South Korea

North, South Korea begin removing landmines along fortified border

Troops from North and South Korea began removing some landmines along their heavily fortified border on Monday, the South’s defense ministry said, in a pact to reduce tension and build trust on the divided peninsula. Project details were agreed during last month’s summit in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In a statement, the ministry said the two sides agreed to remove all landmines in the so-called Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom within the next 20 days, with military engineers performing the hazardous task on the South Korean side. There was no immediate confirmation from North Korea that its troops had begun the process. The deal also provides for removal of guard posts and weapons from the JSA to follow the removal of the mines, with the troops remaining there to be left unarmed. The JSA is the only spot along the 250-km (155-mile) -long “demilitarized zone” (DMZ) where troops from both Koreas are face to face. South Korean troops have gradually taken over most operations along their side of the border but international forces under the U.S.-led United Nations Command retain major roles, especially at the JSA, where an American commander and a South Korean deputy lead the security battalion. UNC spokesman Colonel Chad Carroll declined to confirm if the command would also withdraw any weapons from the JSA, but said American forces would provide support for the demining operation. “United States Forces Korea will perform a support role – to include having air medical evacuation assets available to respond within minutes of any potential medical emergencies,” he told Reuters in a statement. Since fighting during the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a stalemate, at least nine soldiers have been killed in incidents with North Korean troops, including the killing in 1976 of two U.S. soldiers by axe-wielding North Koreans, the UNC says. In November 2017, North Korean troops at the JSA shot one of their soldiers defecting to the South five times. More recently, it was the scene of the first dramatic April summit between Kim and Moon, as well as their second, more low-key meeting, in May. In April, the neighbors announced their intention to turn the DMZ – long a symbol of tension and division – into a “peace zone”. They have already dismantled propaganda loudspeakers and some guard posts along the border. Demining projects are also set to begin on Monday in Gangwon province in South Korea’s east, to allow teams to search for the remains of soldiers killed in the war, the ministry added. More than a million landmines were laid in border areas including the DMZ and the Civilian Control Zone in the South, say demining experts, and civilians and soldiers alike have been killed or injured by them. In 2015, two South Korean soldiers were maimed by what Seoul said was a North Korean landmine, an accusation the North denied.

That’s typical for the DPRK.  They could be shown a video clear as day proving an atrocity, and they’d deny it and say it was made up propaganda.  That’s what makes discussions/negotiations so difficult.  There is the truth, and then there is their truth.

Trump, at UN General Assembly, signs major trade deal with South Korea, reveals possible Kim Jong Un meeting ‘soon’

President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in signed a major agreement of Trump’s trade agenda Monday, on a busy day at the U.N. General Assembly during which Trump also revealed he’d meet again with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “quite soon.” The U.S. and South Korean presidents signed an update to an existing U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement. Trump called it a “very big deal” and said the new agreement would make significant improvements to reduce the trade deficit between the countries and create new opportunities to export American products to South Korea. “This agreement will reduce bureaucracy and increase prosperity in both of our countries. Workers in South Korea and America will find new customers and new opportunities to expand and grow,” Trump said. “Our teams will be working hard to ensure that the terms of the deal are fully implemented.” He said U.S. automobiles, pharmaceuticals and agricultural products will gain better access to Korean markets. “I think our farmers are going to be extremely happy. It was very limited as to what they could do and what they could send, and now it’s an open market,” Trump added. “That makes me feel very good. I love our farmers.” Moon said companies from both countries will be able to do business under more stable conditions. The South Korean leader also said he hopes the revised agreement with the U.S. will help solidify their cooperation in other areas. Moon said: “I’m hopeful that this will provide us with a platform, upon which our bilateral economic ties will be elevated to a higher level, in a freer, fairer and more mutually beneficial direction.” During his appearance with Moon, Trump also raised hopes at the United Nations on Monday that a second meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un could happen soon, striking a conciliatory tone one year after he used his debut at the U.N. to deride the autocrat as “Little Rocket Man” and threaten to “totally destroy North Korea.” Trump praised Kim as “very open” and “terrific,” despite the glacial pace of progress toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. The softer tone toward the erstwhile pariah state of North Korea — once threatened with “fire and fury” — has been replaced by rosy optimism, with Trump reserving tough rhetoric for another potential nuclear aspirant and strategic foe: Iran. “It was a different world,” Trump said Monday of his one-time moniker for the North Korean leader. “That was a dangerous time. This is one year later, a much different time.” Trump also praised Egypt for doing an “outstanding job” in the fight against terrorism. Trump told Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Monday that the fight is “not easy,” but his country is “at the forefront.” El-Sissi replied that Egypt will be able to eliminate terrorism with Trump’s support. El-Sissi said it’s an obligation Trump has made clear. Trump told el-Sissi, “We will work with you, and we will go all the way.”

100s of S. Koreans to enter North to reunite with loved ones

About 200 South Koreans and their family members prepared to cross into North Korea on Monday for heart-wrenching meetings with relatives most haven’t seen since they were separated by the turmoil of the Korean War. The weeklong event at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort comes as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea’s drive for a nuclear weapons program that can reliably target the continental United States. The temporary reunions are highly emotional because most of those taking part are elderly people eager to see their loved ones once more before they die. Most of these families were driven apart during the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still in a technical state of war. Buses carrying the elderly South Koreans attending this week’s reunions arrived at a border immigration office Monday morning. Red Cross workers wearing yellow vests waved at them. Some were in wheelchairs and others were aided by workers as they got off the buses and moved to the South Korean immigration office in the eastern border town of Goseong. After undergoing immigration checks, they were to cross the border by buses and travel to Diamond Mountain. Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other. Nearly 20,000 people have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions held between the countries since 2000. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives under a short-lived program from 2005 to 2007. No one has had a second chance to see their relatives. According to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, 197 separated South Koreans and their family members will take part in the first round of reunions that run from Monday to Wednesday. Another 337 South Koreans will participate in a second round of reunions from Friday to Sunday. South Korea will also send dozens of medical and emergency staff to Diamond Mountain to prepare for potential health problems considering the large number of elderly participants. Many of the South Korean participants are war refugees born in North Korea who will be meeting their siblings or the infant children they left behind, many of them now into their 70s. Park Hong-seo, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran from the southern city of Daegu, said he always wondered whether he’d faced his older brother in battle. After graduating from a Seoul university, Park’s brother settled in the North Korean coastal town of Wonsan as a dentist in 1946. After the war broke out, Park was told by a co-worker that his brother refused to flee to the South because he had a family in the North and was a surgeon in the North Korean army. Park fought for the South as a student soldier and was among the allied troops who took over Wonsan in October 1950. The U.S.-led forces advanced farther north in the following weeks before being driven back by a mass of Chinese forces after Beijing intervened in the conflict. Park learned that his brother died in 1984. At Diamond Mountain, he will meet his North Korean nephew and niece, who are 74 and 69, respectively. “I want to ask them what his dying wish was and what he said about me,” Park said in a telephone interview last week. “I wonder whether there’s a chance he saw me when I was in Wonsan.” During the three years since the reunions were last held, the North tested three nuclear weapons and multiple missiles that demonstrated a potential of striking the continental United States. North Korea has shifted to diplomacy in recent months. Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a son of North Korean war refugees, agreed to resume the reunions during the first of their two summits this year in April. South Korea sees the separated families as the largest humanitarian issue created by the war, which killed and injured millions and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into the North and South. The ministry estimates there are currently about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea. But Seoul has failed to persuade Pyongyang to accept its long-standing call for more frequent reunions with more participants. The limited number of reunions cannot meet the demands of divided family members, who are now mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials say. More than 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who have applied to participate in reunions have died, according to the Seoul ministry. Analysts say North Korea sees the reunions as an important bargaining chip with the South, and doesn’t want them expanded because they give its people better awareness of the outside world. While South Korea uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, North Korea is believed to choose based on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership.

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…

Bitter cold at Winter Olympics chills global-warming hype

The bone-chilling cold and icy winds in Pyeongchang have contributed to any number of wipe-outs for Olympic skiers and snowboarders, not to mention a public-relations face plant for the climate-change movement. Its dire warnings about how the Winter Olympics face an existential threat from global warming have been all but buried by the flurry of reports about frigid conditions at the 2018 games in South Korea, which are expected to set an Olympic record for cold temperatures. Climate activists have also been frustrated by a lack of global-warming coverage by NBC Sports, prompting a social-media campaign led by Public Citizen, Protect Our Winters and Climate Nexus urging the network to stop the “climate whiteout.” “Winter sports are taking a huge hit from our warming planet and the athletes who depend on cold weather and snow—are witnessing and experiencing climate change first hand,” they said in a statement on Alternet. “We can no longer talk about the Winter Olympics without warming.” This year, however, it’s impossible to talk about the Olympics without freezing. Organizers handed out blankets and heat pads to spectators at Friday’s opening ceremony, which was shortened by two hours in response to wind-chill temperatures that dipped below zero. A number of skiing events have been delayed as a result of high winds and ice pellets, and reports of spectators leaving outdoor events early in order to escape the brutal cold are rampant. “It was unbelievably cold,” ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan told the AP. “The noise of the wind at the top of the jump was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like that on the World Cup circuit. I said to myself, ‘Surely, they are going to cancel this.’” Skeptics like Climate Depot’s Marc Morano couldn’t resist needling leading environmental groups as they struggled to keep the global-warming theme afloat. “More bad luck for climate activists as they push for more talk of ‘global warming’ during what is perhaps the coldest Olympics on record,” said Mr. Morano, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change.” “The activists had the climate script written well in advance of the Olympics, but their message has literally been frozen out by the extreme cold,” he said in an email. “Despite this cold reality, the activists demand that the climate narrative go forth.”

Officials: Mike Pence Did Not Snub North Koreans Seated Nearby at Olympics Opening Ceremony

Officials traveling with Vice President Mike Pence during his trip to the Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies pushed back on reports that Pence snubbed the North Koreans and that he knowingly chose to accept a seat in South Korea’s box in which North Korean representatives were also seated. Earlier on Friday, Pence and second lady Karen Pence met with North Korean defectors at the Cheonan Memorial, which is located outside of Seoul, South Korea. The Pences were joined by Otto Warmbier’s father, Fred Warmbier. Pence told the defectors that he was “very grateful for [their] presence and very grateful for [their] courage.” He added that he “wanted the honor of meeting with the men and women who fled the tyranny of North Korea.” Pence told the defectors that it was important that the truth about North Korea is known during the Olympic Games. The Vice President held a press gaggle outside of the memorial during which he was asked whether his message on North Korea was being overshadowed by Olympic fever or Kim Jonh-un’s sister’s presence there. Pence responded that President Donald Trump sent him there to “reaffirm the strong relationship between the United States, Japan, and South Korea.” He then added that the President also sent him to South Korea to: Make sure that as north Korea engages in what prime minister Abe rightly called a “charm offensive” around the Olympics. A charm offensive that they’ve have done before at the Olympics in 2000, 2004 and 2006 – which as I mentioned earlier this week – it would just be a matter of eight months after the 2006 winter Olympics that North Korea tested their first nuclear bomb. Pence also told the press that the night prior, he and South Korean President Moon Jae-in “reaffirmed our commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” He added that Moon repeated a message in private that Moon has spoken in public, “that South Korea stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States and our allies in continuing to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically.” During a pre-Olympics Opening ceremonies reception in Pyeongchang later that day, Pence “did not come across” the North Korean delegation, according to a spokesman for the Vice President. The North Koreans were present at the reception at the same time as Pence. Vice President Pence and second lady Karen Pence sat in South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s box for the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. They sat in the same row as President Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The three had held a meeting ahead of the ceremony. Both Kim Yong Nam and Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, also sat in Moon’s box. A White House official indicated that it was fair to cast the lack of interaction between Pence and the North Koreans in Moon’s box as mutual. White House officials clarified for the press that it was known ahead of time that the North Koreans would also be seated in Moon’s box, and Pence knowingly chose to sit in Moon’s box instead of in the U.S. delegation box. White House officials told the press: We wanted to show the alliance seated together. We wanted the North Koreans to see the vice president, Abe and Moon sitting directly in front of them for the Opening Ceremonies, and it would show that that alliance is strong. At any moment, he could have gotten up and left and sat somewhere else, and then you would have had the imagine of North sitting in the box with South Korea and Japan. But he stayed there the entire time. Pence sat in front row and talked to Moon and Abe and their spouses, and the North Koreans sat in the back and didn’t talk to anybody, and that image is telling,” the officials said. The North Koreans had met with Abe at the earlier reception and with Moon. “I just don’t think you talk geopolitics over speed skating. He’s been very clear what his message is. Fred Warmbier attended the ceremony as Pence’s guest, but in the U.S. delegation box. The North and South Korean Olympic athletes entered the ceremony together under a united flag. White House officials speaking with the press after the evening’s Opening Ceremony pushed back on reports in the South Korean media that Pence had snubbed the North Koreans.

South Korea’s president credits Trump for talks with North Korea

South Korea’s president said Wednesday that President Trump “deserves big credit” for renewed talks between South and North Korea, and that Mr. Trump has offered to negotiate personally with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure,” President Moon Jae-in told reporters. “I think President Trump deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks.” Mr. Trump told Mr. Moon in a phone call that he is open to talking with North Korea, the South’s presidential office said. Mr. Trump also said there would be no military action while talks are ongoing, the statement said. The White House said that Mr. Moon thanked the president “for his influential leadership in making the talks possible.” The North-South talks, held on Tuesday, were the first in two years, and North Korea announced that it would send a delegation to the Olympics in Pyeongchang next month. Mr. Trump said Vice President Mike Pence will lead the U.S. delegation to the games. In their phone call, the White House said the two leaders “underscored the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea.” “President Trump expressed his openness to holding talks between the United States and North Korea at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances,” the White House said. Mr. Moon said he wanted to show Mr. Trump his gratitude. Mr. Trump tweeted last week that he believes his pressure on Pyongyang has produced results. “Does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North,” the president tweeted, adding that “talks are a good thing!” Mr. Trump has raised the pressure on North Korea for the past year, pressing China to isolate Pyongyang economically and diplomatically. He also has imposed new U.S. sanctions and gained new U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, an ally of the administration, said on Twitter that the North-South talks “are a waste of oxygen.” “We’ll have scenes of the two Koreas parading on TV at the Olympic opening ceremony, but as far as the North Korea nuclear threat is concerned, it won’t change a thing,” Mr. Bolton said.