Seoul, July 15, 2018 (News Wires) - North Korean and US military officials met at the inter-Korea border on Sunday to discuss repatriation of the remains of American troops killed during the Korean War, a report said.
Returning the remains of the US soldiers who perished during the 1950-53 conflict was part of a deal signed by the North's leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump during their landmark summit last month.
The latest talks began at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Sunday, the South's Yonhap news agency said, citing a Seoul official.
"We understand that the North-US talks on repatriation of the remains are underway," it quoted an unnamed official as saying.
TV news footage showed vehicles with US army plates and believed to be carrying American officials heading to the heavily fortified border.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Pyongyang earlier this month to flesh out details of the denuclearisation deal signed by Kim and Trump, said earlier that the meeting would take place on or around last Thursday.
The North did not show up at the border on Thursday but contacted the US on the same day to offer to meet on Sunday, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last week, adding "We will be ready."
Dozens of wooden coffins to carry the American remains have reportedly been brought to the southern side of the border in recent weeks.
The White House has hailed the summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore as a major breakthrough towards disarming the isolated, nuclear-armed North in exchange for easing of sanctions and other help with economic development.
Pompeo, who met Kim's key aide during his latest trip to Pyongyang, insisted the talks were making progress but as soon as he left, the North's foreign ministry berated him over his "unilateral and gangster-like" demands.
SEOUL, July 11, 2018 (News Wires) - There is “very clear evidence of humanitarian need” in North Korea, the top UN aid official has said during the first visit of its kind to the isolated country since 2011.
UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock arrived in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on Monday.
He met Kim Yong Nam, the nominal head of state and president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, on Wednesday, the North’s state media said.
Lowcock posted a video online outlining his observations after travelling to several areas in the southwest of the country.
“One of the things we’ve seen is very clear evidence of humanitarian need here,” he said in the video, posted to his official Twitter account and the UN website.
“More than half the children in rural areas, including the places we’ve been, have no clean water, contaminated water sources.”
Although humanitarian supplies or operations are exempt under UN Security Council resolutions, UN officials have warned that international sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes are exacerbating humanitarian problems by slowing aid deliveries.
About 20 per cent of children in North Korea suffer from malnutrition, highlighting the need for more funding for humanitarian aid, Lowcock said.
Access for humanitarian workers was improving, he said without elaborating, but he noted that funding was falling short.
The United Nations says it had to stop nutrition support for kindergartens in North Korea in November because of a lack of funds, and its “2018 Needs and Priorities Plan” for North Korea is 90 per cent underfunded.
While visiting a hospital that is not supported by the United Nations, Lowcock said there were 140 tuberculosis patients but only enough drugs to treat 40 of them.
More than 10 million people, some 40 per cent of the population of North Korea, need humanitarian assistance, the United Nations said in a statement.
Lowcock was also due to meet humanitarian agency representatives and people receiving assistance to get a better understanding of the humanitarian situation, the United Nations said.
SEOUL, South Korea, July 10, 2018 (News Wires) — South Korea has suspended its summertime civil defence drills aimed at preparing against a North Korean attack to keep alive a positive atmosphere for nuclear diplomacy with the North.
Seoul's decision on Tuesday to "temporarily suspend" the nationwide civilian drills had been anticipated since the United States and South Korea halted their annual military exercises following a summit last month between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Streets in South Korean cities froze at the sound of air-raid sirens every year during the Ulchi drills in August with cars stopping on roads, pedestrians moving into buildings and subway stations, and government workers evacuating from their offices.
Kim Boo Kyum, minister of the interior and safety, said the suspension of the civilian drills was a follow-up to the suspension of the military exercises amid recent changes in "South-North relations and other security situations." He said the government and military will work to design a new civil defence programme to be launched next year that will be aimed at preparing people for natural disasters and terrorist attacks in addition to military attacks.
"The government will firmly maintain national preparedness for emergency situations," Kim said in a news conference also attended by Defence Minister Song Young-moo. The ministers did not take reporters' questions.
After their summit in Singapore, Trump and North Korean leader Kim issued a vague aspirational statement on the North's denuclearisation that didn't describe when and how it would occur. It's now up to a US delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to hammer out details in discussions with senior North Korean officials. The follow-up talks got off to a rocky start, with the North accusing the United States of making unilateral demands, though Pompeo called the talks in Pyongyang last week productive.
The Ulchi civilian drills were launched in 1969, a year after a failed attempt by North Korean commandos to assassinate then-South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee. Since 2008, the civilian drills have coincided with the Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercises between South Korea and the United States. Following his summit with Kim, Trump said that the allies would suspend the war games as long as negotiations with the North continue in "good faith."
There had been criticism on whether the civilian exercises were adequately preparing South Koreans from North Korean threats. For most South Koreans, there's no real training, with people standing around in gathering spots, staring into their phones or looking frustrated. Many schools didn't participate in the air-raid drills.
While South Korea has nearly 19,000 evacuation shelters, mostly in subway stations and parking garages, surveys have shown most people did not know which shelters were closest to their homes.
TOKYO, July 8, 2018 (News Wires) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brushed off North Korean accusations of “gangster-like” diplomacy during negotiations in Pyongyang, saying on Sunday he will pursue denuclearisation talks after meeting his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
Pompeo said in Tokyo there was still a lot of work to do but he was confident North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would stick to a commitment to abandon nuclear weapons that he made during a summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore last month.
Pompeo’s meeting with Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha followed two days of talks in Pyongyang that ended on Saturday.
“When we spoke to them about denuclearisation, they did not push back,” Pompeo told a news conference. “The road ahead will be difficult and challenging and we know that critics will try to minimise the work that we’ve achieved.”
Pompeo spoke after North Korea said the two days of talks with America’s top diplomat “brought us in a dangerous situation where we may be shaken in our unshakable will for denuclearisation, rather than consolidating trust between the DPRK and the US”.
The statement, which referred to the North’s formal name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), was carried by the official KCNA news agency on Saturday soon after Pompeo left Pyongyang.
Kim made a broad commitment in Singapore to “work towards denuclearisation” but did not give details on how or when he would dismantle North Korea’s nuclear programme. Trump in turn offered security guarantees to Pyongyang and pledged a halt to large-scale military drills with South Korea.
North Korea’s latest comments, which came after Pompeo said talks had made progress, are a reminder of the difficulties that previous US administrations have had negotiating with the reclusive Stalinist state and suggest that Pyongyang may not agree to any rapid denuclearisation.
Leaked US intelligence findings concluded that North Korea does not intend to give up its nuclear programme completely.
Trump has vowed that North Korea will not be allowed to threaten the United States with its ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. His meeting with Kim in Singapore came after months of often bitter rhetoric and threats.
PYONGYANG, July 7, 2018 (News Wires) - In a face-to-face visit with hopes of putting meat on the bones after the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent two days in North Korea this week negotiating with counterparts. In a first, he even spent a night in a guesthouse belonging to the regime in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital.
Later on Saturday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry called talks with Pompeo "regrettable." A statement by an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the U.S. betrayed the spirit of the summit by making unilateral demands on the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the country.
Pompeo did not meet with Kim Jong Un while in North Korea or walk away with any significant developments on moving closer to its denuclearization. The trip was Pompeo's third to North Korea this year, and it marked the first time he did not meet with the leader.
"I think we made progress in every element of our discussions," Pompeo told reporters after he was asked if a timeline was set for denuclearization and if there was an agreement for the regime's destruction of its nuclear program.
Pompeo, who was carrying out the first meeting between the US and North Korea since Mr. Trump met with Kim Jong Un in Singapore last month, would not reveal any details on the progress he said was made. He didn't cite any major breakthroughs.
Ahead of the visit, the State Department did not make promises about what Pompeo might walk away with. After the meetings, Pompeo admitted that certain areas of US-North Korea negotiations still have a long way to go.
"These are complicated issues, but we made progress on almost all of the central issues," Pompeo said. "Some places a great deal of progress. Other place(s) there's still more work to be done."
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said there was never an expectation that Pompeo would meet with Kim, although other U.S. government officials previously indicated that was the plan. Pompeo never definitively said he would not meet with Kim.
Pompeo went to Pyongyang with a letter for Kim Jong Un from Mr. Trump. The last time the two leaders exchanged letters was in early June when Kim Yong Chol -- the country's former spy chief and now the vice chairman of the Workers' Party Central Committee -- brought a letter to the White House for Mr. Trump on behalf of the leader. Kim Yong Chol delivered that letter by hand and met with Mr. Trump for about two hours.
Pompeo pointed to an incremental development in North Korea's commitment to return the remains of missing American soldiers. Department of Defense officials will meet with North Korean counterparts on July 12 to discuss the return of the remains. The conversations are based on a commitment that Kim Jong Un made last month during the Singapore summit. Last month Mr. Trump incorrectly stated that the remains were already sent to the United States.
Before Pompeo's visit, US officials had named the missile test engine site that the North Koreans agreed to destroy -- a commitment that was also made at the Singapore summit. Pompeo spoke with his counterparts about this commitment, but details were lacking. Pompeo did not say there was an agreement to monitor that destruction or if there would be any kind of technical verification that the destruction actually happened.
Before Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol dove into Saturday's long day of negotiations, Kim Yong Chol made some snarky comments as he sat with Pompeo in front of cameras.
"Thinking about those discussions you might have not slept well last night," he said to Pompeo, referencing their close to three-hour meal the night before during which they discussed "very important matters."
Pompeo told the North Korean negotiator that he "slept just fine." Neither side revealed any details about the evening's conversation.
Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol indicated that a significant distance remains between the two sides in terms of expectations and demands. They both said they had things to "clarify."
PYONGYANG, North Korea, July 7, 2018 (News Wires) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Saturday that two days of talks with his North Korean counterpart on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal had been "very productive".
But, briefing reporters before flying on to Tokyo, he offered few new details as to how North Korea would honour its commitment to "denuclearise" in exchange for US security guarantees.
"These are complicated issues, but we made progress on almost all of the central issues, some places a great deal of progress, other places there's still more work to be done," he said.
Pompeo spoke after emerging from more than eight hours of talks over two days with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's right-hand man Kim Yong Chol in a Pyongyang diplomatic compound.
Last month, at a historic summit with US President Donald Trump, Kim agreed to "work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula" in return for security guarantees and an end to a dangerous stand-off with US forces.
Trump hailed this as a successful resolution of the crisis, but the short joint statement was not a detailed roadmap to disarmament and it fell to Pompeo to follow up and put meat on the bones of the sparse commitment.
This quest brought him back to Pyongyang on Friday for his third visit and first overnight stay, and he left en route to brief his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in an upbeat frame of mind.
"We talked about what the North Koreans are continuing to do and how it's the case that we can get our arms around achieving what Chairman Kim and President Trump both agreed to, which is the complete denuclearisation of North Korea," he said.
"No-one walked away from that, they're still equally committed. Chairman Kim is still committed, I had a chance to speak to President Trump this morning.
"I know my counterpart spoke with Chairman Kim during the course of our negotiations as well. We had productive, good-faith negotiations."
In practical terms, however, Pompeo mentioned only that officials from both sides would meet on July 12 as a working group to discuss the repatriation of the remains of some US soldiers killed during the 1950-1953 Korean War.
And he said some progress had been made towards agreeing "the modalities" of North Korea's destruction of a missile facility.