Korea Crisis 2017
The US State Department's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan Joseph Yun notified South Korean lawmakers visiting Washington 26 May 2017 of a "4-point policy plan" that was approved by Donald Trump. The plan was seemingly also insinuated by Trump himself who is in Italy for the G7 summit,and where he reportedly met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and expressed confidence that the North Korea problem will be "solved".
The 4-point plan includes the following:
- not recognizing North Korea as a nuclear state;
- imposing every possible sanction and pressure;
- not seeking regime change; and
- resolving the conflict with dialogue in the end.
The 4-point plan does not explicitly mention the use of military force. Yun also explained to the South Korean delegation that the plan also reflected opinions of not only South Korea but also China and Japan. The newest plan was seen by many as a timely and welcome de-escalation of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. South Korean experts agreed that Washington's broadly defined 4-point plan aligned nicely with Seoul's own North Korea policy, which is to use both sanctions and dialogue with the regime.
Differences could arise in terms of how to deal with the North's ongoing nuclear program. South Korea is closer to China in terms of trying to make North Korea 'suspend' its nuclear program first before inducing a complete denuclearization. But the Trump administration has said before that North Korea must completely dismantle its nuclear program [which would pose hopeless verification challenges].
One of the most pressing issues to be dealt by South Korean President Moon Jae-in is North Korea, as the previous administration's latest measures of sanctions and punishment were not able to put a halt to the regime's nuclear ambitions. That's why the foreign ministry's briefing to President Moon's special advisory committee on 24 May 2017 garnered attention as Moon vowed to take a different stance on Pyongyang during his campaign.
North Korean state media hailed the 20 May 2017 missile launch as a great success and confirmed that the projectile was a medium-range ballistic missile of a type called the Pukguksong-2, a land-based version of the submarine-launched ballistic missile Pukguksong-1. It also said Kim Jong-un has authorized the missiles to be mass produced for actual deployment. The missile was launched from an area north of Pyongyang and flew some 500 kilometers before falling into the East Sea. By comparison, the Hwasong-12 missile test-fired a week earlier flew some 700 kilometers. Experts say, if launched at the optimal angle, the Pukguksung-2 has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, while the Hwasong-12 can fly 4,500 kilometers -- over twice as far.
North Korea will seek the extradition of anyone involved in what it says was a CIA-backed plot to kill leader Kim Jong-un last month with a biochemical weapon, a top official said 11 May 2017. Han Song-ryol, the vice foreign minister, called a meeting of foreign diplomats on in Pyongyang to outline North Korea's allegation that the CIA and South Korea's intelligence agency bribed and coerced a North Korean man into joining in the assassination plot, which the North Korean Ministry of State Security has suggested was thwarted. North Korea's permanent mission to the UN issued a statement calling the purported plot to kill Kim a "declaration of war". The permanent mission to the UN said the Ministry of State Security declared that a "Korean-style anti-terrorist offensive will be commenced to mop up the intelligence and plot-breeding organisations of the US and South Korea".
"These terrorists plotted and planned in detail for the use of biochemical substances, including radioactive and poisonous substances, as the means of assassination," Vice Minister Han said, reading from a prepared statement. "These biochemical substances were to be provided with the assistance of the CIA ... while the South Korean Intelligence Service was going to provide necessary support and funding for this attempt at assassination on our supreme leader."
North Korea accused the US and South Korean spy agencies of an unsuccessful assassination attempt against leader Kim Jong-un involving biochemical weapons. In a statement carried on state media, North Korea's ministry of state security on 05 May 2017 said that a "hideous" group sanctioned by the CIA and South Korean Intelligence Service (IS) had infiltrated North Korea "on the basis of covert and meticulous preparations to commit state-sponsored terrorism against the supreme leadership". The ministry said the spy agencies in June 2014 "ideologically corrupted and bribed" a North Korean citizen who had been working in Russia to carry out the alleged assassination on Kim after returning home.
Referencing recent US airstrikes in Syria and Afghanistan, US Vice President Mike Pence issued a strong warning to North Korea 17 April 2017 that Donald Trump would use military force if needed to deal with the Kim Jong Un government’s escalating nuclear threat. “Just in the last two weeks the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria in Afghanistan. North Korea would do well not to test his resolve," said Vice President Pence.
US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster says there is now an "international consensus," including "China and the Chinese leadership," that North Korea's missile tests cannot be allowed to continue [based on prior experience in the late 1990s, the DPRK could easily relocate missile test activities to Iran, if needed]. McMaster seemed to walk back the threat of a possible U.S. military strike against North Korea, at least for now. "It's time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully," he said on the ABC news network’s "This Week" program. "We are working together with our allies and partners and with the Chinese leadership to develop a range of options."
After remarks by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the US policy of strategic patience is over, and comments from US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley that negotiations with North Korea were no longer being considered as "all options" were now on the table, many observe that a new threat policy, months in the making, was in full-scale use by the West.
Taiwan's official Central News Agency on 16 April 2017 reported that China was trying to resolve the North Korean nuclear impasse through diplomatic channels with the North. The report said that Pyongyang demanded China ensure the North's security and economic gain, and give a period of three years to abandon nuclear weapons. However, Beijing was reported to be asking the North to dismantle nuclear weapons within three months and to accept the offer within two to three weeks. But Reuters reported that North Korea did not respond to requests from senior Chinese diplomats, including the country's foreign minister and China's special envoy for the North Korea nuclear issue, Wu Dawei, to meet North Korean counterparts.
Other sources claimed secret talks had begun between the US and North Korea to end the crisis. The US was said to have demanded that North Korea permanently abandon, not freeze, its nuclear program. In return, Washington was claimed to have offered establishing a formal diplomatic relationship between Washington and Pyongyang, and stationing infantry outside Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, to protect the Kim Jong-un regime. Plus, the US Navy would support the mission at North Korea's military port in Wonsan. [such a deal !! this report does not seem credible, as it is hard to imagine why Kim Jong-un would seem the presence of US forces in the North].
On 15 April 2017, North Korea celebrated the 105th anniversary since the birth of the founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung. This is the largest national holiday in the country, which is called the Day of the Sun. Kim Il Sung is referred to as the "Sun of the Nation" in the DPRK. In the past, North Korean leaders would test weapons on April 15. In addition, Seoul does not exclude a possibility of either a nuclear or a missile test on the 85th anniversary of the Korean People's Army, which the North celebrates on April 25.
Donald Trump dispatched a carrier strike group to Korean waters. The ships were timed to arrive just before April 15, the anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founder. It was predicted that North Korea will conduct "provocations" [missile and or nuclear tests] to demonstrate that it did not fear America. It was improbable that Trump could ignore such provovations, or refrain from some kinetic response [eg, shooting down DPRK missiles after they had been launched, etc]. Neither side would back down, both would feel the need to escalate, with no clear end in sight. At a minimum, this show of force would come on the eve of the Korean presidential election, though the impact on the election remained unclear. The "Day of the Sun" came and went, with no provocations.
Fear that Washington could strike North Korea was triggered as Trump ordered an air strike on Syria while he was meeting with rival Chinese leader Xi Jinping. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US strike against Syria did mean to serve as a warning to regimes like North Korea. But Trump was reported 12 April 2017 by the Wall Street Journal to have signed off on a policy approach to North Korea that involved increased economic and political pressure with military options under consideration in the long-term - “on the back burner".
The US National Security Council was reported by NBC to have presented Trump with a series options for responding to the North Korea's nuclear and missile program, including the assassination of Kim Jong-un and other senior North Korean leaders, the sending special forces into the country to sabotage key infrastructure, and even the deployment of American nuclear weapons in South Korea.
In what could be seen as a possible change on China's North Korea policy, Beijing's foreign ministry released a rather refrained quote to Washington's uncommon decision to send back its USS Carl Vinson strike group near the Korean peninsula, in contrast to widely expected strong opposition comments. It seemed like China's North Korea policy changed, but Beijing has the habit of pushing North Korea away whenever tensions rise on the Korean peninsula and pull Pyongyang back when tensions die down.
Gen. Lori Robinson, who heads the US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) said she was "extremely confident" that the US' current anti-missile defense could intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Pyongyang. Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted a Pyongyang foreign ministry official saying, "We never beg for peace but we will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms and keep to the road chosen by ourselves."
Amid speculations that the US could militarily engage in the Korean Peninsula situation, ROK Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said that the US warships came in preparation for a possible nuclear test or missile launch in the North. Moon said the military was keeping in mind that North Korean provocations are likely around the birthday of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung and the anniversary of the foundation of the North Korean People’s Army this month.
South Korea downplayed the possibility of a preemptive US strike against North Korea. Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duck-haeng said on 10 April 2017, during a regular briefing, that Washington had expressed its support of Seoul’s policy on the North, which seeks a peaceful resolution of issues. The spokesman said it’s important to deal with the North’s provocations with wisdom and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. He added the government will closely cooperate not only with the U.S. but also regional neighbors to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem. He explained Seoul's policy of sanctions and pressure against Pyongyang is part of the process to lead the North to change and work out issues through dialogue, and stressed that the government does not seek military tension or confrontation.
On 10 April 2017, North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a statement warning that the US carrier strike group's deployment showed that the US's "reckless moves for invading" had "reached a serious phrase," adding that Pyongyang would defend itself against such "reckless acts of aggression." On 11 April 2017, the foreign ministry spokesman said "We will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms... We will hold the US wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions."
On 11 April 2017 North Korean state media warned of a nuclear attack on the US at any sign of a US pre-emptive strike and said the country was prepared to respond to any aggression by the United States. "Our revolutionary strong army is keenly watching every move by enemy elements with our nuclear sight focused on the US invasionary bases not only in South Korea and the Pacific operation theatre but also in the US mainland," the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.
A US preemptive strike against North Korea could result in massive civilian casualties in South Korea. Vasily Kashin, senior researcher at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, issued the warning in his contribution to the Russian daily Izvestiya on 11 April 2017. Kashin said US precision strikes could destroy some of the North’s key facilities such as the Yongbyon nuclear site, but it would be difficult to remove all its nuclear materials, weapons and missiles. The expert also projected that Pyongyang would turn to its asymmetric military capabilities to counter such action by the US, making massive civilian casualties inevitable. He added that the North’s counterattack would not deal a severe blow to US troops, however South Korea's capital region, with a population of 25 million, is within the range of the North’s artillery attack.
Moon Jae-in of the biggest Minjoo Party said in a statement that any military action on the peninsula must never be conducted without South Korea's consent. Moon noted that if he takes power, he will visit the United States rapidly to discuss ways to resolve the issue of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). A spokesman with Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-right People's Party, Moon's archrival, said the re-deployment of the U.S. aircraft carrier near the peninsula was viewed as a strong show of force against the DPRK's nuclear program. He expressed worry about the escalated military tensions on the peninsula, adding that the DPRK's nuclear issue must be resolved in a peaceful way.
Amid concerns over possible North Korean provocations and a US military response, Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn urged the government and the public to remain cool-headed. As Hwang called for composure in dealing with the North, Seoul's Unification Minister expressed his opposition to a possible US military strike on North Korea. He said its impact on South Korea must be considered.
On 11 April 2017, the ROK Defense Ministry warned against exaggerated speculations about the current security situation on the Korean Peninsula. Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun addressed the fast-spreading social media rumors suggesting an impending U.S. airstrike on North Korea or its leader Kim Jong-un's escape from his country. While calling for caution against unwarranted assessments of the peninsula situation, the spokesman said that any military action against the regime will be conducted based on thorough bilateral coordination of the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry has dismissed rumors of a looming war on the Korean Peninsula, which were rapidly spreading on social networking sites. Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said that the U.S. is making it clear that it will not seek any new policies or take measures without discussing them with South Korea.
VOA reported 12 April 2017 that "Despite the heightened inter-Korean tensions over the North's accelerated nuclear and ballistic missile testing, and the increasing talk of a U.S. preemptive strike, few South Koreans appear concerned by the prospect of imminent conflict.... in Seoul, the flare up in tensions is not causing any sense of panic, even though the city is situated within range of the North’s artillery and missile arsenal. Many in South Korea see the current crisis as political theater that has been played out repeatedly in the past."
According to the Pravda Report on Wednesday 12 April 2017, some 600,000 people, said to be a quarter of Pyongyang's total population, wre subject to immediately leave the capital city. This is the only source for this story, which would seem to be fake news. The order was supposed to have been given by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The report said this is because there are not enough bomb shelters in Pyongyang to accommodate the whole population. It noted the 600,000 people were "mostly individuals with criminal records" and they will have to leave Pyongyang to let others use the bomb shelters. The report cited experts as viewing the evacuation as most likely stemming from extremely strained tensions in relations with the United States.
Japanese and South Korean media were said to be "hysterically" reporting on the deployment of as many as 150,000 People's Liberation Army (PLA) personnel, part of the PLA's 16th, 23rd, 39th and 40th Group Armies, to the Chinese-North Korean border. This story is thinly sources, and which would seem to be fake news. These forces were to coordinate efforts to alleviate a refugee crisis in the event of a Second Korea War breaking out. China refuted the news about the deployment of 150,000 troops to the border of the DPRK. The Chinese Ministry of Defense issued a sort of non-denial denial about the deployment.
The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that no unusual military moves were being detected in North Korea. JCS press chief Roh Jae-chun made the remarks in a news briefing at the Defense Ministry on Thursday 13 April 2017.
The White House on Friday 14 April 2017 denied a report that the US government was prepared to launch a strike if officials were certain that North Korea was about to conduct a nuclear test. NBC News reported on Thursday 13 April 2017 that multiple senior US intelligence officials talked about possible preemptive action. The US network quoted the officials as saying the US military has positioned destroyers with Tomahawk cruise missiles in waters about 480 kilometers from the North Korean nuclear test site. The officials reportedly said bombers are also being lined up in Guam.
The United States was reportedly sending a third aircraft carrier strike force to the western Pacific region in an apparent warning to North Korea. The USS Nimitz, one of the world's largest warships, was to join two other supercarriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, in the western Pacific. The US military had rarely simultaneously deployed three aircraft carriers to the same region.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said 15 august 2017 he would watch America's actions "a little more", after consulting his army officials on a plan to attack the U.S. territory of Guam.
North Korea's state-run media reported that Kim was briefed on the specific details of a missile strike. He was quoted to have said the North will carry out the "important decision" as declared-- should the U.S. continue its "reckless, provocative actions on the Korean peninsula." The North's threat to target Guam with four intermediate-range ballistic missiles, gave rise to a surge in tension between Washington and Pyongyang, with Donald Trump saying America is locked and loaded for military action.
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