Posts Tagged ‘President Trump’

Schumer Gets The Upper Hand: Tells Trump, “You Will Own the Shutdown”

December 21, 2018
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday warned President Trump that Democrats won’t back down on their opposition to funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and that he will be blamed for a partial government shutdown.
“You cannot erase months of video of you saying that you wanted a shutdown and that you wanted the responsibility and blame for a shutdown. President Trump, you own the shutdown,” Schumer said during a Senate floor speech. “The president will try to do his best to blame Democrats, but it’s flatly absurd.”

Chuck Schumer

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters about the possibility of a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. Congress and President Donald Trump continue to bicker over his demand that lawmakers fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, pushing the government to the brink of a partial shutdown at midnight Friday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Schumer’s remarks came as a partial lapse in funding impacting roughly 25 percent of the federal government is scheduled to start at midnight without a deal on spending legislation.
The Senate is planning to vote on a House-passed bill that would fund a portion of the government through Feb. 8 and include $5.7 billion for the border wall. The measure is not expected to pass.
Trump — reversing course after he said he would accept the “mantle” for a shutdown — tried on Friday to pin the blame of a looming partial shutdown on Democrats.

“The Democrats, whose votes we need in the Senate, will probably vote against Border Security and the Wall even though they know it is DESPERATELY NEEDED. If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time. People don’t want Open Borders and Crime!” Trump said as part of the tweetstorm.

He added in a follow-up tweet, ”the Democrats now own the shutdown!”

Both sides are digging in with no obvious escape hatch on legislation that could pass both the House and Senate and garner Trump’s signature.
House Republicans, backed by Trump, are demanding $5 billion for the wall, while Democrats have pointed to $1.3 billion as their cap and noted it would go toward fencing and not a wall.
Schumer reiterated on Friday that Democrats will not budge even if Trump throws a “temper tantrum.”
“There are not the votes in the Senate for an expensive taxpayer-funded border wall,” Schumer said. “So, President Trump, you will not get your wall. Abandon your shutdown strategy. You’re not getting the wall today, next week or on January 3rd when Democrats take back control of the House.”
Includes video:

Trump Asks For, Gets Jeff Sessions’ Resignation

November 7, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has resigned at the request of President Trump. The move follows months of Mr. Trump expressing his displeasure with Mr. Sessions in critical tweets.

The abrupt move ended Mr. Sessions’ tumultuous tenure as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer. Throughout, he couldn’t shake Mr. Trump’s displeasure over the special-counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Sessions’ Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.

Mr. Sessions’ departure creates instant uncertainty not only at the Justice Department but also at special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. Mr. Sessions had recused himself from that investigation because of his role in the Trump campaign, but a new attorney general could oversee the probe.

Lawmakers of both parties have warned Mr. Trump against naming a new attorney general to weaken Mr. Mueller, but some Republicans more recently have signaled a willingness to consider replacements.

Any new nominee is certain to be closely scrutinized during the Senate confirmation process over whether the Mueller probe needed to be reined in or shut down entirely. Such a move could touch off a political crisis.

Donald J. Trump


We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well….

Donald J. Trump


….We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at


“It is an honor to suffer for Jesus Christ” — Andrew Brunson

October 17, 2018

In October of 2016, as part of the paranoia following a failed coup attempt, the Turkish government arrested American pastor Andrew Brunson and charged him with espionage and aiding Turkey’s enemies. Pastor Brunson, a Presbyterian minister and Wheaton College graduate, had led a Christian congregation in the overwhelmingly Islamic nation for more than 20 years.

To say the charges were bogus is to understate what was obvious to just about everyone except Turkish authorities. In reality, Brunson became a hostage in Turkey’s steady march toward a more radical Islamism. Not only was he threatened with life imprisonment, but was used as a political pawn. Turkey demanded that in exchange for Brunson, the U.S. extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who now lives in Pennsylvania, and whom Turkish President Erdogan claims was behind the failed military coup in 2016.

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US pastor Andrew Brunson prays for US President Donald Trump as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, October 13, 2018. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

“We pray for you often, as a family,” Brunson told the president as he asked if he and his wife, Norine, could pray with him. “My wife and I pray for you.”

But President Trump and his administration weren’t interested in bargaining. Instead, the U.S. slapped sanctions on Turkey, a member of NATO, which was a move the BBC called “unprecedented.” As Turkish-U.S. relations soured, again, as the BBC reports, the sanctions and looming tariffs took their toll on the Turkish lira, stoked inflation, and brought the Turkish economy to the brink of an economic crisis.

Realizing that improved relations with the U.S. might be a good thing, Turkey released Pastor Brunson from confinement on Friday, citing “good behavior” and time served as an excuse to let him go without finding him “not guilty.”

Throughout the ordeal, Pastor Brunson maintained his innocence. “Let it be clear,” he wrote, “I am in prison not for anything I have done wrong, but because of who I am—a Christian pastor.”

“I desperately miss my wife and children. Yet I believe this to be true: It is an honor to suffer for Jesus Christ, as many have before me. My deepest thanks for all those around the world who are standing with and praying for me.”

Thanks be to God, who has heard the prayers of His people.

This is another way in which President Trump has been delivering on a promise to promote religious freedom abroad and here at home.

As Ed and I mentioned, we were initially skeptical back in 2017 when the president issued his first executive order on religious freedom. Short on specifics, it seemed like what many called “a nothing burger” at the time. But it’s clear now that it was a small first step in promoting religious freedom.

At the very least, we can say that this administration has very different domestic and foreign policy priorities than the previous administration did. From the HHS mandate to the elevation of LGBT rights as a top foreign policy priority, to the ordeal of Christian Pastor Saeed in Iran, it’s clear that religious freedom was not a top priority for the previous administration.

On the other hand, the appointment of Sam Brownback as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at HHS, the State Department’s first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, and now clear and courageous action when other nations—even military allies—blatantly violate human rights… show that this administration is compiling quite a track record on religious freedom.

Of course, things change swiftly in Washington. Administrations come, and administrations go. We must remember that our freedom depends solely on the Giver of freedom, and that our call may one day be to face discrimination, suffering, and even persecution. If that is our lot, may we face it with the sort of courage and conviction as did Pastor Brunson.

Of course, Christians around the globe are facing persecution like never before. And so, we rejoice that Pastor Brunson’s suffering is now ended. Thanks be to God.

Originally posted at

U.S. Prepared To Destroy Banned Russian Cruise Missile Warheads

October 2, 2018

Russia must halt its covert development of a banned cruise missile system or the United States will seek to destroy it before it becomes operational, Washington’s envoy to NATO said on Tuesday.

The United States believes Russia is developing a ground-launched system in breach of a Cold War treaty that could allow Russia to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice, but Moscow has consistently denied any such violation.

U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said Washington remained committed to a diplomat solution but was prepared to consider a military strike if Russian development of the medium-range system continued.

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U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison. Credit  Virginia Mayo / AP

“At that point, we would be looking at the capability to take out a (Russian) missile that could hit any of our countries,” she told a news conference.

“Counter measures (by the United States) would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty,” she added. “They are on notice.”

The Russian foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment. In the past, it has said it is ready for talks with the United States to try to preserve the treaty and would comply with its obligations if the United States did.

The comments by Hutchison, who was appointed to the NATO post by U.S. President Donald Trump, are the most direct warning of a preemptive strike since a U.S. official said in 2017 the United States would consider its own system if Russia continued to violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The treaty bans medium-range missiles capable of hitting Europe or Alaska. The United States and Russia celebrated its 30th anniversary in Geneva in 2017.

But that same year, the U.S. State Department report found Russia had violated obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km (310-3,417 miles), “or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Russian Iskander-M missile. Missile of this type are deployed in Kaliningrad and threaten NATO

The U.S. accusations are likely to further strain relations between Moscow and the West that are at a low over Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, its bombing campaign in Syria and accusations of Russian meddling in Western elections.

“We have been trying to send a message to Russia for several years that we know they are violating the treaty, we have shown Russia the evidence that we have that they are violating the treaty,” Hutchison said.

“We are laying down the markers so that our allies will help us bring Russia to the table,” she added.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said he would discuss the issue with his NATO counterparts at a scheduled two-day meeting in Brussels from Wednesday.

“I cannot forecast where it will go, it is a decision for the president, but I can tell you that both on Capitol Hill and in State Department, there is a lot of concern about this situation and I’ll return with the advice of our allies and engage in that discussion to determine the way ahead,” he told reporters in Paris.


Imperialism Will Be Dangerous for China

September 18, 2018

Beijing risks blowback as it exports surplus economic capacity to Africa and Asia.


A man walks by a propaganda poster in Beijing, Aug. 28.
A man walks by a propaganda poster in Beijing, Aug. 28. PHOTO: ANDY WONG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

China’s real problem isn’t the so-called Thucydides trap, which holds that a rising power like China must clash with an established power like the U.S., the way ancient Athens clashed with Sparta. It was Lenin, not Thucydides, who foresaw the challenge the People’s Republic is now facing: He called it imperialism and said it led to economic collapse and war.

Lenin defined imperialism as a capitalist country’s attempt to find markets and investment opportunities abroad when its domestic economy is awash with excess capital and production capacity. Unless capitalist powers can keep finding new markets abroad to soak up the surplus, Lenin theorized, they would face an economic implosion, throwing millions out of work, bankrupting thousands of companies and wrecking their financial systems. This would unleash revolutionary forces threatening their regimes.



Under these circumstances, there was only one choice: expansion. In the “Age of Imperialism” of the 19th and early-20th centuries, European powers sought to acquire colonies or dependencies where they could market surplus goods and invest surplus capital in massive infrastructure projects.

Ironically, this is exactly where “communist” China stands today. Its home market is glutted by excess manufacturing and construction capacity created through decades of subsidies and runaway lending. Increasingly, neither North America, Europe nor Japan is willing or able to purchase the steel, aluminum and concrete China creates. Nor can China’s massively oversized infrastructure industry find enough projects to keep it busy. Its rulers have responded by attempting to create a “soft” empire in Asia and Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative.

Many analysts hoped that when China’s economy matured, the country would come to look more like the U.S., Europe and Japan. A large, affluent middle class would buy enough goods and services to keep industry humming. A government welfare state would ease the transition to a middle-class society.

That future is now out of reach, key Chinese officials seem to believe. Too many powerful interest groups have too much of a stake in the status quo for Beijing’s policy makers to force wrenching changes on the Chinese economy. But absent major reforms, the danger of a serious economic shock is growing.

The Belt and Road Initiative was designed to sustain continued expansion in the absence of serious economic reform. Chinese merchants, bankers and diplomats combed the developing world for markets and infrastructure projects to keep China Inc. solvent. In a 2014 article in the South China Morning Post, a Chinese official said one objective of the BRI is the “transfer of overcapacity overseas.” Call it “imperialism with Chinese characteristics.”

But as Lenin observed a century ago, the attempt to export overcapacity to avoid chaos at home can lead to conflict abroad. He predicted rival empires would clash over markets, but other dynamics also make this strategy hazardous. Nationalist politicians resist “development” projects that saddle their countries with huge debts to the imperialist power. As a result, imperialism is a road to ruin.

China’s problems today are following this pattern. Pakistan, the largest recipient of BRI financing, thinks the terms are unfair and wants to renegotiate. Malaysia, the second largest BRI target, wants to scale back its participation since pro-China politicians were swept out of office. Myanmar and Nepal have canceled BRI projects. After Sri Lanka was forced to grant China a 99-year lease on the Hambantota Port to repay Chinese loans, countries across Asia and Africa started rereading the fine print of their contracts, muttering about unequal treaties.

Meanwhile, China’s mercantilist trade policies—the subsidies, the intellectual-property theft, and the coordinated national efforts to identify new target industries and make China dominant in them—are keeping Europe and Japan in Washington’s embrace despite their dislike of President Trump.

China’s chief problem isn’t U.S. resistance to its rise. It is that the internal dynamics of its economic system force its rulers to choose between putting China through a wrenching and destabilizing economic adjustment, or else pursuing an expansionist development policy that will lead to conflict and isolation abroad. Lenin thought that capitalist countries in China’s position were doomed to a series of wars and revolutions.

Fortunately, Lenin was wrong. Seventy years of Western history since World War II show that with the right economic policies, a mix of rising purchasing power and international economic integration can transcend the imperialist dynamics of the 19th and early 20th centuries. But unless China can learn from those examples, it will remain caught in the “Lenin trap” in which its strategy for continued domestic stability produces an ever more powerful anti-China coalition around the world.

Appeared in the September 18, 2018, print edition.

Serena cartoon fuels debate about ‘racist’ Australia

September 14, 2018

Australia is by most measures one of the world’s most successful multicultural societies, but a controversial cartoon of Serena Williams has rekindled accusations it is also inveterately racist.

Australia should be a poster-child for diversity: One-in-two Australians has a parent born abroad. The economy has been growing for 27 straight years. Crime is barely a worry. Melbourne and Sydney dominate rankings of the best places in the world to live.

Visit any medium-size human habitation on the mind-bendingly large continent and it’s obvious that Australia is the proverbial melting pot — Kiwis, Chinese, Irish, Filipinos, Brits, Vietnamese, Italians, Indians, Greeks and Lebanese at every turn.

© AFP | Photo illustration shows the front page of the Herald Sun newspaper, featuring a cartoon of US tennis player Serena Williams (lower R)

But this racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity contrasts sharply with a lingering image of Australia as an angry white country stuck in the past.

It was an impression underscored by foreign outrage about an Australian cartoonist’s depiction of a fat-lipped and masculine Serena Williams, and the collective shrug it prompted Down Under.

After the drawing was published, a CNN opinion piece described Australia as “the nicest racist country you will ever see” and the New York Times thundered that “Australia has never fully confronted its own history of racism.”

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Many Australians admit there is a problem.

The legacy of European settlers terrorising Aboriginal communities looms large, and inequality between the two groups remains staggering.

Racial epithets are still tossed around in a way that makes visitors’ jaws drop. A “White Australia” immigration policy, only fully dismantled in the 1970s, and more recently off-shore migrant detention centres have also done much to frame the modern image of Australia abroad.

But many Australians also believe the problem can be overstated.

“There is an element in Australian society that is racist,” said John Blaxland, a professor of International Security at the Australian National University. “But every country has them. Name a country that doesn’t.”

He insists the reality of modern Australia is a “vibrant, booming, multicultural society” that integrates almost 200,000 migrants a year — the equivalent of the United States taking three million people.

“Australia is a success story!” he insisted. “We’re really hopeless at selling that message. People are dying to get here, literally and metaphorically. It is such a coveted place to be, why is that so? It’s not because of racism.”

– Powerful white men –

As real as the problems in race relations are, popular stereotypes have also played their part framing Australia as a racist nation.

Ask any foreigner to name a famous Australian and they are likely to cite the endearing yet uncultured “Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee” — well before indigenous rights activist Eddie Mabo or pioneering social reformer Edith Cowan.

Today experts point to a coarsening of Australia’s politics and a powerful right-leaning media that has turbocharged the impression of a country that is socially tone-deaf.

Duncan McDonnell, a professor at Griffith University’s school of governance, sees immediate roots of that politics in the Liberal Party’s decision to co-opt right wing messages in the 1990s, giving the politics of prejudice a mainstream platform.

Figures like populist firebrand Pauline Hanson, once on the fringes, found their ideas firmly at the centre of public debate.

The strategy was “on one hand to shoot the messenger and on the other hand steal part of their message.”

“They started being much more explicitly harsh on immigration and also on issues related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.”

Creaking infrastructure and stagnant wages growth have helped give populist messages more purchase.

– ‘Monetisation of racism’ –

That hard-line message has been amplified by Australia’s conservative press — on Sky News and in print media outlets like the Herald-Sun which printed the Serena cartoon not once, but twice.

Both are owned by Rupert Murdoch and like his properties in Britain and America, simultaneously channel populist sentiment and steer it further to the right.

Australia’s former race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, describes what he sees a “monetisation of racism.”

Some Australian media — which is still overwhelmingly male and white — have embraced hard-line views as a business model to counteract shrinking audiences, he told AFP.

“You only need to look at the Herald-Sun’s response to get an indication of how that works. You try to take advantage of the outrage, you try to run with it as your front page and that’s your coverage for the next two days.”

Data from the Australian National University suggests Australians have — with some ebbs and flows — actually become markedly more tolerant over the last three decades.

Its tracking of public opinion on key issues since 1987 has found that attitudes toward indigenous Australians and asylum seekers have softened dramatically.

Soutphommasane insists racism is a serious problem, but Australia’s media and her politicians, which garner so much attention, “do not reflect the multicultural character of Australia.”



“Welcome to PC World” — Serena Williams Cartoon, Called Racist, Gets New Life on Paper’s Front Page

September 12, 2018

An Australian newspaper has defended its decision to publish a provocative cartoon of the tennis star Serena Williams, using the image again — this time on its front page — and railing against “politically correct” critics who deemed the drawing racist.

The headline “Welcome to PC World” — accompanied by caricatures of Ms. Williams, Australian politicians, President Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea — was displayed on the front of the print edition of Tuesday evening’s Herald Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

“If the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed,” the type below the headline said, referring to the cartoonist who created the drawing. Under the rendering of Ms. Williams are the words “Vetoed: large hair and lips, too angry.”

By By Isabella Kwai
The New York Times

The cartoon, which mocked Ms. Williams’s behavior during last week’s U.S. Open Women’s final, drew widespread criticism from athletes, fans and public figures around the world, including the author J.K. Rowling and the rapper Nicki Minaj. Critics said the exaggerated facial features of Ms. Williams were reminiscent of racist Jim Crow-era drawings and questioned why Naomi Osaka, the U.S. Open winner, who is of Japanese and Haitian descent, was drawn with blond hair and light skin.

In an editorial published on Tuesday, the paper said the world had “officially gone mad,” and called accusations that the cartoon was racist “an attempt to defeat cartooning — and satire — with a politically correct barrage.”

Damon Johnston, Herald Sun editor, said on Twitter this week that Mr. Knight had the “full support of everyone” at the newspaper.

A spokeswoman for the paper said Wednesday that it would “let the coverage today speak for itself.”

Mr. Knight deactivated his Twitter account on Tuesday to stop abuse directed toward his family, according to the Herald Sun. He has countered claims of racism by referring to his other cartoons, including one of Nick Kyrgios, an Australian tennis player who is of Greek and Malaysian descent.

Mr. Knight has fended off accusations of racism before, including for his depiction this year of African teenagers vandalizing a train station.

“I drew her as an African-American woman,” he said of Ms. Williams, according to the Herald Sun. “She wears these outrageous costumes when she plays tennis.”

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“So this whole business that I’m some sort of racist calling on racial cartoons from the past is just made up,” he added. “It’s not there.”

Follow Isabella Kwai on Twitter: @bellakwai.



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Mark Knight’s cartoon of Serena Williams published by the Herald Sun (Mark Knight/Herald Sun)

U.S. Says Syria Plans Gas Attack in Rebel Stronghold

September 10, 2018

Chlorine assault would target Idlib in what could be a decisive battle in seven-year war, raising prospects for new retaliatory strike as thousands flee

Syrians fleeing attacks approach a camp in Kafr Lusin near the Turkish border in the northern part of rebel-held Idlib province on Sept. 9.
Syrians fleeing attacks approach a camp in Kafr Lusin near the Turkish border in the northern part of rebel-held Idlib province on Sept. 9.PHOTO: AAREF WATAD/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON—President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has approved the use of chlorine gas in an offensive against the country’s last major rebel stronghold, U.S. officials said, raising the prospects for another retaliatory U.S. military strike as thousands try to escape what could be a decisive battle in the seven-year-old war.

In a recent discussion about Syria, people familiar with the exchange said, President Trump threatened to conduct a massive attack against Mr. Assad if he carries out a massacre in Idlib, the northwestern province that has become the last refuge for more than three million people and as many as 70,000 opposition fighters that the regime considers to be terrorists.

International efforts to avert an offensive have failed to dissuade Syria, Russia and Iran as they try to deliver a crippling blow to rebels who appear to be on the verge of defeat after trying for seven years to force Mr. Assad from power. Russia and Syria have stepped up their airstrikes, while thousands of civilians have been evacuated to government-controlled parts of Syria. Mr. Assad has rebuffed appeals from the United Nations, Turkey, the U.S. and others who have warned that an attack could trigger a new humanitarian crisis.

A man inspects the wreckage after Syrian government airstrikes targeted the civilian hospital in the town of Hass in Idlib province on Sept. 8.
A man inspects the wreckage after Syrian government airstrikes targeted the civilian hospital in the town of Hass in Idlib province on Sept. 8. PHOTO: ANAS ALKHARBOUTLI/DPA/ZUMA PRESS

“Syria is once again at the edge of an abyss,” Francois Delattre, the French ambassador to the United Nations, said last week during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Idlib.

The Pentagon is crafting military options, but Mr. Trump hasn’t decided what exactly would trigger a military response or whether the U.S. would target Russian or Iranian military forces aiding Mr. Assad in Syria, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. could also use things like targeted economic sanctions against Syrian officials instead of military strikes.

“We haven’t said that the U.S. would use the military in response to an offensive,” one senior administration official said. “We have political tools at our disposal, we have economic tools at our disposal. There are a number of different ways we could respond if Assad were to take that reckless, dangerous step.”

Fears of a massacre have been fueled by new U.S. intelligence indicating Mr. Assad has cleared the way for the military to use chlorine gas in any offensive, U.S. officials said. It wasn’t clear from the latest intelligence if Mr. Assad also had given the military permission to use sarin gas, the deadly nerve agent used several times in previous regime attacks on rebel-held areas. It is banned under international law.

U.S. officials wouldn’t say on Sunday whether use of chlorine gas would trigger new U.S. airstrikes against the Assad regime.

“I will not comment on U.S. military plans, but Assad’s use of chemical weapons, sarin and chlorine, and disregard for civilian lives is well documented and contrary to regional stability,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said.

Two US Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in February.
Two US Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in February. PHOTO: COLTON ELLIOTT/U.S. AIR FORCE/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Mr. Trump launched airstrikes against Mr. Assad twice in the past two years after accusing the Syrian leader of using sarin gas in attacks that killed scores of civilians, including women and children.

This time, the Trump administration initially set a new red line by warning Mr. Assad that the U.S. would respond if he used chemical weapons. But the administration stance has hardened in recent days, as Mr. Trump has publicly warned Mr. Assad that he risks another U.S. military strike if he tries to retake Idlib.

“By my putting out that message I think maybe it’s going to send a signal,” Mr. Trump said last week in an interview with The Daily Caller, the conservative news website. “I mean we’re going to see, but it’s a terrible thing.”

U.S. officials have been trying for weeks to stave off the offensive. National security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked their Russian counterparts to ensure that no chemical weapons were used in Idlib, U.S. officials said.

On Sunday, there appeared to be few signs that the U.S. threats were having a major impact. Russian and Syrian airstrikes in parts of Idlib and Hama provinces killed nearly two dozen civilians.

Regime helicopters dropped at least 55 barrel bombs—highly destructive oil drums filled with explosives—while Russian warplanes carried out other airstrikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, prompting thousands in Hama and southern Idlib province to flee their homes.

Since Friday, regime and Russian attacks have struck three hospitals, two first responder centers and one ambulance system, leaving thousands with no access to medical care, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, a France-based charity that supports health care in opposition-held parts of Syria.

Russia and Iran, which provide Mr. Assad with the military firepower he has used to recapture most rebel-held parts of Syria, rejected an appeal last week by Turkey, which has forces operating in the Syrian province along its border, to avert an attack on the rebel haven.

Russia has also rebuffed U.S. warnings and suggested that opposition fighters in Syria might use chemical weapons on civilians in an effort to trigger a U.S. military response. U.S. officials said there is no evidence that Syrian rebels have the ability to carry out such attacks.

Mr. Trump’s first military strike on the Assad regime came in April 2017, when the U.S. military fired nearly 60 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in Idlib Province used as the launchpad for a sarin attack that killed at least 83 people.

Mr. Trump ultimately approved a one-time strike on the Syrian airfield, which failed to deter Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons again.

At the time, Mr. Trump said he was moved to act by graphic footage and photographs of young Syrian boys and girls choking for breath. Mr. Trump called Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to express his disgust and call for an American response.

“Let’s f—king kill him!” Mr. Trump told Mr. Mattis, according to Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” which comes out this week. “Let’s kill the f—king lot of them.”

Mr. Mattis said he would develop options for the president, but then dismissed Mr. Trump’s approach when he got off the call, according to the book.

“We’re not going to do any of that,” Mr. Mattis told an aide, according to the book. “We’re going to be much more measured.”

Messrs. Trump and Mattis have both characterized the book as fiction.

The second Western response came five months ago, when the U.S., France and the U.K. fired more than 100 missiles at three Syrian targets in an effort to cripple Mr. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons after he was accused of again using sarin in a deadly attack on a Damascus suburb. The Assad regime denied using sarin.

During the debate this year over how to respond to the second attack, Mr. Trump’s national-security team weighed the idea of hitting Russian or Iranian targets in Syria, people familiar with the discussions said. But the Pentagon pushed for a more measured response, U.S. officials said, and the idea was eventually rejected as too risky.

A third U.S. strike likely would be more expansive than the first two, and Mr. Trump would again have to consider whether or not to hit targets like Russian air defenses in an effort to deliver a more punishing blow to Mr. Assad’s military.

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at

Appeared in the September 10, 2018, print edition as ‘Assad Is Planning Chlorine Attack, U.S. Says.’

Mr. Rosenstein, What Is the Crime?

September 9, 2018

We have a special prosecutor, a ton of facts, Public Enemy Number One George Papadopoulos is going to the slammer for 14 days, but we still don’t know what the BIG CRIME is we are looking for. Seems un-American…

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies on Capitol Hill, December 13, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

What’s the legal basis for his special-counsel investigation? We have a right to know.For precisely what federal crimes is the president of the United States under investigation by a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department?

It is intolerable that, after more than two years of digging — the 16-month Mueller probe having been preceded by the blatantly suspect labors of the Obama Justice Department and FBI — we still do not have an answer to that simple question.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein owes us an answer.

To my mind, he has owed us an answer from the beginning, meaning when he appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller on May 17, 2017. The regulations under which he made the appointment require (a) a factual basis for believing that a federal crime worthy of investigation or prosecution has been committed; (b) a conflict of interest so significant that the Justice Department is unable to investigate this suspected crime in the normal course; and (c) an articulation of the factual basis for the criminal investigation — i.e., the investigation of specified federal crimes — which shapes the boundaries of the special counsel’s jurisdiction.

This last provision is designed to prevent a special counsel’s investigation from becoming a fishing expedition — or what President Trump calls a “witch hunt,” what DAG Rosenstein more diplomatically disclaims as an “unguided missile,” and what Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz, invoking Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s secret-police chief, pans as the warped dictum, “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” In our country, the crime triggers the assignment of a prosecutor, not the other way around.

Trump Makes It Hard to Defend Trump

Sound reasons undergird the regulations. If a Democrat were in the White House, we would know them by heart at this point. Republicans once knew them well, too. That was before Donald Trump’s character flaws had them shrugging their shoulders, resigned that he deserves to be investigated whether he committed a crime or not.

Yet, the rationale for the regulations relates to the presidency, not to the man or woman who happens to occupy the office at a particular time. It is too debilitating to the governance of the United States, to the pursuit of America’s interests in the world, for us to permit imposing on the presidency the heavy burdens of defending against a criminal investigation unless there is significant evidence that the president has committed a serious crime.

As illustrated by this week’s hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats are too Trump-deranged in this moment to recognize their interest in avoiding a prosecutor’s cloud over future Democratic administrations. (Of course, they probably calculate that no Democratic attorney general would appoint a special counsel, no matter the evidence, and that the media would compliantly play along.) It is therefore up to Republicans to respond to the damage being done to the office. This can be hard to do.

If policy were all that mattered, the Trump presidency would be a rousing success. The economy is humming. The yokes of tax and regulation have been eased to the extent that, despite tariff hijinks, unemployment has plummeted and employers have trouble filling positions. Meanwhile, the federal courts are being stocked with exemplary jurists who, for decades, will be faithful stewards of the Constitution.

Alas, there’s a lot more to it than policy. You want to slough off as unreliable the latest ABC/Washington Post poll that has Trump’s job approval at just 38 percent (with 60 percent disapproving)? Okay . . . but since he seems hell-bent on personalizing the midterms as a referendum on him, it is less easy to ignore that the so-called generic ballot is swinging the Democrats’ way: by nearly 10 points according to FiveThirtyEight, while even more Trump-friendly Rasmussen reflects a recent Democratic surge to a four-point lead.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Henninger observes, the president’s loyal base, consisting of roughly a third of the voting public, is going to be with him and, presumably, with Republicans. Still, if a Democratic takeover of the House is to be avoided, the GOP desperately needs the voters who reluctantly pulled the lever for Trump only because he was not Hillary Clinton.

You may notice that Mrs. Clinton is not on the ballot this time. Meanwhile, in just the last few days, the president has attacked his attorney general yet again, this time for prosecuting two allegedly corrupt Republican congressmen and thus refusing to politicize the Justice Department; he has conflated himself with the country in absurdly suggesting that an anonymous derogatory op-ed by an administration official might amount to “TREASON,” such that the New York Times should “turn [the author] over to the government at once” for the sake of “National Security”; and he has used Communist North Korea’s murderous anti-American dictator Kim Jong-un as a character reference. If this is the plan for turning out the Trump-skeptical vote, I respectfully suggest that it needs rethinking.

It’s about the Presidency, Not the President

More to the point, these derelictions — the president’s self-supplied fuel for the media narrative of an unhinged chief executive — make it politically risky for Republicans to defend the presidency by defending the president from what appears to be an unwarranted investigation.

To be clear, if there is probable cause to believe that Donald Trump was criminally complicit in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, he must be investigated, and the nation must resign itself to the compromised administration that entails. But we have never been told, much less shown, that this is the case. It is supposed to be established before the investigation commences.

Meantime, not only have millions of public dollars been expended on Mueller’s investigation; administration officials have had to go into their own pockets, paying millions in legal fees to defend themselves and comply with the special counsel’s demands. Executive officials have been forced to deal with Congress and foreign leaders while hamstrung by criminal suspicion of the president. Trump aside, the signal has gone out to the meritorious people we should want to serve in future administrations: Why leave your prestigious, profitable job to serve in government and risk financial and reputational ruin?

Congressional Republicans are letting this happen because they don’t want to stick their necks out for Donald Trump. Yet this is not solely about Donald Trump, much as he seems determined to frame it that way. It is about a constitutional office that is far more critical than any current incumbent.

Questioning the Legitimacy of Mueller’s Investigation

Echoing Democrats, Republicans say Robert Mueller, a patriotic and honorable man, should be allowed to finish his work. Let’s take Trump the lightning-rod out of the equation. If we were to pretend that the president is a Democrat, what would be made of that claim?

1. Rectitude
Mueller’s personal rectitude would be irrelevant. If he or you don’t think so, go ask Ken Starr. In any event, a prosecutor’s personal integrity is never dispositive when he or she commences an investigation, seeks a warrant, or tries an accused. What matters is whether the laws and rules have been satisfied.

2. Special Counsel Neither Necessary Nor Authorized for Investigation of Russia 
If the president were a Democrat, it would be pointed out that to question the special counsel’s criminal investigation of the president is not to question the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The latter is vital. No one denies that it should be aggressively pursued to its conclusion.

Moreover, if the counterintelligence investigation were incidentally to turn up concrete evidence that Donald Trump had committed a crime, no one denies that a special counsel appointment would be appropriate at that time. (Get it? Evidence of crime first, then assignment of prosecutor.) But unless and until that were to happen, a counterintelligence investigation does not need a prosecutor at all, much less a special counsel. That is why the aforementioned special-counsel regulations do not authorize an appointment for counterintelligence cases.

3. Conflict of Interest
It is a condition precedent to the appointment of a special counsel that there be a conflict of interest. There is no such conflict preventing the Justice Department from investigating Russian interference in the election. If that were not obvious enough, Mueller himself has elucidated the point by transferring the two indictments he has brought against Russian operatives to Justice Department components — the “Troll Farm” case to the U.S. attorney’s office in the District of Columbia, and the hacking case to Main Justice’s National Security Division. If there were a conflict of interest, it would be inappropriate for the special counsel to make such transfers. To the contrary, there is no reason why DOJ could not have investigated these cases in the normal course — if there is a “normal course” for a pair of publicity-stunt cases that will never be prosecuted.

But while we’re on the subject of conflicts . . . let’s have a brief look at Mueller’s staff.

The president is in the habit of ranting about “17 angry Democrats.” As is often the case, this misses the point. There is nothing wrong per se with a president’s being investigated by prosecutors registered with the opposition party. Of course, for the sake of his own credibility, Mueller is foolish to have stacked his staff with partisans. (Please, spare me the blather about how the Justice Department is not allowed to inquire about party affiliation when hiring. These are not obscure lawyers who applied for a job; they are well-known lawyers whom Mueller recruited into a hyperpolitical case, fully aware that they are activist Democrats.) But there is foolish, and then there is disqualifying. Being a Democrat is not disqualifying.

Still, we must ask, Why was Mueller appointed? Supposedly, because DOJ was too conflicted. So whom does he turn around and recruit? Well, his chief deputy is Andrew Weissman, and his main legal beagle is Michael Dreeben. They were two of the top officials at the purportedly conflicted DOJ — respectively, chief of the criminal-fraud section and deputy solicitor general. Before her stint as Hillary Clinton’s lawyer, Jeannie Rhee was DOJ’s deputy assistant attorney general. She, like several other members of Mueller’s bloated staff, comes to the task of investigating the president either directly from the purportedly conflicted Justice Department or after a brief stint in private practice.

In any proper special-counsel investigation, it would be worth asking why, if the Justice Department is too conflicted to handle the case, its top officials are an ethical fit to staff the case. In this particular investigation, however, the actions of the Justice Department (and the FBI) in commencing and pursuing the Trump/Russia probe are themselves under investigation by the Justice Department and its inspector general, and by several congressional committees. Under those circumstances, how is it appropriate to staff a special-counsel probe, which is premised on avoiding a conflict of interest, with lawyers who were top officials in the Justice Department whose conduct of the same probe is itself under investigation? If we pretend that the president is a Democrat, and we throw in for good measure Weissman’s adulation of former acting attorney general Sally Yates for insubordinately defying the president on an enforcement matter, is it not worth asking why Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself but Weissman gets to run the investigation?

If a Democrat were in the White House, it wouldn’t happen. Because if a Democrat were in the White House, and Weissman & Co. were Republicans transferred over from the Republican DOJ now under investigation, congressional Democrats would be screaming that there was no conflict of interest warranting the appointment of a special counsel, and that the only apparent conflict involved the prosecutors. And Republicans sages would be meekly agreeing — as would I (less meekly, I hope).

What Is the Crime?

There is one thing and one thing alone that would justify the appointment of a special counsel: concrete evidence that Donald Trump committed a crime in connection with Russia’s election interference. So, to repeat: For precisely what federal crime is the president of the United States under investigation?

DAG Rosenstein owed us an explanation of this on Day One. He and Mueller’s staff have evaded this obligation by arguing that nothing in the special-counsel regulations requires a public recitation of the factual basis for the investigation. More haughtily, they claim that the special-counsel regulations are not enforceable — they’re just hortatory guidelines that DOJ may flout at will.

Allow me to translate: Rosenstein claims that the Justice Department’s desire for investigative secrecy takes precedence over the president’s capacity to govern.

This, notwithstanding that in every independent-counsel investigation since Watergate, the president and the public have been apprised of exactly what crimes necessitated an investigation. And notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s rationalization, in Morrison v. Olson (1988), that the constitutionally dubious statute (since lapsed) authorizing an independent counsel passed muster because, prior to the appointment, the Justice Department first carefully established evidence of specific criminal-law violations.

That is preposterous. Investigative secrecy should never have had pride of place where the presidency is at stake. After 16 months, there is no excuse for it.

The Rosenstein Memo . . . and the Steele Dossier

It is no answer that Rosenstein has given Mueller a supplemental memorandum (dated August 2, 2017) purportedly fleshing out the factual basis for the investigation. This memorandum, too, has been almost completely withheld from Congress and the public. Furthermore, from what little we know of it (the passages unsealed in connection with the prosecution of Paul Manafort for crimes unrelated to Russia’s election-meddling), it is inadequate.

As I have previously noted, it appears that the Rosenstein memo merely asserts that there are “allegations” that crimes may have been committed. It does not provide a factual basis for believing these allegations are true.

The Justice Department claims the memo cannot be unsealed without compromising the investigation and potentially prejudicing uncharged people. The latter concern could easily be addressed by redacting the names — except, of course, the president’s, if it appears. (Remember, the point here is to determine if the president is under investigation, and for what crime.) Thus I suspect there is a more controversial reason for Rosenstein’s obstinacy: Unsealing would reveal that the memo relies on the Steele dossier — the unverified opposition-research project sponsored by the Clinton campaign.

What makes me say so? Well, here is one of the two passages that Rosenstein, under court pressure, has deigned to let us read: Mueller is authorized to investigate:

Allegations that Paul Manafort . . . Committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States of America, in violation of United States law.

To date, Manafort, like every other Trump-campaign official, has never been charged with a crime related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Now, the Steele dossier is not the only “collusion” evidence against Manafort. There has been public reporting that, while he was Trump’s campaign chairman, Manafort furtively offered briefings on the campaign to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch known to be close to Vladimir Putin (but intriguingly discussed as if he could be, or become, a Western intelligence asset in emails between dossier author Christopher Steele and top DOJ official Bruce Ohr). If true, this claim of Manafort’s offer to Deripaska is unseemly and suspicious, but it does not establish a crime. Manafort is also known to have been present at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, arranged by Donald Trump Jr. in hopes of scoring campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Again, unseemly, but not a crime per se (unless the campaign-finance laws are stretched in a way that would implicate many, many campaigns). No, the only publicly known, unambiguous allegation that Manafort was enmeshed in a criminal conspiracy involving the Trump campaign and Russia is sourced to the Steele dossier.

We know that in June 2017, a month after appointing Mueller, Rosenstein relied heavily on the Steele dossier in approving a FISA surveillance-warrant application (targeting former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page). Is it not reasonable to suspect that, less than two months after signing off on the warrant application, he would again rely on the Steele dossier in amplifying the basis for Mueller’s investigation?

More questions: Did Rosenstein have evidence other than the Steele dossier to support this criminal-collusion allegation against Manafort? Does the deputy attorney general acknowledge relying on the Steele dossier in his memo to Mueller? Are there other allegations in the Rosenstein memo that mirror the Steele dossier’s sensational, uncorroborated claims? Is Donald Trump named in the memo?

Mueller’s Report . . . about What?
The last question is the pertinent one. Reuters reported back in April of this year that Rosenstein assured Trump that he is not a “target” of Mueller’s probe. Even if true, that would not mean the president is not a subject of the probe. If he’s not, why wouldn’t we have been told that? Why hasn’t it been announced that the Trump aspect of the investigation is closed — if, indeed, it was ever open?

We have to assume that Trump is and has been under criminal investigation, even if there is not and has never been a crime.

It is frequently noted that, as special counsel, Mueller is expected to provide a report to Rosenstein, who will then decide what parts of the report to share with Congress and the public. This is said to explain why Mueller is being so thorough: He must be comprehensive even if he finds no prosecutable crimes.

Democrats, of course, anticipate that such a thoroughgoing, narrative report will form the basis for an impeachment of the president. Impeachment does not require proof of courtroom-prosecutable misconduct, but of any misconduct Congress might determine is — or might inflate into — high crimes and misdemeanors. The idea is that, despite the absence of penal offenses, Mueller will find discreditable and erratic behavior, which, post-midterms, a Democratic-controlled House can whip into “collusion” and “obstruction” for purposes of impeachment articles.

We go back, however, to first principles. The way this is supposed to work, the Justice Department must describe the factual basis for specified crimes – not discreditable, erratic behavior; crimes – that the special counsel is authorized to investigate. If the special counsel wants to investigate other crimes, he is supposed to ask for his jurisdiction to be expanded. When the special counsel writes his report, it is supposed to be about why prosecution of those crimes should be authorized or declined. That’s it. Mueller is a prosecutor working for the Justice Department, not counsel for a congressional impeachment committee. His task is to report his prosecutorial decisions about crimes he has been authorized to investigate because the Justice Department is conflicted; it is not to hold forth on his assessment of Donald Trump’s overall comportment and fitness to be president. That is for voters, or their elected representatives, to determine.

So what are the suspected crimes committed by Donald Trump that Mueller has been authorized to investigate, and what was the factual basis for Rosenstein’s authorization of this investigation?

We still haven’t been told.

The anti-Trump Left decries all criticism as an effort to “delegitimize” and “obstruct” the Mueller investigation. But no one is questioning the investigation of Russia’s interference in the election. We are questioning why a special counsel was appointed to investigate the president of the United States. It is the Justice Department’s obligation to establish the legitimacy of the appointment by explaining the factual basis for believing a crime was committed. If there is no such basis, then it is Mueller’s investigation that is delegitimizing the presidency and obstructing its ability to carry out its constitutional mission — a mission that is far more significant than any prosecutor’s case.

We’re not asking for much. After 16 months, we are just asking why there is a criminal investigation of the president. If Rod Rosenstein would just explain what the regs call for him to explain — namely, the basis to believe that Donald Trump conspired with the Kremlin to violate a specific federal criminal law, or is somehow criminally complicit in the Kremlin’s election sabotage — then we can all get behind Robert Mueller’s investigation.

But what is the explanation? And why isn’t the Republican-controlled Congress demanding it?


China Said To Pressure North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to Follow Through on Singapore Agreements With U.S. President Trump

September 9, 2018

Pyongyang puts on show of military hardware for 70th anniversary parade but doesn’t roll out long-range missiles in ‘goodwill gesture’ to US

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 September, 2018, 9:14pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man has urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to realise the consensus on denuclearisation he reached with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

Li Zhanshu, Beijing’s third-ranking Communist Party official, issued the call in talks with Kim on Sunday while in Pyongyang for celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of North Korea.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, raises hands with Chinese envoy Li Zhanshu

Li stressed the need for North Korea and the US “to thoroughly implement the consensus … to reach the common goal of denuclearisation”, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

Kim said North Korea had already taken steps towards denuclearisation, and wanted “the US side to take reciprocal measures to solve the Korean peninsula issues diplomatically”.

“I [also] wish to learn from the Chinese experience of economic development,” Kim was quoted as saying.

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North Korean military parade, September 9, 2018

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said Xi sent a message to Kim on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party to congratulate North Korea on its 70th anniversary ”, and to express Xi’s desire to work closely with Kim to promote a “long-term, healthy and stable development of China-North Korea relations”.

The talks came after North Korea rolled out tanks and troops – but no long-range missiles – for an anniversary military parade, a move observers said could be a goodwill gesture to the US to foster talks on nuclear weapons.

Observers said the decision to hold off on the intercontinental ballistic missiles could also earn North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping and even another summit with US President Donald Trump.

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North Korean military parade, September 9, 2018

But they also warned that simply keeping the ICBMs out of sight would not deflect Washington’s scrutiny of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

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Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping in Dalian, May 8, 2018

Sunday’s military parade was North Korea’s first since Kim and Trump met in Singapore in June, and bigger than one in February to mark the 70th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, according to a South Korean military source.

But the most powerful missiles on show were short-range battlefield devices.

Atsushi Tago, professor of international relations at Tokyo’s Waseda University, said the absence of the ICBMs could signal Kim’s willingness to “denuclearise” and raise prospects for talks with the United States.

“It would be logical to interpret that North Korea would still like to be in line with the Trump-Kim agreement in Singapore,” Tago said.

At their meeting on June 12, Trump and Kim agreed to work towards “complete denuclearisation” of the peninsula.

According to South Korean diplomatic sources, Trump also underscored the need for North Korea to shut down its ICBM facilities. Kim agreed to take action on the missiles but the agreement was not included in the two leaders’ joint declaration, the sources said.

Aircraft fly in formation as part of North Korea’s 70th anniversary celebrations in Pyongyang on Sunday. Photo: AP

Monitoring group 38 North said satellite images taken on August 3 suggested that North Korea had started dismantling ICBM facilities at Sohae, about 200km (120 miles) northwest of Pyongyang.

Song Zhongping, a former member of China’s rocket corps, said Sunday’s “low-profile” parade indicated that Kim did not want to sent any signals that might provoke Washington.

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“There were no Hwasong-14s, Pukguksongs or other weapons of mass destruction that could threaten the US – just some conventional and defensive arms,” Song said.

“Pyongyang doesn’t want to irritate the US and the international community amid the new calm on the Korean peninsula.

“Kim also wants to create a ‘good atmosphere’ for his third meeting with [South Korean President] Moon Jae-in next week.”

Song said Kim might also be aiming for another summit with the US president.

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“The North wants to show their ‘determination and sincerity’ for denuclearisation, as Kim desires continued negotiations with Trump,” he said.

Zhao Tong, a fellow in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Programme at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, said another goal might be economic.

In April, Kim said the country was shifting away from its byungjin twin-track policy of developing nuclear weapons and the economy at the same time, to focusing solely on the economy.

North Koreans march with a float during a parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the country’s foundation in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sunday. Photo: EPA-EFE

“North Korea has a strategic interest in building a positive relationship with the US to create a favourable environment for its economic development … By refraining from showing off its most provocative missiles, North Korea seeks to maintain the momentum of improving bilateral relations with the US and of breaking its international isolation,” Zhao said.

“[This] also makes it easier for the widely speculated visit by the Chinese president to take place.

“Xi’s visit would be an important step forward.”

Zhang Baohui, professor of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said the lower-key parade worked in China’s favour.

“Trump has been saying that China is undermining his Korea policy by encouraging Kim not to denuclearise … Beijing does want to de-escalate the rising mistrust between China and Trump over the North Korean issue. So the restrained parade should give Trump little excuse to further criticise China,” Zhang said.

But analysts were sceptical that the gesture would speed up the denuclearisation process.

“The restraint by North Korea does not necessarily mean it will implement denuclearisation as promised … Fundamentally, North Korea’s nuclear quest is driven by its profound insecurity and mistrust against the US,” Zhang said.

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David Tsui, a Zhongshan-based war historian also known as Xu Zerong, said that “whatever Kim has done, the US would not trust him”.

“It’s impossible to change a communist dictatorship … If the US proves that the North has held on to some nuclear weapons, [the Americans] will definitely wipe him out,” Tsui said.