Moon seeks to break nuclear deadlock at Pyongyang summit

Moon said that he's pushing for "irrevocable progress" on efforts to rid North Korea of its nukes by the end of this year as he prepares for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AP/Hwang Gwang-mo/Yonhap)
Updated 16 September 2018
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Moon seeks to break nuclear deadlock at Pyongyang summit

  • The visit comes after the North put on its “Mass Games” propaganda display for the first time in five years
  • Moon was instrumental in brokering the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore in June

SEOUL: South Korean President Moon Jae-in travels to Pyongyang this week for his third summit with Kim Jong Un, looking to break the deadlock in nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States.
Moon — whose own parents fled the North during the Korean War — flies north on Tuesday for a three-day trip, following in the footsteps of his predecessors Kim Dae-jung in 2000 and mentor Roh Moo-hyun in 2007.
No details of the program have been announced, but Pyongyang is likely to pull out all the stops to create a good impression, with tens of thousands of people lining the streets to welcome him.
The visit comes after the North put on its “Mass Games” propaganda display for the first time in five years.
The new show featured imagery of Kim and Moon at their first summit in April in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula — prompting the unusual sight of tens of thousands of North Koreans in the May Day Stadium applauding pictures of Seoul’s leader.
One diplomatic source predicted the visit would see “Kim and Moon together receiving the same sort of applause.”
But while the Panmunjom summit was high on headline-grabbing symbolism, with Moon stepping briefly into the North and the two sharing an extended one-to-one woodland chat, pressure is mounting for substantive progress.
Moon was instrumental in brokering the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore in June, when Kim backed denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula.”
But no details were agreed and Washington and Pyongyang have sparred since over what that means and how it will be achieved.
At the same time the US and South have sometimes moved at radically different speeds in their approach to the North.
Moon will try again to “play the role of facilitator or mediator,” said his special adviser on foreign affairs Moon Chung-in.
“He believes that improved inter-Korean relations have some role in facilitating US-DPRK talks as well as solving the North Korean nuclear problem,” he told reporters, using the North’s official acronym.
Last month, Trump abruptly canceled a planned visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang, after the North condemned “gangster-like” demands for what it called its unilateral disarmament.
Washington has been adamant that the North carry out a “final, fully verified denuclearization” first, while Pyongyang is demanding a formal declaration from the US that the Korean War is over.
But Kim has since sent Trump a letter seeking a second summit and held a military parade for his country’s 70th birthday without showing off any intercontinental ballistic missiles, prompting warm tweets from the US president.
North Korea will want to exploit Trump’s eagerness to declare progress before the US midterm elections in November to secure concessions, said Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies, and will view “every meeting as a viable political opportunity” toward that goal.
But whether Pyongyang is willing to offer something concrete in return has yet to be seen.
Moon may try to convince the North Korean leader to verbally commit to providing a list of the country’s existing nuclear program, said Shin Beom-cheol, another analyst at the Asan Institute.
“It won’t be South Korea that inspects and verifies so if we can get something out of Kim Jong Un’s mouth, that will be significant,” Shin said, adding the next step could be a summit between Kim and Trump sometime in October.
Despite the deadlock in denuclearization talks, since the Panmunjom summit the two Koreas have sought to pursue joint projects in multiple fields.
But North Korea is under several different sets of sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs, hampering efforts to revive cross-border economic schemes.
The dovish South Korean president has invited the heads of the country’s largest conglomerates — including Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motors — to accompany him to Pyongyang.
“He is sending a message to the North to speedily complete denuclearization, conclude talks with the US so that South Korea can begin full-fledged economic cooperation,” said analyst Go.
And special adviser Moon Chung-in added that the South Korean president could look to convince Kim to come up with a “somewhat radical and bold initiative,” such as dismantling some nuclear bombs, and press the US for reciprocal measures.
“And the United States should be willing to come up with major economic easing of economic sanctions,” he said.


Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

Updated 19 November 2018
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Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

  • Some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops
  • ‘It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps’

LAREDO, United State: They started work in the cool of the morning and moved quickly, uncoiling reel after reel of vicious-looking fencing and tying it with barbed wire to green poles hammered into the ground.
Over the course of three days, a gleaming, shoulders-high barrier of concertina-wire emerged like a silver snake along a lush riverbank, stretching as far as the eye could see.
This was the work of 100 or so American troops from the 19th Engineer Battalion, based in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Rather than finding themselves in a far-off warzone, the soldiers are in Laredo, a busy border town overlooking a stretch of the Rio Grande river in southwest Texas, carrying out controversial orders from President Donald Trump.
He has sent about 5,800 troops to the border to forestall the arrival of large groups of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico and toward the US, in a move critics decry as a costly political stunt to galvanize supporters ahead of midterm elections earlier this month.
Before the election Trump called the matter a “national emergency” and warned that so-called migrant caravans were an “invasion” with “some very bad thugs and gang members.”
So far at least, the most visible aspect of Trump’s deployment is the fence, a visible deterrent and physical obstacle to migrants, designed to corral would-be asylum seekers toward organized points of entry into the US.
Over the weekend, Lt. Alan Koepnick’s platoon could be seen stringing concertina wire, which is built to snag clothing, along one edge of a quiet riverside park near downtown Laredo.
As families walked dogs, grilled sausages and relaxed, the soldiers mounted the wire, occasionally ripping their camouflaged uniforms on its metal barbs.
Koepnick said some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops.
“But there’s also been a lot of support, people coming in, vets shaking our hands, bringing us cakes, water, things like that,” Koepnick said.
About 100 yards (meters) behind him, a group of people on the Mexican side of the river could be seen standing on the bank.
“You’ll see people across the river cursing at us in Spanish, throwing bottles at us. But on this side it’s more positive,” Koepnick said.
He and his soldiers were unarmed, but a group of armed military police officers stood by to provide “force protection.”
Under US law, the military is not allowed to conduct domestic law enforcement in most cases, so soldiers here will not have any direct interactions with migrants.
Trump created a media whirlwind by sounding the alarm about the migrant caravans before the November 6 elections. He has mainly stopped raising it since, though last week he praised the military’s work.
“They built great fencing, they built a very powerful fence,” said Trump, who wants to build a hardened wall along the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border.
Laura Pole, a British tourist visiting Laredo for the third time, was less enthusiastic.
“It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps,” she said, but added: “I really don’t know what’s the best thing to do.”
The border mission has put the supposedly non-political military in an uncomfortable spotlight.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has hit back at critics who say the Pentagon should not be doing Trump’s political bidding, saying “we don’t do stunts.”
He visited troops on the border last week and reiterated that their job in the short term was to assist under-resourced Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and put up physical obstacles.
But “longer term, it’s somewhat to be determined,” he said.
After some rank-and-file troops grumbled about the purpose of the mission to US media last week, they are now under strict instructions not to voice personal opinions to the press.
Several soldiers AFP spoke to said their time on the border provided valuable real-world training, albeit without the risks of combat.
“We have a very large group of brand-new soldiers and it’s really good for them,” Corporal Samuel Fletcher said, citing a chance for the green troops “to do real work and put their skills to use.”
In Laredo, large groups of migrants from the caravans in Mexico had not arrived.
Instead they were mainly headed to Tijuana, about 1,300 miles away in San Diego, where authorities say more than 3,000 have already arrived.
Still, a CBP agent, who was not authorized to give his name, said he was glad of the military assistance as each day, “hundreds” of migrants attempt to cross the approximately 30-mile stretch of border he patrols.
The military deployment is set to wrap up December 15 and it is not clear what will become of the wire fencing.
Already, the winds whistling down the Rio Grande valley are strewing trash, clothing and plastic bags along the jagged wire.
“Nobody seems to know when it’s coming down. It’s not really our decision,” said Koepnick.
“If we are told to take it down, we will take it down with a smile on our faces, like good soldiers.”