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WASHINGTON, June 21, 2018 (Reuters) - The missile engine test site that President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had committed to destroy is a major facility in the western part of the country that has been used for testing engines for long-range missiles, according to a US official.

Trump told reporters after their June 12 summit that Kim had pledged to dismantle one of his missile installations, which would be North Korea’s most concrete concession at the landmark meeting in Singapore.

However, the president at the time did not name the site.

A US official identified it on Wednesday as the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, saying North Korea “has used this site to test liquid-propellant engines for its long-range ballistic missiles.”

Pyongyang has said its missiles can reach the United States.

“Chairman Kim promised that North Korea would destroy a missile engine test stand soon,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate word on the exact timetable, and North Korea has not publicly confirmed that Kim made such a commitment.

CBS News was the first to identify the site, which is the newest of North Korea’s known major missile testing facilities.

Although Trump has hailed the Singapore summit as a success, skeptics have questioned whether he achieved anything, given that Pyongyang, which has rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament, appeared to make no new tangible commitments in a joint written declaration.

The US-based North Korea monitoring group 38 North said in an analysis at the end of last week there had been no sign of any activity toward dismantling Sohae or any other missile test site.

The US official said: “The United States will continue to monitor this site closely as we move forward in our negotiations.”

What little is known about the Sohae site, located in Tongchang-ri, has been pieced together from analysts’ assessments and the North Korean state news agency KCNA.

It was reported to have been established in 2008 and has research facilities nearby for missile development as well as a tower that can support ballistic missiles. The site is mainly used to test large Paektusan engines built for long-range missiles such as the Hwasong-15.

North Korea has spent considerable effort and resources to develop the site as a “civilian space programme” facility, denying that it has a military application, said Jenny Town, a research analyst at the 38 North.

“Presumably, if North Korea does destroy the Sohae facility, they are also signaling that they are willing to stop satellite/rocket launches this time around as well, a point that has derailed negotiations in the past and is a significant new development,” she said.

North Korea has other missile testing facilities but the shutdown, if it happens, would be significant, analysts said.

“The missile testing is not just done in Tongchang-ri so it does not necessarily mean all ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) will be disabled. But the most well-known one is this, so there is a great symbolic meaning if this is shut down,” said Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in South Korea.

North Korea announced ahead of the Singapore summit the suspension of its ICBM testing and also closed its nuclear bomb test site. US officials, however, have cautioned that such actions are reversible.

Asked on Wednesday whether North Korea has done anything toward denuclearisation since the summit, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters: “No, I’m not aware of that. I mean, obviously, it’s the very front end of a process. The detailed negotiations have not begun. I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

Yang Uk, senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum, agreed that a shutdown of the Sohae testing site would be a symbolic gesture rather than a move to technically disable its missile capabilities.

SEOUL, June 21, 2018  (News Wires) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed measures to bolster “strategic and tactical” cooperation between the two countries in a second meeting on Wednesday, the North’s state media said on Thursday.
The meeting between Kim and Xi came on the North Korean leader’s second and last day of his latest visit to Beijing, where he briefed the Chinese president on his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore last week.

They exchanged “serious views” on the present and “new” situation, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

On Tuesday, Kim and Xi were reported by North Korean media to have reached an understanding on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula after discussing the outcome of the U.S.-North Korea summit.

Kim visited an agricultural institute run by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences before meeting Xi on Wednesday, KCNA said, where he observed vegetables being grown inside.

The North Korean leader also visited a traffic control centre in Beijing before departing for Pyongyang on Wednesday afternoon, KCNA said. The visits to the two locations were also reported by Chinese media.

Kim has pledged to make the economy in North Korea a priority after he announced the achievement of a long-held ambition to develop nuclear weapons. North Korean media has frequently stressed advancements made in its agricultural and industrial sectors in recent months.

The official China Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday ties between the two countries have “radiated new vitality”, and that Kim’s visits to the agricultural and traffic control centres showed the economy was a priority for him.

“Kim’s latest talks with Xi will have reassured him that China stands behind the DPRK as it switches its focus to economic development,” the paper said, using North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In Singapore, Kim lauded the “clean, beautiful and advanced” nation and said he had learned much from the prosperous country.

SEOUL, June 13, 2018 (News Wires) - North Korean state media lauded on Wednesday the summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump as a resounding success, highlighting concessions by the US president and the prospect of a new era of peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula.

According to a report by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Trump expressed his intention to halt US-South Korea joint military exercises, offer security guarantees to the North and lift sanctions against it as relations improve.

The US president had said in a news conference on Tuesday he would like to lift sanctions against North Korea, but it would not happen immediately.

Kim and Trump invited each other to their respective countries and both leaders “gladly accepted”, KCNA reported.

The summit, the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, was in stark contrast to a flurry of North Korean nuclear and missile tests and angry exchanges of insults between Trump and Kim last year that fuelled worries about war.

“Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” KCNA said.

Trump confirmed the United States will not hold war games with South Korea while North Korea negotiates in good faith on denuclearisation.

“We’re not going to be doing the war games as long as we’re negotiating in good faith,” Trump told Fox News Channel in an interview in Singapore after the summit.

“So that’s good for a number of reasons, in addition to which we save a tremendous amount of money,” Trump said. “You know, those things, they cost. I hate to appear a businessman, but I kept saying, what’s it costing?”

US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump’s cost reasoning for halting the exercises was “ridiculous”.

“It’s not a burden onto the American taxpayer to have a forward deployed force in South Korea,” Graham told CNN. “It brings stability. It’s a warning to China that you can’t just take over the whole region. So I reject that analysis that it costs too much, but I do accept the proposition, let’s stand down (on military exercises) and see if we can find a better way here.”

SINGAPORE, June 12, 2018 (News Wires) - US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged on Tuesday to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula while Washington committed to provide security guarantees for its old enemy.

But a joint statement signed at the end of their historic summit in Singapore gave few details on how either goal would be achieved.

“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” said the statement.

DPRK is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name of North Korea.

Trump said he expected the denuclearisation process to start “very, very quickly”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials would hold follow-up negotiations “at the earliest possible date”, the statement said.

Political analysts said the summit had yielded only symbolic results and nothing tangible.

“It is unclear if further negotiations will lead to the end goal of denuclearisation,” said Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow of Washington’s Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank. “This looks like a restatement of where we left negotiations more than 10 years ago and not a major step forward.”

The document also made no mention of the international sanctions that have crippled North Korea’s economy for pursuing its nuclear weapons programme.

Nor was there any reference to finally signing a peace treaty. North Korea and the United States were on opposite sides in the 1950-53 Korean War and are technically still at war, as the conflict, in which millions of people died, was concluded only with a truce.

But the joint statement did say the two sides had agreed to recovering the remains of prisoners of war and of those missing in action and repatriating them.

China, the third party to the truce, said it hoped North Korea and the United States could reach a basic consensus on denuclearisation.

“At the same time, there needs to be a peace mechanism for the peninsula to resolve North Korea’s reasonable security concerns,” China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, told reporters in Beijing.

If the joint statement does lead to a lasting detente, it could fundamentally change the security landscape of Northeast Asia, just as former US President Richard Nixon visit to Beijing in 1972 led to the transformation of China.

But Li Nan, senior researcher at Pangoal, a Beijing-based Chinese public policy think tank, said the meeting had only symbolic significance.

“It is too early to call it a turning point in North Korea-US relations,” Li said.

However, the dollar jumped to a 3-week top on Tuesday and Asian shares rose on news of the agreement.

Before signing what Trump described as a “comprehensive” document, Kim said the two leaders had a historic meeting “and decided to leave the past behind. The world will see a major change.”

Trump said he had formed a “very special bond” with Kim and that relationship with North Korea would be very different.

“People are going to be very impressed and people are going to be very happy and we are going to take care of a very dangerous problem for the world,” Trump said.

Asked whether he would invite Kim to the White House, Trump said: “Absolutely, I will.”

He called Kim “very smart” and a “very worthy, very hard negotiator.”

“I learned he’s a very talented man. I also learned that he loves his country very much.”

During a post-lunch stroll through the gardens of the Singapore hotel where the summit was held, Trump said the meeting had gone “better than anybody could have expected”.

Kim stood silently alongside, but the North Korean leader had earlier described their summit as a “a good prelude to peace”.

Both men walked to Trump’s bullet-proof limousine, nicknamed “The Beast”, and looked in at the rear seat, with Trump apparently showing Kim something inside. They then resumed their walk.

They had appeared cautious and serious when they first arrived for the summit at the Capella hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa, a resort island with luxury hotels, a casino, manmade beaches and a Universal Studios theme park.

But, with cameras of the world’s press trained on them, they displayed an initial atmosphere of bonhomie as they met on the verandah of the Capella, a refurbished 19th century British regimental officers’ mess.

Body language expert said both men tried to project command as they met, but also displayed signs of nerves.

SINGAPORE, June 11, 2018 (News Wires) - US President Donald Trump said on Monday his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore could “work out very nicely” as officials from both countries met to narrow differences on how to end a nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula.

Kim and Trump arrived in the tropical city-state on Sunday for the first ever face-to-face meeting by leaders of two countries that have been enemies since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

With gaps remaining over what denuclearisation would entail, officials from both sides held two hours of talks to push the agenda forward ahead of Tuesday’s summit.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the meetings were “substantive and detailed” but there was no immediate word on what the outcome was.

Trump sounded a positive note in a lunch meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“We’ve got a very interesting meeting in particular tomorrow, and I just think it’s going to work out very nicely,” Trump said.

He also told Lee: “We appreciate your hospitality and professionalism and friendship...You’re my friend.”

Trump and Kim are staying in separate hotels in the famous Orchard Road area of Singapore, dotted with high-rise luxury apartment blocks, offices and glittering shopping malls. Traffic was held up in the steamy midday sun and scores of bystanders were penned in by police when Trump went to meet Lee.

Similar scenes were seen on Sunday when Kim and Trump arrived in the city, and when Kim went to meet Lee. Entry to their hotels is extremely restricted.

Commenting for the first time on the summit, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency earlier said the two sides would exchange “wide-ranging and profound views” to re-set relations. It heralded the summit as part of a “changed era”.

Discussions would focus on “the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean peninsula, the issue of realising the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern,” KCNA said.

In the lead up to the summit, North Korea rejected any unilateral nuclear disarmament, and KCNA’s reference to denuclearisation of the peninsula has historically meant that Pyongyang wants the United States to remove its “nuclear umbrella” protecting South Korea and Japan.

Pompeo said in an earlier tweet that Washington was “committed to the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

Many experts on North Korea, one of the most insular and unpredictable countries in the world, remain skeptical Kim will ever completely abandon nuclear weapons. They believe Kim’s latest engagement is aimed at getting the United States to ease the crippling sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country.

A Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US side was entering the talks with a sense of optimism and an equal dose of scepticism given North Korea’s long history of developing nuclear weapons.

“We will not be surprised by any scenario,” said the official.

The official said Trump and Kim would hold a one-on-one meeting on Tuesday that could last up to two hours. He described it as a “get to know you plus” meeting.

Later, a meeting including officials could last another hour.

The summit’s venue is the Capella hotel on Sentosa, a resort island off Singapore’s port with luxury hotels, a Universal Studios theme park and man-made beaches.

Trump, speaking in Canada on Saturday, said any agreement at the summit would be “spur of the moment,” underscoring the uncertain outcome of what he called a “mission of peace”.

He initially touted the potential for a grand bargain with North Korea to rid itself of a nuclear missile program that has advanced rapidly to threaten the United States.

But he has since lowered expectations, backing away from an original demand for North Korea’s swift denuclearisation.

He has said the talks would be more about starting a relationship with Kim for a negotiating process that would take more than one summit.

SEOUL, June 7, 2018 (News Wires) -- With missile tests, nuclear threats and ruthless destruction of opponents, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been an ominous presence hanging over the South.

These days, however, customers at a cafe in the center of South Korea can find an image of the North Korean leader staring up at them from their coffee cups.

Since a beaming Kim held a summit in April with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the In & Out cafe in Jeonju city, three hours south of the capital Seoul, has been serving lattes decorated with frothy images of the two leaders.

A sign also offers customers the chance to take a photo and be featured on latte foam along with Kim and Moon.

“I watched the inter-Korean summit and was very impressed,” said owner Kim Jeong-il, who coincidentally shares his name with Kim Jong Un’s father. “My shop is named ‘In & Out,’ and I made (the latte) praying for peace in the hope that we would be able to go ‘in and out’ of South Korea and North Korea.”

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