MEET the “Megaton Twins” – the two scientists Kim Jong-un can thank for his terrifying nuclear arsenal, according to experts.
Hong Sung-mu and Ri Hong-sop were crucial to the weapons programme’s success, according to Michael Madden from the 38 North watchdog.
Credit: Pen News Kim Jong-un with nuke scientists Ri Hong-sop, left, and Hong Sung-mu, right
With their help, North Korea went from detonating suspected duds in 2006 to its current nukes, which are up to 18 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.
And with the regime’s latest missile – the Hwasong-15 – theoretically able to reach Washington DC, Kim’s weapons are more threatening than ever.
Mr Madden said there were a number of people who’d contributed to North Korea’s nuclear weapons over the years.
But he said Ri Hong-sop, the head of North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Institute, and Hong Sung-mu, were the “key people” now.
Credit: Pen News Ri, left, briefs the dictator on the nuclear warhead as Hong, right, watches on
EPA North Korea’s latest missile – the Hwasong-15 – is seen during a recent parade
He said the duo most likely got an academic grounding in the former Soviet Union, perhaps at the Yuzhnoye Design Office in Ukraine, before returning to the North.
Back home, they worked at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre – where Hong was made chief engineer and Ri a director – in the 1980s.
Now they’re among North Korea’s elite and were guests of honour at a performance in September celebrating the regime’s nuclear scientists.
Footage shows the dictator arriving at the show hand in hand with Ri, with Hong at his side – while his wife, Ri Sol-ju, walks behind.
Credit: Pen News Kim’s wife is seen trailing behind as her hubby walks with nuke scientist Ri, left
Credit: Pen News Ri and Hong get pride of place, seated in the first two seats to the right of Kim US levies sanctions on two of the most prominent officials involved in missile program in North Korea
The two scientists then assume the first and second seats to his left, and when someone tries to present Kim with flowers, he passes them on to Hong.
Ri and Hong are even sanctioned as individuals by the US and EU respectively – with Europe calling Hong “one of the main persons responsible” for the nuke programme.
Mr Madden said: “They’re North Korean technical experts – such people are usually members of the Korean People’s Assembly and the Worker’s Party of Korea Central Committee.
“And these guys all have job titles like ‘deputy director’ of the Worker’s Party of Korea Munitions Industry Department.
“It can sometimes be a position with more real power than someone who’s actually the director.”
AP:Associated Press The Hwasong-15 bassiltic missile is seen during its latest test launch last year
Credit: Pen News Yu Jin, another important scientist, is seen in black cheering to the left of Kim Kim Jong-un watches ballistic missiles roll past in huge North Korean military parade
Ordnance expert Yu Jin was singled out as another important figure by Mr Madden.
He said: “He’s basically related to stuff that goes boom.
“Even if you have a nuclear weapon, it still has to explode and so he would work on a trigger or something like that.”
Mr Madden said Yu Jin also seemed to be “a man very comfortable in his position”.
He added: “Based on what he wears, you can tell in his clothing, his comportment, this is a very relaxed person.
“Some of these guys look like they’re about to have their morgue pictures taken and that’s not the case with Yu Jin.”
Credit: Pen News Yu Jin, another important scientist, is the first man on the right of Kim Jong-un Kim Jong-Un casually smokes a cigarette just before North Korea’s experimental ballistic missile launch
French Pm Vows To Combat Slow-burn Threat Of Radical Islam
PARIS – France’s prime minister on Friday announced steps including prison isolation zones and more stringent licensing rules for faith-based schools to combat what he called a slow-burning threat from Islamist radicalization.
In a traditionally Catholic country that is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, President Emmanuel Macron has already imposed tougher legislation after attacks by Islamist militants killed more than 230 people in the past three years.
But he is under pressure to address voter fears of broader radicalization at mosques manned by radical preachers and prisons that offer fertile ground for proselytizers of a hardline Islam at odds with France’s secular foundations.
Among the measures promised by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe were the creation of isolation zones for Islamist militants in France’s prisons and more scrutiny on the licensing of faith-based schools that opt out of the state-funded system.
“We cannot ignore this slow-burn process,” he told a news conference in Lille, northern France.
“Islamist radicalization is a threat to our society, and not just when it leads to violence. It’s a challenge every time the law of the state is respected only if compatible with religious tenets.”
Philippe also promised better screening of people hired as coaches sports centers.
The scale of the challenge was highlighted by a report for the Interior Ministry.
The report by a senior civil servant warned that sectarian sentiment or behavior was rising in parts of France, notably in poor urban areas where Muslims more openly resented or challenged obligations of secular public life.
He cited examples of young Muslim girls being kept away from school swimming, sculpture classes and choir activities frowned upon by some of the country’s estimated 5 million Muslims.
The report also highlighted fears about the number of young people being taken out of secular state-funded schools to teach them at home or put them in strictly faith-based schools.
Philippe said some 74,000 pupils entered schools outside of state system last year, calling the trend worrying if small compared with 12 million in education. The report said the number concerned had doubled in five years.
Such opt-out schools need licensing and that would be made tougher by law shortly, Philippe said.
Reporting by Brian Love;
Us Imposes Largest Package Of Sanctions Against North Korea
SEOUL/WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday the United States would impose the “largest-ever” package of sanctions on North Korea, intensifying pressure on the reclusive country to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
In addressing the Trump administration’s biggest national security challenge, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned one person, 27 companies and 28 ships, according to a statement on the U.S. Treasury Department’s website.
The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced the measures, which are designed to disrupt North Korean shipping and trading companies and vessels and to further isolate Pyongyang.
The ships are located, registered or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama and Comoros.
Washington “also issued an advisory alerting the public to the significant sanctions risks to those continuing to enable shipments of goods to and from North Korea.”
“Today I am announcing that we are launching the largest-ever set of new sanctions on the North Korean regime,” Trump said in excerpts of a speech he was to deliver on Friday to a conservative activist group.
Related CoverageU.S. Treasury targets firms, vessels for North Korea sanctionsU.S. targets shipping companies, vessels in new North Korea sanctionsNorth Korea’s missile and nuclear program is seeking to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have taunted each other through the media and in August Trump threatened to go beyond sanctions by bringing “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Tougher sanctions may jeopardize the latest detente between the two Koreas, illustrated by the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics in the South, amid preparations for talks about a possible summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had hinted at such a sanctions package two weeks ago during a stop in Tokyo that preceded his visit to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Olympics.
North Korea last year conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. It defends the weapons programs as essential to deter U.S. aggression.
It has been more than two months since North Korea’s last missile test.
Kim said he wants to boost the “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” with South Korea, which hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, after a high-level delegation, including his sister, returned from the Olympics.
NORTH-SOUTH PARALYMPICS TALKS
In an extension of that rapprochement, the North agreed on Friday to hold working-level talks on Tuesday for the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics on the North’s side of the border village of Panmunjom.
In December the United Nations approved U.S.-drafted limiting North Korea’s access to refined petroleum products and crude oil, which the North Korean Foreign Ministry said amounted to an act of war.
The new U.S. sanctions were to be announced while Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is visiting South Korea. She had dinner with Moon after a closed-door meeting with the president.
Ivanka Trump’s visit to South Korea coincides with that of a sanctioned North Korean official, Kim Yong Chol, blamed for the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors. His delegation will attend the closing ceremony and also meet Moon.
The South Korean president said South Korea cannot acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear state and talks with the North on denuclearization and improving inter-Korean relations must go hand in hand, Moon said, cited by his spokesman, Yoon Young-chan, at a news conference.
He said close cooperation between the United States and South Korea is important for the talks.
“President Moon also said out of all countries, South Korea has the strongest will to say it cannot acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear state,” he said.
Moon made the comments to Ivanka.
The Blue House has said there are no official opportunities for U.S. and North Korean officials to meet.
Kim Yong Chol is the vice chairman of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and was previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency that South Korea blamed for the sinking of its navy corvette, the Cheonan. North Korea has denied any involvement.
Seoul said it approved the pending visit by Kim Yong Chol in the pursuit of peace and asked for public understanding in the face of opposition protests.
“Under current difficult circumstances, we have decided to focus on whether peace on the Korean peninsula and improvement in inter-Korean relations can be derived from dialogue with (the visiting North Korean officials), not on their past or who they are,” said Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun in a media briefing.
Kim Yong Chol currently heads the United Front Department, the North’s office responsible for handling inter-Korean affairs.
South Korea’s decision on Thursday to allow in Kim Yong Chol, currently sanctioned by the United States and South Korea, sparked protest from family members of the dead sailors and opposition parties.
Many have been angered at the North’s participation at the Games, which they say has been a reward for bad behavior with no quid pro quo from Pyongyang.
Reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON; Writing by Yara Bayoumy;
Us Expected To Open Embassy In Jerusalem In May Official Says
WASHINGTON – The United States is expected to open its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May, a U.S. official told Reuters on Friday, a move from Tel Aviv that reverses decades of U.S. policy.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced last year that the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating even Washington’s Arab allies and dismaying Palestinians who want the eastern part of the city as their capital.
A May opening appears to represent an earlier time frame than what had been expected. While speaking in the Israeli parliament last month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the move would take place by the end of 2019.
The opening will coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, said the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Reporting by Yara Bayoumy and Mary Milliken;
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