Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has received more responsibilities in the government, South Korea’s spy agency claims.
Kim Jong-un still maintains “absolute authority”, but handed various policy areas to others to reduce his stress levels, the spy agency reportedly said.
Kim Yo-jong is now “steering overall state affairs”, the National Intelligence Service added.
However, South Korea’s spy agency has been wrong about North Korea in the past.
The claims were reportedly made during a closed-door briefing on August 20 to South Korea’s National Assembly.
Lawmakers then discussed the assessment with journalists.
The agency was quoted as saying: “Kim Jong-un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little.”
Kim Yo-jong now has responsibility for Pyongyang’s policy towards the US and South Korea, among other policy issues, and is “the de-facto number two leader,” it added, although it stressed that Kim Jong-un had “not selected a successor.”
The North Korean leader’s decision to delegate was in part to “relieve stress from his reign and avert culpability in the event of policy failure,” it said.
However, some analysts have been skeptical of the intelligence, with website NKNews noting that Kim Yo-jong appeared to have missed two important meetings this month, leading to speculation from some observers that she may have been demoted.
North Korea also began to dismantle loudspeakers it had erected only last week, traditionally used to blast anti-South Korean messages over the border, Yonhap reported.
The move represents a notable de-escalation in rhetoric after Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong’s orders to the army to “decisively carry out the next action” – in part because of what Pyongyang said was Seoul’s failure to stop activists floating balloons with anti-regime leaflets over the border.
The meeting also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported.
Tensions between North and South Korea appeared to be on the mend when in 2018, leaders of both countries met for the first time at the border.
The historic summit saw both sides pledge to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons – and in the months that followed, there were efforts to improve ties and maintain dialogue.
However, the relationship has been on a downward spiral after a failed summit between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump.
And the past few weeks saw relations deteriorate especially rapidly – prompted by defector groups in South Korea sending propaganda across the border,
South Korean activists typically send balloons that carry objects like leaflets, USB sticks or DVDs with criticism of the Pyongyang regime, as well as South Korean news reports or even Korean dramas.
All of this is aimed at breaking North Korea’s control on domestic information with the hope that people might eventually topple the regime from within.
The South Korean government has already tried to stop groups sending leaflets across the border, arguing their actions put residents near the border at risk. The move prompted North Korea to renew threats of military action – and shortly afterwards it blew up a joint liaison office that it had established with South Korea in 2018.
North Korea has announced it will cut off all official communication channels with South Korea, including a hotline between the two nations’ leaders.
It said this was the first in a series of actions, describing South Korea as “the enemy”.
Daily calls, which have been made to a liaison office located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, will cease from June 9.
North and South Korea had set up the office to reduce tensions after talks in 2018.
The two states are technically still at war because no peace agreement was reached when the Korean War ended in 1953.
North Korea “will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line between the authorities of the North and the South, which has been maintained through the North-South joint liaison office… from 12:00 on 9 June 2020,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report said.
Military communication channels will also be cut, it said.
When the liaison office was temporarily closed in January because of Covid-19 restrictions, contact between the two states was maintained by phone.
North Korea and South Korea made two phone calls a day through the office, at 09:00 and 17:00. On June 8, the South said that for the first time in 21 months, its morning call had gone unanswered, although contact was made in the afternoon.
“We have reached a conclusion that there is no need to sit face-to-face with the South Korean authorities and there is no issue to discuss with them, as they have only aroused our dismay,” KNCA said.
Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister, threatened last week to close the office unless South Korea stopped defector groups from sending leaflets into North Korea.
She said the leaflet campaign was a hostile act that violated the peace agreements made during the 2018 Panmunjom summit between South Krea’s Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un.
North Korean defectors occasionally send balloons carrying leaflets critical of the communist region into the North, sometimes with supplies to entice North Koreans to pick them up.
North Koreans can only get news from state-controlled media, and most do not have access to the internet.
Ties between North Korea and South Korea appeared to improve in 2018, when the leaders of both countries met three times. Such high-level meetings had not taken place in over a decade.
North Korea and South Korea have exchanged gunfire in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which divides the two Asian countries.
Gunshots fired by North Korea at 07:41 AM local time hit a South Korean guard post in the central border town of Cheorwon, Seoul’s military said.
No casualties were reported on the South Korean side.
In response, South Korea fired “two rounds of gunfire and a warning announcement according to our manual”, the military statement said.
It is not clear what provoked the initial gunshots. The joint chiefs of staff (JCS) said that they were trying to contact North Korea through their military hotline to determine the cause of the incident.
This is the first time in five years that North Korean troops have directly fired on South Korea. The last incident happened when a North Korean soldier made a dash across the military demarcation line to defect to South Korea.
The DMZ was set up after the Korean War in 1953 in order to create a buffer zone between the two countries.
For the past two years, the South Korean government has tried to turn the heavily fortified border into a peace zone.
Easing military tensions at the border was one of the agreements reached between the leaders of the two countries held a summit in Pyongyang in September 2018.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has appeared in public for the first time after 20 days of absence, North Korean state media says.
According to KCNA news agency, Kim Jong-un cut the ribbon at the opening of a fertilizer factory.
The agency adds that people at the factory “broke into thunderous cheers of hurrah” when he appeared on May 1st.
The reported appearance – Kim Jong-un’s first since an event on state media on April 12 – comes amid global speculation over his health.
However, the latest reports from North Korean media could not be independently confirmed.
State media later released images that it said showed Kim Jong-un cutting a ribbon outside a factory.
Asked about Kim Jong-un’s reported reappearance, President Donald Trump told reporters that he didn’t want to comment yet.
According to KCNA, Kim Jong-un was accompanied by several senior North Korean officials, including his sister Kim Yo-jong.
He cut a ribbon at a ceremony at the plant, in a region north of Pyongyang, and people who were attending the event “burst into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!’ for the Supreme Leader who is commanding the all-people general march for accomplishing the great cause of prosperity”, KCNA says.
Kim Jong-un said he was satisfied with the factory’s production system, and praised it for contributing to the progress of the country’s chemical industry and food production, the state news agency adds.
Speculation about Kim Jong-un’s health began after he missed the birth anniversary celebrations of his grandfather, state founder Kim Il-sung on April 15.
The anniversary is one of the biggest events in the North Korean calendar, and the North Korean usually marks it by visiting the mausoleum where his grandfather lies. Kim Jong-un had never missed this event.
Claims about Kim Jong-un’s ill-health then surfaced in a report for a website run by North Korean defectors.
An anonymous source told the Daily NK that they understood Kim Jong-un had been struggling with cardiovascular problems since last August “but it worsened after repeated visits to Mount Paektu”.
The projectiles flew for 255 miles with a maximum altitude of around 30 miles, the South Korean military said.
Japan’s coast guard confirmed a missile had landed outside the waters of its exclusive economic zone.
It comes as North Korea announced it would be holding a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s parliament, on April 19. Analysts say the meeting will involve almost 700 of North Korea’s leaders in one spot.
There have been no reported cases of coronavirus in North Korea, though some experts have cast doubt on this.
North Korea borders China, where the virus emerged, and South Korea, where there has been a major outbreak.
A top US military official said last week he was “fairly certain” there were infections in North Korea.
However, North Korea quarantined around 380 foreigners – mostly diplomats and staff in Pyongyang – in their compounds for at least 30 days. The restrictions were lifted at the beginning of March. Around 80 foreigners, mainly diplomats, were flown out of Pyongyang on March 9.
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 miles.
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 denuclearization talks.
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 planned.
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 “hostile acts”.
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 humanitarian grounds”.
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 interesting suggestion”.
Donald Trump has arrived in South Korea to discuss the flagging North Korea denuclearization talks.
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 minutes”.
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 Jong-un.
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 uncomfortable.
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 2018.
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 grievances.
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.