North Korea's Kim promises no more nuclear or missile tests

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2018
0

North Korea's Kim promises no more nuclear or missile tests

  • Suspension will be effective immediately
  • Kim Jong Un said his country no longer needs to conduct nuclear tests

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would halt nuclear tests and intercontinental missile launches, in a Saturday announcement welcomed by US President Donald Trump ahead of a much-anticipated summit between the two men.
Pyongyang’s declaration, long sought by Washington, will be seen as a crucial step in the fast diplomatic dance on and around the Korean peninsula.
It comes less than a week before the North Korean leader meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a summit in the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula, ahead of the eagerly-awaited encounter with Trump himself.
But Kim gave no indication Pyongyang might be willing to give up its nuclear weapons, or the missiles with which it can reach the mainland United States.
The North had successfully developed its arsenal, including miniaturising warheads to fit them on to missiles, Kim said, and so “no nuclear test and intermediate-range and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire are necessary for the DPRK now.”
As such the North’s nuclear testing site was no longer needed, he told the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to the official KCNA news agency.
The party decided that nuclear blasts and ICBM launches will cease as of Saturday — the North has not carried any out since November — and the atomic test site at Punggye-ri will be dismantled to “transparently guarantee” the end of testing.
Within minutes of the report being issued, Trump tweeted: “This is very good news for North Korea and the World — big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”
Seoul too welcomed the announcement, calling it “meaningful progress” toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
But Kim offered no sign he might be willing to give up what he called the North’s “treasured sword,” saying its possession of nuclear weapons was “the firm guarantee by which our descendants can enjoy the most dignified and happiest life in the world.”
Pyongyang has made rapid technological progress in its weapons programs under Kim, which has seen it subjected to increasingly strict sanctions by the UN Security Council, the United States, the European Union, South Korea and others.
Last year it carried out its sixth nuclear blast, by far its most powerful to date, while Kim and Trump traded threats of war and personal insults as tensions ramped up.
Even when there was an extended pause in testing, US officials said that it could not be interpreted as a halt without an explicit statement from Pyongyang.
South Korean envoys have previously cited Kim as promising no more tests, but Saturday’s news is the first such announcement directly by Pyongyang.
Analysts cautioned that while the declaration was welcome, Pyongyang appeared determined to retain its nuclear capability.
“Certainly this is a positive development,” said Daniel Pinkston of Troy University. “It’s a necessary but not sufficient step in North Korea returning to its past non-proliferation commitments.”
And Christopher Green of the International Crisis Group added on Twitter: “I don’t see how North Korean statement constitutes a step toward denuclearization. It is a moratorium on testing, but recommits North Korea to nuclear weapons status.”
Japan — which has seen missiles fly over its territory — said it was not satisfied with Pyongyang’s pledge, pointing out North Korea did not mention the short- or medium-range missiles that put Tokyo within reach.
The formal declaration of an end to testing comes after Kim stated in his New Year speech that the development of North Korea’s nuclear force had been completed.
In the same address, he said he had a nuclear button on his desk, prompting Trump to tweet that he had a bigger one of his own.
Events have moved rapidly since then, catalyzed by the Winter Olympics in the South, and Seoul is now pushing for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, raising hopes that a settlement can finally be reached on the peninsula.
But there is a long way to go and Moon himself acknowledged this week that the “devil is in the details.”
The US is seeking the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the North, while according to Moon, Pyongyang wants security guarantees, potentially leaving much space for disagreement.
The North has long demanded the withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula and an end to its nuclear umbrella over South Korea, something unthinkable in Washington.
But Kim told the Workers’ Party meeting: “A fresh climate of detente and peace is being created on the Korean peninsula and the region and dramatic changes are being made in the international political landscape.”
For years, the impoverished North has pursued a “byungjin” policy of “simultaneous development” of both the military and the economy.
But the leader said that as it was now a powerful state, “the whole party and country” should concentrate on “socialist economic construction,” in what he called the party’s “new strategic line.”
Several factors have driven the Korean rapprochement, including the North feeling that it can now negotiate from a position of strength, concern about the belligerence of the Trump administration, and the looming impact of sanctions.


Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

Updated 23 January 2019
0

Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

  • The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities
  • Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is looking to leave the sex abuse scandal buffeting his papacy behind as he heads to Central America amid a standoff over President Donald Trump’s promised wall at the US-Mexico border and a new caravan of migrants heading north.
History’s first Latin American pope, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has made the plight of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy. He is also expected to offer words of encouragement to young people gathered in Panama for World Youth Day, the church’s once-every-three-year pep rally that aims to invigorate the next generation of Catholics in their faith.
Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa said Francis’ message is likely to resonate with young Central Americans who see their only future free of violence and poverty in migrating to the US — “young people who often fall into the hands of drug traffickers and so many other realities that our young people face.”
The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities, while calling on governments do their share as well.
The visit is taking place as the US government remains partly shut down in a standoff between the Trump administration and Democrats over funding for Trump’s promised border wall.
Francis famously has called for “bridges, not walls.” After celebrating Mass in 2016 on the Mexican side of the US border, he denounced anyone who wants to build a wall to keep out migrants as “not Christian.”
Crowds are expected to be smaller than usual for this World Youth Day — only about 150,000 people had registered as of last week — but thousands more will certainly throng Francis’ main events, which include a vigil and a final Mass on Sunday. The Vatican conceded that the January date doesn’t suit school vacations in Europe or North America, both of which typically send huge numbers of pilgrims to World Youth Day gatherings.
Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy as the Catholic hierarchy globally is facing a crisis in credibility for covering up decades of cases of priests molesting young people.
The pope is expected to soon rule on the fate of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the high-powered US archbishop accused of molesting minors and adults. And he is hosting church leaders at the Vatican next month on trying to chart a way forward for the global church.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said there were no plans for Francis to meet with abuse survivors in Panama. Central America hasn’t yet seen the explosion of sex abuse cases that have shattered trust in the Catholic hierarchy in Chile, the US and other parts of the world.
This is the first papal visit to Panama since St. John Paul II was there during a 1983 regional tour that famously included an unscheduled stop at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Romero had been gunned down by right-wing death squads three years earlier, at the start of El Salvador’s civil war, for having spoken out on behalf of the poor.
Salvadoran bishops had hoped Francis would follow suit and make a stop in El Salvador this time to pay his respects at Romero’s tomb since Francis canonized him in October. But the Vatican said a Salvador leg was never really in the cards.
Nevertheless, Gisotti said Romero would likely loom large at the Panama gathering, given he is such a point of reference for young Central American Catholics who grew up learning about his defense of the poor.
The Panama visit is also the first by a pope since the Vatican embassy played a crucial role during the 1989 US invasion of Panama, when dictator Manuel Noriega took refuge there and requested asylum on Christmas Eve after four days on the run trying to escape US troops.
Noriega eventually surrendered, bringing to an end one of the more unusual US military operations: It involved US troops blasting heavy metal and rock music — including Van Halen’s “Panama” — at the embassy to try to force Noriega out.
Noriega, a onetime US ally, eventually served a 17-year drug sentence in the United States. He died in 2017 after his final years were spent in a Panamanian prison for the murder of political opponents during his 1983-89 regime.