Korea talks ease war fears in Washington, but for how long?

UNTV News   •   January 12, 2018   •   2948

A man watches a TV broadcasting a news report on a high-level talks between the two Koreas at the truce village of Panmunjom, in Seoul, South Korea, January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Talks between North and South Korea ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics have eased fears of war over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States – at least for now.

But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no sign of willingness to give in to U.S. demands and negotiate away a weapons program he sees as vital to his survival, so any reduction in tensions could prove shortlived.

Rhetoric on all sides may have moderated as a result of the first round of intra-Korean talks in more than two years on Tuesday, but U.S. officials say hawks in President Donald Trump’s administration, up to and including Trump himself, remain pessimistic that they will lead anywhere.

In recent days, in a series of media leaks, U.S. officials have spoken of the president’s willingness to consider a limited preemptive strike on North Korea to change Kim’s mindset, despite the risk of touching off a war.

But there are divisions within the administration.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster has been the most vocal of Trump’s aides arguing for a more active military approach, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the military leadership have urged caution, stressing the need to exhaust diplomatic options, according to five officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A White House National Security Council official said the administration was “constantly developing a range of options, both military and non-military” but declined to address any differences between senior aides.

The Pentagon declined comment on internal discussions, though one spokesman said Mattis had stressed in public that the effort to confront the North Korean crisis was diplomatically led. The State Department referred to Tillerson’s statements on the need to pursue diplomacy backed by strong military options.

According to the narrative put forth by those advocating a tougher response, a strike could be limited to a single target with the aim of making Kim see reason, not to topple his government, something North Korea’s neighbor and only major ally, China, would not countenance, the officials said.

“Trump is convinced the only thing Kim understands and respects is a punch in the face, which he thinks no previous administration has had the guts to do,” one U.S. official said.

“At a minimum, he thinks that warning the Chinese about a preemptive strike would motivate Beijing to force Kim to shut down the programs that threaten the U.S.,” the official said.

It remains unclear whether these disclosures by people close to the internal deliberations were simply psychological warfare aimed at sowing strategy-changing fear within the North Korean leadership or reflected Trump’s serious intent.However, the administration’s debate on whether to put greater emphasis on strike plans has slowed because of the North-South contacts and February’s Winter Olympics to be hosted by South Korea. Pyongyang said it would send a delegation.

Some U.S. officials have suggested that North Korea was using diplomatic overtures to try to drive a wedge between Washington and ally Seoul and did not intend to engage seriously. The South and the United States are technically still at war with the North because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

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‘WHO KNOWS WHERE IT LEADS?’

Trump’s public response to the intra-Korean meeting has been mostly positive though at times tinged with skepticism.

“Who knows where it leads?” he told reporters on Wednesday after discussing the talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a long-time advocate of dialogue with Pyongyang and whose capital Seoul could be devastated in any major conflict.

Trump, who has exchanged insults and threats with Kim in recent months, was quoted on Thursday as telling the Wall Street Journal in an interview: “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un.” Trump offered no details and asked whether he had spoken with Kim, said: “I don’t want to comment on it. I‘m not saying I have or I haven‘t.”

The administration had been due to hold a Cabinet-level meeting this week to sharpen its economic and military options for dealing with North Korea.

But officials say this discussion has been postponed until after the Paralympic Games, which follow the Olympics and end in March, given the intra-Korean talks and a planned 20-country meeting on North Korea hosted by Canada next week.

The Vancouver meeting, aimed at increasing the U.S.-led pressure campaign against Pyongyang, was announced by Washington just after North Korea’s last intercontinental ballistic missile test in late November.

One U.S. official said one option would be to bomb a North Korean missile or nuclear facility based on a “high confidence” intelligence assessment that North Korea planned another test. Such a strike could be triggered by evidence that North Korea was fueling an ICBM, the official said. Another option would be a retaliatory strike on an ICBM or nuclear site after a test, another official said.

The officials said McMaster has argued that if China were assured that a strike would be limited to one target and not the beginning of a campaign to overthrow Kim, an all-out war could be avoided.

Chinese political experts said China was opposed to even limited strikes.

However, Zhao Tong, a North Korea expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing, said China’s attitude might change if North Korea launched a nuclear-tipped ICBM into the Pacific Ocean or fired missiles toward Guam.

China sees the Trump administration’s discussion of military options as a psychological game to force Beijing and Moscow to maintain pressure on Pyongyang, but they were making crisis preparations just in case, Zhao said.

“Even if Trump is not really serious about a military strike, there is always the risk of miscalculation or an over-reaction from North Korea,” Zhao said.

A South Korean official said Seoul believed the chance of a U.S. strike was still low. “President Trump is aware of the consequences. He’s been advised by a lot of agencies and departments of the damage it would cause and the number of victims,” the official said.

The prevailing view at the State Department is that military action is not worth the huge risk, a senior U.S. official said.

However, the official said, “there are military options that could achieve benefits we consider in our national interest at a cost we are willing to bear.”

The consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies is Kim is convinced Washington seeks to overthrow him and only a nuclear arsenal can deter that.

A Japanese ruling party lawmaker said he did not believe the Korean talks could narrow the gap between North Korea’s demand for recognition as a nuclear-armed state and the U.S. refusal to accept that.

“It may be dangerous after the Olympics,” the lawmaker said.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick, John Walcott and Phil Stewart in Washington,; Josh Smith, Hyonghee Shin and Soyoung Kim in Seoul, Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Nobohiro Kubo and Linda Sieg in Tokyo; editing by Grant McCool

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

OFWs in South Korea given one-year extension of stay

Marje Pelayo   •   April 19, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in South Korea who are under the Employment Permit System (EPS) and whose contract term expires within the period April 13, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2021 are given an extension of stay to one more year.

The policy, which took effect April 13, allows foreign workers to remain in the country given the prevailing condition brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labor Attaché Maya Valderrama of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Korea in a report to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the said issuance from South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is in line with the relevant amendment to the Act on Employment of Foreign Workers.

The issuance provides that the stay and employment period of foreign workers (E-9 and H-2) under the EPS and whose employment period (three years or four years and 10 months) expires from April 13 to December 31, 2021 is extended for one year.

Valderrama said the Korean government expects this measure will resolve the difficulties of workers entering and leaving the country during the pandemic.

This will also help in the manpower shortage of small and medium-sized companies.

Bello thanked the Seoul government for the move that will benefit hundreds of workers in Korea.

“We welcome this unprecedented employment measure extended by the Republic of Korea (ROK) to our EPS workers especially during this time of the pandemic. The preservation of jobs of our OFWs everywhere in the world is our primordial concern, and this development highlights the value of our 15 years of continuing bilateral cooperation on labor with the ROK,” Bello said in a news release on Sunday.

The extension period of stay and employment also applies to EPS workers who have been given a 50-day visa extension by ROK’s authorities, provided that the extended period also falls within the period April 13 to December 31, 2021.

Immigration Bureau nabs 3 South Korea’s fugitives wanted for online scams

Aileen Cerrudo   •   April 14, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—Three of South Korea’s most wanted fugitives were arrested by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) fugitive search unit (FSU) on Tuesday (April 13).

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the three aliens were arrested in operations conducted in Parañaque City and Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija.

They were identified as Jung Myunghun, 38, allegedly the syndicate’s top leader; Yu Daewoong, 38, and Kang Wesung, 36, also a leader of the group.

Morente said these fugitives are high-profile criminals long sought by Korean authorities and Interpol.

Based on criminal records, since July 2014, the suspects perpetrated online scams by uploading and advertising items on online second-hand markets, duping victims into purchasing products that turned out to be non-existent.

Their passports have also been revoked, making them undocumented aliens.

“Korean authorities uncovered thousands of cases—almost 2,600—wherein victims have been defrauded by the suspects. It is estimated that victims incurred a combined loss of more than 10 billion won, or close to US$9 million, from the syndicate’s racket,” according to the BI.

Morente said the suspects will be deported to face the cases against them in Korea.

“Their names shall likewise remain in our blacklist, which effectively bans their re-entry in the country,” the BI chief said. AAC

DFA calls on North Korea to comply with int’l obligations after ballistic missile launch

Aileen Cerrudo   •   March 31, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—Following the ballistic missile launch of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on March 25, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has reiterated its call for the country to comply with international laws.

The Foreign Department, in a statement on Friday (March 31), expressed concern over DPRK’s latest ballistic missile launch saying the actions undermine regional peace and stability, not only in the Korean Peninsula, but also in the entire region.

The department said the DPRK should abide by the obligation under the resolutions set by the United Nations Security Council.

Two missiles were launched by North Korea into the sea near Japan on Thursday (March 25). AAC

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