North Korea’s Insane Little Fat Boy Gives The ‘Bird’ To The World, Fires Another Missile

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Ju-min Park | SEOUL

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into waters off its east coast on Sunday, its second missile test in a week, which South Korea said dashed the hopes of the South’s new liberal government for peace between the neighbors.

A South Korean military official said the missile appeared to be an upgraded, extended-range version of the North’s solid-fuel submarine-launched missile. The missile fired a week ago flew was liquid-fueled, and flew further.

North Korea has defied all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally, saying the weapons are needed for legitimate self-defense.

The reclusive state has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland. On Saturday, it said it had developed the capability to strike the U.S. mainland, although Western missile experts say the claim is exaggerated.

The United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss the latest test at the request of the United States, Japan and South Korea, diplomats said on Sunday.

An official traveling with U.S. President Donald Trump in Saudi Arabia said the White House was aware of the latest launch and noted that the missile had a shorter range than the three previous missiles that North Korea had tested.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said economic and diplomatic pressure would continue to be applied to North Korea.

left
right
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to North Korean scientists and technicians, who developed missile ‘Hwasong-12’ in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) May 20, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS

“The ongoing testing is disappointing, disturbing and we ask that they cease that,” he said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday”.

The two missile tests in a week complicate plans by South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in to seek ways to reduce tension on the peninsula. Moon took office eleven days ago after winning an election on a platform of a more moderate approach to the North, with which the South is still technically at war since no peace treaty was signed at the end of their 1950-1953 conflict.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said the tests were “reckless and irresponsible actions throwing cold water over the hopes and desires of this new government and the international community for denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the latest missile test by the reclusive North was “a snub and a challenge to international efforts for a peaceful resolution”.

Abe told reporters after a meeting of Japan’s National Security Council that he wanted to raise the issue of North Korean missile launches at the Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Italy this month. China had no immediate comment.

RIVAL TEAMS

Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said the North appeared to be testing and perfecting both solid and liquid-fueled missiles, which might help explain why the pace of its tests had increased.

“I think the team to develop liquid fuel missiles are being pitted against the solid fuel team,” Kim said. “The liquid fuel team succeeded on May 14 so the solid fuel team went for another round to achieve success. That is why the speed of North Korea’s missile development is going beyond imagination.”

Sunday’s missile was launched at 0759 GMT (3:59 a.m. ET) from a location near Pukchang, 60 km (36 miles) northeast of the capital Pyongyang, an area where North Korea attempted to test-launch another missile last month but failed, South Korea’s Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

The missile flew about 500 km (310 miles), it said. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and no damage to ships or airplanes was reported.

“The flight range was 500 km and South Korea and the United States are closely analyzing additional information,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

On Saturday, North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said in a commentary: “The U.S. mainland and the Pacific operational theater are within the strike range of the DPRK and the DPRK has all kinds of powerful means for annihilating retaliatory strike.” North Korea’s full name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

For a graphic on North Korea missile launch, click here

(Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Tim Kelly in Tokyo, Jeff Mason in Riyadh and Michele Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Peter Graff and Sandra Maler)

On First Day In office, South Korean President Talks About Going To North

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

On first day in office, South Korean president talks about going to North

Will South Korea have a new approach toward North Korea, U.S.?
 
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, is wary of America’s role in his country and has signaled he is open to warmer ties with North Korea. This has raised concerns in Washington(The Washington Post)
May 10 at 10:13 AM
South Korea’s new president said Wednesday that he would be willing to hold talks in Washington and Pyongyang in efforts to ease the North Korean nuclear crisis, wasting no time in embarking on a new approach to dealing with Kim Jong Un’s regime.The offer of shuttle diplomacy by Moon Jae-in came shortly after he was sworn in as president after winning a snap election triggered by the impeachment of former conservative leader Park Geun-hye.Moon had vowed on the campaign trail to resume engagement with North Korea, a sharp change from the hard-line approach taken by South Korea’s past two governments — and by the international community — in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches.

“I will endeavor to address the security crisis promptly,” Moon said at the National Assembly in Seoul. “If needed, I will immediately fly to Washington. I will also visit Beijing and Tokyo and even Pyongyang under the right circumstances.”

Reinforcing his stance, Moon appointed two top aides with experience in dealing with North Korea.

He nominated Suh Hoon, a former intelligence official who arranged the two inter-Korean presidential summits held in the 2000s, to lead the National Intelligence Service.

Suh lived in North Korea for two years beginning in 1997 to run an energy project that was part of a 1994 denuclearization deal with North Korea. He met the North’s leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, during North-South summits in 2000 and 2007.

Moon also appointed as his chief of staff a former lawmaker who, as a student, went to North Korea to meet the state’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Moon’s first words and actions as president show his determination to revive the South Korean “sunshine policy” of engaging North Korea rather than isolating it.

But this would put South Korea at odds with the United States, where President Trump has vowed to use “maximum pressure” to force the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, and with an international community that is largely supportive of tougher sanctions.

The sunshine policy was started in 1998 by Kim Dae-jung, a former pro-democracy activist who became South Korea’s first liberal president.

The policy got its name from an Aesop fable in which the wind and the sun compete to make a traveler take off his coat. The sun gently warms the traveler and succeeds, the moral of the fable being that gentle persuasion works better than force.

Kim Dae-jung engaged Pyongyang by laying the groundwork for a tourism project at mountain on the North Korean side of the border that South Koreans were allowed to visit. After his summit with Kim Jong Il, families separated when the peninsula was divided were allowed to meet for reunions. Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts.

His successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued the policy, opening a joint industrial park near the inter-Korean border where North Koreans would work in South Korean-owned factories, helping both sides. Roh went to Pyongyang for his own summit with Kim Jong Il near the end of his tenure in 2007.

Moon, who had started a law firm with Roh, served as his chief of staff in the presidential Blue House and was involved in North Korea policy during this time.

But the two conservative presidents who succeeded Kim and Roh abandoned the sunshine policy, instead promoting direct and multilateral sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear ambitions.

After North Korea’s fourth nuclear test last year, Park closed the joint industrial park, declaring that the money was going directly to the North Korean regime. In the 12 years that the complex was in operation, North Korea had made a total of about $560 million from the site, her government said.

During his campaign, Moon said he would seek to reopen the industrial park and tourism projects, and would be willing to met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang if necessary.

Returning to an engagement approach would “increase of predictability and permanence of inter-Korean policies” and help the South Korean economy, Moon said.

But reviving such inter-Korean cooperation will be difficult, analysts say.

For starters, the world is a very different place now than it was in 1997.

Then, North Korea did not have a proven nuclear weapons program. Now, it has conducted five nuclear tests, and Kim Jong Un seems hellbent on developing missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to the United States.

Plus, North Korean attacks on South Korea — including the sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette in 2010 and the shelling of a South Korean island, which together claimed 50 lives — have sapped South Korean goodwill toward North Korea.

Increasingly strict sanctions have been imposed through the United Nations in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, and both the United States and South Korea have also imposed direct prohibitions on dealing with North Korea.

“The international community has moved decisively toward a more sanctions and less engagement approach with North Korea, and even South Korea’s own domestic laws will make grandiose unaccountable inter-Korean engagement more difficult,” Marcus Noland and Kent Boydston of the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote in an analysis.

If South Korea were to say that special considerations apply on the peninsula, the Moon administration would “bring South Korea into immediate diplomatic conflict with the U.S. and undercut China’s already tepid willingness to implement sanctions,” they wrote.

Even raising the specter of a sunshine-policy approach will complicate the international community’s efforts to make North Korea give up its nuclear program, said David Straub, a former official in the State Department who worked on North Korea.

“It’s a real challenge to the American-led effort to put maximum pressure on North Korea,” said Straub, who is now at the Sejong Institute, a think tank devoted to North Korea, outside Seoul.

Moon’s policy is much closer to China’s than to the United States’ policy, he noted.

“South Korea has tremendous influence in the international community on this issue, and that in itself is a challenge for President Trump,” Straub said, noting that Kim Dae-jung and Roh both bad-mouthed President George W. Bush’s approach at that time.

But Lee Jong-seok, who served as unification minister during the Roh administration, said a decade of sanctions has not worked.

“It’s now time for the U.S. to review its policy of imposing pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program. Has North Korea recognized its wrongdoings as a result of this policy of applying strong pressure?” Lee asked.

Moon realizes that pressure alone is not sufficient for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and that the key is to pursue both dialogue and pressure, he said.

“President Moon will combine sanctions and dialogue, but which comes first will be decided after talking to relevant nations like the U.S. and China,” Lee said. “South Korea can’t unilaterally hold talks while everyone else is sanctioning North Korea.”

Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.

Hannover evacuates 50,000 over World War Two bombs: (If This Type Of Event Were On An American City; It Would Be The Lead News; Not Silence!)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Europe selected

  • 1 hour ago
  • From the section Europe
Elderly people from a senior care facility wait to board a bus as part of the evacuation of 50,000 people on 7 May, 2017 in Hannover, Germany.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Elderly people are moved out of a care home in the evacuation zone

About 50,000 people in Hannover have been evacuated from their homes while experts defuse three British bombs dating from World War Two.

The operation is the second largest of its kind carried out in Germany, and has affected around a tenth of the city’s population.

The buildings evacuated included seven care homes, a clinic and a Continental tyre plant.

Officials hope those affected will be able to return home by the evening.

The evacuation deadline was 09:00 (07:00 GMT) and residents were advised to take necessary items like medication with them, as well as turning off gas and electrical appliances.

Local news outlet Hannoversche Allgemeine reported [in German] on Sunday afternoon that two unexploded bombs had been defused, and a third – which was severely damaged – might have to be made safe using a specialised cutting machine.

Two other suspected bombs had turned out to be harmless scrap metal, it said.

No firm deadline has been given for when the restricted zone will return to normal. Road blocks have been set up to prevent cars from re-entering the area.

Emergency shelters have been established at three schools, and tens of thousands of soup portions prepared.

Bomb disposal experts had initially checked as many as 13 suspicious objects, but only five were found to merit further attention – two on a building site at the city’s Wedelstaße, and three others nearby.

The city has set up a programme of museum tours, children’s films and sporting events to help evacuees spend the day as pleasantly as possible.

A view of the location where unexploded bombs from World War II might possibly lie underground on May 7, 2017 in Hanover, Germany.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Experts believe unexploded bombs may be underground on this building site
Residents wait for the tram as part of the evacuation of 50,000 people on May 7, 2017 in Hanover, Germany.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Locals wait for the tram as the evacuation deadline approaches

Allied planes bombed Hannover heavily during World War Two, killing thousands and destroying much of the city.

On 9 October 1943, an especially deadly night, 1,245 people were killed and 250,000 left homeless by 261,000 bombs.

The largest bomb-related evacuation since the war happened on Christmas Day last year, in Augsburg.

Some 54,000 people had to be moved after a 1.8 tonne bomb was unearthed during building work.

Other WW2 bombs recently discovered in Germany


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North Korea Fires Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile: Blows Up 22 Miles Into Flight

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) North Korea on Saturday launched a ballistic missile that blew up over land, a spokesman for the US Pacific Command said.

The missile didn’t leave North Korean territory, US Navy Cmdr. Dave Benham said.
A US military assessment found the main part of the missile landed approximately 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Pukchang airfield, a US official told CNN.
“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!,” US President Donald Trump tweeted.
South Korean officials said the test likely was a failure.
“We are analyzing additional information,” the nation’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. “Our military is maintaining a thorough defense posture while keeping a close eye on the possibility of North Korea’s further provocations.”
White House officials said Trump was briefed as Air Force One returned to Maryland from Atlanta, where Trump earlier addressed a meeting of the National Rifle Association.
The test-fired missile probably was a medium-range ballistic missile called a KN-17, the US official said. The KN-17 is a land-based solid-fuel missile fired from a mobile launcher.
There has been no announcement on North Korean state television, CNN’s Will Ripley in Pyongyang reported.

Analyst: Planned provocation from North Korea

John Kirby, a CNN military and diplomatic analyst, said the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a message for the United States and others.
“This is Kim giving us the finger. Giving China the finger. Giving the UN the finger. I think timing is absolutely planned and preordained in his mind,” he said.
Trump’s administration has delivered a drumbeat of warnings about the dangers of North Korea this week, using presidential statements, an unusual White House briefing for the Senate, and a White House lunch for UN ambassadors to underscore that Pyongyang is a priority.
The US military has moved an aircraft carrier strike group into the region, docked a powerful nuclear submarine in South Korea and staged large military drills with South Korea and Japan.
When asked whether the missile test was provocative, US deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland said North Korea has been “provocative all along.” But “there is reason to be concerned” about North Korea’s missile tests, she added.
On Thursday, the President told Reuters: “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.” But Trump said he would prefer a diplomatic resolution.
Washington is hopeful the Chinese can help there.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Fox News on Thursday that China has threatened North Korea with sanctions if the regime conducts a nuclear test. North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test last fall, and observers have said a sixth test could be near.
China remains one of North Korea’s only allies and is responsible for much of the heavily-sanctioned nation’s economy.

Launch follows special UN meeting

It is North Korea’s ninth attempted missile launch — by CNN’s count — since Trump became President in January. Some of those missiles reached the the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, but Saturday’s test apparently did not.
Kirby said there is no such thing as a failed missile attempt for North Korea’s Kim.
“He learns from every single attempt, and he gets knowledge, and he gets intel. And he takes those lessons learned and just churns them right over into the next one,” Kirby said.
The launch came hours after Tillerson addressed a special meeting at the United Nations, calling for increased pressure on North Korea.
“All options for responding to future provocations must remain on the table,” Tillerson said. “Diplomatic and financial leverage or power will be backed up by willingness to counteract North Korean aggression with military action, if necessary.”
Uruguay UN Ambassador Elbio Rosselli condemned the apparent missile test.
The ambassador, who sits on the UN Security Council, said, “That’s very disgraceful.”
He said that it was “against international law and humanity.”
Italy’s ambassador, Sebastiano Cardi, said the UN meeting was “very, very positive.”
“We hope that Pyongyang will refrain from any other further escalation because it is not what we hope for,” said Cardi, who heads the UN committee that could sanction North Korea.

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

By Michelle Nichols and Lesley Wroughton | UNITED NATIONS

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned on Friday that failure to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile development could lead to ‘catastrophic consequences,’ while China and Russia cautioned Washington against threatening military force.

Washington has recently lavished praise on Beijing for its efforts to rein in its ally Pyongyang, but Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made clear to the U.N. Security Council it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.

“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang told the 15-member council in remarks contradicting the White House belief that it does wield significant influence.

The ministerial meeting of the council, chaired by Tillerson, exposed old divisions between the United States and China on how to deal with North Korea. China wants talks first and action later, while the United States wants North Korea to curtail its nuclear program before such talks start.

“It is necessary to put aside the debate over who should take the first step and stop arguing who is right and who is wrong,” Wang told the council. “Now is the time to seriously consider resuming talks.”

Tillerson responded: “We will not negotiate our way back to the negotiating table with North Korea, we will not reward their violations of past resolutions, we will not reward their bad behavior with talks.”

North Korea did not take part in the meeting.

In Tillerson’s first visit to the United Nations he scolded the Security Council for not fully enforcing sanctions against North Korea, saying if the body had acted, tensions over its nuclear program might not have escalated.

“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” he said.

The United States was not pushing for regime change and preferred a negotiated solution, but Pyongyang, for its own sake, should dismantle its nuclear and missile programs, he said.

“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options are on the table if Pyongyang persists with its nuclear and missile development, but Wang said military threats would not help.

‘FRIGHTENING’ CONSEQUENCES

Wang said dialogue and negotiations were the “only way out.”

“The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov cautioned on Friday that the use of force would be “completely unacceptable.”

“The combative rhetoric coupled with reckless muscle-flexing has led to a situation where the whole world seriously is now wondering whether there’s going to be a war or not,” he told the council. “One ill thought out or misinterpreted step could lead to the most frightening and lamentable consequences.”

Gatilov said North Korea felt threatened by regular joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises and the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula.

China and Russia both also repeated their opposition to the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea. Gatilov described it as a “destabilizing effort,” while Wang said it damaged trust among the parties on the North Korea issue.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the council that to bring North Korea back to the table the international community “must send a strong message that provocation comes at a high price.”

“There is no doubt that dialogue is necessary … however under the current situation where North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, meaningful dialogue is clearly not possible,” he said.

The Trump administration is focusing its North Korea strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang, U.S. officials told Reuters earlier this month.

Since 2006, North Korea has been subject to U.N. sanctions aimed at impeding the development of its nuclear and missile programs. The council has strengthened sanctions following each of North Korea’s five nuclear tests.

(Editing by Frances Kerry and James Dalgleish)

Egypt: Turkish Strikes on Kurd’s in Iraq ‘Unacceptable Violation of Sovereignty’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE OFFICIAL RUSSIAN NEWS AGENCY SPUTNIK)

Members of the Kurdish peshmerga forces gather in the town of Sinjar, Iraq. File photo

Egypt: Turkish Strikes on Kurds in Iraq ‘Unacceptable Violation of Sovereignty’

© Sputnik/ Ari Jalal

MIDDLE EAST

00:06 28.04.2017Get short URL
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Egypt has strongly condemned the recent strike conducted by the Turkish Air Force on Kurdish positions in the northern Iraqi city of Sinjar, as the incident could hinder efforts in the fight against terrorism, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

CAIRO (Sputnik) — On Tuesday, the Turkish General Staff said that about 70 Kurdish fighters were killed as a result of the airstrikes in both the northeast of Syria and the north of Iraq.

“[Cairo] condemns the Turkish airstrike in the area of Sinjar mountains… such actions will complicate the situation in the region and hamper anti-terrorist efforts… these [airstrikes] are an unacceptable violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and unjustified aggression against its lands. The Arab Republic of Egypt says that it stands together with the government and people of Iraq in the face flagrant attack, which cannot be justified,” the statement said.

Tensions between Turkey and Kurds escalated in July 2015 when a ceasefire between Ankara and the PKK collapsed because of a series of terror attacks allegedly committed by PKK members. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, the United States and the European Union.Syrian Kurds on Tuesday called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to express its opinion regarding Turkish airstrikes against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) operating in the north of the country.

White House Briefs All 100 Senators On The North Korean Situation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) Nearly every US senator attended an unusual all-hands meeting on North Korea at the White House Wednesday, though afterward few said any new information emerged about the increasingly tense US standoff with Pyongyang.

Nonetheless, members of both parties said they were reassured by the hour-long administration update, which President Donald Trump appeared at only briefly before handing the session off to his top national security aides.
“It was a sobering briefing, and an important opportunity for the entire Senate to hear the emerging plans of the Trump administration to confront what is a very real threat to our security,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware.

WH summons lawmakers for North Korea briefings

WH summons lawmakers for North Korea briefings
Other lawmakers said they learned little during the session, which was held in a large auditorium in a building adjacent to the West Wing.
“It was an OK briefing,” said Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Oregon Democrat, said on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” that they learned nothing new in terms of details on the administration’s thinking on North Korea and any potential actions the US could take in response to another nuclear test. He said he believed the White House’s decision to have the meeting was for “optics.”
“We learned nothing you couldn’t read in the newspaper,” Merkley said.
Likewise, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” that she did not see new information in the White House briefing “at all.”
“It felt more like a dog and pony show to me than anything else,” Duckworth said. “I guess it has something to with this 100 days in office.”
The varied responses came after some grumbling from lawmakers about the highly unusual nature of convening the session on White House grounds instead of on Capitol Hill. Administration officials said it was merely a logistical choice rather than an attempt to convey any particular message.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led Wednesday’s session.
Lawmakers traveled together in a fleet of buses from across town to attend the hour-long mid-afternoon briefing. Returning to Capitol Hill, none said they heard any new revelations from the administration officials.
“I didn’t hear anything new because I have been heavily briefed before,” said Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It’s a very serious situation, just as I had (thought) before I went there.”
Expectations for the session had varied among lawmakers, who are usually briefed on national security matters on Capitol Hill.
Some said they looked forward to hearing directly from Trump about his strategy moving forward. Others questioned why the session was occurring at the White House at all, suggesting the gathering could amount to a substance-free — and inconvenient — photo-op.

N. Korea holds large-scale artillery drill amid tensions

N. Korea holds large-scale artillery drill amid tensions 03:54

Trump administration officials, however, downplayed any suggestion that holding the meeting on the White House campus was meant to convey any particular message. Instead, they characterized it as a logistical arrangement between Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“That meeting is a Senate meeting led by Leader McConnell, just utilizing our space,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said. “So that is their meeting. So we’re not there to talk strategy.”

US submarine arrives in South Korea

US submarine arrives in South Korea
Speaking to reporters, Coons said the decision to brief every US senator sent a positive signal about the administration’s seriousness in addressing threats from North Korea.
“I’m fine coming here,” he said. “Frankly if the President and his entire national security leadership team wants to provide a thorough, detailed consultation with the Senate, I think that’s constructive.”
A spokesman for McConnell said Tuesday that Trump himself offered the White House as a venue for the briefing after McConnell requested an administration update on North Korea.
“The President offered to host the meeting and the Majority Leader agreed,” said McConnell’s spokesman, David Popp.
The auditorium on the White House grounds is not typically used for large-scale national security briefings, but can be outfitted to accommodate classified discussions among the lawmakers and officials, a White House official said.
Senators are regularly briefed by the administration on national security issues, particularly those lawmakers who sit on committees with oversight of intelligence and national security agencies. But typically those briefings occur on Capitol Hill, where rooms are specially designed for that type of sensitive discussion.
Following Wednesday’s White House gathering, many of the administration officials who conducted the meeting traveled to Capitol Hill to brief members of the House.
“I, frankly, don’t understand why it’s not easier to bring four people here than it is to take 100 there,” said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
At Tuesday’s weekly Democratic caucus lunch, there was “grumbling” about the optics of senators being summoned to the White House, according to a person in the room.
“Is this a real briefing or is this another Trump dog-and-pony show? This feels very much that this is just a Trump request to hold a photo-op, it is totally outside the normal boundaries,” said a Democratic congressional aide, who also questioned the security of the White House auditorium.
“A (secure facility) exists (on Capitol Hill) for a reason,” the aide said. “Will he be treating this as a stunt, is that the approach that he is bringing the briefing or will this be a serious conversation about North Korea?”
Popp, McConnell’s spokesman, downplayed the notion that the setting is unusual and waved off some Democratic concerns over what they see as theatrics playing into the briefing.
“This is just like any other all-senators briefing. Just a different location,” Popp said.

France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack

Story highlights

  • France finds common elements in samples from Khan Sheikhoun and a 2013 Syria attack
  • French Foreign Ministry says there’s “no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime”

(CNN) France has said that it has proof that the Syrian government was behind a chemical weapons attack in Syria earlier this month that killed 89 people.

The French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that samples taken from the attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun matched those from a previous incident.
“We have definite sources that the procedure used to make the Sarin sampled is typical of the methods developed in Syrian laboratories,” he said. “This method bears the signature of the regime, and that is what has allowed us to establish its responsibility in this attack.”
French laboratories had stored samples taken from other chemical attacks in Syria and so were able to compare them, he said.
A tweet posted by the French Foreign Ministry said: “There’s no doubt that Sarin was used. There is also no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime.”
The attack has been widely blamed by Western powers on the Syrian government, which is supposed to have given up its chemical weapon stockpile in 2013 following an attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus that activists say killed 1,400 people.
International chemical weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said last week they had found “incontrovertible” evidence that Sarin, or a similar substance, was used in the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun, but did not apportion responsibility.
UK scientists had already found that Sarin or a similar chemical had been used in the attack, having tested samples smuggled from the site.

Assad denies chemical attack in interview

Assad denies chemical attack in interview
However, Damascus denies it had anything to do with the Khan Sheikhoun attack, instead blaming “terrorist” groups. It also denies it has any chemical weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key Syrian ally, has suggested meanwhile that the attack was carried out by “forces” trying to frame the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow also questioned the impartiality of the OPCW.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russia would not change its position regarding the Khan Sheikhoun attack in light of the French assessment.
“The Kremlin and President Putin still believe that conducting an impartial international investigation is the only way to find out the truth,” state-run TASS quoted Peskov as saying.

‘Common elements’

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 5.

The French Foreign Ministry said its independent investigation, declassified so it could be shared with the world, supported “with certainty” the conclusions also reached by the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey and the OPCW.
Analysis by French experts of samples from the April 4 attack site and the blood of one of the victims confirmed the use of Sarin, its report said. Those samples were compared with samples from an attack on the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb in April 2013, in which three grenades containing Sarin were dropped by a helicopter, one of which failed to explode, it said. According to the French army, only the Syrian regime had helicopters so it had to be behind the attack.

Syrians bury the bodies of victims of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib province, on April 5, 2017.

Scientists established the presence of the same chemical compounds in samples taken from Saraqeb in 2013 and from Khan Sheikhoun, the French Foreign Ministry said. “The Sarin present in the weapons used on April 4 was produced according to the same manufacturing method as that used in the Sarin attack carried out by the Syrian regime in Saraqeb.”
The report also cited the French military’s assessment that a warplane had been deployed from the Syrian regime’s Shayrat airbase on the morning of April 4 and had carried out up to six airstrikes in the Khan Sheikhoun area. “Only the regime has such air assets,” said Ayrault.

Pentagon: No doubt Syria behind gas attack

Pentagon: No doubt Syria behind gas attack
“The French intelligence services believe that only Bashar al-Assad and some of the most influential members of his entourage are empowered to give the order to use chemical weapons,” the report added.
The report also describes the claim that rebel forces in the area had Sarin as “not credible.”
It casts doubt on the Syrian regime’s promised destruction of its chemical stockpile, saying that French intelligence services believe “important doubts remain about the accuracy, completeness and sincerity of the dismantling of the Syrian chemical arsenal.”

Missile strike

The chemical attack in Syria prompted the United States to launch its first military strike on the Syrian regime in the six-year war, causing a major rift between Washington and Moscow.
On President Donald Trump’s orders, US warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase, US officials said.
The Khan Sheikhoun incident has led to renewed calls for Assad to be forced from power, as international ceasefire and peace talks continue to end a conflict which has killed 400,000 people, according to UN data.

US Moves THAAD Anti-missile to S.Korean Site as North Shows Power

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

US Moves THAAD Anti-missile to S.Korean Site as North Shows Power

Protesters stage a rally to oppose a plan to deploy an advanced US missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, in front of the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

South Korea announced Wednesday the installation of key parts of a contentious US missile defense system meant to counter the North hours after Pyongyang displayed its military power.

South Korea said in a statement Wednesday that unspecified parts of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, were installed.

It said that Seoul and Washington have been pushing to get THAAD quickly working to cope with North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats. According to the Yonhap news agency, the parts include two or three launchers, intercept missiles and a radar.

The South Korean move triggered protests from villagers and criticism from China.

Television footage showed military trailers carrying equipment, including what appeared to be launch canisters, to
the battery site. Protesters shouted and hurled water bottles at the vehicles over lines of police holding them back.

More than 10 protesters were injured, some of them with fractures, in clashes with police, Kim Jong-kyung, a leader of villagers opposing the deployment, told Reuters.

Kim said about 200 protesters rallied overnight and they would keep up their opposition.

North Korea conducted live-fire artillery drills on Tuesday, the 85th anniversary of the founding of its million-person Korean People’s Army.

North Korea’s official media reported Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un personally observed the exercises, which involved the firing of more than 300 large-caliber artillery pieces and included submarine torpedo-attacks on mock enemy warships.

On the same day, the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived at the South Korean port of Busan for what was described as a routine visit to rest crew and load supplies. The US 7th Fleet said two American destroyers were conducting simultaneous maritime exercises with naval ships from South Korea and Japan.

And the USS Carl Vinson aircraft supercarrier is also headed toward the peninsula for a joint exercise with South Korea.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that the system’s deployment would “disrupt the regional strategic balance and further aggravate the tension on the peninsula.”

Geng said “China will firmly be taking necessary measures to defend our own interests” but offered no details. China’s defense ministry has also repeatedly criticized THAAD’s deployment and said the military will take unspecified actions in response.

In Washington, top Trump administration officials are due to brief the entire US Senate on Wednesday. A rapid tempo of North Korean weapons testing in the past year has pushed Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian nation closer to developing a nuclear-armed missile that could reach the US mainland.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Turkish Military Bombs U.S. Backed Kurdish Militia Forces Fighting Against ISIS

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) The Turkish military on Tuesday killed more than 20 members of Kurdish militia groups, some of which the United States is assisting in the fight against ISIS.

Five of the casualties were among Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, known as Peshmerga.
Others were reported by the YPG, a Kurdish group in northern Syria.
Both groups have proven to be some of the most effective fighting forces on the ground against ISIS. Yet Tuesday’s airstrikes exposed the complicated tangle of Kurdish militant groups in the region, and the tough choices that the United States faces in its regional alliances in the battle against ISIS.
The five Peshmerga fighters were killed apparently in error when Turkish warplanes carried out airstrikes on nearby positions of another group that Turkey considers to be terrorists, the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, which is usually based in Turkey.
The strikes hit at dawn on Mount Sinjar, west of Mosul, Iraq, according to a spokesman for the Peshmerga ministry.
Nine others were injured and transferred to a nearby hospital. The Peshmerga later released a statement blaming the strikes on the presence of the PKK group, which it said it has long asked to leave the Mount Sinjar area.
“One of our Peshmerga military posts is located very close to the airstrikes and was hit by mistake,” Halgord Hikmat, spokesman for the Peshmerga ministry, told CNN.

YPG calls attack ‘cowardly’

YPG militia members were also killed in Turkish airstrikes Tuesday.
In a statement, the YPG said Turkish planes launched a “large-scale attack” on its headquarters in Mount Karachok near Syria’s border with Turkey, killing “a number of our comrades.”
A YPG spokesman said in a later statement that 20 fighters were killed and 18 others wounded. But it’s not clear if all the dead and injured were members of YPG, or People’s Defense Units.

A YPG fighter surveys the site of Turkish airstrikes Tuesday in northeastern Syria near Turkey.

“We as the People’s Defense Units say that this cowardly attack will not discourage our determination and our free will to fight and confront terrorism,” the YPG said.
The YPG is a key component of the Syrian Democratic Forces — backed by the United States in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Those forces have been closing in on the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa.
But Turkey opposes the YPG because it fears Kurdish separatism.

Turkey says PKK was the target

Turkey’s operations Tuesday were targeting the PKK, which Ankara, the United States and the European Union consider to be a terror group.
For decades, Turkey has been facing a violent insurgency from the PKK — a banned group that first took up arms in 1984 seeking an independent state for the Kurdish minority concentrated in the country’s southeast.
Turkey has often suggested that the PKK and YPG operate closely, although the YPG denies such ties.
Tuesday’s airstrikes were not the first time that Turkish warplanes have targeted PKK positions in Iraq and Syria.
In a statement issued via Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu, the Turkish General Staff said the airstrikes hit PKK targets in both countries.
It described the strikes as a “counterterrorism” operation “within the scope of the international law” to prevent the PKK from sending “terrorists, arms, ammunition, and explosives” to Turkey.

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