North, South Korean Leaders Meet to Discuss Possible Summit

SEOUL, (PEGGY CHANG-VOANEWS).- South Korean President Moon Jae-in met Saturday afternoon with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un near the two Koreas' heavily militarized border.

The leaders exchanged views on how to prepare for the North's possible summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, the South Korean presidential office said.

Meanwhile, Trump attacked the New York Times for its coverage of the developments, including a reported rift between national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

 White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Saturday in a statement, “The White House pre-advance team for Singapore will leave as scheduled in order to prepare should the summit take place.” Politico magazine reported earlier that an advance team of 30 White House and State Department officials were preparing to depart later this weekend.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chimed in Saturday afternoon via Twitter that patience is necessary.

"Stay focused. It's about the outcome. It's about keeping Americans and the world safe," he wrote.

South Korea said Saturday it is "carefully watching the developments"between the United States and North Korea, after 24 hours of uncertainty as Trump first cancelled , then mused about reinstatement of a historic summit on June 12 in Singapore with North Korea's Kim.

"We see it as fortunate that the embers of dialogue between North Korea and the United States weren't fully extinguished and are coming alive again," Seoul's presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said in a statement.

Striking an optimistic tone, President Trump said Friday that the White House is having "very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit".

In an evening tweet, Trump said the talks "will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th., and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date."

The newest development came after North Korea said early Friday that it remained willing to meet with Trump despite his decision to scrap plans for the meeting with leader Kim.

Trump canceled the planned talks with Kim on Thursday, blaming recent threatening statements by Pyongyang to pull out of the summit over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials.

North Korean diplomat Kim Kye Gwan said Pyongyang's recent criticisms had been a reaction to unbridled American rhetoric, and that the current antagonism showed "the urgent necessity" for the summit.

"We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit," Kim Kye Gwan's statement said.

In a letter released by the White House on Thursday, Trump said, “I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting."

The White House said Trump dictated the letter himself.

According to a senior administration official, other factors also led the president to cancel the summit, including poor communication, broken promises and the North Koreans' failure to show up for a preparatory meeting in Singapore.

“We simply couldn't get them to pick up the phone,” a White House senior official told reporters on Thursday.

The last straw, according to the White House, was an insult aimed at U.S. Vice President Mike Pence earlier Thursday in a statement by North Korea’s vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui. She called Pence a “political dummy” and warned - in rhetoric typical of that uttered by Pyongyang - of a nuclear confrontation. In his letter, Trump responded, referencing U.S. nuclear capabilities “so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”

Trump has emphasized that sanctions and “the maximum pressure campaign will continue” to be applied on North Korea while expressing hope Pyongyang’s leadership would decide to join the community of nations.

Trump’s letter caught allies by surprise. The president did not call South Korean President Moon Jae-in or Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to inform them of it, White House officials confirmed.

Moon expressed “deep regret” over the summit’s cancelation and urged that direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang be held as soon as possible.

North Korea had threatened to pull out of the unprecedented summit after U.S. officials advocated a so-called Libya model approach, which involved that African country’s total nuclear dismantlement before any concessions were granted.

Treasury Designates Shipping Network Engaged in Ship-to-Ship Transfers with North Korean Vessels

WASHINGTON . – Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced North Korea-related designations of two individuals and three entities, and further identified one vessel as blocked property, continuing the implementation and enforcement of existing sanctions.

This action highlights North Korea’s continued use of illicit ship-to-ship (STS) transfers to circumvent United Nations (UN) sanctions that restrict the import of petroleum products, as well as the U.S. Government’s commitment to implement existing UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs).

“Treasury will implement and enforce existing US and UN sanctions on individuals, entities, and vessels involved in illicit ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean flagged vessels,” said Treasury Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker. “Shipping companies trading with North Korea are exposing themselves to significant sanctions risk, despite the deceptive practices they try to employ.”

OFAC designated Taiwan-based individuals Huang Wang Ken and Chen Mei Hsiang and the Taiwan-based entities Jui Pang Shipping Co Ltd (Jui Pang) and Jui Zong Ship Management Co Ltd (Jui Zong), as well as Hong Kong-based entity Jui Cheng Shipping Company Limited (Jui Cheng), pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13810 for having engaged in at least one significant importation from or exportation to North Korea of any goods, services, or technology.

In addition, OFAC identified the vessel Shang Yuan Bao (IMO: 8126070) as blocked property in which Huang Wang Ken, Chen Mei Hsiang, Jui Pang, Jui Cheng, and Jui Zong all have an interest. In October 2018, the UN Security Council’s 1718 Committee included the Shang Yuan Bao in a port entry ban and designated it for deflagging in response to its involvement in illicit ship-to-ship transfers with DPRK-flagged vessels.

The United States acknowledges and is grateful for Taiwan’s continued efforts to combat the DPRK’s efforts to evade sanctions and to obtain resources for its WMD and missile programs.

North Korea’s Use of Illicit Ship-to-Ship Transfers

North Korea’s continued use of illicit STS transfers to import refined petroleum is in direct violation of UNSCR 2375 and UNSCR 2397. Through STS transfers and other illicit activities, North Korea continues to evade UN sanctions. In addition to STS transfers, North Korea is obtaining refined petroleum through deliveries that are made directly into North Korea from non-DPRK-flagged tankers. These deliveries also are not reported to the UN 1718 Committee by any Member State. The cumulative effect of these deliveries is that the UN 1718 Committee’s official accounting of the DPRK’s imports vastly underrepresents the volume of refined petroleum products that actually enter the DPRK via its fleet of oil tankers and other associated vessels. The restriction on the DPRK’s refined petroleum imports imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 2397 is a critical part of the UN sanctions regime, and the international community must implement and enforce all existing sanctions and take action against those evading these sanctions.

Today’s designated entities participated in STS transfers, a method of transferring cargo from one ship to another while at sea rather than while located in port, to enable North Korea’s import of refined petroleum products. This out-of-port transfer method is a deceptive practice commonly used by North Korea to enable sanctions evasion.

Use of the Shang Yuan Bao to Engage in Illicit Ship-to-Ship Transfers to Evade UN Sanctions

In 2018, the Shang Yuan Bao conducted at least two STS transfers with DPRK-flagged vessels, which both later offloaded their cargo in North Korea’s Nampo port. Between April and May 2018, Huang Wang Ken, the CEO and largest shareholder in Jui Pang, a Taiwan marine cargo handling company, worked with several other individuals to use the Panama-flagged vessel Shang Yuan Bao to transport 1.7 million liters of petroleum products to the UN- and U.S.-designated North Korea-flagged vessel Paek Ma through an STS transfer. Huang and his partners falsely reported that the petroleum products were destined for the Philippines. The Shang Yuan Bao, however, transported them beyond the territorial waters of any state to carry out the STS transfer to the Paek Ma, which was identified February 23, 2018 as property in which Paekma Shipping Co — an entity whose property and interests in property were blocked pursuant to E.O. 13810 also on February 23, 2018 — has an interest. In June 2018, the Shang Yuan Bao carried out an additional STS transfer of petroleum with another North Korea-flagged vessel, the Myong Ryu 1.

OFAC assesses that the persons who owned and controlled the Shang Yuan Bao at the time of the petroleum transfers are ultimately responsible for the petroleum products that were illicitly transferred to the North Korean vessels and ultimately delivered to North Korean territory. This includes Chen Mei Hsiang, who is a member of the board of directors of Jui Pang as well as the director and sole owner of Jui Zong. Chen Mei Hsiang is also married to Huang Wang Ken.

OFAC also designated Taiwan companies Jui Pang and Jui Zong, as well as Hong Kong company Jui Cheng, for engaging in a significant importation from or exportation to North Korea through their ownership and control of the Shang Yuan Bao when it engaged in these STS transfers.

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these individuals and entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within the United States (including transactions transiting the United States) that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the persons designated today may themselves be exposed to designation. Furthermore, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the individuals designated today could be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through sanctions.

Trump Thanks North Korea for Return of US War Remains

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump extended a word of gratitude to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Friday for returning to U.S. authorities what are believed to be the remains of 55 U.S. service members who were killed in the Korean War more than six decades ago.

"I want to thank Chairman Kim for keeping his word," Trump told reporters outside the White House. "We have many others coming, but I want to thank Chairman Kim in front of the media for fulfilling a promise that he made to me and I'm sure he will continue to fulfill that promise as they search and search and search."

The transfer of the remains is the beginning of the fulfillment of an agreement reached between Kim and Trump during their historic Singapore summit last month.

About 7,700 U.S. soldiers are listed as missing from the Korean War, and 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon Friday the return of the remains may help remove a cloud of uncertainty that some grieving families have been forced to grapple with for decades.

"We have families that... have never had closure. They've never gone out and had the body returned, so what we're seeing here is an opportunity to give those families closure, to make certain that we continue to look for those remaining."

The White House said Thursday that a U.S. military plane transporting the remains departed Wonsan, North Korea. The plane landed Friday morning at Osan Air Base near the South Korean capital of Seoul, where the White House said a formal repatriation ceremony will be held on August 1.

The remains will be transferred from the base to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii, where forensic work will be done to identify them.

Friday (June 27) marks the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 war that split the communist North and the democratic South.

The remains were the first returned to the U.S. since a joint U.S.-North Korean effort between 1996 and 2005 recovered what were believed to have been the remains of 220 U.S. soldiers.

Since then, U.S. efforts to bring more American service members home have been slowed due to escalating tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman and Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.

G7 Finance Ministers Joint Statement on North Korea

WASHINGTON.- North Korea’s continued development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs poses a grave threat to international peace and security. We remain committed to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and dismantlement of North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile programs, but North Korea must match its words with concrete actions.

To support this goal, we will continue to take action to impose maximum economic pressure on North Korea, in keeping with relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs).

We are concerned by North Korea’s evasion of international sanctions and its continued ability to access the international financial system.

North Korea does little business in its own true name and uses a network of agents, front and shell companies, and complex ownership structures to access the international financial system.

As the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) noted in its March 2018 report, in 2017, more than 30 representatives of North Korean banks have been operating outside of North Korea, in contravention of UNSCRs.

The PoE also noted that DPRK trade representatives continue to play a role in the country’s prohibited programs, including by acting as fronts for designated entities and individuals, as well as engaging in commercial activities that violate the UNSCRs.

We call on all countries to fully and effectively implement their UNSCR obligations with respect to North Korea and, in this regard, to expeditiously expel these bank and trade representatives in accordance with their UN obligations.

Financial institutions in G7 countries also play an important role in the fight against North Korea’s illicit global financial activity, and we will engage and share information with them, as appropriate, to expose North Korea’s deceptive financial practices and thereby protect the integrity of the international financial system.

We call on countries to similarly engage their financial institutions so they will be on alert and take steps to implement necessary additional scrutiny to ensure that they are not processing transactions on behalf of sanctioned North Korean entities.

U.S. Department of the Treasury

Korean Leaders Agree on Denuclearization Goal at Summit

SEOUL, (BRIAN PADDEN).- The Inter-Korean summit began Friday morning with a historic step as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un crossed the military demarcation line that has divided Korea for over 60 years. At the end, the leaders of the communist North and Democratic South embraced prior to announcing a joint declaration committing to denuclearization and peace.

"Today, Chairman Kim Jong Un and I confirmed that the realization of the nuclear-free Korean peninsula through complete denuclearization is our common goal," said President Moon Jae-in at a ceremony to announce what they are calling the Panmunjom declaration.

The North Korean leader also endorsed the joint declaration as well as past inter-Korean agreements without elaborating or specifically acknowledging the agreed upon outcome to dismantle his country's threatening nuclear program.

"We have decided to open this transitional phase of improvement in relations and development by thoroughly implementing the North-South Declarations and all the agreements that have already been adopted," said Kim.

Historic crossing

Kim is now the first North Korean leader to cross into South Korea. He was greeted by Moon, who waited on the South Korean side of the borderline in the village of Panmunjom, the historic site, where the Korean War armistice was signed in 1953. The two leaders smiled as they shook hands across the border. Kim then stepped over the cement boundary marker.

Kim said he was, "excited to meet at this historic place" and later wondered "why it took so long" to get there.

"It really has a strong emotional impact on me," said Kim about the warm welcome he received from the people of South Korea.

President Moon welcomed Kim to the South and said he would like to one day visit North Korea. Laughing, the two together momentarily stepped over the border marker into the North's side of the demilitarized zone.

The two leaders posed for pictures with an unsmiling Kim dressed in a communist Mao-style suit and a smiling Moon in western business attire.

They also agreed to continue efforts to improve relations that had grown increasingly tense over the North's continued nuclear and missile tests, especially accelerated efforts in the last two years to develop nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability to target the U.S. mainland.

"We declared together that there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula and that a new era of peace has begun," said Moon.

At the summit Moon and Kim conducted two rounds of meetings during the day, and the South Korean leader hosted a dinner that featured a variety of famous Korean dishes including Pyongyang-style cold noodles. Kim's wife, Ri Sol-ju, and sister Kim Yo Jong Un joined the delegations for dinner with Moon and his wife, Kim Jung-sook.

Diplomatic pivot

This year, Kim pivoted to embrace diplomacy and agreed to engage in negotiations to end his country's nuclear program. Both President Moon's diplomatic outreach to the North, and U.S. President Donald Trump's maximum pressure campaign, which imposed tough sanctions that block virtually all North Korean exports, and that emphasized the possible use of military force, are credited with compelling Kim to change his previous confrontational stance.

The joint declaration "confirmed the common goal of realizing complete denuclearization, and a nuclear free Korean Peninsula."

It also recognized as "meaningful and crucial," North Korea's recent unilateral concessions to suspend further nuclear and missile tests, and to close its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. However, some analysts have expressed skepticism that these measures are meaningful as they only freeze and not reduce the country's nuclear capabilities.

There were also indications that perhaps more serious diplomatic progress was being made away from the official talks when Moon and Kim engaged in what seemed to be a very candid conversation without any staff or advisers present as they sat together for 30 minutes outside the conference hall in the afternoon. Television cameras recorded the meeting from a distance.

Trump-Kim summit

The declaration is meant to prepare the diplomatic ground for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit, expected to be held in May or June. South Korean officials have assured the Trump administration that Kim is prepared to commit to completely and verifiably dismantling his nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees from the U.S., sanctions relief, and developmental assistance.

President Trump applauded the commitment to peace and denuclearization on Twitter, but added that "only time will tell" if the goals are achieved.

Is everybody believing what is going on. James Comey can’t define what a leak is. He illegally leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION but doesn’t understand what he did or how serious it is. He lied all over the place to cover it up. He’s either very sick or very dumb. Remember sailor!

While Trump has expressed optimism that a nuclear deal with North Korea can be reached, he has said he will walk out of the meeting if there are signs it "is not going to be fruitful."

Given the unconventional nature of these summits, which come at the beginning and not the end of the negotiation process, and North Korea's past performance in breaking agreements, many remain skeptical that these high-level meetings will lead to real denuclearization progress.

"The devil is in the details and as we have found in the past, in three separate sets of negotiations with North Korea, the devil is always in the details," said Victor Cha, a North Korea scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a Professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

Peace treaty

Moon and Kim also agreed to work on measures to improve cross-border security, restart family reunions, and work toward replacing the longstanding armistice ending the Korean War in 1953 with a permanent peace treaty, which would also require the approval of the U.S. and China as signatories to the truce.

"I think there is room for North and South Korea to make progress on a peace settlement. That is fundamentally a Korean issue, including confidence building measures along the DMZ, [demilitarized zone], a declaration to end hostilities," said Gary Samore, a former White House arms control coordinator and director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

After their historic talks, the leaders and their wives attended a banquet, along with Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong. They raised a toast and were entertained by a variety of musical performances. Kim Jong Un bought Pyongyang-style cold noodles for the dinner, at the request of his South Korean counterpart. The starring role of the noodles led to long lines outside restaurants in South Korea's capital that were serving the dish.

This was the third inter-Korean summit, but the first to take place in South Korea. The meetings in 2000 and 2007 were held in the North.

Lee Youn-jee contributed to this report from Seoul.

Korean-Americans Push for Reunions with North Korea Family Members

WASHINGTON, (NATALIE SEO-VOANEWS).- Won Yun last saw his grandmother and sisters on the banks of the Taedong River during the January Fourth Retreat of the Korean War. Eventually, Yun, his grandfather, parents and three brothers made it to the South, while his grandmother and two younger sisters remained.

The 8-year-old Yun believed the entire family would reunite after the war. They could not.

Like thousands of other Korean-Americans, Yun, now 76, yearns to be reunited with relatives in North Korea.
Hopes raised

For many of them, the recent summit meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un raised the hope of family reunions.

“[Korean-American divided families are] the last living human link between the U.S. and DPRK,” said Jason Ahn, board chair of the Divided Families USA (DFUSA). He referred to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “This is a humanitarian issue and we need to act quickly to resolve this as soon as possible.”

Since the Korean War split the Korean Peninsula in 1950, an estimated 100,000 Korean-Americans have been cut off from relatives in North Korea.

While the U.S. and North Korea do not have a formal reunification channel for Korean-Americans and their North Korean relatives, since 2000, North and South Korea have held 20 reunions for their divided families, both physically and virtually. The next is scheduled for Aug. 20-26 at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort.

The greatest deterrent to reuniting Korean-Americans and their North Korean families has been the tense relationship between the U.S. and North Korea, now warming somewhat, and the precedence of the denuclearization issue.

“I’ve argued that human rights issues ought to be part of any conversation that the United States has with North Korea,” said Ambassador Robert King, the former special envoy for North Korean human rights issues in the Obama administration, adding that denuclearization is “an extremely important issue … and there’s no question that it’s the most important.”

But the divided families issue cannot wait.

“These [divided family members] … they’re all in their 70s, 80s, they’re all going to die,” Yun’s son, David Yun, said. “So that 100,000 is no longer 100,000 anymore.”

DFUSA and its partner organization, the National Coalition for the Divided Families (NCDF), each keep a registry of Korean-Americans with family members in North Korea.

Within the last year, several Korean-Americans on the registries have died. Others decided they no longer wanted to be registered. Some just fell off the radar.

We need to be prioritized … even before normalization [of relations between the U.S. and North Korea] or even before the nuclear issue is resolved,” Ahn said. “That may take many years and … people are dying. Literally dying.”

Tracking down relatives

Some Americans have made their own way to North Korea. That’s what Heang Ki Paik did.

A 69-year-old taekwondo master who lives in San Francisco, Paik is the son of a North Korean mother and a South Korean father who married before the Korean War. Paik, his parents and his five brothers fled to the South in 1951, leaving behind his mother’s side of the family.

“My mother … spoke in a North Korean dialect, and everyone knew that she was North Korean,” so she was discriminated against in the South, Paik said in a translated interview with VOA.

When Paik’s mother died in 1991, she left him the last known addresses of her North Korean family.

Paik moved to the U.S. in 1992 and began seeking her family.

Fifteen years later, in October 2007, Jung Woo-jin, a Korean-American taekwondo grandmaster and publisher of Taekwondo Times, hosted North Korea’s national Taekwondo Demonstration Team to perform and tour five cities in the U.S. The North Korean group consisted of 18 taekwondo athletes and seven officials.

Among them was Ung Chang, who represents Pyongyang on the International Olympic Committee.

Paik, who coordinated the event in San Francisco, stuck close to Chang over the course of three days.

“I knew this person was my only chance, so I worked hard to become friendly with him,” Paik said. On the meeting’s last day, he asked Chang to find his mother’s relatives.

Three months later, a U.N. representative for North Korea contacted Paik and confirmed that his aunt and uncle were alive.

Three years later, on Oct. 22, 2010, in his mother’s hometown Nampo, Paik met his family and spent three days with them.

Other avenues

Other divided Korean-American families seek different avenues.

Yun’s parents never gave up looking for their daughters. When they died, Yun, who had been living in the U.S. since 1965, continued their quest. He contacted a Canadian organization that said they had located his sisters.

“I was very skeptical … I think that’s the feeling that everyone had,” said David Yun, whose doubts failed to deter his father.

On Oct. 13, 2007, Yun flew to Pyongyang, then trekked to Anju. There, at a four-story hotel, he opened the door to a room and his younger sisters, Won Bok and Won Sil, flew into his arms.

Yun, who documented his time in North Korea, showed the videos to his family in New Jersey when he returned.

“Our jaws dropped, because this lady was the spitting image of my grandmother,” David Yun said in reference to Won Bok, the older sister. “It was as if my grandmother rose up from the dead and she was living in North Korea.”

Although Paik and Yun were able to reunite with their families, thousands of Korean-Americans remain frustrated.

Third-party organizations, brokers or black marketers often demand tens of thousands of dollars from those seeking their families. Sometimes people are cheated of their money.

“[The divided families] went from one broker to another to hoping the next time would be … successful to find out whether their parents were still alive,” said Chahee Stanfield, NCDF’s executive director.

Although legislation for divided families has been introduced and passed under the Bush and Obama administrations, they did not yield the formal mechanism for reunions that the families and their advocates want.

When VOA asked about the possibility of the Korean-American divided families being discussed with North Korea, the U.S. State Department referred to the first point in the Singapore statement that the “United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.”

In June, Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass of California introduced a resolution that would require the U.S. government to hold a reunion within 60 days of the resolution’s passing.

In accordance with the binding nature of the resolution, which is with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Bass believes that reunions should not be dependent on the United States’ relationship with North Korea.

“I think reunification should happen. Period,” she said in an interview with VOA.

Pushing for more

Stanfield, NCDF’s executive director, appreciates the congresswoman’s resolution and wants the Trump administration to do more.

“DFUSA [has] met high-ranking officials at the vice president’s office, the president’s office — the people we have met are in the decision-making positions,” Stanfield said. “So right now, we appreciate … the resolution, [but] we have passed … that stage. Long time ago.”

Hannah Y. Kim, who wrote the Divided Families Bill that passed Congress in 2016 as the chief of staff to former Congressman Charles Rangel, believes resolutions are not sufficient.

“It’s not enough for a politician or an elected official to introduce a bill,” Kim said. “That doesn’t mean anything unless people do something about it, keep on raising the issue. And that has to be led by Korean-Americans.”

Organizations like the Council of Korean Americans (CKA) and the Korean American Grassroots Conference (KAGC) urge Korean-Americans to raise the issue with their Congressional representatives.

“Part of what we’re trying to do at CKA is to educate our community around the power that we wield,” Interim Executive Director of CKA Jessica Lee said. “Until we have more people doing that with this [divided families] issue, I think it’s going to be difficult to make the … progress that we all want.”

Ahn, who has been involved with the divided families issue for 12 years, looks at the success of the repatriation of remains from North Korea and wants the same for the divided families.

“Really, with a handshake … between President Trump and Chairman Kim, it could happen,” Ahn said. “They just need to declare it and it will happen.”

Hannah Kim recognizes that facilitating a meeting for thousands of families has its challenges.

“At the very least, let’s do a virtual [reunion]. … Nothing, nothing, nothing will be better of course than being united in person, to be able to hug and kiss and talk to each other,” she said. “But just knowing … that they’re even alive on the other end of the screen, sometimes that’s just good enough for them.”

N. Korea Escalates Threat to Pull Out of Summit with US

CoreadelNorte11SEOUL, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- North Korea’s sudden threat to pull out of the upcoming summit with the U.S. raises new doubts of whether a denuclearization deal is possible.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to meet with U.S President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12 to work out an agreement to end the North’s nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and an end to punishing international sanctions.

But on Wednesday North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Kwan released a statement through the state-run KCNA news agency that criticized “unbridled remarks” made specifically by the U.S. president’s National Security Adviser John Bolton demanding that Pyongyang completely decommission its entire nuclear arsenal, along with its ballistic missile program and chemical weapons stockpile, before receiving any compensation or concessions.

He expressed “indignation” at the U.S uncompromising position and said North Korea might pull out of the Trump-Kim summit, unless the Trump administration acts with “sincerity” to improve relations through dialogue.

“If the United States is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the North Korea-U.S. summit,” the statement said.

The vice foreign minister also said it was “absolutely absurd” that Bolton would compare Libya’s experience dismantling its relatively rudimentary nuclear program as a model for dealing with the North’s more advanced and expansive capabilities.

He also denounced the Trump administration for “miscalculating the magnanimity” of Kim Jong Un’s decision to suspend further nuclear and missile tests, and his willingness to engage in nuclear talks, as “signs of weakness,” that were the result of what the U.S. administration has dubbed its “maximum pressure” campaign that led international efforts to impose punishing sanctions banning 90% of North Korean trade.

​The vice minister’s remarks came shortly after the North abruptly canceled inter-Korean talks planned for Wednesday, citing ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S.

Last week American and South Korea forces began their two-week Max Thunder exercise that involves 100 aircraft, including eight F-22 radar-evading jets, as well as F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. The North derided the drills as a rehearsal for invasion that undermines improving inter-Korean ties.

Cautious reactions

The U.S. and South Korea reacted with caution to North Korea’s more confrontational posture.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conferred with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Wednesday and said the U.S. would continue planning for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit but continue to monitor the situation.

Pompeo, who recently met with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang to prepare for the summit, said on Sunday that the U.S. would lift sanctions on North Korea if it agreed to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

However, Kim Kye Gwan's statement appeared to reject such an arrangement, saying North Korea would never give up its nuclear program in exchange for economic trade with the United States.

Wednesday’s denouncement of the joint drills also seemed to contradict what the North Korean leader reportedly said earlier this year. A South Korean diplomatic envoy that met with Kim in Pyongyang this year, said the North Korean leader had dropped his objection to U.S., South Korea military exercises as a barrier to developing a peace agreement.

The South Korean Unification Ministry said it was “regrettable” that the North unilaterally postponed ministerial-level inter-Korean talks, and the North’s cancelation of talks was not in line with the “spirit of the recent Panmunjom Declaration” calling for increased cross border cooperation that was signed by Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the inter-Korean summit.

"The South Korean government has a firm willingness to faithfully implement the Panmunjom Declaration and is urging the North to respond quickly to the talks for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula," said Baik Tae-Hyun, South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesperson.

Bargaining positions

It is unclear if the North’s threat to pull out of the summit with the U.S. reflects a change in policy or a negotiating tactic to exploit Trump’s repeated claims that he may achieve a historic diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea that has eluded past presidents.

“If you signal you are desperate for some kind of deal, then your counterpart can sense that you are willing to make concessions, and they can drive a hard bargain, and this could be a reflection of that,” said Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea analyst with Troy University in Seoul.

The more aggressive stance taken by the North may also reflect growing pressure from conservative elements within the military or Communist Party that are worried the U.S. seems to be unilaterally dictating the terms for a nuclear deal.

“It is true that North Korea is anxious about the situation where it needs to back down on everything to the U.S.,” said Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and analyst with the World Institute of North Korea Studies in Seoul.

John Delury, a North Korea analyst with Yonsei University in Seoul suggested on Twitter that the U.S. and South Korea address the North’s sudden threat to withdraw from talks by making a small but meaningful good-will gesture, given that the Kim government has already made a number of concessions, including releasing three American prisoners, and suspending missile and nuclear tests.

However North Korea skeptics say the Kim government should not be rewarded for merely meeting its minimum obligations by suspending nuclear and missile tests that violate U.N. restrictions or for releasing prisoners that were unjustly apprehended by the repressive state.

Lee Yoon-jee contributed to this report.

North Korea Fires More Weapons; Criticizes South Korea

SEOUL, (WILLIAM GALLO-VOANEWS).- North Korea has launched a fresh round of short-range weapons into the sea off its east coast, South Korea’s military reported - Pyongyang’s latest apparent outburst of anger at continued U.S.-South Korean military drills.

The North fired two “unidentified projectiles” Friday from Gangwon province in the northeast part of North Korea, according to a statement from Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The weapons traveled about 230 kilometers, reaching a height of 30 kilometers, the statement said.

North Korea has conducted six launches in about the past three weeks. Combined with a series of aggressive statements toward South Korea, the launches mark a return to a more provocative stance for Pyongyang, which has refused to hold talks with Seoul or Washington.

Following an emergency meeting Friday, South Korea’s National Security Council called on North Korea to stop the launches and warned that such activity may increase military tensions.

Though it isn’t clear what North Korea launched Friday, the North’s other recent tests involved short-range ballistic missiles that appear designed to evade U.S.-South Korean missile defenses.

North Korea is banned from any ballistic missile activity under United Nations Security Council resolutions. But U.S. President Donald Trump says he has "no problem" with the missile tests, saying they can't reach the United States.

Last week, Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered a "small apology" for the launches and vowed to stop them as soon as the current round of U.S.-South Korean military exercises end.

This round of drills is scheduled to end Aug. 20.

North Korea has long complained that the drills are aggressive. U.S. military leaders say the exercises are defensive and necessary to maintain readiness.

Trump last week called the drills "ridiculous and expensive," but said he signed off on the latest round because it helped prepare for "the turnover of various areas to South Korea."

"I like that because it should happen," Trump said.

The current drills are designed in part to test South Korea's ability to retake operational control from the U.S. during wartime.

Though the drills have been scaled back and renamed in an attempt to preserve the idea of talks, North Korea is still not happy and wants the drills to end completely.

North Korea has directed most of its recent outbursts toward its neighbors in the South.

On Friday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) took aim at South Korean President Moon Jae-in, calling him an "impudent guy" and a "funny man."

"We have nothing to talk any more with the South Korean authorities nor have any idea to sit with them again," said the statement, which quoted a spokesperson at the semi-official Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country.

The comments come a day after President Moon pledged to work toward the unification of the two Koreas by 2045 — a bold proposal for a leader who is set to leave office in 2022.

Moon and Kim met three times in 2018, promising to bring in a new era of inter-Korean relations. Those talks have since broken down, amid North Korean complaints about continued military cooperation between South Korea and the United States.

In his speech Thursday, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two, Moon insisted a unified Korea would become a global world power and eventually overtake Japan economically.

North Korea doesn't seem very impressed. KCNA on Friday called Moon's remarks a "foolish commemorative speech" that was enough to "make the boiled head of a cow provoke a side-splitting laughter."

South Korea’s President Heads to Washington to Salvage Nuclear Deal

SEOUL, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- North Korea’s recent threat to pull out of the upcoming nuclear summit with the U.S. has added new urgency to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Washington next Tuesday.

President Moon has played a key role in facilitating the meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump scheduled to be held in Singapore June 12.

Diplomatic jeopardy

At the recent inter-Korean summit Moon got Kim to affirm a broad commitment to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and that opened the door for Trump and Kim to negotiate a more detailed agreement to end North Korea’s nuclear program.

However, uncompromising positions recently voiced by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton demanding the North’s unilateral disarmament, and by North Korea in response canceling further talks with the South and threatening to pull out of the U.S.-North Korea summit, have put the prospects for continued diplomatic progress in jeopardy.

President Trump has tried to reassure the North Korean leadership that a nuclear deal would not weaken the Kim government, but would bolster it.

“He'd be in his country, he'd be running his country. His country would be very rich.” Trump said Thursday while meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the White House.

Moon mediation

President Moon, who will meet with Trump in Washington on Tuesday, has said he will try to moderate differences between the U.S. and North Korea over how to achieve denuclearization, while also giving the Kim government the security guarantees and sanctions relief it wants.

But the convergence of interests that have brought Moon, Trump and Kim to all agree to give diplomacy a chance seems to be diverging over how to bridge the gap between the U.S. demand for complete denuclearization prior to offering any concessions, and the North’s insistence on a step by step process that would ease sanctions early on for incremental measures, such as giving up some nuclear material and allowing in outside inspectors.

“We have three leaders, each thinks he is in the driver’s seat and it is like three cars hurling toward an intersection. Each one convinced he has the right of way and the other two drivers will yield,” said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow with The Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center while speaking at the Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul this week.

Trump and Kim’s unconventional approach to diplomacy, by rushing to meet before a deal is worked out, also runs the risk of being undermined by hardline elements in their governments.

“I think there are questions in both Pyongyang and Washington about how the leaders are connected to their own bureaucracies.Maybe we are seeing evidence of that question even today,” said Scott Snyder, the director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, who was also in Seoul for the security-related leadership conference.

There are also concerns that China may have encouraged North Korea to take a more gradual approach to denuclearization by promising to ease sanctions no matter the outcome of the summit.

Inter-Korean friction

Pyongyang has also taken on a harsher tone with Seoul this week, with a high level negotiator calling the South Korean government "ignorant and incompetent," denouncing U.S.-South Korean military drills underway, and threatening to halt all inter-Korean talks.

Some South Korean conservatives staged a rally on Friday in front of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to protest President Moon’s efforts to pursue a peace deal with a North Korea government they say cannot be trusted.

“They only talked very vaguely about the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. What concerns me the most is the lack of transparency between Kim Jong Un and President Moon,” said Byun Hee-jae, a rally organizer with a conservative organization in Seoul called Media Watch.

However, the vast majority of South Koreans support Moon’s persistent diplomatic efforts to facilitate denuclearization talks and improve relations with the North.

Taiwan delighted to see inter-Korean dialogue easing regional tension

TAIPEI, (CNA).-  Taiwan is delighted to see tension on the Korean Peninsula ease through dialogue, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Friday, commenting on the signing of an agreement by the leaders of North and South Korea pledging continued efforts to denuclearize the peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae In signed a joint declaration with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un, in Pyongyang Wednesday, pledging denuclearization and an end to the military standoff on the peninsula.

In a statement, MOFA said Taiwan is happy to see efforts being made to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula and in the East Asian region through rational dialogue.

Taiwan hopes that all parties in the region work to build an environment of peace and stability, under the principle that the interests of all countries in the region are taken into consideration, the ministry said.

The landmark joint declaration was signed during Moon's visit to North Korea from Sept. 18-20. It contains six agreements, including that the two countries will expand the cessation of military hostilities in regions of confrontation and pursue substantive measures to further advance exchanges and cooperation.

Other agreements include one that the Korean Peninsula should be turned into a land of peace free from nuclear weapons and threats. 

(By Elaine Hou and Elizabeth Hsu)

Treasury Designates Russian Financial Institution Supporting North Korean Sanctions Evasion

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today announced the designation of a Russian entity that has assisted North Korea in evading sanctions to access the international financial system. Today’s action targets Russian-registered Russian Financial Society pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13382 for having provided, or attempted to provide, financial, material, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of, U.S.-designated Dandong Zhongsheng Industry & Trade Co. Ltd (Dandong Zhongsheng), an entity that is owned and controlled by, directly or indirectly, U.S.- and United Nations (UN)-designated Foreign Trade Bank (FTB), North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank.

“Treasury continues to enforce existing U.S. and UN sanctions against individuals and entities in Russia and elsewhere who facilitate illicit trade with North Korea. Those who attempt to circumvent our authorities to provide the DPRK with access to international financial markets expose themselves to significant sanctions risk,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker.

Russian Financial Society began to provide financial services to North Korea immediately upon attaining their non-banking credit organization license, which allows Russian Financial Society to transact in multiple foreign currencies. Russian Financial Society provided bank accounts for OFAC-designated Dandong Zhongsheng and to a North Korean chief representative of Korea Zinc Industrial Group, which was also designated for operating in the mining industry in the North Korean economy and for having sold, supplied, or transferred zinc from North Korea, where revenue or goods received may benefit the Government of North Korea.

Since at least 2017 and continuing through 2018, Russian Financial Society has opened multiple bank accounts for Dandong Zhongsheng. These actions have enabled North Korea to circumvent U.S. and UN sanctions to gain access to the global financial system in order to generate revenue for the Kim regime’s nuclear program.

Dandong Zhongsheng was designated by the United States for being owned or controlled by, directly or indirectly, FTB, an entity whose property and interests are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13382. Han Jang Su, FTB’s chief representative in Moscow, played a key part in acquiring banking services from Russian Financial Society. Han Jang Su was designated by the United States on March 31, 2017, for acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, FTB. Both Han Jang Su and FTB have also been designated by the UN Security Council Committee pursuant to Resolution 1718 (2006).

Russian Financial Society is the latest Russian financial institution sanctioned by OFAC for providing financial services to North Korea. In August 2018, OFAC designated Russian-registered Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank for knowingly conducting or facilitating a significant transaction on behalf of Han Jang Su.

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of this target that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within the United States (including transactions transiting the United States) that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.


Treasury Designates Singapore-Based Targets for Laundering Money in Support of North Korea

WASHINGTON. – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today announced North Korea-related designations of two entities and one individual, continuing the implementation of existing sanctions. In a related action, today the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed criminal charges against the same individual, Tan Wee Beng.

Today’s action highlights North Korea’s continued illicit use of the financial system to circumvent sanctions, as well as the U.S. Government’s commitment to safeguard the international financial system and implement existing UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Today’s action also makes clear that the United States will not hesitate to impose sanctions on any individual, entity, or vessel supporting North Korea’s illicit activities, regardless of nationality.

“Tan Wee Beng and his co-conspirators made deliberate efforts to launder money through the U.S. financial system on behalf of North Korea,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “Governments, financial institutions, and other companies worldwide need to be on high alert to these types of schemes.

The U.S. government will not overlook these deceptive practices. We are deeply committed to the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, and Treasury will continue to enforce and implement sanctions until that time.”

OFAC designated Singapore-based Tan Wee Beng, Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd, and WT Marine Pte Ltd pursuant to E.O. 13551 for having, directly or indirectly, engaged in money laundering, the counterfeiting of goods or currency, bulk cash smuggling, narcotics trafficking, or other illicit economic activity that involves or supports the Government of North Korea or any senior official thereof.

Tan Wee Beng is a director and significant shareholder of Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based commodities trading company. Over several years, dating back to at least 2011, Tan Wee Beng and at least one other individual in his company fulfilled millions of dollars in commodities contracts for North Korea. To do so,

Tan Wee Beng made a concerted effort to obfuscate payment origins and structure transactions to avoid regulatory scrutiny. Tan Wee Beng and his co-conspirators also knew of and took efforts to evade financial sanctions on North Korea. In at least one instance, when a wire payment was rejected, Tan Wee Beng and Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd orchestrated payment in bulk cash, hand-delivered to a North Korean.

OFAC also designated WT Marine Pte Ltd, a marine fuels company closely related to Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd, and of which Tan Wee Beng is the Managing Director. Last year, the JW JEWEL (IMO: 9402964) and NYMEX STAR (IMO: 9078191), vessels operated and managed by WT Marine Pte Ltd, engaged in illicit economic activity that involves or supports the Government of North Korea.

Many of the activities undertaken by Tan Wee Beng and his associated companies are the types of activities that were highlighted in the November 2, 2017 Advisory on North Korea’s Use of the International Financial System published by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

Most notably, today’s designations illustrate Treasury’s previous warnings regarding North Korea’s use of third-country companies to divide their payments into smaller outflows in complex layering schemes directed through front companies, shell companies, and shipping or trade businesses elsewhere in Asia. Moreover, North Korean financial representatives use third-country corporate service providers to establish the front or shell companies and use these companies to open bank accounts to access the U.S. and international financial systems.

Tan Wee Beng’s role in Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd and WT Marine Pte Ltd is also indicative of how North Korea-linked financial facilitators often establish and use multiple companies with the same owners or managers. These companies also frequently share addresses, telephone numbers, and employees, and they may transact with similar business partners. Additional questions or comments regarding the contents of the November 2, 2017 advisory should be addressed to the FinCEN Resource Center at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Moreover, UNSC resolution 1718 (2006) prohibits transactions with designated entities who subject to an asset freeze. In Resolution 2375 (2017) the UNSC decided that all Member State shall prohibit their nationals, persons subject to their jurisdiction, entities incorporated in their territory or subject to their jurisdiction, and vessels flying their flag from facilitating or engaging in ship-to-ship transfers to or from Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)-flagged vessels of any goods or items that are being supplied, sold, or transferred to or from the DPRK.

As a result of today’s action, any property or interests in property of the designated persons, including the two vessels, in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within the United States is blocked, and U.S. persons generally are prohibited from dealing with the designated persons.

Identifying information on the entities and individual sanctioned today.

Treasury Sanctions North Korean Officials and Entities in Response to the Regime’s Serious Human Rights Abuses and Censorship

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated three individuals in response to the North Korean regime’s ongoing and serious human rights abuses and censorship.

Treasury is taking this action in conjunction with the State Department’s “Report on Serious Human Rights Abuses and Censorship in North Korea,” which is being submitted in accordance with the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 (NKSPEA).

“Treasury is sanctioning senior North Korean officials who direct departments that perpetrate the regime’s brutal state-sponsored censorship activities, human rights violations and abuses, and other abuses in order to suppress and control the population.

These sanctions demonstrate the United States’ ongoing support for freedom of expression, and opposition to endemic censorship and human rights abuses,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

“The United States has consistently condemned the North Korean regime for its flagrant and egregious abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and this Administration will continue to take action against human rights abusers around the globe.”

Today’s actions shine a spotlight on North Korea’s reprehensible treatment of those in North Korea, and serve as a reminder of North Korea’s brutal treatment of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier, who passed away 18 months ago.

Otto would have turned 24 years old on December 12, and his parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier and the rest of his family continue to mourn for him. President Trump pledged in his 2018 State of the Union address that the United States will “honor Otto’s memory with American resolve.”

Today’s actions are part of this Administration’s continued efforts to highlight North Korea’s abysmal human rights record, and to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Today’s designations were issued pursuant to Executive Order 13687, which targets, among others, officials of the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), and are consistent with the provisions of NKSPEA. Individuals designated today are senior officials of previously sanctioned government bodies, including the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the Ministry of Public Security, WPK Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), and the WPK Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD).

OFAC designated Jong Kyong Thaek, the Minister of State Security, pursuant to E.O. 13687 for being an official of the Government of North Korea and of the WPK. According to the Department of State report, Jong Kyong Thaek plays a role in directing the censorship activities and abuses perpetrated by the MSS. The MSS was designated previously pursuant to E.O. 13722 for having engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for an abuse or violation of human rights by the Government of North Korea or the WPK.

OFAC designated Choe Ryong Hae, the Director of the OGD, pursuant to E.O. 13687 for being an official of the WPK. Choe Ryong Hae is reportedly seen as the “Number Two” official with control over the party, government, and military. The OGD is a powerful body of the North Korean regime, is instrumental in implementing censorship policies, and purports to control the political affairs of all North Koreans. The OGD also assumes oversight responsibilities over organizations undergoing party audits to inspect for ideological discipline.

When a party official deviates from the official message in public remarks, the OGD reportedly will dispatch an official to monitor a self-criticism session. Choe Ryong Hae is also a member of several powerful WPK committees, including Vice Chairman of the Executive Policy Bureau of the WPK Central Committee.

OFAC also designated Pak Kwang Ho, the Director of the PAD, pursuant to E.O. 13687 for being an official of the WPK. According to the Department of State report, in his capacity as the Director of the PAD, Pak Kwang Ho is responsible for maintaining ideological purity and managing the general censorship functions of the PAD, furthering the suppression of freedom of speech, expression, and censorship. The PAD is said to maintain oppressive information control and is responsible for indoctrinating the people.

Today’s Department of State report highlights the role of three groups responsible for implementing strict censorship and restricting access to foreign media. These groups are composed of personnel from the Government of North Korea and the WPK, whose property and interests in property were blocked in 2016.

These groups — which go by various numbered identifications such as Group 109, Group 118, and Group 114 — reportedly conduct warrantless searches for unapproved foreign media or content, inspect and confiscate computer content, including external storage devices, and even kidnap defectors or foreign citizens who support human rights in North Korea.

Human rights abuses undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; have devastating impacts on individuals; weaken democratic institutions; degrade the rule of law; perpetuate violent conflicts; facilitate the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets. The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons.

In total, since January of 2017, Treasury has taken action against over 500 individuals and entities engaged in activities related to, or directly involving, human rights abuse, including actions like today under the North Korea program and other programs such as Global Magnitsky, Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and other sanctions programs. Treasury has also published advisories to U.S. financial institutions on human rights abuses enabled by corrupt senior foreign political figures and their financial facilitators that can be found here, as well as advisories related to some of the programs listed above, which can be found here.


Treasury Sanctions North Korean State-Sponsored Malicious Cyber Groups

WASHINGTON. – Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions targeting three North Korean state-sponsored malicious cyber groups responsible for North Korea’s malicious cyber activity on critical infrastructure.

Today’s actions identify North Korean hacking groups commonly known within the global cyber security private industry as “Lazarus Group,” “Bluenoroff,” and “Andariel” as agencies, instrumentalities, or controlled entities of the Government of North Korea pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13722, based on their relationship to the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB). Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff, and Andariel are controlled by the U.S.- and United Nations (UN)-designated RGB, which is North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau.

“Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyber attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “We will continue to enforce existing U.S. and UN sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks.”

Malicious Cyber Activity by Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff, and Andariel
Lazarus Group targets institutions such as government, military, financial, manufacturing, publishing, media, entertainment, and international shipping companies, as well as critical infrastructure, using tactics such as cyber espionage, data theft, monetary heists, and destructive malware operations.

Created by the North Korean Government as early as 2007, this malicious cyber group is subordinate to the 110th Research Center, 3rd Bureau of the RGB. The 3rd Bureau is also known as the 3rd Technical Surveillance Bureau and is responsible for North Korea’s cyber operations. In addition to the RGB’s role as the main entity responsible for North Korea’s malicious cyber activities, the RGB is also the principal North Korean intelligence agency and is involved in the trade of North Korean arms. The RGB was designated by OFAC on January 2, 2015 pursuant to E.O. 13687 for being a controlled entity of the Government of North Korea. The RGB was also listed in the annex to E.O. 13551 on August 30, 2010. The UN also designated the RGB on March 2, 2016.

Lazarus Group was involved in the destructive WannaCry 2.0 ransomware attack which the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom publicly attributed to North Korea in December 2017.

Denmark and Japan issued supporting statements and several U.S. companies took independent actions to disrupt the North Korean cyber activity. WannaCry affected at least 150 countries around the world and shut down approximately three hundred thousand computers. Among the publicly identified victims was the United Kingdom’s (UK) National Health Service (NHS). Approximately one third of the UK’s secondary care hospitals — hospitals that provide intensive care units and other emergency services — and eight percent of general medical practices in the UK were crippled by the ransomware attack, leading to the cancellation of more than 19,000 appointments and ultimately costing the NHS over $112 million, making it the biggest known ransomware outbreak in history.

Lazarus Group was also directly responsible for the well-known 2014 cyber-attacks of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE).

Also designated today are two sub-groups of Lazarus Group, the first of which is referred to as Bluenoroff by many private security firms. Bluenoroff was formed by the North Korean government to earn revenue illicitly in response to increased global sanctions. Bluenoroff conducts malicious cyber activity in the form of cyber-enabled heists against foreign financial institutions on behalf of the North Korean regime to generate revenue, in part, for its growing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Cybersecurity firms first noticed this group as early as 2014, when North Korea’s cyber efforts began to focus on financial gain in addition to obtaining military information, destabilizing networks, or intimidating adversaries. According to industry and press reporting, by 2018, Bluenoroff had attempted to steal over $1.1 billion dollars from financial institutions and, according to press reports, had successfully carried out such operations against banks in Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Chile, and Vietnam.

According to cyber security firms, typically through phishing and backdoor intrusions, Bluenoroff conducted successful operations targeting more than 16 organizations across 11 countries, including the SWIFT messaging system, financial institutions, and cryptocurrency exchanges. In one of Bluenoroff’s most notorious cyber activities, the hacking group worked jointly with Lazarus Group to steal approximately $80 million dollars from the Central Bank of Bangladesh’s New York Federal Reserve account. By leveraging malware similar to that seen in the SPE cyber attack, Bluenoroff and Lazarus Group made over 36 large fund transfer requests using stolen SWIFT credentials in an attempt to steal a total of $851 million before a typographical error alerted personnel to prevent the additional funds from being stolen.

The second Lazarus Group sub-group designated today is Andariel. It focuses on conducting malicious cyber operations on foreign businesses, government agencies, financial services infrastructure, private corporations, and businesses, as well as the defense industry. Cybersecurity firms first noticed Andariel around 2015, and reported that Andariel consistently executes cybercrime to generate revenue and targets South Korea’s government and infrastructure in order to collect information and to create disorder.

Specifically, Andariel was observed by cyber security firms attempting to steal bank card information by hacking into ATMs to withdraw cash or steal customer information to later sell on the black market. Andariel is also responsible for developing and creating unique malware to hack into online poker and gambling sites to steal cash.

According to industry and press reporting, beyond its criminal efforts, Andariel continues to conduct malicious cyber activity against South Korea government personnel and the South Korean military in an effort to gather intelligence. One case spotted in September 2016 was a cyber intrusion into the personal computer of the South Korean Defense Minister in office at that time and the Defense Ministry’s intranet in order to extract military operations intelligence.

In addition to malicious cyber activities on conventional financial institutions, foreign governments, major companies, and infrastructure, North Korea’s cyber operations also target Virtual Asset Providers and cryptocurrency exchanges to possibly assist in obfuscating revenue streams and cyber-enabled thefts that also potentially fund North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile programs. According to industry and press reporting, these three state-sponsored hacking groups likely stole around $571 million in cryptocurrency alone, from five exchanges in Asia between January 2017 and September 2018.

U.S. Government Efforts to Combat North Korean Cyber Threats
Separately, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) have in recent months worked in tandem to disclose malware samples to the private cybersecurity industry, several of which were later attributed to North Korean cyber actors, as part of an ongoing effort to protect the U.S. financial system and other critical infrastructure as well as to have the greatest impact on improving global security. This, along with today’s OFAC action, is an example of a government-wide approach to defending and protecting against an increasing North Korean cyber threat and is one more step in the persistent engagement vision set forth by USCYBERCOM.

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these entities, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated entities, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the entities designated today may themselves be exposed to designation. Furthermore, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the entities designated today could be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through sanctions.

Information on the entities designated today.

Trump Acknowledges Summit With North Korea's Kim in Doubt


WHITE HOUSE, (STEVE HERMAN-VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump said his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might not take place next month.

"If it doesn't happen, maybe it will happen later," Trump said. "It may not work out for June 12."

Trump added, however, "There's a good chance we'll have the meeting," terming the preliminary discussions between his administration and North Korean officials, so far, "a good experience."

Trump also said of Kim that "I think he's absolutely serious" about the planned talks.

Trump, speaking in the Oval Office alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in, explained, "There are certain conditions that we want. I think we will get those conditions."

Asked about the conditions, Trump replied, "I'd rather not say." But he stated that the denuclearization of North Korea "must take place."

"After talking about the summit with unbridled enthusiasm, President Trump is now playing it cool, hinting that he could just as easily walk away," said Jean Lee, director of Korean history and public policy at the Wilson Center. "We know he wants it — and so does Kim Jong Un — but it's a complicated courtship between these leaders of two countries that remain in a technical state of war."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters at a State Department briefing Tuesday, said the U.S. is still working toward the June 12 summit date, but wouldn't predict whether the summit would take place. But he said he was "confident we'll get there" in the end.

Might call off meeting

North Korea has indicated it might call off the meeting due to disagreements on conditions by the United States for unilateral denuclearization.

“All in one [denuclearization] would be a lot better," Trump stated but acknowledged that for "physical reasons" that might not be immediately possible, Kim would have to agree to abandon his nuclear arsenal "over a very short period of time."

Trump, during a 35-minute exchange with reporters in the Oval Office, said if Kim agrees to that, "I will guarantee his safety," which would make Kim happy and "his country will be rich."

South Korea, China and Japan, according to Trump, are ready to invest "very, very large sums of money into helping to make North Korea great" if there's a deal made to get rid of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

"If it doesn't work out, he can't be happy," said Trump, who recently warned that North Korea would be "decimated" if it does not agree to give up its atomic arsenal.

"North Korea will chafe at this approach," Lee at the Wilson Center told VOA News. "Kim Jong Un doesn't want to be treated, publicly, like a pauper. He wants to come to the table as an equal, and from a position of perceived strength, not as a supplicant."

Moon, who flew to Washington from Seoul to try to persuade Trump not to call off next month's meeting in Singapore with the North's leader, said he has "every confidence [Trump] will be able to achieve a historic feat" by getting North Korea to denuclearize, ending the Korean War, establishing relations between Washington and Pyongyang and thus bringing "peace and prosperity" to the northern half of the peninsula.

"I will spare no effort to provide all necessary support," Moon said. "The fate and the future of Korea hinge on this."

The two-hour talks Tuesday between Trump and Moon marked their sixth meeting, although they have spoken on the telephone numerous other times.

Trump in charge

Moon, in the Oval Office discussion, credited Trump with bringing about the recent positive change of tone from North Korea, saying, "The person who is in charge is President Trump. President Trump has been able to achieve this dramatic change."

Trump, in response to a question from a South Korean reporter, said, "I have tremendous confidence in President Moon, and I think South Korea is very lucky to have him."

After a historic inter-Korean meeting between Moon and Kim last month, a followup round of high-level North-South talks was abruptly canceled by Pyongyang, which expressed anger about continuing military exercises between the United States and South Korea.

Trump said the two Koreas have been separated for decades by "an artificial border" and predicted "maybe someday in the future they'll get together and you'll go back to one Korea."

Also under discussion between Seoul and Washington is the size and cost of U.S. forces in South Korea to defend it against the North.

The Trump administration is reportedly considering reducing the number of American military personnel from the current level of 28,500. A South Korean official said Seoul and Washington "remain far apart on the cost-sharing issue."

Asked by VOA News at Tuesday's White House briefing about the outcome of the discussion concerning the U.S. troops, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders replied she had no immediate information.

"At least in the meeting that I was in that did not come up," Sanders added.

Steve Herman

Steve Herman is VOA's White House Bureau Chief.

Trump, Kim Exchange Summit Commitments

SINGAPORE, (STEVE HERMAN-VOANEWS).- In an agreement signed Tuesday in Singapore, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” while U.S. President Donald Trump “committed to provide security guarantees” to North Korea.

The document also calls for the two countries to jointly work on efforts to build a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, to establish new U.S.-North Korea relations and to recover the remains of prisoners of war and military members missing in action. The two sides also promised to hold follow-up negotiations.

“We’re going to denuke North Korea,” Trump told VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren.

He also said neither side issued ultimatums and that the agreement Tuesday was the result of months of negotiations.

“You know that could have ended in a war, that could have ended with many millions of people — you know North Korea very well, Seoul has 28 million people, that could have ended with millions of people dead but we ended with a deal,” he said.

Trump also told VOA that U.S. troops stationed in South Korea will remain in place, but announced one concession long-sought by North Korea.

"We are going to get out of the war games that cost so much money," he said.

Trump said at later news conference that existing U.S. sanctions will remain in place until North Korean nuclear weapons "are no longer a factor."

As for verification, Trump said he and Kim discussed the issue and that monitoring denuclearization efforts would be achieved “by having a lot of people there.” He also predicted Kim would begin work right away to “live up to” the agreement.

Asked if the talks included specifics on the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, Trump said “what they have is substantial.”

On human rights, Trump said Tuesday’s meetings only very briefly touched on the topic, but that the two sides would discuss it more in the future. When asked about thousands of people imprisoned in labor camps, Trump said he thinks he has helped them because things in North Korea will change.

“I think they are one of the great winners today,” he said.

He cited American college student Otto Warmbier, who was arrested by North Korean authorities in 2016 and died a year ago after being repatriated to the United States with severe brain damage.

“Otto did not die in vain, he had a lot to do with us being here today,” Trump said.

'Special bond'

The U.S. president repeatedly struck a positive tone about Kim, thanking the North Korean leader for taking what he called a bold step and saying he “has the chance to seize an incredible future for his people.”

He also thanked the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea for their efforts in making Tuesday’s summit happen.

Hours earlier as he sat alongside Kim at the signing ceremony, Trump said the two leaders “have developed a special bond” and that after several hours of talks Tuesday and the signing of the agreement he thinks the U.S. relationship with North Korea “will be very different than in the past.”

Both Trump and Kim expressed gratitude toward each other for the meetings.Trump said he would “absolutely” invite Kim to visit the White House and is open to visiting Pyongyang as well.

“Today we had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind,” Kim said, speaking through a translator.”The world will see a major change.”

Kim at one point told Trump that many people around the world would see their meeting as a kind of fantasy, as if it the event was a “science fiction movie.”

​Historic meeting

They first met Tuesday for about 40 minutes alone, except for their translators, before bringing in delegations from their respective sides for a working lunch. They walked outside together after the lunch, stopping briefly to look at the U.S. president's special limousine.

"We had a really fantastic meeting, a lot of progress, very positive," Trump said.

The U.S. side included Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The North Korean participants included former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho, and Ri Su Yong, vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party.

Tuesday marked the first ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. Dozens of cameras snapped photos as the two men first came together in front of a background of U.S. and North Korean flags.

The language in Tuesday’s agreement was not as strong as the CVID standard Pompeo set out. But the secretary of state still seemed positive about the outcome.

“It’s a great day,” Pompeo told VOA.

About 5,000 journalists are in Singapore for the occasion, but only a handful of American and North Korean reporters and photographers were permitted at the venue when the two leaders greet each other.

Reporter Bill Gallo contributed to this report.

US Charges N. Korean Man in Sony Hack, Other Attacks

WASHINGTON, (MASOOD FARIVAR-VOANEWS)- U.S. prosecutors on Thursday announced criminal charges against a North Korean hacker they said was involved in a string of brazen cyberattacks in recent years, including the 2014 invasion on Sony Pictures and a 2016 heist at the central bank of Bangladesh.

Prosecutors identified the hacker as Park Jin Hyok, a computer programmer and member of a North Korean regime-sponsored hacking team known as the Lazarus Group. The group is accused of engaging in a multiyear conspiracy to conduct "multiple destructive cyberattacks" on banks and other institutions around the world.

The charges against Park were filed in federal court in Los Angeles, where Sony Pictures is headquartered, on June 8, four days before U.S. President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a historic summit in Singapore. The allegations come as the Trump administration is seeking to break a stalemate in denuclearization talks with the North Korean government.

Park, who faces charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit computer-related fraud, remains at large. The FBI released a wanted poster that seeks information about him.
The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Park and Chosun Expo Joint Venture, a North Korean government front company that employed him.

"Today's announcement demonstrates the FBI's unceasing commitment to unmasking and stopping the malicious actors and countries behind the world's cyberattacks," FBI Director Christopher Wray said. "We stand with our partners to name the North Korean government as the force behind this destructive global cybercampaign."

Accused of numerous attacks

The hacking group is accused of carrying out numerous other attacks on financial institutions, entertainment companies, defense contractors, virtual currency industries, academia and electric facilities in the United States, as well as on entities in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers called the scale of the cyberattacks "staggering."

The attack on Sony Pictures crippled the company's networks and was widely believed to have been carried out in retaliation for the release of The Interview, an action comedy film that depicted a fictional assassination plot against Kim.

The complaint alleges that the North Korean hackers stole movies and other confidential information during the invasion and rendered thousands of the company's computers inoperable. The administration of former President Barack Obama sanctioned three North Korean organizations and 10 individuals for the attack.

In the 2016 attack on Bangladesh Bank, the country's central bank, Lazarus Group hackers attempted to transfer out as much as $1 billion but ended up with $81 million. The heist is seen as the largest cybertheft from a financial institution.


The group was also behind the 2017 global ransomware attack known as WannaCry 2.0. The complaint alleges that the Lazarus Group hackers wrote the malware used in the attack, which infected computer networks in more than 150 countries.

The criminal complaint alleges that Park worked as a computer programmer for Chosun Expo for over a decade.

The company is affiliated with Lab 110, a component of the North Korean military intelligence service, according to the complaint. In addition to performing legitimate programming work for paying clients, the Lazarus

Group is accused of engaging in malicious cyberattacks.

Officials said the investigation into the group was ongoing.

Growing cyberthreats to US

In recent years, U.S. officials have singled out North Korea among the countries that pose growing cyberthreats to the U.S. In its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report, released in February, the Office of the

Director of National Intelligence said Russia, China, Iran and North Korea "will pose the greatest cyberthreats to the United States during the next year."

Lazarus is one of several North Korean hacking groups. Another is known as Reaper, a group that started off focusing on South Korea but has expanded to targets throughout East and South Asia over the past year, said Benjamin Reed, senior manager for cyber espionage analysis at cybersecurity firm FireEye.

"So there is definitely more than one hacking group out of North Korea," Reed said.

He said north Korean hackers engage in two types of activities: traditional espionage aimed at its neighbors, Asian countries and the United States, and financially motivated cyberattacks carried out in countries with vulnerable computer networks.

Reed said that Lazarus was active as recently as a few months ago and that it remained to be seen how it would react to the publicity surrounding the criminal charges announced Thursday.
Deterrent effect

The group had been previously tied to the Sony, Bangladesh Bank and WannaCry attacks, and the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert about it in June. But the scrutiny hasn't fazed the group, Reed said.

Jeanette Manfra, the homeland security department's top cybersecurity official, said the charges against Park could have a deterrent effect.
"It's important to hold people accountable for their actions and use the tools that the government has available," Manfra said. "It changes a country's calculus."

VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

US Digs in for Long-Term North Korea Nuclear Talks

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- The North Korea denuclearization progress has stalled as pressure from economic sanctions appears to be easing, and after U.S. President Donald Trump declared that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that reaching a denuclearization deal with North Korea “may take some time.” He spoke during a Cabinet meeting with the president and high-ranking members of his administration.

Trump had also said Tuesday that there is “no time limit” to the negotiations, but added Wednesday in a tweet that sanctions would remain in place and there would be big benefits for North Korea at the end of the process.

North Korea analyst Cheong Seong-chang, with the Sejong Institute in South Korea, says the new patient approach by the Trump administration may indicate a growing recognition that its prior demands for rapid and unilateral denuclearization before granting any concessions are unrealistic.

“The United States has started to recognize clearly that it will take a considerable amount of time for North Korea’s complete denuclearization. In this situation, it is very unrealistic to expect North Korea to move forward with the denuclearization process without any compensation for years to come,” Cheong said.

North Korea has called for a more reciprocal approach with economic and diplomatic incentives tied to each phase of the process.

​Easing pressure

At the Singapore summit in June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Trump and reiterated a broad commitment to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Following the summit Trump tweeted, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” but many analysts said the president’s inflated claims of his achievements had eased pressure on the Kim government to take concrete action.

Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!

“The fact that the president has come back and said North Korea is no longer a nuclear problem, without any substantial evidence for that, is going to create a problem now because North Korea will say, ‘we don’t need to do anything,’” said Paul French a commentator on politics in Asia and author of the book North Korea: State of Paranoia.

Subsequent negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have so far not produced any significant progress. After Pompeo’s last visit to Pyongyang in July, North Korea accused his delegation of making “gangsterlike” demands in calling for compete denuclearization.

Go Myong-Hyun, a North Korea research fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, says the Kim government is still striving to preserve all or parts of its nuclear arsenal, while at the same time pushing to end international sanctions that block 90 percent of the country’s trade, and pursue increased economic development.

“This is the dilemma not just for us but for the North Koreans, how to come up with this balance between nuclear capabilities clearly opposed by all of North Korea’s neighbors whereas at the same time achieve a modicum of economic development,” Go said.

Sanctions evasion

Since the summit, there have been reports of China and Russia informally easing sanctions enforcement on North Korea, along with calls by Beijing and Moscow to reduce the United Nations Security Council imposed ban on the North’s exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products. However, the U.S. has indicated it would veto any such measure.

The South Korean government said Thursday that it is investigating reports that Chinese companies illicitly shipped 9,000 tons of North Korean coal through South Korea last year.

“If necessary, penalties will be imposed. This will become a moment to remind the importance of implementing the U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea,” said South Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman Noh Kyu-duk.

The United States also accused North Korea on Thursday of making illicit transfers of oil between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

Sanctions evasions may help Pyongyang endure in the short term, but the continued reduction in overall trade and dwindling foreign reserves will likely increase the prospects for either denuclearization progress or renewed provocation in the months to come.

“The economic sanctions are being played out slowly but for sure. This is something that North Korea is not very happy with,” Go said.

​Americans’ remains

There also seemed to be a misunderstanding over North Korea’s ability to rapidly return to the United States the remains of some of the American service members killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, which was also agreed to in Singapore. A week after the summit, President Trump claimed the repatriation had already happened, even though it had not.

Part of the reason for the delay is logistics related. Many of the more than 55 sets of remains are in different locations and it will take time for authorities in Pyongyang to collect and verify them.

“It is inevitable that it will take some time, but I think there was a misunderstanding with the United States that North Korea is ready and prepared to return the remains at any time,” said Cheong with the Sejong Institute.

Secretary of State Pompeo said Wednesday that the remains will be returned in the coming weeks.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul and Sarah Williams in Washington contributed to this report.

US Strike on Syria Sends Mixed Messages to North Korea

SEOUL, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- The recent U.S. missile strikes against Syria could increase pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, or reinforce in Pyongyang the need for nuclear deterrence.

The United States, France and Britain fired 105 missiles at three Syrian chemical weapons facilities on Saturday, in response to an alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma that killed at least 40 people and wounded or sickened hundreds of others. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.

The combined military strike on Syria comes as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are preparing for an expected summit in late May or early June to discuss dismantling the North’s nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees.

Maximum pressure

Trump’s willingness to use force against Syria can be seen to reinforce his “maximum pressure” campaign message, that in addition to imposing tough sanctions banning most North Korean exports, the U.S. would take military action, if necessary, to force Kim to terminate his nuclear program and end the continued development of a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the U.S. mainland.

Calling the U.S. attack on Syria “a warning for Pyongyang,” the South Korean newspaper the Korea Joongang Daily, in an editorial on Monday said, “If Kim wants to be free from the fear of a potential raid, then he must be willing to denuclearize.”

From this perspective the U.S. show of force in Syria will increase pressure on the leadership in North Korea to offer meaningful nuclear concessions at the Trump-Kim summit.

“Unless it abandons at least part of its nuclear and missile capabilities then the Trump administration will not be satisfied,” said Bong Young-shik, a political analyst with the Yonsei University Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul

Nuclear deterrence

However the U.S. military strike on Syria could also reinforce concerns in North Korea that giving up its nuclear deterrent would make the country more vulnerable to a similar attack.

“If it thinks that its regime is not guaranteed, it will keep the nuclear program,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor of American studies at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

North Korea has long justified the need for its nuclear program by pointing to the fate of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, who was overthrown and killed by U.S. and NATO backed rebel forces, just a few years after he agreed to give up his country’s nuclear weapons.

The U.S. and its allies justified their military action in Libya as a “humanitarian intervention” to prevent government forces from slaughtering the civilian opposition. Without a nuclear deterrent, leaders in Pyongyang worry the U.S. could use a similar humanitarian justification to intervene in North Korea.

“The U.S. can view North Korea as a autocratic state or human rights violator, and then it can always overthrow the Kim Jong Un regime that does not have nuclear program,” said Professor Kim.

From this perspective, the Kim government could use the strike against Syria to emphasize its step-by-step approach to denuclearization to maintain stability, which would include the reduction or removal of U.S. forces in Korea over time as part of the required security guarantees.

Asia reaction

Major U.S. Asian allies Japan, South Korea and Australia voiced strong support for combined military action to punish Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons and to deter other countries as well.

China, however, objected to the U.S. and its allies taking “unilateral military action” prior to an impartial investigation and without the consent of the U.N. Security Council, where Russia, a close ally of Syria, holds veto power.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.