North Korean Update
Repatriation of Remains
After two days of talks, North Korea agreed to return 50 to 55 sets of remains believed to be those of US soldiers missing from the 1950-53 Korean War — possibly within two weeks, according to media reports.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) but the reports. However, a US official in Seoul said the remains would be flown out of North Korea on 27 July in what would be the first repatriations since 2007.
On 16 July, North Korean media denounced US reports that North Korea built and has been operating a covert uranium enrichment facility for over ten years just outside Pyongyang.
On 13 July, The Diplomat published a detailed analysis, including satellite images, of open source information about a facility known as Kangson.
The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun
reported on 16 July that during the 6-7 July visit to Pyongyang, the US Secretary of State accused North Korea of operating one or more secret uranium enrichment facilities and of continuing to make ballistic missiles. He made the accusation directly to Kim Yong-chol, who is Chairman Kim Jong Un’s most trusted advisor.
Kim Yong-chol insisted that North Korea has never built or operated a covert uranium enrichment plant or other secret facilities. Yeah…about that.
Accusations of covert facilities by the US Secretary of State would explain the strong denunciation of the Secretary in the statement the North Korean Foreign Ministry issued after his departure.
Construction and operation of secret facilities is a normal business practice for North Korea. The existence of additional secret and/or underground nuclear and missile facilities has been rumored for years. At least one core from the Yongbyon reactor was removed and has never been found in over 30 years. Secret nuclear facilities do exist.
Analysts have known about the Kangson facility for at least ten years, but its function was a mystery. Its function is still not confirmed. Analysts reportedly suspect a third uranium enrichment facility exists but is unlocated.
At this point in negotiations, North Korea has made no commitment to stop producing warheads or missiles. According to The Diplomat, the Defense Intelligence Agency estimated in 2017 that North Korean possesses enough fissile material for at least 60 nuclear weapons, and it can produce fissile material for up to 12 weapons a year.
Kim Jong Un insists he is committed to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but he has said nothing about disarmament. His definition of denuclearization of the Peninsula is elaborate and complex.
The 3rd plenary session of the 7th Central Committee on 20 April declared the “realization” of the strategic deterrent is the condition that enabled Kim Jong Un to announce the switch in strategic direction to socialist economic construction. In this strategy, economic development is a function of and is enabled by the strategic deterrent.
The continuing operation of covert facilities suggests that Kim is being duplicitous, and that North Korea is cheating. Those judgments are premature because no agreements have been reached about production of fissile materials or nuclear weapons. Additionally, North Korea has no reason to change its normal security practices or production schedules.
It is reasonably clear that Kim now is pushing socialist economic construction, as directed by the Central Committee in April. In the terms of the 20 April Central Committee plenum resolutions, that pursuit requires that the strategic weapons programs remain active and healthy.
The revelations of secret facilities confirm that denuclearization of the Peninsula will take a long time and will be extremely complex. The planning cycle for socialist economic construction is five years. That seems to be a measuring time for denuclearization talks.
Problems in Gaza
On 15 July, Israel announced that it was closing the Gaza Strip’s Kerem Shalom border crossing to all fuel and gasoline imports. Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies would continue to be permitted through the crossing on a case-by-case basis.
“Due to continuing attempts by Hamas to carry out terrorist attacks, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, after consultation with the Israel Defense Force (IDF) chief of staff, decided to halt the transfer of gasoline via Kerem Shalom until next Sunday,” read a statement released by the Defense Ministry.
Israel also decided to reduce the Gaza fishing zone from six to just three nautical miles.
Israel tightened restrictions on the Gaza Strip because Palestinians continue to send balloons and kites with incendiaries into southern Israel.
Gazans already experience a shortage of electricity because of technical and financial problems. Residents, businesses and medical facilities rely on diesel fuel to run generators for electricity. The local UN officials estimate that emergency fuel supplies will run out in a week.
The Israeli government has given Hamas until Friday, 20 July, to stop the flaming kite and balloon attacks on Israeli territory.
The Israeli leadership has reportedly instructed the country’s military forces to prepare to invade the Gaza Strip if the flaming kite attacks don’t cease by this week, according to a report cited by The Times of Israel.
Israel sent the message directly to Hamas via Egyptian intelligence services. The report also says Hamas responded by saying its forces will work to stop the rogue attacks by Friday.
On Sunday, the 15th, the Israeli 162nd Armored Division launched a military exercise simulating an attack on the Gaza Strip and the capture of Gaza City. The IDF claimed the exercise had been planned in advance and was not related to current events.
Another Gaza war campaign does not seem imminent, but a show of force is clearly in preparation. Israel has many options short of a full-scale invasion.
The cut off of fuel might stop the incendiary attacks because Egypt also closed the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. The Egyptians closed the crossing for technical reasons, they said. Egypt brokered the three-day ceasefire last weekend and is working with all parties to avoid further escalation.