Trust Trump, look like a fool. Just ask Nikki Haley



Trust Trump, look like a fool. Just ask Nikki Haley.

President Trump with Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, at the White House in July. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

 Opinion writer April 18 at 7:49 PM 

What makes Republicans in Congress think their trust in Trump will work out any better for them?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he won’t take up legislation blocking Trump from firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Why? “I don’t think he’s going to” sack Mueller, McConnell told Fox News.

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House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) expressed similar faith that Trump wouldn’t sack Mueller: “I have no reason to believe that that’s going to happen” because “I have assurances that it’s not.”

Courting disaster because of what they “think” and “believe” the erratic president will do? You may think your toddler won’t wander into traffic. You may even have her assurances. But that doesn’t mean you leave her in the front yard unattended.

When I followed the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations, it was often possible to predict presidential actions based on patterns: Clinton’s split-the-difference style, Bush’s verbal signaling, Obama’s caution. But here’s a handy rule of thumb for this administration: Those who claim to know what Trump is going to do are making it up. Nobody truly knows, because Trump himself often doesn’t know what he’s going to do before the moment he does it. Decisions are impulsive, the product not of reason but of the brain’s cortisol levels. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

This is some of what we have learned lately from the Trump administration:

We are imposing new sanctions on Russia. We are not imposing new sanctions on Russia.

China isn’t manipulating its currency. China is manipulating its currency.

We’re getting out of Syria. We aren’t getting out of Syria.

We’ll decide about bombing Syria in 24 to 48 hours. We might not bomb Syria for a long time. We bombed Syria.

The bombing of Syria will be sustained. The Syria bombing was a one-time shot.

Trump will be talking to Kim Jong Un. Trump may not be talking to Kim.

Trump fired James B. Comey because of the Russia investigation. Trump did not fire Comey because of the Russia investigation.

We are leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We may rejoin the TPP. We are not rejoining the TPP.

Poor Haley had no reason to think the president would change his mind. Yet Trump made the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations look like a fool.

After a meeting on Friday about Russia sanctions, Haley went on “CBS Sunday Morning” and said the treasury secretary “will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn’t already.”

This was consistent with talking points distributed on Saturday by the Republican National Committee, saying America intends “to impose specific additional sanctions against Russia.”

But some synapse misfired in the presidential amygdala, and what Haley thought she knew was no longer the case. Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Haley had “some momentary confusion.”

Retorted Haley: “I don’t get confused.”

But she was confused: She believed assurances that Trump would do as expected.

Last Friday, Trump’s Treasury Department put out a report saying, “The Chinese currency generally moved against the dollar in a direction that should, all else equal, help reduce China’s trade surplus with the United States.” This is true: The dollar has fallen nearly 10 percent against the yuan since Trump took office.

But on Monday, Trump took the opposite position. “Russia and China are playing the Currency Devaluation game as the U.S. keeps raising interest rates. Not acceptable!” he tweeted.

Last month, Trump announced, “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.” Now the White House was back to saying there was no timetable for an American withdrawal.

Last week, Trump signaled an imminent missile attack in Syria, saying via Twitter that Russia should “get ready” to shoot down “nice and new and ‘smart’ ” missiles. Criticized for telegraphing the strike, he then said the attack might be “not so soon at all” — a day before the attack. He said he was “prepared to sustain this response,” but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said it was a “one-time shot.”

The president has similarly reversed or contradicted himself this week on quitting the TPP trade pact and his justification for firing Comey. On North Korea, he said he would meet with Kim and raised the possibility he wouldn’t — in the same passage.

Now, Republicans in Congress are risking a constitutional crisis because of their “belief” that Trump won’t fire Mueller:

Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa): “I don’t think he would.”

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah): “I do not believe the president would.”

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.): “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

They think they know Trump’s mind, huh? So did Nikki Haley.

Twitter: @Milbank

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Iran Vows To Strike Israel



Iran vowed to retaliate for the recent attack on a military base in Syria, blaming Israel for the strike. Speaking in Damascus at a two-day conference on Jerusalem Tuesday, a senior advisor to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ali Akbar Velayati, told Iran’ state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that Israel’s “crimes will not remain unanswered.”

“The Israeli regime’s aggression against Syria is a breach of this country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and runs counter to all international regulations and principles,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Monday, according to Press TV.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the strike, but Russia claims Israel Was responsible for carrying out the attack, which targeted the T-4 airbase near Homs. Syria, Iran, and Lebanon have also blamed Israel for the attack, which Russia said was initiated by F-15 fighter jets firing missiles from Lebanese airspace.
The strike resulted in the killing of “some Iranian military advisers,” according to IRNA. The semi-official FARS news agency said 4 Iranians had been killed.
“The Zionist regime is [looking for] increased tensions in the region and I think that all involved sides should be extremely vigilant towards this issue,” said Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi to Russia Today on Tuesday, according to FARS.
Blaming the US for supporting Israel, Araqchi added, “The US and Israel have entered the scene at different stages to boost the terrorists’ morale in Syria and the recent attacks by the Zionists against Syria which was a repetition of similar assaults in the past are within the same framework.”
Though Iran and Israel often exchange accusations, Israel is taking these new threats seriously. The government will discuss the situation at a security cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
“I want to say one thing with absolute certainty. We will not allow the Iranians to base themselves in Syria, no matter what the price,” said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday. “We have no other choice. To agree to the Iranians basing themselves in Syria is like agreeing to Iran putting a noose around our neck.” Liberman did not comment on the strike in Syria.
Israel has repeatedly expressed its red lines when it comes to Syria: it says it will not allow the transfer of high-powered weapons to Hezbollah, an Iranian-proxy based in Lebanon; it will not allow any breach of Israeli
sovereignty; and, as apparently in the most recent strike, it will work to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Syria.
“T-4, which is the base we’re talking about, is no longer just a Syrian base, it is a Syrian-Iranian base,” leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, said Speaking to Israeli Army Radio on Monday.
In February, Israeli fighter jets hit the same facility, which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says was the command and control center for an Iranian drone that penetrated Israeli airspace, before being shot down.
Before this year, Iran and Israel had only had one other direct confrontation in Syria, which occurred in January 2015. Then, an airstrike attributed to Israel in Quneitra in southern Syria killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander, Gen. Mohammed Ali Allahdadi, along with six others. Israel has never commented on the strike. In response, Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles at Israeli vehicles operating near the Lebanese border, killing two Israeli soldiers.

Israeli envoy summoned by Russia in wake of Syria strike



Israeli envoy summoned by Russia in wake of Syria strike

Foreign Ministry says meeting between ambassador and Russian deputy FM part of ‘ongoing discussions’ between countries

Israel ambassador to Russia Gary Koren (YouTube screenshot)

Israel ambassador to Russia Gary Koren (YouTube screenshot)

Israel’s envoy to Moscow was summoned by the Russian foreign ministry Tuesday regarding an airstrike the previous day on a base in Syria attributed to Israel.

Gary Koren was set to meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, according to the Interfax news agency.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the meeting was part of regular talks between the countries.

“Ongoing discussions are constantly held with the Russians and therefore the ambassador will today meet with Deputy Minister Bogdanov,” the Foreign Ministry said.

The target of the reported airstrike was the Tiyas air base — also known as the T-4 air base — outside Palmyra in central Syria. Israel has previously carried out at least one explicitly acknowledged attack on the base, which it said was home to an Iranian drone program.

The Tiyas, or T-4, Air Base, outside of the Syrian city of Palmyra, which Israel claims is being operated by Iran and its Quds Force. (Screen capture/Wikimapia)

Iranian media reported Tuesday that seven Iranian military officials were killed in the strike. One those killed was named Monday as a colonel in the air force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Israel and Russia have coordinated their military efforts in Syria in recent years in order to avoid friction and accidental conflict.

Israeli officials do not generally discuss the full extent of that coordination, but they stress that the Israeli military does not seek Russian permission before carrying out operations.

Despite this, the Kremlin angrily protested on Monday that it had not been informed in advance of the strike.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that Israel had not spoken to Moscow ahead of the airstrike even though Russian military advisers could have been present at the base, which he described as “a cause for concern for us.”

A pair of US officials, however, told NBC News the US was informed of the reported Israeli strike in advance.

Israel has refused to comment on the attack, for which it has been blamed by Russia, Syria and Iran.

Koren met with Bogdanov in late March.

Russia🇷🇺 in Israel


On March 27 Deputy Foreign Minister received Israeli Ambassador to Russia @GaryKoren .The officials discussed situation in the w/ emphasis on & status of Palestinian-Israeli peace process+development of 🇷🇺🇮🇱 cooperation👉 

Russia also summoned Koren last year after a reported Israeli strike in Syria that nearly hit Russian troops in the area. Syria’s ambassador to the UN later said that Russia had changed its policy and no longer granted Israel freedom of action over Syrian skies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently denied reports Moscow had told Israel to end airstrikes in Syria, vowing that Israel would continue attacking weapons convoys bound for the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.


It Was Israel Who Struck Syrian/Iranian Airbase



If bombs could talk and words could kill: 10 things to know for April 8

Russia and Syria blame Israel for a strike on a base apparently used by Iranians, while the world blames the duo for a chemical attack and nobody expects much actual action

Smoke billows in the town of Douma, the last opposition holdout in Syria's Eastern Ghouta, on April 7, 2018, after Syrian regime troops resumed a military blitz to pressure rebels to withdraw. (AFP PHOTO/STRINGER)

Smoke billows in the town of Douma, the last opposition holdout in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, on April 7, 2018, after Syrian regime troops resumed a military blitz to pressure rebels to withdraw. (AFP PHOTO/STRINGER)

1. Some 14 people, Iranians among them, are reportedly dead after jets struck the Tiyas (aka T-4) airbase near Homs in Syria.

  • As usual Israel is staying mum, but its game of plausible deniability has been blown up by first Russia and then Syria (which first incorrectly pointed the finger at the US) accusing Israel of carrying out the strike on the facility.
  • Israel normally keeps quiet as part of its policy of allowing the enemy — usually Syria — room to maneuver without feeling compelled to hit back.
  • Don’t necessarily expect Syria or Iran to attempt anything directly in response to this strike, as they’ve in the past accused Israel of being behind air attacks and not responded, though Iranian proxy Hezbollah may try something.

2. Even if there is no direct pushback, Russia’s decision to out Israel could seriously add to tensions in the north following the attack, with the Haaretz newspaper calling the Russian announcement “exceptional.”

  • Israel’s Channel 10 news surmises that the attack will actually end up boosting Assad’s backing by his two main allies: “A strike like this will strengthen the Russian regime’s backing since it runs against Moscow’s interests. The fact that the base that was attacked was under Iranian control, and there are reports of Iranians killed, also strengthens Tehran’s support for the Bashar Assad regime.”

3. Most Israeli news reports note that the Tiyas base was previously targeted by an admitted Israeli airstrike in January, during a heavy day of fighting following the infiltration of an Iranian drone apparently sent from the base. That day ended with the downing of an Israeli fighter jet and fears of a wider conflagration breaking out.

  • “Iran and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ special unit] Quds Force for some time have been operating the T-4 Air Base in Syria next to Palmyra, with support from the Syrian military and with permission from the Syrian regime,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement at the time according to The Times of Israel.

4. This time around, it’s not completely clear what was behind the apparent Israeli attack on the site, but it does come a day after a massive chemical attack by the Assad regime sparked Israeli calls for action and US President Donald Trump’s promise of a “big price to pay,” (which may be why Syria at first assumed the strike had come from the US).

  • Haaretz, citing Arabic news site al-Meyadeen, notes Russian “experts” are claiming the strike was in response to a tripartite meeting held between leaders from Moscow, Tehran and Ankara over Syria last week, with Israel dispatched as a proxy for the US, which cannot directly engage with Russia.
  • That meeting did indeed set Israeli alarm bells ringing. “Iran sees the results of the Ankara summit as a green light to set up base in Syria, a worrying prospect for Israel,” Israel Hayom quotes an ephemeral voice in the Israeli defense establishment saying.
  • Housing Minister Yoav Galant hints that it may have had more to do with weapons transfers, telling Israel Radio, “We have clear interests in Syria and we set red lines. We will not allow weapons to pass from Syria to Lebanon, and we will not allow the establishment of an Iranian base.”

5. Filed under possibly related, the strike came hours after Lebanese media reported about three days of constant Israeli drone overflights in the areas of Baalbek and Akkar, deep in Lebanon and near a corridor used for weapons transfers between Syria and Hezbollah.

What bothers the Lebanese isn’t so much the invasion of their airspace, though, but rather the annoying noise the UAVs make: “The ceaseless hovering sounds are irritating the residents of the mountainous villages and towns,” Naharnet reports, quoting an NNA report.

6. The address of the strike, on an Iranian base and not a Syrian chemical facility, points to the low probability that the strike had anything to do with the Douma attack. But it comes after Israel was up in arms along with much of the rest of the world Sunday over the attack, which killed dozens, including children.

  • All three Israeli dailies feature the same image of a man in a gas mask holding a small child injured in the chemical attack, with both tabloids Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom employing the headline “Childrens’ massacre.”
  • “If words could kill, Assad and his backers in Moscow and Tehran would have good reason to worry,” reads the lede in Israel Hayom, highlighting both anger over the attack and the lack of actual action over it.
  • Yedioth describes the scene as a father tried to wake his unmoving daughter, sprawled out on the floor. “Wake up, wake up. I’ll bring you chocolate,” he tells her, but like others is left without answers.

7. Pundits in the Israeli media are all of one mind in pointing at not just Assad but also Putin as being to blame for the brazen attack (as well as US President Donald Trump for saying he is pulling out of Syria).

  • “Trump’s interest in events in Syria had, as a practical matter, come to an end,” Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes of the last time the US responded to a chemical attack last year. “Even if the United States carries out another punitive attack at this time, Assad knows that he can do almost anything he feels like, with Russian backing, and that the Americans are on their way out.”
  • “The Russians are giving full military and diplomatic support to Assad, the Iranians and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah are on his side anyway, and there is no state body that can act as a counterweight to Moscow or even Tehran in the contest for the future of Syria. Assad knows that he is free to slaughter, murder, bomb, and lay waste to every opposition enclave, large or small. Even if he needs to use chemical weapons again,” Avi Issacharoff writes in The Times of Israel.
  • Adds Oded Granot in Israel Hayom: “It seems that Putin, whose poisoning of the spy in London proves he knows something about chemical weapons, is not really moved by Western admonitions of him standing ‘on the wrong side of history.’”

8. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have actions, but not words, according to a compromise agreement reached Sunday regarding next week’s Independence Day torchlighting ceremony. The deal will see the prime minister light a torch but not give a speech.

  • Yet all is not settled. Yedioth reports that “attempts to claim political victory have led to more bickering between Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and Culture Minister Miri Regev” and “the Knesset speaker says Netanyahu will be able to add a few words, but associates of the prime minister say he will get two to three minutes to speak.”
  • Either way, Haaretz pundit Yossi Verter notes that Netanyahu will be able to walk away saying that “in the end, I got what I wanted.”

9. While Netanyahu is sinking free throws, poor Omri Casspi is doubly down. First the Israeli NBA player was cut from the Golden State Warriors just before the playoffs. Now it comes out that he will not be able to light a torch on Independence Day, as had been planned, because the Warriors refused to release him.

  • Casspi was waived by Golden State on the same day that the names of the torch-lighters were announced, too late for him to take back his refusal, according to Hebrew media reports.

10. Perhaps a torch could open itself up. Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the decision to give a torch to Honduran President Juan Hernandez, the first graduate of an Israeli course for overseas development to become a head of state, is continuing to make waves, with former diplomats unhappy with the move.

  • “Seemingly wanting to give respect to the International Development Cooperation branch, (which deserves it), they are whitewashing this terrible president,” former senior diplomat Gideon Meir is quoted saying on Twitter.
  • Amid the hubbub, the Ynet news website reports Monday that Hernandez is considering canceling his appearance, and has relayed the message to Israel.

Syria Says U.S. Has Fired Missiles At Homs Airbase: U.S. Denies It



The Pentagon has denied Syrian claims the US attacked a Homs air base Sunday, hours after President Donald Trump tweeted “Animal Assad” would have a “big price to pay” for an alleged chemical weapons attack.

Syrian State TV said the T-4 airbase in Homs, in the country’s west, had been hit by “several missiles” in a “likely attack by the US,” early Monday morning local time.
Citing a military source, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said the attack had caused an unspecified number of deaths and injuries.
A senior US administration official told CNN Sunday that reports from the region claiming US Tomahawk missiles had struck targets in Syria were not true.
The Pentagon also issued a statement denying the attack.
“At this time, the Department of Defense is not conducting air strikes in Syria. However, we continue to closely watch the situation and support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable,” a Pentagon statement said.
John Bolton faced with crisis on first day

John Bolton faced with crisis on first day
On Sunday, Trump said there would be a “big price to pay” after an alleged chemical weapons attack on the city of Douma Saturday, which the US blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In a series of tweets, Trump also criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tehran, saying “Russian and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad.”

Israel Confirms They Blew Up Assad’s Nuclear Reactor A Decade Ago



Announcement about 2007’s ‘Operation Orchard’ sure to remind Iran what happened to the last country with atomic ambitions, though the real reason to divulge now may be more humdrum

Main image by Israel Defense Forces

The State of Israel on Wednesday formally acknowledged that its air force blew up a Syrian nuclear reactor in the area of Deir Ezzor in the pre-dawn hours between September 5 and 6, 2007, in a mission known to much of the world as Operation Orchard.

The official confirmation ends a 10-and-a-half year policy of referring to the event with a smirk and a wry “according to foreign reports.”

The strike constituted Israel’s second application of the Begin Doctrine, which calls on the Jewish state to destroy any enemy country’s nuclear capabilities. The doctrine was named for prime minister Menachem Begin, who set its precedent by ordering the bombing of Iraq’s nascent nuclear reactor in 1981. (In that instance, Israel took responsibility for the attack almost immediately, to much international reprobation.)

The pilot of an F-15I fighter jet, from the Israeli Air Force’s 69th Squadron, gets into his airplane ahead of an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The message of the attack on the reactor in 2007 is that Israel will not accept the construction of a capability that threatens the existence of the State of Israel. That was the message in ’81. That was the message in 2007. And that is the message to our enemies for the future,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said in a statement regarding the 2007 bombing.

Before and after satellite images of the Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar, which was reportedly struck by Israel in 2007 (AP/DigitalGlobe)

Before and after satellite images of the Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar, which was reportedly struck by Israel in 2007. (AP/DigitalGlobe)

According to Israeli and American intelligence, the Deir Ezzor site, known in Syria as al-Kibar, contained a gas-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor that was capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility. It was close to being up and running when Israel destroyed it in Operation Orchard (which the army also refers to as Nigun Shaket, or Silent Melody, and Mihutz L’Kufsa, or Outside the Box).

While this is the first time Israel has taken official responsibility for the attack (the reasons behind this decision are discussed below), the rest of the world has not kept mum about the historic raid.

Reports about the 2007 Syrian reactor mission leaked within days, including specific details like the number of fight jets that took part in it — eight — and that North Korea was believed to have supplied technical know-how and materials to Syria.

The then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu even landed himself in hot water in the weeks following the operation for discussing it too candidly, telling reporters that he’d given his go-ahead to then prime minister Ehud Olmert for the attack.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, stands next to Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Dawoud Rajha, right, and Chief of Staff Gen. Fahed al-Jasem el-Freij, left, during a ceremony to mark the 38th anniversary of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, in Damascus, Syria, last year (photo credit: AP Photo/SANA)

Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, stands next to Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Dawoud Rajha, right, and Chief of Staff Gen. Fahed al-Jasem el-Freij, left, during a ceremony to mark the 38th anniversary of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, in Damascus, Syria, in 2011. (AP Photo/SANA)

The view that prevailed in Israel at the time was that keeping news of the strike as quiet as possible would help Syrian dictator Bashar Assad save face in the world and prevent him from feeling he had to retaliate, which could have potentially led to all-out war, something an Israel still reeling from the painful 2006 Second Lebanon War desperately wanted to avoid. Israeli officials refer to this policy as giving Assad a “zone of denial.”

In 2012, a comprehensive article by David Makovsky was published in the New Yorker. In it, the magazine claimed, was almost every detail about the operation, including the tonnage of the bombs — 17 — and the fact that Amir Peretz, the defense minister when Israel began planning the attack, had to use a prepared notecard in his conversation with his American counterpart because of his limited English.

Then-US president George W. Bush welcomes then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in May of 2006. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Then US president George W. Bush welcomes then prime minister Ehud Olmert to the Oval Office of the White House, May 2006. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Former US president George W. Bush even referred to the attack explicitly in his 2010 memoir, Decision Points, saying the success of the Israeli strike “made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the [2006] Lebanon war.”

And yet, for over a decade, one of the most daring missions in the history of the Jewish state could only be referred to by the Israeli press with a healthy dose of allegedlys, purportedlys, and reportedlys — something that irked journalists to no end.

Not even when Deir Ezzor was captured by the Islamic State terror group in 2014 did Israel reveal that it had destroyed a nuclear reactor in the region. This, despite the fact that Israel would have been able to proudly tell the world that, had it not hit the reactor, we might all have been forced to deal with the chilling notion of that death cult getting its hands on atomic weapons. (It is possible that the Syrian army might have fought harder to hold the region, which it ultimately recaptured, if nuclear bombs had been at risk.)

Finally, on Wednesday — rather fittingly, in the pre-dawn hours — after 10 years, six months, and 15 days, Israel ended its silence.

Here is what happened:

Starting in late 2004, Military Intelligence and the Mossad espionage service began receiving unverified information about foreign experts helping Syria develop a military nuclear program.

A portion of an intelligence report from late 2004 in which the army says there is a possibility that Syria is constructing a nuclear reactor with help from North Korea, Pakistan, or an unknown third country. (Israel Defense Forces)

The scanned cover sheet of a top-secret IDF document from the time shows that Israeli intelligence apparently suspected the experts were coming from North Korea, Pakistan, or a third, unknown country.

Though the mission was ultimately successful, this would later turn out to have been something of an intelligence failure, as North Korea had been working with Syria since at least 2001 or 2002; accounts differ on the exact start time.

Over the next year and a half, the army and Mossad collected information concerning a Syrian nuclear program, getting their first break in January 2006, when they found the first piece of “substantial evidence” that Syrian President Bashar Assad was building a reactor.

In April of that year, Military Intelligence’s Unit 9900, which specializes in analyzing satellite imagery, spotted a number of suspicious buildings on a site in the northern Deir Ezzor region that it designated “Rubik’s Cube,” according to a scan of an IDF document from the time.

A portion of an intelligence report from November 1, 2006, in which the army says it increasingly believes Syria is constructing a nuclear reactor. (Israel Defense Forces)

Over the course of the next months, the army and Mossad gathered more intelligence on the suspected nuclear reactor.

“The assumption that there is indeed a Syrian nuclear project is being strengthened,” the Military Intelligence’s powerful Research Division wrote in a memo in November 2006.

In early March 2007, the investigation got a big break. Mossad agents obtained pictures that were shot inside the “Rubik’s Cube,” including ones showing North Korean officials at the site. The photographs confirmed Israel’s suspicions that it was indeed a plutonium reactor.

A portion of an intelligence report from March 30, 2007, in which the army says it appears Syria is constructing a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, with help from North Korea. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Syria is building in its territory a nuclear reactor for the production of plutonium, with North Korea, which according to [initial] rigorous assessment is liable to be operational in about a year. To our assessment [redacted] it is clandestine and meant to achieve a nuclear weapon,” the Research Division wrote in an intelligence brief a few weeks later, according to a scan of the document released by the army.

At this point, Israel decided to bring the United States into the loop.

In April, Olmert dispatched then defense minister Peretz to Washington — with his aforementioned notecard — to meet with then US secretary of defense Robert Gates and apprise him of the situation.

Bush instructed the CIA to verify Israel’s claims, which the security service largely succeeded in doing.

“If it’s not a nuclear reactor, then it’s a fake nuclear reactor,” a former senior US official told Makovsky in 2012.

The Syrian al-Kibar nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by Israel, on September 6, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

Yet the United States was not entirely convinced that the reactor was actually capable of producing nuclear weapons and therefore wanted to address the issue diplomatically, according to Bush’s memoirs.

Olmert was concerned that Assad would stall the negotiations for long enough for the Syrians to bring the reactor online, and told Bush his “strategy is very disturbing to me.”

An F-16I fighter jet of the Israeli Air Force’s 119th Squadron prepares to take off during an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

With the US unwilling to conduct a strike against the Syrian reactor, Olmert and Israel’s top defense officials set to work preparing to carry out the raid themselves.

By this point, Peretz had been replaced by Ehud Barak as head of the Labor party and also as defense minister.

There was some disagreement in the security cabinet over the timing of the preemptive strike on the nuclear reactor, with Barak pushing for it to be later and Olmert calling for it to happen as soon as possible. It remains a contested issue whether these differences of opinion stemmed from purely military concerns or from more political considerations. In the aftermath of the failure-plagued Second Lebanon War, Barak might have thought he could win the next election and gain a feather in his cap by having the strike carried out under his premiership. Olmert may have been looking to regain some of the respect he lost for his management of the 2006 war.

Ultimately, however, on September 5, the security cabinet approved Olmert’s plan for an immediate attack, giving him, Barak, and then foreign minister Tzipi Livni the authority to decide when exactly to conduct the strike.

Gabi Ashkenazi, the IDF chief of staff at the time, called for the attack to happen that night.

An airman from the Israeli Air Force’s 253rd Squadron prepares for an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

Up until that point, the number of people informed of the operation had been kept to an absolute bare minimum in order to ensure secrecy, with anyone informed of it being forced to sign a strict non-disclosure agreement.

Not even all of the pilots who conducted the raid knew about it until just before they took off. In the months preceding the attack, the teams had unknowingly been training for it, practicing the kind of dive-bombing that they would later perform for real in Deir Ezzor.

“They didn’t know the target; they didn’t understand why. In every squadron there was only one pilot who was the contact person. The other teams were only informed of the target just a few hours before the operation,” said Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who was head of air force operations at the time, in a statement released this week.

As the strike on Assad’s nuclear facility had the potential to spark an all-out war, a handful of senior army officers were informed of it in the hours before the operation began, in order to put their troops on high alert.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot discusses an Israeli operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor that took place 10 years ago, on September 5-6, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The day before, I brought in all the heads of the divisions. I presented them with the intelligence assessment — generally, I mean, I didn’t give them the details on the target and its nature. But I told them that there would be a very serious attack in the coming 24 to 48 hours, which had a relatively low possibility of leading to war,” said current IDF chief Eisenkot, who was at the time head of the army’s Northern Command, in a video statement released this week.

Eisenkot noted that since the army was trying to keep the attack a secret, it made no visible preparations ahead of it, in effect “sacrificing readiness for surprise.”

An F-16I fighter jet of the Israeli Air Force’s 253rd Squadron prepares to take off during an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

The airmen taking part in the operation came from three squadrons, Squadrons 119 and 253, which both fly the F-16I, and Squadron 69, which flies the F-15I.

The notes prepared by the head of the Israeli Air Force’s 119th F-16I Squadron ahead of an operation to destroy a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007, in which he says the mission will “‘change the face of the Middle East.” (Israel Defense Forces)

During a briefing before the mission, the commander of Squadron 119 wrote in his notes that the operation “will change the face of the Middle East.”

On September 5, the head of the air force at the time, Eliezer Shkedi, gave the pilots and navigators their official orders, telling them the operation was “of the utmost importance to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The document told them that their mission was to “destroy the target, break contact without losing a plane, and fly with a ‘low signature’ as much as possible.”

“The goal is that the operation will not be connected, at least not at first, to the State of Israel, and thus limit the potential for widespread war,” Shkedi’s orders stated.

The official orders presented by the head of the air force to the pilots and navigators taking part in an operation to destroy a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

At 10:30 p.m. on September 5, the fighter jets began take-off procedures.

They were reportedly joined by an electronic warfare aircraft that would jam the Syrian air defenses, feeding them a false picture of empty skies. The army will still not officially comment on this aspect of the mission.

The Israeli planes flew north and then through Turkey to Syria, without permission, in order to conduct the surprise strike, for which Olmert later apologized to then-Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the empty fuel tanks of some of the planes, which were dropped for weight reasons, were found in the Turkish countryside, near the Syrian border.

The night of the attack, Olmert, Barak, Livni, then IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Shkedi, and other senior officials gathered in “the pit” — Habor, in Hebrew — a special command center deep underground in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters, in order to monitor the operation.

At approximately midnight, the fighter jets reached their target and dropped — according to Makovsky — 17 tons of explosives on the site, which the air force had taken to calling Ein Habasor, or Habasor Spring, a reference to a location in southern Israel where, in the Bible, King David is said to have fought and killed the evil Amalekites.

Video footage from the strike, which was released by the army this week, shows multiple bombs hitting the main square building that is believed to have housed the nuclear reactor, reducing it to a fireball and then rubble. The planes can then be seen making a second pass and bombing the rubble, completely and utterly destroying the site and killing all those inside.

Senior Israeli Air Force officers, including IAF chief Eliezer Shkedi, center, react to the successful bombing of the Syrian al-Kibar nuclear reactor by Israel on September 6, 2007. (Screen capture/Israel Defense Forces)

Shortly before 1:00 a.m., the pilots sent back the codeword indicating the operation was a success: “Arizona.”

Footage from air force control center in “the pit” shows the moment the bombs strike their target. Brig. Gen. Yohanan Locker, then head of the air force’s training and aerial activities, can be seen raising his hands in triumph, as Shkedi nods in satisfaction.

Images from the moments following the attack show the destruction of the al-Kibar site. Later, satellite pictures would show the results of the strike in far greater detail.

Shortly afterward, Ashkenazi praised the heads of the air force squadrons that took part in the operation.

Airmen from the Israeli Air Force’s 253rd Squadron embrace after bombing a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 6, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The aims of the strike were the destruction of the reactor, the prevention of escalations to war, and the strengthening of deterrence in the region. I think we have stood by these targets, at least for now, with great success,” he said.

Barak joined him in lauding the air force pilots, saying that not only was the mission an immediate success, but that it will also have an impact on the future.

“The operation removed an actual existential threat to Israel. The operation strengthened Israel’s ability to deter hostile countries and organizations, and our operational capabilities have been greatly empowered — from planning, to intelligence identifying capabilities, to carrying out missions,” Barak told the squadron commanders.

Immediately following the attack, Syria did not know how to react. Its official SANA news outlet initially reported that “air-defense units confronted [Israeli fighter jets] and forced them to leave after they dropped some ammunition in deserted areas without causing any human or material damage.”

Later, Assad acknowledged that a military facility had been hit, but denied that it was a nuclear reactor.

Olmert sent a message to Syria through Erdogan, telling Assad that Israel would not tolerate another Syrian attempt to build a reactor, and that Jerusalem was prepared to keep quiet about the strike as long as Damascus did the same, according to the 2009 Der Spiegel report.

The Israeli prime minister also had Erdogan relay an invitation to Assad for indirect peace talks. (Assad accepted, but these later fell apart and amounted to nothing.)

Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak, IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, air force chief Eliezer Shkedi, along with all the defense officials and airmen who took part in the top-secret operation to destroy a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007, pose for a group photograph two months later, on December 18, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

In 2008, Israel was largely vindicated, as the International Atomic Energy Agency tested the area around al-Kibar and found high levels of uranium. Later, graphite and barium sulfate, used in the reactor’s concrete, were also discovered in the immediate vicinity of the destroyed site, according to reports by the agency.

Syria officially denied the site was a nuclear reactor, telling IAEA the uranium came from the bombs used by Israel in the strike, something Israel categorically denied. The IAEA was also unconvinced of Syria’s claim. Later, the organization reported that the site was “very likely” an undocumented nuclear reactor.

Time passed. Netanyahu replaced Olmert as prime minister in 2009. Israel’s immediate concerns turned from Syria’s nuclear program to Iran’s, not that Tehran was ever out of Jerusalem’s sight. The Syrian civil war broke out. Deir Ezzor, specifically the area around al-Kibar, was conquered by the Islamic State group in 2014. People shuddered — what if?

And now, some 3,849 days since the IAF destroyed Syria’s al-Kibar nuclear reactor — give or take a few hours — Israeli news outlets can say as much, freely.

So why now?

There was no one reason given for the decision to remove the censorship on the al-Kibar strike, but it most likely came from a variety of considerations, among them repeated legal appeals by media outlets to get rid of the ban.

It is easiest to see this announcement as a not-so-subtle threat to atomically ambitious Iran, especially given the fact that in the coming months US President Donald Trump may abandon the 2015 nuclear deal, unless significant alterations are made to it.

This can be seen most clearly in Eisenkot’s comment that the attack serves as a “message to our enemies for the future.”

The message of the attack on the reactor in 2007 is that Israel will not accept the construction of a capability that threatens the existence of the State of Israel

But former deputy national security adviser Chuck Freilich told The Times of Israel he’s not convinced that’s the full story.

“This may be part of a signal to the other side, but I think that’s reading a bit too much into it,” he said.

While Freilich acknowledged that Israel might be taking advantage of the announcement in order to send such a message to Iran, he also offered a somewhat less geopolitical and more patriotic reason for the decision to reveal the existence of the operation: next month marks Israel’s 70th anniversary of existence. The story of Israel’s bold and successful operation can serve as yet another feature in the showcase of the tiny Jewish state’s outsized achievements.

Israeli Air Force commander Amikam Norkin discusses an Israeli operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor that took place 10 years before, on September 5-6, 2007. (Screen capture/Israel Defense Forces)

Indeed, Norkin credits the mission as being “one of the most important decisions that was made in the past 70 years.”

More domestically, Frelich added, “Netanyahu will be able to make use of this for his purposes as well.”

The current backdrop that is the devastating reality of war-torn Syria, where there have been numerous chemical weapons attacks over the past eight years, also helps justify Israel’s actions in 2007.

“Imagine that today there was a nuclear reactor in Syria. You can think to yourself what kind of situation we’d be in,” IAF chief Norkin said in a video statement released this week.

Over 10 years later, Syria is also far, far less likely to feel it has to respond, making it a bit safer for Israel’s to remove the “zone of denial.”

The air force chief noted that the pilots and teams that took part in the 2007 raid received no official accolades for their actions, due to the secrecy surrounding the operation. Perhaps it was also time for them to get what was due.

In November 2017, Eisenkot and Norkin held a ceremony and handed out official letters of appreciation to the soldiers who took part in the operation, though their identities remain a secret.

“Some of the fighters who led the operation are now at the highest ranks of the air force and IDF,” Norkin says.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert in a Keshet TV interview broadcast on March 17, 2018. (Keshet screenshot)

Ultimately, though, the immediate cause for the timing of the revelation might be a bit more banal: Ehud Olmert wrote a memoir, which is due to be distributed shortly.

While this reporter has yet to read the book, “In First Person,” it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t feature prominently.

How could Olmert, who left office under police investigation and was later sent to prison for corruption, and who sustained bitter criticism over his mishandling of the 2006 Lebanon war, leave out one of his crowning, lasting achievements?

But whatever the reason, Israeli journalists and officials can now drop the at-times farcical “according to foreign reports” from their coverage of this dramatic operation.


Hamas Fails In An Attempt To Assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister



Palestinian Authority Blames Hamas for Failed Assassination Attempt against PM

Tuesday, 13 March, 2018 – 10:00
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Gaza City. (Reuters file photo)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The Palestinian Authority (PA) blamed on Tuesday Hamas for a failed assassination attempt in Gaza against Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

The official, on a rare visit to Gaza, survived a bombing that targeted his convoy.

Three of the vehicles in Hamdallah’s convoy were damaged, their windows blown out. One had signs of blood on the door.

He survived unharmed and delivered a speech at the inauguration of a waste treatment plant in the Gaza Strip, live TV footage showed. He confirmed in the address that three cars were damaged.

He declared that the attack will “not deter us from seeking to end the bitter split. We will still come to Gaza.”

The PA said it held the Gaza’s dominant Hamas group responsible for the attack, stopping short of directly accusing it of carrying out the assault, but suggesting it had failed to provide adequate security.

“The Palestinian Presidency holds Hamas responsible for the cowardly targeting of the Prime Minister’s convoy in Gaza,” the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

Hamas has since condemned the attack.

Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said the explosion hit as the prime minister’s convoy passed near the northern town of Beit Hanoun. No one was injured and security services had begun an investigation, ministry spokesman Eyad Al-Bozom said.

The prime minister is based in the occupied West Bank and traveled overland, via Israel, to the Gaza Strip. Police said the explosion came shortly after Hamdallah’s convoy passed by, and one witness said it appeared two cars at the end of motorcade sustained damage.

Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s PA are still divided over how to implement an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal, signed in late 2017.

“The attack against the government of consensus is an attack against the unity of the Palestinian people,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas.

The rival Palestinian factions have been trying to reconcile since 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah forces and have suffered several setbacks in their efforts since. The takeover left the Palestinians with two rival governments, Hamas in Gaza and the Western-backed PA governing autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

In November, Hamas handed over control of Gaza’s border crossings to the PA. It was the first tangible concession in years of Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks. But negotiations have bogged down since then.

Hamdallah’s visit comes amid a time of crisis in Gaza. On Tuesday, the White House is hosting a special meeting to discuss Gaza’s devastated economy.

America Are You Ready For The Bombs, Bullets, And Blades

America Are You Ready For The Bombs, Bullets, And Blades


There is nothing about this title that I like, there are many things that go on in the world daily that I don’t like so my disliking something obviously has no effect on their continued existence. I am a person who hates all forms of human violence, I do not condone offence yet believe everyone has the God-given right to defend themselves and their loved ones. If there were never any attacks upon another then there would be no need to invest in defense. Unfortunately for all of us this is just a fantasy, a dream world. As long as there is hate in people’s hearts no one is ever really safe anywhere.


Recently the NSA was rebuked in public for some of their intelligence gathering methods by the Congress. They were ordered to discontinue some programs and methods of operations. Whether they really did stop the programs or not for now few will really know. Did they just change the name of things, give it another fancy code name? Personally I doubt if much of anything besides cosmetics will change. Here is a question for each of us to ponder, if we now have a few attacks here in the States as there are thousands of soft targets in every state, will we ever know if they could have been avoided if NSA programs weren’t scaled down?


Here is another tough thought or question for you to think about, would it be possible that bureaucrats would let a few attacks go through on purpose so to prove to the people how much they are needed, along with those old programs? Could such horrible human beings exist? I hope you know the truth about that question, some people kill people everyday without any concern for human life at all. There is such a thing as Evil that walks the Earth 24/7 and there is such a thing as people who are just naturally mean and they are proud of it, they wear it like a badge of honor. Then there are those who use their religion, government, or personal financial situation to condone their either illegal and or inhumane activities. I personally believe that there are very good people and very bad people in every government everywhere. Could any of our people do something illegal or evil believing it is for the good of the country? Humans have the ability of free though and free choice, some choose well, some not so much.


Personally I hate the concept of any big government anywhere in the world but this is not reality. But the reality is the Security Agencies have so far done a fantastic job here in the States. I do believe that America is going to have many future attacks on our home soil, just how close that future starts is the only question. Hate filled people world-wide recognize that you don’t have to have 9-11’s to destroy an economy, a way of life. Fellow Americans how are we as a country going to react when Houses of Prayer are attacked, our supermarkets, bridges, transportation lines, power grids, our children’s schools? I hate the thought of all this evil, and that is what it is, evil. Yet unfortunately we must all face the fact that this Hell will infect our children and their children’s lives. It is sad that in so many ways that today, these days, are going to be our little ones good old days.


Have to add this last paragraph because of the recent Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriages. I know just as you do that there are some people who are going to blame any future attacks on our Home Land because of this Sin. Some will believe this, correct or not. Could there be homegrown attacks on the Courts or government for these decisions which removes God’s Grace from our people? I hope not, no violence, no more blood upon mother earth, such a fantasy. Evil does beget evil, this there is no doubt, we just cannot let ourselves get caught up in the hate, for hate can easily saturate ones own Soul. There is nothing on this planet that is worth the loss of ones own Soul, and how does our actions affect the lives and Souls of those we love that are around us? Our actions, our knowledge, can save our loved ones, or it can kill them, and condemn them.


Trump accepts offer to meet Kim Jong Un



Trump accepts offer to meet Kim Jong Un

(CNN)President Donald Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by May, the White House and the South Korean national security adviser said Thursday evening.

“President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon. He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced in a statement.
Trump tweeted, “Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”
The stunning announcement came after Kim extended an invitation to Trump to meet through South Korean officials, who met with Trump on Thursday. Trump would be the first sitting US president to meet with his North Korean counterpart, a stunning diplomatic breakthrough with uncertain consequences.
The South Korean delegation first met with national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and then Trump, who then delivered the news, a senior administration official official said. It all happened in about an hour.
Kim told the South Koreans “he is committed to denuclearization” and pledged North Korea will “refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests,” the South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-Yong said Thursday at the White House.
Kim also told the South Koreans he understands that the US and South Korea will move forward with their joint military exercises later this year.
Speaking from outside the West Wing, Chung said Kim “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”
Trump has expressed an openness to dialogue with North Korea, but the Trump administration has said North Korea must first take concrete steps toward denuclearization. As of Thursday evening, there was no indication that North Korea had pledged to take those steps.
“All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible moves toward denuclearization,” a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday. “What we are looking for is concrete steps toward denuclearization.”
Trump’s approach to North Korea has wavered between bellicose rhetoric and expressions of openness to diplomacy — with the President saying the US would rain “fire and fury” on North Korea one day and then saying he would consider speaking directly with the country’s leader under the right circumstances.
Amid the potentially breakthrough talks between North and South Korea, the Trump administration has also credited its campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea as having brought Pyongyang to the negotiating table.
Since Trump came in to office, the US has leveled some of its most significant and far-reaching sanctions against North Korea and has also succeeded in pressuring China to further isolate the regime.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un Wants to ‘Write a New History’ With South Korea


((Commentary: by TRS) Just how foolish is President Moon of South Korea? Yes, it is obvious that Kim Jong Un wants to “write a new history” of the Korean Peninsula with himself as the supreme ruler of all of the peninsula. The only thing acceptable to Kim Jong Un is for the people of South Korea to totally and completely give up all of their freedom. Even China’s Xi Jinping has made it clear that China will not tolerate a “non-Communist” government on their border. So, it is my belief that President Moon is acting like either a total fool, or, he is a total traitor to the people of South Korea!)



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March 6, 2018

(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had an “openhearted talk” in Pyongyang with envoys for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the North said Tuesday.

It’s the first time South Korean officials have met with the young North Korean leader in person since he took power after his dictator father’s death in late 2011 — and the latest sign that the Korea’s are trying to mend ties after a year of repeated North Korean weapons tests and threats of nuclear war.

North Korea’s state media said Kim expressed his desire to “write a new history of national reunification” during a dinner Monday night that Seoul said lasted about four hours.

Given the robust history of bloodshed, threats and animosity on the Korean Peninsula, there is considerable skepticism over whether the Koreas’ apparent warming relations will lead to lasting peace.

North Korea, some believe, is trying to use improved ties with the South to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions and pressure, and to provide domestic propaganda fodder for Kim Jong Un.

But each new development also raises the possibility that the rivals can use the momentum from the good feelings created during North Korea’s participation in the South’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month to ease a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and restart talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

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The North Korean report sought to make Kim look statesmanlike as he welcomed the visiting South Koreans, with Kim offering views on “activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange.”

He was also said to have given “important instruction to the relevant field to rapidly take practical steps for” a summit with Moon, which the North proposed last month.

Moon, a liberal who is keen to engage the North, likely wants to visit Pyongyang. But he must first broker better ties between the North and Washington, which is Seoul’s top ally and its military protector.

The role of a confident leader welcoming visiting, and lower-ranking, officials from the rival South is one Kim clearly relishes. Smiling for cameras, he posed with the South Koreans and presided over what was described as a “co-patriotic and sincere atmosphere.”

Many in Seoul and Washington will want to know if, the rhetoric and smiling images notwithstanding, there’s any possibility Kim will negotiate over the North’s breakneck pursuit of an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can viably target the U.S. mainland.

The North has repeatedly and bluntly declared it will not give up its nuclear bombs. It also hates the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises that were postponed because of the Olympics but will likely happen later this spring. And achieving its nuclear aims rests on the North resuming tests of missiles and bombs that set the region on edge.

Photos distributed by the North showed a beaming Kim dressed in a dark Mao-style suit and holding hands with Moon’s national security director, Chung Eui-yong, the leader of the 10-member South Korean delegation. Chung’s trip is the first known high-level visit by South Korean officials to the North in about a decade.

The South Korean delegates have another meeting with North Korean officials on Tuesday before returning home, but it’s unclear if Kim Jong Un will be there.

Kim was said to have expressed at the dinner his “firm will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world.”

There is speculation that better inter-Korean ties could pave the way for Washington and Pyongyang to talk about the North’s nuclear weapons. The United States, however, has made clear that it doesn’t want empty talks and that all options, including military measures, are on the table.

Previous warming ties between the Korea’s have come to nothing amid North Korea’s repeated weapons tests and the North’s claims that the annual U.S.-South Korean war games are a rehearsal for an invasion.

Before leaving for Pyongyang, Chung said he would relay Moon’s hopes for North Korean nuclear disarmament and a permanent peace on the peninsula.

Chung’s delegation includes intelligence chief Suh Hoon and Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung. The South Korean presidential Blue House said the high-profile delegation is meant to reciprocate the Olympic trip by Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who became the first member of the North’s ruling family to come to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Kim Yo Jong, who also attended Monday’s dinner, and other senior North Korean officials met with Moon during the Olympics, conveyed Kim Jong Un’s invitation to visit Pyongyang and expressed their willingness to hold talks with the United States.

After the Pyongyang trip, Chung’s delegation is scheduled to fly to the United States to brief officials about the outcome of the talks with North Korean officials.

President Donald Trump has said talks with North Korea will happen only “under the right conditions.”

If Moon accepts Kim’s invitation to visit Pyongyang it would be the third inter-Korean summit talk. The past two summits, one in 2000 and the other in 2007, were held between Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, and two liberal South Korean presidents. They resulted in a series of cooperative projects between the Korea’s that were scuttled during subsequent conservative administrations in the South.

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