Seoul says US should lower ‘threshold for talks’ with North Korea

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a Pyongyang Samjiyon Orchestra concert in Seoul. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2018
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Seoul says US should lower ‘threshold for talks’ with North Korea

SEOUL: South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged the US to “lower the threshold for talks” with the North on Monday as his aides held rare talks with a Pyongyang general on ways to defuse tensions.
Moon has sought to use the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics that ended on Sunday to open dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang in the hopes of easing a nuclear standoff that has sparked global security fears.
Pyongyang mounted a charm offensive during the Games, sending athletes, cheerleaders and performers.
The North’s leader Kim Jong Un also sent his sister to attend the opening ceremony before dispatching Kim Yong Chol, a powerful general in charge of inter-Korea affairs for the ruling Workers’ Party, to Sunday’s closing event.
But there was no known interaction between the North and the US during the Games and Washington on Friday imposed what US President Donald Trump described as the “heaviest ever” sanctions on the Kim regime.
“I think the US needs to lower the threshold for talks and the North also needs to show determination for denuclearization,” Moon said in a meeting with Liu Yandong, a Chinese envoy to the closing ceremony.
“It’s important that the US and the North sit together as soon as possible,” Moon said, urging efforts by Beijing to make that happen.
Moon, in a meeting with Kim Yong Chol on Sunday, also urged the North to open dialogue with the US as soon as possible — to which Kim responded by saying the North was “very willing” to hold talks.
But the US has ruled out any possibility of talks before the North — which since last year has staged multiple missile and nuclear tests — makes steps toward denuclearization.
“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” the White House said in a statement.
“The maximum pressure campaign must continue until North Korea denuclearizes,” it said.
Kim Yong Chol also met with Moon’s top advisers including national security adviser Chung Eui Yong on Monday as conservative demonstrators denounced his presence in the South.
Kim is accused of masterminding deadly attacks on the South, including the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship that left 46 dead. Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing the ship — a charge the North denies.
Dozens of conservative activists held a protest near a luxury Seoul hotel where Kim and seven other North Korean delegates are staying, ripping off the general’s portrait and torching the North’s national flags.
Hundreds of conservative Seoul lawmakers and their supporters also held a separate protest in Seoul, waving banners including “Arrest Kim Yong Chol!”


MH17 crash probe set to name suspects

A pro-Russian separatist stands at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 18, 2014. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 min 11 sec ago
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MH17 crash probe set to name suspects

  • Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed in the war in the east, which erupted after a popular uprising ousted Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president and Russia annexed Crimea

THE HAGUE: International investigators are on Wednesday expected to announce charges against several suspects in the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine five years ago in an attack which killed all 298 people on board.
The Dutch-led probe has said it will first inform families, and then hold a press conference to unveil “developments in the criminal investigation” into the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.
The breakthrough comes nearly a year after the investigators said that the BUK missile which hit the plane had originated from a Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.
The airliner traveling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur was torn apart in mid-air on July 17, 2014 over territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.
Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Olena Zerkal told Interfax-Ukraine news agency on Tuesday that four people would be named over MH17, including senior Russian army officers.
“The names will be announced. Charges will be brought, Zerkal said, adding that a Dutch court would then “start working to consider this case.”
Zerkal added that the transfer of weapons like the BUK anti-aircraft missile system “is impossible without the (Russian) top brass’s permission” and said others would have been involved beyond those being charged.

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the attack — which includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine — has declined to confirm that it will announce charges.
The Netherlands and Australia said last May that they formally “hold Russia responsible” for the disaster, after the findings on the origin of the missile were announced. Of the passengers who died, 196 were Dutch and 38 were Australian.
Moscow has vehemently denied all involvement.
Dutch broadcaster RTL, quoting anonymous sources, said the suspects could be tried in absentia as Russia does not extradite its nationals for prosecution.
“I expect there will be important new information. That means the inquiry is advancing,” Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, was quoted as saying by broadcaster NOS on Friday.
“It’s the first step to a trial.”
Investigative website Bellingcat said separately it will also name “individuals linked to the downing of MH17” on Wednesday. It said its reporting was “totally independent and separate from the JIT’s investigation.”

The JIT said last year that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile from the 53rd anti-aircraft brigade based in Kursk, but that they were still searching for suspects.
They showed videos and animation of the BUK launcher as part of a Russian military convoy, using video clips found on social media and then checked against Google Maps, as it traveled from Kursk to eastern Ukraine.
Investigators said they had also identified a ‘fingerprint’ of seven identifying features that were unique to the BUK including a military number on the launcher.
Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev’s forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era and had not been returned to Russia.
The Netherlands said it would study the information but added that details previously provided by Russia — such as the alleged presence of a Ukrainian jet near the airliner on radar images — were incorrect.
Ties between Moscow and The Hague were further strained last year when the Dutch expelled four alleged Russian spies for trying to hack into the Dutch-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West.
Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed in the war in the east, which erupted after a popular uprising ousted Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president and Russia annexed Crimea.
Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms to back the separatists. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.