Russia's foreign minister meets with Kim Jong Un as U.S. and Pyongyang work to salvage Kim-Trump summit
After a 90-minute dinner in New York on Wednesday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and high-ranking North Korean official Kim Yong Chol will have a second round of talks on Thursday morning to work on a denuclearization framework ahead of an on-again, off-again June 12 summit in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. South Korea has been integral in laying the groundwork for a Kim-Trump summit, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has hosted Kim twice as Beijing staked its claim in the prospective peace talks. On Thursday, Russia stuck its toe in, too.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Kim and North Korea's foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, in Pyongyang on Thursday, following Ri's May trip to Moscow. The official reason for the visit was to discuss bilateral issues, North Korea's nuclear program, and the situation on the Korean Peninsula, but it was widely "seen as an attempt by Moscow to make its voice heard in its neighbor state's new push for diplomacy," The Associated Press reports. "Despite having a border with the North and relatively cordial relations that President Vladimir Putin has seemed to want to develop further, Russia has so far remained largely on the sidelines as Kim has emerged onto the world stage this year." Peter Weber
On Monday, hundreds of U.S. and South Korean military aircraft began a five-day joint air force exercise in South Korea, just days after North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that can probably reach anywhere in the United States. The U.S. Seventh Air Force said the annual fall exercises were not a response to any incident or provocation from Pyongyang, but the U.S. sent an unusually large number of latest-generation stealth fighters: six F-22s and 18 F-35s. In all, 12,000 U.S. military personnel will be involved in the drill, called Vigilant Ace, and 230 aircraft will take part.
North Korea, which usually protests U.S.-South Korean war games, said Sunday this drill pushes the Korean Peninsula "to the brink of nuclear war" and Pyongyang will "seriously consider" countermeasures. "While many South Koreans typically ignore North Korea's rhetoric, some senior American officials have expressed worry following the ICBM test," The Associated Press says. On Fox News, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster suggested that pre-emptive war might end up being the only way to stop "this murderous, rogue regime" from conquering South Korea. Some 28,000 U.S. military service members work in South Korea, and many have their families with them. You can watch some of the aircraft in action in the AP video below. Peter Weber
The South Korean government has proposed holding military talks with North Korea later this week, the first time new President Moon Jae-in's government has made such a proposition to Pyongyang.
South Korea said it wants to stop hostile military activities at the border between the two countries; earlier this month, Moon suggested ending these acts on July 27 to mark the anniversary of the 1953 armistice agreement. "Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea's nuclear problem," South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said Monday.
North Korea has not responded to the offer, but Pyongyang previously said it will not enter any discussions with South Korea until the country returns 12 waitresses who defected to South Korea in 2016 after leaving a restaurant North Korea operates in China; North Korea says they were all abducted. Catherine Garcia
Trump may not attend Wednesday's odd White House briefing for senators on Korea, as tensions ratchet up
Amid U.S.-North Korean tensions so high that defense analysts warn one misstep could lead to war, all 100 senators are meeting at the White House Wednesday afternoon for a special, unusual briefing on North Korea from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, intelligence chief Dan Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It isn't clear if President Trump will attend at all, though a senior administration official told CNN "if he attends — which is not determined — it will just be a brief drop-by."
The briefing was arranged by the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and several senators seem unclear why they are traveling down the street on a fleet of buses instead of meeting at the Capitol. "That meeting is a Senate meeting led by Leader McConnell, just utilizing our space," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. "We're not there to talk strategy." A McConnell spokesman said President Trump offered the auditorium at the Eisenhower Office Building when McConnell requested a briefing. "I, frankly, don't understand why it's not easier to bring four people here than it is to take 100 there," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).
A U.S. nuclear submarine docked in South Korea on Tuesday, the same day North Korea conducted its largest-ever live-fire military exercises to mark the anniversary of its military founding. The USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group is headed toward the Korean peninsula, and on Wednesday, the U.S. began setting up the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea, and is conducting a previously scheduled Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test from California. "The real question now is somebody going to make a stupid mistake, because some kind of minor escalation could get out of hand," Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, told CNN. You can watch part of the North Korean exercises and a live report from CNN's Will Ripley in Pyongyang below. Peter Weber
A U.S. missile defense system that China views as a threat to its own military capabilities was sent to a deployment site in South Korea early Wednesday.
Area residents watched as six trailers carrying Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) equipment arrived at a golf course, and the Yonhap news agency reports that the delivery caused clashes between the locals and police. The system is designed to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles during their last flight stage, and is being deployed to counter the threat from North Korea.
North Korea is thought to be readying for its sixth nuclear weapons test. During his visit to South Korea earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence and the country's acting president agreed to an early deployment of the missile defense system. China has been vocal about its opposition to THAAD, as have South Koreans who think it escalates the situation with North Korea. Catherine Garcia