May 21, 2018 09:33
North Korea continues to dismantle its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri despite warnings to South Korea and the U.S. that it could call off negotiations.
The North at the same time demands that the U.S. lower the bar for denuclearization and accuses it of provoking hostilities with joint aerial exercises with South Korea.
On Saturday, the North demanded that South Korea return a group of restaurant workers who defected from China in 2016 in an operation Pyongyang has denounced as an "abduction." North Korea has been demanding their return since 2016, but the demand has recently been fueled by a tendentious program on a cable channel here which gave the false impression that the women want to go home.
The North Korean Red Cross, which is unconnected to the international organization, warned in a statement, "How the mass abduction is handled will have a major impact on determining the outlook of humanitarian issues between the North and South." It was a thinly veiled threat to call off reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, which Pyongyang had previously agreed to without preconditions.
A day earlier the North also rejected a roster of South Korean reporters who were to cover the dismantling event in Punggye-ri.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged during his April 27 summit with President Moon Jae-in to shut down the nuclear test site in May and invite U.S. and South Korean nuclear experts as well as reporters.
But it continues to make preparations for the event. The website 38 North at Johns Hopkins University published satellite photos of the site on Saturday and said, "Imagery from May 15 shows four rows of objects previously identified near the West Portal have been significantly altered and have increased substantially in height." It added this "could be part of an effort to create a platform for visitors to safely observe the explosive closure of all three portals."
Workers are also apparently repairing the railway that will be used to transport foreign reporters from Wonsan, Kangwon Province to the test site.
The North is demanding an exorbitant W10 million visa-processing fee from each foreign reporter (US$1=W1,080). The North told CNN and ABC to meet at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing by 11 a.m. Tuesday to file the paperwork and pay up.
The entire price of the trip is expected to surpass W20 million including the airfare from Beijing to Wonsan. North Korea has also asked the reporters to publicize its special tourism zone in Wonsan.
Meanwhile, North Korean officials are reportedly visiting Singapore to inspect the venue of the scheduled summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. The official [North] Korean Central News Agency said a group from the Foreign Ministry led by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Hui-chol left Pyongyang on Saturday "for a Southeast Asian country."
Relations between the two Koreas soured again last week, when North Korea canceled high-level talks after being apparently irked by the aerial drills and a high-profile press conference at the National Assembly by a prominent defector.
The moves seem to be part of efforts to pressure the U.S. into reducing its demands for complete denuclearization without immediate rewards. The North seems newly self-confident after Kim met Chinese President Xi Jinping for the second time in as many months.
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