US, North Korea to set agenda for Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2019

US, North Korea to set agenda for Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam

  • The summit is currently penciled in for Feb. 27-28

SEOUL: US and North Korean nuclear envoys are set to discuss the details of their stalled nuclear disarmament talks ahead of a second summit between the two nations in Vietnam, expected to be held later this month.

After a three-day visit to Seoul, US Special Representative Stephen Biegun flew to Pyongyang early Wednesday morning. The summit is currently penciled in for Feb. 27-28.

The visit is Biegun’s second since traveling to the North Korean capital with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last October. During his stay in Seoul, Biegun had a series of meetings with top South Korean envoys, including Chung Eui-yong, a presidential national security adviser, to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization.

Biegun is expected to hold talks with his counterpart, Kim Hyok-chol, a former North Korean ambassador to Spain, during his stay in Pyongyang.

“It is a positive signal for the North to invite the US nuclear envoy to Pyongyang,” said Yim Sung-joon, a former national security adviser to former President Kim Dae-jung. “It is highly possible that he could meet with higher-ranking North Korean officials, hopefully Kim Jong-un, should talks go smoothly.”

Shin Beom-cheol, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, anticipated the Biegun-Kim talks would be focused on setting the agenda items for the second Trump-Kim Summit in Vietnam.

“The two diplomats are expected to discuss agenda items on the summit table,” Shin said. “I don’t think, however, they would be able to agree on complete denuclearization, but they would be able to narrow a gap over the shutdown of the North Korean Yongbyon nuclear facility.”

The North would instead demand “corresponding measures” including the lifting of US economic sanctions against the regime and some form of security guarantee. “The two sides are expected to be engaged in a tug-of-war over the verification of the destruction of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor,” Shin added.

The North had alluded to the possibility of scrapping the Yongbyon complex during an Intra-Korean Summit in Pyongyang last September. 

The regime also suggested that it might allow inspections of the site if it received US concessions.

Yongbyon is North Korea’s key nuclear facility, where plutonium and highly enriched uranium, the primary materials for its nuclear weapons, are produced.

Before flying to Seoul, Biegun said: “We are prepared to discuss many actions that could help build trust between our two countries.” 

He also hinted the Trump administration was prepared to take action simultaneously and in parallel with North Korea.

“Chairman Kim also committed, in both the joint statement from the aforementioned Pyongyang Summit, as well as during (Pompeo’s) October meetings in Pyongyang, to the dismantlement and destruction of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities,” he added.

Concerns are growing in some corners that offering such an exchange would lighten the pressure on the North, allowing it to slow denuclearization.

Conservative politicians are worried the upcoming Vietnam Summit could fall short of a moratorium on the activities of North Korea’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program, which threatens the US mainland.

“We’re concerned that the Trump administration would try to eradicate the ICBM threat only for the sake of US national security,” said Yoon Young-seok, spokesman for the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. “If sanctions on the North are lifted without tangible progress of denuclearization, the North Korean nuclear problem will not be solved forever.”

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump reiterated that North Korea’s nuclear testing had stopped, and that there have been no further missile launches for 15 months.

That claim drew skepticism from Democrats and North Korea experts.

“Ok let’s be clear that North Korea’s successful acquisition of a nuclear ICBM is why there was no war with North Korea,” tweeted Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studies North Korea and nuclear proliferation.

The last nuclear test by North Korea was conducted in September 2017. The regime also launched an ICBM in November 2017.


Lampedusa mayor slams Rome over migrant boat standoff

Updated 22 August 2019

Lampedusa mayor slams Rome over migrant boat standoff

  • “The island no longer exists politically. It is just exploited in political clashes in Rome.”

LAMPEDUSA, Italy: The mayor of Italy’s Lampedusa island on Thursday denounced the collapsing government for its failure to deal with migrant rescue boats, as a ship carrying 356 people remained stranded in the Mediterranean.
Mayor Salvatore Martello said the reception center on the tiny isle was already over capacity and would struggle to house migrants currently stuck aboard the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking.
The vessel, run by charities Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, has sought a port for almost two weeks after rescuing four boats of migrants off the Libyan coast between 9 and 12 August.
“It would be difficult because the reception center is saturated,” Martello told AFP.
“The island no longer exists politically. It is just exploited in political clashes in Rome.”
Lampedusa has long been a magnet for African migrants fleeing poverty and conflict.
Thousands have attempted to make the unsafe crossing from Libya in a bid to reach Europe this year, despite efforts to deter them.
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has been accused of demonizing migrants and leaving them to drown in the sea.
He has repeatedly insisted that rescued migrants can only land in Italy if other EU countries take them in.
Italy’s president on Thursday was holding a second day of talks after the disintegration of the anti-immigrant coalition government, which broke down after the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday.
The plight of the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking, which was denied entry by both Italy and Malta, is the latest in a string of migrant boat standoffs with Italian authorities.
The Open Arms rescue ship was allowed to land in Lampedusa on Wednesday, with 83 migrants disembarking, after Italian justice ordered they be brought ashore.
Many of them had spent 19 days on board the ship after being picked up while in difficulty in waters off Libya.
There were initially 147 mainly African migrants on the ship but all minors and some suffering health problems had already disembarked.
A European deal to redistribute them has yet to be implemented.