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North Korea fires missile over Japan that lands far out in the Pacific

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Friday, September 15th, 2017

A passerby walks past a TV screen reporting news about North Korea’s missle launch in Tokyo, Japan September 15, 2017. REUTERS / Issei Kato

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea fired a missile that flew over Japan’s northern Hokkaido far out into the Pacific Ocean on Friday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, further ratcheting up tensions after Pyongyang’s recent test of its most powerful nuclear bomb.

The missile flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific about 2,000 km (1,240 miles) east of Hokkaido, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in a hastily organized media conference.

“These repeated provocations on the part of North Korea are impermissible and we protest in the strongest words,” Suga said.

Warning announcements about the missile blared around 7 a.m. (2200 GMT Thursday) in the town of Kamaishi, northern Japan, footage from national broadcaster NHK showed.

The missile reached an altitude of about 770 km (480 miles) and flew for about 19 minutes over a distance of about 3,700 km (2,300 miles), according to South Korea’s military – far enough to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

(For graphic on North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, click tmsnrt.rs/2vXbj0S)

The U.S. military said soon after that it had detected a single intermediate range ballistic missile.

North Korea has launched dozens of missiles under young leader Kim Jong Un as it accelerates a weapons program designed to give it the ability to target the United States with a powerful, nuclear-tipped missile.

“This rocket has meaning in that North Korea is pushing towards technological completion of its missiles and that North Korea may be feeling some pressure that they need to show the international community something,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

Last month, North Korea fired a missile from similar area near the capital Pyongyang that also flew over Hokkaido into the ocean. Two tests in July were for long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching at least parts of the U.S. mainland.

“ASHES AND DARKNESS”

South Korea said it had fired a missile test into the sea to coincide with North Korea’s launch and the presidential Blue House has called an urgent National Security Council meeting. Japan also convened a National Security Council meeting.

The North’s launch came a day after Pyongyang threatened to sink Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes and darkness” for supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions against it for its Sept. 3 nuclear test, its sixth and most powerful by far.

The U.S. general who oversees America’s nuclear forces said on Thursday he was making the assumption that the test was in fact a hydrogen bomb, as Pyongyang had claimed, based on the size of the blast.

“I‘m assuming it was a hydrogen bomb,” said Air Force General John Hyten, head of the U.S. military’s Strategic Command. “I have to make that assumption as a military officer,” Hyten told a small group of reporters who were accompanying Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on a trip to Hyten’s headquarters in Nebraska.

The North accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.

Australia, a strong and vocal ally of the United States, quickly condemned the launch.

“This is another dangerous, reckless, criminal act by the North Korean regime, threatening the stability of the region and the world and we condemn it, utterly,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in an interview with Sky News on Friday.

“This is a sign, I believe, of their frustration at the increased sanctions on North Korea, recently imposed by the Security Council. It’s a sign that the sanctions are working,” he said.

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on a U.S.-drafted resolution and a new round of sanctions on Monday, banning North Korea’s textile exports and capping fuel supplies.

The U.S. dollar fell sharply against the safe-haven yen and Swiss franc in early Asian hours in response to the launch, although losses were quickly pared in very jittery trade.

U.S. President Donald Trump had been briefed on the latest launch, the White House said.

Trump has vowed that North Korea will never be allowed to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile, but has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbor. China in turn favors an international response to the problem.The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.

Reporting by Jack Kim and Christine Kim in SEOUL and Hideyuki Sano in TOKYO; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Paul Tait

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Explainer: Why nuclear disclosure is key first step in North Korea’s denuclearization

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Monday, September 24th, 2018

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un acknowledges the audience after watching the performance titled “The Glorious Country” at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 19, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RC155595F230

 

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New pledges made last week by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to curb his nuclear weapons program may have opened the door to further talks with Washington, but just how much impact would they have on the North’s nuclear arsenal?

At last week’s summit with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, Kim promised to allow outside inspections on key missile facilities, and expressed a willingness, for the first time, to “permanently” scrap North Korea’s main nuclear complex.

Graphic: Nuclear North Korea – tmsnrt.rs/2lE5yjF

While these are positive first steps, experts say they would do little to damage the country’s larger nuclear and missile capabilities, nor demonstrate whether Kim is serious about giving up his nuclear arsenal.

The agreement by Kim and Moon also does not stipulate any plans by North Korea to declare a list of its nuclear weapons, facilities and materials, or a concrete timeline for denuclearization.

With U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expected to meet his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho to restart nuclear talks as soon as this week on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, here is a summary of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities at stake.

YONGBYON

In the joint statement, the North expressed its willingness to “permanently dismantle” the Yongbyon nuclear complex if the United States takes corresponding action. Moon said this would include a declaration of an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

A sprawling complex located about 100 km (60 miles) north of the capital, Yongbyon is the country’s main nuclear facility and the birthplace of its nuclear programs.

Built in the late 1950s with Soviet aid, it houses at least three reactors, fissile materials, fuel re-processing plants and a multitude of research labs, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a Washington-based think tank.

An operational five-megawatt reactor there produces weapons-grade plutonium, while there is also a facility to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU), also used to make atomic bombs, experts say.

Dismantling Yongbyon would slow the production of fissile material, but not reduce the current stockpile of plutonium and HEU, nor clear suspicions of other secret production sites, says Joshua Pollack, a North Korea missile expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.

“Yongbyon is where all of North Korea’s plutonium production has taken place, so this step would effectively cap their stockpile of plutonium,” Pollack said.

“Unfortunately, it would neither reduce their current plutonium stockpile nor address the production of highly enriched uranium, which most experts believe happens both at Yongbyon and at one or more other sites.”

North Korea has denied the existence of other secret sites, but U.S. media reports, citing intelligence sources, said in recent months the North has been running at least one covert uranium enrichment facility just outside of Pyongyang, known as the Kangson enrichment site.

“But there is still value in being able to verifiably shut down the known facilities with a negotiated mechanism for inspecting suspected sites,” said Jenny Town, managing editor of the Washington-based Stimson Centre’s 38 North project, which provides satellite imagery analyses of the North’s weapons facilities.

TONGCHANG-RI

North Korea also said it will “permanently dismantle” its missile engine testing site and launch platform in the northwestern town of Tongchang-ri in the presence of experts from “concerned countries”.

Also known as the Sohae satellite launching station, this site has been the country’s primary site for rocket launches since 2012. It is where the North last year test-fired intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) designed to reach the U.S. mainland.

The facility consists of a missile assembly building, a launch pad with a gantry and mobile launch platform, fuel and oxidizer storage, a rocket engine test stand and an instrumentation stand, according to NTI.

In July, after the Singapore summit between Kim and Trump, satellite imagery indicated the North has begun dismantling the engine test site in Tongchang-ri, but without allowing outsiders access for verification.

While it has served as a key test center for liquid fuel engines designed for long-range missiles and played an important role in the country’s ICBM development, Sohae’s importance may be diminishing, experts say. Pyongyang, having declared its newest ICBM complete in November, has called for mass production to begin.

The North has also been moving toward solid-fuel missiles that can be fired from harder-to-detect mobile launchers, making a fixed stand increasingly unnecessary. There is also at least one other operational missile launch station, Tonghae or Musudan-ri in the northeast, though it has not been used since 2009.

“Neither that engine test site nor launch platform would be U.S. priorities,” said Lee Ho-ryung, head of North Korea military studies at the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul. “Maybe a political message to the United States, but that would hardly make meaningful steps toward denuclearization.”

EXISTING NUCLEAR STOCKPILE
Estimates on how many nuclear weapons North Korea vary. U.S. intelligence officials have put it at between 30 and 60 warheads, while South Korea’s intelligence agency said last month the North may have as many as 100 warheads.

38 North, which estimates North Korea has 50-60 nuclear warheads, said last year the operational Yongbyon reactor is capable of producing around 6 kg of plutonium every year, enough to make about two bombs.

The suspected continuation of production makes it an urgent task to get Pyongyang to first freeze nuclear and missile production, as well as convince it to declare all related facilities for verification, experts say.

“How far the North would go to disclose its facilities would be key,” said Kim Dae-young, a military analyst at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy in Seoul.

“Though it may be implausible to rid them completely of nuclear capabilities, it’s crucial to make it impossible for them to build the bombs again, including through regular inspections.”

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL and David Brunnstrom and Matt Spletanick in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by Haejin Choi and Jeongmin Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Lincoln Feast.

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Koreas’ first ladies visit Pyongyang children’s hospital, music university

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

North Korea’s First Lady Ri Sol Ju (Left) and South Korea’s First Lady Kim Jung-sook (Right) | REUTERS

South Korean first lady Kim Jung-sook visited a children’s hospital and music university with her North Korean counterpart Ri Sol Ju in Pyongyang on Tuesday (September 18), a tour that took place on the sidelines their husbands’ inter-Korean summit.

Ri accompanied Kim’s visit to the Okryu Children’s Hospital and the Kim Won Gyun University of Music, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were holding their meeting in the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

South Korea’s music producer Kim Hyung-suk, singer Ailee and boy band member Zico from Block B joined the first ladies’ tour to the hospital and music college.

The footage provided by the Pyongyang Press Corps showed Kim greeting the hospital workers with Ri before watching an orchestra performance at the university.

On Wednesday (September 19), Kim is scheduled to visit the Mangyongdae School Children’s Palace, an educational institution for art, music, and sports for young talent. It is unknown Ri will be accompanying Kim for the second day of the state visit. — Reuters

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Trump on Florence: ‘We are ready’

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Thursday, September 13th, 2018

Satellite imagery showing eye of Hurricane Florence | NASA via REUTERS

 

U.S. President Donald Trump said the federal government “is ready” as fears about Hurricane Florence spread south on Wednesday (September 12), with Georgia declaring a state of emergency after officials in the Carolinas urged people to evacuate the coast ahead of the storm’s expected pounding winds and rain-driven floods.

Florence weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm on a five-step scale but had maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour (201 km per hour) as of 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), down from 130 mph earlier in the day. Its trajectory showed its center most likely to strike the southern coast of North Carolina by late Thursday or early Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Updated NHC forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast of the Carolinas, carrying days of heavy rains that could bring intense inland flooding from South Carolina to Virginia. Parts of North Carolina could get 40 inches (1 meter) of rain. — Reuters

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