As U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched down in Pyongyang at 10:54 a.m. on Friday he had few details of his schedule in the North Korean capital — even which hotel he and his staff would stay in.
Not much was clear aside from lunch with counterpart Kim Yong Chol to start filling in the “nitty-gritty details’’ from the Singapore declaration signed between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea, according to his spokeswoman Heather Nauert. A handshake with Kim Jong Un, at least, seemed certain.
In the end, Pompeo stayed at neither of the hotels where he thought he’d be. The North Koreans took him, his staff and the six journalists traveling with the delegation to a gated guesthouse on the outskirts of the capital, just behind the mausoleum where the bodies of regime founder Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il lie embalmed and on occasional display.
It was the start of a confused visit of less than 30 hours, marked by a pair of lavish banquets that the secretary and his staff appeared to dread for their length and the daunting number of courses presented by unfailingly polite waiters. He only learned of his own schedule hours ahead of time, and the meeting with Kim Jong Un never happened — despite strenuous efforts from his staff
The trip reflects the difficulty for Pompeo in dealing with one of the world’s most reclusive and unpredictable regimes, which can shift from threats to warm words and back again at speed. It comes as pressure mounts on him to show progress on the delicate task of getting North Korea to move forward on nuclear disarmament, including the issue of verification, and make good on President Donald Trump’s claimed accomplishments from the Singapore summit.
Amid talk of goodwill and Trump’s repeated tweets of the bond he has developed with Kim, it was also a jarring reminder that North Korea’s approach may not have changed as much as U.S. officials — and Pompeo in particular — had hoped. The U.S. is seeking to persuade the world the North Koreans are genuinely prepared to give up the weapons they have developed in the face of years of false starts and broken promises to successive U.S. administrations.
From the moment Pompeo landed in Pyongyang, North Korean officials quickly asserted control. Kim Yong Chol set the optics during their first meeting, which took place around a long wooden table in one of the many conference rooms off the carpeted hallways of the guesthouse complex.
Normally, media handlers from the host country would let reporters witness the first 30 seconds or so of such a meeting. But Kim’s staff allowed reporters to stay for several minutes.
“The more you come, the more trust we can build between one another,” Kim said.
Pompeo, who has yet to gain a taste for such theater, murmured a few pleasantries but quickly lost patience and called on Nauert to usher all media — North Korean reporters included — from the room.
Between the many hours of talks, the North Koreans sought to put forward an image of bounty and wealth, an alternate reality in a country where much of the population lives in hunger, lacks electricity and has little to no access to the internet or foreign television.
In the guesthouse, each room had bowls of bananas, grapes, oranges and pears that were replenished whenever the occupant was out. The internet speed was fast in each room and the BBC played on flat-screen televisions. In a country laden with the iconography of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, there were no portraits of either man in the compound.
Still, the reminders were there. Guests could roam the grounds and walk a path that surrounded a lake, but were blocked from approaching workers erecting a building nearby. Guards watched surreptitiously from behind a stand of trees.
The lack of U.S. control clearly rankled Pompeo. A former military officer accustomed to short, focused meetings, he was made to sit through multi-course meals with Kim and his staff, as waiters brought plate after plate of food — foie gras, turkey, pea soup, boiled oak mushrooms, kimchi, watermelon and ice cream, plus a drink branded “American Cola.”
By the morning of his second day, Pompeo had enough. Instead of the elaborate breakfast prepared for him, he ate toast and slices of processed cheese.
Despite the lack of progress, the North Koreans showed a keen awareness of broader politics in the U.S. under Trump. On the way from the airport, riding in a Dodge Ram van, a minder was noncommittal about what the talks might bring.
“We’ll have to see, like your president says,” he said. He paused and added: “In this van, no fake news?”
The specifics of what happened behind closed doors remain unclear. Whether Pompeo somehow annoyed his counterpart, or pressed too hard, or whether the North Koreans are simply reverting to their hot-and-cold tactics, is hard to say. But the regime made sure to have the final word, and it was not pleasant.
As he was leaving, Pompeo told reporters the conversations were “productive and in good faith.” Hours later North Korean state media issued a statement that did not mention him by name but called the demands he presented “gangster-like.”
Days before the trip began, reporters traveling with Pompeo had to rush to get new passports with a special endorsement allowing entry to North Korea. In the end, authorities in Pyongyang never stamped them and the documents were returned unblemished. It was as if the secretary had never visited at all.
A senior defense official giving a background briefing to reporters on Sunday stated that the Trump administration will soon present North Korea with a “specific timeline” for denuclearization filled with “specific asks,” and will judge Pyongyang’s degree of “good faith” by how well the timeline is received.
“We’ll know pretty soon if they’re going to operate in good faith or not,” the anonymous official said, as recounted by Reuters. “There will be specific asks and there will be a specific timeline when we present the North Koreans with our concept of what implementation of the summit agreement looks like.”
Reuters implies the promise of “specific asks” was, to some degree, a response to criticisms that President Donald Trump has not made enough specific demands of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un yet, and most of the concessions offered by Kim to date have been symbolic gestures of little real cost to the North Korean regime.
The press briefing was held on Sunday in advance of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s trip to Asia, during which he will visit China, South Korea, and Japan. As he departed, Mattis confirmed that both the major Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill and two smaller training exercises with South Korea have been suspended, a gesture intended to keep negotiations with North Korea on track.
The timetable presented to North Korea will probably be quite aggressive, as Reuters notes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated major disarmament should be underway before the end of President Trump’s first term. Some analysts have said full and irreversible disarmament could take 15 years or more, so the Trump administration’s goal is presumably to complete solid initial steps that will demonstrate North Korea is truly committed to following that long path.
One of the goals Mattis outlined for his trip to China is ensuring Beijing will remain committed to enforcing strong sanctions against North Korea until denuclearization is achieved. China will almost certainly wish to reward North Korea with immediate sanctions relief if progress on denuclearization is made, so it will be important to ensure China understands and agrees with the timetable presented to Pyongyang.
Mattis will also push for more regional security cooperation from China by pointing out that the suspension of U.S. military exercises with South Korea satisfies a major Chinese strategic objective, which is the real reason China has insisted so strongly on its “freeze-for-freeze” plan that made suspension of American exercises a precondition for nuclear talks with North Korea.
WASHINGTON — In a book published just three months ago, Fred Fleitz, the recently appointed chief of staff of the White House National Security Council advocated the “limited use of military force” against North Korea, whose leader President Trump will meet in Singapore next week.
Fleitz also described the president’s top national security adviser, John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as believing the U.S. must “soon” use force against North Korea. It’s a stark contrast from the president’s optimism about the possible outcome of the summit with Kim Jong Un:
“There are some conservative experts who believe the North Korean government is so corrupt, malevolent and obsessed with taking over the South that it is pointless to negotiate with it. These experts include Ambassador John Bolton, who believes regime change is the only solution to the North Korean threat and that it is vital that the U.S. use force soon to end this regime before the costs of doing so and the risks to the U.S. homeland become unacceptable,” Fleitz wrote.
Kim’s family has led a brutal regime in the country since it was founded after World War II. America and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations and have technically been in a state of war since the outbreak of the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty. Tensions between the two nations have increased in recent years as North Korea made advances in its nuclear weapons program and threatened to attack the U.S.
The comments in Fleitz’s book are particularly noteworthy given both his position in the administration and his long association with Bolton. Fleitz, who has been described as a Bolton loyalist, was named as the NSC chief of staff and executive secretary late last month. When Bolton was an undersecretary of state under President George W. Bush, Fleitz was his chief of staff. Fleitz has also served as a CIA analyst, made frequent appearances on Fox News, and worked as a senior vice president at the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank notable for its strident warnings about Islamic expansionism. The Center for Security Policy published Fleitz’s book on North Korea.
In his description of Bolton’s position, Fleitz wrote that the national security adviser knows an American strike against North Korea could lead Kim to launch attacks on other countries in the region, including American allies South Korea and Japan, and, even potentially on the United States itself. Still, Fleitz said both Bolton and Trump think it’s worth the risk.
“Bolton concedes that attacking North Korea could result in deadly North Korean attacks against regional states, but he believes such attacks are inevitable if the world allows North Korea to complete its nuclear weapons and missile programs. President Trump has made statements suggesting that he also may hold this view,” Fleitz wrote.
Yahoo News contacted the White House to ask if the characterizations of Bolton’s positions in Fleitz’s book were accurate and whether the views he described reflect administration policy. National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis responded by simply saying Bolton and Trump are united in their approach.
“President Trump’s policy is Mr. Bolton’s policy. There is no daylight between them,” said Marquis.
Bolton was considered a hard-liner on North Korea and skeptical about the summit, which was briefly canceled before being reinstated. He was reportedly not going to attend the meeting, but top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday that he will be there. The White House did not respond to questions from Yahoo News about whether Fleitz will also be at the meeting with Trump and Kim.
While different officials and ideas rapidly fall in and out of favor in the White House, Fleitz’s book sheds light on what exactly Bolton and his allies could be pushing for on one of the most crucial foreign policy issues facing the Trump administration.
Fleitz also discussed one of the more controversial North Korea strategies that has been considered by the Trump administration — a so-called bloody nose strike. In February, there were multiple reports White House officials were clashing over whether or not to launch a limited strike against North Korea that would get the country to reconsider its nuclear weapons program. White House officials subsequently denied considering the idea. However, Fleitz said sources told him the plan was considered and remains on the table.
“Although the bloody nose strategy was supported by many conservatives, Trump officials began to deny its existence in mid-February 2018, probably in response to the negative publicity it received and concerns raised by South Korean officials. … The author is skeptical about those denials,” Fleitz wrote, adding, “This strategy is consistent with what President Trump told a senior foreign policy expert (relayed by this expert to the author) during a December 2017 meeting: that [former National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster] and [Secretary of Defense James Mattis] favored some kind of limited attack on North Korea. … Although some Trump officials … always opposed the bloody nose strategy, the author believes this was and continues to be a Trump administration policy option for dealing with North Korea.”
Fleitz shared his own views on North Korea in the book. He makes a lengthy indictment of President Obama’s North Korea policy, which he dismisses as “dithering” and “disinterest[ed].” The previous administration’s policies “significantly worsened the threat from the rogue state by giving it eight years to develop advanced missiles and nuclear weapons with almost no opposition from the U.S. and the international community,” he writes.
Fleitz also criticized South Korean President Moon Jae-in as “a liberal politician who favors a more conciliatory approach to North Korea.” The U.S. faces “difficulties” when “relying on South Korean President Moon,” he wrote.
The president was dealt a “bad hand” by Obama, Fleitz wrote, and praised Trump for making “the best of a difficult situation.” He argues that Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” that included stiff economic sanctions and threats of “fire and fury” was successful, encouraging North Korea to come to the negotiating table.
Fleitz suggested that, when it comes to North Korea, there are two major “sobering questions” facing Trump.
“Are there ways to use military force to contain or roll back North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs without sparking a war? What is the actual purpose of North Korea’s nuclear and missile efforts? Deterrence? Blackmail to extort concessions? Or as a means to one day force the reunification of the Korean Peninsula on Pyongyang’s terms?” asked Fleitz.
Fleitz was unambiguous in his answer to the latter question.
“My view is that North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs are offensive in nature, not a deterrent and not simply blackmail tools,” Fleitz wrote.
Rather than a tool to extract foreign aid, Fleitz said he viewed the weapons as an arsenal North Korea “will one day use to force the reunification of the Korean Peninsula on its terms and expel American forces from the region.”
On the question of whether America can use force to deter North Korea’s nuclear program without sparking a catastrophic conflict, Fleitz offered a more nuanced answer. In the end, he recommended what he described as “limited” military action.
According to Fleitz, “before the U.S. considers military action, every option short of war must be fully explored and exhausted.” But, somewhat contradictorily, he repeatedly dismissed the idea negotiations would yield meaningful results.
“The Kim family’s 70-year legacy of tyranny, belligerence, corruption and criminality, coupled with its iron grip on power controlling North Korea makes negotiating a meaningful nuclear agreement with the Kim regime difficult, if not impossible,” wrote Fleitz.
The likely outcome of negotiations, he wrote, is “cutbacks or halts in its missile and nuclear programs that Pyongyang has no intention of implementing.” For Fleitz, anything short of full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula “amounts to appeasement.” He described overtures North Korea made during the Winter Olympics, which were held in South Korea earlier this year, as “a propaganda ploy and a charade.”
“If diplomacy and sanctions fail … my recommendation is that President Trump consider carefully calibrated, limited use of military force to change the dynamics of the North Korea situation and compel it to negotiate the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Fleitz wrote. “This limited use of force could include declaring a missile no-fly zone over North Korea, shooting down any missiles Pyongyang tests, a naval blockade and stopping and searching North Korea ships for WMD-related cargo.”
While he said Bolton hopes to see “regime change” in North Korea, Fleitz did not directly state his own view on that possibility. But he noted “many experts believe the only real solution to the threat from North Korea’s nuclear program is regime change.” Fleitz also discussed “the idea of letting China take out the Kim regime or invade North Korea.” He described the prospect of war as a “horrifying thought given the massive loss of life that would occur if North Korea was to attack South Korea, especially Seoul, with its huge artillery arsenal, missiles, chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear weapons.”
“A major outbreak in hostilities could also include North Korea attacking U.S. bases in the region and Japan,” Fleitz added.
If anything, Fleitz is more pessimistic about North Korea’s ability to retaliate than other experts. Due to the reclusive nature of the Kim regime, it’s difficult to verify the extent of North Korea’s weapons program. However, Fleitz seems to take the view that the country will be imminently capable of striking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. He cited one estimate that “a military conflict with North Korea by 2020 could result in 8 million dead in North and South Korea, Japan and the U.S., due to North Korean nuclear strikes against Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland.”
Fleitz’s recommendation of “limited” military action is based on a belief that it “hopefully” would not spark a counterattack against the U.S. or even South Korea. He predicted carefully calibrated measures would “change the policy assumptions of North Korea’s leadership by demonstrating that America now has a decisive president who will use — and will escalate — military force to protect the security of the United States and its allies.” Fleitz acknowledged that “the U.S. cannot be sure whether limited military action would result in North Korean retaliation and escalation.” Still, Fleitz argued that “limited military action is a risk worth taking” to avoid a future war with a nuclear North Korea.
Victor Cha is a policy expert on North Korea who was Trump’s original pick to be ambassador to South Korea. The White House did not submit his nomination after he expressed opposition to a potential bloody nose strike. In a phone conversation with Yahoo News, Cha said he believes Fleitz’s description of Bolton’s views is accurate and said he was “not surprised” to hear it, given some of the national security adviser’s past statements. Cha noted the more hawkish approach to North Korea “was sort of where we were in 2017,” before Kim’s Olympic overtures and the plans for talks with Trump.
“I think if this summit fails spectacularly we could end up going back to those sorts of things,” Cha said.
While Cha doubted that Bolton supported the summit, he said the national security adviser was unlikely to oppose Trump’s wishes.
“Bolton is a smart man,” Cha said, adding, “He knows that if the president wants to do a meeting he’s not going to get in the way.”
In the meantime, Cha predicted Bolton’s “influence will be felt” mainly through the national security adviser resisting attempts to “lift the sanctions too early.”
And if the meetings with Kim don’t reach a successful conclusion does Cha see Bolton and his team pushing for a military solution in North Korea?
“I don’t know. I mean I just don’t know,” Cha said. “It’s impossible to say.”
When President Donald Trump canceled the projected June 12 meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on May 24, he seemed to have stepped out of the classic diplomatic trap into which it seemed he had fallen. But by May 27 he seemed to step right back in it. Regardless of how this venture turns out, understanding this trap, and how North Korea has used it, is essential.
Any government subject to public opinion that commits to a negotiation with an authoritarian one with any degree of optimism thereby certifies the other party’s legitimacy and raises expectations among its own people. It acquires an interest in protecting its own judgment about the other party’s legitimacy and intentions. Hence, it becomes vulnerable to the other’s pressure to make concessions to keep the negotiations going lest their failure impeach that judgment and those who made it. By paying for continuing negotiations with unrequited concessions, the democratic side becomes complicit in creating illusions of progress. Falling into such traps is a hallmark of the US foreign policy establishment, whose representatives were Trump’s principal counselors at the time he committed to the meeting.
It is of scarce relevance whether Trump canceled the summit because he realized that agreeing to it had been a mistake, or because Mike Pompeo had replaced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and John Bolton Replaced H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, or whether he withdrew from the meeting and then resumed interest in it as a negotiating ploy. Regardless of reasons, Trump stepped into a diplomatic trap that is anything but a novelty.
Rather, Kim’s trap (more below about the 2018 version’s peculiarities) is a variation of North Korea’s standard approach to America, practiced successfully time and again since 1985, which must be seen in the larger context of US foreign relations in Asia. The focus of these relations is China – not North Korea.
It has ever been so. In 1950-53, North Korea was not the problem – and insofar as it was, it was dealt with quickly. What caused America’s preponderant military force to produce stalemate and armistice in Korea was discord among American policymakers – specifically within the Democratic Party – about China (and the Soviet Union). This discord, thereafter ingrained in the US foreign policy establishment, eventually made it possible for today’s North Korean regime to threaten America with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
Today as ever, North Korea is what it is and does what it does because China makes it possible. China has gained is gaining, and expects to gain more from what North Korea has done and is doing.
Today as in 1950, the main objective of China’s foreign policy is to remove US political-military influence from the Western Pacific. The northern sector of that policy has two components that exist in tension with one another, which North Korea serves as a pawn. 1) The Kim regime, by showing that the US cannot protect itself or anybody else from North Korea’s missiles and nukes, makes it possible for China to present itself to South Korea and Japan as the only party capable of protecting them. 2) North Korea’s existence as a Damocles’ sword over peaceful, prosperous South Korea lets China present itself to South Koreans as the only force capable of realizing their fondest hopes for “sunshine,” peace, and reunification. China only asks South Korea to shed its military alliance with the US and Japan and points to its own excellent commercial relations with America. This foreign policy is founded on fear. But China knows that fear can be over-done. Were Japan – and South Korea as well – frightened enough of Kim, they might choose to protect themselves with their own nukes rather than trust China. Hence the tension, and China’s need to modulate the Kim regime’s bellicosity.
By the same token, China must tread carefully in its strong, fundamental opposition to Japan’s and South Korea’s acquisition of better anti-missile devices. China presents that opposition as being strict to American missile defense. But the Japanese don’t buy that at all. Nor is that claim inherently credible to South Koreans.
That is why China’s strategy is best served by the Kim regime’s policy of luring Americans into endless negotiations that continue to sap their alliances with Japan and South Korea.
“As everybody is aware,” President Trump tweeted back on May 2 ,“the past administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!” Those who stayed tuned got the news from the president’s tweet Wednesday.
“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.”
North Korea released Kim Dong-chul, 64, who owned a business in Rason, a special economic zone of North Korea. The Communist regime arrested the businessman in October 2015 and sentenced him to 10 years in prison on charges of espionage and subversion.
Tony Kim, 59, was arrested during a month-long assignment as a guest lecturer at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). In April, 2017, as he awaited to board a flight, Kim was arrested for “committing criminal acts of hostility” aimed to overthrow North Korea.
Agricultural consultant Kim Hak-song, who also taught at PUST, was detained about the same time. The regime provided no details of the charges, which to all but the willfully blind were bogus.
The previous administration, by contrast, did not secure the release of Kim Dong-chul and failed to gain a summit with Kim Jong-un. Trump took a tougher approach, at one point making it clear that if “Rocket Man,” continued to lob missiles in our direction, he would essentially incinerate North Korea and even deployed forces ready to take care of business.
By all indications, that was why Trump gained the meeting with Kim Jong-un and the hereditary Stalinist regime released Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-song. These were not the first releases Trump had achieved.
Last June, North Korea released Otto Warmbier, sentenced to 15 years hard labor for taking a political banner from a Pyongyang hotel. On his return, Warmbier, 22, was awake but unresponsive and doctors said he had suffered loss of brain tissue. Shortly after his return the American slipped into a coma and died.
The president also secured the release of Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle from the Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban. They had been abducted in 2012 and moved to Pakistan, Trump told Pakistan if they didn’t rescue them, the United States would do so directly. Pakistan duly complied.
The Trump administration blocked the extradition of former CIA agent Sabrina De Sousa, who had been tortured in Egypt. The president also played a role in the release of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi.
UCLA basketball players LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were accused of stealing sunglasses from a store in Hangzhou, China. President Trump had a word with Zi Jinping and China duly released the trio. “Be careful,” Trump tweeted, “there are many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!”
Most Americans doubtless welcome the return of Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-song. On the other hand, many may remain unaware of key back stories.
For the American left, the guidebook on Korea is The Hidden History of the Korean War, which charges that the South Korea invaded North Korea, a reversal of reality and the official Soviet position of the time. The left still venerates author I.F. Stone as an independent journalist, but as John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vasiliev showed in Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, Stone was in fact a Soviet propagandist who took money from the KGB.
Stalinist regimes, meanwhile, hold no monopoly on taking Americans hostage. On November 4, 1979, Iranian “students” invaded the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, took more than 60 American hostages and held them for 444 days. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini freed the hostages on January 21, 1981, the first day of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Ronald Reagan wasn’t at all like president Jimmy Carter. President Trump isn’t much like POTUS 44. So let freedom ring.
I had productive meetings in Pyongyang with Chairman Kim Jong-un and made progress. I'm delighted to bring home three Americans.
In a totally unexpected development, the defection of a high-level North Korean official has caught both North Korea and the U.S. by surprise days before the yet-to-be-scheduled meeting between President Donald Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un.
Its impact on negotiations to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program remains to be seen.
If Pyongyang delays, it may well be due to an advantage Trump will have gained beforehand. If so, the advantage will be eerily similar to one President John F. Kennedy attained over the Soviets during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis negotiations.
Tipped off earlier by a spy working for the U.S. in Moscow that the Soviets were deploying nuclear missiles to Cuba, U.S. Navy ships began patrolling the waters off the island, preparing to intercept additional Soviet vessels en route to bring missiles to the island nation. As Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart, Premier Nikita Khrushchev, stared eyeball-to-eyeball in a game of nuclear poker, the world appeared to be on the brink of war.
But if Kennedy were to force Khrushchev to blink first, he needed to know what cards the Soviet leader was holding. Kennedy needed to know if the missiles photographed on launchers were operational and guidance systems functioning.
For this critical intelligence, Kennedy turned to his spy in Moscow, who was not an American but a colonel in the Soviet military intelligence (GRU): Oleg Penkovsky. Getting the intelligence back to Washington in a timely manner, however, risked Penkovsky’s identity being uncovered.
Knowing the risk, Penkovsky sent Kennedy the answers he needed. Now knowing the missiles were not operational, the President could demand Khrushchev remove them. Kennedy negotiated a quid-pro-quo with the Soviets (removing missiles in Turkey) so they would not lose total face. Later, however, the Soviets were able to determine Penkovsky’s identity, for which he was brutally executed. The means of execution, if true, only underscores the inhumanity of which humanity is capable. Tied down on a slab, he was allegedly slowly inserted into a raging furnace fire, feet first to draw out the pain. The execution was witnessed by others to get the message out as to the fate awaiting traitors. While an unsung hero of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Penkovsky ultimately paid a heavy personal price helping to avoid nuclear war.
This brings us to what recently happened in North Korea. Kim Jong-un received the unpleasant news in February that a high-ranking official had defected, not only taking with him a large amount of cash but, more importantly, a treasure trove of nuclear secrets. He apparently fled to England but could be anywhere in Europe or, even possibly, the U.S. Undoubtedly, the documents he had with him are eagerly being translated and shared with U.S. intelligence agencies. Kim Jong-un knows whatever the documents contain will give Trump an advantage as far as what demands to make of Kim at the talks.
The defector, only identified as “Mr. Kang,” is believed to be a colonel and senior counter-espionage official. He defected while in China, disappearing on February 25th from a facility operated by both the North Korean and Chinese governments, reportedly serving as an office for the former’s hackers working in China. It is said Kang was responsible for getting information for the North’s nuclear program to scientists.
Kang must not have had much concern about getting caught as he also is said to have taken with him a counterfeit machine used to print U.S. currency.
Based on Kang’s knowledge alone and, thus, the intelligence he could provide the U.S. and its allies, Kim, reportedly, has dispatched a ten-man hit squad to locate and execute Kang. It is an act Kim has no reluctance to do as evidenced by the execution he is believed to have ordered last year of his half-brother while he was in an airport terminal in Malaysia.
The hit squad, undoubtedly, has motivation to be successful as their failure would probably result in their own execution upon returning to North Korea.
While there are some espionage similarities between the Cuban Missile Crisis and this incident, there is one major difference concerning the motivation of the two colonels involved. Colonel Penkovsky’s motivation was ideological in nature; Colonel Kang’s is believed to be financially-driven. Apparently, evidence was discovered in North Korea that Kang had been taking money while out of the country. Rather than return home to plea for his life, he opted to go rogue, leaving his family behind. Unfortunately, it is they from whom a heavy price will undoubtedly be extracted.
Defections are somewhat common in North Korea, a sufficient number over the past few decades probably to populate a small country. It is estimated there have been about 30,000 defections. But those by high-level officials, who enjoy living the high life of the elites, are rare.
Kang’s defection offers us a great opportunity to learn much more about North Korea’s nuclear program. Coming on the heels of Israel’s release of over 100,000 pages on Iran’s secret nuclear arms program it surreptitiously smuggled out of that country, both caches of documents should prove most illuminating – not only about their own individual programs but about their contributory efforts to arm two members of the Axis of Evil with nuclear weapons.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.
At their historic summit meeting in Panmunjom on Friday, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced they would work for the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” and formally end the Korean War after 55 years.
“The two leaders declare before our people of 80 million and the entire world there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula and a new age of peace has begun,” said the summit declaration.
North and South Korea cannot unilaterally end the Korean War on their own, as China and the United States must also sign the peace treaty. The summit led to a commitment from both Korean governments that they would begin working with Washington and Beijing this year to formally end the war.
Seoul and Pyongyang also agreed to hold more high-level talks and bilateral events, establish a joint liaison office in the Kaesong industrial zone, jointly participate in international sporting events such as the 2018 Asian Games, work on reuniting families separated by the Korean War, and resume joint economic projects that were canceled when inter-Korea relations soured.
Another significant development is that both sides agreed to stop throwing propaganda at each other across the Demilitarized Zone – South Korea uses loudspeakers, while North Korea favors printed leaflets – and establish a “peace zone” along their maritime border to ensure the safety of fishermen.
The American and Chinese governments both welcomed the Korean declaration. Naturally, President Donald Trump did so on Twitter:
KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States, and all of its GREAT people, should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!
Please do not forget the great help that my good friend, President Xi of China, has given to the United States, particularly at the Border of North Korea. Without him it would have been a much longer, tougher, process!
China’s congratulations were delivered in a more formal style by the Foreign Ministry, as quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap news service:
Today, the leaders of South and North Korea held their summit successfully. (They) announced a joint declaration on their common understanding of inter-Korean relations, easing military tension on the Korean Peninsula, denuclearizing the peninsula and a permanent peace. The positive outcome of the summit is helpful for inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation, peace and stability on the peninsula and the political resolution of Korean Peninsula issues.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised the summit agreements as “positive news,” but injected a note of skepticism into his congratulations, stating that his government will “keep watching North Korea.” He suggested he would withhold final judgment until he speaks with President Moon directly.
“Japan will compare the latest declaration to the previous ones and respond according to the analysis. Japan will solidly unite with South Korea and the United States, as well as with China and Russia, for the resolution of abduction, nuclear and missile issues,” said Abe.
The summit agreements are, at the moment, primarily symbolic in nature, but the symbolism is powerful. Observers around the world marveled at surreal photos and videos of Kim Jong-un walking onto South Korean soil and shaking hands with Moon.
“It was a very courageous decision for you to come all the way here,” Moon told Kim.
Kim then broke from the tightly scripted ceremony to invite Moon to walk back across the border with him. “Maybe this is the right time for you to enter North Korean territory,” he said.
Moon accepted the offer, so Friday saw the leaders of both nations walking on each others’ territory for the first time since the armistice in 1953.
Moon later announced that he will visit Pyongyang this fall, and expressed a desire to visit historic Mount Paektu near the Chinese border.
“Wow, if you invite me to the Blue House I am willing to go to the Blue House anytime,” Kim said after Moon broached the possibility of a visit to the presidential house in Seoul.
Kim poured on the charm with a number of little jokes during the summit, such as his humorously-phrased promise to discontinue the provocative early-morning missile tests that brought the Korean peninsula to the brink of war: “President Moon, I heard you didn’t sleep very well because you had to take part in a National Security Council meeting, and you have habitually been waking up very early … I will make sure I won’t interrupt your morning sleep anymore.”
Of course, it will take more than a few symbolic gestures and witty remarks at a summit meeting to ease the tensions North Korea has created. It should be noted that the South Korean opposition was strongly critical of the summit, calling it a “show camouflaged as peace” where Moon “wrote down the words Kim called out.” Opposition leaders also criticized Moon for committing to bilateral denuclearization instead of insisting on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.
While President Moon stressed the importance of the two Korean governments leading the way in resolving their differences, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told CNN on Friday that her government appreciates President Trump’s role in advancing the peace process, or “stepping on the accelerator,” as she put it.
“Clearly, credit goes to President Trump. He’s been determined to come to grips with this from day one,” she said.
The ball is once again in President Trump’s court, as his own summit meeting with Kim Jong-un is tentatively scheduled for May or June, with the date and venue yet to be determined.
“It could be that I walk out quickly – with respect, but it could be. It could be that maybe the meeting doesn’t even take place. Who knows? But I can tell you right now they want to meet,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday.