Kim Jong-un has climbed North Korea’s highest
mountain, Mount Paektu, on horseback, according to state media.
A series of photos released by KCNA show the North Korean leader astride a
white horse on a snow-covered mountain.
This is not the first time Kim Jong-un has scaled the 2,750-meter peak and
analysts say such gestures have been known to precede major announcements.
Mount Paektu holds a special place in North Korea’s identity and is feted as
the birthplace of Kim Jong-un’s father.
A KCNA report released on October 16 said: “His march on horseback in Mt Paektu is a great event of weighty
importance in the history of the Korean revolution.
“Sitting on the horseback atop Mt
Paektu, [he] recollected with deep emotion the road of arduous struggle he
covered for the great cause of building the most powerful country, with faith
and will as firm as Mt Paektu.”
In 2017, Kim Jong-un visited the mountain a few weeks before his New Year’s
address, where he hinted at a diplomatic thaw with South Korea.
The North Korean leader has reportedly climbed Mount Paektu at least three
times, and made a joint visit to the mountain with South Korean president Moon
Jae-in in 2018.
Six days ago, North Korea fired two
short range missiles, one of which travelled about 425 miles and the other 268
That launch was the first since President Trump and Kim Jong-un held an
impromptu meeting in June at the demilitarized zone (DMZ), an area that divides
the two Koreas, where they agreed to restarted denuclearization talks.
North Korea has recently again voiced anger over planned military exercises
between South Korea and the US, an annual event which the allies have refused
to cancel but have scaled back significantly.
One analyst said more missile tests could be expected.
North Korea called the drills a “violation of the spirit” of the
joint statement signed by President Trump and Kim Jong-un at their first
face-to-face talks in Singapore last year.
Pyongyang had warned the exercises could affect the resumption of
On July 29, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he hoped these talks
could start “very soon”, but that there were no further summits
Last year, Kim Jong-un said North Korea would stop nuclear testing and would no longer launch intercontinental ballistic missiles.
On July 6, North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA said that Alek Sigley
had “on numerous occasions transferred information, including photographs
and analysis that he gathered while travelling to every corner of Pyongyang
using his status as an international student”.
Alek Sigley had done this “upon request by anti-DPRK [North Korea] news
outlets such as NK news”, KCNA added.
The North Korean government decided to deport him on humanitarian grounds
after he “honestly admitted that he had been spying… and repeatedly
asked for our forgiveness for infringing on our sovereignty”, it said.
North Korea often accuses foreigners detained in its country of espionage or
In a statement, NK News, a website specializing in North Korean news and analysis,
said it appreciated “the DPRK’s decision to promptly release Sigley on
The website said it had published six articles from Alek Sigley which showed “vignettes of ordinary daily life in the capital”.“The six articles Alek published represent the full extent of his work with us and the idea that those columns, published transparently under his name between January and April 2019, are ‘anti-state’ in nature is a misrepresentation which we reject.”
President Donald Trump has offered to meet
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North
and South Korea.
North Korea has described President Trump’s offer as a “very
Donald Trump has arrived in South Korea to discuss the flagging North Korea
If Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un were to see each other at the DMZ, it would
be their third meeting in just over a year, and their first since a summit in
Vietnam broke down in February.
President Trump tweeted: “After
some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China,
I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if
Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just
to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”
President Trump – who is visiting South Korea after attending the G20 summit
in Japan – conceded that the pair could see each other only “for two
However, despite the apparent lack of any diplomatic preparation, some have
suggested another face-to-face meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un
could help reset relations and set the scene for future talks.
Only a few hours later, North Korea’s first vice-minister for foreign
affairs, Choe Son Hui, said in statement: “We
see it as a very interesting suggestion, but we have not received an official
proposal in this regard.”
Such a meeting, the statement added, “would serve as another meaningful
occasion in further deepening the personal relations between the two leaders
and advancing the bilateral relations”.
It remains unclear whether officials with President Trump were briefed in
advance about his overture to Kim Jong-un, and South Korea’s presidency said
nothing was yet confirmed.
Last week, a South Korean official said Donald Trump was considering a trip
to the DMZ, prompting speculation a meeting with Kim Jong-un could be possible.
President Trump attempted to make a surprise visit to the area in November
2017, but was forced to abandon the plans due to bad weather.
North Korea has labeled a break-in
at its Madrid embassy last month as a “grave terrorist attack”.
In its first official comment, the
North Korean government called for an investigation and said it was closely
watching rumors that the FBI had played a role.
On March 27, the Cheollima Civil
Defense (CDC), a group committed to ousting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said
it carried out the raid.
The group took computers and data
and said it gave its evidence to the FBI.
At least two international arrest
warrants have been issued for the main suspects.
Spanish authorities say one suspect,
named as Adrian Hong Chang, gained access by asking to see the commercial
attaché, whom he claimed to have met previously to discuss business matters.
His accomplices burst in once he was inside.
The CDC is accused of interrogating
the attaché and trying to persuade him to defect. When he refused, they left him
tied up in the basement.
Two other members of the break-in group were named as US citizen Sam Ryu,
and a South Korean, Woo Ran Lee.
Embassy staff were held hostage for several hours. One woman managed to
flee, escaping through a window and screaming for help. Concerned neighbors
quickly called the police.
When officers arrived, they were greeted by Adrian Hong Chang, posing as a
North Korean diplomat in a jacket with a Kim Jong-un lapel badge.
He told the police that all was well, and nothing had happened.
Most of the group later fled the embassy in three North Korean diplomatic
vehicles. Adrian Hong Chang and some others left later via the back entrance
using another vehicle.
They split up into four groups and headed to Portugal. Adrian Hong Chang – a
Mexican citizen who lives in the US – allegedly contacted the FBI to give his
version of events five days later.
CDC, also known as Free Joseon, is committed to overthrowing North Korea’s
ruling Kim dynasty.
A video posted on the group’s
website and YouTube page purports to show one of the intruders smashing
portraits of North Korea’s leaders inside the Madrid embassy.
The Cheollima Civil Defense first
came to prominence after taking credit for getting Kim Jong-un’s nephew, Kim
Han-sol, safely out of Macau after the assassination of his father.
Kim Jong-nam, the North Korean leader’s
estranged half-brother, was murdered at an airport in Malaysia in 2017.
Kim Han-sol has expressed his desire
to go back to North Korea, and has referred to his uncle as a “dictator”.
Sources close to the investigation reportedly told Spanish newspaper El País that the operation was planned
perfectly, as if by a “military cell”.
According to El País and El Confidencial, the attackers seemed to
know what they were looking for. Spanish authorities suspect US intelligence
agencies and their allies could have been involved in the attack.
El País even reports that two of
the group have links to the CIA.
The US has denied any involvement in the raid.
Reports say the attackers could have been looking for information on North Korea’s former ambassador to Madrid, Kim Hyok-chol, who was expelled from Spain in September 2017 over North Korea’s nuclear testing program.
President Donald Trump has arrived in Vietnam’s
capital, Hanoi, ahead of his second summit with North Korean leader, Kim
Air Force One landed at Noi Bai airport hours after Kim Jon-un reached Hanoi
by train and car.
The summit, which is due to take place between February 27 and 28, follows a
historic first round of talks in Singapore in 2018.
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are expected to discuss progress towards
ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.
Ceremonial guards had lined a red carpet laid out for Kim Jong-un as he
arrived at Dong Dang border station on February 26. He was then driven to
Hanoi, where heavy security and flag-waving crowds were waiting for him.
Kim Jong-un is thought to be
travelling with his sister Kim Yo-jong and one of his key negotiators, former
General Kim Yong-chol, both familiar faces from the previous summit with PresidentTrump.
The journey from Pyongyang to Hanoi
took more than two days and traversed about 2,500 miles.
As Kim Jong-un’s train passed
through China, roads were closed and train stations shut down. Chinese social
media was abuzz with road closures, traffic congestion and delayed trains.
Vietnam’s Dong Dang station was also
closed to the public ahead of his arrival.
Kim Jong-un is now being driven
around 100 miles to Hanoi by car.
The North Korean leader chose to
take the train as this is how his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, travelled when he
went to Vietnam and Eastern Europe.
Kim Jong-un’s private green and
yellow train has 21 bulletproof carriages and is luxurious, with plush pink
leather sofas and conference rooms so the journey would not have been
Air Force One left Andrews Air Force
Base in Maryland, landing in Hanoi on Tuesday night local time.
Details of their schedule are only
just becoming clear. President Trump will meet Kim Jong-un for a brief
one-on-one conversation on February 27 and then they will have dinner together
with their advisers, according to White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. On
February 28, the leaders will meet for a series of back-and-forth meetings.
The Hanoi meeting is expected to
build on the groundwork of what was achieved at the Singapore summit in June
The first summit produced a vaguely
worded agreement, with both leaders agreeing to work towards denuclearization –
though it was never made clear what this would entail.
However, little diplomatic progress
was made following that meeting.
This time round, both leaders will
be very conscious that expectations will be high for an outcome that
demonstrates tangible signs of progress.
However, President Trump appeared to
be managing expectations ahead of the summit, saying he was in “no
rush” to press for North Korea’s denuclearization.
He said: “I don’t want to rush anybody. I just don’t want testing. As long
as there’s no testing, we’re happy.”
Vietnam has been chosen for many
reasons. It has diplomatic relations with both the US and North Korea, despite
once having been enemies with the US – and could be used by the US as an
example of two countries working together and setting aside their past
Ideologically, both Vietnam and North Korea are communist countries – though Vietnam has rapidly developed since and become one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, all while the party there retains absolute power.
Kim Yong-chol was scheduled to fly to New York on May 30, after speaking with Chinese officials in Beijing, Yonhap reported, citing diplomatic sources.
The former spy chief would be the most high-profile North Korean official to visit the US since 2000.
The apparent introduction of Kim Yong-chol to negotiations would be significant, as it would underline North Korea’s desire to ensure the talks go ahead.
He has been part of recent high-profile diplomatic overtures by North Korea.
Kim Yong-chol, 72, is a controversial figure in neighboring South Korea, and previously served as a negotiator in inter-Korean talks.
During his time as a military intelligence head, Kim Yong-chol was accused of being behind attacks on South Korean targets, including the torpedoing of a South Korea warship which killed 46 seamen, as well as the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures.
As a result of these incidents, the US imposed personal sanctions on him in 2010 and 2015.
Despite reportedly being punished for an “overbearing attitude” in 2016, Kim Yong-chol has continued to hold senior posts in the army and party, and was the head of North Korea’s delegation to the closing ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.
He is regularly seen at Kim Jongg-un’s side and has attended meetings with the leaders of China and South Korea, and met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang.
In February, Kim Yong-chol was sent to the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he sat close to President Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump.
Exactly what that would entail has remained unclear, but North Korea has invited foreign media to witness the dismantling of its main nuclear test site later this month.
John Bolton recently said North Korea could follow a “Libya model” of verifiable denuclearization, but this alarms Pyongyang, which watched Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi give up his nuclear program only for him to be killed by Western-backed rebels a few years later.
Kim Kye-gwan’s statement, carried by North Korea’s state media, said that if the US “corners us and unilaterally demands we give up nuclear weapons we will no longer have an interest in talks” and “will have to reconsider” attending the June 12 summit in Singapore.
The official said North Korea did have “high hopes” but that it was “very unfortunate that the US is provoking us ahead of the summit by spitting out ludicrous statements”.
He is known to be highly respected in the North Korean leadership and has taken part in negotiations with the US before. There is very little chance Kim Kye-gwan;s comments were not personally endorsed by Kim Jong-un.
Hours before the announcement, in a sign of growing problems, Pyongyang has also pulled out of a meeting scheduled with South Korea on May 16 because of anger over the start of US-South Korean joint military drills.
Pyonyang had earlier said it would allow them to go ahead, but then called them “a provocative military ruckus” which was undermining its diplomatic efforts.
The sudden change in tone from North Korea is said to have taken US officials by surprise. Analysts said Pyongyang could be trying to strengthen its hand before talks.
The US state department said it was continuing to plan the Trump-Kim meeting, and President Trump is yet to comment.
No sitting US president has ever met a North Korean leader.
According to the White House, the American citizens detained in North Korea were freed as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the summit, which President Trump earlier said he thought would be a “big success”.
The key issue expected to be discussed is North Korea’s nuclear weapons program – over which Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un furiously sparred in 2017.
North Korea has carried out six nuclear tests since 2006, despite international condemnation and sanctions, saying it needs the weapons for its own security.
The US wants North Korea to give up its weapons program completely and irreversibly.
Ahead of the meeting, Kim Jong-un has pledged to stop nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, and also to shut down a nuclear test site.
However, analysts caution that Kim Jong-un is unlikely to easily abandon nuclear weapons that he has pushed so hard to obtain, and that “denuclearization” means something quite different to both sides.
The US and Singapore have a close relationship. Singapore has diplomatic ties with North Korea but suspended all trade with the country in November 2017 as international sanctions were tightened.
Other locations which had been considered for the Trump-Kim summit included Mongolia and the Korean border’s demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Asked if this was his proudest achievement, President Trump said that would be “when we denuclearize that entire peninsula”.
He said: “It’s a great honor. But the true honor is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.”
Of the upcoming summit, President Trump said: “I think that we’re going to have… a very big success… I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful.”
He said he hoped he could travel to North Korea one day and that he believed Kim Jong-un wanted to bring his country “into the real world”.
The three men were smiling and waving and appeared in good health.
In an impromptu chat before the media with President Trump, Kim Dong-chul said: “It’s like a dream and we are very, very happy. We were treated in many different ways. For me, I had to do a lot of labor. But when I got sick I was also treated by them.”
Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chul had released an earlier statement saying: “We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo and the people of the United States for bringing us home.
“We thank God and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return.”
The three men had been jailed for anti-state activities and placed in labor camps.
Their release came during a visit to North Korea by Mike Pompeo to arrange details of the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.
According to the North Korean state news agency KCNA, Kim Jong-un said he had accepted a US proposal to grant the three detainees an amnesty, adding that his meeting with President Trump would be an “excellent first step” towards improving the situation on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea has historically used its foreign prisoners as leverage in its diplomatic dealings.
One of the detainees was jailed in 2015, the other two have been in prison for just over a year. Their convictions have been widely condemned as political and an abuse of human rights.
The last American to be freed – Otto Warmbier, who was jailed for stealing a hotel sign – was released last year but was fatally ill, and died shortly after returning home. The cause of death remains unexplained.
Mike Pompeo said a “good relationship” was formed at the first meeting in April, which marked the highest level US contact with North Korea since 2000.
A state department official travelling with Mike Pompeo said the US would also be “listening for signs from North Korea that things have substantially changed” with the nation’s nuclear ambitions.
Last month, President Trump stunned the international community by accepting North Korea’s suggestion for direct talks – it will be an unprecedented move for a sitting US president to meet a North Korean leader.
President Trump referred to Mike Pompeo’s latest visit while announcing that the US was withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran.
Kim Jong-un has become the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
In a moment rich with symbolism and pomp, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un shook hands at the border.
Kim Jong-un said it was the “starting point” for peace, after crossing the military line that divides the peninsula. He also pledged a “new history” in relations with his neighbor.
His visit comes just months after warlike rhetoric from North Korea.
Much of what the summit will focus on has been agreed in advance, but many analysts remain skeptical about North Korea’s apparent enthusiasm for engagement.
Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in were met on April 27 by an honor guard in traditional costume on the South Korean side. The leaders walked to the Peace House in Panmunjom, a military compound in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries.
The North Korean leader then invited the South Korean president to step briefly across the demarcation line into North Korea, before the pair stepped back into South Korea – all the while holding hands.
It was an apparently unscripted moment during a highly choreographed sequence of events.
When the first session ended, the pair separated for lunch and Kim Jong-un returned to North Korea in a heavily guarded black limousine.
When he returned in the afternoon, the leaders took part in a ceremony consisting of the planting of a pine tree using soil and water from both countries.
Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in shoveled soil on the roots of the tree and unveiled a stone marker featuring their names, official titles and a message that read: “Planting peace and prosperity.”
The Korean summit will conclude with the leaders signing an agreement and delivering a joint statement before dinner. The banquet will be held on South Korea’s side and the menu is as symbolic as the other rituals.
According to local sources, Kim Jong-un will serve Swiss potato dish rosti – a nod to his time studying in Switzerland – along with North Korea’s signature dish of cold noodles, and North Korean liquor.
Kim Jong-un is accompanied by nine officials, including his powerful and influential sister Kim Yo-jong.
The Korean meeting – the first between Korean leaders in more than a decade – is seen as a step toward possible peace on the peninsula and marks the first summit of its kind for Kim Jong-un.
The summit carries promise for both Koreas with topics being discussed ranging from nuclear technology and sanctions to separated families, and is seen as an opportunity to foster economic co-operation.
Ahead of talks with President Moon at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom, Kim Jong-un said: “I feel that [we] have fired a flare at the starting point… the moment of writing a new history vis-à-vis peace, prosperity and North-South relations.”
He also wrote in a guestbook: “A new history begins now.”
The White House has expressed hope that the talks will achieve progress towards peace ahead a proposed meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump in the coming weeks – an unprecedented move.
Talks are likely to focus on reaching an agreement on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has advanced significantly since the last summit more than a decade ago.
South Korea has warned that a deal to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons will be “difficult” to achieve.
Kim Jong-un announced last week that he was suspending nuclear tests.
The move was welcomed by the US and South Korea, although Chinese experts have indicated that North Korea’s nuclear test may be unusable after a rock collapse following its last nuclear test.
As well as addressing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in are expected to discuss a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War, as well as economic and social issues.
Relations between the United States and South Korea had their beginnings at the end of World War ll in 1945 when the US occupied the south end of the peninsula and the Soviet Union took the north end pending planned national elections. The two sides could not agree on the type of government (Washington was for a democracy and Moscow favored communism;) hence, an election never took place, resulting in the United Nations recognizing South Korea (Republic of Korea) as the legitimate government.
In 1950, North Korea invaded the ROK and the US sent its military to South Korea to help them fight against the communist invasion. By 1953, the war ended in a stalemate, but the US troops remained, and in 1954, both countries signed the ROK/US Mutual Security Agreement, a pact to defend each other in case of foreign attacks. In reality, this was more of a one-sided agreement. South Korea feared another invasion from North Korea and the presence of the US military hindered such plans.
Post-Korean War, the ROK was ravaged. Its per capita GDP plunged to $64, lower than the African nation of Congo, which was then the poorest. Millions of people were injured, killed and separated from their families. The United States was its single biggest contributor, giving its Asian ally a total of $64 billion in grants, aids, and loans from 1948 to 1978. Its economy grew rapidly in the 1960s and today, it is the fourth biggest economy in Asia, and is a member of the OECD and the G20.
Image source Wikimedia
The ties that bind Seoul and Washington have remained strong. Trade between the two countries reached an estimated $144.6 billion in 2016, and Korea is the US’ sixth biggest goods trading partner. Seoul has the second largest contingent of US military personnel, numbering around 23,500 troops.
But 2017 brought in new leaders for the two nations. President Trump took office in January and President Moon Jae-in in May, and one is as different from the other as night is from day. Trump has shown himself to be a racist, misogynist, and favoring isolationism. Moon is a former student activist and human rights lawyer.
Already, some issues are possible areas of contention. While Trump is aggressively hostile against North Korea and threatens to attack it, Moon, a champion of human and civil rights, prefers the soft approach by engaging in talks to reach an agreement.
On the US’ bilateral trade agreement, Trump wants a renegotiation of the KORUS Free Trade Agreement to reduce US’ trade deficit. He has been quoted as saying that the US is losing $40 billion a year on ROK in trade. The White House Chief Executive has also demanded cost sharing on defense spending with Asian allies and talks on the Special Measures Agreement have begun. During his campaign period, Trump was quite vocal in his criticism of the nation’s expenses for the US troops stationed in allied countries.
South Korea’s show of independence from its benefactor was evident in the High Court’s ruling on the lawsuit that former comfort women brought against the ROK government. The women, now in their 70s, claim that they were forced into prostitution for the US military with the tacit consent of their officials. They won their case and Seoul’s court has ordered the government to pay them damages. While the United States was not a party to the suit, and embassy officials would not comment on it, this is the first official acknowledgment that American soldiers are not as faultless as they are portrayed to be.
What hasn’t changed is its arrogance towards Japan. Japan has taken to heart its war crimes and the atrocities its army has committed against the comfort women of World War ll. It has given billions in aid and compensation and offered numerous apologies to the women. But South Korea’s leaders, past and present, never stop asking for more.
The recent case involving their own government selling their own women to US soldiers should make them realize that they should clean up their own backyard instead of throwing garbage on to other countries.
China has welcomed the development, saying the Korean peninsula issue was “heading in the right direction” and calling for “political courage”.
However, North Korea has halted missile and nuclear tests during previous talks, only to resume them when it lost patience or felt it was not getting what it demanded.
The latest announcement came days after the South Korean delegation met Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.
Speaking outside the White House after briefing President Trump, South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong said he had passed on a message that Kim Jong-un was “committed to denuclearization” and had “pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests”.
According to a statement sent to the Washington Post, North Korea’s UN ambassador said the “courageous decision” of Kim Jong-un would help secure “peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the East Asia region”.
There is no indication yet of where the Trump-Kim talks might take place, but the Korean border’s demilitarized zone (DMZ) and Beijing are seen as likely options.
Kim Jong-un is hosting a dinner for two South Korean delegates, the first time officials from Seoul have met the North Korean leader since he took office in 2011, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
The dinner has been confirmed by a South Korean presidential spokesman.
The South Korean delegation is in Pyongyang for rare talks partly aimed at restarting dialogue between North Korea and the US.
Relations between North Korea and South Korea have warmed following the PyeongChang Winter Games.
In an unprecedented move the delegation includes two ministerial-level envoys – intelligence chief Suh Hoon and National Security adviser Chung Eui-yong.
According to the North Korean state radio, the delegation was met by Ri Son-gwon, North Korea’s reunification chief, who led talks in the weeks before the Winter Olympics.
During the two-day visit, the South Korean group will focus on establishing conditions for talks aimed at getting rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons as well as dialogue between the US and Pyongyang.
Chung Eui-yong had earlier told a press briefing he would deliver President Moon Jae-in’s “resolution to maintain the dialogue and improvement in relations between the South and the North… [and] to denuclearize the Korean peninsula”.
On March 3, President Donald Trump said that the US would be prepared to meet North Korea, but reiterated that Pyongyang would first have to “denuke”.
However, North Korea – which has said it wants to talk to the US – said it was “preposterous” for the US to insist on preconditions.
It’s remains unclear who would represent the US in any such meeting.
The top US diplomat on North Korea Joseph Yun announced his decision to retire earlier last week, a departure which could hamper the Trump administration.
The relationship between the US and North Korea were particularly tense before the Winter Olympics, with both countries repeatedly threatening each other with total destruction.
The US has distanced itself from the North Korean overtures during the Games.
VP Mike Pence has said there is “no daylight” between the US and its regional allies on the need to “continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile program.
According to US officials, VP Mike Pence was due to meet North Korean officials at the Winter Olympics last week, but the North Koreans canceled the meeting at the last moment.
VP Mike Pence was in South Korea for the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
A spokesman said the vice-president was scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, among others.
It would have been the first official interaction between North Korea and the Trump administration.
North Korea has made no comment on the reports.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said when the “possibility arose” of a brief meeting with the North Korean delegation, Mike Pence “was ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs”.
Heather Nauert said in a statement: “At the last minute, DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] officials decided not to go forward with the meeting. We regret their failure to seize this opportunity.”
North Korea’s attendance at the Winter Olympics was seen as a major thaw in consistently tense relations on the Korean peninsula.
Mike Pence was criticized by some for not engaging diplomatically with the North Koreans while in South Korea.
He sat feet away from Kim Yo-jong – who is accused of human rights violations – at the Games but did not interact with her, saying: “I didn’t believe it was proper for the United States of America to give her any attention in that forum.”
Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said North Korea had “dangled a meeting in hopes of the vice president softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda during the Olympics”.
“This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics. Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down,” Nick Ayers said.
On leaving the Games, Mike Pence said the US and its allies remained firmly aligned on North Korea
“There is no daylight between the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile program.”
However, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has said he is considering accepting an invitation to visit Kim Jong-un in North Korea.
South Korean and North Korean athletes entered under the same flag during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
North Korea ice hockey player Chung Gum Hwang and South Korean bobsledder Won Yun-jong were joint flagbearers.
Olympic president Thomas Bach has declared: “We are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us.”
Russian athletes came in under the neutral Olympic flag during the ceremony.
Russia is banned from the Games, and the forthcoming Paralympics, as a consequence of the 2016 McLaren report which claimed more than 1,000 of its sportspeople benefitted from state-sponsored doping.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) invited 169 Russians who have met the anti-doping criteria to compete as independent athletes and their team will be known as the ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’.
An estimated 35,000 spectators inside the Olympic Stadium were given seat warmers, wind shields, hats and gloves with temperatures as low as -6C during the two hour-long ceremony.
Senior political figures from North Korea and the United States – two of the countries at the center of the political row – were both present.
Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, was sat one row behind VP Mike Pence in the VIP section.
South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in shook hands with Kim Yo-jong and said at the ceremony: “I would like to take this opportunity to convey greetings and a message of friendship from the people of Korea.
“The Seoul 1988 Summer Games paved the way for reconciliation between east and west – breaking down the wall of the Cold War. Thirty years after hosting the Summer Games, the Pyeongchang Olympics has commenced with a hope for peace from everyone around the world.
“It was with an ardent desire that the people of Korea aspired to host the Winter Games, the only divided nation in the world. It mirrors the Olympic spirit in its pursuit of peace.”
North Korea announced it was to send a delegation to Pyeongchang in January after it met its South counterparts in their first high-level talks in more than two years.
The North Korean team consists of 22 athletes who will compete in five sports, although their women’s ice hockey players will compete in a unified Korean team. They played together for the first time on February 4 in their only practice match, which they lost 3-1 to Sweden.
The ‘wow moments’ in the ceremony included the formation of the Olympic Rings made up of 1,218 drones – a Guinness World Record for drones used in a performance – and 100 skiers.
There was also ‘the vision of peace in the sky’ which was a constellation inside the arena, while ‘the balance of yin and yang’ saw Korean drummers perform in unison before forming the South Korea flag. And the center of the stadium was lit up in the eye-catching ‘link to the world’ segment.
It all culminated in the ceremony centerpiece, which was the traditional lighting of the Olympic flame. That saw the final torchbearer Yuna Kim, who won Olympic ice skating gold in 2010, at the top of a slope light the flame as 30 fire rings ascended towards the white moon-shaped porcelain cauldron.
Believed to have been born in 1987, Kim Yo-jong is the youngest daughter of late leader Kim Jong-il and is Kim Jong-un’s full sister. She is about four years younger than her brother and is said to be very close to him.
Kim Yo-jong is reportedly married to the son of Choe Ryong-hae, the powerful party secretary.
She has been in the spotlight sporadically in recent years, with her main job being to protect her brother’s image via her role in the party’s propaganda department.
Kim Yo-jong remains blacklisted by the United States over alleged links to human rights abuses in North Korea.
It would be the first by a direct member of the Kim dynasty.
Chang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and brother in law of Kim Jong-il, did travel to South Korea but did not belong to the Baekdu blood line, which is considered significant.
North Korea’s head of state Kim Yong-nam will go to PyeongChang this week for the Winter Olympics.
Kim Yong-nam, 90, is the most senior official to ever visit South Korea.
North Korea confirmed his attendance at the opening ceremony, set for February 9.
Both Koreas will march under one flag at the opening ceremony.
Although Kim Yong-nam’s attendance at the Winter Olympics signals a thaw in relations between the Koreas, experts say it is unlikely to have any impact on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Kim Yong-nam will be in South Korea for a three-day visit and will lead a 22-member delegation.
He has seen the rule of all three North Korean leaders in his career.
Kim Yong-nam is the ceremonial head of state who receives credentials from foreign diplomats in Pyongyang. As such, he is usually responsible for sending condolences or congratulatory messages to foreign leaders.
He has been the president of North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, since 1998.
Unlike North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Yong-nam has traveled abroad on official visits. In August 2017, he travelled to Iran to attend President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration ceremony for his second term in office.
Kim Yong-nam also attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
He is said to be a loyal follower of the top leadership.
“As Kim is known to be acting and speaking under the country’s guidance, he makes no mistakes. That’s why he could keep his high-level post in a country where political purges are common,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted one North Korean defector as saying.
South Korea has said it will seek high-level talks with the North Korean delegation during the visit, Yonhap reported.
Kim Yong-nam’s attendance at the opening ceremony will also put him in the company of Vice President Mike Pence, at a point of high tension with Washington over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
On February 4, the Washington Post reported that Fred Warmbier, whose son Otto Warmbier was jailed by North Korea and died days after returning to the United States, would attend the opening ceremony as a guest of VP Mike Pence.
Fred Warmbier and his wife, Cindy, were guests of President Donald Trump at last week’s State of the Union address.
On February 5, North Korea proposed sending an art troupe to the Games by ferry, a move that would require an exemption from bilateral sanctions.
According to South Korea’s unification ministry, Pyongyang proposed that its delegation use the Mangyongbong 92, a ferry that usually operates between North Korea and Russia, for transportation and as accommodation for the group.
All North Korean ships have been banned from entering South Korean ports since 2010.
South Korean ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a press conference: “We’re seeking to apply an exemption… to support a successful hosting of the Olympics.”
On February 4, the united Korean women’s ice hockey team played its first match, but lost the friendly against Sweden 1-3.
The outing was the first and only practice match for the newly minted Korean squad.
As well as the ice hockey players, North Korean athletes will compete in skiing and figure skating events. It is also sending hundreds of delegates, cheerleaders and performers.
North Korea currently faces growing international pressure and sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs after it conducted a series of missile tests designed to demonstrate its nuclear capability.
Its participation in the Olympics, which run from February 9 to 25, was an unexpected warming of ties.
Meanwhile, although South Korea and the US have agreed to delay the annual big joint military exercises which always enrage North Korea, they will still go ahead at the end of the Paralympics.
North Korea and South Korea will march together under a single “unified Korea” flag at next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
In rare talks at the truce village of Panmunjom, the two Koreas also agreed to field a joint women’s ice hockey team.
These are the first high-level talks between North Korea and South Korea in more than two years.
It marks a thaw in relations that began in the new year when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered to send a team to the games.
The games will take place between February 9 and 25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
If the plans are realized, a hundreds-strong North Korean delegation – including 230 cheerleaders, 140 orchestral musicians and 30 taekwondo athletes – could cross into South Korea via the land border to attend the Winter Olympics.
It will mean the opening of the cross border road for the first time in almost two years.
The two Koreas have also agreed to field a joint team for the sport of women’s ice hockey. It would be the first time athletes from both Koreas have competed together in the same team at an Olympic Games.
North Korea has also agreed to send a smaller, 150-member delegation to the Paralympics in March.
The agreement will have to be approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on January 20, because North Korea has missed registration deadlines or failed to qualify.
South Korea will also need to find ways to host the North Korean delegation without violating UN Security Council sanctions outlawing cash transfers to Pyongyang and blacklisting certain senior North Korean officials.
South Korea’s hockey coach and conservative newspapers have expressed concern about the prospect of a united hockey team, saying it could damage South Korea’s chances of winning a medal.
Tens of thousands of people are said to have signed online petitions urging South Korean President Moon Jae-in to scrap the plan.
However, the president told South Korean Olympic athletes on January 17 that North Korea’s participation in the Games would help improve inter-Korean relations.
President Moon Jae-in has said the Olympic agreement could pave the way for the nuclear issue to be addressed and lead to dialogue between North Korea and the US, according to Yonhap news agency in Seoul.
In a tweet, Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA) said simply: “NO missile threat to Hawaii.”
TV and radio broadcasts across the state were also interrupted with a recorded emergency message: “Stay indoors!
“If you are outdoors seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building while laying on the floor. We’ll announce when the threat has ended. This is not a drill!”
Matt Lopresti, a member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives, was at home when he received the emergency alert on his mobile phone.
He described how he and his family had sought shelter in a bath tub.
He told local broadcaster KGMB: “We got our children, grabbed our emergency supplies, put them in our most enclosed room in our house which is our bathroom.
“We put them in the bath tub, said our prayers, tried to find out what the Hell was going because we didn’t hear any alarms, any of the sirens.
“There’s not much else you can do in that situation. You know, we did what we could… and I am very angry right now because it shouldn’t be this easy to make such a big mistake.”
The US military confirmed no missile threat had been detected and the alert had been released in error.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, announced an investigation.
He tweeted: “The @FCC is launching a full investigation into the false emergency alert that was sent to residents of Hawaii.”
North Korea’s missile and nuclear program is seen as a growing threat to America. Hawaii is one of the American states closest to North Korea.
In September, North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test.
In December, the Star-Advertiser reported that a missile launched from North Korea could strike Hawaii within 20 minutes of launch.
North Korea has accepted South Korea’s proposal to hold military talks to defuse border tension, after their first high-level meeting in two years.
It will also send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games taking place in South Korea in February.
According to the South Korean government, an agreement was also reached to reinstate a military hotline suspended two years ago.
However, the North Korean delegation was negative on the subject of denuclearization, South Korea added.
The US gave a cautious welcome to the meeting.
The state department said the United States remained in close consultations with South Korean officials who would ensure North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics did not violate UN sanctions.
After a day of negotiations, both Koreas issued a joint statement which confirmed they had agreed to hold military talks on defusing military tension.
North Korea also agreed to send a National Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, cheerleaders, art performers, spectators, a taekwondo demonstration team and media to the games, while South Korea would provide the necessary amenities and facilities.
The statement also referred to exchanges in other, unspecified areas and other high-level talks to improve relations, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.
South Korea asked North Korea to end any hostile acts that might raise tension, while the North agreed there was a need to guarantee a peaceful environment on the peninsula, a statement from the South’s government said.
The South also proposed that athletes from both Koreas march together at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang as they did at the 2006 Winter Olympics. It also pushed for the reunion of family members separated by the Korean War – a highly emotional issue for both countries – to take place during the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls in the middle of the Games.
South Korea said it would consider temporarily lifting relevant sanctions, in co-ordination with the UN, to facilitate North Korea’s participation in the Olympics.
North Korea’s reaction to these proposals is not known.
In his opening remarks, the head of North Korea’s delegation, Ri Son-gwon, was fairly neutral. He said he hoped the talks would bring a “good gift” for the new year and that his country had a “serious and sincere stance”.
Talks were held in the Panmunjom “peace village” in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the border.
Five senior officials on each side attended and the leaders of both were said to have watched the talks via a CCTV feed.
In his New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had said he was considering sending a team to the Olympics. South Korea’s Olympics chief had said last year that North Korea’s athletes would be welcome.
Following Kim Jong-un’s overture, South Korea then proposed high-level talks to discuss North Korea’s participation, but the North only agreed to the talks after the US and the South agreed to delay their joint military exercises until after the Olympics. North Korea sees the annual drills as a rehearsal for war.
Some critics in the US see North Korea’s move as an attempt to divide the US-South Korea alliance.
President Donald Trump has responded to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un saying his nuclear button is “much bigger” and “more powerful”.
In a tweet, the president warned: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
President Trump’s tweet is the latest contribution to the bickering, increasingly personalized feud between the nuclear-armed leaders.
Earlier this week, Kim Jong-un threatened that his nuclear launch button was “always on my table”.
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump’s unorthodox words sent social media into a frenzy.
It ended a quick-fire day of tweeting that included taking credit for a lack of airplane crashed, announcing awards for “corrupt media”, and threatening to pull aid from Palestinians who do not show “appreciation or respect”.
President Trump’s latest comment states the obvious: any US president has immediate access to the nuclear codes and the US has the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal.
Many people online have expressed alarm at the apparently light-hearted use of nuclear threats by world leaders.
However, Donald Trump’s supporters have defended him, saying his comments are both factually accurate and show American strength and resolve.
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump had a long-running spat with Marco Rubio over the size of his hands.
At the time, he insisted: “He referred to my hands – ‘if they are small, something else must be small’. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee”.
This connection was not missed by social media users.