Category: Politics

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.

Homeland Security Will Now Refer 100% Of Illegal Southwest Border Crossings For Prosecution

Yesterday, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III delivered remarks in San Diego, California discussing immigration enforcement actions of the Trump Administration.

Here are some highlights from the Attorney General’s remarks:

Today we are here to send a message to the world: we are not going to let this country be overwhelmed.

****

That’s why the Department of Homeland Security is now referring 100 percent of illegal Southwest Border crossings to the Department of Justice for prosecution.  And the Department of Justice will take up those cases.

I have put in place a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border.  If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you.  It’s that simple.

If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you.

If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.

If you make false statements to an immigration officer or file a fraudulent asylum claim, that’s a felony.

If you help others to do so, that’s a felony, too.  You’re going to jail.

     ****

In order to carry out these important new enforcement policies, I have sent 35 prosecutors to the Southwest and moved 18 immigration judges to the border.  These are supervisory judges that don’t have existing caseloads and will be able to function full time on moving these cases.  That will be about a 50 percent increase in the number of immigration judges who will be handling the asylum claims.

Previously, the Attorney General sent a memorandum to all federal prosecutors on April 11, 2018, titled Renewed Commitment to Criminal Immigration Enforcement , detailing new charging-practice policies in immigration cases. A Statement from DHS Press Secretary on April Border Numbers, released May, 2018, echoes the Attorney General’s remarks, warning: “If you enter our country illegally, you have broken the law and will be referred for prosecution.  DHS has zero tolerance for those who break the law and will no longer exempt classes or groups of individuals from prosecution.  Whether you are a single adult or an adult member of a family unit, if you are apprehended you will be prosecuted and put in removal proceedings.” The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s border migration numbers for April 2018 are here.

As The Sentinel Sees It:

The Sentinel is deeply concerned with the matter of illegal immigration and serious criminal acts involved with human smuggling across the borders of our great land.

We are likewise concerned about the overreaching nature Mr. Sessions past acts, both in the Senate and as our Attorney General and worry that this most current action will not reduce the number of people desperate to reach our country, but will instead increase their desperation, risking the lives of our troops and border agents.

Criminal prosecution zero tolerance policies take charging discretion away from the local United States Attorneys, who are put in place specifically for the purpose of determining, on a case-by-case basis, what the appropriate action is in any given situation.

These men and woman are selected carefully, not just for their extensive legal experience, but also for their awareness of the needs of their local communities.  The exercise of their discretion and common sense help keep our justice system, if not perfect, one of best in the world.

Zero tolerance policies and Washington based mandates don’t only call into question the level of trust Attorney General Sessions has in our nation’s U.S. Attorneys, it also questions his respect for our entire system of justice and the will of the American people.

This matter extends well beyond the important question of immigration into other essential areas.  Stripping the United States Attorneys of their charging discretion on this issue could well lead to a loss of it on others until, ultimately, only bureaucratic absolutes from the District remain.

The Sentinel stands firm on the importance of recognizing and addressing criminal conduct, but urges AG Sessions and President Trump to review this “zero tolerance” mandate and return charging authority to were it belongs, in the hands of the experienced men and women the President appointed and the Senate confirmed to make such decisions.

 

 

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.

Supreme Court Hears States Beg For Your Bucks

Online shoppers have gotten used to seeing that line on checkout screens before they click “purchase.” But a case before the Supreme Court could change that.

At issue is a rule stemming from two, decades-old Supreme Court cases: If a business is shipping to a state where it doesn’t have an office, warehouse or other physical presence, it doesn’t have to collect the state’s sales tax.

That means large retailers such as Apple, Macy’s, Target and Walmart, which have brick-and-mortar stores nationwide, generally collect sales tax from customers who buy from them online. But other online sellers, from 1-800 Contacts to home goods site Wayfair, can often sidestep charging the tax.

More than 40 states are asking the Supreme Court to reconsider that rule in a case being argued Tuesday. They say they’re losing out on “billions of dollars in tax revenue each year, requiring cuts to critical government programs” and that their losses compound as online shopping grows. But small businesses that sell online say the complexity and expense of collecting taxes nationwide could drive them out of business.

Large retailers want all businesses to “be playing by the same set of rules,” said Deborah White, the president of the litigation arm of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents more than 70 of America’s largest retailers.

For years, the issue of whether out-of-state sellers should collect sales tax had to do mostly with one company: Amazon.com. The online giant is said to account for more than 40 percent of U.S. online retail sales. But as Amazon has grown, dotting the country with warehouses, it has had to charge sales tax in more and more places.

President Donald Trump has slammed the company, accusing it of paying “little or no taxes” to state and local governments. But since 2017, Amazon has been collecting sales tax in every state that charges it. Third-party sellers that use Amazon to sell products make their own tax collection decisions, however.

 

The case now before the Supreme Court could affect those third-party Amazon sellers and many other sellers that don’t collect taxes in all states — sellers such as jewelry website Blue Nile, pet products site Chewy.com, clothing retailer L.L. Bean, electronics retailer Newegg and internet retailer Overstock.com. Sellers on eBay and Etsy, which provide platforms for smaller sellers, also don’t collect sales tax nationwide.

States generally require consumers who weren’t charged sales tax on a purchase to pay it themselves, often through self-reporting on their income tax returns. But states have found that only about 1 percent to 2 percent actually pay.

States would capture more of that tax if out-of-state sellers had to collect it, and states say software has made sales tax collection simple.

Out-of-state sellers disagree, calling it costly and extraordinarily complex, with tax rates and rules that vary not only by state but also by city and county. For example, in Illinois, Snickers are taxed at a higher rate than Twix because foods containing flour don’t count as candy. Sellers say free or inexpensive software isn’t accurate, more sophisticated software is expensive and that collecting tax nationwide would also subject them to potentially costly audits.

“For small businesses on tight margins, these costs are going to be fatal in many cases,” said Andy Pincus, who filed a brief on behalf of eBay and small businesses that use its platform.

 

The case now before the Supreme Court involves South Dakota, which has no income tax and relies heavily on sales tax for revenue. South Dakota’s governor has said the state loses out on an estimated $50 million a year in sales tax that doesn’t get collected by out-of-state sellers.

In 2016 the state passed a law requiring those sellers to collect taxes on sales into the state, a law challenging the Supreme Court precedents. The state, conceding it could win only if the Supreme Court reverses course, has lost in lower courts.

South Dakota says the high court’s previous decisions don’t reflect today’s world. The court first adopted its physical presence rule on sales tax collection in a 1967 case dealing with a catalog retailer. At the time, the court was concerned in part about the burden collecting sales tax would place on the catalog company. The court reaffirmed that ruling in 1992.

It’s unclear how the justices might align on the question this time. But three justices — Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy — have suggested a willingness to rethink those decisions. Kennedy has written that the 1992 case was “questionable even when decided” and “now harms states to a degree far greater than could have been anticipated earlier.”

“Although online businesses may not have a physical presence in some states, the Web has, in many ways, brought the average American closer to most major retailers,” he wrote in suggesting the days of inconsistent sales tax collection may be numbered. “A connection to a shopper’s favorite store is a click away regardless of how close or far the nearest storefront.”

– The American Sentinel Newsletter