Otto Warmbier dies days after release from North Korean detention

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Otto Warmbier dies days after release from North Korean detention

June 19 at 5:44 PM
U-Va. student Otto Warmbier dies days after return to U.S.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier announced June 19 that their son, Otto, has died, days after he was medically evacuated from North Korea. (The Washington Post)

Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a half, died Monday afternoon, his parents announced.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier had no news about their son during his detention after March of last year. He was not allowed consular visits, and it was not until this month that U.S. officials and the family were told that he had been in a coma for more than a year. He was medically evacuated, landed in Cincinnati on Tuesday night and was rushed to the hospital.

On Thursday, doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said that the 22-year-old Otto Warmbier had extensive loss of brain tissue, and was in a state of unresponsive wakefulness.

That morning Fred Warmbier denounced what he called the “pariah” regime that brutalized his son.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier issued a statement Monday afternoon:

It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home.  Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20pm.

It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost — future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person.  You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio and the University of Virginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family.

We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto. Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today.

When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished.  Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace.  He was home and we believe he could sense that.

We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers.   We are at peace and at home too.

Fred & Cindy Warmbier and Family

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who worked to try to free Warmbier, said in a statement Monday afternoon, “Otto Warmbier was such a promising young man. He was kind, generous and accomplished. He had all the talent you could ever ask for and a bright future ahead of him. His passing today is a loss for Ohio and for all of us. Jane and I are lifting up the Warmbier family in our prayers at this difficult time, and we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of this remarkable young Ohioan.”

Gov. John Kasich said in a written statement: “All Ohioans mourn the death of Otto Warmbier, a young man of exceptional spirit. Our prayers go out to his family, who have shown great strength and courage throughout this terrible ordeal. This horrendous situation further underscores the evil, oppressive nature of the North Korean regime that has such disregard for human life.”

Undated video shows American student Otto Warmbier throwing snowballs in North Korea before his arrest for “committing hostile acts” against North Korea. (Austin Warmbier)

Teresa Sullivan, president of U-Va., where Warmbier’s class graduated last month, said by phone Monday afternoon: “It’s just such a waste of a promising young life. That’s very hard — that’s very hard to accept.

“I feel so sorry for his classmates and his fraternity brothers. He had many friends at the university, professors who taught him, I think everyone feels, very deeply, this loss.

“I think we always somewhere, deep down, thought he would come back to us and finish his degree with us.”

Video shot by a family friend in 2013 shows Otto Warmbier giving a speech as salutatorian at his graduation from Wyoming High School, in Wyoming, Ohio. Warmbier died on June 19, days after being released from North Korean detainment. (Courtesy of Fred and Cindy Warmbier)

Todd Siler, a teacher at Wyoming High School, said that he saw two of Warmbier’s friends from the graduating class of 2013, of which he was salutatorian, earlier Monday. They had been to the hospital to see him, and came to school to see their friend’s name on the graduation walk; all the students have their name etched on a brick there. “Tough, tough moments today,” he said.

“In a short time  he had an impact on so many people of all different walks of life. It takes an incredibly unique person to be able to do that. I think that’s what makes his passing so hard — there aren’t enough people like that in this world. We lost a good one. We lost a great one.

“Otto was strong, such a strong kid,” Siler added. “His spirit touched everybody, and I want to believe that, despite the treatment that he experienced, that he was hanging on to come home. And he did that. He knew he was there and with family. … I think there was a part of him still left that understood that.

“He’s home. So it’s okay to let go.”

Kim Jong Un (The Butcher) Lives In Fear Of Assassination By Western ‘Decapitation’ Team

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FOX NEWS)

Kim Jong Un lives in fear of assassination by western ‘decapitation’ team, says report

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is reportedly so terrified of being targeted for assassination that he travels incognito inside the Hermit Kingdom, and there’s growing evidence his paranoia may be well-founded.

The 33-year-old, third-generation ruler is “extremely nervous” about a clandestine plot to take him out, according to a key South Korean lawmaker who spoke to The Korea Herald. Rep. Lee Cheol-woo, chairman of the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee, made the claim based on reports from South Korea’s intelligence agency.

“Kim is engrossed with collecting information about the ‘decapitation operation’ through his intelligence agencies,” Lee said following a briefing last week.

“Kim is engrossed with collecting information about the ‘decapitation operation’ through his intelligence agencies.”

– Lee Cheol-woo, South Korean lawmaker

The rumored “decapitation plan” to target Kim and key deputies in the event fighting broke out on the peninsula first surfaced in late 2015, when the U.S. and South Korea signed “Operation Plan 5015,” a joint strategy for possible war scenarios with North Korea. According to the Brookings Institute, the plan “envisions limited warfare with an emphasis on preemptive strikes on strategic targets in North Korea and “decapitation raids” to exterminate North Korean leaders.”

Something about the term “decapitation” seems to have gotten the attention of the gout-addled, unpredictable and violent dictator. According to Lee, Kim’s is so frightened that he now disguises his movements, travels primarily at dawn and in the cars of his henchmen. Public appearances and jaunts in his prized Mercedes Benz 600 have been curtailed.

North Korea’s United Nations representative referenced the “beheading operation” in a sternly worded, 2016 letter to the body’s Security Council, suggesting that the joint military operations regularly conducted by the U.S. and South Korea “constitute a grave threat to [North Korea] as well as international peace and security.”

By January of this year, there were reports that South Korea was speeding up the creation of a specialized unit designed for this mission, initially slated to be ready by 2019.

During this year’s Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises with South Korea, one of the largest annual military exercises in the world, members of U.S. Navy SEAL teams reportedly participated in decapitation drills with our South Korean counterparts for the first time.  Naval officials denied reports that members of SEAL Team 6, the group that took out Usama Bin Laden, took part.

Shortly after those war games, however, the USS Michigan, a submarine that is sometimes used to move U.S. Special Forces, took a position just off of North Korea’s coast.

While there are concerns that taking out North Korea’s leader might not be enough, a White House review revealed earlier this year that the U.S. strategy on North Korea does include the possibility of regime change.

Kim has become a major problem regionally and for the U.S. as well. Pyongyang has repeatedly tested missiles potentially capable of delivering nuclear warheads and Kim’s threats against South Korea, Japan and the U.S. have grown increasingly bellicose. Last week, North Korea returned American college student Otto Warmbier after holding him for 17 months on a dubious charge. Doctors say Warmbier underwent devastating brain injuries while in North Korean custody and is now in an unresponsive state. Three other U.S. citizens remain locked up in the reclusive nation’s infamous gulags.

But while taking out Kim may be a possibility, experts say it would be much more complicated that the 2011 raid in Pakistan in which CIA operatives and SEALs took out Bin Laden.

“A U.S. special operations strike against Kim Jong Un in today’s conditions would make the bin Laden raid look easy,” said Mark Sauter, a former U.S. Army and special forces officer who operated in the Korean de-militarized zone during the Cold War and now blogs about the decades-long effort to defend South Korea at www.dmzwar.com.

The daring, night-time raid on the Abbottabad compound went off nearly flawlessly. But U.S. forces would face much more deadly opposition in an assault on the North Korean capital.

“Pyongyang is surrounded by antiaircraft weapons, and while the corpulent Kim presents a large and sluggish target, he’s kept on the move, always surrounded by fanatical guards and often near or in complex underground compounds,” Sauter said.

Despite those potential challenges, Sauter suggests the North Korean leader “does need to worry about strikes by precision-guided missiles and bunker-buster bombs in the early stages of a preemptive allied attack, and if a conflict continues, everything from (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to special operators will be on his tracks.”

North Korea: Otto Warmbier Has “Sever Neurological Damage”

(COMMENTARY: FOR THE SAKE OF THE PEOPLE OF NORTH KOREA IT IS TIME FOR THE GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD TO REMOVE THE ANIMAL KIM JONG UN FROM POWER “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY”)(TRS)

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Recently released North Korea detainee Otto Warmbier has suffered severe neurological damage, and his family flatly rejects the regime’s explanation for his condition, reporters were told Thursday in his Ohio hometown.

Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student who returned Tuesday to the United States after 17 months in detention, is in stable condition at University of Cincinnati Medical Center but has a “severe neurological injury,” hospital spokeswoman Kelly Martin said.
Martin declined to elaborate, saying doctors will share more information about Warmbier’s condition in a separate news conference Thursday afternoon.
But Warmbier’s father left no doubt he blames North Korea, blasting the secretive regime in a 23-minute news conference at his son’s alma mater, Wyoming High School, north of Cincinnati.

Student freed from North Korea lands in US

Student freed from North Korea lands in US
The family doesn’t believe North Korea’s explanation that Otto fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill shortly after he was sentenced in March 2016, Fred Warmbier said.
“Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing a coma — and we don’t — there is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition a secret and denied him top-notch medical care for so long,” Warmbier said.
The father, wearing the cream sport coat his son wore during his televised trial in North Korea, stopped short of saying how he believed his son was injured.
“We’re going to leave that to the doctors (to explain) today,” he said.

Why does North Korea detain some US citizens?

Why does North Korea detain some US citizens?
He called on North Korea to release other American detainees.
“There’s no excuse for the way the North Koreans treated our son. And no excuse for the way they’ve treated so many others,” he said. “No other family should have to endure what the Warmbiers have.”

Conviction and release

Otto Warmbier was a University of Virginia student when he was detained in January 2016 at the airport in Pyongyang while on his way home. He had been on a tour of the reclusive country, his parent said.
North Korean authorities claimed they had security footage of him trying to steal a banner containing a political slogan that was hanging from a wall of his Pyongyang hotel.
That was used as evidence in his hourlong trial. He was found guilty of committing a “hostile act” against the country and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor. It was the last time he was seen publicly before this week.
His parents learned of their son’s condition — what North Korea called a coma — only last week, they said in a statement.

Critical of Obama administration

Fred Warmbier appeared critical of the Obama administration’s handling of Otto’s detention, saying the family heeded the US government’s initial advice to take a low profile “without result.”
In contrast, he praised the Trump administration’s efforts: “They have our thanks for bringing Otto home.”
When asked whether then-President Barack Obama could have done more, Fred Warmbier replied, “I think the results speak for themselves.”

Three other US detainees

Warmbier’s release coincided with basketball star Dennis Rodman’s latest visit to North Korea, though Michael Anton, a US national security spokesman, told CNN there is no connection between the two.

CNN on the ground: Waiting for Dennis Rodman

CNN on the ground: Waiting for Dennis Rodman
Fred Warmbier said the same Thursday.
“Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with Otto,” he said.
Rodman was asked by reporters Tuesday if he would bring up the cases of Warmbier and three other Americans detained in North Korea. “That’s not my purpose right now,” he said. “My purpose is to go over there and try to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea.”
The other Americans held by Pyongyang are Kim Sang Duk and Kim Hak-song, academics who worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and businessman named Kim Dong Chul.

Dennis Rodman says he’s in North Korea to ‘open a door’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ESPN)

Dennis Rodman says he’s in North Korea to ‘open a door’

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Dennis Rodman, the former NBA bad boy who has palled around with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, flew back to Pyongyang on Tuesday for the first time in Donald Trump’s presidency.

He said he is “just trying to open a door” on a mission that he thinks his former “Celebrity Apprentice” boss would support.

Rodman, one of the few people to know both of the nuclear-armed leaders, sported a black T-shirt advertising a marijuana cybercurrency as he talked to reporters briefly before his flight from Beijing to the North Korean capital.

Asked if he had spoken to Trump about his trip, he said, “Well, I’m pretty sure he’s pretty much happy with the fact that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.”

Rodman has received the red-carpet treatment on four past trips since 2013, but has been roundly criticized for visiting during a time of high tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over its weapons programs.

His entourage included Joseph Terwilliger, a professor who has accompanied Rodman on previous trips to North Korea.

Rodman said the issue of several Americans currently detained by North Korea is “not my purpose right now.”

In Tokyo, a visiting senior U.S. official said Rodman’s trip is as a private citizen.

“We are aware of his visit. We wish him well, but we have issued travel warnings to Americans and suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters after discussing the North Korean missile threat and other issues with Japanese counterparts.

In 2014, Rodman arranged a basketball game with other former NBA players and North Koreans and regaled leader Kim Jong Un with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” On the same trip, he suggested that an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologized.

A foreign ministry official who spoke to The Associated Press in Pyongyang confirmed Rodman’s visit was expected but did not provide details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the ministry had not issued a formal statement.

Any visit to North Korea by a high-profile American is a political minefield, and Rodman has been criticized for failing to use his influence on leaders who are otherwise isolated diplomatically from the rest of the world.

Americans are regarded as enemies in North Korea because the two countries never signed a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. Thousands of U.S. troops are based in South Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.

A statement issued in New York by a Rodman publicist said the former NBA player is in the rare position of being friends with the leaders of both North Korea and the United States. Rodman was a cast member on two seasons of Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Rodman tweeted that his trip was being sponsored by Potcoin, one of a growing number of cybercurrencies used to buy and sell marijuana in state-regulated markets.

North Korea has been hailed by marijuana news outlets and British tabloids as a pothead paradise and maybe even the next Amsterdam of pot tourism. But the claim that marijuana is legal in North Korea is not true: The penal code lists it as a controlled substance in the same category as cocaine and heroin.

Americans have been sentenced to years in North Korean prisons for such seemingly minor offenses as stealing a political banner and likely could not expect leniency if the country’s drug laws were violated.

North Korea’s Insane Dictator Fires Off 4 More Missiles

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

North Korea fired four anti-ship missiles into the sea east of the Korean Peninsula Thursday, according to US and South Korean military sources.

South Korea’s joint chiefs said the projectiles were believed to be surface-to-ship missiles and were launched near the eastern port city of Wonsan.
The missiles flew about 200 kilometers (124 miles), South Korea’s military said in a statement, adding the US military was undertaking a more detailed analysis.
“Our military has strengthened surveillance and alertness readiness in cases of additional provocation by North Korean military and is maintaining all readiness posture while we are tracking and monitoring related situation,” the statement read.
The official tells CNN that the Pentagon is not expected to release the typical statement about tracking the launches because these were not ballistic missile capable of posing a long-range threat.
North Korean state media has made no mention of the reported launches.
This is the fourth missile test since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office in May. The preceding test came at the end of May when North Korea fired what it claimed was a new type of ballistic missile. That projectile also was fired from Wosnan. Japanese and South Korean monitors said it flew 248 miles (400 kilometers) over the Sea of Japan, also know as the East Sea.
South Korea’s new government has suspended the deployment of a controversial US missile defense system that strained relations with China and angered North Korea.
Thursday’s launch is the first since the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed new sanctions last week.
The resolution slapped even more sanctions on North Korea and condemned the regime’s continued proliferation of its nuclear and ballistic program.
The sanctions extend a travel ban and asset freeze on high-level North Korean officials and state entities that deal with the program, according to the resolution.
China has called on Pyongyang to suspend its testing while calling on the US to stop military exercises on and near the Korean Peninsula, which North Korea sees as a threat to its sovereignty.

Why Korean Missionaries Wish They Were Still Imprisoned by the Taliban

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

CPCHURCH & MINISTRIES

Francis Chan Explains Why Korean Missionaries Wish They Were Still Imprisoned by the Taliban

Jun 4, 2017 | 5:07 PM

New York Times best-selling author and popular Christian Pastor Francis Chan was a featured speaker at an annual Christian persecution conference on Saturday, and shared details of a conversation he had with a Korean missionary imprisoned and nearly executed by the Taliban in 2007.
(PHOTO: PULSE) Francis Chan addresses thousands of Christians gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.c. for Together 2016 on July 16, 2016.

Chan, who is the author of the popular 2009 book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God and is the co-founder and former teaching pastor at the Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California, spoke for about a half hour at International Christian Concern’s The Bridge 2017 conference, which this year was hosted at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

Chan, who is also the founder and chancellor of Eternity Bible College in Simi Valley, referenced Revelation 5:8 to speak about the importance of learning “obedience through suffering,” a concept that many Christians in the West may not be able to grasp by living their lives in comfort.

He also touched on how Christians are to obey the command given in Hebrews 13:3 — “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

“I believe that to remember [the persecuted] well means we care and we try to ease their pain and suffering,” Chan said. “But I think also to remember them well means we enter into their suffering and maybe some of us sacrifice our civilian affairs because we know we are living way too comfortably right now.”

Chan wondered if Christians who have never faced true suffering for their faith could be missing out on an opportunity to have an even deeper intimacy in their fellowship with Christ.

Chan then shared a conversation he had with one of the 23 Korean missionaries captured and held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2007. Chan explained that when he visited Seoul for the first time, he had dinner with the missionary who detailed the the willingness he and some of his colleagues had to suffer for and with Christ.

Chan did not name the missionary or explain when it was the dinner took place.

“He talked about how they got into this argument because they found out that they were going to be killed one at a time. This man I was having dinner with was saying to this other guy, ‘Look, I know they are going to kill us one at a time. I die first,'” Chan recalled. “The other man said, ‘No, I die first.’ [The first] guy is going, ‘No, I am your elder. I die first.’ Then, the other man says, ‘No, you have not been ordained as a pastor. I am an ordained minister. I die first.’ That man was the first one that was executed.”

Two male hostages were executed before a deal was reached for the group’s release by the South Korean government. One of the martyrs was 42-year-old Pastor Bae Hyeong-gyu and the other was 29-year-old Shim Seong-min.

Chan explained that the missionary he spoke with also told him that some of the 16 female missionaries imprisoned with him and the other six male missionaries have told him since they returned to Seoul that they wish they were still captives of the Islamic extremist group.

Chan quoted the missionary as telling him: “‘These women that were in these camps with us, they come to me and they say, ‘Pastor, don’t you wish we were still imprisoned by the Taliban?'”

“They tell me, ‘When I was surrounded by these soldiers, I felt the presence of Jesus in there with me. Now that we are back in Seoul, I am trying to experience that intimacy with Him but I can’t. I fast and I pray and I don’t feel it. I would rather be back there because of the intimacy I had with him.'”

Chan then suggested that the presence of Jesus that these Christian missionaries felt while they faced the threat of execution is probably similar to what certain martyrs in the Bible experienced before they were killed.

“How great is Jesus if there is nothing better on this Earth than that intimacy and sharing the suffering. … It totally makes sense to me biblically,” Chan explained. “That’s why Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into this pit of fire and suddenly, the king is like, ‘Wait, why are there four people in there? Who is that fourth one?'”

“That’s why Stephen, when he is about to be stoned to death, goes, ‘I can see Him,'” Chan continued. “Is there a special fellowship that we share in that suffering that we will miss out on because we just think comfort is everything and we just want to pull everyone into our comfort and into our civilian affairs rather than joining in their suffering and losing our life so that we can actually find something so much better?”

Chan then concluded by citing Revelation 2:10.

“Be faithful, even until death,” Chan said. “That is a beautiful thing in the eyes of the Lord.”

“I don’t know about you, but the Lord is working my heart. I know what it looks like here in America, but I don’t think I want to end so comfortably,” he added. “I am scared of suffering but I think I am more scared of comfort. I want to join the Apostle Paul. I want to join Jesus. It doesn’t make sense to the world but it makes sense in the world if there is a resurrection today.

Japan’s military begins major drill with U.S. carriers watching North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Japan’s military begins major drill with U.S. carriers watching North Korea

Japan’s navy and air force began a three-day military exercise with two U.S. aircraft carriers in the Sea of Japan on Thursday adding pressure on North Korea to halt an accelerating ballistic missile program.

Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force has sent two ships, including one of its four helicopter carriers, the Hyuga, to join the U.S carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson, and their eight escort ships, Japan’s military said in a release.

Japanese Air Self Defence Force F-15s are taking part in simulated combat with U.S. Navy F-18 fighters at the same time, the military said.

“It’s the first time we have exercised with two carriers. It’s a major exercise for us,” a Japanese military spokesman said.

The Sea of Japan separates Japan from the Korean peninsula.

The United States sent the warships to the region after a surge of tension on the Korean peninsula over fears the North was about to conduct a sixth nuclear test, or another test in its bid to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the mainland United States.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to work with other countries to deter North Korea, which on Monday conducted a short-range ballistic missile test.

The missile reached an altitude of 120 km (75 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan in international waters, but inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone where it has jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of maritime resources.

The launch followed two successful tests of medium-to-long-range missiles in as many weeks as North Korea conducts tests at an unprecedented pace,

North Korea can already strike anywhere in Japan with missiles, raising concern in Tokyo that it could eventually be threatened by a North Korean nuclear strike.

South Korea’s new liberal president, Moon Jae-in, who took office on May 10, has taken a more conciliatory line than Abe, pledging to engage with his reclusive neighbor in dialogue.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)

South Korea questions six rescued North Koreans as it eyes engagement

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

South Korea questions six rescued North Koreans as it eyes engagement

South Korean authorities were questioning on Monday six North Koreans rescued on the weekend as they drifted in the sea off the east coast and will send them home if they want to go, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

The rescue comes as South Korea’s new liberal government has pledged a more moderate approach to North Korea including engagement and reopening a communication channel that has been severed amid tension over its arms programs.

The six are believed to have been on two fishing vessels, one of which was overturned, when they were rescued by the South Korean coastguard and the navy on Saturday, the coastguard said.

The six were being questioned by a South Korean team, and would be asked if they wished to be repatriated to the North, Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng told a briefing.

If so, they would be sent home, said the ministry, which handles ties with the North.

Such questioning by South Korean authorities is routine when North Koreans are rescued at sea.

The South returned eight North Koreans and their vessels in December after rescuing them off the east coast, in line with their wishes.

Lee said incidents such as the rescue and the repatriation of the crew were examples of why an open line of communication between the two Koreas was needed.

South Korea imposed unilateral sanctions against the North after its fourth nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch last year, in addition to sanctions applied in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship that Seoul blamed on the North.

North Korea denied involvement in the sinking.

The sanctions cut off almost all exchange between the rival states that had been set up since 2000, when South Korea’s “sunshine policy” brought a period of cautious rapprochement.

(Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Jack Kim)

US to Test First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Interceptor

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

US to Test First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

US

At a time when North Korea is trying to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the United States announced that it will test an existing missile defense system to try to intercept an ICBM.

The test, scheduled for Tuesday, is the first time the United States will try to intercept an ICBM, announced US officials.

The goal is to more closely simulate a North Korean ICBM aimed at the US homeland. The test had been planned well in advance and was not in reaction to any specific event. they explained.

The United States has used the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, managed by Boeing Co. and in place to counter attacks from rogue states such as North Korea, to intercept other types of missiles but never an ICBM.

While US officials believe Pyongyang is some years away from mastering re-entry expertise for perfecting an ICBM, it is making advances.

This week the head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency said that if left unchecked, North Korea is on an “inevitable” path to obtaining a nuclear-armed missile capable of striking the United States.

The remarks are the latest indication of mounting US concern about Pyongyang’s advancing missile and nuclear weapons programs, which the North says are needed for self-defense.

The Missile Defense Agency said an interceptor based out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, one of 36 in California and Alaska, will be used in the test to shoot down a target similar to an ICBM over the Pacific Ocean.

The system has carried out successful intercepts in nine out of 17 attempts dating back to 1999. The most recent test was in 2014. Last year a science advocacy group said the system has no proven capability to protect the United States.

The American interceptor has a spotty track record, succeeding in nine of 17 attempts against missiles of less-than-intercontinental range since 1999. The most recent test, in June 2014, was a success, but that followed three straight failures. The system has evolved from the multibillion-dollar effort triggered by President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 push for a “Star Wars” solution to ballistic missile threats during the Cold War — when the Soviet Union was the only major worry.

North Korea is now the focus of US efforts because its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to field a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching American territory. He has yet to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, but Pentagon officials believe he is speeding in that direction.

The Pentagon has a variety of missile defense systems, but the one designed with a potential North Korean ICBM in mind is perhaps the most technologically challenging. Critics say it also is the least reliable.

The basic defensive idea is to fire a rocket into space upon warning of a hostile missile launch. The rocket releases a 5-foot-long device called a “kill vehicle” that uses internal guidance systems to steer into the path of the oncoming missile’s warhead, destroying it by force of impact. Officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Pentagon likens it to hitting a bullet with a bullet.

An interceptor is to be launched from an underground silo at Vandenberg and soar toward the target, which will be fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. If all goes as planned, the “kill vehicle” will slam into the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead high over the Pacific Ocean.

The target will be a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM, meaning it will fly faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, according to Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency. The target is not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM.

“We conduct increasingly complex test scenarios as the program matures and advances,” Johnson said Friday. “Testing against an ICBM-type threat is the next step in that process.”

Officials say this is not a make-or-break test.

The interceptor system has been in place since 2004, but it has never been used in combat or fully tested. There currently are 32 interceptors in silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and four at Vandenberg, north of Los Angeles. The Pentagon says it will have eight more, for a total of 44, by the end of this year.

In its 2018 budget presented to Congress this week, the Pentagon proposed spending $7.9 billion on missile defense, including $1.5 billion for the ground-based midcourse defense program. Other elements of that effort include the Patriot designed to shoot down short-range ballistic missiles and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which the US has installed in South Korea as defense against medium-range North Korean missiles.

The Trump administration has yet to announce its intentions on missile defense.

President Donald Trump recently ordered the Pentagon to undertake a ballistic missile defense review. Some experts argue the current strategy for shooting down ICBM-range missiles, focused on the silo-based interceptors, is overly expensive and inadequate. They say a more fruitful approach would be to destroy or disable such missiles before they can be launched, possibly by cyberattack.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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China tightens border controls with N. Korea: U.S. diplomat

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWSPAPER)

China tightens border controls with N. Korea: U.S. diplomat

BEIJING – Chinese officials have told the U.S. that they’ve tightened inspections and policing along the border with North Korea as part of U.N. sanctions aimed at halting Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile activities, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia said Friday.

Beijing’s action reflects a growing awareness about the urgent need for China to pressure North Korea into halting its testing of missiles and nuclear bombs, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton told reporters in Beijing. President Donald Trump’s administration has made a renewed push to enlist Beijing’s help in those efforts following a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month.

Touching on other areas of the relationship, Thornton said the new administration has not changed its commitment to greater engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region or its approach to naval operations in the disputed South China Sea.

On North Korea, the U.S. has seen a “shift in emphasis” in China’s approach to its fellow communist neighbor, Thornton said.

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“They’ve said that they have stepped up border inspections, beefed up sort of the policing function on the border, stepped up customs inspections,” she said. Beijing has also done “a number of other things on companies” that have dealings with North Korea, Thornton said, without giving details.

The U.S. has been talking to Beijing about taking action against specific firms and is waiting to see what sort of action China will take, she said.

China has signed on to U.N. sanctions and suspended coal imports from North Korea through the rest of the year, but has been generally reticent about what other steps it may be taking to use its leverage as Pyongyang’s most important trading and diplomatic partner.

Lu also reiterated China’s call for a renewal of six-nation denuclearization talks that have been on ice since 2009, saying the parties should “be flexible, meet each other halfway, and return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.”

Thornton said the U.S., China and others were also in talks on a future U.N. resolution on North Korea in order to cut the time needed to take action following another nuclear or missile test.

“So we’re looking at trying to get going on the next set of major measures that would be taken in the wake of another provocation,” Thornton said. Such measures could include ratcheting up economic pressure on the North by targeting trade in consumer goods, possibly including textiles, she said.

Despite Lu’s comments later in the day, Thornton said Beijing officials now realize more pressure is needed before dialogue can be restored.

“And so they know now that they don’t have, I think, as much time to try to bring the North Koreans to the table, get their calculus changed and get them to the negotiating table as they may have previously thought,” she said.

Adding to that, Beijing also seems to have recognized that North Korea’s actions were “undermining China’s own security in pretty major ways,” Thornton said.

“They do recognize that it’s going to be pretty hard to have a dialogue while the North Koreans are shooting off missiles,” she said.

North Korea exploded two nuclear devices last year, one of which it claimed was a hydrogen bomb. Satellite imagery suggests it could be ready to conduct its next test — its sixth — at any time.

On Monday, Pyongyang said it is ready to start mass-producing a new medium-range missile after a weekend test-launch confirmed its combat readiness. The regime’s oft-stated goal is to perfect a nuclear warhead that it can put on a missile capable of hitting Washington or other U.S. cities.

Some outside the administration have been less sanguine about China’s willingness to work with the U.S. on North Korea, while Beijing officials say their influence with Pyongyang has been exaggerated. China maintains that while it wants to neutralize North Korea as a threat, it opposes harsh sanctions or other measures that could bring down young leader Kim Jong Un’s regime, leading to a potential outflow of refugees and South Korean and American troops on the Chinese border.

China continues to pay lip service to cracking down on North Korea but there’s been “little evidence of actual pressure,” said Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

Cheng also criticized China for pressuring South Korea not to deploy a sophisticated U.S. anti-missile system aimed at countering North Korea. Beijing says the system threatens its own security with its ability to peer deep into northeastern China.

“In short, China has made clear that Seoul, even in the face of North Korean missile tests, should place Chinese concerns above the security of their own people,” Cheng said.

While there have been reports that the Trump administration was reconsidering Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, Thornton said Washington has made no substantial changes.

That followed the U.S. Navy’s sailing a destroyer near a Chinese man-made island in the South China Sea on Thursday in a “freedom of navigation” operation aimed at challenging what the U.S. considers excessive territorial claims in the strategic waterway that Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.

Washington’s approach is “engagement with Asia to show that we’re still present in the region, that we’re going to keep our security commitments in the region, certainly support for our allies and with North Korea as a focal point on the security front,” Thornton said.

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