Egypt cuts military ties with North Korea, report says

Egypt’s defence minister, on a visit to Seoul, announced that his country has cut military ties with North Korea, according to a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Egyptian government of the agency’s report, but Cairo has come under mounting pressure in recent weeks to sever ties with North Korea as the United States seek to curb Pyongyang’s efforts to develop long-range nuclear weapons.

Last month Washington cut or delayed nearly $300 million in aid to Egypt over its human rights record and its ties with Pyongyang.

In an Aug. 24 briefing, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the Trump administration has had conversations with Egypt about the need to isolate North Korea.

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Countries that do business with Pyongyang, she warned, enabled money to go into North Korea’s illegal nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.

Mohammed el-Menshawy, an Egyptian analyst based in Washington, told The Associated Press the Trump administration has been privately urging Cairo to cut military ties with Pyongyang.

“The recent cut in the U.S. military aid to Egypt was a clear message to Cairo: You choose us or North Korea, you cannot have military relations with both of us,” he said. “Cairo got the message and it cut ties with North Korea.”

Yonhap’s report late Monday quoted the South Korean Defence Ministry as saying Egyptian Defence Minister Sidki Sobhi told his South Korean counterpart that Cairo had “already severed all military ties with North Korea.”

“Egypt will actively co-operate with South Korea against North Korea acts that threaten peace,” the agency quoted Sobhi as saying.

Yonhap said Sobhi was responding to a request from South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo for Egypt to join efforts to toughen sanctions on the North over its recent ballistic missile and nuclear tests.

In Cairo, Egypt’s military spokesman Col. Tamer el-Rifai would only say that Sobhi discussed military and security co-operation with South Korean officials. He declined to elaborate.

Several Egyptian news websites posted Sobhi’s comments only to remove them later. The daily El-Masry El-Youm published his comments in the first run of its print edition, but removed them in later ones.

Egypt has for decades maintained close ties with North Korea, with the secretive nation selling weapons to Egypt and upgrading its arsenal of medium-range, ground-to-ground missiles.

A 2015 UN report said North Korean front companies and shipping agents engaged in weapons smuggling have called on Egypt’s Mediterranean city of Port Said, which also sits on the northern end of the Suez Canal.

In February, UN investigators said they acquired evidence of North Korean trade in “hitherto unreported items such as encrypted military communications, man-portable air defence systems, air defence systems and satellite-guided missiles” in the Middle East and Africa, among other locations.

They said Egypt intercepted a vessel in August 2016 commanded by a North Korean captain carrying 30,000 PG-7 rocket-propelled grenades and related subcomponents. They were in wooden crates concealed under about 2,300 tons of limonite.

Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian business tycoon who owns a telecom and media company, helped set up North Korea’s main cellular telephone network in 2008. The company’s total investment in the communist nation stands at $500 million, according the website of Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

(by the Star.com)

North Korean hackers targeting bitcoins to fund Kim Jong Un, report says

North Korean hackers are reportedly targeting cryptocurrency exchanges in South Korea in an attempt to funnel money to Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship, after a new wave of United Nations sanctions threatens to choke the rogue regime’s cash flow.

Hackers linked to North Korea have stolen bitcoins from at least three South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges since May 2017, security firm FireEye revealed in a Monday report. As Pyongyang faces export and trade limitations — due to sanctions such as those approved by the U.N. Security Council on Monday — North Korean hackers are showing more interest in increasing bitcoin attacks.

“Now, we may be witnessing a second wave of this campaign: state-sponsored actors seeking to steal bitcoin and other virtual currencies as a means of evading sanctions and obtaining hard currencies to fund the regime,” the report stated.

Cryptocurrency attacks by North Korea were first detected in 2016, when observers noticed Pyongyang utilizing traditional cyber-spying techniques in an effort to steal millions in virtual currency. In April, four wallets on South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Yapizon were compromised, though FireEye noted it could not find a direct link to North Korea involvement in that incident. Yapizon announced in May it was hacked, losing 3,816 bitcoins – about $5.3 million – on April 22. The company did not disclose who it believed to be the culprit.

FireEye noted North Korean hackers were suspected of targeting cryptocurrency service providers in South Korea in early June. Spearphishing – fake emails – against South Korean exchanges were also uncovered in May and July.

Bitcoin value has increased more than 400 percent since the start of 2017. Cryptocurrencies lack state control and are secretive, giving North Korea the ability to launder money without being detected.

“As the regulatory environment around cryptocurrencies is still emerging, some exchanges in different jurisdictions may have lax anti-money laundering controls easing this process and [making] the exchanges an attractive tactic for anyone seeking hard currency,” the report said.

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North Korean hackers have been linked to malware found in South Korean ATMs, the Wall Street Journal reported. Using stolen bank information, the regime is then able to move cryptocurrency out of online wallets and cash out the money into U.S., South Korean or Chinese currency, the report stated. The hackers can also convert bitcoins to more ambiguous cryptocurrencies to make them tough to trace.

The secretive regime may now be prepared to amplify the bitcoin hacking after the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved new sanctions against North Korea, capping crude oil imports and banning natural gas liquids and condensates. China and Russia agreed to the watered-down version of the resolution after Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the “useless” sanctions and refused to support banning all oil imports to North Korea.

“This resolution sends a very clear message to North Korea that the Security Council is united in condemning North Korea’s violations and demanding North Korea give up its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” the U.S. mission to the U.N. said after the vote.

The sanctions may damage North Korea’s economy. North Korea said before the sanctions were approved the the U.S. would face “pain and suffering” and Pyongyang was “ready and willing” to retaliate if the vote passed. The dictatorship launched its sixth nuclear test earlier this month, testing what it said was a hydrogen bomb. Global leaders also fear another intercontinental ballistic missile test could be conducted in the near future.

(by Fox News)

North Korea “categorically” rejects new U.N. sanctions

North Korea will be feeling the pain of new United Nations sanctions targeting some of its biggest remaining foreign revenue streams. But the Security Council eased off the biggest target of all: the oil the North needs to stay alive, and to fuel its million-man military.

Though the United States had proposed a complete ban, the sanctions by the U.N. Security Council to punish North Korea for its sixth nuclear test cap Pyongyang’s annual imports of crude oil at the same level they have been for the past 12 months: an estimated 4 million barrels. Exports of North Korean textiles are prohibited, and other nations are barred from authorizing new work permits for North Korean workers, putting a squeeze on two key sources of hard currency.

The measures were approved unanimously Monday.

The measures to punish Pyongyang for its Sept. 3 nuclear test also ban the country from importing natural gas liquids and condensates, and limit the import of refined petroleum products to 2 million barrels a year.

That could be a significant restriction.

According to Chinese customs data, North Korea imports nearly 2.2 million barrels a year in petroleum products, but some U.S. officials believe the true number is much higher: about 4.5 million barrels. So the 2 million barrel cap could be cutting existing imports 10 percent, or slashing them by more than half.

But how much impact the oil and fuel component of the sanctions will actually have – even if strictly enforced, which is always a concern – is an open question.

David von Hippel, an energy expert with the Nautilus Institute think tank who has done extensive research on North Korea, said he doubts that oil sanctions will hit the regime very hard.

“The textile sanctions actually might have more impact, as they are probably a good source of value-added income – value added by people you don’t have to pay much – for the regime,” he said. “But I’m not sure that they will really have much effect on the nuclear weapons and missile programs, given the priority that those initiatives must have for the DPRK leadership.”

DPRK is short for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Von Hippel co-authored a report for Nautilus earlier this month that found even a major reduction in Chinese oil exports to North Korea would likely have only a muted impact on military activities because Pyongyang can safely be assumed to have significant stockpiles of oil. The report estimated North Korea may have enough in reserve to supply its military for a year of normal operations or a month at a wartime pace.

There have been signs, including reduced supply and skyrocketing prices, that North Korea has already started diverting oil products away from gas stations and other consumer outlets.

Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist for IHS Markit, also said he expects that Pyongyang can weather the import reduction.

“The new U.N. sanctions on oil exports to North Korea are relatively moderate in scope compared to the original U.S. proposal regarding oil exports, and would be unlikely to have much impact on the operations of the North Korean military,” he said.

Biswas noted, however, that the situation with China remains both crucial and complicated.

Chinese gasoline exports to the North fell sharply – to just 120 tons in July, compared to 8,262 tons in June – following a decision by China’s state-owned oil company, China National Petroleum Corporation, to cut sales due to concerns that North Korea is too high a credit risk. At the same time, however, Chinese exports of diesel to North Korea increased from 367 tons in June to 1,162 tons in July.

One metric ton is roughly equal to roughly seven barrels of crude oil.

“The North Korean regime is still getting some fuel supplies from China, which can keep its most essential operations functioning,” he said.

(by CBS News)

U.N. agrees to toughest-ever sanctions against North Korea

The U.N. Security Council on Monday agreed on its toughest-ever sanctions against North Korea that passed unanimously after the United States softened its initial demands to win support from China and Russia.

The sanctions set limits on North Korea’s oil imports and banned its textile exports in an effort to deprive the reclusive nation of the income it needs to maintain its nuclear and ballistic missile program and increase the pressure to negotiate a way out of punishing sanctions.

“Today, we are attempting to take the future of the North Korean nuclear program out of the hands of its outlaw regime,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

[Why haven’t sanctions on North Korea worked? Two very different theories.]

“Today, we are saying the world will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea,” she added. “And today the Security Council is saying if North Korea does not halt its nuclear program, we will act to stop it ourselves.”

The new sanctions come on top of previous ones that cut into North Korea’s exports of coal, iron ore and seafood. Haley said that more than 90 percent of North Korea’s reported exports are now fully banned by sanctions.

The new sanctions ratchet up the pressure on North Korea, though they are far less sweeping than what Washington originally sought after Pyongyang carried out its sixth and most potent nuclear test Sept. 3. But the United States agreed to drop several key demands, and toned down others, to keep China and Russia from exercising their veto over the measure.

Just a week ago, Haley urged the “strongest possible” sanctions on North Korea. Among the measures Washington pushed in an initial draft were a complete oil embargo and an asset freeze and global travel ban on leader Kim Jong Un. During negotiations last week and through the weekend, the embargo became a cap, and the punitive measures against the leader were dropped.

Though toned down, the sanctions are potentially far-reaching in their ability to shave as much as $1.3 billion from North Korea’s revenue.

Under the Security Council resolution, imports of both refined and crude oil will be capped at 8.5 million barrels a year, which Haley said represents a 30 percent cut. Natural gas and condensates also were prohibited to close off possible alternative fuels. In addition, textiles, which last year accounted for $726 million, representing more than a quarter of North Korea’s export income, are banned.

In an effort to curb smuggling, the resolution allows countries to demand the inspection of ships suspected of carrying North Korean goods, though a U.S. proposal to allow the ships to be challenged with military force was dropped. But ships proven to be abetting Pyongyang’s efforts to evade sanctions are subject to an asset freeze and may be barred from sailing into ports.

And in a separate measure that will not take effect immediately, countries will be required not to renew contracts for an estimated 93,000 North Korean guest workers who labor overseas. According to U.S. assessments, their salaries bring the North Korean government $500 million a year.

In her remarks at the Security Council, Haley evoked the lessons of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 16 years ago.

“That day, the United States saw that mass murder can come from a clear blue sky on a beautiful Tuesday morning,” she said. “But today, the threat to the United States and the world is not coming out of the blue. The North Korean regime has demonstrated that it will not act on its own to end its nuclear program. The civilized world must do what the regime refuses to do. We must stop its march toward a nuclear arsenal with the ability to deliver it anywhere in the world.”

Haley said the United States is not seeking war with North Korea, which she said had “not yet passed the point of no return.”

“If it agrees to stop its nuclear program, it can reclaim its future,” she said. “If it proves it can live in peace, the world will live in peace with it.”

In recent days, the United States and its allies spent the past several days trying to come up with a resolution that would be acceptable to Moscow and Beijing.

Chinese analysts believe the country will continue to take an incremental approach.

It’s not that Beijing is not angry with Kim — it is. But Beijing worries that instability in North Korea will hurt Chinese interests.

Recent weapons tests have literally shaken Chinese border areas, and residents worry about nuclear fallout. Chinese authorities worry conflict could send North Korean refugees streaming across the border or bring U.S. troops closer to their door.

“Beijing has multiple, complex strategic considerations,” said Michael Kovrig, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group. “It wants to send a message to Kim Jong Un that his nuclear program is unacceptable and to punish bad behavior, but it does not want to trigger North Korea’s collapse or turn its neighbor into a permanent enemy.”

Crude oil supply is vital to North Korea, particularly its military. A complete cutoff could be perceived in Pyongyang as an existential threat to the regime, Kovrig said. So China needs to seriously consider the chaos — political and otherwise — that could ensue.

And the timing is key. “Once China employs its economic leverage, it loses it as a further bargaining tool,” Kovrig said. “That’s why in the past, China has tried to calibrate sanctions to ‘punish but not strangle’ North Korea.”

Haley praised Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying the Security Council resolution would not have happened without the relationship between Xi and President Trump.

Russia, itself the subject of sanctions over Ukraine, has called sanctions against Moscow “illegal.” Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasilly Nebenzia, said Moscow believes it would be “wrong” to allow North Korea’s nuclear test to go unanswered. But he criticized the United States for not assuring Pyongyang that Washington does not seek war or regime change.

“We’re convinced that diverting the menace posed by North Korea could be done not by more sanctions but by political means,” he said.

In Pyongyang, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Monday issued a statement warning the United States will pay a “due price” if it pursues stronger sanctions.

“The forthcoming measures to be taken by the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will cause the U.S. the greatest pain and suffering it had ever gone through in its entire history,” according to the statement released by the Korean Central News Agency.

(by Washingtontimes)

What to know: UN Security Council set to vote Monday on more North Korea sanctions

North Korea’s September 3 nuclear test was the country’s largest and prompted global outrage. The US is calling for an oil embargo on Pyongyang and assets freeze on leader Kim Jong-un.

What, when and where

■ The UN Security Council is set to vote on Monday afternoon (New York time) on a US-drafted resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea. Last Tuesday, the US circulated a draft resolution proposing a ban on all oil and natural gas exports to the country and a freeze on all foreign financial assets of the government and its leader, Kim Jong-un.

Previous UN sanctions resolutions have been negotiated between the United States and China, and have taken weeks or months. But the Trump administration is demanding a vote in six days.

On Sunday, the United States circulated a revised draft resolution among its Security Council partners, according to diplomats. The new draft, while slightly less tough than the original, includes a “progressive” oil embargo on North Korea, diplomats said.

China and Russia

■ It was not clear whether veto-holding China and Russia would support the vote. A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently expressed doubt over whether sanctions are an effective means of getting the North to stop its missile and nuclear testing, and China, harbouring similar concerns, has repeatedly hesitated in the past to fully support US sanction plans.

In China’s eyes, Kim won’t give up his nuclear arsenal even if Beijing shuts off its oil supply, despite the economic pain that could cause. That’s because his weapons programme gives him a deterrent against the US, which North Korea frequently says wants to attack.

China has sought to play a mediating role, backing progressively tougher sanctions like a ban on coal exports while proposing that both sides freeze hostilities and return to talks. Those actions, regularly dismissed as insufficient by Trump’s administration

North Korea’s oil

■ According to a recent study by the Nautilus Institute think tank, a massive cutback in the flow of oil from China would definitely hurt the North Korean economy, and especially average citizens. But the report said the impact would likely be blunted on the military, which probably has enough fuel stockpiled to continue normal operations for the immediate future.

North Korea reaction

■ Since coming to power in late 2011, Kim has detonated four nuclear devices, testfired about 90 missiles including two intercontinental ballistic missiles, executed his uncle and murdered his brother, both of whom were seen as close to China.

North Korea has warned that the United States will pay a “due price” and experience the “greatest pain and suffering” if it pushes for new and tighter UN sanctions.

“The world will witness how the DPRK tames the US gangsters by taking series of action tougher than they have ever envisaged,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

(by South China Morning Post)

Why won’t the U.S. use its full sanction power against North Korea?

North Korea isn’t stopping. Whether the powerful nuclear device it detonated Sunday really is compatible with an intercontinental ballistic missile matters far less than the fact that the Kim Jong Un regime now stands on the verge of nuclear breakout. Simply put, Kim is ever closer to being able to kill millions of people outside North Korea, not least Americans.

Which is precisely the message behind Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests — with more threatened for as early as this weekend — and Kim’s bluster barrage over the last several months.

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Kim is driven by a systemic need to overturn the unfavorable equation on the Korean peninsula: The backward totalitarian North versus a prosperous and pleasant South. South Korea’s mere existence poses an existential threat to Pyongyang. Kim’s ultimate goal is to evict U.S. troops from the South through nuclear blackmail, then, through graduated escalation, isolate and bully risk-averse Seoul. Pyongyang’s latest actions take it a leap closer to achieving this goal.

The dangerous situation we’re facing was entirely predictable. For more than 20 years, policymakers of various political colors on both sides of the Pacific have treated North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat with condescension buttressed by dithery diplomacy. Seoul and Washington have alternated between halfhearted sanctions and sending billions of dollars of aid into Pyongyang’s coffers, at times even simultaneously sanctioning North Korea and subsidizing it. The effect has been wildly successful — for North Korea. Pyongyang has yet to see any advantage in giving up its carrot-and-stick nuclear posturing.

Yet not all is lost. As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said this week at the Security Council, the “incremental approach” and “half measures” of the past must be replaced with the “strongest sanctions.” However, if the sanctions are strong only on paper, nothing will change. The U.S. and its allies have to invest time and resources to enforce them. Violators must be met with biting financial consequences. The U.S. is uniquely positioned to punish violators, thanks to the strength of the dollar.

The baffling fact is that the United States has never exerted the full force of its sanction power against Pyongyang. Until 2016, U.S. sanctions against North Korea were weaker in kind and degree than those against Sudan, Zimbabwe, Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo — states that pose no national security threat to the U.S. They were also far weaker than sanctions against Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Balkan states.

Even since 2016, Washington has held back from doing all it could do against North Korea. Self-deterred by exaggerated fears of more North Korean provocation and Chinese economic retaliation, the U.S. has yet to fine the largest of the Chinese banks and state companies that are in blatant violation of U.S. laws and U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding Pyongyang.

And yet money talks, as we saw in the curtailing of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. As the United States fined international companies and banks that continued to do prohibited business with Iran, Tehran — increasingly isolated — made the decision to return to negotiations. In just one example, the U.S. fined France’s largest bank, BNP Paribas, $8.9 billion for violating Iran sanctions (and those against Sudan and Cuba as well). The bank pleaded guilty, accepted the fine and withdrew from its Iran ties rather than be blocked out of the U.S. dollar system. In June, the U.S. put pressure on the Bank of Dandong, a small Chinese bank that serves as a dollar conduit for North Korean activities, but no fine or threatened block of the magnitude of the BNP Paribas action has been imposed on Chinese entities.

Through serious and sustained financial constriction, Washington could compel Kim to modify his behavior — freeze his nuclear and missile programs, open up his country and dismantle his gulags. Full denuclearization would not happen until Kim, under financial stress, could no longer placate his generals and faced the specter of regime collapse. Throughout the process, Washington must communicate to Kim and his cronies that there is a way out. Reform or abdicate. (Posh exile isn’t what Kim Jong Un deserves, but it would be a small price to pay for liberating the Korean peninsula.)

Pyongyang, although far from suicidal, needs to menace Washington if it has any hope of prevailing over Seoul. If the U.S. were to cave in and abandon South Korea, nothing would be resolved and the risk of another war started by the North would only increase. (The last time the U.S. withdrew troops from South Korea, in 1949, there was war the next year; it claimed tens of thousands of American lives. This time, nuclear weapons could be in play.)

Full-throttled financial sanctions — in the face of obfuscation, evasion, provocations and disingenuous negotiations — are America’s best and only option, short of military action. Temporary deals followed by premature relaxation of sanctions would only bring fake peace to the Korean peninsula and buy Pyongyang time and money. Give real peace — and an end to the Kim regime — a chance.

(by Los Angeles Times)

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un hosts huge celebration after nuclear test

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hosted a huge celebration to congratulate his nuclear scientists and technicians who steered the country’s sixth and largest nuclear test a week ago, its official news agency said on Sunday.

News of the celebration comes as the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, said in an interview published Sunday the showdown over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme was the world’s worst crisis “in years”.

South Korea had been bracing for another long-range missile launch in time for the 69th anniversary of North Korea’s founding on Saturday, but no fresh provocations were spotted.

Instead, amid numerous events in the country, Kim threw a banquet topped with an art performance and a photo session with the leader himself, the official agency KCNA said. KCNA did not specify when the banquet had been held, but analysts said it had likely been on Saturday.

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Photos released on Sunday by KCNA showed the young leader breaking into a broad smile at the people’s theatre in Pyongyang with two prominent scientists: Ri Hong-sop, head of North Korea’s nuclear weapons institute, and Hong Sung-mu, deputy director of the munitions industry department. Ri is a former director of the Yongbyon nuclear research centre, North Korea’s main nuclear facility north of Pyongyang, where Hong also worked as a chief engineer.

North Korea had said the latest test was an advanced hydrogen bomb. There was no independent confirmation but some western experts said there was enough strong evidence to suggest the reclusive state has either developed a hydrogen bomb or was getting very close.

KCNA said on Sunday the scientists and technicians “brought the great auspicious event in national history, an extra-large event through the perfect success in the test of H-bomb”. Kim praised the developers in his own remarks as “taking the lead” in attaining the “final goal of completing the state nuclear force” in line with his parallel pursuit of nuclear and economic development.

“The recent test of the H-bomb is the great victory won by the Korean people at the cost of their blood while tightening their belts in the arduous period,” Kim was quoted as saying.

Ri and Hong’s roles have also been noted overseas, prompting the UN, the US and South Korea to blacklist them.

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In an interview published by the French Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, Guterres said “it’s the most serious [crisis] that we have had to face in years”, admitting he was “very worried”.

“To date, we have had wars which have been initiated after a well thought-out decision,” he said. “But we also know that other conflicts have started through an escalation caused by sleepwalking. We have to hope that the seriousness of this threat puts us on the path of reason before it is too late.”

Guterres said the key question was to get North Korea to stop its nuclear and ballistic missile programme and respect UN security council resolutions.

“But we must also maintain the unity of the security council at all costs, because it is the only tool which can carry out a diplomatic initiative with a chance of success,” he said.

The US wants the security council to vote on Monday to impose tougher sanctions against Pyongyang, despite resistance from China and Russia.

A US-presented draft resolution calls for an oil embargo on North Korea, an assets freeze on Kim, a ban on textiles and an end to payments of North Korean guest workers.

Russia and China are believed to be opposed to the measures as a whole, except for the ban on textiles, during a meeting of experts Friday.

The Japanese defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, said it was vital to put pressure on North Korea through additional sanctions, including blocking or slowing its fuel supplies.

“If we put firm pressure on North Korea such that it realises it cannot develop missiles, it will accept dialogue and we can progress with diplomatic efforts,” Onodera told public broadcaster NHK on Sunday. “Unless we firmly apply pressure, North Korea will not change its direction.”

(by the Guardian)

.S. Urges Fuel Cutoff for North Korea, Saying It’s ‘Begging for War’

The Trump Administration, warning that North Korea is “begging for war,” is pressing China and other members of the United Nations Security Council to cut off all oil and other fuels to the country.

The effort, which senior administration officials described as a last best chance to resolve the standoff with the North using sanctions rather than military means, came as South Korean officials said Monday that they had seen evidence that North Korea may be preparing another test, likely of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

That test, which would be the nation’s third in a month, could be timed to mark the anniversary of the founding of North Korea by Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current leader. It is unclear where the test might be aimed, but Pentagon officials said they were examining options in case it was meant to demonstrate that the North could put a missile, with accuracy, off the coast of Guam, an American territory.

The call for the fuel cutoff, which is expected to be part of a draft resolution that the United States is beginning to discuss privately with other members of the Security Council, came a day after North Korea’s most powerful nuclear test in the 11 years it has been detonating nuclear weapons.

It is far from clear that China’s president, Xi Jinping, would be willing to go along with the highly aggressive step of cutting off fuel to the North. Roughly 90 percent of North Korea’s trade, and nearly all of its imported energy supplies, come from China. China’s overall trade with the North was up significantly in the past 12 months, and it has long feared that an oil cutoff would lead to the collapse of the regime.

That, in China’s eyes, would only invite South Korea to take over the North, and put an American ally on China’s border.

The subject of fuel cutoff is likely to come up in a phone call with President Xi that the White House was trying to arrange.

Speaking to the Security Council in an emergency session on Monday, Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, “is begging for war.”

“We have kicked the can down the road long enough,” Ms. Haley told the council in an emergency meeting. “There is no more road left.”

Ms. Haley did not threaten unilateral military action by Washington or repeat the president’s statement on Twitter that South Korea’s effort to engage the North directly was a form of “appeasement.” She said instead that “the time has come for us to exhaust all of our diplomatic means before it’s too late.”

Even as Ms. Haley called for more diplomacy, Mr. Trump agreed in a phone call on Monday evening with South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, to allow South Korea to build more powerful non-nuclear ballistic missiles, said Park Soo-hyun, a spokesman for Mr. Moon. While the South has pressed for such permission for many years, the change is unlikely to alter the strategic balance on the Korean Peninsula.

“President Trump reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to defend South Korea,” Mr. Park said. “The two leaders also agreed to push for maximum pressure and sanctions against North Korea.”

Inside the White House, there is little expectation that the drive to cut off North Korea’s fuel — which echoes the energy embargo that the United States used to try to force Japan to change its behavior in 1941, before the attack on Pearl Harbor — will work because of the Chinese reluctance to take that step.

Nonetheless, fuel-related sanctions are the focus of the Trump administration’s latest efforts at the Security Council, according to the senior American officials.

Ms. Haley’s comments on Monday were notable in part because while they called for a last stab at diplomacy, they also ruled out the one diplomatic option considered the most viable first step — a Chinese and Russian proposal for a “freeze” on the North’s nuclear and missile testing in return for some kind of freeze on United States military exercises.

She said that at a time that the North was threatening the United States, it would be unwise to trim back training with allies.

“There are some good reasons for not doing a freeze-for-freeze,” said Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a former senior diplomat in both Bush administrations. “But that doesn’t mean no freeze for something. The U.S. has not put forward our own options, what we would be prepared to sign up for. There’s a diplomatic vacuum.”

As Mr. Trump considered his options, however, he is also confronting the implications of some of his own rhetoric.

He declared that North Korea would not be permitted to fire I.C.B.M.’s — “It won’t happen!” he tweeted on Jan. 2 — and they were fired. He said the United States would bring “fire and fury” to the North if it was threatened, and Sunday’s nuclear test, claimed by the North to be a hydrogen bomb, was accompanied by North Korea’s announcement that the weapon could be fitted on a missile that could reach the United States.

In short, Mr. Trump has run the risk of doing what he charged President Barack Obama with doing in Syria: drawing a line and not enforcing it.

His senior aides say that it is too early to make that judgment, and that a combination of crushing economic pressure and stepped-up military patrols, missile defenses and practice bombing runs may eventually change Kim Jong-un’s behavior.

The president’s only declared line, they argue, is that he will never allow the United States to be under the threat of a nuclear attack by the North.

So far, intelligence agencies have stopped short of formally assessing that the North has all the elements it needs to reach the United States with a weapon. But if it is missing some elements – including the ability to protect a warhead from burning up during the stresses of re-entering the atmosphere – it seems likely to achieve them soon.

Monday’s meeting of the Security Council was the second time in less than a week that the most powerful body of the United Nations had met to discuss North Korea, and the tenth time it has done so this year.

Last month, the council tightened sanctions against North Korea, unanimously adopting a resolution that Ms. Haley called “the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation.”

But since then, North Korea carried out one of its most provocative missile tests in recent years, hurling a ballistic missile directly over Japan that prompted the government in Tokyo to warn residents in its path to take cover.

And Sunday’s test was the most powerful yet, with a blast that experts said was far more destructive than the bombs that the United States dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

In her remarks, Ms. Haley gave a lengthy summary of the North’s flouting of international law since 1993, when the United Nations urged the country to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The North’s moves the following year triggered a crisis similar to today’s, and was the closest the United States and North Korea have come to resuming the Korean War.

“Despite our efforts over the past 24 years, the North Korean nuclear program is more advanced and more dangerous than ever,” she said. “They now fire missiles over Japanese airspace.”

“They now have I.C.B.M. capabilities,” she said, referring to intercontinental ballistic missiles. “They now claim to have tested a hydrogen bomb. And just this morning there are reports that the regime is preparing for yet another I.C.B.M. launch.”

“We have taken an incremental approach,” Ms. Haley added, “and despite the best of intentions, it has not worked.”

François Delattre, the French ambassador, also called for new sanctions. “It is no longer a regional threat, it is a global threat,” he said. “It is no longer a virtual threat, it is an imminent threat. It is no longer a serious threat, it is an existential threat.”

While Japan and South Korea joined the condemnations, there are clear tensions. Mr. Trump’s jab at the South on Sunday that it was practicing “appeasement” generated headlines in Seoul, as did Mr. Trump’s threat to scrap a free trade agreement with South Korea, one that was signed in part to demonstrate strategic unity.

There are clear divisions in South Korea about how to deter the North.

Testifying before the National Assembly on Monday, Defense Minister Song Young-moo of South Korea said he had told his American counterpart, Jim Mattis, in a meeting last week that the United States needed to send long-range bombers, aircraft carriers and other strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula more often or regularly to reassure the South Koreans.

He said he had told Mr. Mattis that many in his country were calling for the reintroduction of American tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea. He did not disclose how Mr. Mattis responded.

Those weapons were removed from the South by the United States more than 25 years ago.

Mr. Moon’s office said his government remained opposed to the reintroduction of American tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, saying that doing so would make it more difficult to persuade North Korea to give up its own nuclear weapons.

(by New York Times)

What’s left to sanction in North Korea after its big nuclear test?

After North Korea carried out its most powerful nuclear test yet, the U.S. is pushing for even tougher measures to squeeze Kim Jong Un’s regime. But how much further can they go?

“People need to cut off North Korea economically,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who’s drafting a new sanctions package for President Trump to consider.

The U.S. and its allies are also aiming to push through a new round of multilateral sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, including targeting North Korea’s oil imports, senior Trump administration officials told CNN.

The last set of U.N. sanctions were approved less than a month ago, aiming to kill a billion dollars’ worth of North Korean exports by hitting major industries such as coal, iron ore and seafood. But analysts warned at the time that the measures were unlikely to be enough to make Kim back down on North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program.

So what’s left for Trump to go after?

Oil

China is estimated to account for about 90% of North Korea’s foreign trade, providing a vital link between Kim’s regime and the global economy.

North Korean exports to China provide the regime in Pyongyang with an important source of income. And Chinese exports to North Korea include goods that the isolated country needs to keep functioning.
High on that list is crude oil.

Curtailing oil shipments to North Korea is one of the measures the U.S. is seeking in a new package of U.N. sanctions, senior administration officials told CNN. The move would put severe pressure on the North Korean regime by hurting broad swaths of the economy like farming.

But it’s become impossible to accurately keep tabs on how much crude China sells to North Korea since Beijing stopped including it in customs data a few years ago.

“With no data being reported, oil might be a way to either squeeze — or support — the regime without any outsiders being able to scrutinize what they are doing,” Kent Boydston, a research analyst at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, wrote in a recent blog post.

That kind of lack of transparency fuels the skepticism of experts, who dispute China’s claims that it rigorously implements U.N. sanctions against North Korea. And one Chinese newspaper played down the idea that Beijing would cut off oil shipments.

“If China completely cuts off the supply of oil to North Korea or even closes the China-North Korea border, it is uncertain whether we can deter Pyongyang from conducting further nuclear tests and missile launches. However, confrontation between the two is likely to occur,” said an English-language editorial by Global Times, a state-run tabloid that often takes a nationalistic stance.

Textiles

The latest U.N. sanctions have already banned three of the top five product categories that China buys from its smaller, poorer neighbor. The remaining two involve textiles and apparel.

What’s not clear is how well North Korea’s textile industries are doing. Analysts say some trade data indicates exports for those sectors fell last year.

But a recent in-depth report by Reuters from near the Chinese-North Korean border suggested Chinese companies are stepping up their use of North Korean factories to make clothes that are then labeled as “Made in China” and exported overseas.

The apparent size of the North Korean textiles business makes it a potential target for future sanctions, experts say.

“I can’t help thinking if I were some kind of Chinese entrepreneur, I wouldn’t want to be sinking more money into North Korea right now,” Boydston told CNNMoney.

Chinese banks

Doubts about the willingness of China and Russia to really put the squeeze on North Korea has prompted calls for the U.S. to crack down harder on companies from those countries that do illicit business with Kim’s regime.

The Trump administration has already taken some action on that front, including sanctioning a bunch of Chinese and Russian entities over their alleged North Korean dealings. In June, the Treasury Department blocked a regional Chinese bank accused of having illicit North Korea ties from accessing the U.S. financial system.

But former Treasury official Anthony Ruggiero has said that much stronger action could be taken against Chinese banks, including major fines.

“Chinese banks are integral to the operation of these illicit networks and the Trump administration will need to target them to move its pressure campaign to the next level,” Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said in an opinion article for Fox News.

But other experts say that China will never push North Korea far enough toward the economic brink to make Kim change course on nuclear weapons. Chinese leaders want to preserve the regime in Pyongyang as a strategic buffer against U.S. influence in East Asia and avoid the chaotic collapse of a neighboring country.

By ramping up the pressure on Beijing, some experts warn, Trump could provoke a Chinese backlash against U.S. businesses in the region.

(by CNN)

South Korea simulates attack on North’s nuclear site after test

Following U.S. warnings to North Korea of a “massive military response,” South Korea’s military on Monday fired missiles into the sea to simulate an attack on the North’s main nuclear test site a day after Pyongyang detonated its largest ever nuclear test explosion.

The heated words from the United States and the military maneuvers in South Korea are becoming familiar responses to North Korea’s rapid, as-yet unchecked pursuit of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can strike the United States. The most recent, and perhaps most dramatic, advancement came Sunday in an underground test of what leader Kim Jong Un’s government claimed was a hydrogen bomb, the North’s sixth nuclear test since 2006.

In a series of tweets, President Donald Trump threatened to halt all trade with countries doing business with the North, a veiled warning to China, and faulted South Korea for what he called “talk of appeasement.”

ct-south-korea-simulates-attack-20170903-001

South Korea’s military said its live-fire exercise was meant to “strongly warn” Pyongyang. The drill involved F-15 fighter jets and the country’s land-based “Hyunmoo” ballistic missiles firing into the Sea of Japan.

The target was set considering the distance to the North’s test site and the exercise was aimed at practicing precision strikes and cutting off reinforcements, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Each new North Korean missile and nuclear test gives Pyongyang’s scientists invaluable information that allows big jumps in capability. North Korea is thought to have a growing arsenal of nuclear bombs and has spent decades trying to perfect a multistage, long-range missile to eventually carry smaller versions of those bombs.

Both diplomacy and severe sanctions have failed to check the North’s decades-long march to nuclear mastery.

In Washington, Trump, asked by a reporter if he would attack the North, said: “We’ll see.” No U.S. military action appeared imminent, and the immediate focus appeared to be on ratcheting up economic penalties, which have had little effect thus far.

In brief remarks after a White House meeting with Trump and other national security officials, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that America does not seek the “total annihilation” of the North, but then added somberly, “We have many options to do so.”

Mattis said the U.S. will answer any threat from the North with a “massive military response — a response both effective and overwhelming.”

Mattis also said the international community is unified in demanding the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that Kim should know Washington’s commitment to Japan and South Korea is unshakeable.

The precise strength of the North’s underground nuclear explosion has yet to be determined. South Korea’s weather agency said the artificial earthquake caused by the explosion was five times to six times stronger than tremors generated by the North’s previous five tests.

Sunday’s detonation builds on recent North Korean advances that include test launches in July of two ICBMs. The North says its missile development is part of a defensive effort to build a viable nuclear deterrent that can target U.S. cities.

North Korea has made a stunning jump in progress for its nuclear and missile program since Kim rose to power following his father’s death in late 2011. The North followed its two tests of Hwasong-14 ICBMs, which, when perfected, could target large parts of the United States, by threatening to launch a salvo of its Hwasong-12 intermediate range missiles toward the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam in August.

It flew a Hwasong-12 over northern Japan last week, the first such overflight by a missile capable of carrying nukes, in a launch Kim described as a “meaningful prelude” to containing Guam, the home of major U.S. military facilities, and vowed to launch more ballistic missile tests targeting the Pacific.

Ahead of the North’s test, photos released by the North Korean government showed Kim talking with his lieutenants as he observed a silver, peanut-shaped device that was apparently the purported thermonuclear weapon destined for an ICBM. The images were taken without outside journalists present and could not be independently verified. What appeared to be the nose cone of a missile could also be seen in one photo, and another showed a diagram on the wall behind Kim of a bomb mounted inside a cone.

The Arms Control Association in the United States said the explosion appeared to produce a yield in excess of 100 kilotons of TNT equivalent, which it said strongly suggests the North tested a high-yield but compact nuclear weapon that could be launched on a missile of intermediate or intercontinental range.

Beyond the science of the blast, North Korea’s accelerating push to field a nuclear weapon that can target all of the United States is creating political complications for the U.S. as it seeks to balance resolve with reassurance to allies that Washington will uphold its decades-long commitment to deter nuclear attack on South Korea and Japan.

That is why some questioned Trump’s jab at South Korea. He tweeted that Seoul is finding that its “talk of appeasement” will not work. The North Koreans, he added, “only understand one thing,” implying military force might be required. The U.S. has about 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea and is obliged by treaty to defend it in the event of war.

Trump also suggested putting more pressure on China, the North’s patron for many decades and a vital U.S. trading partner, in hopes of persuading Beijing to exert more effective leverage on its neighbor. Trump tweeted that the U.S. is considering “stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.” Such a halt would be radical. The U.S. imports about $40 billion in goods a month from China, North Korea’s main commercial partner.

Experts have questioned whether the North has gone too far down the nuclear road to continue pushing for a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, an Obama administration policy goal still embraced by Trump’s White House.

“Denuclearization is not a viable U.S. policy goal,” said Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, but neither should the U.S. accept North Korea as a nuclear power. “We should keep denuclearization as a long-term aspiration, but recognize privately that it’s unachievable anytime soon.”