Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’

Merkel: ‘Good for all’ that Trump, Putin plan to meet again (Angela Taking The High Road)

July 20, 2018

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Meetings between the US and Russian presidents should become the “normality”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday, adding that it is “good for all” that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin plan new talks.

“That talks are held is basically good for all, in particular between these two countries,” Merkel said at her regular summer press conference.

“I find that meetings between the US and Russian presidents must return to normality,” she said.

Trump is planning to host Putin for talks in Washington later this year, after a first bilateral meeting in Helsinki on Monday.

Trump has come under fire following the Helsinki talks for what many saw as his unsettling embrace of the Russian strongman — and his seeming disavowal of his own intelligence agencies and their assessment that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election.

© AFP/File | German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it would be good for all concerned if US President Donald Trump (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) were to meet regularly after their Helsinki summit

The talks in the Finnish capital were closed-door and with no one else present but interpreters.

The US president on Thursday listed the topics discussed as “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.”

Putin was last invited to the White House in 2005 by then-president George W. Bush, while former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visited in 2010.

Pressed by reporters on how she viewed her relationship with Trump in light of his repeated criticism of Germany’s asylum policies, defence spending and trade surpluses, a diplomatic Merkel stressed the importance of transatlantic cooperation.

Ties at the moment are “under strong pressure”, she acknowledged.

“Nevertheless the transatlantic working relationship, also with the US president, is central to us and I will continue to maintain it.”

She also expressed hope that a trade war with the US could be staved off, ahead of European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker’s visit to Washington next week to try and negotiate a solution.

Merkel said the European Union was “ready” to respond if Trump makes good on his threat to slap steep tariffs on foreign cars, a move that would hit Germany’s auto industry particularly hard.

But tit-for-tat retaliation would be “by far the worst-possible solution”, Merkel warned, describing the current trade tensions as “very serious”.

The potential car tariffs would not just violate the rules of the World Trade Organization, she added, but could also “endanger the prosperity of many people around the world”.



Blue State Blues: Why America Hates CNN

July 20, 2018

Americans dislike the news media, though we depend on them for information. And cable news has been a target for ridicule for at least a decade, ever since Jon Stewart used The Daily Show to lampoon the genre. But CNN is particularly disliked, especially —though not uniquely — by supporters of President Donald Trump.

CNN’s unpopularity is reflected in its shockingly poor ratings, but also in the chants of “CNN sucks!” that erupt at Trump rallies.

What is it about the pioneering cable news network that is so hated?

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CNN might argue that it is the victim of a vicious campaign, led by President Trump himself, to label the network “fake news.”

But Trump would not be the first president to single out a news outlet. Barack Obama did the same to Fox News, telling Rolling Stone in 2010 that the network was “destructive to [America’s] long-term growth.” His staff also called Fox “opinion journalism masquerading as news.” Few journalists, and even fewer Democrats, denounced Obama’s attacks as a threat to democracy.

Democracy survived — and so did Fox, which actually thrived under attack from Obama. CNN’s fortunes, by contrast, have moved in the opposite direction.

One reason is that CNN has competition that Fox does not, in the form of MSNBC, the openly left-wing network that has seen its ratings rise in the Trump era. In an increasingly divided political environment, viewers may have less interest in news produced by a network whose brand — theoretically, at least — is one of non-partisan objectivity and “facts first.”

The question is whether CNN is actually true to that brand. And many viewers feel that it is not. CNN is perceived as being guilty of false advertising — namely, claiming to be in the middle of the political spectrum while actually driving a hard left-wing agenda.

When the Black Lives Matter movement erupted, for example, CNN pushed the false idea that Michael Brown had raised his hands in surrender and told police, “Don’t shoot.” A CNN panel — including conservative Margaret Hoover — offered a protest of its own.

In the run-up to 2016, CNN — perhaps aware of the perception that it was, in fact, left-wing — added new conservative panelists, including pro-Trump pundits like Jeffrey Lord. It fired him on the flimsiest of pretexts after the election, leaving behind nominal Republicans who usually endorse their liberal opponents’ hatred of Trump.

After Trump won, CNN became hostile to Trump — perhaps, rumor had it, to deflect liberal criticism that it had “enabled” him by giving him too much airtime during the race.

CNN soon moved beyond covering the news into creating it. It was one of the first to report the unverified Russia “dossier” on Trump, which had served as the basis for the Obama administration’s surveillance of Trump associates during the campaign. In doing so, CNN allegedly worked with former Obama intelligence chief John Brennan, one of the more unhinged Trump-haters on Twitter.

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Since then, CNN’s coverage has been guided by the idea that Trump ought to, or is about to, be removed from office. To that end, for example, it covered porn star Stormy Daniels as if her lawsuit against Trump were more important than nuclear talks with North Korea.

This week, CNN’s Brian Stelter, host of Reliable Sourcesdefended U.S. journalists in Helsinki who asked Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin about the 2016 election while ignoring foreign policy. Stelter’s predecessor, Howard Kurtz (now at Fox News), used the show to critique the press. Today, it is merely a megaphone for CNN’s anti-Trump hysteria.

That hysteria has a damaging effect on American politics, and on America’s image abroad. In many countries, CNN is a major source of international news, and news about the United States. It presents an image of politics in the U.S. that is badly skewed against the Trump administration.

CNN could have chosen a different path. Faced with accusations of bias and “fake news,” it could have proven the president wrong by delivering more accurate news coverage and more balanced opinion.

Instead, it chose to become a player in the partisan fight, while still pretending it stood for objective truth. That ambivalent — and, ultimately, fraudulent — posture epitomizes the problem with the news media in general.

CNN confuses attacking Trump with defending journalism. That is why Americans change the channel.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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James Comey told Stephen Colbert what it had felt like to be fired as F.B.I. director. Credit CBS


Food Network Beats CNN In ratings

CNN continues to struggle with its ratings, failing to crack the top five in both total day and primetime cable ratings last week.

According to Nielsen Media Research for the week of June 18 to June 24, Fox News continued to dominate the other cable news networks by ranking number one in both total day and primetime ratings. MSNBC fell slightly behind at number two in both categories.

Fox News earned its 24th consecutive week on top of basic cable with 1,465,000 average daily viewers. They also earned 2,513,000 average primetime viewers for the week.

CNN, meanwhile, trailed far behind both of its news competitors, ranking 13th in primetime and 7th in total day. In primetime, CNN lost to HGTV, Investigation Discovery, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and the Food Network.

The Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo-led lineup earned them just 914,000 average primetime viewers.

China denies breaching sanctions on North Korea

July 20, 2018

Both Beijing and Seoul insist they will uphold sanctions after UN report highlights coal shipments that arrived in port after ban came into force

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 4:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 5:49pm

China and South Korea vowed to uphold the sanctions regime on North Korea after a UN committee accused the two countries of being reluctant to enforce a ban on coal exports from the North.

Five direct North Korean coal shipments arrived in China last August, according to the UN North Korea Sanctions Committee report.

It also said that two shipments, sent from a Russian port 2,000km (1,200 miles) away from the Korean peninsula, had arrived in South Korea in October.

The Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Friday that China had obeyed the UN Security Council resolution.

It added that coal imports shipped before August 2017 were legitimate.

The five Chinese shipments, which arrived in Bayuquan, Nantong and Guangzhou in August, had been sent from the North Korean ports of Nampo and Taean in June and July.

“The Chinese side has always implemented the Security Council resolutions comprehensively and strictly, and the relevant departments have issued an announcement for this purpose,” a ministry statement said.

“If China is to report relevant import data to the Security Council’s North Korea Sanctions Committee, [China will provide] completely open and transparent [data], and it will comply with the relevant provisions of the Security Council resolution,” it added.

Seoul also promised not to violate the sanctions regime, adding that the government was investigating two shipments, which the UN report said had been sent from Kholmsk on Sakhalin island to the ports of Incheon and Pohang.

The report claimed that the delivery to Pohang alone was valued at US$325,000.

South Korean foreign affairs ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said earlier this week that Seoul was “making diplomatic efforts, by closely cooperating with the international community and the sanctions committee, so that the UN Security Council can implement its sanctions”.

“I’m aware of an ongoing investigation by the authorities,” Noh added.

Beijing has recently promised to restore its economic ties with Pyongyang.

President Xi Jinping told North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he would support North Korea’s efforts to develop the economy during Kim’s third visit this year to China last month.

UN diplomats said that on Thursday Russia and China delayed a United States push for a UN Security Council committee to ban refined petroleum exports to North Korea.

The United States last week complained to the 15-member Security Council North Korea sanctions committee that, as of May 30, there had been 89 illicit ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products this year by Pyongyang, which breached the cap of 500,000 barrels a year.

But Russia’s UN mission put a “hold” on the US request on Thursday, telling the committee it was “seeking additional information on every single case of ‘illegal’ transfer of petroleum,” diplomats said.

China backed the Russian request and asked the United States “to provide additional factual information to facilitate all states to study and make a judgment,” diplomats said.

Boo Seong-chan, a research fellow at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, said: “Easing economic sanctions sits at the centre of North Korean economic prosperity, as Kim has vowed to his people that he would move on to an economy-first policy … This means that he must show some fruits for his people in the short-term in order to legitimise his rule.

“After all, authoritarian regimes’ legitimacy to rule comes from their people’s quality of life.”

Park Ihn-hwi, an international studies professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, acknowledged that there could be loopholes in the UN sanctions regime that would allow China to boost its trade with the North.

“Some trading may be resumed, especially between China and North Korea, easing the UN sanctions regime … There may also be illegal trading at the border area,” Park added.

North Korea’s gross domestic product. contracted 3.5 per cent in 2017 compared with the previous year, marking the biggest contraction since 1997, South Korea’s central bank estimated on Friday.

Additional reporting by Reuters


Russia, China block U.S. rebuke over United Nations North Korea oil sanction — No help from Putin

July 20, 2018

Russia and China on Thursday blocked the U.S. from getting the United Nations to publicly point fingers at North Korea for smuggling more petroleum products beyond the limit imposed by UN sanctions, reports the AP.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a UN Security Council emergency session on Israel-Gaza conflict at United Nations headquarter on May 30, 2018 in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP)

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a UN Security Council emergency session on Israel-Gaza conflict at United Nations headquarter on May 30, 2018 in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP)

The details: The policy was imposed by the UN’s 15-member Security Council in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. The U.S. requested last week that the Security Council publicly rebuke North Korea for violating the quota and had until today to object. Just moments before the noon deadline per the AP, diplomats said Russia and China put “a hold” on the motion citing a need to investigate the U.S.’ allegations, automatically delaying any action on the U.S. request for six months.

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United Nations Security Council: Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Russian ambassador: Trump made ‘verbal agreements’ with Putin — Does Russia have Trump by the “reset button”?

July 19, 2018

Russia’s ambassador to the United States on Wednesday said President Trump made “important verbal agreements” with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their private conversation in Helsinki on Monday.

Russian envoy Anatoly Antonov listed cooperation in Syria and arms control as two issues the world leaders had agreed on, according to The Washington Post.

But the Post reported that the highest-level Trump administration officials still do not know what Trump promised Putin during their one-on-one meeting, which lasted more than two hours.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Wednesday both listed general topics that the two discussed, but neither provided much detail.

Nauert said the State Department is assessing “three takeaways,” which include a working group of American and Russian business leaders, an expert council with thought leaders from both countries, and follow-up meetings with Russian national security council staff.

“These are certainly all modest proposals,” Nauert said. “The president had said going into this that we wouldn’t solve all the world’s problems in one meeting.”

Sanders was vague as well, telling reporters during Wednesday’s press briefing that Trump and Putin discussed “Syrian ­humanitarian aid, Iran’s nuclear ambition, Israeli security, North Korean denuclearization, Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea, reducing Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, and of course your favorite topic, Russia’s interference in our elections.”

The Post reported that officials are scrambling to figure out what Trump agreed to.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marina Zakharova said on Wednesday that the Kremlin is already working to implement agreements from the summit, according to the Post.

“A lot of what the president of the Russian Federation talked about is now being worked through,” she said, according to the Post. “Relevant instructions are being carried out, and diplomats are beginning to work on the outcomes.”

Putin during Monday’s controversial press conference said the conflict in Syria could present a starting point for bilateral agreements. He also claimed he and Trump agreed on securing Israel’s border with Syria, eliciting praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Antonov on Wednesday said Moscow is “a hostage to the domestic political battle” in the U.S.

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Anatoly Antonov

“When I return from Moscow, I will have the very clear-cut and lucid determination to go knock on every door at the State Department and the National Security Council to understand what we can do together in order to realize the agreements, the ideas, that the two presidents supported,” Antonov said.

“Even in talking with you now, I am afraid to say something positive about the American president,” he said, “because when American journalists or policymakers read my interview, they’ll say Russia is again meddling and helping Donald Trump.”

Lawmakers have raised concerns about what Trump told Putin during their private conversation. Multiple Democrats have called for testimony from the interpreter who was present during the private meeting between the two leaders in order to get details of the conversation.

Nauert said Wednesday that such a proposal is unprecedented, but added, “we always seek to work with Congress.”

WSJ: Time to Assesses the Trump Presidency — U.S. is being isolated

July 19, 2018

This Is the Art of the Deal?

Trump tweeted, ‘Big results will come!’ Putin already has the results he wanted.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, July 16.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, July 16. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES



The controversy overflowing the banks of the press conference between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is a moment to step back and assess the nonstop maelstrom called the Trump presidency.

Mr. Trump’s famous modus operandi is the art of the deal. Keep everyone guessing and off balance. Decision first, details later. Drive events, stay on offense, force everyone to react. In this, Mr. Trump has succeeded.

No one—from the individuals who work daily in the White House to friends and enemies in foreign capitals—knows what he may do next. A high-ranking official from an Asian ally who visited the Journal’s offices recently was asked if his government has a clear idea of what Mr. Trump wants them to do on trade. “No,” he said, “we do not.”

The whole world is back on its heels, which is where, according to theory, the art-of-the-deal master wants them.

There is another pop culture phrase nearly everyone knows: “Show me the money!” It means there comes a time when the man offering deals has to stop talking and start producing results.

Mr. Trump has three major foreign-policy initiatives going: North Korea, trade and Russia. So far, none have produced a deal or anything close. Instead, we get Mr. Trump’s repeated, Jerry Maguire-like assurances that something big is in the works.

Mr. Trump said shortly after his sit-down with Kim Jong Un, “The North Korean nuclear threat is over.” Then this Tuesday, Mr. Trump said there is “no time limit” on the negotiations. That deal sits at square one, the same tough starting point other presidents faced. Meanwhile, Mr. Kim’s scientists will spend every day improving his missiles’ survival and accuracy.

On trade, we don’t have a deal of any sort equal to the massive roll of the dice taken by pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, upending the North American Free Trade Agreement, and imposing tariffs on all the U.S.’s major trading partners.

The only deals getting done are among our trading partners, with the U.S. excluded. Japan this week signed a huge free-trade deal with the European Union. Europe is finishing similar trade deals with Canada and Mexico.

When U.S. allies, from Tokyo to London, become actively confused and doubtful about their lead partner’s commitments, they start looking for alternative arrangements of convenience. Two weeks ago, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced he will go to China and hopes for a reciprocal visit to Tokyo by Chinese President-for-life Xi Jinping. Germany last week signed significant trade deals during a meeting in Berlin between Angela Merkel and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Slowly, the U.S. is being isolated.

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On Tuesday at the White House, addressing the Putin controversy, Mr. Trump said his meeting with the Russian “was really strong.” He added, “They were willing to do things that frankly I didn’t think they would be willing to do.” Like what? Given the barrage of criticism this week, if anything resembling real progress had been accomplished in Helsinki, the White House would have made it public by now.

The only voice addressing the substance of the Putin meeting remains that of Mr. Trump, who in a tweet Wednesday promised, “Big results will come!” Mr. Putin got the results he wanted on Monday in Finland. The man with the Cheshire cat smile will be moving on now.

Mr. Trump’s supporters say he deserves more time to negotiate wins on these big foreign-policy bets. It’s not going to get better.

Boarding his plane for the meetings in Europe, Mr. Trump said, “Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all.” That confident insouciance can be endearing, but we are seeing the limits to Mr. Trump’s art of the deal. Past some point of complexity, such as the global supply chain or North Korea’s nuclear program, decision first and strategy later (“We’ll see what happens”) degrades into deadlock. Or what may be worse, happy talk, which in time erodes credibility.

When Mr. Trump entered office amid a generalized panic among political elites, the first thing some of us noticed was that he was filling his government with first-rate people. To revive the economy, they included economic advisers Gary Cohn and Kevin Hassett, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. On taxes, Paul Ryan and Kevin Brady provided a detailed template. The economy raced to full employment. The stock market boomed.

On the Supreme Court, the most astute minds in the conservative legal movement gave Mr. Trump a list of stellar options. He picked Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. More wins.

Mr. Trump has said that in Mike Pompeo, Jim Mattis and John Bolton he has the foreign-policy team he always wanted. He also said he wanted to do one-on-ones with Messrs. Xi, Kim and Putin. He has done that. The moment has arrived to start listening less to America’s adversaries and more to his own good people. That, in his first year, was the art of the win.


Write to Daniel Henninger at

Appeared in the July 19, 2018, print edition.

Experience With Syria, Russia Compels The World To Guard Against Chemical Weapons

July 17, 2018

The outgoing head of the world’s chemical arms watchdog has urged nations not to sacrifice a century of hard-fought efforts to banish toxic weapons for the sake of short-term political disputes.

Speaking exclusively to AFP just days before he steps down and with a team of inspectors on the ground in Britain to probe a suspected nerve agent attack, Ahmet Uzumcu called on members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to overcome bitter divisions.

The Chemical Weapons Convention banning the use, production and stockpiling of arms such as mustard gas, which crept across the battlefields of World War I or enveloped the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, came into force in 1997.

Today “in order to reach this stage to develop such a regime, the international community spent more than 100 years,” stressed Uzumcu.

“It will be really unfortunate if we make it a victim to short-sighted political interests.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

– Work in a time of war –

When the seasoned Turkish diplomat took over as the OPCW’s director general in July 2010 the body was little known, ploughing away at its arduous task of eliminating the world’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

In total 193 countries have signed up to the convention, and 96 percent of the world’s declared stocks have been eliminated. The remaining 4 percent is in the United States and due to be eradicated by 2023.

Yet the ongoing civil war in Syria has seen repeated allegations of chemical weapons attacks on civilians — 85 reports have been checked by the OPCW’s fact-finding team and 14 have been proven.

Used to being behind the scenes, the OPCW inspectors were thrust into a high-profile war, in full glare of an anxious international community.

© AFP/File | An image grab taken from a video released by the Syrian civil defence in Douma shows volunteers helping children at a hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town on April 8, 2018

“We had to restructure, to re-prioritise our work… we had to prepare and train our staff to go to Syria to conflict areas,” Uzumcu said.

Even after “the most traumatic incident” when one team came under attack and was ambushed in May 2014, there was no lack of volunteers including the team which went into the Syrian town of Douma in April.

In an interim report, experts have ruled out the use of sarin gas in the deaths of about 40 civilians there, but suspect chlorine may have been unleashed.

“Children are dying before our eyes.”

Those were the stark and potent words from UNICEF’s executive director hours after reports emerged of another suspected chemical strike in Syria.

And, like a year ago, soon after the reports came the photos: gut-wrenching and ghastly.

First responders and relief workers said Sunday that they discovered families asphyxiated in homes and shelters in the suburbs of Damascus. Many were found in basements where they had taken refuge during an artillery attack.

Dozens were believed to have perished, among them children; hundreds were reportedly injured. Relief workers said victims had foam around their mouths.

It appeared to be the latest dark turn in a conflict that dragged into its eighth year in March

– Noble cause –

The teams are driven by “the sense of purpose. They think that they are contributing in fact to a noble cause, getting rid of chemical weapons, thereby in fact preventing their use and harming people.”

But the body, which in 2013 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work, has become riven with disputes between Western nations, and Syria’s main ally Russia and its supporters.

“I hope that this division amongst state parties will be over very soon and they will be united once again as used to be the case,” Uzumcu said.

He warned chemical weapons are also evolving — even the so-called Islamic State jihadists were found to have used mustard gas.

“The proliferation risks are high. We need to be aware of this,” Uzumcu said, referring particularly to jihadists returning to their own countries.

Following a landmark vote last month, the OPCW now has the added responsibility of deciding who was behind any attack in Syria.

Uzumcu confirmed inspectors would also review previous attacks, such as in Latamneh in northwestern Syria in March in which both sarin and chlorine were used, to determine who was behind them.

– Taboo crime –

Attribution is the first step towards bringing perpetrators to justice, he insisted.

“Accountability is key,” said Uzumcu, otherwise “we cannot ensure deterrence. We cannot prevent further uses. A culture of impunity would be extremely dangerous for the future.”

A team of OPCW inspectors arrived Sunday in Britain for the second time this year, to take samples including tissue from Dawn Sturgess who died on July 8.

She, and her partner Charlie Rowley who is recovering in hospital, are believed to have been exposed to the same poison used in March in Salisbury on a former Russian spy and his daughter.

Concerned about the events in Britain, Uzumcu revealed he has set up a small taskforce to learn more about this nerve agent, named by London as Novichok, but so rare it is not even listed in OPCW files.

Despite leaving a busy in-tray for incoming director general, Spanish diplomat Ferdinand Arias, Uzumcu remains hopeful as he ends his mandate, pointing out no-one has yet claimed responsibility for any recent attack.

“Everyone, I believe, is fully aware that the use of chemical weapons is a taboo. It’s a crime, and they perfectly understand that those who commit such crimes may be held accountable,” he said.

North Korea says it will grant large-scale prisoner amnesty next month

July 17, 2018

North Korea is planning to grant a general amnesty next month in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of its foundation day in September, state media said Monday, in an echo of moves done before other key dates in the nuclear-armed country’s history.

The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said Monday that the amnesty would be granted for “those who had been convicted of the crimes against the country and people.” It said the process would take effect starting Aug. 1.

“The DPRK Cabinet and relevant organs will take practical measures to help the released people settle down to normal working life,” KCNA said in the report.

North Korea’s defense minister, Hyon Yong-Chol, right, with Kim Jong-un in 2015, the year Mr. Hyon fell asleep in a meeting and was executed by antiaircraft fire for disloyalty. Credit Yonhap/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The North is believed to have carried out several other general amnesties under leader Kim Jong Un, with the last coming in 2015, when it marked the 70th anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule and the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party.

The wording of Monday’s amnesty was virtually identical to the 2015 announcement.

It also granted amnesties in 2012, to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Kim’s grandfather and the founder of the North, Kim Il Sung, and the 70th birthday of his father, Kim Jong Il, the same year.

The estimated population of North Korea’s prison and gulag system is believed to be around 200,000 men, women and children, according to rights groups, with most held for political and not criminal reasons.

A comprehensive report published in 2014 by a United Nations commission concluded that conditions in normal North Korean prisons were often every bit as harsh as those in the political gulags.

It said many of those held are imprisoned without trial or any kind of due process, adding that beatings and sexual abuse of prisoners were commonplace.

Those findings were hotly contested by Pyongyang.

Menacing: North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un should face international justice for a catalogue of appalling crimes against humanity, UN investigators have. Above, a woman soldier at a camp in North Korea

Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, said that it appeared the North might be working to bolster solidarity, unity and loyalty before the anniversary and “maybe even show (the) world it’s improving human rights.”

The orders stressed Kim Jong Un’s “love and respect for his people,” Kim wrote on Twitter. But “it remains to be seen if those included will be political prisoners.”

Last month, the U.N. special rapporteur for the North, Tomas Ojea Quintana, urged Pyongyang to begin releasing prisoners under a gradual general amnesty.

Speaking just ahead of the landmark summit in Singapore between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, Quintana said that not raising human rights issues would send a “wrong message.”

It was unclear if Trump had broached the issue with Kim during their meeting, but the resulting joint statement did not mention human rights.

Labour: One former prisoner says pregnant women were forced to do strenuous labour to force miscarriages

Quintana had said that not talking about rights would eventually become “a problem in terms of building a sustainable agreement” on denuclearization.

In the Singapore summit’s joint statement, the North committed to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — language that some observers say gives it room to maneuver for a phased, quid pro quo approach with the U.S. But in the weeks since the June 12 summit, the United States and the North have made little progress in their talks.

Also Monday, the United States and North were reportedly scheduled to hold working-level talks to hash out details about their agreement to return the remains of American troops killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.

New images of North Korea's gulags have emerged

North Korea’s gulags

Citing an unnamed U.S. official, CNN reported that the U.S. and the North were working to repatriate the remains of some 200 American troops in two to three weeks.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, however, noted that other media reports had said the two sides might consider timing the return to occur on July 27, the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement, as part of efforts to curb criticism about insufficient progress in the wake of their June 12 summit.

The U.S. and North Korea are technically still in a state of war since the conflict ended in an armistice and not a formal peace treaty. The U.S. keeps about 28,000 troops in South Korea.

See also:

Atrocities Under Kim Jong-un: Indoctrination, Prison Gulags, Executions



Life in North Korea’s gulags

As Trump engages Putin, his deal with Kim collapses

July 16, 2018

After the Singapore summit, North Korea did not reciprocate US concessions.


US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un react during their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018 [Anthony Wallace/Pool via Reuters]
US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un react during their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018 [Anthony Wallace/Pool via Reuters]

As US President Donald Trump sits down for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, he doesn’t seem to have much to show for a month and a half of international high-level meetings and diplomatic effort.

Basking in his self-proclaimed “art of the deal” acumen, the US president has upended the international system by alienating allies and reaching out directly to foes. 

In the span of just a few weeks, Trump managed to anger US allies in Europe and North America, calling Canadian PM Justin Trudeau “weak“, identifying the EU as a “foe” and putting a US-UK trade deal in doubt.

Meanwhile, he has heaped praise on autocratic leaders the world over, boasting about his“very good relationship” with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and describing North Korea’s Kim Jung-un as “very honourable”. 

Yet, there is little evidence to suggest his “fire and fury” diplomacy is working. Trump’s self-proclaimed success in engaging North Korea is on the verge of becoming a failure, exposing the paucity of his strongman diplomacy.

Much against the advice of some allies and leading experts, Trump pushed through with an unprecedented summit with the North Korean leader without any preconditions.

The outcome of the historic meeting in Singapore was a generic statement, which reaffirmed both sides’ commitment to ending the decades-long conflict in the Korean Peninsula.

Pyongyang made no specific commitment to denuclearisation, but managed to dampen its isolation and enhance its international standing by holding direct talks with the US leadership.

To the surprise of almost everyone, including North Korea, Trump provided an additional concession, which rattled allies such as South Korea and delighted rivals such as China. He offered to cancel upcoming joint military exercises with Seoul in order to build confidence with Pyongyang.

China, which has opposed US military presence in the Korean Peninsula, welcomed Trump’s concessions, while gradually relaxing enforcement of sanctions against its North Korean ally.

Having prematurely secured major concessions from the US, North Korea has found little incentive to reciprocate and has effectively undermined Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy.

In late June, reports emerged detailing Pyongyang’s expansion of nuclear facilities and its arsenal in advance of the Singapore summit. Trump was quick to respond to growing doubts about the results of his diplomatic efforts with North Korea, saying talks were “going well“.

This strategic debacle came out on full display during the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s third visit to Pyongyang in early July. The US diplomat not only failed to secure any concrete promises from his hosts, but was also snubbed by the North Korean supreme leader.

When the US delegation brought up the issue of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation (CVID) of North Korea, Kim pushed back vociferously.

Shortly after Pompeo’s departure, devoid of diplomatic niceties, the North Korean government decried the meeting as “very concerning”, with both sides now stuck in a “dangerous phase that might rattle our willingness for denuclearisation that had been firm”.

With characteristic defiance, North Korea made it crystal clear that it won’t give up its nuclear weapons under any circumstances.

As a result, Washington is confronting a diplomatic cul-de-sac in the Korean Peninsula. A visibly dejected Pompeo admitted that the “road ahead will be difficult and challenging” since it has now become clear what North Korea’s red lines are.

The problem is that if Trump were to choose to return to his prior brinkmanship, threatening North Korea with “preemptive war”, the US will almost certainly find itself isolated this time. After all, Trump has helped transform the image of the North Korean supreme leader from a mad villain into a young peacemaker.

Moreover, it’s unlikely that the Kim regime or its key allies such as China and Russia, which have opposed military intervention and sanctions, will take Trump’s threats seriously this time. And as months go by, alongside Russia and China, key US allies such as South Korea will likely start pushing for the relaxation of sanctions in exchange for the de-escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

In retrospect, the Trump-Kim summit can end up as the formal, yet inadvertent, recognition of North Korea as the newest member of the club of nuclear powers. This is almost the complete opposite of what Trump promised: de-nuclearisation of North Korea. 

With diminishing bargaining power, what the Trump administration can best hope for, barring any major turn in events, is limited arms control arrangements with Pyongyang in exchange for massive economic benefits and precious diplomatic recognition.

It remains to be seen whether this would be acceptable to the US political establishment and some of its major allies such as Japan. What is clear is that, in exchange for a photo opportunity, Trump heavily undermined US strategic leverage over Pyongyang.

As Andrei Lankov, a leading expert on North Korea, wrote, the Trump administration is “heading towards a major debacle at remarkable speed, even faster than one expected.”

And if Kim, the leader of small, impoverished North Korea, is able to play Trump and get what he wants out of him, then what can we expect from a strongman like Putin?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Trump hopes ‘extraordinary relationship’ will result from Putin summit

July 16, 2018

President Donald Trump opened a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday by predicting that their countries will end up having “an extraordinary relationship” but without mentioning Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in his opening remarks.

“Our two countries, frankly, we have not been getting along well,” Trump said as he and Putin sat down at the Presidential Palace in Finland’s capital. “I really think the world wants to see us get along.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. (Reuters Photo)

Putin, for his part, said he and Trump have maintained regular contact, including talking by phone and meeting at international events. Speaking through a translator, the Russian leader said “the time has come to have a thorough discussion on various international problems and sensitive issues.”

The summit got underway hours after Trump blamed the United States, and not Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea, for a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations. The drama was playing out against a backdrop of fraying Western alliances, a new peak in the Russia investigation and fears that Moscow’s aggression may go unchallenged.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.

The summit, which was being closely monitored by rattled world capitals, was condemned in advance by members of Congress from both parties after the U.S. indictment last week of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking Democrats in the 2016 election to help Trump’s presidential campaign. Undeterred, the American president was set to go face to face with Putin, the authoritarian leader for whom he has expressed admiration.

The summit started late because Putin arrived in Helsinki about a half hour behind schedule in another display of the Russian’s leader famous lack of punctuality. Trump seemed to return the favor by waiting until Putin had arrived at the palace before leaving his hotel. Putin has been late for past meetings with the pope and British Queen, among many others.

Trump and his aides have repeatedly tried to lower expectations about what the summit will achieve. He told CBS News that he didn’t “expect anything” from Putin, while his national security adviser said the U.S. wasn’t looking for any “concrete deliverables.” Trump told reporters during a breakfast Monday with Finland’s president that he thought the summit would go “fine.”

Trump said he and Putin would discuss a range of issues, from trade to the military, along with missiles and China. They shared a brief handshake before reporters were ushered out so they could begin their one-on-one talks in the palace’s opulent Gothic Hall.

They’ll continue their discussions with an expanded group of aides and over lunch in the Hall of Mirrors, once the emperor’s throne room. The leaders will conclude by taking questions at a joint news conference.

Observers have raised concerns about the fact that the leaders will be alone during their first meeting, but for a pair of interpreters, meaning there will be no corroborating witnesses to accurately represent what was said during the conversation.

The 72-year-old brash billionaire has been president for 18 months, while the former KGB officer, 65, has run Russia for the past 18 years.

The meeting comes as questions swirl about whether Trump will sharply and publicly rebuke his Russian counterpart for the election meddling that prompted a special counsel probe that Trump has repeatedly labeled a “witch hunt.”

After the bad-tempered NATO summit and a contentious trip by Trump to Britain, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes out of the Helsinki meeting.

Those leaders are already fuming over Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on various countries, including Russia.

European Union President Donald Tusk called on the United States, China and Russia to work together to cool the global trade tensions, warning that they could spiral into violent “conflict and chaos.”

After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by critics of cozying up to Putin while undermining the alliance.

But, over breakfast with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, he insisted NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his insistence on all allies paying their fair share.

Trump is also under pressure from Britain to press Putin over the nerve agent poisoning of four people in the city of Salisbury.

Many fear that Trump — in his eagerness to prove that he was right to seek the summit with Putin despite U.S. political opposition — may give up too much ground.

Ahead of the talks, Trump has refused to personally commit to the U.S. refusal to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climb-down linked to a promise by Putin to somehow rein in Iranian influence in Syria.

If Washington were to de facto accept Russia’s 2014 land-grab, this would break with decades of U.S. policy and send tremors through NATO’s exposed eastern flank.