Despite summit, North Korea still a nuclear threat, says Trump

A North Korean official speaking to the media during a demolition 'ceremony' of North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test facility, on May 24, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP, WASHINGTON POST) - United States President Donald Trump cited an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to US national security as he acted on Friday (June 22) to maintain long-standing economic restrictions on North Korea, including the freezing of any assets in the United States.

The official declaration, contained in a notice to Congress, came despite Trump's assertion earlier this month that his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ended the North's nuclear weapons threat. "Sleep well tonight!" Trump tweeted on June 13, the day after he and Kim met in Singapore.

But the declaration sent to Congress on Friday struck a different note as it explained why the administration would keep in place tough economic restrictions first imposed by former president George W. Bush.

"The existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material on the Korean Peninsula and the actions and policies of the Government of North Korea continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States," it said.

"I am continuing for one year the national emergency with respect to North Korea," added the statement.

Though the notice is considered pro forma, the disparity in tone reflects the work that US officials concede remains to be done as negotiators thrash out the details of Pyongyang's disarmament.

The harsh economic restrictions will continue for one year under the order. The paperwork keeps in place restrictions first imposed a decade ago by President George W. Bush.

The ban on transfer of any US assets by North Korea's leaders or its ruling party has been extended or expanded several times by both President Barack Obama and Trump himself, in response to North Korean missile tests and other actions.

The national emergency that Trump extended allows the government to forbid North Korean leaders from selling or otherwise using any assets they may hold in the US. It is separate from US sanctions related to North Korean human rights abuses and a long list of international penalties imposed over Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile testing.

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said that all US sanctions will remain in force for now. Some could be lifted as negotiations progress.

At their summit, Kim and Trump signed a pledge "to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula", a stock phrase favoured by Pyongyang that stopped short of longstanding US demands for North Korea to give up its atomic arsenal in a "verifiable" and "irreversible" way.

Critics have pointed to the vague wording of the non-binding summit document and raised fears that the summit could weaken the international coalition against the North's nuclear programme.

More drills shelved

Also on Friday, the US and South Korea agreed to indefinitely suspend two exchange programme training exercises, to support diplomatic negotiations with North Korea, the Pentagon said.

The move came after the two countries had previously announced the shelving of the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises slated for August, making good on a pledge by Trump during his summit.

The decision followed a meeting between Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford, and National Security Advisor John Bolton.

"To support implementing the outcomes of the Singapore Summit, and in coordination with our Republic of Korea ally, Secretary Mattis has indefinitely suspended select exercises," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

Two Korean Marine Exchange Programme training exercises scheduled to occur in the next three months have now been shelved.

US and South Korean forces have been training together for years, and routinely rehearse everything from beach landings to an invasion from the North, or even "decapitation" strikes targeting the North Korean regime.

Pyongyang typically reacts furiously. Following drills last year, the North fired ballistic missiles over Japan, triggering global alarm.

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