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

UNTV News   •   September 24, 2018   •   2129

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.

South Korean president warns of epidemic second wave

UNTV News   •   May 10, 2020

South Korean President Moon Jae-In

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday (May 10) warned of a second wave of the epidemic later this year, saying the recent cluster underscored the risks that the virus which causes COVID-19 can spread widely again at any time.

“It’s not over until it’s over. While keeping enhanced alertness till the end, we must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention,” he said in a televised speech marking the third anniversary of his inauguration.

South Korea reported 34 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the highest daily number in a month, after a small outbreak emerged around a slew of nightclubs that a confirmed patient had visited.

Of the new cases, 26 were domestically transmitted infections and eight were imported cases, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.

As part of a long-term battle on COVID-19, the KCDC will be given greater power and will be renamed the Disease Control and Prevention Administration, Moon said. Local governments will set up their own epidemic response systems with more experts.

(Production: Hyunyoung Yi)

South Korean officials call for caution amid reports that North Korean leader is ill

UNTV News   •   April 27, 2020

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows Kim Jong Un (C), chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, inspecting the defence detachment on Changrin Islet, North Korea (issued 25 November 2019).

South Korean officials are calling for caution amid reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be ill, emphasizing that they have detected no unusual movements in North Korea.

A spokeswoman for the Unification Ministry said on Monday (April 27) she had nothing to confirm when asked about reports that Kim was in Wonsan.

South Korea’s defence ministry spokeswoman said on Monday that the military hotline is operating normally and there’s no more to say, when she asked about whether they discussed the recent issue with North Korea.

Rumours and speculation over the North Korean leader’s health began after he made no public appearance at a key state holiday on April 15 and has since remained out of sight.

South Korea media last week reported that Kim may have undergone cardiovascular surgery or was in isolation to avoid exposure to the new coronavirus. (Reuters)

(Production: Daewoung Kim, Hyunyoung Yi)

Questions hang over North Korea succession amid reports on Kim health

UNTV News   •   April 22, 2020

North Korea has never publicized who would follow leader Kim Jong Un in the event he is incapacitated, and with no details known about his young children, analysts say his sister and loyalists could form a regency until a successor is old enough to take over.

South Korean and Chinese officials on Tuesday (April 21) cast doubt on reports that Kim was gravely ill following a cardiovascular procedure, after his absence from a key state anniversary event triggered speculation about his health.

But the media reports sparked questions about who would be in place to take over if the 36-year-old Kim, a third-generation hereditary leader, fell seriously ill or died. He became leader when his father Kim Jong Il died in 2011 from a heart attack.

The following are key figures in the North Korean leadership circle and what role they may play in any future transition.

Kim Yo Jong, Kim’s younger sister has been the most visible presence around the leader in the past two years, while serving formally as a vice director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful Central Committee but unofficially as her brother’s chief of staff.

She was named an alternate member of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful Central Committee Politburo earlier this month, continuing her climb through the leadership hierarchy.

Kim, who is believed to be 31, has a firm control of key party functions, setting herself to be the main source of power behind a collective leadership.

Choe Ryong Hae rose to be the North’s nominal head of state last year becoming the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

It capped decades of service with the party for the ruling Kim family, previously serving as the influential political head of the North’s military under the young leader.

He and Pak Pong Ju, a fellow politburo member and former state premier who oversaw the North’s push to introduce more free market functions to revive its economy, are likely to be the figureheads leading a collective leadership.

Kim Kyong Hui was once a powerful figure in the leadership circle when her brother Kim Jong Il ruled the country. She had not been seen since her husband, Jang Song Thaek, once regarded as the second most powerful man in the country, was executed in 2013 by Kim Jong Un. She has long been ill but briefly appeared early this year at a gala performance alongside her nephew.

Kim Han Sol, the 24-year-old son of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Kim Jong Un who was murdered by North Korean agents in 2017, is expected to remain in exile.

Kim Jong Un is believed to have three children with Ri Sol Ju, the youngest born in 2017, according to the South’s National Intelligence Service.

The oldest is a 10-year-old son, meaning any of the three would need the assistance of their relatives or political guardians if they were to become a fourth-generation hereditary leader.

Kim Jong Il had been groomed for 20 years to lead the country, while Kim Jong Un only had just over a year due to his father’s sudden death from a stroke. (Reuters)

(Production: Hyunyoung Yi)

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