Posts Tagged ‘Mike Pence’

Trump push for quick NAFTA deal slowed by persistent divide — Mexico needs for the U.S. to present a complete plan

April 19, 2018
  • U.S., Canada and Mexico differ on several major issues
  • Digging in for more technical talks after seven rounds
  • Sides say deal could be completed within weeks

President Donald Trump’s push for a quick resolution to NAFTA talks is being stymied by persistent differences among the U.S., Canada and Mexico over a handful of make-or-break issues.

After seven rounds of talks rotating between the three countries, negotiators have entered what they’ve called a permanent round in Washington and are expected to keep going until a deal is struck.

Digging in for more technical talks starting on Monday, they remain at loggerheads over regional content rules for automobiles and other sticking points, even as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said over the weekend that an agreement could be wrapped up in weeks.

A meeting between cabinet-level trade officials planned for last week to deal with the toughest issues was canceled when U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer skipped a regional summit in Peru. On Monday, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told reporters that he spoke to his Canadian counterpart and plans to talk with Lighthizer on Tuesday about rescheduling their meeting for Thursday in Washington. He repeated his assessment that the nations may reach a deal in the coming weeks.

Image may contain: 2 people, suit

Guarjardo speaks during the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 6, 2018.

Photographer: Sarah Pabst/Bloomberg

Guajardo said that it’s important for Lighthizer to look for solutions with Mexico and Canada so that he can turn his attention to China and tariff decisions.

“The faster that he resolves one of these various issues, the better,” Guajardo said.

While talks are continuing on less contentious topics such as the environment and financial services, they weren’t the catalysts that spurred Trump to call for a renegotiation of the decades-old trade deal in the first place. And on key topics — from cars to government procurement — the U.S. is sticking with demands that its partners consider untenable.

Although leaders of the countries say a deal could be completed within weeks, that won’t be possible if the sides remain as far apart on the most important points as they are now, according to people familiar with the talks.

“The only way that this thing gets done, frankly, is if Donald Trump capitulates,” Jerry Dias, head of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union representing auto workers, said Friday after meeting with Canada’s lead Nafta negotiator, Steve Verheul.

“Ultimately, he is going to have to find a way to claim a victory while backing off of a whole host of U.S. proposals. I don’t know how you do both,” Dias said.

Emily Davis, a spokeswoman for USTR, declined to comment.

Trump’s negotiating team is pushing for a deal by early May. That’s in order to meet U.S. timelines for having an agreement approved, at the latest, by the lame-duck congressional session following mid-term elections in November, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

While Mexico has a presidential election in July, the nation has fewer legal timing requirements, and a potential deal reached as late as August could probably be debated and voted on before the nation’s next Senate is seated in September. Mexico’s new president will take over in December; President Enrique Pena Nieto isn’t eligible for another term.

Other trade talks could potentially complicate the near-term schedule. Several Mexican negotiators will be in Brussels this week in a push to close an update of the nation’s 17-year-old free-trade agreement with the European Union, said two people familiar with the schedule.

Guajardo plans to join them later in the week, and is expected to remain there next week, when Pena Nieto arrives in Germany for Hannover Messe, an industry show where Mexico is the chosen partner country this year. Mexican negotiators are aiming to announce the close of that agreement with the EU during Pena Nieto’s visit, the people said.

Deepening ties with the EU is part of Mexico’s push to diversify from the U.S., which was the destination for 72 percent of the nation’s $435 billion in exports last year.

Schedulers are attempting to arrange this week’s Nafta talks around the Mexican negotiators who are departing Washington for Belgium. Topics on the agenda include labor guidelines, financial services and agriculture, according to two people familiar with the plans.

Content rule

Talks last week included a focus on content rules for cars, where the U.S. is pushing for more regional content and higher salaries for Mexican factory workers. Progress has been clouded by the lack of a paper proposal from the U.S. — its suggestions continue to be debated verbally without any clear text, according to the people.

And on the key topic of autos, the impasse that’s existed over regional content since the initial U.S. proposal was presented in October still stands, although the U.S. softened its position by dropping a demand for specific American content. Recent adjustments in the U.S. proposal go in the right direction, but “the devil is in the details,” and Mexico needs for the U.S. to present a complete plan, Guajardo said Monday.

The differences in positions contrast with the upbeat public statements by the top officials in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, who’ve expressed optimism recently about the process.

Moody’s: Michigan among most at risk in NAFTA termination

“I’ll leave this summit very hopeful that we are very close to a renegotiated Nafta,” Pence told reporters at the Summit of the Americas in Lima.

After the meeting with Pence, Trudeau said the “positive momentum” included the thorny issue of U.S. demands around automobile production. “We would like to see a renegotiated deal land sooner rather than later,” he said.

Bloomberg

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-16/trump-push-for-quick-nafta-deal-slowed-by-division-on-top-issues

Advertisements

Nafta Agreement Could Come in Weeks, Pence and Trudeau Say

April 15, 2018
  • U.S., Canada leaders spoke after meetings in Peru Saturday
  • Trudeau says progress has been seen on contentious auto file
Mike Pence at the CEO Summit of the Americas on Saturday. Photographer: Guillermo Gutierrez/Bloomberg

The Nafta trade agreement could be renegotiated in the next few weeks, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Canada’s Prime Minister said Saturday in Peru, avoiding new political opposition that could emerge during Congressional and Mexican elections later this year.

“I’ll leave this summit very hopeful that we are very close to a renegotiated Nafta,” and “there is a real possibility that we could arrive at an agreement within the next several weeks,” Pence told reporters at the Summit of the Americas in Lima.

After the meeting with Pence, Canada’s leader Justin Trudeau said the “positive momentum” included the thorny issue of U.S. demands around automobile production. “We would like to see a renegotiated deal land sooner rather than later,” he added.

Justin Trudeau

Photographer: Guillermo Gutierrez/Bloomberg

“There is a desire and a recognition by all three Nafta partners that the time-lines imposed upon us by both the upcoming, the imminent Mexican elections and the upcoming American midterms, means that we have a certain amount of pressure to try and move forward successfully in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said.

The comments restore some more optimism on Nafta after U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week canceled a trip to Peru where Nafta could have been discussed further, and said he could let trade talks go on indefinitely because it would deter companies from investing there.

Pence later tweeted that it was “great to speak” with Trudeau. “We discussed progress toward reaching an agreement on Nafta as soon as possible and that a deal must ensure FAIR and RECIPROCAL trade.”

Pence also said funding of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border didn’t come up during a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. “We are very close to the kind of breakthrough on issues of immigration, drug interjection” that will be of benefit to both sides, Pence said.

By Greg Quinn, Ben Bartenstein , and  Jennifer Epstein

Bloomberg

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-15/nafta-agreement-could-come-in-weeks-pence-and-trudeau-say

Pence at AIPAC vows Iran nuke deal to end ‘immediately’ if not fixed

March 6, 2018

In speech heavily echoing his recent address to Knesset, vice president calls Trump ‘most pro life… most pro-Israel president’

Times of Israel
March 6, 2018, 2:33 am  

US Vice President Mike Pence address the AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center, March 5, 2018 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

US Vice President Mike Pence address the AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center, March 5, 2018 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

US Vice President Mike Pence vowed the US would withdraw from the nuclear deal forged between Iran and six world powers in the coming months unless lawmakers move to fix the agreement, and called US President Donald Trump the most pro-Israel president the country has ever had.

Speaking to the annual policy conference of pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, Pence also hailed the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said a peace proposal being crafted by the administration would not compromise on Israel’s security, in a speech heavily borrowed from an address he gave to the Knesset in January.

Speaking after US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who received a raucous reception, a more toned down Pence said Trump had signed waivers extending sanctions relief to Iran to give negotiators a chance to fix the nuclear deal, but would not do so again.

“Make no mistake about it, this is their last chance. Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed in the coming months, the United States of America will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately,” Pence told a packed convention hall in Washington, DC.

“The United States of America will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

The nuclear deal, reached in 2015 between Iran on one side and the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany on the other, rolled back Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program in exchange for relief from punishing sanctions.

Trump has called the deal “disastrous” and vowed to pull out of it if it is not renegotiated, positions echoed by Pence in his speech.

Pence referred to oft-criticized “sunset” clauses in the deal that run out in several years, saying that, as a consequence, the accord “merely delayed the day” when Iran can obtain a nuclear weapon.

He also accused Iran of spending $4 billion last year alone to fund terrorist groups, including on Israel’s borders, and said the shooting down of an Iranian drone that infiltrated Israeli airspace last month had sent a message to the region: “Dangerous provocations will not go unchecked by Israel, America, or our allies,” he said.

Pence, a strident anti-abortion legislator, began his speech with a telling slip of the tongue, calling Trump “the most pro-life … pro-Israel president.” The gaffe drew laughs from the crowd.

While he emphatically called Jerusalem the capital of Israel, he said the administration was not taking sides on any final status issues, as Palestinians have charged.

“This decision is in the best of interest of peace,” he said.

He also nodded to the prospects of administration support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians, should both sides agree to it, but said Israel’s security was not up for negotiation.

“While any agreement will require compromise, the US will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish state of Israel,” he said.

“We know peace is possible,” he added, pointing to agreements signed with Egypt and Jordan.

The vice president finished his speech by mentioning the 6 million Holocaust “martyrs … who walked through the valley of the shadow of death, rose up to reclaim a Jewish future and build a Jewish state.”

A tweet with a similar line, but also using the word “resurrect,” sent out after visiting Yad Vashem in January, had drawn criticism for carrying Christian overtones.

You can make some nice statement about “Never Forget” and just leave it at that. I wouldn’t say anything if he did that. But the state of Israel didn’t resurrect the murdered Jews of Europe. Nothing can do that, at least not from the Jewish perspective.

It’s from *Pence’s* religious perspective that my murdered family members might be resurrected. But they—and I—forcefully reject that cosmology. We don’t believe what he believes. Believe what you want, man, but I’d appreciate it if you could leave 6 million dead Jews out of it.

READ MORE:

National Security Adviser HR McMaster May Be The Next One Fired at The White House

March 2, 2018
National Security Adviser HR McMaster says it is ‘incontrovertible’ that Russia interfered with the 2016 US election
.
By Mythili Sampathkumar New York
The Independent
.
.

President Donald Trump’s White House continues to be beleaguered with staffing issues as reports that National Security Adviser HR McMaster may also leave have surfaced in the wake of trusted adviser Hope Hicks‘ departure.

According to administration officials, the move could happen by next month and it was coordinated by Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defence Secretary James Mattis, NBC News reported.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said: “We frequently face rumour and innuendo about senior administration officials…There are no personnel announcements at this time.”

Mr McMaster had replaced Mr Trump’s initial appointment to the post, Michael Flynn, just one year ago.

Mr Flynn had resigned just 24 days into Mr Trump’s time in office after it was revealed that he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his dealings with Russian officials.

As part of the ongoing probe into whether there was collusion between Russian officials and the 2016 Trump campaign team, he also pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about a meeting with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak just ahead of Mr Trump’s inauguration.

Mr McMaster as a solid choice for replacement because he had no ties to the campaign.

National Security Advisor H.R.McMaster says Russian meddling is now incontrovertible

Prior to his time in the White House he was director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center in Virginia.

He chose to remain an active duty Army Lieutenant General instead of retiring from military service when he was appointed as National Security Adviser.

NBC News reported that Mr Mattis would likely allow Mr McMaster to return to a three-star general position in the Army or may promote him to a four-star.

Mr McMaster and Mr Trump butted heads recently, which could prove to be one of the deciding factors in his dismissal.

At a forum in Germany, the National Security Adviser said it was “incontrovertible” that Russia had indeed interfered in the 2016 US election.

The FBI and Congressional investigations are still ongoing. Ms Hicks had testified in front of the House intelligence committee as part of it and said she had to “tell white lies” as part of working for Mr Trump.

Her departure was announced the next day.

Mr McMaster’s comment sparked a Twitter response from the President. He wrote that Mr McMaster “forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems”.

Mr McMaster is seen as a respected leader in the military. He is perhaps best known for his PhD dissertation which later became the best-selling book “Dereliction of Duty”.

In it he blamed US military leaders for the defeat in the Vietnam War; he argued that they gave in to the political demands of President Lyndon S. Johnson instead of providing the best military advice they could.

Ford Motor Company executive Stephen Biegun, who had served as an adviser to former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice during the administration of President George W Bush, is considered to be a replacement for the position.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-national-security-adviser-hr-mcmaster-michael-flynn-a8235801.html

High-level N. Korean delegates arrive in the South — Where many express hate, scorn

February 25, 2018

AFP

© YONHAP/AFP / by Jung Hawon | South Korean protesters hold placards showing a picture of North Korean general Kim Yong Chol

SEOUL (AFP) – A blacklisted North Korean general arrived in the South on Sunday for the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, which will also be attended by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka.The visit by Kim Yong Chol, who led an eight-member high-level delegation that crossed the Demilitarized Zone in the morning, is the final piece of the Games-led diplomacy that has dominated headlines from Pyeongchang.

The nuclear-armed North has gone on a charm offensive over the Games, sending athletes, cheerleaders and performers and with leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong attending the opening ceremony.

Analysts say it is seeking to loosen the sanctions imposed against it over its banned nuclear and missile programmes, and trying to weaken the alliance between Seoul and Washington.

But Kim Yo Jong had no interaction with US Vice President Mike Pence at the opening ceremony, even though they were just a few seats apart in the same VIP area. According to the US, a planned meeting between the delegations from Washington and Pyongyang the following day was cancelled at short notice by the North Koreans.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in — who has long pushed for engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table — also did not immediately accept an invitation passed on by Kim Yo Jong from her brother to a summit in Pyongyang, saying the right conditions must be created.

Washington, which describes its approach to Pyongyang as “maximum pressure and engagement”, announced a series of new sanctions on Friday.

Pence also condemned Kim Yo Jong as part of an “evil family clique” and “murderous regime”, prompting a denunciation from Pyongyang on Sunday — which said it would not talk to the Trump administration for “even 100 years or 200 years”.

– Overnight protest –

Kim Yong Chol’s delegation was greeted by Seoul’s vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung.

Kim, wearing a long dark coat, was later seen checking into the Walkerhill luxury hotel in Seoul with other delegates and leaving a few hours later amid heavy security involving hundreds of police officers.

Kim’s nomination as the leader of the group is controversial in the South, where he is widely blamed for a spate of attacks including the torpedoing of Seoul’s Cheonan warship in 2010 with the loss of 46 lives. Pyongyang denies responsibility.

Conservative lawmakers staged an overnight protest near the border with the North, joined by hundreds of other activists.

The protesters waved banners including “Arrest Kim Yong Chol!” and “Kim Yong Chol should kneel in front of the victims’ families and apologise!”

Kim is blacklisted under Seoul’s unilateral sanctions against the North, meaning he is subject to an assets freeze.

– ‘Crazy remarks’ –

Officials from both Seoul and Washington say there will be no meeting between Kim Yong Chol and Ivanka Trump — who is travelling with Korea specialists from the US administration and White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

But the North’s delegation includes Choe Kang Il, the deputy director general for North American affairs at the North’s foreign ministry, suggesting Pyongyang may be open for talks.

On Friday the US Treasury blacklisted 28 ships, 27 companies and one person, imposing an asset freeze and barring US citizens from dealing with them, in what Donald Trump described as the “heaviest sanctions ever” levied on Pyongyang.

The UN Security Council has already banned North Korean exports of coal — a key foreign exchange earner — iron ore, seafood and textiles, and restricted its oil imports.

Washington is also seeking to have the United Nations ban 33 vessels from ports worldwide and blacklist 27 shipping businesses for helping North Korea circumvent sanctions.

Kim Yo Jong’s trip at the start of the Games — the first visit to the South by a member of the North’s ruling dynasty since the Korean War ended in 1953 — made global headlines.

But Pence told an audience of thousands at the Conservative Political Action Conference: “The sister of Kim Jong Un is a central pillar of the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet, an evil family clique that brutalises, subjugates, starves and imprisons its 25 million people.”

Pyongyang denounced his comments Sunday, with the official Korean Central News Agency carrying a statement from the North’s Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee saying Pence would discover “what quagmire his crazy remarks threw the US and himself into”.

Trump, it said, should know that the North would “have no dealings with those viciously slandering the dignity of our supreme leadership and government”.

“We will never have face-to-face talks with them even after 100 years or 200 years.”

by Jung Hawon

Trump Announces Another Round of Sanctions Against North Korea

February 23, 2018

Bloomberg

No automatic alt text available.

North Korean Hwasong15

By Terrence Dopp and Jennifer Jacobs

 Updated on 
  • New restrictions target North Korean shipping transactions
  • Sanctions aimed at pressuring North Korea on nuclear program

President Donald Trump said Friday his administration is imposing the largest U.S. sanctions package yet against North Korea for its nuclear weapons program.

The sanctions, which Trump planned to unveil at a meeting of conservatives near Washington, aims to disrupt shipping and trading companies and vessels that deal with North Korea in an effort to further isolate the regime of Kim Jong Un.

“The Treasury Department will soon be taking new action to further cut off sources of revenue and fuel that the regime uses to fund its nuclear program and sustain its military by targeting 56 vessels, shipping companies, and trade businesses that are assisting North Korea in evading sanctions,” Trump will tell the meeting, according to excerpts released in advance by the White House.

The action targets one individual, 27 entities, and 28 vessels, according to a statement from the Treasury Department Friday. Those vessels may be located, registered or flagged in a number of countries, including North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Marshall Islands.

While the new sanctions focus on international shipping, the administration is also working on a response to the regime’s illicit cyber activities, a senior administration official said.

Olympic Games

The latest sanctions send a message of continued U.S. determination as its ally South Korea hosts athletes and officials from North Korea in a show of detente at the Winter Olympics. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, is in South Korea for the closing ceremony of the games. “We cannot have a better, or smarter, person representing our country,” Trump said in a tweet on Friday morning.

North Korea already faces the most severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. The additional sanctions follow a year of escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over its ballistic missile testing and nuclear development programs.

Vice President Mike Pence hinted at the new sanctions earlier this month during an Asia trip, promising the administration would bring “maximum pressure” to bear on the Kim government.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement that the new prohibitions will deter North Korea from evading previous sanctions. He said they’re being lodged under 2016 and 2017 laws passed by Congress and signed by the president.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-23/trump-to-announce-new-round-of-sanctions-against-north-korea

Related:

.
.
File photo: Kim Yong-Chol and North Korean soldiers marching
Kim Yong-chol
.

Donald Trump to Unveil ‘Largest Ever’ Set of Sanctions on North Korea

February 23, 2018

The president says the new actions will ‘further cut off’ sources of revenue and fuel for Pyongyang’s nuclear program

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration plans to levy its “largest ever” sanctions package against North Korea, President Donald Trump was set to announce on Friday.

The sanctions will target shipping and trading companies as the U.S. seeks to further cut off foreign-currency revenues keeping the nuclear-armed regime afloat, Mr. Trump will say Friday, according to excerpts of his planned remarks released by the White House.

“The Treasury Department will soon be taking new action to further cut off sources of revenue and fuel that the regime uses to fund its nuclear program and sustain its military by targeting 56 vessels, shipping companies, and trade businesses that are assisting North Korea in evading sanctions,” Mr. Trump planned to say in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The U.S. says North Korea, China and a host of other countries are allowing ships and trading companies to aid North Korea in evading an international ban on coal exports and fuel imports, a vital source of income and goods that help leader Kim Jong Un maintain power as he pursues an intercontinental ballistic missile that can target the U.S. mainland.

More

  • Ivanka Trump Meets South Korean Leader

Write to Ian Talley at ian.talley@wsj.com

Trump to announce new sanctions against North Korea as South Korea readies more talks — “The largest package of new sanctions against the North Korea regime”

February 23, 2018

Tougher sanctions may jeopardise the latest detente between the two Koreas.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The United States is due to announce its largest package of sanctions yet against North Korea to further pressure Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programme, as South Korea readies itself for more talks with the North’s officials.

Tougher sanctions may jeopardise the latest detente between the two Koreas amid their preparations to create conditions appropriate to hold a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In.

A senior US administration official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, called the new penalties “the largest package of new sanctions against the North Korea regime”, without giving details.

The new US sanctions will be announced while President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is visiting South Korea to attend a dinner with President Moon and the closing ceremony of the Games. In addition to the dinner which will feature a kosher menu for Ms Trump’s dietary restrictions, the Blue House has planned a small traditional Korean music performance for her delegation.

US Vice-President Mike Pence had hinted at a plan for more sanctions two weeks ago during a stop in Tokyo that preceded his visit to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Mr Kim said he wants to boost the “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” with South Korea after a high-level delegation including his sister returned from the Winter Olympics.

Last year (2017), North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions. However, it has now been more than two months since its last missile test in late November.

Ms Trump’s visit 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 also meet with Mr Moon.

Image may contain: 2 people

Kim Yong Chol

The Blue House has said there are no official opportunities for US and North Korean officials to meet.

Mr Kim Yong Chol is the vice-chairman of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party and was previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency which South Korea blamed for the sinking of its navy corvette the Cheonan.

North Korea has denied any involvement in the sinking.

South Korea on Friday that said it approved the Winter Olympic visit by Mr Kim Yong Chol in the pursuit of peace and asked for public understanding.

“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 at a media briefing.

A South Korean lawmaker briefed by the country’s spy agency said on Friday that Mr Kim was the “right person” for inter-Korean and denuclearisation talks.

“Kim Yong Chol is the top official regarding inter-Korean relations and he is being accepted (here) as the right person to discuss various issues like easing military tension, improving inter-Korean ties and denuclearisation,” said Mr Kang Seok Ho to reporters.

Mr 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 Mr Kim Yong Chol, currently sanctioned by the US and South Korea, across the border has sparked protest from family members of the dead Cheonan sailors and opposition parties.

Some 70 members from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party staged a protest in front of the presidential Blue House on Friday, demanding the government withdraw its decision.

“President Moon’s decision to accept the North’s facade of peace is a serious issue and it will go down in history as a crime eternal,” said the party in a statement.

A group of family members of those killed in the Cheonan sinking has said it will hold a press conference against the decision on Saturday.

Acknowledging public angst over Mr Kim Yong Chol’s pending visit, Mr Baik said the South’s stance that the Cheonan sinking was instigated by the North has not changed.

“However, what’s important are efforts to create actual peace on the Korean peninsula so these kind of provocations don’t occur again,” said Mr Baik, adding that the government would make “various efforts” to assuage the public’s concerns.

US conservatives gather as Trump faces pressure on multiple fronts

February 21, 2018

AFP

© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / by Michael Mathes | US President Donald Trump will address the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington during a period of political turmoil, and as the nation grieves over high school students killed in the latest school shooting

WASHINGTON (AFP) – 

Russian meddling, national mourning for school shooting victims, the chaotic state of Donald Trump’s presidency: US political turbulence forms a dramatic backdrop as conservatives gather near Washington beginning Wednesday for their often controversial annual confab.

Thousands of Republican activists, party heavyweights and national politicians — not to mention a scion of France’s ultra-nationalist movement — converge on a Maryland convention center to tout the health of a populist revolution that rocked American politics to its core in 2016 and ushered in the Trump era.

Thirteen months after the brash billionaire entered the White House, Trump is the featured speaker Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Religious conservative Vice President Mike Pence addresses CPAC the day before, as does White House counsel Don McGahn — an odd choice for the high-profile event as he is under scrutiny in a White House security clearance scandal.

CPAC was “getting ready for another exciting event. Big difference from those days when President Obama held the White House,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

The newly inaugurated president received a hero’s welcome when he addressed the conference last February.

A year earlier Trump was considered too controversial to attend. But such has been the rightward shift within the conservative movement that CPAC’s organizers have invited French anti-immigrant champion Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a hardliner tipped as possible future leader of France’s anti-immigrant National Front (FN), to speak shortly after Pence.

The 27-year-old former member of parliament, whose aunt, FN leader Marine Le Pen, was nearly endorsed by Trump last year in France’s presidential race, is to mark her return to the public eye nine months after she said she was withdrawing from politics.

The move triggered a firestorm on Twitter, with mainstream Republican group The Reagan Battalion blasting CPAC for inviting “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin apologist and NATO hater” Le Pen.

– Testy political climate –

The conference comes at a time of heightened sensitivities on multiple fronts, including accusations that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was illegally coordinating with Moscow.

Last Friday US special prosecutor Robert Mueller unveiled bombshell indictments against 13 Russians for allegedly running a secret campaign to tilt the 2016 US election in Trump’s favor.

Trump repeatedly denies any collusion with Russia. But four Trump campaign officials have been indicted as part of Mueller’s broader investigation, and attendees and speakers at CPAC will be watched closely on the issue.

They will also be faced with the scourge of US gun violence, after the latest in a string of deadly school shootings prompted national soul searching.

Trump strongly backs the constitutional right to bear arms. But he recently expressed support for legislation that would expand background checks for gun purchases, and ban devices which can turn legal semi-automatic weapons into machine guns.

Gun rights are front and center at CPAC — two panels will address the issue on Saturday.

But while the National Rifle Association usually addresses CPAC, the country’s largest pro-gun lobby is toning down its presence this year following last week’s Florida massacre.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre was not listed on CPAC’s schedule, but the gun group assured that he would address the conference.

Several Trump cabinet members, Republican lawmakers and combative former Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke are scheduled to speak.

Absent from the list: Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and recently announced US Senate candidate from Utah.

CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp declared him not conservative enough to attend.

The event will also be without rightwing provocateur Steve Bannon, the strategist who harnessed the populist insurgency that propelled Trump to victory, but was ousted from the White House last year.

by Michael Mathes

Pence raises prospect of talks with North Korea amid ‘intensified’ pressure

February 12, 2018

Reuters

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States may be looking more favorably at diplomatic engagement with North Korea, possibly holding dialogue, as South Korea pushes forward with plans to establish grounds for a rare summit between the two Koreas.

 

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea February 9, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS A

Vice President Mike Pence said in a newspaper interview the United States and South Korea had agreed on terms for further diplomatic engagement with North Korea, first with Seoul and then possibly leading to direct talks with Washington without pre-conditions.

The prospect of talks comes after months of tension between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, with U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un trading insults and threats of destruction amid tightening sanctions from the United Nations.

Trump has at times questioned the purpose of further talks with the North after years of negotiations by previous U.S. administrations failed to halt the North’s weapons programs.

Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the United States.

Image result for Mike Pence, Moon, photos, olympics

United States’ Vice President Mike Pence and South Korean President Moon Jae-in laugh during the ladies’ 500 meters short-track speedskating in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Relations between the two Koreas have improved in recent weeks, with Pyongyang agreeing to send its highest ranking delegation ever to attend the Winter Olympic Games, being held in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.

The visit included an invitation for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to travel to Pyongyang for talks. Such a meeting, if it came about, would mark the first inter-Korea summit since 2007.

Speaking to the Washington Post aboard Air Force Two on his way home from the Games, Pence said Washington would keep up its “maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang but would be open to possible talks at the same time.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearisation,” Pence was quoted on Sunday as saying. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

A South Korean government official said Seoul’s stance was that separate talks with North Korea by South Korea and the United States should both lead the denuclearisation of the North while sanctions and pressure continue to be applied.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Young Nam as Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, looks on after North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra’s performance in Seoul, South Korea, February 11, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS

North Korea defends its weapons programs as essential to counter U.S. aggression, saying regular war drills between the United States and the South are preparations for invasion. The South hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war.

FAMILY TIES

South Korea said it will seek ways to continue engaging North Korea, including trying to arrange more reunions for families divided by the war and lowering military tensions.

The statement from the Ministry of Unification came after the North Korean delegation concluded its three-day visit.

The two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict on the Korean peninsula ended in a ceasefire and not a truce.

“(The visit) shows that North Korea has a strong will to improve inter-Korean relations and that Pyongyang can make unprecedented and bold measures if deemed necessary,” the ministry said.

The visit of the delegation, which included North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, intrigued many in South Korea, but also met scepticism about the North’s willingness to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. North Korea has said it will never give up its nuclear deterrent and critics in the South see its participation in the Games as a reward for bad behavior.

The South’s Unification Ministry said steps to improve ties would be led by the two Koreas, but with the support of the international community.

“Under a strong position for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, Korea will faithfully implement the international sanctions on North Korea, while also adhering to the principle of resolution through peaceful means,” the statement said.

Kim Yo Jong and her delegation spent three days dining with top government officials, watching the opening ceremony and cheering for the united women’s ice hockey team the two Koreas have fielded at this Olympics.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach will visit North Korea after the Games as part of an agreement between the IOC and North and South Korea, a source within the Olympic movement told Reuters on Monday.

Reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie