There seems to be a real fascination with Kim Jong Un's security and how exactly he goes about his business while paranoid of assassination attempts and decapitation strikes from afar and from potential competition within his own circle of power. It turns out that Kim doesn't just have a Secret Service-like agency tasked with his protection. He has his own 100,000 man army with a stove-pipe command structure that reports directly to him. This elite unit is known as Guard Command.

Kim Jong Un’s Praetorian Guards Are Really A 100,000 Man Personal Army

The security we saw in Singapore is nothing compared to the immense personal security force that serves the Kim family back at home –
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There seems to be a real fascination with Kim Jong Un’s security and how exactly he goes about his business while paranoid of assassination attempts and decapitation strikes from afar and from potential competition within his own circle of power.

It turns out that Kim doesn’t just have a Secret Service-like agency tasked with his protection. He has his own 100,000 man army with a stove-pipe command structure that reports directly to him. This elite unit is known as Guard Command.

Kim’s personal protection unit, which is made up of the best that Guard Command has to offer, usually melts into the shadows during his appearances. But recently, members of a select offshoot of this special outfit have become something of an international sensation, as they have appeared running in unison alongside the Supreme Leader’s Mercedes Pullman Guard armored Limousine on multiple high-profile occasions.

This human phalanx of fit North Korean commandos dressed in tailored business suits with earphone pigtails dangling from their heads definitely appears to mean business when it comes to defending their principal, but they also serve a major propaganda tool. The spectacle visually highlights Kim’s near-sacred importance and the might of his sprawling security apparatus. 

Back home, Guard Command serves to protect the ruling family’s interests throughout the country and includes a range of capabilities, as well as a large assortment of equipment used to carry out its unique missions. In the fabulous research document North Korea House Of Cards: Leadership Dynamics Under Kim Jong Un, the Committee For Human Rights In North Korea describes Guard Command as such: 

The GC (Ho-wi Sa-ryeong-bu), which is also referred to as the Bodyguard Command, is responsible for the safety and welfare of Kim Jong-un, his family, and senior North Korean officials. Its origins begin in 1946, when elements of the 90th Training Command were made responsible for providing security for North Korea’s emerging leadership. It has been restructured several times. 

Since the 1990s, it has been growing in importance as the center of the regime’s Praetorian Guard. The GC numbers close to 100,000 personnel dispersed across the country in a number of battalions, regiments, and brigades. In addition to providing for the personal security of Kim Jong-un and other high-ranking officials, it conducts surveillance on high-ranking political and military officials. It also shares responsibility for the defense of the capital with the Pyongyang Defense Command and the Pyongyang Anti-Aircraft Artillery Command.

Located in Puksae-dong, Moranbong District, Pyongyang, the corps-sized GC is equipped with tanks, artillery, and missiles. It has several combat brigades stationed at the Kim family’s residences and other critical facilities throughout the country.

Various subunits within the GC’s structure execute a wide variety of roles. These include maintaining and guarding the Kim family’s palaces and shrines, controlling access to the Capital via checkpoints, providing medical care not available to any other North Korean in order to prolong the “Dear Leader’s” life, and protecting other North Korean elites. A logistics group supports all these endeavors in a traditional sense but also procures the luxury items and consumables only available to the Kim family and the regime’s top power brokers.

One unit, the Rapid Response Force, is made up of a couple thousand hardened soldiers with a fleet of armored personnel carriers and heavy weaponry who are dispersed throughout Pyongyang. Their sole responsibility is to counter a coup attempt at a moment’s notice, by grabbing and holding strategic command and control and information facilities to ensure that the regime is not successfully overturned. 

Another unit focuses on communications and is likely the force that would convey Kim’s nuclear weapons release commands if they were issued. It is described by North Korea Leadership Watch as such:

The Guard Command’s Security Department manages and monitors all telephone and Internet communications by members of the DPRK leadership. One section of the Security Department is tasked with meeting KCI’s communication needs (telephone, fax, Intra/Internet) to issue instructions and orders. In cooperation with the Ministry of People’s Security, the Guard Command’s Security Department also manages the personnel and technical maintenance of hardwired telephone and fax lines used by senior government, party and military leadership in Pyongyang and provincial capitals.

The Second Guard Department of the Guard Command works to protect Kim and his family directly and has some of the most capable troops in the entire order. They work directly with an even more select group of bodyguards that are part of the so-called Office Number Six, to coordinate Kim’s personal protection operations. 

Office Number Six is made up of highly experienced GC operatives with at least a decade of dedicated service and provides the innermost protective circle around Kim Jong Un. They also provide a key administrative function—planning and executing the Supreme Leader’s events and travel arrangements. The CFHRINK report describes this shadowy unit in detail:

The Office of Adjutants (Office 6) coordinates the protection of the Supreme Leader. It presumably liaises with the Guard Command and other elements of the internal security apparatus. Adjutants from this office accompany Kim Jong-un on his guidance inspections. According to one source, the adjutants form the inner circle of security around the Supreme Leader and are the only people allowed to carry guns in his presence. Under Kim Jong-il, this office had approximately 1,200 officers and soldiers, the size of a KPA battalion.

Office 6, which reports directly to Kim Jong-un’s Personal Secretariat through the GC, takes the lead in all of Kim Jong-un’s public appearances. It is responsible for the protection of the Supreme Leader at the closest range. As such, it provides security inside the first two layers of security in a seven-layer cordon every time the Supreme Leader travels outside of his Party headquarters or one of his residences.

In addition to providing physical security, which is the responsibility of the Bodyguard Department, Office 6 has a number of other functions. The Plans Department coordinates the Supreme Leader’s events in terms of the list of participants and the operational aspects of the protection plan. An editorial bureau attached to Office 6 is responsible for how the images and news of the Supreme Leader are crafted by North Korean media.

Here is a chart showing how Kim’s security is organized for events:

In some ways, this arrangement is somewhat analogous to America’s Secret Service Uniform Division and the President’s Protection Detail, but in North Korea, the whole operation is highly militarized and operates on a much grander scale.  

It turns out that Kim doesn't just have a Secret Service-like agency tasked with his protection. He has his own 100,000 man army with a stove-pipe command structure that reports directly to him. This elite unit is known as Guard Command.
It turns out that Kim doesn’t just have a Secret Service-like agency tasked with his protection. He has his own 100,000 man army with a stove-pipe command structure that reports directly to him. This elite unit is known as Guard Command.

The SSD, or State Security Department, that is mentioned in the organizational chart above, doesn’t have to do with Kim’s personal protection primarily, but considering we are talking about the North Korean police state, their involvement in Kim’s travel planning and protection during visits is worth noting. The CHFRINK report states:

SSD carries out a wide range of counterintelligence and internal security functions normally associated with the secret police. It is responsible for finding anti-state criminals—those accused of anti-government and dissident activities, economic crimes, and disloyalty to the political leadership. In addition, it runs political prisons and has counter-intelligence and intelligence collection responsibilities. It monitors political attitudes and maintains surveillance on people who have returned from foreign countries. Department personnel escort high-ranking officials, guard national borders, and monitor international entry points. The degree of fear it instills in the political security bureaus of the KPA, which have representatives at all levels of command, is uncertain. However, it occasionally takes actions against members of the elite.

The MPS, or Ministry of People Security, acts as the state police in North Korea, so their involvement with Kim’s movements doesn’t need explanation. 

Guard Command supposedly goes to North Korean highs schools to find the best specimens to fill out its ranks. According to defector Lee Young Kuk who was the personal bodyguard for Kim Jong Il for over a decade, well-proportioned bodies and the lack of scars are desirable features for candidates, and they must come from families with impeccable loyalty to the party dating back multiple generations. 

Training, which lasts years, includes smashing granite slabs on your chest with a sledgehammer, breaking light bulbs with a single finger, and crushing tiles with your head, as well as a lot of fairly brutal martial arts. 

CNN did an interview with Lee Yong Kuk, it stated:

Lee says he went through very similar training before he was considered fit to protect a leader. “It’s tough training,” says Lee. “But why do it? It’s to build up loyalty. A handgun won’t win a war and taekwondo serves nothing but the spirit, but it creates loyalty.”

His training also involved more traditional methods. Target practice, physical, tactical and weight training, swimming and using a boat. But that’s only part of the preparation.

A large part of the training, he claims, is ideological brainwashing. Lee says he was trained to believe Kim Jong Il was a god — and that the only reason he was born was to serve and protect the “Dear Leader.”

Lee noted that even with all his power, Kim Jong Il was an uneven and violent man that was struck with fear at all times:

He recalls “two faces” to the man, describing him as someone who could give out gold when he was happy, and death sentences when he was not. 

“When Kim Jong Il would arrive in his vehicle, 60- to 70-year old advisors would run away and throw themselves onto the grass. They had dust on their clothes but they wanted to hide from him,” says Lee.

“They are scared because even when he was happy he would be rude and could chop off their heads. “He remembers a senior official who once used Kim Jong Il’s private elevator and ashtray. When Kim found out, he sent him to a concentration camp, where the man died.

But his successor, the man now negotiating on equal footing with the U.S., is even more brutal according to the veteran bodyguard:

Lee knew the North Korean leader was cruel when he was serving him. But, he says, it was only after he escaped to South Korea, his new home, that he realized Kim was a true dictator, as his father Kim Il Sung had been before him, and his son and current leader Kim Jong Un is now. 

But he is worried that Kim Jong Un may be the worst of all. “Kim Jong Un ended up killing his uncle, who even Kim Jong Il could not kill,” said Lee. “As power was handed down to the third generation, it became crueler. Kim Jong Un has created loyalty, but it is fake and based on fear.” 

Regardless of who in the Kim family is crueler, the massive security apparatus surrounding the top echelons of the regime is a manifestation of what it takes to sustain a reclusive military dictatorship with a royal-like family at its pinnacle. And all of it costs gobs of money, which could be used to satisfy the basic needs of North Koreans, namely clean water, consistent electricity, and especially a steady diet of basic nutrition. 

Yet considering the closed society they come from, one in which the common man must be an idolator of the Kim family and the party they rule, as well as their extreme training, indoctrination, and not lack of distractions, North Korea’s top bodyguards are no laughing matter and their dedication is likely among the most extreme on the planet. 

Guard Command’s workload and repertoire seems to be on the precipice of a drastic expansion as Kim Jong Un’s profile rises on the world stage. Just the idea of a “Young General” that travels outside of North Korea’s own borders is a new concept, at least in the years since Kim Jong Un rose to power, and his father wasn’t much of a globetrotter either as he hated to fly. But the unit was behind the impressive logistics ballet that brought the young ruler to Singapore for the historic, albeit hollow, summit with the American President. 

With all this in mind, we are likely to be seeing a lot more of the General Guard and Office Number Six’s ‘unique’ capabilities, and they may even be descending onto Washington, D.C. in the not so distant future. 

While the Secret Service may be the best-known head of state protective unit in the world, and the Pope’s Swiss Guard is certainly the most colorful, Kim Jong Un’s force is by far the most expansive. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

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Kim-Trump summit exposes frailties over North Korea As the dust settles in the wake of the much-vaunted and, ultimately, failed second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, are the two countries now back at square one?

Kim-Trump summit exposes America frailties over North Korea and international political order

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks with U.S. President Donald Trump during their second summit in Hanoi on Friday in a photo released by the Korean Central News Agency. | KCNA /REUTERS
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks with U.S. President Donald Trump during their second summit in Hanoi on Friday in a photo released by the Korean Central News Agency. | KCNA /REUTERS

One of the biggest net losers in all of this is South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who said that he was “perplexed” at how things had fallen apart so quickly – TAKASHI YOKOTA AND JONATHAN BERKSHIRE MILLER , Japan Times

CRIMSON TAZVINZWA, AIWA! NO!|As the dust settles in the wake of the much-vaunted and, ultimately, failed the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, are the two countries now back at square one?

Before the summit, the U.S. president had hoped to make a deal with his “friend” Kim, raising speculation of a more solid denuclearization agreement — possibly even an “end-of-war declaration” of the Korean War, which has technically continued even after an armistice agreement in 1953.

Kim, having made an arduous 65-hour train journey from Pyongyang to Hanoi, had hoped to have crushing sanctions eased to help lift his economy. Prior to the meeting, North Korean state media presented their leader’s trip as a “long march” to his countrymen, but now that Kim has come out empty-handed, he’s likely to face some criticism back home.

Trump and his top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, insist they made “progress” at their meeting with Kim and his lieutenants, but the reality is that the summit ended as a flop. While Trump was arguably right to walk away from a “bad deal,” his lack of progress — at the very least, a thin joint statement — is a crippling indictment of his policy on North Korea.

How did the high-stakes diplomacy unravel at the last minute? Regional experts and analysts have long pointed to the dangers of holding a top-level summit while progress on hashing out details between working-level diplomats remained questionable.

One possible theory for Trump’s decision to walk away may be tied to domestic matters. As Trump himself complained after the summit, his meeting with Kim coincided with damning congressional testimony by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who under oath, called him a “cheat” and a “con man.”

Whether Cohen’s testimony had any effect on Trump’s decision is anyone’s guess. However, the harsh testimony no doubt pushed Trump into a corner in which he could not afford to appear weak or pandering to the North Korean leader.

The hype was also amplified by the misguided analogy that the White House peddled regarding Vietnam and North Korea. Trump stressed before and after the summit that North Korea could one day become an “economic powerhouse” if it followed the Vietnamese model.

The problem with this narrative, however, is that it’s both simplistic and incomplete. Vietnam is a country that fought — and won — a vicious war against the United States and forcibly reunited the country. North Korea, on the other hand, remains a state that is not recognized by Washington (or Seoul) and is still technically at war, despite the armistice. Although both have communist backgrounds, Vietnam has partially embraced market capitalism. North Korea has not.

Trump may have been prematurely optimistic about the bilateral process, but what about Kim?

According to the U.S. leader, one of the key factors in the summit’s failure was Kim’s demands to lift all existing sanctions on the country. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho later disputed that account, arguing that Pyongyang had only demanded a partial easing of the measures.

Kim had to know that a full-scale lifting of sanctions is off the table — at least in a more expansive sense — unless he was able to guarantee a time-bound and verifiable commitment to denuclearize. Furthermore, Ri is a seasoned diplomat who has negotiated with the United States since the 1990s and knows the issues inside and out.

The U.N. Security Council sanctions are the international community’s main source of leverage to pressure Kim to relinquish his nuclear material and missiles. To give those up at this point for apparent concessions on the Yongbyon nuclear complex would be foolish, some observers have said.

Ri told reporters that if recent U.N. sanctions — the ones with real teeth — are lifted, North Korea was ready to “permanently and completely dismantle all the nuclear material production facilities in the Yongbyon area, including plutonium and uranium.” Translation: If Trump and the international community agree to lift the most crippling sanctions, North Korea will partially destroy its nuclear production facilities, but still keep its weapons.

So it’s perplexing that Kim held such a maximalist position if he knew those demands were a nonstarter for the United States. If Kim equally had as much at stake, he couldn’t afford to set Trump up for failure.

Another theory was that maybe there was internal dissent in Pyongyang. As far-fetched it may seem, it’s plausible that Kim himself was set up for defeat, being played by his own generals and diplomats who want to prevent the 35-year-old dictator from giving up their hard-earned nuclear weapons. Just weeks before the Hanoi summit, several career diplomats and officials were purged, allegedly having been critical of Kim’s approach on the nuclear issue, a report by a Seoul-based think tank said.

Regardless of the domestic political machinations, however, the Hanoi talks may have merely been doomed from the start due to the lack of a clear definition of “denuclearization” — without which, the chances of Washington and Pyongyang coming to an agreement remain minimal at best.

This ambiguity is the result of the vaguely worded joint statement signed at last year’s summit in Singapore, which says North Korea will “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” That statement can mean many things. While Washington has viewed it as meaning that North Korea would give up all of its nuclear weapons and production capabilities in a verifiable way, Pyongyang sees it in more expansive terms.

For North Korea, “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” ultimately involves removing America’s extended deterrence commitments to its allies in the region as well as its military presence in South Korea and Japan.

As long as there’s a conceptual divide on denuclearization, no matter how many times the Trump administration insisted that North Korea had agreed to “denuclearize,” the reality remains that Pyongyang has never made such a commitment — not in Singapore and certainly not in Hanoi.

With the process having so many fundamental problems, what now? One possibility is that Kim eventually reverts back to the regime’s time-tested tactic of brinkmanship.

To be sure, the chances of immediately returning to the days when Trump thundered about unleashing “fire and fury” on North Korea remains remote. Trump said that Kim promised him that he won’t conduct further nuclear or missile tests.

Still, a verbal agreement like that is tenuous, especially with North Korea. Back in February 2012, Pyongyang verbally promised to halt its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for food aid. Two months later, Kim conducted what his regime claimed was a “satellite launch” that many said was a veiled test of ballistic-missile technology.

For another, although the diplomatic process between the United States and North Korea is still alive, the chances of serious talks resuming anytime soon are bleak. With Trump clearly shifting his focus to domestic politics as election season looms, Kim may see little benefit in dealing with a politically distracted leader.

In spite of the North Korean state media’s claim that the two leaders agreed to “continue having productive talks,” the country’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, told reporters that she felt that Kim had “lost the will” to deal with Trump.

One of the biggest net losers in all of this is South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who said that he was “perplexed” at how things had fallen apart so quickly.

Moon has invested deeply in bringing the U.S. and North Korea together and has tied his legacy — and his political fortunes — to progress in the relationship with his country’s northern neighbor.

While Moon felt a need to act fast last year due to Trump’s escalating war of words with Pyongyang, he essentially painted himself into a corner, having put all his eggs in the reunification basket. In the process, Moon also isolated Tokyo and berated Japan over historical issues, alienating a democratic neighbor that should be a natural ally.

On the other hand, Tokyo, which has been sidelined from the North Korea problem for sticking to its realistic — or cautious — view on the rosy view of talks emanating from Washington, Pyongyang and Seoul, has suddenly emerged as retaining the most credibility on the matter.

Indeed, if there’s one positive to take from the summit’s failure, it’s that it has forced many to come to their senses about the reality of the North Korea problem — that there are no easy answers, and that a “bromance” between two leaders can only get one so far.

Business Insider Here's how world leaders are reacting to the historic Trump-Kim summit

U.S., North Korea to seek understanding on denuclearization at summit

(Susan Walsh/AP)
President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un are due to meet in Vietnam next week for their second summit on denuclearization.
(Susan Walsh/AP)
President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un are due to meet in Vietnam next week for their second summit on denuclearization.

The hopes and fears surrounding the second Trump-Kim summitAIWA! NO!

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and North Korea will seek a common understanding of what denuclearization means when President Donald Trump presses Kim Jong Un next week to give up all of the North’s nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

Trump and Kim are set to meet in Vietnam for their second summit in an effort to thaw relations between the former foes and reduce one of the world’s biggest nuclear threats.

U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for the meeting, and Trump has made clear he does not expect it to be his last with Kim, a dictator he once derided as “little rocket man” but now considers a partner with whom he can work.

Critics have said Trump gave Kim too much simply by meeting with him in Singapore last year. That criticism may be levied again for the Vietnam summit.

But the U.S. officials said the United States remained focused on getting the North Korean leader to denuclearize, even if he had not made that decision himself so far.

“I don’t know if North Korea has made the choice yet to denuclearize, but the reason why we’re engaged in this is because we believe there is a possibility,” one official said.

The two sides have not agreed previously on what denuclearization means.

Kim agreed in Singapore to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, which could be taken to include removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella for South Korea and nuclear-capable forces, while the United States has been demanding that North Korea give up all of its nuclear and missile programs.

“It is ultimately about the denuclearization of North Korea. That was what was agreed between the two sides and that is the overriding goal that President Trump is seeking to achieve with this summit. This is an important step towards that ultimate goal,” the official said.

He said the United States would press for a freeze on all weapons of mass destruction and missile programs and a “roadmap” to set expectations for negotiations.

The two sides are not discussing the removal of U.S. troops from South Korea, however. The United States keeps some 28,500 troops in South Korea.

Asked whether Trump was open to withdrawing all U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula for a peace treaty that would formally end the war, a second official said that was “not the subject of discussions.”

The officials noted that punishing U.S. sanctions would remain in place to give North Korea an incentive to move.

North Korea diplomats sidelined ahead of talks

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton is traveling to South Korea for consultations with South Korean officials ahead of the Hanoi summit, a senior White House official said.

U.S. special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is already there, negotiating with North Korean officials ahead of the summit.

The two sides are seeking to build the goals outlined in a joint statement from the Singapore meeting to recast relations between the United States and North Korea, establish peace on the peninsula, denuclearize, and return the remains of those missing or killed in action during the Korean War.

Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Susan Heavey; Editing by James Dalgleish

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a “conciliatory message” to U.S. President Donald Trump amid stalled nuclear negotiations

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's message to US President Donald Trump was delivered last Friday (Dec 28) through an unspecified channel.PHOTO: REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s message to US President Donald Trump was delivered last Friday (Dec 28) through an unspecified channel.PHOTO: REUTERS

CRIMSON TAZVINZWA; AIWA! NO!|North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a “conciliatory message” to U.S. President Donald Trump amid stalled nuclear negotiations, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Monday.

Kim’s “letter-like” message to Trump was delivered on Friday through an unspecified channel, the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed diplomatic source. The report did not include details about the substance of the message but said they related to U.S-North Korea talks.

On Sunday, the office of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said Mr Kim had sent a letter to his counterpart in Seoul saying he wants to hold more inter-Korean summits next year to achieve denuclearisation of the peninsula.

Neither the US State Department nor the US Embassy in Seoul had an immediate comment about the report of Mr Kim’s message to Mr Trump when contacted by Reuters.

Mr Moon’s office could not confirm the Chosun Ilbo report. “There is a dialogue channel between North Korea and the United States through which they exchange active communication, but I cannot know whether it took the form of letter or something else,” Mr Moon’s spokesman told a news briefing on Monday.

At a summit with Mr Trump in Singapore in June, Mr Kim vowed to work towards denuclearisation.

However, both sides have struggled to make progress on this matter. They are also yet to reschedule a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol after an abrupt cancellation in November.

Pyongyang’s state media has credited Mr Trump for his”willingness” to continue dialogue but has also slammed the State Department for tightening sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Military Demarcation Line between the two countries in Panmunjom on April 27, 2018.

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The stalled negotiations had an impact on inter-Korean ties, including Mr Kim’s unrealised plan to visit Seoul this year as agreed at their summit in Pyongyang in September.

The Chosun Ilbo report also said Mr Kim wrote in the letter to Mr Moon that he would come to the South “in the near future” after giving a New Year address on Tuesday.

Kim Wants More Summits With Moon to Tackle Nuclear Issue

Kim Jong Un with Moon Jae-in in April. Source: Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps/Pool

Kim Jong Un with Moon Jae-in in April. Source: Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps/Pool

North Korea’s Kim wants more summits with Moon next year: Blue House

AIWA! NO!|North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he wants to hold more summits with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in next year to achieve the goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Moon’s office said on Sunday. 

  • Kim intent on resolving nuclear impasse, Blue House says
  • North Korean leader sent personal letter to South Korea’s Moon

Kim Jong Un is intent on resolving the nuclear impasse that has stalled negotiations with the U.S. and wants to hold more meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Moon’s office said.

The North Korean leader sent Moon a personal letter of well wishes on Sunday, expressing a willingness to meet often in 2019 to advance peace talks and achieve “denuclearization on the Korean peninsula,” Moon spokesman Kim Eui-keum said. Moon thanked him for the letter, tweeting that the North Korean leader “again made clear” that he would act on his agreement with the U.S. and South Korea.

The missive came amid increased skepticism over Kim’s willingness to dismantle his arsenal of nuclear weapons, months after a historic summit with President Donald Trump in which the two leaders agreed to work toward denuclearization. Kim’s letter made no mention of Trump or the U.S.

It was sent days before Kim delivers his annual New Year’s Day speech, which will be examined for signs of whether the U.S. and North Korea will continue with their rapprochement or drift back toward confrontation.

How to Read North Korea Leader Kim Jong Un’s Big New Year Speech

Earlier this month, North Korea told the U.S. that sanctions and pressure won’t work to force Pyongyang into action on its nuclear program. North Korean state media said the removal of the U.S.’s nuclear weapons from the region was a condition of its own disarmament, raising the stakes for Trump’s efforts to hold a second summit with Kim.

Trump on Dec. 25 tweeted a photo of what he called a Christmas Eve briefing with his team to work on North Korea, saying: “Progress being made. Looking forward to my next summit with Chairman Kim!”View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrumpChristmas Eve briefing with my team working on North Korea – Progress being made. Looking forward to my next summit with Chairman Kim!87.7K9:14 PM – Dec 24, 201848.7K people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

Reaffirmed Intentions

Kim and Moon met three times this year, agreeing on steps to decrease military tensions and lay groundwork for economic exchange between their countries. Kim and Trump also agreed to improve relations when they met in June in Singapore. But the U.S. maintains it will keep sanctions in place against North Korea.

Why U.S.-North Korea Nuclear Talks Have Stalled: State of Play

In his letter, Kim said his landmark 2018 meetings with Moon — one in Pyongyang, and two at the truce village of Panmunjom, on the border between North and South — resulted in “practical and bold measures” to overcome long-standing confrontation and remove fears of war from the peninsula, according to Moon’s spokesman.