In February 2018, Kim Yo Jong was the friendly face of North Korea, smiling and waving as she joined the crowds in South Korea at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
The two Koreas had entered the stadium together at the opening ceremony and fielded a joint women’s ice hockey team. Kim was not only the first member of the North’s ruling family to visit the South, but also shook President Moon Jae-in’s hand. Relations were set to improve.
This month, however, it was Kim, the younger sister of the country’s leader Kim Jong Un, who was repeatedly cited in bellicose warnings directed at South Korea, apparently over the leaflets floated across the border or along the river by defector groups, but really about the North’s increasing frustration about Seoul’s inability to deliver on cooperation promises or convince the United States to ease crippling economic sanctions.
The events were a “manufactured crisis”, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a reader in international relations at King’s College London and an expert on the two Korean Peninsula.
On Wednesday, the eve of the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, state media reported that Kim Jong Un had instead decided to suspend the military actions his sister had threatened.
“North Korea feels that it hasn’t received the concessions it was looking for from South Korea and the United States at the summits over the past few years,” Pacheco Pardo told Al Jazeera. “The heightening of tensions is to signal displeasure at what has happened and that something different is needed.”
State media reported, Kim’s step back reflected an analysis of “prevailing conditions”.
North and South have been stuck in an uneasy truce since 1953 when an armistice brought an end to the fighting in which millions of civilians had died and militaries on all sides had suffered heavy casualties. A peace treaty has never been formalised, and in recent decades, Pyongyang has lurched between engagement, isolation and the kind of headline-grabbing act exemplified by its decision to blow up the joint liaison office in Kaesong.
That move – a week after Pyongyang said it had severed all communication links with Seoul – effectively signalled the end of the Panmunjon Declaration and the latest round of engagement which had begun in 2018 under Moon.
It was “an attempt to make a clean break with the Moon administration,” noted a commentary in 38 North, a website devoted to the analysis of North Korea from the Stimson Center in Washington, DC.
The heightened rhetoric followed a series of missile tests last year after the second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump broke down over sanctions relief, and a later attempt to revive denuclearisation talks foundered. Kim had set a yearend deadline for the US to shift its stance.
North Korea grabbed world attention when it blew up the joint liaison office it set up with South Korea in the border town of Kaesong last week [KCNA via Reuters]
In targeting Seoul, and dismissing Moon’s offer of envoys, Pyongyang might have been hoping that the president, who has made inter-Korean cooperation a cornerstone of his administration, would lean on the US to ease some of the sanctions imposed as a result of the North’s nuclear testing.
Instead, the South responded more forcefully than usual, saying that by criticising Moon, Kim had “fundamentally damaged the trust between the two leaders”. The unification minister resigned.
Jay Song, an academic at the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, says the internal politics in the South also requires scrutiny, and notes that the Unification Ministry cannot do anything without a green light from the National Security Council in the presidential Blue House.
“The National Security Council are internationalists [and] prioritise the Republic of Korea-US alliance over the Unification Ministry’s ethno-nationalist mandate on improving inter-Korean relations,” said Song, who is the Korea Foundation senior lecturer in Korean Studies. “The choice for South Korea is not an easy one, especially when the North wants to be a nuclear state.”
South Korea has struggled with how to deal with its northern neighbour since the end of Japanese colonisation led to the partition of the Korean Peninsula between the Soviet Union-backed North and the US-backed South.
Pyongyang, which has long dismissed Seoul as a “puppet” of the US, sent its troops across the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950, in a move that led to UN intervention, the mobilisation of US and Commonwealth forces, and brought in Chinese troops fighting in support of the North Koreans.
China was worried then, as it is now, about maintaining a buffer state, while the US continues to station some 28,500 troops in the South. The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two countries remains one of the world’s most heavily-fortified frontiers, despite calming measures that were part of the 2018 agreement.
United Nations forces hold their ears while firing mortars at Communist positions on the Naktong River front in South Korea, in August 1950. The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 when North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel into the South [File: AP Photo/Max Desfor]
Under the deal, the two sides agreed to remove soldiers from some border areas, withdraw loudspeakers used to broadcast propaganda messages from North to South – moves Pyongyang this month said it would reverse – and curb the activities of defectors and activists floating balloons of propaganda leaflets from South to North.
Amid the escalation, South Korea again promised legal action to put an end to the leafleting, but the sanctions make it difficult for Moon to deliver on the economic initiatives envisaged in 2018 without the backing of the US.
Even before Kim’s move to step back from provocations, analysts noted that while the posturing was helping Kim Yo Jong burnish her credentials for leadership in a patriarchal and militarised regime, the decision to map out its planned steps suggested some flexibility – an opportunity for her brother to “refrain from directly engaging in hostilities in order not to exhaust the chance that he could still meet with President Moon and President Trump to make a deal in the future”, said Lami Kim, a professor of Asian Studies at the US Army War College.
“The wording of the announcement, certainly in Korean, makes clear that this is a temporary decision,” KCL’s Pacheco Pardo observed. “So the announcement leaves the door open for further de-escalation, but also for re-escalation.”
After the heady days of the Singapore and Hanoi Summits, Trump now seems to have lost interest in North Korea, focused instead on shoring up his own position in a bruising battle for re-election in November amid the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak and public anger over police brutality and systemic racism.
Even during the Singapore summit, if former national security adviser John Bolton is to be believed, Trump’s focus was merely on the optics, wanting to know how many journalists were expected to attend the final news conference.
“That’s what he was focused on,” Bolton said in an interview with ABC News on Sunday. “That he had this enormous photo opportunity – first time an American president has met with the leader of North Korea.”
Kim and Trump leave their historic summit in Singapore, after signing documents that acknowledged the progress of the talks and pledged to keep the momentum going. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton says the president was preoccupied with the optics of the event [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
“Like many other countries around the world, North Korea has probably realised that this president is not going to deliver,” said Pacheco Pardo. “But they don’t want to completely break with the US.”
China remains North Korea’s biggest ally and satellite images shared by the Stimson Center suggest trade may have resumed at the border, after months of closure as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The outbreak of COVID-19 suspended tourism and trade with China, taking the country’s economy close to a breaking point,” said the US Army War College’s Kim. “It is still too early to give up on diplomacy, not because KJU is a trustworthy leader, but because the dire economic situation in North Korea make economic inducements highly appealing.”
In Pyongyang, the regime feels it has made sufficient concessions – taking steps to destroy its nuclear facility in Yongbyon and returning the remains of soldiers who were killed during the war – to deserve some concessions.
Some 147 sets of remains arrived back in Seoul from Hawaii on Wednesday, some of which were discovered as a result of the 2018 initiative, but if the South had hoped the two-year-old detente was a sign that the cycle of provocation and engagement had been consigned to the past, the events of the past few weeks have shown there is still a long way to go.
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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