South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Saturday he wants to "create an environment" conducive to talks between Seoul and Pyongyang, but that a "consensus is starting to build that there's also a need for talks between the United States and North Korea." In the absence of those negotiations, Moon seemed cautious about moving forward with unilateral conversations that could anger Washington, South Korea's most powerful ally.
He declined to formally accept the invitation to talks extended by Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while she visited the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, this month. "Let's not get too far ahead," Moon said. "There are high expectations and our hearts seem to be getting impatient." Bonnie Kristian
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and others in the White House are growing frustrated at what they see as the Pentagon's reluctance to provide President Trump with plans to attack North Korea, The New York Times reports, citing officials. McMaster reportedly argues that for Trump's threats of "fire and fury" to be credible, he has to have military options, from a "bloody nose" strike to attempting to take out Pyongyang's entire nuclear arsenal. The Pentagon, the Times says, fears "giving the president too many options ... could increase the odds that he will act."
Tensions have bubbled up with the news that Trump dropped his nomination of Victor Cha to be ambassador to South Korea because, Cha says, he pushed hard against a military strike against North Korea. But they've been simmering for months, the Times reports:
When North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in July ... the National Security Council convened a conference call that included Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. After General McMaster left the room, Mr. Mattis and Mr. Tillerson continued to speak, not realizing that other participants were still on the line. The officials familiar with the matter overheard them complaining about a series of meetings that the National Security Council had set up to consider options for North Korea — signs, Mr. Tillerson said, that it was becoming overly aggressive. [The New York Times]
Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have argued forcefully and repeatedly for diplomacy, warning that there are "few, if any, military options that would not provoke retaliation from North Korea," the Times reports. Both men denied slow-walking military plans, and Mattis and Tillerson reportedly support the idea of a preventative strike as a useful deterrent and because "they continue to be confident that, despite their anxieties, cooler heads with eventually prevail." Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber
North Korea issued a report via state-run media Saturday warning the United States against expecting "any change" in Pyongyang's nuclear policy next year.
North Korea's "entity as an invincible power can neither be undermined nor be stamped out," the statement said with typical bombast, adding that North Korea, "as a responsible nuclear weapons state, will lead the trend of history to the only road of independence and justice, weathering all tempests on this planet."
The report included a timeline of nuclear advancements Pyongyang claims to have made in 2017, including alleged ability to strike the U.S. mainland. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said he does not believe Pyongyang has that capability. The Kim regime's current missile technology "has not yet shown to be a capable threat against us right now," he told reporters in early December, though the U.S. is "still examining the forensics."
"We define this 'sanctions resolution' rigged up by the U.S. and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our republic, as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and the region and categorically reject the 'resolution,'" Pyongyang said. "There is no more fatal blunder than the miscalculation that the U.S. and its followers could check by already worn-out 'sanctions' the victorious advance of our people who have brilliantly accomplished the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force."
The sanctions were supported by Russia and China, two nations typically friendly to North Korea, as well as the United States. Read The Week's Matthew Walther on sanctions' long record of failure to change Pyongyang's behavior. Bonnie Kristian
North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile early Wednesday local time that flew 2,800 miles into the air, or about 10 times higher than the International Space Station. It "went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they've taken," Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters, adding that Pyongyang's goal is missiles "that can threaten everywhere in the world." If it had been aimed at a standard trajectory, the new ICBM would have a range of more than 8,100 miles, or "more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C.," which is 6,850 miles from Pyongyang, said David Wright at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
North Korea lauded the launch on state TV, claiming it can now "load the heaviest warhead and strike anywhere in the mainland United States." Experts disputed that North Korea could reach the U.S. with a warhead yet. "Perhaps they can hit Washington, D.C., with this, but they can't fight a war with it," said German missile expert Markus Schiller. But South Korea's unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said Pyongyang may be ready with its nuclear program in as soon as a year. You can learn more about North Korea's third ICBM test in the Fox News report below. Peter Weber
Police in the oceanfront town of Yurihonjo, Japan, on Friday took into custody eight men believed to have arrived on Japanese shores from North Korea. "We understand that the eight individuals are reporting that they came from North Korea for fishing, but drifted there after their ship experienced [mechanical] troubles," said Hachiro Okonogi of Japan's National Public Safety Commission. If past precedent holds, the men will be returned to North Korea.
Then, on Saturday, the Japanese Coast Guard found a body on Sado island, which is on the same westerly side of Japan's main island, Honshu, as Yurihonjo. The man is likewise believed to be North Korean, as his body was found with cigarettes and other personal items with Korean writing. His cause of death is unknown, as is whether he was a would-be defector or simply another fisherman whose equipment failed. Parts of a wooden boat were located nearby. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump has reinstated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in an effort to crack down on Kim Jong Un's nuclear program, The New York Times reports. Former President George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list in 2008 while attempting to negotiate a nuclear deal. The nation was first listed in 1988.
"Today the United States is designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism," Trump said in his announcement Monday. "Should have happened a long time ago, should have happened years ago. In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism including assassinations on foreign soil."
Last year, South Korean officials claimed Kim had sent assassins abroad to kill or abduct defectors. North Korea has successfully killed defectors in the past, such as when the nephew of the former wife of the previous North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, was assassinated in South Korea in 1997. Additionally, two female assassins were accused of killing Kim's estranged older half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in Malaysia earlier this year.
North Korea joins a list of state sponsors of terrorism that includes Sudan, Syria, and Iran. The announcement follows Trump's 12-day trip through Asia, including a stop in South Korea. Watch his declaration below. Jeva Lange
Trump says that North Korea should have been labeled a state sponsor of terror "a long time ago, should have happened years ago."
It did. North Korea was added in 1988. Removed in 2008 by George W. Bush. pic.twitter.com/SH9LJX1Yjx
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 20, 2017
Secretary of Defense James Mattis offered a grim assessment of U.S.-North Korean relations while speaking in Seoul, South Korea, on Saturday in a visit in advance of President Trump's early November Asia tour.
Accusing the Kim Jong Un regime of "outlaw" behavior, Mattis said "North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbors and the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programs," adding that he "cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power."
Mattis emphasized his preference for diplomacy to resolve nuclear tensions, though critics argue absolute rejection of Pyongyang as a nuclear power make negotiations difficult to begin. Bonnie Kristian