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

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

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.


Britain tightens borders to keep out new COVID-19 variants

Britain tightens borders to keep out new COVID-19 variants
Updated 15 January 2021

Britain tightens borders to keep out new COVID-19 variants

Britain tightens borders to keep out new COVID-19 variants
  • Johnson is grappling to control a third wave of the virus and prevent the health service from collapse
  • The rule changes come into force at 0400 GMT on Monday

LONDON: Britain is tightening border controls to block new variants of COVID-19, suspending all “travel corridor” arrangements that had meant arrivals from some countries did not require quarantine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is grappling to control a third wave of the virus and prevent the health service from collapse while also racing to vaccinate millions each week.
“What we don’t want to see is all that hard work undone by the arrival of a new variant that is vaccine-busting,” he told a news conference, explaining the end of travel corridors at least until Feb. 15.
The rule changes come into force at 0400 GMT on Monday and mean all passengers must have a recent negative coronavirus test and transfer immediately into isolation upon arrival.
Isolation lasts for 10 days, unless the passenger tests negative after five.
On Thursday, Britain banned arrivals from South America, Portugal and some other countries over fears about a variant detected in Brazil.
Britain’s current lockdowns ban most international travel meaning that airline schedules are currently minimal, but the withdrawal of any quarantine-free travel will be a further blow for an industry already on its knees.
UK-based airline easyJet said there was no immediate impact from Johnson’s announcement, but in a statement added: “We need to ensure that travel corridors are put back in place when it is safe to do so.”
Britain has already felt the effects of mutations in the virus, after a variant first discovered in England has proved to be more transmissible.
Critics say the government has been too slow to act and previously left borders wide open.
Much of the criticism prior to Friday’s announcement has focused on whether rules requiring arriving passengers to quarantine are actually being enforced, with anecdotal evidence that few checks are made.
“We will be stepping up our enforcement, both at the border and in country,” Johnson said.