North Korea’s ‘No. 2’ official on 10-day visit to Iran that may signal wider military ties

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNBC NEWS)

 

North Korea’s ‘No. 2’ official on 10-day visit to Iran that may signal wider military ties

  • Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported Kim Yong Nam, head of North Korea’s parliament, arrived Thursday for the weekend inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
  • But given he is expected to stay 10 days, the trip is being seen as a front for Pyongyang to perhaps increase military cooperation with Tehran and to boost the hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s regime.
  • “There could be very problematic cooperation going on,” an Israeli-based national security expert said.

33 Mins Ago 

Iran's President Hassan Rowhani meets with North Korea's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-Nam in 2013.

Atta Kenare | AFP | Getty Images
Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani meets with North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-Nam in 2013.

Amid new U.S. sanctions, North Korea‘s “No. 2” official began a 10-day visit to Iran on Thursday that could result in the two sides expanding their ties.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported Kim Yong Nam, chairman of the Supreme Assembly of North Korea, arrived Thursday for the weekend inauguration ceremony for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

But given the head of North Korea’s parliament is expected to stay for 10 days in Iran, the trip is being seen as a front for other purposes, including expanding military cooperation. At the same time, Pyongyang is looking for ways to counter sanctions and to boost the hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s regime.

“There could be very problematic cooperation going on because of the past history and because it makes strategic sense, especially for Iran now,” said Emily Landau, a senior research fellow at the Israeli-based Institute for National Security Studies and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program. INSS is an independent think tank affiliated with Tel Aviv University.

The man whom Iran described as the North’s “No. 2” is believed to be traveling with a delegation of other officials from Pyongyang, including economic and military officials.

“For North Korea, it’s not a question of ideology,” Landau said. “It’s not a question of being close politically and maybe in terms of any of their religious orientation. It’s all about who can pay in hard cash. That’s what makes North Korea a very dangerous source of nuclear technology, components and know-how.”

Last month, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said in a speech at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance that he had “created two new mission centers aimed at focusing on putting a dagger in the heart of the Korean problem and the problem in Iran.”

“Both the North Koreans and Iranians feel a serious threat from the United States and the West and sort of see each other as very different countries but facing a somewhat similar situation,” said Matthew Bunn, a nuclear proliferation expert and professor of practice at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In July, nuclear-armed North Korea conducted two tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Iran could have an ICBM capability similar to North Korea within a few years, as just last week it successfully launched a satellite-carrying rocket that some see as a precursor to long-range ballistic missile weapon capability.

“There’s been fairly extensive cooperation on missiles,” said Bunn. “And in fact, early generations of Iranian missiles were thought to be basically modestly adapted North Korean missiles.”

For example, Tehran’s Shahab-3 ballistic missile, capable of reaching Saudi Arabia from Iranian land, is based on technology from North Korea’s Nodong-1 rockets. Iran’s Ghadir small submarine, which in May conducted a cruise-missile test, is a vessel remarkably similar to those used by Pyongyang.

There’s still a bit of a mystery on the nuclear side, but some former CIA analysts have previously said Iranian scientists have attended nuclear tests in North Korea. There have been recent reports North Korea may be preparing for its sixth nuclear test.

Tehran’s hands are tied due to the international nuclear agreement, although there’s a possibility it could quietly be teaming up with North Korea on nuclear research and doing it from the Korean Peninsula.

“The fact they are cooperating so closely on the missile realm is cause to believe that there could be even more cooperation going on even directly in the nuclear realm,” said Landau, the Israeli-based national security expert.

Bunn, however, isn’t so sure there’s currently any collaboration on the nuclear side between the two regimes but said “there’s a real danger potential” of it happening.

Chinese media to Trump: Stop the ’emotional venting’ on Twitter

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Chinese media to Trump: Stop the ’emotional venting’ on Twitter

Story highlights

  • An editorial in Chinese state media says tweeting won’t solve the North Korea crisis
  • Trump lashed out at China on Twitter for not stopping Kim Jong Un’s missile program

(CNN) US President Donald Trump should stop conducting his international diplomacy on Twitter, Chinese state media said in a widely-published editorial, syndicated across the country.

“Trump is quite a personality, and he likes to tweet, however emotional venting cannot become the guidance for solving the nuclear issues on the Korean peninsula,” said the editorial, first published on Xinhua Monday evening.
The article came days after Trump wrote a series of tweets saying he was “very disappointed” in China for not doing enough to stop North Korea’s missile program.
“Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk,” he wrote Friday night. “We will no longer allow this to continue.”
The United States had for months put pressure on China to rein in North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated weapons program, but Trump’s tweets have indicated he is tired of waiting for results.
In June he tweeted China’s efforts to restrain North Korea had “not worked out” but said he “greatly appreciated their efforts.”
North Korea successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, which it claimed was capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear device.
In its editorial, Xinhua said it was “definitely irrational” to blame China for North Korea’s missile launch.
“It is obvious to all the enormous efforts China has put to solve the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula … China has no magic wand to solve the (problem),” the article said.
Instead, the widely disseminated editorial blamed the US for the increasing tensions with North Korea by flying bombers over South Korea and ignoring invitations to talks.
“It is urgent to stamp out the fire immediately on the Korean peninsula, not to add kindling, or even worse, to pour oil on the flames,” the article said.
CNN has reached out to the White House for comment and has not yet received a response.
Trump’s comments and the subsequent editorial come at a sensitive time in US, China relations.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a briefing to government staff Tuesday the United States was reaching a “pivot point” in its relationship with China.
“How do we ensure that economic prosperity to the benefit of both countries and the world can continue, and that where we have differences — because we will have differences, we do have differences — that we deal with those differences in a way that does not lead to open conflict,” he said.

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

By Michelle Nichols and Lesley Wroughton | UNITED NATIONS

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned on Friday that failure to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile development could lead to ‘catastrophic consequences,’ while China and Russia cautioned Washington against threatening military force.

Washington has recently lavished praise on Beijing for its efforts to rein in its ally Pyongyang, but Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made clear to the U.N. Security Council it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.

“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang told the 15-member council in remarks contradicting the White House belief that it does wield significant influence.

The ministerial meeting of the council, chaired by Tillerson, exposed old divisions between the United States and China on how to deal with North Korea. China wants talks first and action later, while the United States wants North Korea to curtail its nuclear program before such talks start.

“It is necessary to put aside the debate over who should take the first step and stop arguing who is right and who is wrong,” Wang told the council. “Now is the time to seriously consider resuming talks.”

Tillerson responded: “We will not negotiate our way back to the negotiating table with North Korea, we will not reward their violations of past resolutions, we will not reward their bad behavior with talks.”

North Korea did not take part in the meeting.

In Tillerson’s first visit to the United Nations he scolded the Security Council for not fully enforcing sanctions against North Korea, saying if the body had acted, tensions over its nuclear program might not have escalated.

“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” he said.

The United States was not pushing for regime change and preferred a negotiated solution, but Pyongyang, for its own sake, should dismantle its nuclear and missile programs, he said.

“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options are on the table if Pyongyang persists with its nuclear and missile development, but Wang said military threats would not help.

‘FRIGHTENING’ CONSEQUENCES

Wang said dialogue and negotiations were the “only way out.”

“The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov cautioned on Friday that the use of force would be “completely unacceptable.”

“The combative rhetoric coupled with reckless muscle-flexing has led to a situation where the whole world seriously is now wondering whether there’s going to be a war or not,” he told the council. “One ill thought out or misinterpreted step could lead to the most frightening and lamentable consequences.”

Gatilov said North Korea felt threatened by regular joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises and the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula.

China and Russia both also repeated their opposition to the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea. Gatilov described it as a “destabilizing effort,” while Wang said it damaged trust among the parties on the North Korea issue.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the council that to bring North Korea back to the table the international community “must send a strong message that provocation comes at a high price.”

“There is no doubt that dialogue is necessary … however under the current situation where North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, meaningful dialogue is clearly not possible,” he said.

The Trump administration is focusing its North Korea strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang, U.S. officials told Reuters earlier this month.

Since 2006, North Korea has been subject to U.N. sanctions aimed at impeding the development of its nuclear and missile programs. The council has strengthened sanctions following each of North Korea’s five nuclear tests.

(Editing by Frances Kerry and James Dalgleish)

China fears North Korea-US conflict ‘at any moment’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

China fears North Korea-US conflict ‘at any moment’

  • 14 April 2017
  • From the section Asia
The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, 14 April 2017Image copyright AFP
Image caption“All relevant parties should be highly vigilant,” the Chinese foreign minister says

China has warned that “conflict could break out at any moment” as tension over North Korea increases.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said if war occurred there could be no winner.

Mr Wang’s comments come as the US voices increasing concern at North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and deploys a Navy carrier group off the Korean peninsula.

China, North Korea’s only backer, fears conflict could cause the regime to collapse and problems on its border.

Mr Wang said: “One has the feeling that a conflict could break out at any moment.

“I think that all relevant parties should be highly vigilant with regards to this situation.”

“We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage.”

The USS Carl Vinson, 8 April 2017Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption The US carrier group deploying off the Korean peninsula is led by the USS Carl Vinson

Adding to Chinese unease, President Donald Trump said on Thursday that “the problem of North Korea” would be “taken care of”.

“If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.”

The North Korean military responded on Friday by saying it would “mercilessly foil” any US provocation.

“Our toughest counteraction against the U.S. and its vassal forces will be taken in such a merciless manner as not to allow the aggressors to survive,” read a statement from the army, reported in English by North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA.

The US president has recently demonstrated his willingness to resort to military methods. He ordered a cruise missile attack on Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack, and the US military just used a huge bomb against so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan.

Washington is concerned North Korea might develop the ability to launch a nuclear weapon at the US.

Mr Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping have been in contact by phone since their summit last week in Florida, and Reuters quotes US officials as saying tougher economic sanctions against North Korea are also being considered.

Media caption John Sudworth asks people on the Pyongyang subway how they feel about the country’s nuclear tests.

China is concerned any conflict could lead to a huge refugee problem on its border with North Korea. It also fears the collapse of the North Korean regime, which would remove a buffer between China and a country with US military bases, and has thus long been wary of pushing Pyongyang too hard.

But, in a sign of growing frustration with its neighbour, it recently blocked coal imports from the North. And Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reports that the government will suspend direct Air China flights between Beijing and Pyongyang from Monday 17 April.

There is also intense speculation that North Korea could carry out a sixth nuclear bomb test or another missile launch – possibly a long-range missile – on Saturday.

Saturday marks the 105th anniversary of the birth of its first leader, Kim Il-sung.

In an interview with the Associated Press, North Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Han Song Ryol accused the Trump administration of “becoming more vicious and more aggressive” in its policy towards the North.

An institute linked to the North Korean foreign ministry also warned that “thermo-nuclear war may break out any moment”.

SWIFT Messaging System Cuts Off Remaining North Korean Banks

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

SWIFT messaging system cuts off remaining North Korean banks

By Tom Bergin | LONDON

SWIFT, the inter-bank messaging network which is the backbone of international finance, said it planned to cut off the remaining North Korean banks still connected to its system, as concerns about the country’s nuclear program and missile tests grow.

SWIFT said the four remaining banks on the network would be disconnected for failing to meet its operating criteria.

The bank-owned co-operative declined to specify what the banks’ shortcomings were or if it had received representations from any governments.

Experts said the decision to cut off banks which were not subject to European Union sanctions was unusual and a possible sign of diplomatic pressure on SWIFT.

Belgium-based SWIFT has previously refused to cut off Burmese, Russian or Syrian banks which were subject to sanctions by other countries, such as the United States, citing a policy of remaining politically neutral.

SWIFT ignored years of pressure linked to Iran’s nuclear program, and only cut off Iranian banks in 2012 after the EU passed specifically tailored sanctions. SWIFT is overseen by the central bank of Belgium which is subject to EU law.

“The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) banks remaining on the network are no longer compliant with SWIFT’s membership criteria,” SWIFT spokeswoman Natasha de Teran said in a statement.

“As a result, these entities will no longer have access to the SWIFT financial messaging service. Given the increased ongoing international attention on the DPRK, SWIFT has informed the Belgian and EU authorities,” she added.

Last week, the Belgian authorities said they would no longer allow SWIFT to provide services to North Korean banks which were under U.N. sanctions.

That followed a U.N. report in February that said North Korea was relying on continued access to the international banking system to flout sanctions imposed in relation to its nuclear program.

Former SWIFT chief executive Leonard Schrank said the only previous occasions he could remember when SWIFT had cut off banks not subject to EU sanctions was when the banks had lost their banking license or a country’s central bank had ceased functioning.

“This is a very, very serious action,” he said, adding it could open SWIFT up to pressure in respect of other countries.

A spokesman for the European Commission denied leaning on SWIFT: “This is a commercial matter for SWIFT. We do not interfere in the business decisions of any such company,” he said.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and Belgian Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)