Posts Tagged ‘Otto Warmbier’

Bring Pastor Andrew Brunson Home — “The Trump Administration needs a record of getting people back…”

August 7, 2018

Trump’s Americans First policy prioritizes freeing our citizens held hostage abroad.

Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, escorted by Turkish plain clothes police officers, arrives at his house on July 25 in Izmir, Turkey.
Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, escorted by Turkish plain clothes police officers, arrives at his house on July 25 in Izmir, Turkey. PHOTO:-/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

When the Wicked Witch meets Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” she demands the ruby red slippers the Kansas farm girl is wearing. The Good Witch advises Dorothy otherwise. “Their magic must be very powerful or she wouldn’t want them so badly,” she says.

The Magnitsky Act is something like those ruby red slippers. Originally passed by Congress in 2012 and named for the Russian accountant found dead in his jail cell after exposing fraud involving Russian officials, it authorized the president to block travel visas and freeze bank accounts of individual Russians deemed guilty of human-rights abuses. In 2016 it was expanded so it could be applied to other human-rights abusers anywhere in the world. We know its power the same way we know about the power of Dorothy’s red slippers: The bad guys obsess about it.

Plainly Vladimir Putin hates it. His representatives bring it up to American officials or would-be American officials any chance they get. This includes the infamous election-year Trump Tower meeting Donald Trump Jr. attended in expectation of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Now it’s the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s howling. This past weekend he declared the Maginstky sanctions “disrespectful.” He did so after Donald Trump ordered them slapped on two senior Erdogan officials—his justice and interior ministers—for their roles in the arrest and detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is no longer in prison but remains under house arrest.

Unlike previous presidents, Mr. Trump has elevated the cases of Americans unfairly locked up abroad. For the moment, Mr. Erdogan is resisting. Turkey, he says, has never “bowed our heads to such pressure” and never will.

On Saturday, Mr. Erdogan announced Turkey would be retaliating with sanctions on two unnamed Trump officials, probably the attorney general and the secretary of homeland security. This gesture is all but meaningless unless Jeff Sessions or Kirstjen Nielsen have financial assets in Turkey or are itching to travel there.

We’ll see whether Mr. Erdogan changes his mind, but it’s encouraging to see the Magnitsky Act invoked on behalf of our fellow citizens. For today it isn’t just American trade that is global, it’s the American people. Though there are no hard figures on how many Americans live abroad, in 2016 the State Department reckoned it was at least nine million.

Add to this the millions more Americans who travel. Simply by being abroad, American citizens are more vulnerable to attack by terrorists or arbitrary arrest and detention by rogue regimes. The best way the U.S. government can help keep them safe is to make clear through word and deed that messing with the liberty of an American carries a high price.

Unfortunately, up to now apprehending and mistreating Americans has cost most nations very little. Iran is one of the worst offenders. Though most of the U.S. citizens detained in Iran were freed after the 2015 nuclear deal with the Obama administration, there was a notable exception: Robert Levinson. Secretary of State John Kerry failed to force Tehran to fess up about what happened to Mr. Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007 while on a mission for the CIA.

When there are no consequences for arbitrarily throwing an American in jail, it creates an incentive for rogue regimes simply to take another American hostage whenever a new bargaining chip is needed. So even as five hostages were freed after the nuke deal, Iran now has in custody Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his ailing, 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, a former Unicef representative. The elder Mr. Namazi was arrested when he returned to Iran to try to secure his son’s release. The family is hoping Mr. Trump will make good on his campaign promise not to allow Iran to get away with such outrageous behavior.

The most notorious case was North Korea’s detention of student Otto Warmbier. Mr. Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal a propaganda poster. He was returned to the U.S. unconscious and unresponsive in June 2017 and died six days later. Since then, three other Americans held hostage in North Korea have been freed.

Amid the give and take of foreign policy, the plight of a single American can seem small and secondary. Look at Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally whose help and cooperation the U.S. needs in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. There are legitimate reasons to work toward good relations with Turkey.

But not if it means abandoning a fellow American held overseas to the tender mercies of some thug government. So good for President Trump for using the tools given to him by the Magnitsky Act on behalf of Pastor Brunson. If America First means anything, surely it means a recognition that insisting on consequences for anyone who harms an innocent American abroad isn’t an act of charity. It’s the foundation for a healthy U.S. foreign policy—and a much safer world.

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Trump Gave Kim a Summit But Left With Little to Show for It

June 12, 2018
It’s not clear what the U.S. got out of Singapore meeting — Summit delivered a longtime strategic goal for Kim family
Did Trump Give Up Too Much to North Korea?
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk from lunch at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on June 12. | Susan Walsh/AFP/Getty Images

Did Trump give North Korea too much? Bloomberg’s Kevin Cirilli reports from Singapore.

Donald Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was unquestionably a success — for Kim.

By credibly threatening the U.S. with nuclear war, he won a one-on-one meeting with the American president — a longtime strategic goal of his family’s regime. And that’s not all.

Trump tossed in a suspension of military exercises with South Korea, while China suggested revisiting economic sanctions that the White House credits for the summit. Meanwhile, the president showered Kim with praise, calling the dictator who leads one of the planet’s most oppressive and brutal regimes “smart” and “very talented,” declaring the meeting “a great honor” and saying he trusts Kim.

Less clear is what the U.S. got in return. American officials said before the meeting they would insist that Kim agree to the “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” of his nuclear weapons arsenal. The phrase appears nowhere in Trump and Kim’s statement.

Also missing: basics such as a timetable for Kim to give up his weapons, verification procedures or even a mutual definition of denuclearization.

‘Gave Up Nothing’

The president described the summit as a starting point, and the U.S. concessions as innocuous. “I gave up nothing,” he told reporters at a news conference, and then read off a list of what he believes were North Korean concessions — a halt to missile and nuclear tests, the earlier release of three U.S. hostages and a promise to return remains of U.S. soldiers dating to the Korean War.

Still, some Korea watchers said that it was better for the U.S. and North Korea to be talking than threatening each other, even without a host of specific commitments from Kim.

“I would rate the summit a 10 because it achieved a first-ever diplomatic encounter between two long-time adversaries,” said Patrick Cronin, director of the Center for a New American Security’s Asia-Pacific security program. “They signed a broad political understanding while leaving the details for expert negotiations to follow.”

Trump’s political supporters back home may well agree. Seventy percent of Americans supported Trump meeting with Kim, according to a poll by Real Clear Politics and the Charles Koch Institute, even though just 31 percent think he’ll succeed at persuading North Korea to give up its weapons.

But so far, Trump hasn’t shown he’ll avoid the same trap he’s accused his predecessors of falling into: giving North Korea too much without getting anything in return. While the president repeatedly described the document he and Kim signed as “comprehensive,” at 426 words it is anything but — and there is no indication of when or how Kim will follow through on any of his promises.

“I think he will start that process right away,” Trump said.

Kim’s Summit

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, criticized the document as “unsubstantial” and said Trump and Kim instead should have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Michael McFaul, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Russia, said on Twitter after the document was released that the U.S. “gave up a lot for nothing” with the summit and got “much, much less than a binding deal.”

For all of what he achieved at the summit, Kim’s path ahead isn’t all simple. Trump made clear he was keeping U.S. sanctions in place until he saw evidence of a reduced nuclear threat. Kim won only a vague “security guarantee” from Trump and no mention of a treaty to formally end the hostilities between the two nations.

But the summit did have all of the trappings Kim could have desired. He and Trump met on a red carpet in front of a backdrop of equal numbers of U.S. and North Korean flags at the Capella hotel, a luxury resort on Singapore’s Sentosa Island. They greeted each other with a 13-second handshake, then retired for a 38-minute private meeting before being joined by aides.

There were multiple photo ops, including a walk through the hotel’s garden, more hand shakes, pats on the back and finally the signing ceremony, complete with a pen bearing Trump’s signature that Kim did not appear to use.

Before the meeting, Kim was cheered by Singaporeans as he drove from the airport and then during an outing Monday evening.

Through a translator, North Korea’s leader summed up the surreal nature of the meeting, telling the U.S. president that those watching around the world might see it as “a science fiction movie.”

Different Approach

Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a former official of the U.S. State and Treasury departments who investigated the illicit financing of North Korea, said Trump’s meeting with Kim appeared heavy on pomp and light on substance.

“The handshake is historic but the optics likely hide a significant gap in the substance,’’ he said in an interview as the meeting took place. “It’s important for President Trump not to fall into the North Korean trap as it is –which is three generations of Kims have really persuaded American presidents that they’re ready to denuclearize by just simply making promises and not delivering on those promises.”

Former South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young Kwan said Trump’s negotiation appears “very different” from past talks between the two countries because it’s the first time a sitting U.S. president has taken a primarily political approach to the issue.

“So far U.S. administrations tended to focus on a narrowly defined military-security deal instead of trying to tackle the root cause of North Korea problem, which is a high level of mutual distrust,” he said on Bloomberg Television. “North Korea is a small and weak country surrounded by big powers, and that has made North Koreans paranoid about their own national security.”

“We needed to alleviate this kind of paranoia of North Korea on their own national security,” he said.

Trump himself admitted that it might not work.

“I think he’s going to do these things,” the president said. “I may be wrong. I may be standing in front of you in six months and say, ‘I was wrong.’ I don’t know if I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of excuse.”

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams, Jennifer Jacobs, and Justin Sink




Trump Was Outfoxed in Singapore

June 12, 2018

It sure looks as if President Trump was hoodwinked in Singapore.

Trump made a huge concession — the suspension of military exercises with South Korea. That’s on top of the broader concession of the summit meeting itself, security guarantees he gave North Korea and the legitimacy that the summit provides his counterpart, Kim Jong-un.

Within North Korea, the “very special bond” that Trump claimed to have formed with Kim will be portrayed this way: Kim forced the American president, through his nuclear and missile tests, to accept North Korea as a nuclear equal, to provide security guarantees to North Korea, and to cancel war games with South Korea that the North has protested for decades.

President Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

By  Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times
June 12, 2018

In exchange for these concessions, Trump seems to have won astonishingly little. In a joint statement, Kim merely “reaffirmed” the same commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that North Korea has repeatedly made since 1992.

“They were willing to de-nuke,” Trump crowed at his news conference after his meetings with Kim. Trump seemed to believe he had achieved some remarkable agreement, but the concessions were all his own.

The most remarkable aspect of the joint statement was what it didn’t contain. There was nothing about North Korea freezing plutonium and uranium programs, nothing about destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles, nothing about allowing inspectors to return to nuclear sites, nothing about North Korea making a full declaration of its nuclear program, nothing about a timetable, nothing about verification, not even any clear pledge to permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.

Kim seems to have completely out-negotiated Trump, and it’s scary that Trump doesn’t seem to realize this. For now Trump has much less to show than past negotiators who hammered out deals with North Korea like the 1994 Agreed Framework, which completely froze the country’s plutonium program with a rigorous monitoring system.

Trump made a big deal in his news conference about recovering the remains of American soldiers from the Korean War, but this is nothing new. Back in 1989, on my first trip to North Korea, officials there made similar pledges about returning remains, and indeed North Korea has returned some remains over the years. It’s not clear how many more remain.

Trump claimed an “excellent relationship” with Kim, and it certainly is better for the two leaders to be exchanging compliments rather than missiles. In a sense, Trump has eased the tensions that he himself created when he threatened last fall to “totally destroy” North Korea. I’m just not sure a leader should get credit for defusing a crisis that he himself created.

There’s still plenty we don’t know and lots of uncertainty about the future. But for now, the bottom line is that there’s no indication that North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear weapons, and Trump didn’t achieve anything remotely as good as the Iran nuclear deal, which led Iran to eliminate 98 percent of its enriched uranium.

There was also something frankly weird about an American president savaging Canada’s prime minister one day and then embracing the leader of the most totalitarian country in the world.

“He’s a very talented man,” Trump said of Kim. “I also learned that he loves his country very much.”

In an interview with Voice of America, Trump said “I like him” and added: “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country.”

Trump praised Kim in the news conference and, astonishingly, even adopted North Korean positions as his own, saying that the United States military exercises in the region are “provocative.” That’s a standard North Korean propaganda line. Likewise, Trump acknowledged that human rights in North Korea constituted a “rough situation,” but quickly added that “it’s rough in a lot of places, by the way.” (Note that a 2014 United Nations report stated that North Korean human rights violations do “not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”)

Incredibly, Trump told Voice of America that he had this message for the North Korean people: “I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well.”

It’s breathtaking to see an American president emerge as a spokesman for the dictator of North Korea.

One can argue that my perspective is too narrow: That what counts in a broader sense is that the risk of war is much less today than it was a year ago, and North Korea has at least stopped its nuclear tests and missile tests. Fundamentally, Trump has abandoned bellicose rhetoric and instead embraced the longstanding Democratic position — that we should engage North Korea, even if the result isn’t immediate disarmament.

The 1994 Agreed Framework, for example, didn’t denuclearize North Korea or solve the human rights issues there, but it still kept the regime from adding to its plutonium arsenal for eight years. Imperfect processes can still be beneficial, and the ongoing meetings between the United States and North Korea may result in a similar framework that at least freezes the North Korean arsenal.

Of all the things that could have gone badly wrong in a Trump administration, a “bloody nose” strike on North Korea leading to a nuclear war was perhaps the most terrifying. For now at least, Trump seems to have been snookered into the same kind of deeply frustrating diplomatic process with North Korea that he has complained about, but that is far better than war.

Even so, it’s still bewildering how much Trump gave and how little he got. The cancellation of military exercises will raise questions among our allies, such as Japan, about America’s commitment to those allies.

The Trump-Kim statement spoke vaguely about efforts “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula,” whatever that means. But that was much less specific than the 1994 pledge to exchange diplomatic liaison offices, and the 2005 pledge to work for a peace treaty to end the Korean War.

In January 2017, Trump proclaimed in a tweet: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” But in fact it appears to have happened on Trump’s watch, and nothing in the Singapore summit seems to have changed that.

All this is to say that Kim Jong-un proved the more able negotiator. North Korean government officials have to limit their computer time, because of electricity shortages, and they are international pariahs — yet they are very savvy and shrewd, and they were counseled by one of the smartest Trump handlers of all, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.

My guess is that Kim flattered Trump, as Moon has, and that Trump simply didn’t realize how little he was getting. On my most recent visit to North Korea, officials were asking me subtle questions about the differences in views of Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley; meanwhile, Trump said he didn’t need to do much homework.

Whatever our politics, we should all want Trump to succeed in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and it’s good to see that Trump now supports engagement rather than military options. There will be further negotiations, and these may actually freeze plutonium production and destroy missiles. But at least in the first round, Trump seems to have been snookered.

This column has been updated to reflect news developments.

Trump says he will stop ‘war games’ with S. Korea

June 12, 2018

The US will stop holding joint military exercises on the Korean peninsula, President Donald Trump said Tuesday, making a major concession to North Korea after his summit with Kim Jong Un.

© YONHAP/AFP/File | A US Air Force F-22 Raptor lands at Gwangju Air Base in South Korea during the Max Thunder drills in May

Washington and Seoul are security allies, with 28,500 US troops stationed in the South to defend it from its neighbour which invaded in 1950.

They hold joint military exercises every year that infuriate Pyongyang, which has long demanded an end to the drills and often responds with actions of its own, ratcheting up tensions.

North Korea in May cancelled talks with Seoul over “Max Thunder” joint military air exercises between the US and the South. They were a “rude and wicked provocation”, it complained.

“We will be stopping the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money,” Trump told reporters.

“I think it’s very provocative,” he said — echoing Pyongyang’s traditional line.

“Under the circumstances we are negotiating a complete deal,” he added. “It is inappropriate to have war games. Number one, we save money. A lot. Number two, it is really something they very much appreciated.”

Trump did not indicate whether the North would make any concessions in return for stopping the exercises.

The move, if fulfilled, would appear to be effectively an implementation of the “freeze for freeze” proposal promoted by China, under which the North would stop nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a halt to the exercises.

Kim has previously declared a moratorium on testing, saying the development of his nuclear arsenal is complete.

Trump also said he wanted to withdraw the US troops stationed in the South, something he promised on the campaign trail, saying: “I’d like to be able to bring them back home.”

The issue was “not part of the equation right now”, he said, but “at some point I hope it will be.”

Trump’s declarations are likely to alarm conservatives in South Korea, who have appealed to him not to put its security at risk.

A presidential spokesman, in a cautious response, said Seoul needed to understand “the exact meaning and intention” of Trump’s remarks.

But various ways to encourage dialogue on denuclearisation should be seriously considered, the spokesman said.

US Forces Korea said it had received no new instructions about its scheduled training exercises, including this summer’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian.

The other major joint exercise is known as Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise, usually conducted in the spring.

“In coordination with our ROK (South Korean) partners, we will continue with our current military posture until we receive updated guidance from the Department of Defense and/or Indo-Pacific Command,” it added.

Any suspension of the joint exercises would be a “substantial concession” to the North’s security concerns, said Alison Evans, deputy head of Asia Pacific Country Risk at IHS Markit.

There is a precedent for cancelling joint exercises to encourage talks. A major drill known as Team Spirit was cancelled several times in the 1990s as Washington held its first major negotiations over the North’s nuclear programmes.




Kim Jong Un outmanoeuvres Donald Trump in Singapore

June 12, 2018
The North Korean leader has proved himself the cannier deal maker
Image may contain: 2 people, people standing
U.S. president Donald Trump (right) has revealed a list of American concessions that went well beyond anything the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) could have imagined a few days ago © Reuters

By Jamil Anderlini 

The surreal meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday was perhaps best summed up by the performance of former basketball star Dennis Rodman. Wearing his “Make America Great Again” red baseball cap, dark sunglasses and a shirt emblazoned with his marijuana cryptocurrency sponsor, Mr Rodman broke down in tears on CNN as he declared June 12 a great day for the whole world.

Mr Trump’s rambling press conference at the conclusion of the summit only enhanced the aura of reality television spectacle. In more than an hour of banter with a room full of reporters, the US president revealed a list of American concessions that went well beyond anything Mr Kim could have imagined.

Along with a promise to end joint military exercises with South Korea, Mr Trump said he expected a formal peace treaty between the two countries would be signed soon and indicated his strong desire to eventually remove the 32,000 US troops stationed in South Korea (it does not appear to have been consulted before Mr Trump decided to unilaterally end the joint exercises).

In that context, the short joint statement signed by the two men can only be interpreted as a victory for the North Korean dictator. Apart from bland commitments on both sides to establish new relations and work towards peace, the document committed Pyongyang to merely “work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

Mr Trump chose to ignore the fact that Mr Kim’s regime interprets that phrase as the removal of America’s nuclear umbrella from South Korea in exchange for denuclearisation in the north. In outlining the concessions he had extracted from Mr Kim, the US president complained he had not had enough time at this summit to agree a more comprehensive “de-nuke” agreement.

He lingered on Pyongyang’s commitment to return the remains of American soldiers killed or captured in the Korean war and talked vaguely about Mr Kim’s promise to destroy a missile engine testing site at some point in the future. Both promises are meaningless from Mr Kim’s perspective.

Mr Trump did say tough sanctions on North Korea would not be lifted until real progress was made towards denuclearisation. But enforcement of those sanctions is largely in the hands of China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner and benefactor, and on Tuesday a spokesperson for the Chinese government insisted sanctions should be eased to reward North Korean commitments to peace.

If Mr Trump changes his mind and attempts to ramp up sanctions again it is now very unlikely China would be willing to enforce them. Beijing has watched this summit from the sidelines but will celebrate Mr Trump’s talk of troop drawdowns and cancelling US military exercises, which he called “very expensive” and “very provocative”. One of China’s most treasured goals is the eventual removal of US troops from its neighbourhood.

At one point in his press conference, Mr Trump provided some insight into his mindset when he asked everyone to “think of it from a real estate perspective”. He advised Mr Kim to imagine the potential of his “beautiful beaches” if he were to stop using them for artillery exercises and built condos on them instead.

Buried in these musings is the valid point that North Korea has much to gain if it can get support from the US and its capitalist neighbours to help restore its devastated Communist economy. But if it can get help with building its economy while keeping its nuclear weapons, that is certainly the preferred option.

It is quite possible Mr Trump will return to the US and change his mind about some of the promises he made. It is also possible his apparently overwhelming display of goodwill towards the dictator will lead to real concessions on the part of Pyongyang. But for now Mr Kim has shown himself to be the cannier dealmaker.


After summit, Trump announces halt to US-South Korea ‘war games’

June 12, 2018

President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un concluded an extraordinary nuclear summit Tuesday with the U.S. president pledging unspecified “security guarantees” to the North and Kim recommitting to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Meeting with staged ceremony on a Singapore island, Trump and Kim came together for a summit that seemed unthinkable months ago, clasping hands in front of a row of alternating U.S. and North Korean flags, holding a one-on-one meeting, additional talks with advisers and a working lunch.

Both leaders expressed optimism throughout roughly five hours of talks, with Trump thanking Kim afterward “for taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people.”

Trump added during a news conference that Kim has before him “an opportunity like no other” to bring his country back into the community of nations if he agrees to give up his nuclear program.

Trump announced that he will be freezing U.S. military “war games” with its ally South Korea while negotiations between the two countries continue. Trump cast the decision as a cost-saving measure, but North Korea has long objected to the drills as a security threat.

Trump acknowledged that the timetable for denuclearization is long, but said, “once you start the process it means it’s pretty much over.”

Trump sidestepped his public praise for an autocrat whose people have been oppressed for decades. He added Otto Warmbier, an American once detained in North Korea, “did not die in vain” because his death brought about the nuclear talks.

Trump said Kim accepted his invitation to visit the White House at the “appropriate” time.

Light on specifics, the document signed by the leaders largely amounted to an agreement to continue discussions as it echoed previous public statements and past commitments. It did not include an agreement to take steps toward ending the technical state of warfare between the U.S. and North Korea.

The pair promised in the document to “build a lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula and to repatriate remains of prisoners of war and those missing in action during the Korean War.

Language on North Korea’s bombs was similar to what the leaders of North and South Korea came up with at their own summit in April. At the time, the Koreans faced criticism for essentially kicking the issue of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal down the road to Tuesday’s Trump-Kim summit. Trump and Kim even directly referenced the so-called Panmunjom Declaration, which contained a weak commitment to denuclearization and no specifics on how to achieve it.

The formal document signing followed a series of meetings at a luxury Singapore resort.

After the signing, Trump said he expected to “meet many times” in the future with Kim and, in response to questions, said he “absolutely” would invite Kim to the White House. For his part, Kim hailed the “historic meeting” and said they “decided to leave the past behind.”

In a moment that would never happen in North Korea, reporters began yelling questions to Trump and Kim after they signed the document, including whether they had discussed the case of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who suffered brain damage while in North Korean custody and died in June 2017, days after he was returned home to Ohio.

In the run-up to the meeting, Trump had predicted the two men might strike a nuclear deal or forge a formal end to the Korean War in the course of a single meeting or over several days. But in the hours before the summit, the White House unexpectedly announced Trump would depart Singapore earlier than expected — Tuesday evening — raising questions about whether his aspirations for an ambitious outcome had been scaled back.

The meeting was the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.Trump 'absolutely' would invite Kim Jong Un to the White House

Aware that the eyes of the world were on a moment many people never expected to see, Kim said many of those watching would think it was a scene from a “science fiction movie.”

After meeting privately and with aides, Trump and Kim moved into the luncheon at a long flower-bedecked table. As they entered, Trump injected some levity to the day’s extraordinary events, saying: “Getting a good picture everybody? So we look nice and handsome and thin? Perfect.”

Then they dined on beef short rib confit along with sweet and sour crispy pork.

And as they emerged from the meal for a brief stroll together, Trump appeared to delight in showing his North Korean counterpart the interior of “The Beast,” the famed U.S. presidential limousine known for its high-tech fortifications.

Critics of the summit leapt at the leaders’ handshake and the moonlight stroll Kim took Monday night along the glittering Singapore waterfront, saying it was further evidence that Trump was helping legitimize Kim on the world stage. Kim has been accused of horrific rights abuses against his people.

“It’s a huge win for Kim Jong Un, who now — if nothing else — has the prestige and propaganda coup of meeting one on one with the president, while armed with a nuclear deterrent,” said Michael Kovrig, a northeast Asia specialist at the International Crisis Group in Washington.

Trump responded to such commentary on Twitter, saying: “The fact that I am having a meeting is a major loss for the U.S., say the haters & losers.” But he added “our hostages” are back home and testing, research and launches have stopped.

Giving voice to the anticipation felt around the world as the meeting opened, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday he “hardly slept” before the summit. Moon and other officials watched the live broadcast of the summit before a South Korean Cabinet meeting in his presidential office

The summit capped a dizzying few days of foreign policy activity for Trump, who shocked U.S. allies over the weekend by using a meeting in Canada of the Group of Seven industrialized economies to alienate America’s closest friends in the West. Lashing out over trade practices, Trump lobbed insults at his G-7 host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump left that summit early and, as he flew to Singapore, tweeted that he was yanking the U.S. out of the group’s traditional closing statement.

Getty Images

The optimistic summit was a remarkable change in dynamics from less than a year ago, when Trump was threatening “fire and fury” against Kim, who in turn scorned the American president as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” Beyond the impact on both leaders’ political fortunes, the summit could shape the fate of countless people — the citizens of impoverished North Korea, the tens of millions living in the shadow of the North’s nuclear threat, and millions more worldwide.

Alluding to the North’s concerns that giving up its nuclear weapons could surrender its primary deterrent to forced regime change, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that the U.S. was prepared to take action to provide North Korea with “sufficient certainty” that denuclearization “is not something that ends badly for them.”

He would not say whether that included the possibility of withdrawing U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, but said the U.S. was “prepared to take what will be security assurances that are different, unique, than America’s been willing to provide previously.”

The North has faced crippling diplomatic and economic sanctions as it has advanced development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pompeo held firm to Trump’s position that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes — and said they would even increase if diplomatic discussions did not progress positively.


Donald Trump greets freed prisoners after North Korean release

May 10, 2018

The US president has met the plane bearing the three ex-prisoners of Pyongyang as it arrived in the DC area. North Korea’s release of the US citizens has come amid preparations for a summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

Trump smiles as a freed prisoner flashes a victory sign while stepping off a plane (Reuters/J. Bourg)

US President Donald Trump was present and waiting to greet the three former prisoners of North Korea in the early hours of Thursday as they landed at the Andrews Air Force base in the Washington, DC area.

The American men had been freed by Pyongyang one day earlier.  The White House called the release a “positive gesture of good will” in preparation for Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Read moreKim-Trump summit: is the world expecting too much from it?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had helped secure the prisoners’ release, and Vice President Mike Pence, also waited in the darkness at Andrews Air Force Base to welcome the men. First Lady Melania Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton were also present.

Kim Jong Un ‘wants to do something’

The plane bearing the freed prisoners rolled to a stop on the air force base’s tarmac under a large American flag around 2:42 a.m. local time (642 UTC) before President Trump and the first lady boarded the plane to greet the men.

The three released detainees smiled and flashed victory signs as they stepped out of the aircraft alongside Trump and his wife. After descending the rolling staircase, they shook hands with the other administration officials.

Trump gestures as he speaks while standing alongside released prisoners and melania Trump (Reuters/J. Bourg)Trump spoke to reporters from the tarmac alongside the three released detainees

Trump repeatedly praised the men as “great people” the to the assembled press. “Congratulations on being in this country,” he added.

He also alluded to his upcoming summit with Kim Jong Un, stating that a meeting and location had been scheduled. The president said that the meeting was “something that many said was not going to happen for many, many years” and added that a further announcement would be forthcoming soon.

Trump stated that the greatest honor would be the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. “I really think [Kim Jong Un] wants to do something,” Trump said of the North Korean leader. The US president also thanked Kim for releasing the US citizens.

Forced labor and medical attention

The ex-prisoners, who were reported to be in good health, were expected to be taken to the nearby Walter Reed Military Medical Center.

Speaking to reporters through a Korean interpreter, one of the former prisoners said he had been subjected to forced labor but attended to medically when unwell.

The three US citizens, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, had previously touched down on American soil in Alaska for a refueling stop. The US State Department shared a statement from the men expressing gratitude for their release:


Department of State


Statement from the Freed Americans: “We would like to express our deep appreciation to the U.S. government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo & the people of the United States for bringing us home.” A proud day for @StateDept & all Americans. Welcome home! 

Statement From the Freed Americans

The highly public ceremony surrounding the ex-prisoners arrival in DC and Trump’s political comments stood in marked contrast to the the State Department’s earlier efforts to keep the three men sheltered from the press and even from other US officials since their release.

Release as preparations for summit underway

North Korea’s unannounced release of the men coincided with a visit by Secretary of State Pompeo to the internationally isolated nation. Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un to arrange the final details for a highly anticipated meeting between the North Korean leader and President Trump that is expected to take place in Singapore in late May or early June.

North Korea had accused the three Korean-American men of anti-state activities. Their detention, which had lasted between one to two years, was seen as a politically motivated move that added to the tension stemming from Kim Jong Un’s persistent pursual of nuclear activites.

The Trump-Kim summit, and North Korea’s avowal that it was committed to “complete denuclearization”, have been viewed by some as a breakthrough in the two leader’s standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program that dominated the early portion of Trump’s presidency. However, others have reacted more cautiously over Pyongyang’s ultimate intentions.

Read more: North Korea denuclearization: can Pyongyang be trusted?

cmb/rt (AP, AFP)

Let the Propaganda Games Begin: North Korea Scores First in Olympic Battle

February 7, 2018

Pyongyang looks to project unity on global stage while foes remind world of its evils

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SEOUL—Ninety-two countries will take part in the Winter Olympics that begin Friday in the South Korean ski resort of Pyeongchang. Yet much attention will be fixed on one that failed to register any athletes and has only the faintest of medal hopes: North Korea.


After a year in which Pyongyang test-launched ballistic missiles and detonated a powerful nuclear weapon in violation of United Nations resolutions, the regime of leader Kim Jong Un is trying to present a friendlier face on a stage many view as a symbol of international peace and harmony.

North Korea’s success in getting into the Olympics represents a first-round win in a parallel competition: the propaganda games.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will be there for the opposing team, attending the opening ceremony with the parents of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who died in June, days after he was returned to the U.S. in a coma after over a year in North Korean custody.

Protesters demonstrate against the arrival of North Korean performers in Donghae, South Korea on Tuesday.
Protesters demonstrate against the arrival of North Korean performers in Donghae, South Korea on Tuesday.PHOTO: CARL COURT/GETTY IMAGES

“We’re traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn’t use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime,” Mr. Pence said Monday.

Mr. Pence hinted at a series of events highlighting North Korea’s human-rights abuses. “We’ll be telling the truth about North Korea at every stop,” he said.

But Mr. Kim will also have opportunities to score more image points in the days to come.

Hundreds of North Korean cheerleaders will descend on the Olympic venues. A 140-member North Korean musical ensemble will perform two shows to packed auditoriums in Seoul and at the Games.

North Korea’s 22 athletes, brought in with a last-minute assist from the International Olympic Committee, will march into Pyeongchang’s opening ceremony alongside the South’s larger delegation under a flag bearing a silhouette of an undivided Korean peninsula.

In the arena, even one victory for the inter-Korean women’s ice-hockey team would be a coup for Pyongyang—especially if it comes against rival Japan.

The Korean women’s hockey team lines up on Sunday ahead of a match with Sweden on Sunday in Incheon, South Korea.
The Korean women’s hockey team lines up on Sunday ahead of a match with Sweden on Sunday in Incheon, South Korea. PHOTO: JON OLAV NESVOLD/ZUMA PRESS

North Korea’s pivot to rapprochement, which began in a Jan. 1 speech by Mr. Kim that also included threats of nuclear destruction, has injected tensions into the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has promoted outreach to the North, while the Trump administration has led a global campaign of pressure and sanctions.

Mr. Kim raised the stakes on Wednesday by informing Seoul that he would send his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the Games, in the first official visit to the South by a member of the North’s ruling family.

The opening ceremony alone will present plenty of potential for drama. Mr. Pence will be there, as will North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam. The seating arrangement could allow for an encounter—planned or otherwise—between the two. It’s also possible that Ms. Kim could attend the opening ceremony.

The North’s involvement in the Games allows it to try to cast itself as something of a peacemaker, despite its continued pledges to bolster its arsenal of nuclear weapons. The U.S. and South Korea recently agreed to postpone joint military exercises until after the Paralympics end in mid-March, citing the need to concentrate on security arrangements for the Games.

For skeptics of Mr. Kim’s intentions, this has turned the Pyeongchang Olympics into the “Pyongyang Olympics”—a phrase that South Korea’s main conservative opposition party has deployed in recent weeks.

“It’s amazing how completely Kim Jong Un is controlling the agenda,” said Aidan Foster-Carter, an honorary senior research fellow and Korea expert at Leeds University in the U.K.

Pyeongchang, a tiny ski resort in a remote corner of South Korea, has transformed itself into the host of the largest-ever Winter Olympics. Here’s how the Games look from a drone’s perspective.

Defenders of South Korea’s president say that if allowing Mr. Kim to bask in a propaganda win is the price needed to ensure a peaceful Olympics free of North Korean military threats, it is a price worth paying.

“As recently as the end of last year, it was unimaginable that South and North Korea would enter the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics together,” read an editorial praising the rapprochement, in Hankyoreh, South Korea’s main left-leaning newspaper.

A hint of North Korea’s charm offensive came in the early rounds of inter-Korean dialogue last month, when Pyongyang sent its best-known pop singer to the talks.

The appearance of Hyon Song Wol at the negotiating table and then on an inspection of concert venues caused a flurry of excitement in South Korea, where her every move was broadcast on national TV.

The image could turn once the Games are under way, if there are defections from the North Korean delegation or protests against the regime by athletes or others.

South Korean conservatives have already met the North Koreans’ arrival with protests, burning the North’s flag and effigies of Mr. Kim.

The last time South Korea hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, Pyongyang made several efforts to co-host events but was rebuffed, and blew up a South Korean airliner in the lead-up to the Games. The 2018 Games could provide a display of the gap that has continued to widen between this thriving democracy and the impoverished dictatorship next door.

The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North Korea was shut out and blew up a South Korean airliner, killing over 100 people. Here a South Korean government employee carries the Olympic flame Seoul on Sept. 16, 1988, ahead of the opening ceremony.
The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North Korea was shut out and blew up a South Korean airliner, killing over 100 people. Here a South Korean government employee carries the Olympic flame Seoul on Sept. 16, 1988, ahead of the opening ceremony. PHOTO: HYUNGWONG KANG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Even as the North has turned on the charm, there is plenty of evidence that it hasn’t backed away from its goal of being able to threaten the U.S. with nuclear-tipped missiles. On Thursday, a day before the Olympic opening ceremony, North Korea is expected to hold a large military parade in Pyongyang where it could show off new hardware.

It has also continued to lash out at its three nemeses: South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. In articles published through its state mouthpiece on Tuesday, the North called South Korea’s defense minister “an imbecile” and “a colonial stooge,” while denouncing President Donald Trump as a “dolt-like” lunatic whose “backbone would be broken” if the U.S. conducted even a limited, so-called bloody-nose military strike on North Korea.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at

In State of the Union, Trump Vows Optimism as More Fights Loom

January 31, 2018

President promotes infrastructure plan, lays down his vision on an immigration deal

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President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union focused on infrastructure, immigration and the strength of Americans. Watch the highlights in three minutes. Photo: Getty

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump, in his first State of the Union address, called for major, bipartisan deals on infrastructure and immigration, while reversing his predecessor’s vow to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility for suspected terrorists.

The president lauded the improving economy and rising stock market, but warned about continuing threats from North Korea.

Mr. Trump steered clear of direct attacks on political opponents, while holding open the possibility of bipartisan cooperation in an era that he dubbed “our new American moment” for rebuilding the country culturally and economically.

“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people,” Mr. Trump said.


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U.S. No Longer Considering Cha for Ambassador to South Korea

However, his framing of the immigration debate, with a heavy emphasis on protecting victims of crimes committed by people living in the country illegally, may make reaching a deal with Democrats on the issue harder.

A major sticking point is how the Trump administration will deal with undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, who are nicknamed Dreamers. The president has said he wants to protect them and has proposed a path to citizenship for them in a White House framework for a deal. But in his address, he appropriated the Dreamers language and reframed it for his own purpose.

“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans—to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too,” he said.

In the Democratic response, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D., Mass.) urged opponents of the Trump administration to continue rallying against a policy agenda that, in his view, presents Americans with “one false choice after another.”

In a speech that was months in the making, Mr. Trump took a tough stance toward North Korea and terrorist threats overseas. He announced that he was ordering officials to keep open the Guantanamo Bay prison, reversing a 2009 order by President Barack Obama to close the facility.

Mr. Trump punctuated his points by introducing guests he had invited to attend. He mentioned the family of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea and died shortly after his release. His parents were seated in first lady Melania Trump’s box.

President Trump gave his first State of the Union address before Congress on Tuesday night. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib gives us three key takeaways from the event. Photo: Getty

He cited the death as an example of the regime’s depravity. He also invited to the speech a defector from North Korea to further make the point.

“We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies,” he said.

The largest question marks about the speech centered on how he would work to enact fresh legislative goals, including an infrastructure program and immigration legislation, in the face of testy relationships on Capitol Hill and divisive debates within and between the two parties.

Mr. Trump made the case that more secure borders would support American workers and immigrant communities already in the country, citing murders in the U.S. of teenagers by MS-13 gang members as one example, pointing to two dead girls’ parents in the audience.

“The United States is a compassionate nation.…But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities,” Mr. Trump said.

Trump’s State of the Union: In Superlatives

He went on to reiterate the terms of a proposal his White House had outlined last week: offering a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants in exchange for limits on family-based immigration, an end to the visa lottery program, and $25 billion to expand a barrier on the southern border.

Democrats and some Republicans took pains after the speech to make clear that they don’t think of the Dreamers in the same terms as members of the MS-13 gang.

“No one in the world defends them,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said of the gang members.

Mr. Trump again called on Congress to pass a bill that would underwrite a program to repair the nation’s roads, bridges and ports, relying on a blend of state and local government funding along with private investment that would add up to $1.5 trillion.

Republicans said that Mr. Trump had extended a hand to Democrats and that it was up to the minority party to decide whether they accept Mr. Trump’s offer of working together.

The U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, before President Trump was to deliver his first State of the Union addressPhoto: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

“That’s going to be up to the people in the room,” said Rep. Tom Emmer (R., Minn.). “He did a fantastic job of putting that out there—now the question is, Are they interested in doing it?”

But infrastructure spending proved to be problematic for some Republicans.

“We’ve got to be very mindful, though, of balancing the need for infrastructure against the need not to incur more debt,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.).

Mr. Trump embraced opportunities to describe his year as record-setting, including his appointment of conservative judges and a rising stock market.

He emphasized support for the American flag and standing for the national anthem, in an issue that has become a cultural flashpoint amid protests over policing practices.

And he squeezed in remarks on a handful of specific other issues including health care, which had dominated his first year in office, when he applauded Republicans’ repeal of the requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty as removing “the core” of the Affordable Care Act.

The address came just over a month after the passage of a sweeping tax law and after a year of big gains in the stock market, though share prices have fallen sharply this week.

His appearance also came on the heels of a three-day partial government shutdown and before a Congress that has faced standoffs over immigration and the investigations into Trump associates’ ties to Russia during the 2016 election. Another shutdown looms next week if lawmakers can’t resolve a rolling dispute over the budget.

Through it all, Mr. Trump’s approval rating has fallen to 39%, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, down from 44% when he took office.

Mr. Trump’s penchant for attacking those who oppose his policies has added to the acrimony; he dubbed Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer “cryin’ Chuck” on Twitter during the shutdown fight. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in December asked people whether Mr. Trump had made “division” and “partisanship” better or worse. Some 58% said he had made things worse; 9%, better.

—Felicia Schwartz contributed to this article.

Write to Peter Nicholas at, Louise Radnofsky at and Siobhan Hughes at

West Mourns Chinese Dissident Liu Xiaobo, Criticizes Beijing — “Dead for promoting peaceful democratic reform” — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

July 13, 2017

(Reuters) – Western leaders, rights groups and the Nobel Peace Prize committee expressed sorrow at the death of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on Thursday, but reaction was muted in his homeland, where strict censorship made him less well-known than abroad.

The United States called on China to release prisoners of conscience and free his widow, Liu Xia, who remains under house arrest.

“Today, I join those in China and around the world in mourning the tragic passing of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died while serving a lengthy prison sentence in China for promoting peaceful democratic reform,”  said in a statement.

Liu, 61, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 after he helped write a petition known as “Charter 08” calling for sweeping political reforms.


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His death was announced in a brief statement from the authorities in Shenyang, the northeastern city where he was being treated for late-stage liver cancer after being transferred from prison to hospital last month.

France, Britain and Germany joined calls from Washington for Liu Xia to be allowed to travel and leave the country if she wished, and criticized Beijing for not having allowed Liu to travel abroad for treatment.

The Norwegian government, which resumed full diplomatic relations with Beijing in December after they were put on ice due to the Nobel award to Liu Xiaobo, said in a one-paragraph statement it was saddened by Liu’s death.

“It is with deep grief that I received the news of Liu Xiaobo’s passing,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said. “Liu Xiaobo was for decades a central voice for human rights and China’s further development.”

Berit Reiss-Andersen, the leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee which awards the prize, said Liu would remain “a powerful symbol for all who fight for freedom, democracy and a better world”.

And she criticized Western governments for not being vocal enough in support of Liu before his death.

“It is a sad and disturbing fact that the representatives of the free world, who themselves hold democracy and human rights in high regard, are less willing to stand up for those rights for the benefit of others,” she said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said China and the world had “lost a principled champion who devoted his life to defending and promoting human rights, peacefully and consistently, and who was jailed for standing up for his beliefs”.

China’s state news agency Xinhua reported Liu’s death in a brief story in English, but not Chinese.

References to his passing were swiftly removed from Weibo, the country’s answer to Twitter, though images and comments were shared on the WeChat messaging service.

Fellow dissident and artist Ai Weiwei was vocal in his criticism of Beijing.

Liu Xiaobo was not a criminal,” he told Reuters in his Berlin studio. “He was a writer, an intellectual and he used his life to find ways to make society better.”

Asked whether the Chinese government had contributed to Liu’s death by preventing him from receiving treatment abroad, Ai said: “China showed how brutal its society can be.”

(Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Madeline Chambers in Berlin, Alistair Smout in London, Michel Rose in Paris and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Alex Richardson; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)




From The United Nations:

13 July 2017 – The top United Nations human rights official today expressed his deep sorrow at the news that China’s “iconic” peace and democracy figure, Liu Xiaobo, has died at the age of 61.

“The human rights movement in China and across the world has lost a principled champion who devoted his life to defending and promoting human rights, peacefully and consistently, and who was jailed for standing up for his beliefs,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a statement.

Mr. Liu reportedly died at the hospital where he was receiving treatment for liver cancer.

Mr. Liu was jailed in 2009 after calling for political reforms in China. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while in prison.

The High Commissioner described Mr. Liu as “the true embodiment of the democratic, non-violent ideals,” “the definition of civic courage and human dignity – a poet and intellectual who wanted, and strove for, a better future for his country,” and “a man who, despite all he suffered, continued to espouse the politics of peace.”

Extending heartfelt condolences and deepest respects to his wife, Liu Xia, his family and friends, Mr. Zeid said Mr. and Mrs. Liu were a courageous couple and absolutely devoted to one another.

“I urge the Chinese authorities to guarantee Liu Xia’s freedom of movement, and allow her to travel abroad should she wish so,” he said.

Despite the imprisonment and separation from the wife he adored that could have fuelled anger and bitterness, Mr. Liu declared that he had no hatred for those who pursued and prosecuted him.

“He was and will continue to be an inspiration and an example for all human rights defenders,” Mr. Zeid said.

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Cao Sunli was a veteran human rights activist. China detained her for months. She died. 3 years on, no investigation. It is believed the Chinese government withheld proper medical treatment…. Please pray for her.