Category: International

North Korean Threat Brings Bold “We’ll see” From President Trump

President Donald Trump sounded a note of caution Wednesday about his much-vaunted summit with Kim Jong Un, saying “we’ll see” after Pyongyang threatened to cancel.

Trump said the US government had not received any official word of a change in plans for the June 12 meeting in Singapore.

“We haven’t been notified at all. We’ll have to see,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

“We haven’t seen anything. We haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens. Whatever it is, it is.”

After weeks of warm words and diplomatic backslapping, Pyongyang abruptly threatened to pull out Tuesday, over US demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

In an angrily worded statement, the North warned “if the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue.”

The statement was attributed to first vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan and carried by state media KCNA.

In that case, he added, Pyongyang would have to “reconsider” its participation at next month’s summit in Singapore.

The first vice foreign minister also tore into Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton for drawing parallels between North Korea and Libya, calling the comparison “absolutely absurd.”

“We do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” he said of Bolton.

Bolton has pushed the idea of a deal with North Korea like that reached with Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi, who agreed in 2003 to the elimination of his country’s nuclear program and chemical weapons arsenal to gain sanctions relief.

After giving up his atomic program, Kadhafi was killed in 2011 in an uprising backed by NATO bombing.

– A plea from China –

Experts have not been surprised by the sudden about face, expecting bumps in the road as tough issues to be discussed in the meeting come into sharper focus.

Washington is pressing for North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. But so far, the North has given no public indication of what it is offering, beyond a broad commitment to denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula.”

Pyongyang “made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” the North Korean minister said.

In the past, Pyongyang has demanded the withdrawal of US troops stationed in the South, and an end to Washington’s nuclear umbrella over its ally.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally, called for the summit to go ahead.

“The situation on the peninsula has eased up, which is worth cherishing,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

Minister Kim also dismissed offers by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for US economic aid if the North denuclearizes.

“We have never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future,” he said.

The White House said plans for the summit were moving ahead.

“The president is ready if the meeting takes place. And if it doesn’t, we will continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been ongoing,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

– Tightrope diplomacy –

The North Korean warning follows a weeks-long charm offensive that has seen Kim Jong Un hold a historic summit with the South’s president and meet twice with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Pyongyang also raised hopes ahead of the US summit by announcing it will destroy its nuclear testing site next week.

Analysts said Pyongyang appeared to be trying to redefine the terms of the debate.

“It’s a diplomatic tactic,” Kim Hyun-wook, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, told AFP, calling it “brinkmanship to change the US position.”

“It looks like Kim Jong Un was pushed into accepting US demands for ‘denuclearization-first’ but is now trying to change its position after normalizing North Korea-China relations and securing economic assistance,” he added.

“The classic North Korean tightrope diplomacy between the US and China has begun.”

US officials have repeatedly claimed credit for Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy for bringing Pyongyang to the negotiating table.

Joshua Pollack of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies said Pyongyang had been irritated by the “triumphalist tone.”

“The North Koreans aren’t happy with what they’re seeing and hearing,” he said. “There is still a yawning gulf between expectations for diplomacy in Pyongyang and Washington, DC.”

– Thunderstruck –

KCNA also denounced the Max Thunder joint military exercises being held between the US and South Korea as a “rude and wicked provocation,” and Seoul said it had received a message cancelling planned high-level talks “indefinitely.”

The two-week drills started last Friday and involves some 100 aircraft from the two allies, including F-22 stealth fighter jets.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters it had received “no notification” of a position change by North Korea on next month’s meeting.

The exercises were “not provocative” and would continue, she added.

U.S. Seeks Continued Inspections if Iranian Nuclear Sites

The White House wants intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites to continue despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from a landmark accord on Tehran’s atomic program, US officials have told America media agencies.

Days after the president walked away from a three-year-old deal that mandated rigorous scrutiny of Iranian facilities, senior administration officials said monitoring should continue regardless.

Known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal between Tehran and major world powers forces Iran to open any site to inspectors within 24 days at most and introduced 24-hour remote surveillance at some sites.

Supporters of the Obama-era accord argue it provided “the world’s most robust” monitoring regime, allowing access to the Islamic republic’s most sensitive nuclear sites.

Speaking at a rally in Indiana on Thursday Trump said tough inspections were still needed.

“We must be able to go to a site and check that site. We have to be able to go into their military bases to see whether or not they’re cheating,” he said.

The White House is demanding the existing inspection regime, however imperfect, continue under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.

“We expect Iran will continue to implement the Additional Protocol and cooperate with the IAEA whether or not the JCPOA remains in place,” one senior administration official said.

A second official confirmed on Thursday that Washington still wanted the inspections.

Other signatories to the Iran deal — including Tehran, China and European powers — have vowed to press ahead with the agreement’s implementation.

But officials are privately skeptical about how long it can survive, particularly if the United States imposes sanctions on European companies doing business in Iran.

And non-proliferation experts have warned that a vital window into Iran’s nuclear activities could be lost.

“If the agreement collapses, Iran is under no obligation to implement any of these provisions, either the Additional Protocol or the deal-specific measures,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

“The nuclear deal with Iran put the country’s program under a microscope,” she explained, saying the measures serve as “an early warning system that will set off alarm bells if Iran tries to cheat on its commitments or conduct illicit activities.”

– Are inspections effective? –

Since the nuclear accord was reached in 2015, the IAEA has carried out hundreds of inspections inside Iran.

That includes monitoring at Fordo, an underground fuel enrichment plant inside a base used by Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The JCPOA adds an extra layer of scrutiny not found in existing accords, including monitoring of mines and restrictions on multi-point detonation systems and nuclear computer simulations.

The IAEA has so far confirmed that Iran is adhering to its “nuclear-related commitments,” although the US administration questions that conclusion.

“You cannot say that Iran is in compliance unless you are 100 percent certain that the IAEA and our intelligence are infallible,” said US national security advisor John Bolton.

That approach has left some questioning why the administration wants monitoring to continue at all.

“If they don’t trust the inspections, I don’t know why they would be strongly encouraging Iran to comply,” said Corey Hinderstein, a fuel cycle expert who previously worked on implementation of the deal at the Department of Energy.

“The fact is the inspections are and have been effective,” she said.

American citizens are working on the IAEA inspection team, but are based in Vienna, not on the ground in Iran.

Hinderstein said there is every indication that the US is preparing to pull out of other non-inspection mechanisms in the agreement, including converting the Arak heavy water reactor and the “procurement channel” that regulates the import of dual use materials to Iran.

Trump has described the agreement as “the worst deal in history” and vowed to renegotiate it.

He has also warned that Iran will be punished if it returns to military-scale uranium enrichment.

“If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before,” Trump said.

U. S. F-22 Stealth Fighters Arrive In Korea

American F-22 stealth fighter jets have arrived in South Korea ahead of a joint air force drill, Seoul said Wednesday, despite a recent diplomatic thaw with Pyongyang.

The “Raptor” fighters previously flew to the South in December when Seoul and Washington staged their largest-ever joint air exercise, days after North Korea test-fired a missile believed capable of hitting the US mainland.

The North customarily reacts with anger to the deployment of American stealth fighters, which it fears could be used for surgical strikes against its leadership and strategic facilities.

The confirmation came after local newspapers said eight F-22 jets arrived Sunday at a military airbase in the southern city of Gwangju.

The “Max Thunder” drill will kick off on May 11 for a two-week run, with the reported participation of some 100 aircraft from both countries.

“Max Thunder is a regular exercise that has been on the docket long before a planned US-North Korea summit”, the South’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.

It urged news media to refrain from producing “speculative reports” about the intention of the deployment aside from the routine exercise.

That request came after the conservative Chosun Ilbo daily claimed the aircraft deployment was apparently aimed at heaping pressure on Pyongyang ahead of a planned summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.

The Panmunjom truce village in the demilitarised zone between North and South, where a rare inter-Korean summit successfully convened last week, has emerged as a possible venue for the Kim-Trump meeting.

Chosun suggested the arrival of F-22 jets could also be aimed at bolstering security in case the North Korea-US summit takes place at Panmunjom.

NATO Guardedly Recognizes Historic Korea Meeting’s Significance


NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg hailed Friday’s historic summit between the leaders of North and South Korea as “encouraging”, but warned of more challenges ahead.

“This is a first step, it is encouraging, but we have to realise there is still a lot of hard work that lies ahead of us,” Stoltenberg said at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met the South’s President Moon Jae-in and agreed to pursue permanent peace and the complete denuclearisation of their divided peninsula.

Stoltenberg said the landmark meeting had come about as a result of the intense political, diplomatic and economic pressure the international community had exerted on Pyongyang.

“The most important thing today is to welcome the fact they have met, and even though there’s a long way to go before we see a full resolution to the crisis and the problems we see on the Korean peninsula, I think this is a very important first step,” the former Norwegian premier said.

 

Photo: NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg

France & Iran Combine Forces to Defend Iran Nuclear Deal to U.S.A.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French leader Emmanuel Macron launched a joint defence of the Iranian nuclear deal on Monday but expressed differences on how to move forward as US President Donald Trump weighs up whether to scrap it.

The Kremlin said Putin and Macron were both calling for “strict observance” of the hard-fought 2015 agreement after a phone call between the two leaders.

Macron’s office however said that while the pair agreed on the need to “preserve the gains from the agreement”, the French leader was also pushing for international talks on a potential wider deal.

“The president expressed his desire for discussions on controlling (Iran’s) nuclear activity after 2025, in close cooperation with Russia, other permanent members of the UN Security Council, European and regional powers,” the French statement said.

Trump has a May 12 deadline to decide on whether or not to walk away from the deal, which he has derided as “insane” partly because its restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities begin expiring in 2025.

Moscow has previously said there was “no alternative” to the agreement and that Tehran’s position on the issue was paramount. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has rejected any suggestion of rewriting the deal.

The agreement, thrashed out between Tehran and six world powers after fraught negotiations, saw Iran agree to freeze its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

But Trump has called for it to be altered or scrapped.

Macron has positioned himself as an emissary for European officials seeking a compromise that would keep the deal intact. He has previously suggested an additional deal that extends Iran’s nuclear restrictions.

But after a state visit to the US this week, he admitted he had failed to secure any promise from Trump to keep the deal alive.

Major European powers Britain, France and Germany all remain committed to the pact, saying it is the best way to keep Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb.

– ‘Hi, Vladimir’ –

Along with urging fresh negotiations on Iran, Macron called for international talks on the wars in Syria and Yemen with the support of Russia.

He “indicated his wish for Russia to play a constructive role in all of these questions to avoid tensions mounting in the region”, the statement said, in a nod to increasingly cold relations between Russia and the West.

The French president, who has argued for keeping European communications open with Moscow despite tensions over the war in Syria, is due to visit Russia on May 24 and 25.

A video posted to Macron’s official Twitter account showed him calling Putin from his plane en route to Australia, in which he addresses the Russian leader warmly as “Vladimir” using the informal form of “you”.

“Hi Vladimir, how are you?” he is heard saying. “Thanks for agreeing to this phone call, I wanted to talk to you to take stock of the situation.”

Aside:  Trump and Macron planted a tree — but where did it go?
The photograph was seen around the world: US President Donald Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron, gilded spades in hand, shovelling dirt over a young sapling.

A week ago, at the beginning of Macron’s visit to Washington, the French president joined his American counterpart to throw handfuls of soil on the roots of a young oak tree as the their respective first ladies looked on

It was a symbolic gesture: the tree came from a northern French forest where 2,000 US Marines died during the First World War.

But a few days later, the plant was nowhere to be seen.

Amid fervent speculation, France on Sunday came through with an explanation: the tree, now not just a plant but a symbol of US-French relations, had been placed in quarantine.

“It is a quarantine which is mandatory for any living organism imported into the US,” Gerard Araud, French ambassador to America, wrote on Twitter.

“It will be replanted afterwards.”

When a follower fired back that the caution seemed a bit late — given that the tree had already been planted — the diplomat went on to confirm that the roots had been enclosed in plastic.

 

Photo: Iran’s Atomic Energy Research Center at Bonab is investigating the applications of nuclear technology in agriculture.