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North Korea hails ‘historic’ Kim-Trump summit

By Sunghee Hwang

Seoul (AFP)

July 1, 2019

North Korea on Monday hailed the weekend meeting between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in the Demilitarized Zone as “historic”, as analysts said Pyongyang was looking to shape the narrative to its own agenda.

The two leaders agreed to “resume and push forward productive dialogues for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

After a Twitter invitation by the US president on Saturday, the two men met a day later in the strip of land that has divided the peninsula for 66 years since the end of the Korean War, when the two countries and their allies fought each other to a standstill.

Kim and Trump shook hands over the concrete slabs dividing North and South before Trump walked a few paces into Pyongyang’s territory — the first US president ever to set foot on North Korean soil.

“The top leaders of the DPRK and the US exchanging historic handshakes at Panmunjom” was an “amazing event”, KCNA said, describing the truce village as a “place that had been known as the symbol of division” and referring to past “inglorious relations” between the countries.

The impromptu meeting in the DMZ — where the US president said they agreed to resume working-level talks within weeks on the North’s nuclear program — was full of symbolism.

Trump’s border-crossing — which he said was uncertain until the last moment — was an extraordinary sequel to the scene at Kim’s first summit with Moon Jae-in last year, when the young leader invited the South Korean president to walk over the Military Demarcation Line, as the border is officially known.

“It was an honor that you asked me to step over that line, and I was proud to step over the line,” Trump told Kim.

Pictures from the meeting — including a sequence of images from the two men emerging from opposite sides for a handshake and a skip across the border — were splashed across the front page of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which carried 35 images in total.

Shin Beom-chul, an analyst at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies, said the KCNA report was “typical North Korean propaganda that glorified Kim as leading the tremendous changes in geopolitics”.

– ‘Mysterious force’ –

Analysts have been divided by Sunday’s events, some saying they spurred new momentum into deadlocked nuclear talks, while others described them as “reality show theatrics”.

The first Trump-Kim summit took place in a blaze of publicity in Singapore last year but produced only a vaguely worded pledge about denuclearisation.

A second meeting in Vietnam in February collapsed after the pair failed to reach an agreement over sanctions relief and what the North was willing to give in return.

Contact between the two sides has since been minimal — with Pyongyang issuing frequent criticisms of the US position — but the two leaders exchanged a series of letters before Trump issued his offer to meet at the DMZ.

Regional powerhouse China on Monday said renewed discussions between North Korea and the United States are of “great significance”.

“It is hoped that all parties concerned will seize the opportunity, move in the same direction, actively explore effective solutions to each other’s concerns and make progress on the peninsula,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing.

Trump’s historic gesture came over a week after Xi Jinping made the first visit to Pyongyang by a Chinese president in 14 years — a trip which analysts had said Xi may use as leverage in his own trade talks with Trump that concluded with a truce at the G20.

As well as the working-level talks, Trump also floated the idea of sanctions relief — repeatedly demanded by Pyongyang — and said he invited the North Korean leader to the White House.

Such a trip would have to come “at the right time”, he added.

KCNA was less specific, saying Kim and Trump discussed “issues of mutual concern and interest which become a stumbling block”.

Trump regularly calls Kim a “friend” and KCNA cited the North Korean leader as lauding their “good personal relations”, saying they would “produce good results unpredictable by others and work as a mysterious force overcoming manifold difficulties and obstacles”.

Vipin Narang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the North was portraying Kim as “being courted by Trump”…

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/North_Korea_hails_historic_Kim-Trump_summit_999.html.

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State media say Chinese President Xi to visit North Korea

June 17, 2019

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping will make a state visit to North Korea this week, state media announced Monday, as U.S. talks with North Korea on its nuclear program are at an apparent standstill.

Xi will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the visit on Thursday and Friday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said. It said the trip will be the first by a Chinese president in 14 years. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency also announced the visit, but provided no further details.

The visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea, CCTV said. The broadcaster added the leaders will exchange views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

The visit comes as negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea appear to have reached an impasse. A summit in Vietnam in February between Kim and President Donald Trump failed after the U.S. rejected North Korea’s request for extensive relief from U.N. sanctions in exchange for dismantling its main nuclear complex, a partial disarmament step. Since the summit’s breakdown, no major contacts between the U.S. and North Korea have been announced.

Kim traveled to the Russian Far East in April for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move was viewed as aimed at strengthening his leverage over Washington and persuading Moscow to loosen its implementation of the international sanctions against North Korea.

Last month, North Korea fired short-range missiles and other weapons into the sea in an apparent effort to apply pressure on the U.S. KCNA reported in April that Kim said he will give the U.S. “till the end of the year” to reach out with further proposals.

Since taking office in 2012, Xi has met with Kim four times in China. The meetings were timed in proximity to Kim’s meetings with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, highlighting Beijing’s role as a key player in the nuclear standoff. Beijing has long advocated a “dual suspension” approach in which North Korea would halt its nuclear and missile activities while the U.S. and South Korea cease large-scale joint military exercises.

Chinese political scholar Zhang Lifan said the aim of Xi’s trip is likely not to make any breakthroughs, but rather to remind other countries of China’s unique position. Zhang said Beijing may be seeking to gain leverage ahead of a G-20 summit in Japan later this month and reassert itself as a global player amid growing concerns over its economy.

“North Korea is a card for China to play,” Zhang said. “China may want to show off its relationship with North Korea and demonstrate its importance to U.S.-North Korean relations.” South Korea’s presidential office said it hopes Xi’s visit to North Korea will contribute to a swift resumption of negotiations to resolve the nuclear standoff. It said it has been engaging in discussions with Beijing over the possibility of a visit by Xi, which it views as a positive development in efforts to peacefully resolve the peninsula’s issues.

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Human rights group locates North Korean execution sites

June 11, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A human rights group said Tuesday it has identified hundreds of spots where witnesses claim North Korea carried out public executions and extrajudicial state killings as part of an arbitrary and aggressive use of the death penalty that is meant to intimidate its citizens.

The Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group said its research was based on interviews with 610 North Korean defectors conducted over four years who helped locate the sites with satellite imagery.

The group didn’t reveal the exact locations of the 323 sites because it’s worried that North Korea will tamper with them, but said 267 of them were located in two northeastern provinces near the border with China, the area where most of the defectors who participated in the study came from.

North Korea’s public executions tend to happen near rivers, in fields and on hills, and also at marketplaces and school grounds — places where residents and family members of those sentenced are often forced to attend the killings, the report said.

The group also said it documented three sites where people died while in detention and 25 sites where the dead were allegedly disposed of by the state. It said it also found official locations that may have documents or other evidence related to the killings.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the report, and the group acknowledged that its findings weren’t definite because it doesn’t have direct access to North Korea and cannot visit the sites defectors told it about. Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, one of the report’s authors, also said interviews with defectors suggest that public executions in North Korea are becoming less frequent, although it’s unclear whether that’s because more people are being executed in secret.

South Korea’s Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-sponsored think tank, expressed similar views on its annual white paper on North Korea’s human rights released last week. The institute said the North still uses public executions to provoke fear and control the behavior of its citizens, particularly in city and border areas where crimes are more prevalent.

The Transitional Justice Working Group is a nongovernment organization founded by human rights advocates and researchers from South Korea and four other countries. The group said the new report was made possible by funding from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the U.S. Congress.

North Korea didn’t immediately respond to the report, but the nation bristles at outside criticism of its human rights record and claims negative assessments are part of U.S.-led pressure campaigns meant to tarnish the image of its leadership and destroy the country’s political system. In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in May, North Korea said it “consistently maintains the principle of ensuring scientific accuracy, objectivity and impartiality, as well as protecting human rights in dealing with criminal cases.”

A 2014 United Nations report on North Korea’s human rights conditions, however, said state authorities carry out executions, “with or without trial, publicly or secretly,” in response to political and other crimes that are often not among the most serious offenses. While public executions were more common in the 1990s, North Korea continues to carry them out for the purpose of instilling fear in the general population, the report said.

The new report said its findings show arbitrary executions and extrajudicial killings under state custody have continued under the rule of young leader Kim Jong Un despite international criticism over how North Korea supposedly applies the death penalty without due judicial process.

Since assuming leadership in 2011, Kim has shown a brutal side while consolidating his power, executing a slew of members of the North Korean old guard, including his uncle Jang Seong Thaek, who was convicted of treason, and senior officials accused of slighting his leadership.

Following a provocative run in nuclear and missile tests, Kim initiated diplomacy with Washington and Seoul in 2018 in attempting to leverage his arsenal for economic and security benefits. But North Korea’s human rights issues have so far been sidelined in the summitry between Kim, President Donald Trump, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Almost all of the state killings documented in the report were public executions by firing squad. Public executions in most cases are preceded by brief “trials” on the spot where charges are announced and sentences are issued without legal counsel for the accused, the report said.

Criminal charges for executions commonly cited by interviewees included violent crimes such as murder, rape and assault, but also property crimes like stealing copper or cows and brokering defections. With a lack of due process in the North’s judicial system, it’s unclear whether the charges would actually match the act of the accused, the report said.

Bodies of people killed by state agents aren’t usually returned to the family and are often dumped in mountainous areas, buried in the ground without markers, or thrown into a gorge or ravine, the report said.

Authorities often force family members of those sentenced and residents, including children, to watch public executions. Some defectors reported incidents in the mid-2010s where guards used metal detectors to find and confiscate mobile phones from witnesses to prevent them from recording the events, which showed the government’s concern about information on the public executions getting outside the country, the report said.

The rights group said the information it gathered will be crucial if a political transition in North Korea allows for the identification of victims, the return of remains to families and investigations into human rights abuses committed by the government.

The group released an earlier report in 2017 based on a smaller number of interviews. It said the new report is better sourced, based on accounts of direct witnesses or those who heard from direct witnesses and were able to provide geographic information of the sites.

A look at alleged raiders of North Korean Embassy in Madrid

March 27, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The 10 people who allegedly raided the North Korean Embassy in Madrid last month belong to a mysterious dissident organization that styles itself as a government-in-exile dedicated to toppling the ruling Kim family dynasty in North Korea.

Their leader appears to be a Yale-educated human rights activist who was once jailed in China while trying to rescue North Korean defectors living in hiding, according to activists and defectors. Details have begun trickling out about the raid after a Spanish judge lifted a secrecy order Tuesday and said an investigation of what happened on Feb. 22 uncovered evidence that “a criminal organization” shackled and gagged embassy staff before escaping with computers, hard drives and documents. A U.S. official said the group is named Cheollima Civil Defense, a little-known organization that recently called for international solidarity in the fight against dictatorship in North Korea.

Here’s a look at the group and its apparent leader.

THE GROUP

Details about the creation of the Cheollima Civil Defense group are hazy. The word “Cheollima” — spelled “Chollima” in the North — refers to a mythical winged horse that the government often uses in its propaganda.

In March 2017 the group said it had arranged the escape of Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who was assassinated at a Malaysian airport earlier that year.

A man claiming to be Kim Han Sol appeared in a YouTube video at the time and said he was safely with his mother and sister.

“My name is Kim Han Sol from North Korea, part of the Kim family,” the man said in English in the 40-second video clip. “My father has been killed a few days ago.”

Recently the group declared on what appears to be its website the establishment of “Free Joseon,” which it described as “a provisional government” that would fight against “the criminal incumbents of the north.” The Joseon Dynasty ruled the Korean Peninsula for more than 500 years until 1910, when Japan colonized Korea, which was later divided at the end of World War II.

The group also recently posted a video showing an unidentified man destroying glass-encased portraits of North Korea’s two late leaders. South Korean media reported that the group was behind the writing of “Let’s topple Kim Jong Un,” the current North Korean leader, on the wall of the North Korean Embassy in Malaysia.

After the Spanish judge released documents about the Feb. 22 incident, the Cheollima website said it had been responding to an urgent situation at the embassy and was invited onto the property, and that “no one was gagged or beaten.” The group said there were “no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event.”

The Spanish court report said the intruders urged North Korea’s only accredited diplomat in Spain, So Yun Sok, to defect.

The Cheollima website said the group shared “certain information of enormous potential value” with the FBI, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality.

The FBI said its standard practice is to neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.

If Cheollima was behind the embassy break-in, it indicates the involvement of North Korean defectors who have experience working for North Korea’s military or security authorities, said Nam Sung Wook, a former president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with South Korea’s main spy agency.

“There are many young North Korean men who come to the South with more than 10 years of military experience,” said Nam, who now teaches at Korea University in South Korea. “People would be surprised at what they are capable of doing, and they aren’t always being closely watched by the South Korean government.”

THE ALLEGED LEADER

A Spanish court document identified the leader of the group that entered the embassy as Adrian Hong Chang.

This is likely to be Adrian Hong, who in 2005 co-founded Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an international activist group devoted to rescuing North Korean refugees, according to North Korean defectors and activists who spoke with The Associated Press.

Hannah Song, CEO of LiNK, said Hong has had no involvement with the organization for more than 10 years. “We have no knowledge of his recent activities,” Song said.

The Spanish judge, Jose de la Mata, described Adrian Hong Chang as a Mexican national and resident of the United States. According to the Spanish court report, the man flew to the United States on Feb. 23, got in touch with the FBI and offered to share material and videos. The report didn’t say what type of information the items contained or whether the FBI accepted the offer.

An online message by AP to a verified Twitter account linked to activist Adrian Hong wasn’t immediately answered.

Hong is known for his work helping North Koreans flee their homeland and resettle in South Korea and elsewhere. LiNK said it has helped more than 1,000 North Koreans reach safety. Fellow activists and North Korean defectors said Hong was detained in China briefly in the 2000s because of his work.

Kang Chol-hwan, a prominent North Korean defector-turned-activist, said he was close to Hong and helped him with LiNK.

Kang, an ex-inmate of North Korea’s notorious Yodok prison camp, said Hong became passionate about North Korean human rights after reading his detention memoir. He said Hong visited Seoul and rallied against what he believed were pro-North Korea sympathizers and those silent on North Korean human rights issues.

Kang, who said he last saw Hong about five years ago, said Hong wanted to “muster anti-government forces (in North Korea) and bring down North Korea from the inside.” Kang said Hong even went to Libya to study the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi so he could explore ways to topple the Kim government.

“He has great capacity for organization because of his experience establishing LiNK,” Kang said. “He’s a very smart guy.”

Fellow defector-turned-activist Heu Kang Il, who met Hong around 2005, recalled him as a “passionate young man.”

Testifying before the Canadian Senate in 2016, Hong said: “North Korea is not a normal nation with the government seeking to serve and protect its citizens. It is a brutal totalitarian regime, ruled by a royal family and a class of vassals, both in tenuous concert with one another. It does not care for the welfare of its people.”

In an op-ed for The Christian Science Monitor in 2014, Hong said the international community must support “efforts to strengthen meaningful opposition and civil society in the country, training exiles to one day assume leadership positions, educating younger refugees, and creating more robust programs to help defectors adjust to life on the outside.”

“A class of Korean technocrats must be capable of stabilizing and rebuilding on a national scale,” Hong wrote.

Associated Press writer Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

North Korea’s Kim leaves Vietnam after summit breakdown

March 02, 2019

DONG DANG, Vietnam (AP) — Smiling and holding up his clasped hands in a victorious pose, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday boarded his private train at the Vietnam-China border for a 60-plus-hour ride home, ending a trip to Vietnam that saw a summit breakdown with President Donald Trump.

He spent his last day in Hanoi laying large red-and-yellow wreaths at a war memorial and at the mausoleum of national hero Ho Chi Minh, surrounded by Vietnamese soldiers in crisp white uniforms and his own entourage of top North Korean officials. At the border, he got out of his armored limousine and clasped his hands, waving to a crowd of people cheering his departure.

Since Trump flew home to Washington, Kim has stepped assuredly into the spotlight, keen to show himself as a poised leader taking his rightful place on the international stage. He met Friday with President Nguyen Phu Trong, the country’s top leader and Communist Party chief, grinning broadly as he was feted by top officials and escorted down a red carpet.

As Kim met with officials in Hanoi, the United States and North Korea have both been spinning their versions of what happened during one of the most high-profile diplomatic collapses in recent years. But some experts believe that Kim, by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Trump at a summit that captivated many around the world, will have one sure win: He’ll be able to portray himself to his people and supporters as the charismatic head of a nuclear-armed power, not an international pariah that starves its citizens so it can build nukes and missiles.

On Saturday, Kim, his trademark high-and-tight pompadour a bit disheveled, walked slowly behind a wreath with his name on it and a message that said, “I mourn the heroes and patriotic martyrs,” as it was taken to the Monument to War Heroes and Martyrs. He also oversaw the presentation of a large wreath at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where he bowed and walked inside.

Talks between Kim and Trump broke down on Thursday, the second day of their two-day summit, in a dispute over how much sanctions relief Washington should provide Pyongyang in return for nuclear disarmament steps. Despite a senior North Korean official’s suggestion — in a rushed, middle-of-the-night news conference called to dispute Trump’s version of the summit’s end — that Kim may have “lost the will” for diplomacy, the North Korean leader seems to have emerged from the diplomatic wreckage as a winner.

Kim answered questions with humor and ease when confronted by an aggressive international media contingent here. And, crucially for his image at home, he stood firm on his demands for the relief of sanctions imposed over a nuclear program North Korea says it built in the face of unrelenting U.S. hostility meant to end its leadership.

Kim, as he considers his next move after Hanoi, will be backed by state-controlled media that were already busy portraying the summit as a victory for their leader, saying Kim and Trump “appreciated that the second meeting in Hanoi offered an important occasion for deepening mutual respect and trust and putting the relations between the two countries on a new stage.”

North Korea said it had asked for partial sanctions relief in return for closing its main nuclear site at Yongbyon, an important nuclear-fuel production facility but not the only place the North is believed to make bomb fuel.

The United States also has been spinning the summit breakdown, with senior officials saying that North Korea wanted billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for only partial dismantlement of Yongbyon, and demanded the North scrap more of its nuclear program for such a high level of concessions.

It’s unclear what will come next: Working-level meetings among experts to close the negotiating gap? Another summit? Or will Trump, consumed with controversy in Washington and burned by the failure in Hanoi, lose interest?

The worst-case scenario would be a return to the personal insults and threats of war between Trump and Kim in 2017 as the North staged a series of increasingly powerful weapons tests, including a nuclear detonation and displays of long-range missiles that can target the U.S. mainland, though experts believe those ICBMs are not yet complete.

Trump maintained ahead of the Hanoi summit that the economic benefits of a deal could push Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions. Kim came into the summit feeling confident that he could settle something that would end painful economic sanctions while letting him keep much of his nuclear program and only making a “a variety of gestures that mimic disarmament,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, wrote after the summit collapse. This outcome would be a signal that “the world must live with North Korea’s bomb, but Kim won’t rub it in anyone’s face.”

“Since it would be utter madness to try to topple a nuclear-armed dictator, it seems obvious which side should yield,” Lewis said. If Trump “does not accept the reality that we now live with a nuclear-armed North Korea, then we are doomed to the collapse of negotiations, and perhaps even a return to the terror of 2017.”

Klug reported from Hanoi, Vietnam. Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, contributed to this report. Foster Klug, AP’s bureau chief in South Korea, has covered the Koreas since 2005.

NKorea leader Kim Jong Un tours Hanoi after summit breakdown

March 01, 2019

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A day after his stunning summit breakdown with Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiled broadly as he strode down a red carpet with Vietnam’s president Friday, a military band playing as stiff-backed soldiers goose-stepped by.

With Trump back in Washington, and both countries spinning their version of what happened during one of the most high-profile diplomatic collapses in recent years, Kim seemed confident and poised — a world leader taking his place on the international stage — as he stepped out of his armored limousine, embraced President Nguyen Phu Trong, the country’s top leader and Communist Party chief, and accepted a bouquet of flowers from a beaming girl.

On Saturday he is expected to be driven back to the border with China where he will board his armored train for a 60-plus-hour trip, through the sprawl of China, back home to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. But Friday saw his black limousine rolling beneath fluttering Vietnamese and North Korean flags — the U.S. ones have been mostly taken down — as a large crowd jammed the city’s streets and waved flowers.

Talks between Kim and Trump broke down on Thursday, the second day of their two-day summit, in a dispute over how much sanctions relief Washington should provide Pyongyang in return for nuclear disarmament steps. Despite a senior North Korean official’s suggestion — in a rushed, middle-of-the-night news conference called to dispute Trump’s version of the summit’s end — that Kim may have “lost the will” for diplomacy, the North Korean leader seems to have emerged from the diplomatic wreckage as a winner.

Kim stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Trump at the summit, an image that allows his propaganda services to portray him to his people and supporters as the leader of a nuclear-armed power, not an international pariah that starves its citizens so it can build nukes and missiles. He answered questions with humor and ease when confronted by an aggressive international media contingent here. And, crucially for his image at home, he stood firm on his demands for the relief of sanctions imposed over a nuclear program North Korea says it built in the face of unrelenting U.S. hostility meant to end its leadership.

Kim, as he considers his next move after Hanoi, will also be backed by state-controlled media that were already busy portraying the summit as a victory for their leader, saying Kim and Trump “appreciated that the second meeting in Hanoi offered an important occasion for deepening mutual respect and trust and putting the relations between the two countries on a new stage.”

North Korea said it had asked for partial sanctions relief in return for closing its main nuclear site at Yongbyon, an important nuclear-fuel production facility but not the only place the North is believed to make bomb fuel.

The United States also put its interpretation on the summit breakdown, with senior officials saying that North Korea wanted billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for only partial dismantlement of Yongbyon, and demanded the North scrap more of its nuclear program for such a high level of concessions.

It’s unclear what will come next: Working-level meetings among experts to close the negotiating gap? Another summit? Or will Trump, consumed with controversy in Washington and burned by the failure in Hanoi, lose interest?

The worst-case scenario would be a return to the personal insults and threats of war between Trump and Kim in 2017 as the North staged a series of increasingly powerful weapons tests, including a nuclear detonation and displays of long-range missiles that can target the U.S. mainland, though experts believe those ICBMs are not yet complete.

Trump maintained ahead of the Hanoi summit that the economic benefits of a deal could push Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions. Kim came into the summit feeling confident that he could settle something that would end painful economic sanctions while letting him keep much of his nuclear program and only making a “a variety of gestures that mimic disarmament,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, wrote after the summit collapse. This outcome would be a signal that “the world must live with North Korea’s bomb, but Kim won’t rub it in anyone’s face.”

“Since it would be utter madness to try to topple a nuclear-armed dictator, it seems obvious which side should yield,” Lewis said. If Trump “does not accept the reality that we now live with a nuclear-armed North Korea, then we are doomed to the collapse of negotiations, and perhaps even a return to the terror of 2017.”

AP writer Hyung-jin Kim in Hanoi contributed to this report. Foster Klug, AP’s bureau chief in South Korea, has covered the Koreas since 2005.

In a summit first, Kim Jong Un takes US media questions

February 28, 2019

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — So here’s a bit of history made at President Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un: for what is almost certainly the first time, the North Korean leader actually answered an impromptu question from an American reporter.

Then just a little bit later, as if to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he did it again. Looking confident and speaking in his typically gravelly voice, Kim didn’t miss a beat when asked by a member of the White House press pool about his outlook on the summit, saying “It’s too early to say. I won’t make predictions. But I instinctively feel that a good outcome will be produced.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with North Korean affairs, couldn’t confirm whether it was the first time Kim answered a question from a foreign journalist. But reporters didn’t get opportunities to ask questions of Kim during his three summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Kim ignored questions shouted at him during his first summit with Trump last June in Singapore. In an earlier brush with foreign media at the opening of a war museum in Pyongyang in 2013, questions were shouted at him but not answered.

The first journalist to get his response on Thursday was David Nakamura of the Washington Post. As a pool reporter, he was allowed close access to the leaders as the representative of the White House press corps.

“I asked Kim Jong Un if he felt confident he could get a deal with @realDonaldTrump,” Nakamura tweeted. “He replied: ‘It’s too early to say. I would not say I’m pessimistic.'” Soon after, as journalists were allowed to see the beginning of the final day of talks, Kim responded to several more questions from American reporters in the White House pool — including The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg. He said he thought it would be a good idea to open a U.S. liaison office in Pyongyang and said through the interpreter that he wouldn’t be in Hanoi if he weren’t willing to discuss denuclearization.

The interpreters — Yun-hyang Lee, who also translated for Trump at his first meeting with Kim in Singapore, and Sin Hye Yong, for Kim — played a key role in the exchanges. Shouted or unapproved questions are usually simply not translated to begin with. But with Trump responding, it appeared natural for Kim to follow suit. The interpreters interpreted. And Kim jumped right in.

Kim’s confident performance in Hanoi began as soon as he got off the train. Despite the tight security that is the rule at summits, foreign media were allowed to get right up beside him as he got off his armored train at the Chinese border to switch to a limousine for the drive the rest of the way to Hanoi.

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