Kim: nuclear and ICBM tests no longer necessary

I wonder if the US will commit to reducing their nuclear arsenal at the same time.

Kim Yong Un increasing in confidence, popular with his people

We usually only see superficial headlines about North Korean leader Kim Yong Un. His visit to China this week hit the headlines. It was his first trip abroad since becoming leader in 2011, and is as significant as his proposed meeting with US president Donald Trump in May. There are obvious changes to North Korea’s international relationships.

A report suggests this may be due to an increase confidence of Kim in his power, and it also says that he is doing ok with ordinary people due to gradual economic reforms.

Financial Time: North Korea: Why Kim Jong Un came in from the cold

He controls a million-strong army and runs a nuclear weapons programme but for years Kim Jong Un has ruled with a nagging sense of fear. The young North Korean dictator, some argue, was afraid to leave his isolated, impoverished nation in case his generals launched a coup or foreign forces used the opportunity to bring his brutal reign to an abrupt end.

Such notions were shattered this week as a private armoured train trundled 20 hours from Pyongyang to Beijing for Mr Kim’s first trip abroad as paramount leader of North Korea.

The visit, initially shrouded in secrecy with the Chinese capital on lockdown, was seen by experts as an attempt to mend Pyongyang’s frayed ties with Beijing — its principal backer — ahead of a possible summit between Mr Kim and US president Donald Trump in May. But to others it signalled something more: the dictator’s growing confidence in his hold on power — a position that he has for years meticulously strengthened through a series of political, economic and military policies that are becoming synonymous with his reign.

Kim has been ruthless with the military and North Korean elite in establishing his power, but has been reduced restrictions for ordinary people.

Mr Kim has followed a three-pronged strategy to cement his grip on power: high-level political repression, grassroots economic liberalisation and the unwavering development of his nation’s nuclear programme.

Surveys of defectors appear to show that his policies are having an impact. They indicate that Mr Kim enjoys broad support among ordinary North Koreans, while analysts now believe he has the nation’s military on a tight leash.

Unlike Kim Jong Il — his father whose reign became associated with a famine that killed hundreds of thousands in the 1990s — Mr Kim has focused his ire mainly on the North Korean elite and military, leaving his image among the wider populace relatively unscathed.

“From the people’s perspective, the purging of elites is seen as the right thing to do due to their alleged wrongdoings,” says Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul.

Alongside purges of the elite, Mr Kim has also taken steps, via a rebooted propaganda operation, to bolster his image among ordinary North Koreans.

Human rights violations still plague the nation, with arrests, forced labour and executions endemic. But like Maoist China, Mr Kim has honed his cult of personality, which appears to keep him above the fray. He is regularly portrayed in state media with a broad grin or engaged in frivolous activities with civilians or soldiers.

Most importantly for his reputation, however, Mr Kim has overseen a period of quiet but effective and gradual economic reform by allowing the spread of markets and de facto private enterprises, which have led to a clear uptick in wage levels and the standard of living.

If Kim can improve his international relations, including pulling North Korea back from brink of nuclear escalation, plus improve the standard of living for the people of North Korea, he may not totally be the bogeyman and despot as often portrayed and assumed.

Trump could play his part.

Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump to meet

Whoever is responsible for organising a meeting between North Korea’s Kim Yong Un and the US’s Donald Trump probably deserves a medal, especially if it results in a de-escalation of what had been growing tensions between the nuclear trigger happy adversaries.

South Korea has been involved in trying to bring the two together so deserves some credit, but so do Kim Yong Un and Trump if they follow through and are serious about sorting out their primary differences

It’s too soon to tell what the real intent of either is, and how this will progress, but it’s more promising than having ego driven slanging matches from a distance.

North Korea may consider nuclear disarmament

Talks between North Korea and South Korea have raised hopes that the North may be willing to discuss nuclear disarmament, but North Korea has faailed to keep promises in the past.

RNZ:  North Korea willing to discuss nuclear disarmament, says South

North Korea is willing to talk about getting rid of its nuclear weapons but only if its own safety can be guaranteed, South Korea says.

The South says the subject was raised when its officials met with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in Pyongyang on Monday, during a rare visit.

A statement from the South Korea president’s office said: “The North showed willingness on denuclearisation in the Korean Peninsula. If military threats to the North Korea decrease and regime safety is guaranteed, the North showed that it has no reason to retain nukes.”

The North’s KCNA news agency said Mr Kim had “warmly welcomed” the delegates and held an “openhearted talk” with them.

During their visit, the South’s officials passed on a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in which he invited Mr Kim to attend further talks.

KCNA said Mr Kim had “exchanged views and made a satisfactory agreement” on the letter and gave orders for it to be acted on.

The South’s delegates returned to Seoul on Tuesday morning, the South Korean news agency Yonhap said.

These were the first officials from Seoul to meet Mr Kim since he came to power. They said Mr Kim is also open to US talks, and would pause weapons testing.

Some hope of progress, but:

In previous programmes to halt its nuclear ambitions, the North has failed to keep its promises.

Hopefully South Korea and North Korea can make progress on de-escalation.

After the news from the South Korean officials was made public, President Donald Trump tweeted: “The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”

The further he is kept away from talks and negotiations the better, but he can still stuff things up via Twitter.

Talks between North and South Korea

When Moon Jae-in took office in May 2017 in South Korea he pledged engagement with North Korea, including an offer to hold inter-Korean military talks about ceasing hostile activities along the border. But he was snubbed.

However in his New Year message Kim Jong-Un said he was open to dialogue (as well as warning the United States he had his finger on a ‘nuclear button’.

RNZ:  Kim Jong-Un has ‘nuclear button’ on desk

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has warned the United States that he has a “nuclear button” on his desk ready for use if North Korea is threatened, but he has offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he is “open to dialogue” with Seoul.

Rather than encouraging US measures that “threaten the security and peace of the Korean peninsula,” Seoul should instead respond to overtures from the North, Kim said.

“When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment. Both the North and the South should make efforts.”

Kim said he will consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people and we wish the Games will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility,” Kim said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea’s participation will ensure safety of the Pyeongchang Olympics and proposed last month that Seoul and Washington postpone large military drills that the North denounces as a rehearsal for war until after the Games.

South Korea has responded positively. RNZ: South Korea sets date for high-level talks with North

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed on Tuesday that representatives could meet at Panmunjom, the so-called “truce village”.

“We hope that the South and North can sit face to face and discuss the participation of the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Games as well as other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties,” said Mr Cho.

“I repeat, the government is open to talking with North Korea, regardless of time, location and form.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said earlier today that inter-Korean relations were linked to resolving the North’s nuclear program.

“The improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot go separately with resolving North Korea’s nuclear program, so the foreign ministry should coordinate closely with allies and the international community regarding this,” he said in opening remarks at a cabinet meeting.

Analysts think that the offer for talks from North Korea may be an attempt to drive a wedge between South Korea and the US.

US-based experts saw Kim’s speech as a clear attempt to divide Seoul from its main ally, Washington, which has led an international campaign to pressure North Korea through sanctions to give up weapons programs aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

“This speech pokes at the fissure that has lain below the surface in US-South Korean relations, and seems designed to drive a wedge there,” said Douglas Paal, a former senior US diplomat who heads the Asia program at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“President Moon needs a successful Olympics and the US drive to increase pressure fits poorly with the Southern agenda.”

Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for East Asia until last April and now at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said there was an argument to be made to encourage North Korea’s Olympic participation but that it should not be taken too far.

“It’s perfectly legitimate to dial down some of the signaling and the rhetoric … but not to load up their tray with concessions in advance. We should reward responsible behavior, but not try to bribe North Korea into behaving; that doesn’t work,” he said.

Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul said Mr Kim was likely to tone down his weapons testing – at least ahead of the Olympics.

“What North Korea is most afraid of is being forgotten in the international arena,” he said. “Without launching missiles and conducting a nuclear test, North Korea will be in the spotlight just by attending the Winter Olympics.”

Donald Trump has responded viw Twitter:

As is common Trump is factually wrong.

The last high-level talks took place in December 2015 in the Kaesong joint industrial zone.

They ended without any agreement and the meeting’s agenda was not made public.

Fear of military escalation, in particular of nuclear attack, whether intentional or not, will be strong incentive for both North and South Korea to work something out. China and Japan will also be very keen on de-escalation.

Trump: ‘the calm before the storm’

Donald Trump talked big and tough during his campaigns, and he has talked big and tough as president. But so far (fortunately) it has been all bark.

Is this about to change? Trump was obviously trying to send some sort of message in a media stunt.

Reuters: In meeting with military, Trump talks of ‘calm before the storm’

After discussing Iran and North Korea with U.S. military leaders on Thursday, President Donald Trump posed for a photo with them before dinner and declared the moment “the calm before the storm.”

“You guys know what this represents?” Trump said after journalists gathered in the White House state dining room to photograph him and first lady Melania Trump with the uniformed military leaders and their spouses.

“Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” he said.

What storm?

“You’ll find out,” Trump told questioning reporters.

Earlier in the evening, while seated with the top defense officials in the cabinet room, Trump talked about the threat from North Korea and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

“In North Korea, our goal is denuclearization,” he said. “We cannot allow this dictatorship to threaten our nation or our allies with unimaginable loss of life. We will do what we must do to prevent that from happening. And it will be done, if necessary, believe me.”

During his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Trump said the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if needed to defend itself or U.S. allies.

Meanwhile:

Trump-Kim war of words continues

While the war between Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un is just of words at the moment it continues to escalate with threats, provocation and name calling. If one acts with weapons it is certain the other will also try to act, so this is a very dangerous game of brinkmanship and ego.

Trump ramped things up substantially with his comments at the United Nations several days ago. Kim has responded, and Trump has escalated their slanging match.

BBC: Trump and Kim call each other mad

Kim Jong-un has said remarks by “deranged” US President Donald Trump have convinced him he is right to develop weapons for North Korea.

In an unprecedented personal statement, Mr Kim said Mr Trump would “pay dearly” for a UN speech where he threatened to “totally destroy” the North if the US was forced to defend itself.

Mr Trump responded that the “madman… will be tested like never before”.

The two countries have engaged in ever more heated rhetoric in recent months.

Mr Kim ended his statement by saying he would “surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”.

This does sound like madness from both of them. Other countries have joined the war of words.

China responded to the war of words, warning that the situation was “complicated and sensitive”.

“All relevant parties should exercise restraint instead of provoking each other,” said Foreign Minister spokesman Lu Kang.

Russia also urged restraint. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was “deeply concerned by an escalation of tensions”.

Kim and Trump don’t seem to care what the rest of the world thinks or fears, they seem intent on trying to out-heckle each other. The obvious risk is if the hackles rise too far then the shackles might come off military action, and that could end up in a major mess. Like nuclear. And world war 3.

North Korea may or may not have much of a nuclear arsenal, but the US, China and Russia all have huge ones, as well as huge non-nuclear armies.

NZH: This is personal: Why Kim’s latest attack on Trump is on a new level

On the surface it seems like more of the same: North Korea responds to another threat by US President Donald Trump by calling him a “deranged” old man who will “pay dearly” for his insults. These words yesterday, however, carry the weight of an unprecedented personal rebuke from North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un.

Here are five things to know about Kim’s statement:

He’s breaking ground

It was written in the first person, and issued directly to the international community generally and to Trump specifically.

He’s issuing a warning

The statement suggests more powerful weapons tests are in the works. North Korea’s Foreign Minister seemed to confirm this on the sidelines of a global UN meeting in New York, telling reporters that Kim’s comments could mean that North Korea will conduct an H-bomb test in the Pacific.

He’s playing the statesman

Believe it or not, Kim’s statement actually used gentler language than his propaganda specialists have favoured in the past. Granted, he called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” (a word to describe a fragile elderly person) and a “frightened dog”. But this is a far cry from North Korea at its worst.

He feels justified

Kim says Trump’s threats only emphasise that North Korea has been justified in its pursuit of nuclear missiles. North Korea has long said that its weapons tests are necessary because of US hostility.

He’s insulted

Kim seemed to take umbrage that Trump was personally insulting him. Kim essentially says that he expected better of Trump.

…far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors,” Kim said.

Kim advised the President “to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world”. He added that “Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world”. In a country where Kim’s word is law, the message seems clear: This will not stand.

This could end very badly.

“…no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”

In his first speech to the United Nations President Donald Trump blasted ‘rogue regimes’ including North Korea, Iran and Syria and threatened to ‘totally destroy North Korea’.

He has promoted his threat on Twitter:

“The scourge our planet today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate every principle on which the United Nations is based. They respect neither their own citizens, nor the sovereign rights of their countries. If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph.”

North Korea’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life.”

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

How ironic is that?

On the Middle East:

Iran is “another reckless regime, one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.”

“The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

He even slams the United States.

The president called for the de-escalation of the Syrian conflict and a “political solution that honors the will of the Syrian people.”

His speech does not seem to have de-escalation as it’s primary function.

“We will stop radical Islamic terrorism because we cannot allow it to tear up our nation and indeed to tear up the entire world. We must deny the terrorists safe haven, transit funding and any form of support for the vile and sinister ideology.”

Idealistic rhetoric that will please some.

“Just as the founders as this body intended, we must work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos, turmoil and terror.”

“As president of the United States, I will always put America first. Just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always, put your countries first.”

“The United States will forever be a great friend to the world and especially to its allies. But we can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.”

There’s a number of contradictions in his speech.

Totally destroying a country of 25 million people sounds like a bit of a one-sided deal.

From Fox UN Speech: Trump Says ‘Rocket Man’ Kim Jong Un on ‘Suicide Mission,’ in Broadside at ‘Rogue Regimes’

 

The nuclear umbrella

Nuclear umbrella refers to a guarantee by a nuclear weapons state to defend a non-nuclear allied state.

Does that include defending non-nuclear states from the fallout from thermonuclear war by not starting one?

Thank goodness for that. Perhaps wiser heads are prevailing.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that military action against North Korea was not a first choice and said he had a strong and frank discussion with China’s President Xi Jinping about the issue.

“President Xi would like to do something. We’ll see whether or not he can do it. But we will not be putting up with what’s happening in North Korea,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“I believe that President Xi agrees with me 100 percent… We had a very, very frank and very strong phone call.”

Perhaps talking more with leaders closer to the risk before tweeting might also prevail.

Putin warns of ‘global planetary catastrophe’ over North Korea

Vladimir Putin has warned of a “global planetary catastrophe” if the North Korea crisis tips over into war.

CNN: Vladimir Putin warns world faces ‘global catastrophe’ over North Korea

President Vladimir Putin warned that the escalating crisis over North Korea’s weapons program risks developing into a “global catastrophe” with mass casualties.

But Putin, speaking in China on Tuesday, cautioned against “military hysteria” and said that the only way to resolve the crisis was through diplomacy.

He warned that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has calculated that the survival of his regime depends on its development of nuclear weapons. Kim had seen how western intervention in Iraq had ended in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein after which the country was ravaged by war, Putin warned, and Kim was determined not to suffer the same fate.

“Saddam Hussein rejected the production of weapons of mass destruction, but even under that pretense, he was destroyed and members of his family were killed,” Putin said.

Putin said that while Russia condemned North Korea’s latest actions, imposing any kind of sanctions would be “useless and ineffective.” Kim would rather starve his people than see his regime overthrown, he said.

“They will eat grass but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security,” he said.

Grass dripping with radiation will not be very palatable.

Fox News: