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North’s ambassadors come home

They may be getting instructions on how to present Kim’s actions
Aug 15,2017
North Korea’s ambassadors to major countries were reportedly spotted on a plane heading for Pyongyang late last week, in what appeared to be a gathering to discuss Kim Jong-un’s stance on key issues and ways for the diplomats to promote them abroad.

Kyodo News reported that its journalists traveling from Beijing to Pyongyang by air last Thursday noticed that the North Korean ambassadors to China, Russia and the UN were on the same plane, along with Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, who was returning from a regional security meeting in Manila.

The Japanese news outlet said it was unclear whether the ambassadors flew into Pyongyang to participate in a week-long celebration of the fifth anniversary of Kim Jong-un’s leadership, or to discuss diplomatic responses to the war of words with the United States.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said Monday it had no information on the flight, but that if the ambassadors did arrive in Pyongyang all at once, it could be for an ambassadors’ meeting.

The last time North Korea reported such a meeting via state media was in July 2015, which the regime said was the 43rd such meeting. The North didn’t mention the ambassadors’ recent arrival Monday.

North Korea is known to hold an ambassadors’ meeting once or twice a year, where top officials share Kim’s thoughts on crucial issues and ambassadors look for ways to promote them abroad.

Possible topics this year could be the sanctions unanimously passed in the UN Security Council, which aim at reducing North Korea’s annual international trade revenue by a third, or Pyongyang’s trading of dire threats with Washington last week.

On whether the U.S. government actually saw a war coming any time soon, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Sunday during an interview with “Fox News Sunday” that there was “no intelligence indicating we’re on the cusp of a nuclear war.”

The intelligence chief defended Trump’s “fire and fury” threat to North Korea last week, saying he “made clear to the North Korea regime how America will respond if certain actions are taken.”

“We are hopeful that the leader of the country will understand [Trump’s remarks] in precisely the way they were intended,” according to excerpts of the interview, “to permit him to get to a place where we can get the nuclear weapons off the peninsula.”

Trump’s message was the “best” he could deliver to someone who was putting the United States at risk, Pompeo added.

On a separate note, 38 North, a North Korean affairs website run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, wrote last Friday that the North has undertaken modifications or upgrades to its submarine-based launch systems, or is developing a more advanced version of the Pukguksong-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

The analysis, based on recent commercial satellite imagery of the Sinpo shipyard in South Hamgyong Province, said of particular interest in the imagery was that “netting or tarps have been suspended above both the fore and aft decks of the Sinpo-class submarine, obscuring any activity taking place beneath them,” which was last done prior to the July 9, 2016, test of the Pukguksong-1.

Backing the possibility of an imminent test, 38 North continued, were reports that the North recently held ejection tests of the cold-launch system, in which a missile is propelled by compressed gas before the engine ignites, preventing damage to the submarine.

Asked Monday whether the South Korean government detected any signs of a SLBM test from the North, Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman of the Unification Ministry, said in a regular briefing that Seoul has not.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]