November 12, 2018

As late as last week, President Trump claimed he was in no rush to reach a nuclear deal with North Korea because "the sanctions are on, the missiles have stopped, the rockets have stopped." And while it is true that North Korea has suspended its missile testing since Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un started discussing a deal, Pyongyang has been "moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images," The New York Times reports, a network "long known to American intelligence agencies but left undiscussed" during Trump's North Korean thaw.

"The sanctions are collapsing," too, the Times notes, "in part because North Korea has leveraged its new, softer-sounding relationship with Washington, and its stated commitment to eventual denuclearization, to resume trade with Russia and China." But the bigger deception is that North Korea "has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads." Pyongyang has an estimated 40 to 60 nuclear warheads, and it continues to make the materials to build new warheads, weapons experts say.

The 16 secret bases were identified in a study published Monday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Beyond Parallel program. Victor Cha, a Koreas expert almost named ambassador to South Korea by Trump, led the team studying the images. "What everybody is worried about is that Trump is going to accept a bad deal — they give us a single test site and dismantle a few other things, and in return they get a peace agreement," Cha said. Trump "would then declare victory, say he got more than any other American president ever got, and the threat would still be there." Read more about the bases and the "great deception" at The New York Times. Peter Weber

October 22, 2018

In a fresh sign of progress for inter-Korean relations, North and South Korea have agreed to remove all firearms from a Joint Security Area at Panmunjom, a former village in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) now used for diplomatic meetings. Both sides committed Monday to ceasing "all hostile acts" in the DMZ.

Guard postings will also be reduced in Panmunjom; land mines are already being removed from the area; and the two governments will share information on their surveillance equipment in the DMZ. "We discussed the timeline of the pullout of firearms and guard posts, as well as ways to adjust the number of guard personnel and conduct joint inspections," South Korea's defense ministry said in a statement Monday.

This is but the latest in a series of steps toward normalizing relations between North and South. Last week, the two Koreas agreed to reconnect some roads and railways separated by the DMZ, and on Friday the U.S. and South Korea canceled plans for a joint military exercise to ease diplomacy with North Korea. Bonnie Kristian

September 20, 2018

After returning to Seoul from North Korea on Thursday evening, South Korean President Moon Jae-in gave some new details about his three-day summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and said he will personally deliver a private message from Kim to President Trump next week in New York and also discuss a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War. Kim wants U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to visit Pyongyang for nuclear talks and a second summit with Trump as soon as possible, Moon said. He added that Kim had agreed to allow international experts to watch North Korea's "permanent" dismantling of a missile engine test site and launch pad and, if the U.S. reciprocated with undisclosed actions, the "permanent" dismantling of his main Yongbyon nuclear facility.

"Experts say the destruction of the missile engine test site and launch pad wouldn't represent a material step in denuclearization of North Korea," The Associated Press notes. And "even if North Korea were to shut down Yongbyon, officials and experts believe it has other secret nuclear facilities," Reuters adds.

Pompeo welcomed the announcement and said he had invited North Korea's foreign minister to meet in New York next week to further a goal to complete denuclearization of North Korea by January 2021. Trump called the results of the summit "very good news," adding of Kim, "He's calm, I'm calm — so we'll see what happens." China welcomed the resumption of nuclear diplomacy.

"There is nothing the North has offered so far that would constitute irreversible movement toward denuclearization, however you define that, by January 2021 or any other time, or even a reduction of the military threat it poses to the South and the region," a U.S. intelligence official tells Reuters. "Everything that's out there now is conditional on U.S. actions that would reduce the pressure on the North to cooperate or (is) filled with loopholes and exit ramps." Peter Weber

September 18, 2018

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday for a three-day summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, their third meeting since a historic summit in April. After an elaborate welcome ceremony at the airport and a ride through Pyongyang in an open-air limousine, the two leaders began official talks Tuesday afternoon. Kim told Moon he hoped the talks would produce a "bigger outcome at a faster pace" than the previous summits and Moon said it was "time to bear fruit." This is the first visit to Pyongyang for a South Korean president in at least a decade.

The talks are expected to focus on reducing military tensions and increasing economic cooperation on the Korean Peninsula and furthering nuclear diplomacy as denuclearization talks have stalled between North Korea and the U.S. over lack of agreement on details and timing.

"When the two Korean leaders met for the first time back in April, the simple fact that they were meeting was itself a major step," but "this time, Mr. Moon has to make real progress in persuading the North Koreans to make concrete steps to denuclearize," says BBC Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker. "Otherwise, the flurry of inter-Korean summits and the much-hyped Singapore meeting between Mr. Kim and President Trump this year will be seen as glossy photo ops, and the U.S. leader may begin to lose patience."

Top executives from South Korean business conglomerates, or chaebols, including Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and SK Group traveled to Pyongyang with Moon and they will meet with North Korea's deputy prime minister to focus on economic ties. South Korean officials said they don't expect any economic breakthroughs given the sanctions on North Korean. Peter Weber

September 6, 2018

A South Korean delegation returned to Seoul from Pyongyang on Wednesday, and on Thursday, South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will hold a third summit in Pyongyang Sept. 18-20 to discuss "practical measures" toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Nuclear negotiations have stalled since Kim met with President Trump in June, but Chung said Kim had expressed an "unchanged" faith in Trump, "particularly emphasized that he has never said anything negative about President Trump," and said he wanted denuclearization and an end to hostilities with the U.S. by the end of Trump's first term in 2021.

"Chairman Kim Jong Un has made it clear several times that he is firmly committed to denuclearization, and he expressed frustration over skepticism in the international community over his commitment," Chung told reporters on Seoul on Thursday. "He said he's pre-emptively taken steps necessary for denuclearization and wants to see these goodwill measures being met with goodwill measures." The U.S. said it has already taken steps, like suspending joint military exercises with South Korea, and as The Associated Press notes, "the trove of comments from Kim was filtered through his propaganda specialists in Pyongyang and the South Korean government, which is keen on keeping engagement alive."

North Korea has previously included a withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea and removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea and Japan as part of denuclearization, and it isn't clear if Kim has changed that stance. "Looks like Kim is trying to wash away worries that talks could stall or fail, knowing well that Washington is losing patience," Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean Studies at Seoul's Dongguk University, tells Reuters. Peter Weber

August 13, 2018

On Monday, negotiators for North and South Korea emerged from two hours of meetings in the border village Panmunjom with news that their countries' leaders would meet for a third summit in September. North Korea's Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in April and May, paving the way for Kim's June summit with President Trump.

North Korean reunification official Ri Son Gwon and South Korean Reunification Minister Cho Myoung-Gyon released a three-sentence statement that contained almost no details, and Ri and Cho didn't appear to agree on whether a date has been set for the September summit; Cho said no, and Ri said yes but wouldn't name the date, telling the media he wanted to "keep reporters wondering." Monday's meeting took place amid increasing concerns that the U.S. and North Korea are once again heading toward confrontation over Pyongyang's nuclear stockpile. Peter Weber

June 1, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emerged from a shorter-than-expected meeting Thursday morning with North Korean official Kim Yong Chol bearing a cautiously optimistic message about the speculative June 12 summit between President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. "I am confident we are moving in the right direction," he said at a press conference in New York. "Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship, and it would be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste." He also confirmed that Kim is bearing a letter to Trump from Kim Jong Un that he plans to deliver in person on Friday.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said late Thursday that the White House is still working out the details of the meeting, and it wasn't clear if Trump would welcome Kim Yong Chol in the Oval Office. The letter's contents are unknown, but the speculation is that it is aimed at reviving the June 12 summit. Kim is the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the U.S. since Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok traveled to Washington in 2000 to meet with President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, trying to set up a summit between Clinton and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il that never materialized. Jo also brought Clinton a letter from Kim Jong Il, the late father of Kim Jong Un. Peter Weber

May 21, 2018

South Korean President Moon Jae-in heads to Washington on Monday as President Trump is reportedly asking advisers if he should pull out of a June 12 summit in Sinagpore with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, given the political risks of failure. Moon has been a driving force in the de-escalation of hostility between Trump, Kim, and South Korea, but some Trump aides and outside analysts question whether Moon oversold Kim's willingness to give up his nuclear weapons. Kim's government surprised the White House last week when it broke off peace talks with South Korea and said it would never denuclearize under the conditions suggested by Washington. Trump asked Kim in a call on Saturday night why Pyongyang's public statement seems different than private assurances Moon had conveyed after he met with Kim in April, The New York Times reports.

"It increasingly looks like the Moon administration overstated North Korea's willingness to deal," tweeted Robert Kelly, a professor of political science at South Korea's Pusan National University. "Moon will probably get an earful over that" from Trump. Seoul says the main agenda when Moon meets with Trump Tuesday will be preparing for the summit. Kim appears very conversant about the details of his nuclear program, but White House aides are "concerned about what kind of grasp Mr. Trump has on the details of the North Korea program," the Times reports. "Aides who have recently left the administration say Mr. Trump has resisted the kind of detailed briefings about enrichment capabilities, plutonium reprocessing, nuclear weapons production, and missile programs that [former President Barack] Obama and President George W. Bush regularly sat through." Peter Weber

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