit revenue for the government of North Korea in violation of UN sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Under a UN resolution unanimously approved in 2017, countries had until December 22 last year to send back all workers from North Korea.

Human rights groups have charged that the workers live in virtually slavery-like conditions, with proceeds going to the cash-strapped regime in Pyongyang.

US officials said in 2017 that North Korea had some 100,000 overseas workers, bringing in $500 million a year.

The vast majority work in China and Russia although some have been seen around the world including in Eastern Europe, according to a study by the East-West Center.

The North Koreans are most frequently seen on construction sites, performing labor for long hours and staying in isolated housing.

The 2017 resolution came after nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, but US President Donald Trump soon afterward opened talks with North Korea, holding three landmark meetings with Kim.

The regime had been pressing unsuccessfully for the United States to remove sanctions in return and had set a New Year’s deadline.

– Growing unity among allies –
In a January 1 speech, Kim warned that he will no longer abide by the moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and said Pyongyang would test a destructive new weapon.

Asked Tuesday if North Korea had made an idle threat, Defense Secretary Mike Esper declined to speculate but said the United States was prepared.

“We’ll see what happens. It’s in Kim Jong Un’s hands what he intends to do,” Esper told a news conference at the Pentagon with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono.

“We continue to send a message that we remain ready to fight tonight if necessary,” he said.

But he stressed: “The best path forward is through a diplomatic solution that results in the denuclearization of North Korea.”

Kono said that Japan, which has especially tense relations with North Korea, supported US pressure on Pyongyang.

Japan hopes that “Kim Jong Un can come to dialogue and, hopefully, he will make the right decision for his own people,” he said.

Esper emphasized unity with Japan and South Korea, mutual US allies whose relations sharply soured last year over disputes linked to Tokyo’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

But tensions have since eased, with South Korea in November backing down on scrapping a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

The Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers, Toshimitsu Motegi and Kang Kyung-hwa, met jointly Tuesday near San Francisco with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The three “stressed that trilateral cooperation is essential to ensure the future of peace in the region,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Trump Hopes For Christmas Vase, Not Missile Test, From North Korea

 

 

 

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he hoped that North Korea would not deliver a missile test as its threatened “Christmas gift” that could reignite global tensions over its nuclear program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has promised the unidentified “gift” — which could be a missile test — if the US does not make concessions in nuclear talks by the end of the year.

“We’ll find out what the surprise is and we’ll deal with it very successfully,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

“Everybody’s got surprises for me, but let’s see what happens. I handle them as they come along.”

“Maybe it’s a nice present, maybe it’s a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test,” the president joked.

Talks on denuclearization as been largely deadlocked since a second summit between Trump and Kim in Hanoi collapsed at the start of this year.

Pyongyang has issued a series of increasingly assertive comments as its time limit approaches.

It has carried out a series of static tests at its Sohae rocket facility this month, after a number of weapons launch in recent weeks.

AFP

China Hosts Leaders Of Japan, South Korea Over Looming North Korea Tension

 

 

China hosted the leaders of squabbling neighbours South Korea and Japan for their first official meeting in over a year on Tuesday, flexing its diplomatic muscle with America’s two key Asian allies and seeking unity on how to deal with a belligerent North Korea.

The gathering in the southwestern city of Chengdu was held with the clock ticking on a threatened “Christmas gift” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that could reignite global tensions over its nuclear programme.

Kim has promised the unidentified “gift” — which analysts and American officials believe could be a provocative missile test — if the US does not make concessions in their nuclear talks by the end of the year.

The gathering also featured the first bilateral meeting between South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 15 months.

Ties between the two have hit rock bottom lately over trade issues and other disputes related to decades of bitter wrangling over Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

The United States has urged the pair to bury the hatchet — worried their poor relations were complicating diplomacy in Asia — although it has held off on direct mediation.

China is appearing to fill that void with the Chengdu event.

“As the region’s major power, China hopes to show its diplomatic presence to the world by bringing the Japanese and South Korean leaders to the same table,” Haruko Satoh, professor and expert on Chinese politics at Osaka University, told AFP.

– ‘Severe’ situation –

Before leaving for China, Abe told reporters that links with Seoul remained “severe”.

But Abe and Moon were photographed smiling and shaking hands, and made positive overtures at the start of their bilateral meeting.

The relationship between Japan and both Koreas is overshadowed by the 35 years of brutal colonisation by the Japanese — including the use of sex slaves and forced labour — that is still bitterly resented today.

Ties began a downward spiral in recent months after a series of South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate wartime forced labour victims.

These infuriated Tokyo, who insisted the matter had been settled by a 1965 treaty between the two countries.

Seoul then threatened to withdraw from a key military intelligence-sharing pact, although it reversed course in November and agreed to extend it “conditionally”.

Abe said he hoped “to improve the important Japan-South Korea relations and to exchange candid opinions”, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

On Tuesday, Seoul’s presidential Blue House said Moon described the two countries as “the closest neighbours geographically, historically and culturally”.

But at a press conference after the bilateral, Abe said it was “South Korea’s responsibility” to resolve the issues.

“I urge the South Korean side to get the ball rolling to regain the soundness of Japan-South Korea relations,” he said.

– Reversed course –

After the meeting with China, both Japan and South Korea urged the resumption of talks between Pyongyang and Washington — which have been largely deadlocked since a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Kim in Hanoi collapsed at the start of this year.

The leaders of the three countries also promised to help promote dialogue to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Also on Tuesday, North Korean state media slammed Tokyo as a “political dwarf”, saying its weapons tests “pose no threat” to Japan.

Still, if the North fired an intercontinental ballistic missile in defiance of UN sanctions, it would destroy Trump’s argument that he had succeeded in reducing risks from North Korea.

Former US national security adviser John Bolton, who was dismissed in September, on Monday criticised Trump’s strategy and warned the North posed an immediate threat.

“The risk to US forces & our allies is imminent & more effective policy is required before NK has the technology to threaten the American homeland,” tweeted Bolton.

US ‘Prepared For Whatever’ From North Korea, Says Pentagon

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley hold an end of year press conference at the Pentagon on December 20, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

The Pentagon’s top general said Friday the US military is ready for anything from North Korea in the face of Pyongyang’s ominous promise of a “Christmas gift” if Washington does not act to ease tensions.

“Korea is one of those places in the world where we’ve always maintained high levels of readiness,” said General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The US alliance with Japan and South Korea is “rock-solid,” he said.

“I think it’s prepared to defend the interests of the United States, Japan and South Korea at a moment’s notice,” he told reporters.

Milley declined to say whether US and allied forces in the region had stepped up readiness in the face of the possibility that North Korea could test a new nuclear-capable missile in the near future.

“North Korea has indicated a variety of things. And I think you’re aware of all those. So we are prepared for whatever,” he said.

Speaking next to Milley, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US was ready “to fight tonight” if necessary, but stressed the need for diplomacy with North Korea.

“I remain hopeful that we could get the process started again and remain on the diplomatic path,” Esper said.

Pyongyang has shown frustration at the lack of sanctions relief after three summits with President Donald Trump.

Earlier this month it promised a “Christmas gift” if the US does not come up with concessions by the end of the year after it placed a moratorium on long-range missile tests.

US-North Korea negotiator Stephen Biegun — just confirmed to the number two position in the State Department — visited Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing this week for discussions on the regional security situation.

In Seoul, he called Pyongyang’s comments “so hostile and negative and so unnecessary.”

He challenged North Korea to restart discussions.

“It is time for us to do our jobs. Let’s get this done. We are here and you know how to reach us.”

A provocative missile test, he added,  “will be most unhelpful in achieving lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.”

AFP

Nuclear: North Korea Conducts ‘Crucial Test’ – State Media

FILES) In this file photo taken on July 4, 2017, Pyongyang residents watch the news on the successful launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile “Hwasong-14.”  Kim Won-Jin / AFP

 

North Korea has conducted another “crucial test” at its Sohae satellite launch site, state media reported Saturday, as nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington remain stalled with a deadline approaching.

“Another crucial test was successfully conducted at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground from 22:41 to 22:48 on December 13,” a spokesman for the North’s National Academy of Defence Science said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The “research successes” will be “applied to further bolstering up the reliable strategic nuclear deterrent” of North Korea, the spokesman added.

The announcement comes after the United States tested a medium-range ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had agreed to shutter the Sohae site during a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang as part of trust-building measures.

Frustrated by the lack of sanctions relief after three summits with President Donald Trump, North Korea has vowed an ominous “Christmas gift” if the US does not come up with concessions by the end of the year.

Earlier this month the North announced it conducted a “very important test” at the same site in Sohae.

Pyongyang this week criticised Washington as “foolish” for convening a UN Security Council meeting over growing concern about short-range rockets fired from the isolated state.

AFP

US ‘Foolish’ For Calling UN Security Meeting, Says North Korea

This picture taken on July 25, 2019 and released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 26 shows a new-type of tactical guided short-range missile being launched at an undisclosed location in North Korea.  KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea’s foreign ministry on Thursday criticised the United States as “foolish” for convening a UN Security Council meeting over growing concern about short-range rockets fired from the isolated state.

Washington on Wednesday used the meeting to warn of consequences for North Korea if it followed through with its promise of an ominous “Christmas gift” in the event that the US does not come up with concessions by the end of the year.

“By arranging the meeting, the U.S. did a foolish thing which will boomerang on it, and decisively helped us make a definite decision on what way to choose,” North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

Trump has met three times with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, but frustrated North Korea is seeking a comprehensive deal that includes sanctions relief.

“The U.S. talks about dialogue, whenever it opens its mouth, but it is too natural that the U.S. has nothing to present before us though dialogue may open,” it added.

North Korea said it has “nothing to lose more and we are ready to take a countermeasure corresponding to anything that the U.S. opts for”.

At the UN Security Council, US ambassador Kelly Craft voiced concern that North Korea was indicating it would test intercontinental ballistic missiles “which are designed to attack the continental United States with nuclear weapons”.

But she said the United States, which used its presidency of the Security Council to convene the meeting, wanted to work towards a deal.

She appeared, however, to rule out meeting North Korea’s demands for an offer in the final weeks of 2019: “Let me be clear: The United States and the Security Council have a goal — not a deadline.”

AFP

Nuclear: ‘Old Man’ Trump Is ‘Bluffing’, Says North Korea

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC.  MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

North Korea on Monday slammed US President Trump for “bluffing” and called him “an old man bereft of patience” as Pyongyang ramps up pressure on Washington over stalled nuclear talks.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un engaged in mutual insults and threats of devastation in 2017, sending tensions soaring before a diplomatic rapprochement the following year.

Pyongyang has set Washington an end-of-year time limit to offer it new concessions in deadlocked nuclear negotiations, and has said it will adopt an unspecified “new way” if nothing acceptable is forthcoming.

Denuclearisation negotiations have been at a standstill since a summit in Hanoi broke up in February.

Trump has indicated that the option of military action was still on the table while downplaying Pyongyang’s actions, saying the North’s leader would not want to “interfere” with the upcoming US presidential elections.

“I’d be surprised if North Korea acted hostiley,” Trump said Saturday.

But Kim Yong Chol, who served as the North’s counterpart to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo until the collapse of the Hanoi meeting, slammed Trump’s “odd words and expression”, referring to him as a “heedless and erratic old man”.

“Our action is for his surprise. So, if he does not get astonished, we will be irritated,” Kim, now the chairman of the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

“This naturally indicates that Trump is an old man bereft of patience,” he said, adding: “From those words and expressions we can read how irritated he is now.”

The official noted that the North Korean leader had not used “any irritating expression towards the US president as yet”, but warned his “understanding” of Trump could change.

“He must understand that his own style bluffing and hypocrisy sound rather abnormal and unrealistic to us,” Kim said. “We have nothing more to lose.”

The North has raised tensions in recent months with a series of assertive statements and multiple weapons tests — including a “very important test” at its key satellite launch site at the weekend — as its negotiating time limit approaches.

Kim’s New Year speech, a key political set-piece in the isolated country, is also due on January 1.

On Thursday, the North’s vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui warned of again referring to Trump as a “dotard” — Pyongyang’s favoured nickname for the US president at the height of tensions in 2017.

Another senior official said last week that what gift the US receives for Christmas will depend entirely on Washington’s actions.

AFP

Trump, Moon Agree To Continue Talks With North Korea

US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In during a joint press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on November 7, 2017.  Jim WATSON / AFP

 

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump agreed during a phone conversation to maintain dialogue with the nuclear-armed North, Seoul said Saturday, with the two allies noting the situation had become “grave”. 

Denuclearisation negotiations have been at a standstill since a summit in Hanoi broke up in February and pressure is rising as an end-of-year deadline to offer concessions, set by Pyongyang for Washington, approaches.

The 30-minute talk was the first conversation between the US President and the South Korean leader since they met at the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

“The two leaders shared an assessment that the current situation on the Korean peninsula is grave,” said Ko Min-jung, the spokeswoman of the South’s presidential office.

“They agreed momentum for dialogue to achieve prompt results from denuclearisation negotiations should be continued,” she went on to say, adding that Trump had requested the call.

The discussion came after a week in which exchanges between Trump and North Korea raised the prospect of a return to a war of words, culminating in Pyongyang’s threats to resume referring to the US president as a “dotard” and to take military action if the US military moves against it.

The South Korean leader was instrumental in brokering the landmark summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore last year which produced only a vaguely worded pledge about denuclearisation.

AFP