North Korean officials insist that the country is committed to the Singapore agreement, which expressed a need for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
A confidential United Nations report argues that North Korea “has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs” and continues to engage in illicit activities in violation of UN sanctions resolutions.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remains optimistic but notes that North Korea’s behavior is “inconsistent” with the pledge North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made to US President Donald Trump at their summit in Singapore.
North Korean officials insist the country is committed to upholding the provisions of the Singapore agreement signed by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, but a confidential United Nations report reveals that North Korea “has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs.”
“The [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] stands firm in its determination and commitment for implementing the DPRK-US Joint Statement in a responsible and good-faith manner,” North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho said Saturday, arguing that North Korea has demonstrated its goodwill through the moratorium on weapons testing and the dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
North Korea has also released American hostages and began dismantling parts of the Sohae Satellite Launch Station, a facility believed to have played a prominent role in the engine development for one of the new intercontinental ballistic missiles tested for the first time last year. But while Pyongyang has taken certain presumably positive steps, it remains a good distance from reaching the Trump administration’s desired outcome — denuclearization and disarmament. In fact, evidence suggests that North Korea may be moving in the other direction.
A 149-page report analyzing the implementation of United Nations sanctions over a six-month period was submitted to the United Nations Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee late Friday. North Korea “has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and continues to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as through transfers of coal at sea during 2018,” the document put together by a team of independent experts stated, according to Reuters.
In recent weeks, North Korea has been spotted engaging in activities that cast doubt on its commitment to denuclearize. They include producing possible liquid-fueled ICBMs at a location in Sanum-dong,increasing nuclear fuel production at secret enrichment sites like Kangson, making key infrastructure improvements at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, and expanding an important facility in Hamhung dedicated to the development of solid-fueled ballistic missiles.
It is not just the weapons programs that are troubling, though. The United Nations report notes that not only has North Korea been collaborating with Syria’s military and attempting to sell weapons to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, but illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum have “increased in scope, scale and sophistication.”
North Korean vessels were involved in at least 89 illegal ship-to-ship transfers between January 1 and May 30, which resulted in the country importing as much as three times the amount permitted by the United Nations, NK News reported , citing US data.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Friday that North Korea’s behavior is inconsistent with Kim Jong Un’s promise to the president.
“Chairman Kim made a commitment to denuclearize,” Pompeo said , “The world demanded that they do so in the UN Security Council resolutions. To the extent they are behaving in a manner inconsistent with that, they are a) in violation of one or both the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and
b) we can see we still have a ways to go to achieve the ultimate outcome we’re looking for.”
Speaking at the Asian Regional Forum Retreat Session in Singapore Saturday, Pompeo urged Southeast Asian nations to maintain the pressure on North Korea by fully implementing sanctions. At the same event, the North Korean foreign minister said Pyongyang is alarmed by US attitudes.
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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs in violation of United Nations sanctions, according to a confidential U.N. report seen by Reuters on Friday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory and the Bus Repair Factory in Pyongyang, North Korea in this photo released August 4, 2018 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. KCNA/ via REUTERS
The six-month report by independent experts monitoring the implementation of U.N. sanctions was submitted to the Security Council North Korea sanctions committee late on Friday.
“(North Korea) has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and continued to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as through transfers of coal at sea during 2018,” the experts wrote in the 149-page report.
The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
The U.N report said North Korea is cooperating militarily with Syria and has been trying to sell weapons to Yemen’s Houthis.
Pyongyang also violated a textile ban by exporting more than $100 million in goods between October 2017 and March 2018 to China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay, the report said.
The report comes as Russia and China suggest the Security Council discuss easing sanctions after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met for the first time in June and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization.
The United States and other council members have said there must be strict enforcement of sanctions until Pyongyang acts.
The U.N. experts said illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products in international waters had “increased in scope, scale and sophistication.” They said a key North Korean technique was to turn off a ship’s tracking system, but that they were also physically disguising ships and using smaller vessels.
The Security Council has unanimously sanctioned North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.
The experts said “prohibited military cooperation with the Syrian Arab Republic has continued unabated.” They said North Korean technicians engaged in ballistic missile and other banned activities have visited Syria in 2011, 2016 and 2017.
The report said that experts were investigating efforts by the North Korean Ministry of Military Equipment and Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID) to supply conventional arms and ballistic missiles to Yemen’s Houthi group.
A country, which was not identified, showed the experts a July 13, 2016 letter from a Houthi leader inviting the North Koreans to meet in Damascus “to discuss the issue of the transfer of technology and other matters of mutual interest,” according to the report.
The experts said that the effectiveness of financial sanctions was being systematically undermined by “deceptive practices” of North Korea.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chris Sanders and Toni Reinhold
After the first meeting between sitting leaders from the two countries, the two men pledged to work towards denuclearisation. Mr Trump later said North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat”.
But Mr Trump was criticised at home for making concessions without securing any firm commitment from Mr Kim to end the nuclear and missile programmes.
What do the latest reports say?
On Monday, the Washington Post newspaper quoted officials as saying North Korea appeared to be building one or two new liquid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at the Sanumdong facility near the capital, Pyongyang.
The factory is known to have produced the Hwasong-15, the first North Korean ICBM capable of reaching the US.
However, a US official told news agency Reuters that a liquid-fuelled ICBM didn’t “pose nearly the threat that a solid-fuelled one would because they take so long to fuel”.
Reuters also added that satellite imaging showed vehicles moving in and out of the facility, but not the extent of any missile construction.
What are experts saying about this?
These are not the first reports that North Korea may be continuing its weapons programme, casting doubt on the real impact of the summit in Singapore.
Satellite imagery of the Sanumdong facility shows that the site is “active”, Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) told the Washington Post.
“[The facility] is not dead, by any stretch of the imagination,” said Mr Lewis. “We see shipping containers and vehicles coming and going. This is a facility where they build ICBMs and space-launch vehicles.”
Another North Korean expert from MIIS, Melissa Hanham, told the BBC that the facility had “regular traffic in and out of the building”, adding that this “traffic pattern” on the site stayed “about the same through the Panmunjom and Singapore meetings”.
This indicated that there had not been a complete stop in activity during the summit talks.
She also noted that large “brightly coloured containers” also showed up in satellite imagery, saying that “containers similar to these have appeared during previous ICBM inspections by Mr Kim.”
Ms Hanham added that while that experts at MIIS could not “find a way to confirm the [intelligence] leak”, the information has matched evidence from satellite imagery.
What was agreed on in the Singapore summit?
North Korea has carried out a total of six nuclear tests, the most recent of which took place in September last year. It has in the past two years quickly advanced its nuclear programme.
But at their landmark meeting in Singapore, Mr Trump and Mr Kim agreed to work towards the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.
It’s been unclear what both sides mean by “complete denuclearisation”, and no further details have been released about when or how Pyongyang would renounce its nuclear weapons nor how the process would be verified.
Experts have also cast doubt on whether Pyongyang has been genuine in its apparent commitment to “denuclearise”.
Last week, it appeared North Korea had begun dismantling part of a key rocket launch site, but according to recent reports based on US intelligence leaks, Pyongyang might still secretly be continuing its nuclear weapons programme.
Reports had indicated that North Korea was upgrading its only official nuclear enrichment site, and was stepping up enrichment at other secret sites.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was forced to admit that North Korea was continuing to produce nuclear fissile material, though he insisted that “progress is happening”.
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(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)
Former South Korean President Given 8 More Years in Jail
Friday, 20 July, 2018 – 09:30
Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye is shown on her way to a court appearance. (AP)
Disgraced former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to eight more years in prison on Friday after a court found her guilty on charges of causing loss of government funds and interfering in a 2016 parliamentary election.
She now faces the prospect of more than three decades behind bars. She’s already serving a 24-year prison term over a massive corruption scandal that led to her removal from office last year.
Seoul Central District Court found her guilty of causing substantial losses to state coffers by unlawfully receiving about 3 billion won ($2.6 million) from chiefs of the National Intelligence Service during her presidency and sentenced her to six years in prison.
However, she was found not guilty of bribery charges related to the money transfers. The court said it was unclear whether the spy chiefs sought or received favors in return.
The court separately sentenced Park to two years in prison for breaking election laws by meddling in her party candidate’s nomination while attempting to win more spots for her loyalists ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2016.
“Park’s private use of the funds weakened the principles of executing government funds, and barred the country’s chief spy agency from using the funds for its core duty of protecting the country and the people,” presiding judge Seong Chang-ho said as he delivered the verdict.
“However, the defendant has shifted blame to her assistants and refused to appear in court,” Seong said.
As the judge handed down the verdict, Park’s supporters attending the trial reportedly shouted “Release the innocent president,” and “Is this a law?”
All sentences must be served consecutively, a court spokeswoman said.
Park became South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office last year when the Constitutional Court ordered her out over a scandal that exposed a web of corruption between political leaders and the country’s powerful conglomerates, or chaebol.
Park, 66, has denied wrongdoing and was not present in court. It was immediately unclear whether Park would appeal.
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(CNN)Never shy about taking credit, President Donald Trump twice recently claimed to have solved a problem that turned out to still be a problem.
He wanted the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons to be solved after his historic meeting with Kim Jong Un last month, and he wanted the problem of children separated by the US government from their parents to be solved with the swipe of his pen on an executive order.
But weeks later, the North Korean nuclear threat still very much exists, and the problem of children separated from their parents has worsened as the US government clearly does not know exactly how many children it has or how to get them back to their parents.
These are unrelated stories, obviously, but they share what’s become a truism of White House — which is that Trump likes to take credit for things he hasn’t quite accomplished. The details will come later.
Trump touts North Korea denuclearization
It’s not unlike the famous old quote attributed to Vermont Sen. George Aitken, a Republican, who put forward a plan for the US in Vietnam in 1966. The United States should declare victory and get out, he’s been quoted as saying. Whether Aitken said it that way or not and what exactly he meant has been debated.
Trump actually did sort of declare victory on North Korea immediately upon touching down on US soil after the summit in June with Kim.
“Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump said on Twitter. “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
Trump was basking in success of his trip at the time and clearly wanted it to seem as historic as possible.
But his declaration was premature. The agreement he signed in North Korea was more of an entree into figuring out the details. And his administration, since his tweet, has reaffirmed that there is still a nuclear threat from North Korea. Obviously. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shuttles back and forth to hammer out the hard details. Meanwhile, North Korea’s nuclear program continues.
Trump has not been chastened, however. Most recently, he’s sought credit for not being in the middle of a nuclear war.
“Many good conversations with North Korea-it is going well! In the meantime, no Rocket Launches or Nuclear Testing in 8 months. All of Asia is thrilled. Only the Opposition Party, which includes the Fake News, is complaining. If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!”
OK! (Set aside that Trump was the one tempting nuclear war with his previous taunting of Kim. He’s asking for credit for avoiding a war he was inching toward.)
On the subject of the immigrant children, the administration was slow to realize its moral mistake in separating the children from parents at the border. The resulting chaos is just becoming clear.
Trump signs executive order to end family separations
“We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” he said. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
“So we’re keeping families together and this will solve that problem,” Trump said. And then, just before he signed the executive order, he added, “You’re going to have a lot of happy people.”
He hasn’t said much at all about the issue since then.
But problems became apparent immediately. The executive order sought to detain undocumented families together and it ran afoul of a law that mandated children not be detained indefinitely. And while the stated purpose was to reunite families, it’s not clear that’s happened much at all. In fact, the government this week made clear it had separated even more children than previously thought.
But these new examples are something else. They’re Trump taking credit for the efforts of his own administration before his own policies can be enacted, which is why they feel so premature. He’s trying to take credit for things where no credit is yet deserved.
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(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)
(IF PRIME MINISTER ABE OR THE PEOPLE OF JAPAN ACTUALLY BELIEVE THE WORDS SPOKEN BY THE IGNORANT FOOL DONALD TRUMP OR BY THE MASS MURDERER KIM JONG UN, THEN MR. ABE AND THE PEOPLE OF JAPAN ARE NOT THE WISE PRACTICAL PEOPLE THAT I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED THEM TO BE.) (oped by: oldpoet56)
Japan Lowers Readiness of North Korea Missile Alert System
Sunday, 1 July, 2018 – 09:30
A passerby in Tokyo looks at a TV screen reporting news about a North Korean missile launch in September 2017. (Reuters)
Japan decided to ease the level of military readiness of its North Korea missile alert system, a report said Sunday, citing multiple unnamed sources close to the matter.
The report came as Japan finds itself under pressure to soften its hardline stance against Pyongyang following US President Donald Trump’s landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month.
Japan’s Self Defense Forces on Friday dropped their program to always deploy Aegis warships in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) that detect and intercept incoming missiles, the Asahi Shimbun reported.
But Japanese forces will remain ready to intercept missiles detected via spy satellite images, the newspaper said.
Japanese defense officials told the Asahi that Tokyo was following in the footsteps of the United States, which has already lowered its alert level in the Indo-Pacific region. Japan has also suspended public evacuation drills simulating a North Korean missile attack.
Japanese defense ministry officials were not available for immediate comment.
Japan has long maintained a tight-lipped stance about its exact defense posture against North Korea, including the locations of the high-tech Aegis vessels.
The outlook of the North’s denuclearization efforts remain unclear at best, with the Washington Post reporting Saturday that Pyongyang plans to keep some of its nuclear stockpile and production facilities while potentially concealing them from the US.
Trump has since the June 12 summit in Singapore buoyantly declared “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”
Evidence collected since the historic meeting points to secret production facilities and the development of methods to conceal weapons creation — implying Pyongyang is aiming to hide plans to continue its nuclear program from the US, having made contrary, if ambiguous, commitments to Washington.
Over the weekend NBC News first reported that Pyongyang has in fact recently been increasing fuel production for nuclear weapons at several hidden sites.
The US network, citing intelligence officials, said North Korea’s regime was readying to “extract every concession” from the White House rather than giving up its atomic arsenal.
“There’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” NBC quoted one US official as saying.
“There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US,” the official said, despite Pyongyang’s recent curtailment of missile and nuclear tests.
The only uranium enrichment spot North Korea has acknowledged publicly exists is Yongbyon — though reports of secret facilities have surfaced.
Experts have voiced fear that Washington may accept a lukewarm deal centered exclusively on Yongbyon that disregards known underground sites.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he plans to meet with Kim to “flesh out” details of the nuclear disarmament promise, but has insisted the North Korean leader is serious.
“There’s a lot of work between here and there. My team is already doing it. I’ll likely travel back before too terribly long,” the top US diplomat said recently.
“We still need to flesh out all the things that underlay the commitments that were made that day in Singapore.”
US Defense Secretary James Mattis meanwhile has reassured key East Asian allies that the US commitment to Seoul is “ironclad” — despite Trump’s unilateral suspension of military exercises with South Korea and his lauding of Kim as a “talented guy.”
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Despite President Donald Trump’s boast at a rally that he had secured the remains of U.S. troops killed during the Korean War, his secretary of state says North Korea is yet to send any.
Around 7,700 U.S. soldiers remain unaccounted for from the conflict, the majority of whom are presumed dead in North Korea. As the U.S. military moved 100 wooden coffins to the border between North and South Korea in preparation last week, Trump told a rally in Minnesota: “We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains, in fact today already 200 have been sent back.”
Speaking to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not confirm the president’s comments, when Senator Cynthia Shaheen raised the issue of the Korean War dead. Shaheen asked on behalf of charity workers who have dedicated years to repatriating the remains of U.S. soldiers missing in action.
“I am optimistic that we will begin to have two opportunities: One is to receive some remains in the not-too-distant future, but then there is a great deal of work with companies like the one you described, nonprofits,” Pompeo said. Asked if this meant that the U.S. had in fact not yet received the remains, Pompeo confirmed that was correct. “We have not yet physically received them,” he said.
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(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWSPAPER OF INDIA)
Why US postponed the 2+2 talks with India
The 2+2 dialogue scheduled for July 6 – the first simultaneous meeting of the Indian defence and external affairs ministers and their US counterparts – was postponed by the US on Wednesday citing “unavoidable reasons”.
US president Donald Trump with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Philippines in November 2017.
It was the sudden “classified travel” of US secretary of state Mike Pompeo that resulted in the last-minute deferral of the so-called 2-plus-2 dialogue between India and the US originally scheduled for July 6, senior Indian officials involved in talks with the US said.
Indeed, the US is keen on the talks and could even be open to shifting the venue for the discussion between the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries to India, they added.
The officials, none of whom wished to be identified, said the dialogue had been postponed because Pompeo has to travel either to North Korea or Russia.
They dismissed theories that it was US concern over Iran (and India’s oil purchases from that country), the purchase of S-400 missiles from Moscow, or bilateral trade issues that resulted in the deferment. A report in the Financial Times said Pompeo was likely to travel to North Korea to discuss the country’s denuclearisation plans.
The Indian embassy in Washington was informed about the postponement of the dialogue by the state department on Wednesday morning with an assurance that secretary Pompeo would himself conveys his regrets to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj later over phone. Before the state department communication, both countries were preparing for the meeting, with US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster meeting foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale on Tuesday afternoon.
Indian diplomats in the US echoed these views. They, and the Indian officials, pointed to US ambassador Nikki Haley’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which she said the US would not tolerate Pakistan becoming a safe haven for terrorists. They also pointed to the fact that a US trade delegation led by assistant US trade representative Mark Linscott is currently in Delhi negotiating the way to address bilateral trade concerns. India,for its part, the officials said, has decided to address the Trump administration’s concerns by buying oil and gas worth $4 billion a year from the US and also facilitating the purchase of 300 civilian jets worth $40 billion.
During his meetings with US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross in Washington this month, commerce minister Suresh Prabhu agreed with his hosts that the only way to address trade concerns was through a comprehensive dialogue.
On US concerns over India buying the S-400 missile systems from Russia, South Block officials agreed that “this was not an ideal situation” but said that both sides were open to having a candid discussion given India’s legacy issues.
Although US sanctions against Iran will kick in on November 4, senior Indian diplomats said the US is not threatening India over purchase of crude oil from Tehran; Washington is aware that New Delhi had already cut down its oil intake from the Islamic Republic to 6% of the total oil it imports before the sanctions were lifted when Iran signed its deal with the US when Barack Obama was in power.
Even now, India imports only 18% of its crude oil from Iran. Before the dialogue was postponed, the talks on Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) had recorded forward momentum towards closure by the end of this year and hardware acquisition through the foreign military sales route had been finalized with the two countries involved in advanced Malabar and RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) naval exercises.
It has also been decided that both India and the US will closely collaborate on a maritime security architecture through the Indo-PAC Command of the US Navy.
“ India-US relations are multi-faceted and on a vast canvass. It is normal to have differences over some issues. But saying US is threatening India (and that the postponement of the talks is one embodiment of this) is an overexaggeration of the facts on ground,” said a top Indian diplomat dealing with US.
The satellite photos indicate that North Korea is quickly progressing on several adjustments to the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.
The improvements include a new cooling water pump house, multiple new buildings, completed construction on a cooling water reservoir and an apparently active Radio chemical Laboratory. It is unclear whether the reactor is still in operation, the report said.
38 North notes that North Korean nuclear officials are expected to proceed with “business as usual” until Kim orders official changes to procedure.
The agreement between Trump and Kim, signed at the historic summit in Singapore earlier this month, commits the U.S. to “security guarantees” in exchange for a denuclearized Korean peninsula. Critics said that the deal was unspecific and gave too much to North Korea without securing anything for the U.S. in return.
Almost exactly one year ago, North Korea returned an imprisoned 22-year-old American college student to his family in the United States. It was not a happy reunion.
Otto Warmbier, whom the North Koreans had imprisoned for more than a year, arrived in a coma and died a few days later — spurring President Donald Trump to rail against the “brutality” of a North Korean government that lacked “basic human decency.” Trump gradually focused his attacks on the regime’s leader, Kim Jong Un, calling him a “sick puppy” and a “madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.”
In Singapore this week, Trump warmly embraced that so-called madman.
He called Kim a “smart” and “funny guy” who “loves his people.” He predicted the two of them would have a “terrific relationship.” Trump told reporters that human rights had come up only briefly, but he gave no indication that he had confronted Kim about Warmbier’s death, whose precise cause remains unclear.
Still, Trump described what happened to Warmbieras a catalyst for the sudden, if uncertain, rapprochement between America and North Korea, saying the University of Virginia student “did not die in vain.”
Trump’s public turnabout on Kim and his regime’s atrocious human rights record was among the most dizzying developments of the past 48 hours, which saw the two leaders meet in Singapore for an unprecedented nuclear summit. It dismayed lawmakers, human rights activists and others who — while supportive of diplomacy — fear that Trump went overboard in his flattery of Kim to the point of normalizing his rule.
“Kim’s gulags, public executions, planned starvation, are legitimized on the world stage,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut raged on Twitter. “What the hell?”
“Talking to dictators is one thing; embracing them is another,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement, denouncing “the horrendous human rights abuses North Korea’s leaders perpetrate against their own people.”
“It was really over the top and excessive,” added Sarah Margon, Washington director for Human Rights Watch.
Amid the outrage is the question of what, practically speaking, Trump could have accomplished.
Past American presidents have pressed Middle Eastern and Asian autocrats over lists of political prisoners numbering in the dozens or hundreds. Kim has imprisoned many thousands of people for what amount to thought crimes, and political executions are commonplace.As a self-proclaimed supreme ruler, it may be nearly impossible for him to concede that he has governed in anything but a judicious way.
Some activists nevertheless argued that Trump could have used his interaction with Kim to win a broad gesture such as granting the United Nations access to his forced labor camps, and that if Kim agreed, it would have bolstered the credibility of his pledge to denuclearize. But Kim offered no hint that he is prepared to address the subject, and a joint statement he and Trump signed after their meeting made no mention of it.
Kim’s totalitarian regime may be the world’s cruelest, with practices reminiscent of the Nazis and the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. The government, run by Kim’s father and grandfather before him, is believed to keep as many as 100,000 people— quite possibly more — in gulags and other detention sites, many in slave-like conditions. Defectors describe a terror state with zero tolerance for dissent, in which entire families are often punished for the actions of one member.
The young Kim — thought to be in his early- to mid-30s — has ruled just as ruthlessly as his father, who died in 2011. He’s alleged to have consolidated power by having an uncle executed — reportedly by anti-aircraft guns — and ordering his half-brother’s murder with nerve agent in a Malaysian airport.
Few observers expected Trump to challenge Kim vigorously on human rights. The subject in general hasn’t been a priority for the Republican president.
Just a few months ago, however, North Korea was an exception to that rule: Throughout 2017, as Trump ramped up sanctions on Pyongyang, he repeatedly highlighted the “depraved” Kim regime’s human rights abuses.
During a visit to South Korea last fall, Trump denounced the “horror of life” across the border, saying that people “would rather be slaves than live in North Korea.” In January, Trump invited to his State of the Union address Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean amputee who’d fled the country on crutches that he raised in defiance as Trump hailed his bravery on national television.
And by all accounts, Trump was genuinely distressed by the fate of Warmbier, whom the North Koreans held captive for 17 months for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel wherehe was staying during a visit. (In a statement Tuesday, Warmbier’s family said: “We appreciate President Trump’s recent comments about our family. We are proud of Otto and miss him. Hopefully something positive can come from this.”)
But Trump is a real estate mogul who puts great stock in personal relationships, and he appears to have decided it’s more productive to be nice to a ruthless autocratalready accustomed to being treated like a god.
When asked by Voice of America’s Greta Van Susteren how Kim reacted when Trump raised human rights, Trump said: “Very well,” before acknowledging it was only a small part of the conversation. Trump went on to indicate that the reason Kim has been a “rough guy” is because that’s the only way his family has known how to rule.
“He’s doing what he’s seen done,” Trump said, suggesting that Kim can change. “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country. He wants a lot of good things, and that’s why he’s doing this.”
Although Trump is the first sitting president willing to meet face-to-face with a North Korean leader, other U.S. presidents have sat down with autocrats from friendly and adversarial countries alike.
Former President Richard Nixon made history when he met China’s Mao Zedong in February 1972. Trump’s immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, met with Cuba’s Raúl Castro. Plenty of U.S. presidents have met, and even held hands, with the monarchs who’ve led Saudi Arabia.
James Carafano, a foreign policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said thatin the long run the United States must engage North Korea on its human rights practices but that diplomacy at this stage requires prioritization.
“In good U.S. diplomacy human rights is always on the menu. That doesn’t mean it’s always the first course,” Carafano wrote in an email.
Several U.S. lawmakers, including top Democrats, sent out carefully crafted statements that either didn’t raise or made scant mention of human rights — reflecting a widespread belief that ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons through diplomacy is a much higher priority.
“We must remain sober about who Kim Jong Un is: a brutal dictator who has killed his family, overseen campaigns of mass murder and starvation, and masterfully manipulated his rivals on the global stage,” Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the end of a lengthy statement.
One concern is that Kim — who rarely leaves North Korea and has limited diplomatic experience — will take Trump’s lack of emphasis on human rights as a sign of American indifference to how he treats his people.
Amnesty International spearheaded a letter to Trump in advance of the summit urging him to seize the opportunity this week to ask Kim for immediate positive moves on human rights. Francisco Bencosme, who handles Asia-related issues for Amnesty, stressed that it’s not known exactly what Trump said to Kim about human rights, but it doesn’t appear the president took a strong stance.
Bencosme said Trump could have asked Kim to give U.N. officials access to North Korean prisoners, or urged him to help reunite North and South Korean families torn apart by the Korean War. Such moves would have been “a way of opening up the aperture on human rights issues,” Bencosme said.
And such moves are not without precedent.
The Obama administration’s outreach to Myanmar, long an isolated, pariah regime, included requests that the government free hundreds of political prisoners to help demonstrate its seriousness about improving ties with the United States. That led to freedom for at least 1,500 people, including some very prominent opponents of the junta that had run the country. But even within the Obama administration there were fierce debates over how much to push Myanmar on human rights.
When asked by a reporter Tuesday whether he had “betrayed” the people trapped in North Korea’s gulag system, Trump grew defensive — then suggested those prisoners should think long-term.
“I think I’ve helped them because I think things will change,” Trump said. “That large group of people that you’re talking about — I think ultimately they are going to be one of the great winners as a group.”
Asked about Warmbier, Trump said the college student’s tragic death had played a pivotal role in bringing about the summit — even though he had not previously mentioned it as a reason for his diplomatic push with Kim.
“I think without Otto, this would not have happened. Something happened from that day. It was a terrible thing. It was brutal. But a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea,” Trump said.
“I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”