By Jamie Crawford
North Korea appears to be moving ahead with efforts to improve and possibly modernize its long-range rocket capabilities, according to an analysis of new satellite photos.
Engine tests for the North's long-range rocket program appear to have taken place in late March or early April of this year, analysts at 38 North, a blog run by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, have concluded.
"They conducted at least one test of an engine for a long-range rocket, and there may have been more," says Joel Wit, a former State Department official who manages the blog and studied the images.
Over the course of several weeks, the images show the appearance of possible fuel tanks, burned vegetation and a seven-car train parked near the rocket assembly building that might have been used to transport equipment and propellants to the test site.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories and opinion pieces previewing the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event which is taking place from July 17-20 in Aspen, Colorado. Follow the event on Twitter under @aspeninstitute and @natlsecuritycnn #AspenSecurity.
By Jamie Crawford
Edward Snowden's fate and the possible damage he has done to U.S. relations with close allies still commands attention of the Obama administration.
The situation shows the degree to which "the United States and Europe define privacy in different ways," former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told CNN’s Security Clearance.
That tension was apparent following revelations from Snowden, the admitted leaker of national security documents, that the United States had been using electronic intercepts to monitor various European government offices.
While the threat of international terrorism has decreased over the past decade because of "significant" cooperation between the United States and Europe, Crowley said he is "confident" the situation will eventually "work its way through the political situation on both sides of the Atlantic."
North Korean and Chinese officials have called for the resumption of six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program, Chinese authorities said Wednesday.
The announcement came as North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, was in Beijing for bilateral talks.
Kim and China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui issued statements Wednesday calling for the resumption of the talks to "peacefully solve nuclear issues through dialogue" with all relevant parties.
North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, the United States and Russia met last decade to deal with North Korea's nuclear weapons program but those meetings had been discontinued.FULL STORY
By Paul Courson
There has been little improvement in religious freedom worldwide but some positive changes were seen in Turkey and Vietnam, according to an annual State Department survey of nearly 200 countries.
Secretary of State John Kerry, a former U.S. senator who helped push the law mandating the original report 15 years ago, helped announce the findings on Monday in the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
"This report is a clear-eyed, objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world. And when necessary, yes, it does directly call out some of our close friends, as well as some countries with whom we seek stronger ties."
Government repression in China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia has kept all three countries on a list the report calls "Countries of Particular Concern."
By Gabriella Schwarz
President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Tuesday nuclear aggression from North Korea has further isolated the region and vowed to use all means to deter further provocations.
"If Pyongyang thought its recent threats would drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States or somehow garner the North international respect, today is further evidence that North Korea has failed again," Obama said during a joint press conference with the two leaders. "The United States and the Republic of Korea are as united as ever ... North Korea is more isolated than ever."
Obama said North Korea's manufactured crises will no long elicit concessions and committed to protecting the United States and its allies.
"The United States is fully prepared and capable of defending ourselves and our allies with the full range of capabilities available, including the deterrence provided by our conventional and nuclear forces," Obama said. "The commitment of the United States to the security of the Republic of Korea will never waver."
President Park, South Korea's first female president, said she will "by no means tolerate North Korea's threats and provocations, which have recently been escalating further."FULL STORY
A man with a "big heart", his sister says, who traveled to North Korea frequently. So, who is Kenneth Bae, and why has North Korea sentenced the Korean-American Kenneth Bae to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea? CNN's Jill Dougherty reports.
By Jethro Mullen, CNN
If North Korea continues with its controversial missile and nuclear tests, it "will move closer" to its objective of reaching the United States with nuclear weapons, according to a Pentagon report.
During recent heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang repeatedly threatened the possibility of nuclear attacks against the United States and South Korea, prompting questions on the progress of its weapons program.
North Korea's secretiveness has made it hard for Western intelligence agencies to gauge exactly what is going on inside its research facilities.
Many clues have come from the regime's large-scale tests such as the long-range rocket launch in December and the underground nuclear detonation in February.FULL STORY
By Jethro Mullen and K.J. Kwon, CNN
A North Korean court has sentenced a U.S. citizen to 15 years of hard labor, saying he committed "hostile acts" against the secretive state.
The country's Supreme Court delivered the sentence against Pae Jun Ho, known as Kenneth Bae by U.S. authorities, on Tuesday, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Thursday.
The KCNA article said Bae a Korean-American, was arrested November 3 after arriving as a tourist in Rason City, a port in the northeastern corner of North Korea. It didn't provide any details about the "hostile acts" he is alleged to have committed.
Following the sentence, his case could get caught up in the tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, which spiked recently after the North carried out its latest underground nuclear test in February and as the United States and South Korea held joint military drills in the region.
The intensity of the menacing rhetoric from North Korea appears to have subsided recently, and the U.S.-South Korean drills finished this week, removing one source of friction. But Kim Jong Un's regime, which has demanded that North Korea be recognized as a nuclear power, remains unpredictable.
The United States has seen the reports of Bae's sentencing, a State Department official said, and is working to confirm them through the Swedish Embassy.FULL STORY
By Elise Labott
After weeks of fiery rhetoric, military saber rattling and threats against the United States and South Korea, North Korea seems downright quiet and willing to dial back the tension.
Fears Kim Jong Un would test a long-range missile have given way to an easing of his daily war threats, and North Korea has produced a list of conditions for dialogue.
In exchange for returning talks, North Korea wants the lifting of U.N. sanctions, the end of the U.S.-South Korea military drills, the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear strike capabilities from the region and a halt on criticism of the North. It also wants a South Korean apology for offending its leadership.
Still, even the subtle shift in tone is an improvement to the war footing Pyongyang was on just weeks ago.
So what gives?
From Jill Dougherty
The Korean-American who has been held in North Korea since November entered the country on a valid tourist visa, a senior U.S. official told CNN on Monday.
The U.S. State Department on Monday publicly called on the North to release Kenneth Bae on humanitarian grounds.
Spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters that Swedish diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic relations with the North, were able to visit Bae, a U.S. citizen, on Friday.
Some Americans have previously crossed the border without a visa, either knowingly or by mistake, but in this case, the official said, "This was somebody who was a tour operator who has been there in the past and has a visa to go to the North."