North Korea
December 8, 2019

North Korea is at it again. But this time no one is exactly sure about what they're up to.

North Korean state media reported Sunday that Pyongyang conducted a "successful test of a great significance" Saturday at its Sohae satellite launch site, a rocket testing ground, but did not reveal what was tested. U.S. officials have said North Korea promised to close the testing ground, but it appears that won't be the case any longer as Pyongyang's year-end deadline to reach a denuclearization agreement with Washington nears after talks stalled earlier this year.

It likely wasn't a missile launch, since Japan and South Korea can usually detect those. Instead, missile experts said it's possible North Korea tested a solid fuel rocket engine, which could allow the country to field intercontinental ballistic missiles that are easier to hide and faster to deploy. "If it is indeed a static engine test for a new solid or liquid fuel missile, it is yet another loud signal that the door for diplomacy is quickly slamming, if it isn't already," said Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "This could be a very credible signal of what might await the world after the New Year."

North Korea has promised to adopt a "new path" if the U.S. does not offer sanctions relief, which analysts believe could include launching a satellite that would allow Pyongyang to continue testing missiles more covertly. Read more at BBC and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

May 9, 2019

On Wednesday, North Korea dismissed international criticism of last Saturday's launch of several rockets and at least one short-range missile, calling it a "regular and self-defensive" drill. On Thursday, North Korea fired at least one more projectile from the country's western area, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Thursday's as-yet-unidentified projectile was likely fired from a medium-range Rodong missile base on North Korea's west coast, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said. Last week's short-range missile was Pyongyang's first launch of a ballistic missile since it fired off an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017. If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un resumes firing banned long-range ballistic missiles, that could signal an end to deadlocked denuclearization talks between Kim and President Trump. Peter Weber

January 29, 2019

North Korea is unlikely to surrender its nuclear arsenal, U.S. intelligence agencies will say in a report Tuesday, because the weapons are considered necessary for the survival of leader Kim Jong Un's power against regime change threats.

Viewed by The Associated Press in advance of the hearing where it will be shared, the report from National Intelligence Director Dan Coats casts doubt on the viability of President Trump's aim of North Korean denuclearization. North Korea has in the past specifically cited U.S.-orchestrated regime change in denuclearized countries like Iraq and Libya as a rationale for nuclear armament.

North Korea, meanwhile, said Tuesday it expects peace with the United States to proceed "wonderfully at a fast pace" if Washington "responds to our efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions." Following Trump and Kim's summit in Singapore last year, said North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations Han Tae Song, Pyongyang has "declared that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them and we have taken various practical measures." A second summit is expected next month. Bonnie Kristian

December 20, 2018

On Thursday, North Korea said that it will never give up its nuclear weapons unless the U.S. agrees to Pyongyang's definition of "denuclearization," which includes the U.S. taking South Korea and probably Japan out from under its nuclear umbrella. It also appears to include removing America's 28,500 troops from South Korea. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to work toward "complete denuclearization" at a June summit, but the disagreement over what that entails has hamstrung peace talks ever since. This new statement, issued by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, throws those talks into further turmoil.

"The United States must now recognize the accurate meaning of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and especially, must study geography," North Korea said. "When we talk about the Korean Peninsula, it includes the territory of our republic and also the entire region of (South Korea) where the United States has placed its invasive force, including nuclear weapons. When we talk about the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighboring the Korean Peninsula." The U.S. removed its tactical nukes from South Korea in the 1990s.

The statement from Pyongyang is seen as a blow not just for Trump's efforts to make it appear the talks are progressing but also for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has said Kim is willing to negotiate away his nuclear arsenal. "The blunt statement could be an indicator that the North has no intentions to return to the negotiation table anytime soon," Shin Beomchul at Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies tells The Associated Press. "It's clear that the North intends to keep its nukes and turn the diplomatic process into a bilateral arms reduction negotiation with the United States, rather than a process where it unilaterally surrenders its program." Peter Weber

November 3, 2018

North Korea on Friday threatened to resume development of nuclear weapons if the United States does not lift economic sanctions.

"The U.S. thinks that its oft-repeated 'sanctions and pressure' leads to 'denuclearization,'" said a statement from Pyongyang. "We cannot help laughing at such a foolish idea." The statement argued lifting sanctions would be an appropriate reciprocation of North Korea's "proactive and good-will measures" since opening denuclearization talks with the U.S. and South Korea.

Also Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated sanctions will continue. "A lot of work remains," he said, "but I'm confident that we will keep the economic pressure in place until such time as [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] fulfills the commitment he made to President Trump back in June in Singapore." Bonnie Kristian

September 29, 2018

"Without any trust in the U.S. there will be no confidence in our national security and under such circumstances there is no way we will unilaterally disarm ourselves first," said North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the United Nations Saturday.

"The perception that sanctions can bring us on our knees is a pipe-dream of the people who are ignorant about us," he continued, reiterating a regular complaint from the Kim Jong Un regime. "But the problem is that the continued sanctions are deepening our mistrust" in the United States.

Ri argued Washington has not reciprocated goodwill gestures — like "stopping nuclear and ICBM tests, dismantling the nuclear test site in a transparent manner, and affirming not to transfer nuclear weapons and nuclear technology under any circumstances" — from Pyongyang. The Trump administration says sanctions will continue until denuclearization is complete.

Read more here at The Week on what President Trump wants from North Korea, why "peace or war" may be a false dichotomy here, and what a plausible roadmap to peace might look like. Bonnie Kristian

August 4, 2018

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Saturday insisted his country is proceeding in good faith with leader Kim Jong Un's pledge to denuclearize, pushing back on Friday comments from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"The DPRK stands firm in its determination and commitment for implementing the DPRK-U.S. Joint Statement in a responsible and good-faith manner," he said, using an acronym for Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "What is alarming, however, is the insistent moves manifested within the U.S. to go back to the old, far from its leader's intention."

While President Trump has expressed complete optimism about Kim's denuclearization promise, Pompeo said Friday "we still have a ways to go to achieve the ultimate outcome we're looking for." Satellite images gathered earlier this week showed North Korea working on new ballistic missiles, as did a United Nations report obtained by CNN Friday. Bonnie Kristian

July 9, 2018

From the outside, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's strange trip to North Korea Friday and Saturday did not look like a success. He didn't get an audience with Kim Jong Un, despite the White House saying he would — Pompeo said afterward he hadn't expected to meet with Kim — and North Korea issued a statement Saturday calling it a "regrettable" visit in which Pompeo's "gangster-like" demands "might rattle our willingness for denuclearization that had been firm." On Sunday, Pompeo sounded upbeat about the meeting, saying he refused to pay attention to what people are saying in the press, so he doesn't "go nuts."

"When we spoke to them about denuclearization, they did not push back," Pompeo said in Japan on Sunday. "The road ahead will be difficult and challenging and we know that critics will try to minimize the work that we've achieved." He said if his demands were "gangster-like," then "the world is a gangster," and said he believes the North Koreans are negotiating in good faith "because they were, and they did." In Hanoi on Monday, Pompeo held up Vietnam as a model Pyongyang should emulate of economic success after making peace with the U.S.

The North Korean statement "was a fairly serious insult directed against Pompeo," says Christopher Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and lead negotiator with North Korea. "I think it was a pretty bad start to the process, but it doesn't mean it's over yet," because with North Korea, "most of the time you come back empty-handed." On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blamed China for "pulling the North Koreans back" in the peace talks. "And to our North Korean friends, I can't say the word 'friend' yet," he added. "You asked Pompeo: 'Did he sleep well?' If you knew what I knew about what we could do to the leadership of North Korea, you wouldn't sleep very well." Peter Weber

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