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all eyes on north korea
September 19, 2018

In a joint statement released Wednesday after their two-day meeting in Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to establish buffer zones along land and sea borders and create a joint military committee that will work to ease tensions and prevent any accidental clashes.

Moon said Kim agreed to let international experts watch as North Korea permanently dismantles a missile engine test site and launch pad, and said if the United States takes corresponding measures, he will take additional steps toward denuclearization, including shutting down North Korea's main nuclear complex.

The two Koreas have also agreed to cooperate in sports events, like the 2020 Summer Olympics, and will try to get the rights to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics. Kim vowed to visit Seoul "in the near future," and if he does make the trip, he will become the first North Korean leader to visit since the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945, The Associated Press reports. Catherine Garcia

August 3, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doesn't think North Korea is keeping its promises.

Pompeo on Friday said that North Korea's continued construction of ballistic missiles is "inconsistent" with its pledge to work toward denuclearization, reports Reuters.

Satellite images gathered earlier this week showed that North Korea is working on new weapons, despite leader Kim Jong Un signing a document promising to work to end his country's nuclear programs. Kim met with President Trump in Singapore in June, where the two leaders created a vague denuclearization pledge.

"Chairman Kim made a commitment to denuclearize," Pompeo told reporters Friday when asked about the new evidence of nuclear weapon development. "The world demanded that [North Korea] do so in the U.N. Security Council resolutions. To the extent they are behaving in a manner inconsistent with that, they are a) in violation of one or both the U.N. Security Council resolutions and b) we can see we still have a ways to go to achieve the ultimate outcome we're looking for."

Trump has tweeted that North Korea is "no longer a nuclear threat," but intelligence officials aren't so sure that Pyongyang is really willing to give up its weapons programs. Pompeo last week acknowledged that North Korean facilities "continue to produce fissile material," but reassured lawmakers that denuclearization talks were still on track. Read more at Reuters. Summer Meza

July 30, 2018

New satellite images and intelligence gathered by the United States point toward North Korea constructing one or two liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles, officials with knowledge of the matter tell The Washington Post.

The photos are of a research facility on the outskirts of Pyongyang, the same place where North Korea produced its first ICBMs, capable of striking the U.S. The new intelligence doesn't show that North Korea is expanding its nuclear capabilities, but it's evidence they are still working on weapons following North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's June summit with President Trump, the Post says.

During the summit, Kim agreed to "work toward" the "denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula, but he never explicitly agreed to give up his nuclear program. Following their meeting, Trump tweeted that North Korea is "no longer a Nuclear Threat," but intelligence gathered by the United States shows senior North Korean officials have talked about pulling a fast one on the U.S., possibly saying they are fully denuclearized and getting rid of some warheads while keeping dozens more. Read more about their strategy at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

June 27, 2018

Satellite images of North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center show that "improvements to the infrastructure ... are continuing at a rapid pace," analysts from the 38north website said.

After President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met earlier this month in Singapore, they issued a joint statement agreeing to "work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," without sharing any details on when and how this will happen. 38north founder Joel Wit said he does not "find it surprising at all" that work is ongoing at the site, since "we don't have a deal yet, we just have a general commitment." 38north's report concludes that uranium enrichment appears to be underway at the site, which currently produces enough material to make two or three bombs every two years.

James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program, told NBC News that if North Korea was "serious about unilaterally disarming, of course they would have stopped work at Yongbyon. There is a huge gulf between what the administration apparently thinks North Korea is going to do and what they intend to do, and that's exceptionally dangerous." Catherine Garcia

June 5, 2018

Hawkish U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton was not in the Oval Office last Friday when President Trump met with Kim Jong Un's North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol, and one reason is that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Trump it would be "counterproductive" to let Bolton attend the meeting, CNN reports, citing two people familiar with the matter.

Pompeo, who did attend the Kim meeting, and Bolton did not know each other well before Trump appointed Bolton to lead the National Security Council, and their already strained relationship combusted after Bolton went on TV last month and suggested North Korea might follow the grisly "Libya model," two sources tell CNN. One official told CNN that Pompeo believes Bolton is "trying to advance his own agenda." Pompeo angrily confronted Bolton after the Libya comment, and "there has been considerable tension between them ever since," a person familiar with the West Wing confrontation said. A National Security Council spokesman said "any rumor of a confrontation between Ambassador Bolton and Secretary Pompeo is categorically false."

"Trump has given his secretary of state, whom he views as intelligent and charismatic, considerable leeway on North Korea — including following his lead and keeping Bolton at arm's length from the negotiations," CNN reports. That said, Trump is known for changing his mind on advisers pretty quickly. Peter Weber

June 4, 2018

Ahead of his June 12 summit with President Trump in Singapore, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has replaced his top three military leaders, a senior U.S. official told Reuters Sunday.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency first reported that the leaders were removed, and it's believed that Kim has installed younger people in those roles. Experts say that Kim is likely trying to tighten his control over the Korean People's Army; Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at CNA, told Reuters that Kim's putting in people who are "loyal to Kim Jong Un and no one else."

The United States wants North Korea to completely end its nuclear weapons program, and some analysts speculate that factions of the North Korean military do not like how Kim is dealing with the U.S. and South Korea. Kim could also be preparing for more economic aid to come into the country, and he'll want the military to participate in infrastructure projects. Catherine Garcia

May 31, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol, one of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, had dinner together in New York on Wednesday night, ahead of meetings on Thursday.

Kim Yong Chol is the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the United States in nearly two decades, CBS News reports. He's also a former military intelligence chief believed to be behind attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans. Kim and Pompeo are trying to revive the June 12 summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, which Trump abruptly canceled last week after North Korea said it had no plans to give up its nuclear weapons. Since then, Trump has hinted the meeting could still take place.

South Korean media is speculating that Kim Yong Chol may have brought a personal letter from Kim Jong Un with him, and might try to get to Washington to meet with Trump. Kim Yong Chol is thought to have been the mastermind of the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures, CBS News reports, and he has been sanctioned by the U.S. and South Korea. Catherine Garcia

May 29, 2018

A new CIA report says that North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons easily or quickly, but it is considering opening a Western hamburger joint in Pyongyang as a show of goodwill, three U.S. national security officials told NBC News.

"Everyone knows they are not going to denuclearize," one official said. The report was circulated earlier this month, just a few days before President Trump announced he was canceling his June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. The report did not say what burger franchise might pop up in Pyongyang, but it called the idea a nod to Trump's love of fast food restaurants.

Per the report, it's believed Kim may offer limited American investment in the country, NBC News reports, and the U.S. and South Korea will likely promise agricultural development and food delivery, possibly through the United Nations. Because North Korea is so reclusive and the U.S. doesn't have many intelligence sources there, the analysis is based on information at low or medium confidence. "This is essentially some very smart analysts offering their very best guesses," one intelligence official told NBC News. Catherine Garcia

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