South Korea

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.

North Korean Soldier Shot by Own Troops as He Defects to the South

North Korean troops fired on a fellow soldier who was defecting to South Korea on Monday across the heavily armed border dividing the countries, South Korean officials said, amid heightened tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons program. The soldier was shot but succeeded in reaching the South, its military said in a statement. The North Korean soldier defected through Panmunjom, a village that straddles the border between the two Koreas. Alerted by gunshots, South Korean guards found the North Korean soldier about 55 yards south of the border line that bisects Panmunjom. He was taken to a hospital with gunshot wounds to an elbow and shoulder, South Korean officials said. His defection took place while a joint naval exercise involving three American aircraft carriers was being conducted in waters off South Korea’s east coast. It was the first time in a decade that the United States Navy had mobilized three carrier groups in the same drill in the western Pacific, and it represented the show of force that President Trump has said Americans “hope to God we never have to use” against North Korea. North Korea has remained defiant, calling Mr. Trump a “dotard” again on Saturday and insisting that it will never give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The defector drove a vehicle toward the border line inside Panmunjom, and then left the vehicle, running south while he was fired upon by other North Korean soldiers, according to the American-led United Nations Command, which oversees the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War. He took cover near a building on the southern side of the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom before South Korean and American troops came to his aid and took him to a hospital, the command said in a statement. The Joint Security Area, which is 35 miles north of Seoul, the capital, was established after North Korea and its Communist ally China signed the armistice with the United Nations Command, which fought on South Korea’s behalf. The area is the only place along the border where troops from North and South Korea face off, separated from each other by only a few feet. A North Korean soldier last defected at the heavily guarded location in 2007. More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since a widespread famine hit the impoverished North in the late 1990s. Nearly all of them have traveled through China. But a few North Korean soldiers and civilians have defected by crossing the 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone, which is guarded by minefields, sentry posts and tall fences topped with barbed wire, some electrified. In 2012, a North Korean soldier scaled three barbed-wire fences to defect to the South. That same year, another North Korean soldier fled across the border after killing his platoon and squadron leaders. In 2015, after walking across the border, a North Korean soldier told South Korean investigators that he was fleeing widespread beatings and other abuse within his military barracks. The demilitarized zone is one of the world’s most heavily armed borders. Guards on both sides stay alert against possible intruders or defectors.

United States to Sell More Military Equipment to Japan and South Korea

President Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that he is allowing Japan and South Korea to buy “a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States.” “I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States,” Trump wrote on Twitter. The tweet comes after North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear weapons test over the weekend. Trump did not specify what kind of military equipment the U.S. will sell to Japan and South Korea. A White House readout of a call between Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday said Trump provided his “conceptual approval for the purchase of many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment” from the U.S. by South Korea. It also said Trump gave his “in-principle” approval to South Korea’s initiative to lift restrictions on their missile payload capabilities. According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, the decision came after weeks of discussions, and is a means to deter North Korean provocations. South Korea is among the “top customers” for Foreign Military Sales from the U.S. and is an attractive market because of its rising defense spending, according to a recent study by the Congressional Research Service. Between 2008 and 2016, South Korea spent 75 percent of its total foreign defense purchases on U.S. companies, but also buys from European and Israeli defense companies. During that time, South Korea FMS contracts with the U.S. totaled $15.7 billion, and commercial buys totaled $6.9 billion, for a total of $22.5 billion. South Korea is to purchase 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from the U.S. for a total of $7.83 billion, with the first delivery scheduled for 2018. South Korea is also to purchase four RQ-4 “Global Hawk” drones at a price of $657 million. U.S. military sales to Japan dwarfs South Korea by comparison. Japan spends $11 billion per year on Foreign Military Sales, with more than 90 percent of their purchases from U.S. companies, according to another study by CRS. Recent major purchases include the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Boeing KC-46 Tankers, Northrup Grumman E2D Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft, General Dynamics Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicles, and Boeing/Bell MV-22 Ospreys.

South Korea’s liberal new president could strain US’ relationship with Seoul

Nearly a decade of conservative governance in South Korea is ending as voters there selected Moon Jae-in as their next president. “I will become everyone’s president,” said Moon in his victory speech. “I will become a president who unifies people and serves even those people who did not support me.” Moon’s opponents criticized him as too soft toward North Korea. As the Trump administration tries to isolate North Korea diplomatically, Moon, a human rights lawyer and liberal, is pushing to open a dialogue with North Korea. “A President Moon wants to have dialogue with North Korea,” said Scott Snyder, the director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He may want to add dialogue as a component along with the U.S. pressure strategy on North Korea, but there could be some tensions that need to be worked out.” The Trump administration cited Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, in congratulating Moon and that: “We look forward to working with President-elect Moon to continue to strengthen the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea and to deepen the enduring friendship and partnership between our two countries,” according to the statement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has described a “pressure campaign” against North Korea involving stronger international enforcement of economic sanctions. He has also threatened to push additional sanctions. “Pressure and engagement are not mutually exclusive,” said James Person, the director of the Center for Korean History and Public Policy at the Wilson Center. “You can have some form of pressure to get the North Koreans to acquiesce while maintaining dialogue. And I think the critical thing is for South Korea and the U.S. to sit down and try to find a happy medium and jointly develop a policy that is going to be effective perhaps for the first time with North Korea.” Moon has also opposed a missile defense system the United States installed in South Korea. Known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, the U.S. said the system is already operational. Analysts said, as a result, it would be more difficult to remove Thaad from South Korea. China also opposes Thaad. The U.S. said it is a defensive system. In March, South Korea impeached, removed and arrested its previously elected president, Park Geun-hye. With a new elected leader, and as the U.S. and region develop their policy to confront North Korea, South Korea can become more influential. “In many cases, South Korea has really taken a backseat in the formulation of Korea policy,” said Person. “It’s important for South Korea to get back into that driver’s seat, or at least be a co-pilot in the formulation of an effective North Korea policy.” Because Moon replaces an ousted president, he will be sworn in Wednesday.

Definitely something to keep an eye on..