DPRK

USS Pueblo still held hostage by North Korea as Trump, Kim meet

The USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the Navy, sits in Boston, revered by sailors and history buffs. The second-oldest ship, the USS Pueblo, floats at a river dock in Pyongyang, still a hostage more than 50 years after North Korea seized it in a January 1968 raid in the frigid waters of the East Sea off the Hermit Kingdom’s northeastern coast. Calls from the surviving crew to bring the ship back have amounted to naught. The Colorado legislature, protective of the ship named after one of its cities, also weighs in every year with a resolution calling for the ship’s return. After one version passed 10 years ago, a state lawmaker got a postcard, featuring a photo of a North Korean soldier smashing his rifle butt against the head of a Western-looking man in a blue uniform. The card had a North Korean postmark and on it, in flawless English, the writer urged the politician to “come and take it, you dirty American.” That’s actually the polite version of what was written, according to Republican state Sen. Bob Gardner from Colorado Springs, one of the sponsors of the “bring home the Pueblo” resolution this year. Mr. Gardner still marvels at the perfect, idiomatic English written on the unsigned card. “But it proved that someone in Korea was watching our resolution even if no one in America does,” Mr. Gardner said. As President Trump meets with in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, the possession of the USS Pueblo remains a sticking point between the two nations. The Pentagon declined to comment on any efforts to get the Pueblo back, and referred all questions to the White House. The White House, in turn, did not respond. Yet it wouldn’t be completely out of left field for Mr. Trump to mention the Navy ship, given the anniversary of its seizing in what the U.S. still insists was open ocean but North Korea says were its own territorial waters. “This year marks the 50th anniversary of North Korea’s seizure of the USS Pueblo and I like many others in our state want to see the ship returned home,” Republican Rep. Scott Tipton wrote President Trump last month. “The historic summit that is to be held… presents a rare opportunity to directly make this request.” The Pueblo was a spy ship, assigned to monitor North Korean communications and laden with top secret intelligence reports and machinery. The North Koreans detected it and sent a flotilla to surround it, assisted by MiG fighters overhead. They demanded surrender, and sent a boarding party which raked the bridge and decks with gunfire, wounding the captain and several others, and killing one crew member, Duane Hodges. Capt. Lloyd Bucher ordered his crew to smash the intelligence equipment and burn or shred the documents. There was so much that they even began to dump documents overboard, according to the USS Pueblo Veterans Association. The U.S. insists the Pueblo was in international waters at the time. North Korea says it was inside the country’s boundaries, and seized the ship and crew, who were held and tortured for 335 days. The Cold War crisis was finally resolved in vintage Hollywood fashion two days before Christmas 1968 when the gaunt prisoners walked, one by one, across the Bridge of No Return in the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. They were finally released after the U.S. signed an apology of sorts – then quickly rescinded it once all the American personnel were safely returned. A National Security Agency analysis, declassified in 2012, described the scope of the intelligence disaster, saying North Korea was able to figure out which codes the U.S. had broken, which telecommunications systems the U.S. was able to monitor, and who in the North Korean hierarchy was of interest to the U.S. The Pueblo’s capture was such a coup for North Korea that to this day the ship is a tourist attraction in Pyongyang, currently floating in a berth along the Botong River, and it is replete with the kind of totalitarian English the postcard writer eschewed. “The myth of the mightiness of the U.S. was shattered again by the heroic Korean people,” reads some of the propaganda, which also calls the Pueblo “a witness of history and trophy” of the “century after century the crimes of aggression committed by the U.S. imperialists against the Korean people [sic].”

Hopefully, President Trump WILL raise the issue of returning the USS Pueblo with Kim Jong Ding Dong, when he meets him only hours from now.  For more, click on the text above.

State Dept.: North Korea Using Executions, Torture Against ‘Serious Threat’ of Christianity

The U.S. State Department affirms in its annual International Religious Freedom Report, published Tuesday, that the communist regime controlling North Korea “considered Christianity a serious threat, as it challenged the official cult of personality and provided a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the government.” The State Department – citing United Nations reports, NGOs, and media organizations specializing in North Korea coverage – found that Kim Jong-un’s regime regularly employed “arbitrary executions, political prison camps, and torture amounting to crimes against humanity” against anyone suspected of adhering to any faith, but targeted Christians in particular throughout 2017. Various reports estimated “119 killings and 87 disappearances” based on religious persecution, the report notes. It also cites multiple advocacy groups that have concluded that North Korea hosts a population of up to 400,000 Christians, though it is nearly impossible to confirm those numbers, and that between 10-45 percent of Christians are languishing in the nation’s concentration camps. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) found this year that “based on the government’s own figures, the proportion of religious adherents among the population dropped from close to 24 percent in 1950 to 0.016 percent in 2002,” the report notes. The report also suggested that persecution of individuals suspected of being Christians increased recently, targeting North Korean citizens for “crimes” ranging from being found in possession of religious material to simply loitering near a church too long for police to be comfortable with their presence, or driving by a church too many times. North Korea does allow a small number of legal churches in Pyongyang, the capital, but defectors and visitors report that they appear largely for show, with no proof that real Christians attend services in them, or that the sermons provided in the few known services to occur offer anything more than Kim cult propaganda. Some defectors said that they knew of the churches as “sightseeing spots for foreigners,” without knowing the true nature of a place of worship. Nonetheless, defectors have said in interviews that North Korean police are quick to arrest anyone who appears too interested in the areas. “One defector said when he lived in Pyongyang, authorities arrested individuals who they believed lingered too long outside these churches to listen to the music or consistently drove past them around each week when services were being held on suspicion of being secret Christians,” the report notes. The full International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, is available at the State Department’s website, divided by country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a press conference Tuesday morning announcing the publication of this year’s edition. The State Department concluded, citing interviews with defectors and NGO reports published throughout 2017, that there existed in the country “an almost complete denial by the government of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and in many instances, violations of human rights committed by the government constituted crimes against humanity.” The report notes that the UN “condemned in the strongest terms the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” against religious people in the country. Christians suffered the most systematic persecution…

Of course they did..  IF President Trump actually meets with Kim Jong ding dong, he needs to put pressure on him for more religious tolerance.  Granted, it doesn’t rise to the level of denulcearization, in terms of our national security.  But, if he can certainly use the time to put in a plug for religious freedom while they’re sitting across from one another.  Just sayin..  For more of this article, click on the text above..

North Korea Walks Out of Talks with South over Joint Drills with U.S.

North Korean state media reported on Wednesday local time that the nation’s senior diplomats would cancel scheduled high-level talks with South Korean counterparts, reportedly due to military drills Seoul had planned to execute with the United States. Pyongyang deployed high-level officials to both Seoul and Beijing this week. Ri Son-kwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, was scheduled to meet with South Korean officials on Tuesday. Another group of unnamed senior officials reportedly landed in Beijing on Monday to continue discussions in anticipation of a planned meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. On Wednesday local time (Tuesday afternoon in most of the United States), the South Korean outlet Yonhap reported that the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the government news outlet of the Kim regime, had published a report announcing that the inter-Korean talks would no longer occur. The report specifically cited the “Max Thunder” military drills being held jointly between South Korea and the United States as the reason for their backing out of the meeting. “This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea and targeting us, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” Yonhap quoted KCNA as saying. “The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.” Yonhap added that KCNA’s brief went on to call “into question whether next month’s summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump can go ahead as planned.” The meeting between Kim and Trump is expected to address “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which Kim expressed a desire to see during his meeting with Moon on the border of their two countries. American officials have stated that they will not pursue regime change in North Korea and are open to giving financial incentives to the Kim regime to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons program, which it uses to threaten nuclear strikes on South Korea, the United States, and Japan on a regular basis. A report using satellite images on the website 38 North Monday found that North Korea has made significant moves towards shutting down its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, the only such site in the country. Several buildings have been dismantled, and a new platform, perhaps to accommodate journalists, has been assembled at the site. KCNA announced Saturday it will invite international journalists to watch the shutdown of the site; skeptics believe the site is inoperable and a symbolic “shutdown” would cost Pyongyang little. Adding to confusion on Tuesday was the publication of a report by South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo revealing that North Korea has maintained a secret uranium enrichment facility independent of the supplies found at Punggye-ri. Joongang Ilbo reports that American intelligence sources are aware of the site and will demand that its contents be part of any deal to denuclearize the country, not simply the supplies currently known to exist. “Max Thunder” is the name given to two-week-long air drills by both militaries, which is typically a drill practiced as part of the larger Foal Eagle joint exercise but was removed from the schedule reportedly as a response to Kim Jong-un’s being open to meeting with both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Both militaries openly stated they will hold this exercise in May, as they do every year. Yonhap reported on March 21 that the “Max Thunder drill will be held for two weeks from May 11, involving more than 100 Air Force jets of the allies,” leaving significant time between then and the Panmunjom summit with Moon Jae-in for Kim Jong-un to raise objections over these exercises. Yet this is the first major step North Korea has made to object to the exercises. Update: State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters during her regular press briefing on Tuesday that the KCNA report did not correspond to any private messages American officials have received: “We have not heard anything from that government or the government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month.”

We believe this is just posturing on the part of North Korea..  But, we’ll continue to monitor this developing story…

North Korea Invites International Media to Watch Nuclear Test Site Shutdown

North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Saturday that the communist regime would hold a ceremony on a date between May 23 and 25 to permanently shut down the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, and journalists from five countries, including the United States, were invited to attend. The announcement appeared on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) website, and appeared to be a gesture of goodwill towards the international community, which has pressured North Korea for years to dismantle its illegal nuclear weapons program. The ceremony will occur less than a month before a planned in-person meeting between dictator Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, scheduled for June 12. The press release from the Foreign Ministry did not specifically name the Punggye-ri site, describing it only as the “northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].” There is no evidence, however, that North Korea possesses any other nuclear test sites, active or otherwise. “A ceremony for dismantling the nuclear test ground is now scheduled between May 23 and 25, depending on weather condition,” KCNA announced. “Dismantlement of the nuclear test ground will be done in the following sequence: making all tunnels of the test ground collapse by explosion; completely blocking entries; removing all observation facilities, research institutes and structures of guard units on the ground.” The North Korean Foreign Ministry affirms that, following the ceremony, the site will be “completely closed.” It adds that international journalists will be welcomed into the country “to conduct on-the-spot coverage in order to show in a transparent manner the dismantlement of the northern nuclear test ground.” Journalists applying to cover the event will be limited to citizens of China, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Korea, due to the remote and diminutive nature of the site. The North Korean communist regime will also provide transportation directly from Beijing, claiming this to be necessary “in consideration of the fact that the test ground is located in the uninhabited deep mountain area.” Full control of transportation and lodging will allow North Korean officials to control the movements of the journalists and prevent them from encountering any individuals unauthorized to speak to foreigners or venture into territories the government does not wish them to see. North Korea already implements these strict controls with tourists, who are assigned a personal “guide” for the entirety of their stay in the country that prevents them from steering away from government-designated areas and keeps foreigners from asking potentially compromising questions or interacting with North Korean citizens, potentially exposing them to ideas hostile to the Kim dynasty. Kim Jong-un has repeatedly expressed a desire to see the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in several unprecedented meetings held this year – two with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping and one with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In a meeting with senior South Korean officials in March, Kim reportedly said that denuclearization was father Kim Jong-il’s “dying wish.” Skeptics note Kim has not specifically rejected the notion of North Korea being armed with nuclear weapons and could be defining “denuclearization” as the removal of American nuclear assets from the region, present as a result of the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War. How much of an effect dismantling the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site will have on North Korea’s nuclear development has become a matter of intense debate in the West. Following North Korea’s sixth nuclear weapons test in September, Japanese media reported that the chamber of the test site where the bomb was set off, deep within northern Mount Mantap, had collapsed into itself, killing 200 workers. Satellite images reportedly showed significant damage to not just the Nuclear Test Site, but the mountain itself. In April, two separate groups of academics independently concluded, citing satellite images, that Mount Mantap had partially collapsed, rendering it useless as a nuclear test site – any further testing could collapse the mountain and send clouds of nuclear fumes blasting into the sky, threatening nearby China. This week, a new study using the relative distance between international satellites and Mount Mantap found that the mountain had lost half a meter in height and expanded by 3.5 meters. Evidence suggests, the researchers observed, that the mountain was still sinking.

North Korea releases U.S. detainees, bows to another Trump demand

North Korea has freed three U.S. citizens detained for years in the communist country, bowing to another demand of President Trump ahead of his planned meeting with Kim Jong-un. The three Americans — Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang Duk, also known as Tony Kim — were released from a North Korean labor camp and sent to Pyongyang for medical treatment, the Financial Times reported. Though out of the brutal labor camp, the men remain in the grasp of Mr. Kim’s regime. They currently are believed to be convalescing in a hotel outside Pyongyang. “We believe that Mr. Trump can take them back on the day of the U.S.-North Korea summit, or he can send an envoy to take them back to the U.S. before the summit,” said Choi Sung-ryong, an activist pursuing release of North Korea’s political prisoners. The release of the three Americans marked another significant victory for the Trump administration, which also won North Korea’s agreement to discuss giving up its nuclear weapon program as a prerequisite for the talks. National Security Adviser John R. Bolton had called for the release of the detainees, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly raised the issue during secret face-to-face talks with Mr. Kim last month in Pyongyang. Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang Duk worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. Kim Dong Chul is the president of a company involved in international trade and hotel services. He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage charges.

Wow!!  This is another HUGE win for Trump!  Obama didn’t, and could never have done, something like this.  Excellent!!     🙂

Analysis: North Korea: Trump-Kim meeting proves our president’s strategy worked

President Trump’s upcoming meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un – announced Thursday night to a shocked world – is a stunning vindication of the president’s strategy and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s artful behind-the-scenes acumen. North Korea’s invitation for the meeting and President Trump’s acceptance marked a historic step. If a genuine rapprochement occurs on President Trump’s watch, leading to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the impact on global security and President Trump’s legacy will be enormous. But at this point, it’s important for President Trump and his foreign policy and defense team to proceed with extreme caution. While they deserve credit for cracking the North Korean silence, the historical record suggests this could be a trap, if not an intentional distraction. President Trump’s engaged, creative and blunt approach – with artful backroom diplomacy – has turned the dial. If this strategic opening leads somewhere, the Russia investigation of the 2016 election will become a footnote on world-changing achievement. President Trump will instead be remembered for calling out North Korea’s intolerable nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile threats to global civilization. But a decision to meet, even a North Korean promise to denuclearize, is not an agreement, implementation, verification or a factually denuclearized Peninsula. And the odds of success remain long. On the plus side, President Trump not only triggered this opening, but persuaded China to make sanctions real, which occasions a nod to both the president and China. On the minus side, the record suggests profound skepticism is warranted about North Korea’s intentions. In 1985, pressured hard by Ronald Reagan, North Korea – led by the current leader’s grandfather – signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty (NPT). Everyone was happy. The world celebrated. That triggered a running of the clock on an 18-month signing of the “safeguards agreement,” implementing the NPT. The North Koreans ignored the clock. Suddenly, they demanded South Korea drop nuclear weapons. Six years on, President George H.W. Bush withdrew all American nuclear weapons from overseas – including from South Korea – in order to induce the Soviets to do the same. At that time, North Korea finally signed the safeguards agreement. Reversal was again fast. That year, North Korea was caught and sanctioned for missile proliferation and cheating on the NPT with a rogue plutonium reprocessing plant. By early 1993, the North Koreans had firmly refused International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. But later that year, they doubled back. They allowed them in theory, if the West would pledge not ever to attack, which of course we did. But in 1994, North Korea was caught red-handed again, this time producing enough plutonium for “one or two nuclear weapons.” Funny thing, the North had done all this cheating while allowing IAEA inspections to other locations. When caught by the IAEA with the plutonium reprocessing plant, North Korea summarily quit the NPT. So much for a solid kick between the goalposts, long run, but no cigar. Like Charlie Brown to the rescue, idealist on call, former President Jimmy Carter flew over to North Korea, and magically announced he had negotiated a “freeze” on North Korea’s nuclear program. The world again celebrated. For better or worse, North Korea’s President, Kim II Sung died that year, succeeded by his son Kim Jong II, who was later be succeeded by his son, current leader Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong II toyed with agreements halting nuclear weapons and missile development, but suddenly demanded “compensation” from the U.S. for giving them up. President Clinton gave nothing to North Korea. A smart move. Soon enough, more cheating produced American sanctions. Without Chinese support, they failed. Over the next 20 years, the North Korean nuclear weapons and missile programs continued their unmitigated, undeterred and largely ignored advance. Missile launches and underground nuclear tests proliferated, beside useless negotiations. More sanctions came, but U.S. intelligence concluded by 2000 that North Korea was developing missiles that would soon be able to hit American territories in the Pacific. Promises were ritually made anew, boldly flouted, with new sanctions imposed, and nothing changed. After seven rounds of negotiations, and a steady flow of wishful diplomats and wistful proclamations, nothing led to nothing, as nothing ever does. When the North Koreans need time, they promise talk. Is talk worth having? Sure – as long as everyone understands, talk is not a substitute for action. Today things are definitely different. America’s economic and military might are locked, loaded and ready. Current sanctions are real, robust and bound to bite. China is finally helping, and America’s credibility has been boldly restored. But this is not enough, unless North Korea is serious. Frankly, the stakes are higher than most imagine, a fork in the road, resolution or submission to nuclear blackmail. We are at a Rubicon, a moment of choosing for us, but more so for North Korea’s leadership. For good to come of this, we must see a mutual intent to end the madness. The question at this moment, with true and new hope in our sails, is this: Does North Korea appreciate the enormity of this moment, which could be existential? Is the regime serious about this negotiation? President Trump set out to stop the historic merry-go-round. And it looks like, for the moment, he has done it. The North Korean invitation and President Trump’s acceptance are monumental steps, but the unspoken question remains – toward what? Can they get to genuine denuclearization and a rollback of North Korea’s decades-old ambition and threat? Or are we about to be disappointed again? If that happens, the risk to North Korea goes sky high, but does the Kim government know that? As hope is not a strategy, talk cannot be an endgame. What happens next is critical, but is infused with new hope. Suddenly, there exists a previously unknown, world-changing breakthrough. Such things do happen. If this produces a lasting peace and a denuclearized North Korea, President Trump will rise in global stature like no president since Ronald Reagan. But history suggests caution. Courage and hard work may produce the good outcome, or may not. We can dare to hope, we should dare, as the president has, but with realism.

Agreed!!  And well said, Robert.  Author Robert Charles is a former Naval intelligence officer, attorney, and was a former Assistant Secretary of State who worked in multiple White House administrations.

North Korea hit with new sanctions by State Department over Kim Jong Un’s brother’s death

The State Department announced Tuesday new sanctions against North Korea in response to their findings of the use of the illegal nerve agent VX in the 2017 death of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged brother of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, the U.S. concluded in February “that the Government of North Korea used the chemical warfare agent VX to assassinate Kim Jon Nam, in the Kuala Lumpur airport,” the department said. Kim Jong Nam died on Feb. 13, 2017 after two women allegedly wiped VX on his face before fleeing the Malaysia airport. He stumbled around before eventually falling. CCTV footage also showed the two women accused of carrying out the attack walking in the airport and going into the restroom before the incident. They were both charged with murder. Four other North Korean men who fled the country on the same day were believed to be involved in the plot. The sanctions, which reportedly took effect Monday, top a mounting list already levied against the hermit kingdom. “The United States strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons to conduct an assassination,” the State Department said. “This public display of contempt for universal norms against chemical weapons use further demonstrates the reckless nature of North Korea and underscores that we cannot afford to tolerate a North Korean WMD program of any kind.” The announcement from the State Department follows earlier comments on Tuesday from President Trump, who said “the world is watching,” in response to North Korea’s promise not to use nuclear or conventional weapons against Seoul. The country also reportedly expressed a willingness to hold talks with the U.S. on denuclearization, a South Korea official said in a statement after meeting with the neighboring country. “Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”